black steamer trunk front with grass locks

Welcome to Day 3 of my countdown towards my online course Capturing Family History in a Book of My Things, which begins on January 16, 2022. Each day I am sharing a story about a family object, including tidbits of my process putting it together. I hope that’ll give you some ideas and inspire you to come up with your own stories. And of course I’d love it if you joined the course! 😉

My parents’ steamer trunk from our move from the U.S. to Germany in the summer of 1964 serves as a side table in our living room.

My parents and I on the deck of the S.S. Statendam, traveling from New York to Rotterdam

The family was just my parents and me then. My brother was born later that year, and my sister followed in 1969. We actually had three steamer trunks for all of our belongings, and all three still exist. Each sibling has one.

My mom’s parents seeing us off at New York Harbor.

Holland America’s S.S. Rotterdam, 1964

Here’s one of those mysteries of putting together a family story: This postcard of Holland America’s ship S.S. Rotterdam was stuck in my collection of photos from that voyage.

However, all the official photos from that trip, like this one of my dad walking me on deck on a leash, show the emblem of the S.S. Statendam. The leash always raises eyebrows but hey, it was practical…

Side note on process: Check what’s written on photos or documents. They might not be showing what you think they are. I thought that this was a postcard of the boat we had taken.

Holland America Line old steamer trunk label

Unfortunately the baggage label on the steamer trunk has become largely illegible.

The trunk came back to the U.S. with me when my husband and I moved to Chicago so I could attend the University of Chicago as a grad student. In our married student housing apartment, it served as our coffee table. It had done the same in my parents’ living room in the ’60s until they could afford proper furniture.

I always loved that label with the elegant Holland America Line logo. About ten years ago I finally had the good sense to get a glass custom cut to cover the top of the trunk. As you can see, however, the label had rubbed off in large parts by then.

I love that steamer trunk. It is such a symbol of my life between two countries – moving from the U.S. to Germany when I was a toddler, and then moving back to the U.S. as a grad student.

Note on process: It is so damn hard to get good photos of family objects! The light is wrong. Something glares. Something else reflects. But, I tell myself, I am not going to be perfectionistic about putting these stories together. The pictures don’t need to be perfect as long as they serve the purpose of capturing the object and illustrating the story I want to tell.

The trunk has always harbored cherished memorabilia.

In the top tray that you can lift out, you’ll find my high school student newspaper and old letters. Below, in the trunk’s vast cavern, I store all that fabric I haven’t yet used for sewing projects and probably never will.

Among those rolls of fabric is a top quality herringbone from my great-uncle’s store in Reichenberg.

It dates back to the 1940s and is mentioned in my memoir Jumping Over Shadows. That scratchy herringbone is, in fact, another object of family history, and it probably warrants its own story.

Another note on process: The more of these stories you write, the more ideas you have for new ones!