What Is HOME? Three Personal Historians On A Path To Discovery

As the pandemic loosens its hold on Oregon, many in the group continue working on other projects. This month we’re putting the personal into Personal Historians. There has been a LOT of homecoming being done through the work of PHNW members Lisa Kagan, Zoe Morrison and Connie Shipley.

Unearthing The Legacy Of Home: Connie Shipley

Through her work researching her great grandfather’s career as an architect, Connie  discovered his Craftsman style homes and apartment houses were on display during the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. 

Focusing on her great-grandfather’s work and architectural legacy has been a large part of PHNW member Connie Shipley’s pandemic workload. So much so that recently Connie was contacted to contribute her knowledge of home research to Janet Eastman’s article, “Easy ways to research an ancestor’s life or your home’s history” that appeared in The Oregonian.

If researching buildings and dwellings in Oregon is on your list of things to do, The Oregonian article has links to numerous research materials and sources. For her own research Connie uses multiple resources, including old City Directories that are online, found through searches at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon website.. The Genealogical Forum of Oregon has been a wonderful resource. Check out the article for more info on researching a homes history in Oregon.

When asked if she’d ever dreamt of owning one of her great-grandfather’s home, Connie said:

“When I first researched the homes designed by Emil Schacht, my great-grandfather, back in 1979-1980, they looked enormous to me. Since my hopes of purchasing his own home were dashed in 1978, I felt it was just a dream to own one of his homes, but if I could the one I felt I could be comfortable living in was at 1331 NW 25th St – Mrs. Becker’s home. Some years ago I saw a “For Rent” sign on it and was tempted to call the number and see what the rental price would be, but I didn’t call.

Earlier this year I got a private tour by the owner before she put it on the market for $2.6 million dollars. It turns out the “comfortable sized home” is actually 5,000 sq ft. It’s much more home than I could ever feel comfortable with, but I love the home even more now that I got to see the interior. 

Apparently, Mrs. Becker wanted a lot of light, so Emil accommodated her with large windows in every room. It certainly is my kind of home, just too much for me. The picture of the home painted white is one I took back in 1980. The grey paint was added prior to the sale of the home.”

Poetry Is The Medium Leading Lisa Kagan Home

PHNW member Lisa Kagan has taken a different approach to home: aside from being the owner of Family Heirloom Arts, Lisa has released a new book, “Coming Home To Myself, Poetry And Art by Lisa Kagan” written during the pandemic.

Her book honors the importance of following her inner compass by exploring nine essential elements of the human experience: courage, passion, patience, grace, faith, resilience, wonder, gratitude and renewal. 

Lisa is no stranger to writing from the heart. She celebrates life stories and milestones by crafting illustrated heirloom books and facilitates Touchstone Retreats. Tucked away in Estacada, her guided creative writing retreats focus on slowing down and reclaiming creativity. 

What The World Needs Now

Lisa lives what she teaches: kindness and generosity are what the world (and individuals) need, to bring sustenance & rejuvenation.

This year, I wrote poems for myself

word by word

an attempt to anchor myself

amidst a swell that took me completely under

each poem became a small meal

that I cooked for myself

even though I thought I was not hungry

the act of writing was mainly about arriving

affirming, “I am still here, I guess that counts

for something”

some days the poems were more like love songs

or odes to beauty

fishing for something in the universe

that I might catch hold of,

something that could announce with confidence,

“There are still great gifts that await you”

in the morning, poetry offered the kindness of silence

when it was hard to know

what else to look towards in the day

to write was to befriend myself again.

Lisa Kagan

Bloom, Lisa Kagan

Homeward Bound, I Wish I Was…. Zoe Morrison

Being raised by parents estranged from their own families created a need to gather the puzzle pieces of her family history. Zoe’s tagline “I’ll Coax The Story Out Of You” comes from client’s photo collection sessions that inspire stories of family and home. Her mission, helping others preserve their past, stems from her own disconnection to the past, and in a large sense, to home.

Family History Illiteracy

Through research she discovered she was not alone. On the paternal side, cousins knew little of their family history, including that they were living around the corner from a family plot at the cemetery where great-grandparents and other family members were buried. These cousins were unaware that for more than 50 years relatives had held two distinct family reunions within miles of their own home.

Anna Bloomfield

The search for answers and home continued. In 2011 Zoe contacted an ‘adopted’ family member who was the caretaker of photos from her mother’s orphaned past. During a visit, Zoe  ‘met’ the woman her own mother called “Mother”. There were many photos and stories shared and the “WHO” of the adopted family members who had raised Zoe’s mother until she was seven years old was answered.

Yet, the quest for home and the need to know more continued.

In 2019, Zoe took a 6,000 mile trek cross country by rail on Amtrak to meet aunts she’d never known. Two long lost aunts opened their homes, telling their own stories and that of their abandoned sister. During the visit they shared photos of Zoe’s maternal grandmother, who had abandoned Zoe’s mother at birth. Throughout the day, the aunts filled in tidbits of unspoken history. Finally, evidence and background about her maternal family tree. After more than 60 years Zoe came face to face with a birth grandmother she’d never known.

Zoe’s maternal grandmother, grandmother’s record-keeping and Zoe with her long lost Aunts

Gathering Bones

There was still family history left to uncover. Plans to attend her paternal family reunions stumbled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Though after sending a note to a distant relative found on FamilySearch, a photo of her paternal great-grandmother (and a shrouded history) emerged. The relative shared newspaper clippings related to tragedies and betrayals endured by her great-grandmother (Hayden/Wilbur/Durfee). The connection was a touchpoint, though years worth of details about the family remained foggy.

Thomas Durfee and Ida Bell Hayden Wilbur Durfee, paternal great-grandparents

Old Home Week

2020 brought the pandemic, wildfires and Zoe’s cross country journey to care for aging family members.  In 2021, a 2,000 mile journey to her birth state of Michigan is planned, to attend 2 family reunions. During the reunions, she’ll meet previously unknown family members  and “gather more bones.”

Are there more dark secrets? Will photos and family stories be shared? Will a new family narrative be unearthed during the reunions? Will the collection of HOME stories resolve lifelong mysteries? Stay tuned!

One Reply to “What Is HOME? Three Personal Historians On A Path To Discovery”

  1. There’s no place like home! These are wonderful reflections and reinforce the important work we do in helping people “find” family and a sense of homecoming through stories, photos, poetry, and architecture. Great!


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