Find a photograph and begin the journey at La Playa Trail Association’s latest presentation
by KAREN SCANLON
Published - 05/08/19 - 08:05 AM | 1782 views | 2 2 comments | 49 49 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Colleen O'Connor's grandmother and sisters.
Colleen O'Connor's grandmother and sisters.
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“It all started with a large framed photograph, recently hung on our family’s dining room wall,” says Point Loma resident, author, and retired college history professor, Dr. Colleen O’Connor.

La Playa Trail Association will present O’Connor in “Write Your Own History” on Tuesday, May 21 at Point Loma Assembly, 3035 Talbot St. A suggested donation of $10 is received at the door, and light appetizers begin at 5:30 and the lecture will be 6 to 7 p.m. The public is welcome, and you might want to bring a treasured photograph.

“When asked about the seven, elegantly dressed women in the photo,” O’Connor said, “my mother remarked, ‘That is your grandmother and her sisters.’ Shortly after, my mother died.

“That photograph and my failure to ask more questions eventually led to my journey of a lifetime.”

O’Connor’s Aunt Marcella suggested they both discover more about those women.

Off they trekked by train to the Dakotas. “Relatives still lived there, and we visited them all – collecting photos and stories. Cut to the chase, I was completely wrong in my assumptions about those women in the photograph.”

She shakes her head, “I earned a PhD in history, but I was stupid.

“The women were not the wealthy elite types I thought they were. They were homesteaders. They owned land in their own names, were crack shots with rifles, raised turkeys, field-dressed their own dinners, and were seamstresses. They made those elegant gowns in the photograph.

“And, my grandmother was a suffragette – who held ‘right to vote’ meetings in her Dakota farmhouse.”

That one remarkable photograph and the trip to the Dakotas, sparked a millennial project that collected thousands of local photographs from San Diegans; half a dozen exhibitions (two at South Bay and El Cajon Superior Courthouses; the San Diego History Center; a projection of photos on the sails of the Star of India; a book (“Faces of San Diego”), and an NEH grant to replicate the project nationwide.

“We started with an exhibit in the art gallery at Mesa College,” O’Connor says. “Faculty members did the framing and mounting, while art students joined in. It helped that we had the formidable blessing of our president, the current SDCCD chancellor, Dr. Constance Carroll.”

Then the entire City joined in with a series of columns and photographs on “How To” write one’s family history, printed weekly in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The excursion continues today in a wide spectrum of ideas. Photos from O’Connor’s recent published collaboration, “San Diego Drag Racing and the Bean Bandits,” are exhibited at Liberty Station’s Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café.

At the presentation, O’Connor will be flanked by two notables in the field of writing: educator Claire Wachowiak, practiced in the art of creating family photo books and documenting family histories; and, author and TV personality Sandi Masori, wizard in self publishing. Masori is the “go to” expert in publishing business authority books, which provide information about your industry and how to promote it.

The three will combine talents at the upcoming May 21 lecture, insisting that you start with a photograph “that speaks to you. Then get yourself a note pad, a chunk of cardboard, a napkin, and write something about that photograph. As simple as, the day I first saw the ocean. Doesn’t matter how much or how small,” O’Connor says. “You never know where it’s going to lead.”

As TV’s Dr. Phil once remarked, “Two generations past us, few to none will remember you.”

Colleen O’Connor encourages everyone to defy that message and to celebrate those family members so they are never forgotten. It all starts with a photo.

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Natasha Dudley Busic
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July 25, 2019
How do I get in touch with Dr. O'Connor? I teach US History, but ask the students to trace their roots. i would love to have her come and speak to them! Natasha Dudley Busick, Santa Fe Christian
Charlie Me
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May 09, 2019
What a wonderful talk this promises to be. You guys sure do have good reporters. It's an absolute pleasure to read Ms. Scanlon's articles; a veritable little history book
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