Connecting the Dots: Meeting My Grandfather

This weekend, I came into possession of my grandfather’s sketchbook. Grandfather Gans died when I was four, so I have no memory of him—just “memories” generated by photographs and a stuffed bunny that he (and my grandmother) gave me for my first Easter.

Three of my grandparents died before I was old enough to remember them, and unfortunately the fourth was ill for some time before she died, so I never knew the real her. In all the most important ways, I never knew any of my grandparents. I have always felt the deprivation of this, especially as I have grown older and become more and more interested in family history.

Getting this portfolio had an unexpected effect on me: I felt like I knew something of my grandfather for the first time. Art is so emotive, so expressive of the artist, that something of the person remains long after they are gone. What my grandfather chose to draw, and the style in which he drew it, gave me a peek into his mind and soul.

He drew people:

And scenes:

And ships:

And cartoons:

The style of my grandfather’s drawings are very much like my father’s drawing style. The similarity is rather spooky. The precision of line, the attention to detail, the choice of materials, even the subject matter was all eerily familiar. My grandfather came alive as he never had before.

But among all his wonderful drawings, a small slip of paper, only about half a finger long and a finger wide, spoke most loudly to me. On it was his careful calligraphy:

The name of his wife. Saved for 75 years.

For the first time, I touched my grandfather.


  1. I’m sure there’s a story brewing in your brain about this. I know your post has encouraged a grain of an idea in mind.

  2. Kerry,

    You wrote this in such a touching way. Kudos.

    All of my grandparents were dead ten years before I was born — and I have no photographs of two of them — so I, too, feel that void. The ability to connect in some tangible manner must fill your heart. What good fortune to find these drawings!

    Ruth Littner

    • Thanks, Ruth! Being so interested in genealogy, I always love anything that connects me to any of my ancestors (for instance, signatures from the 1600s, which I did another post on), but this was special because it was someone who I could have known but didn’t get to, and because I saw so much of my father and his talent in the drawings.

  3. The portfolio is a gift. Ditto for your essay about your grandfather.

    • Thanks, Teresa. The older I get, the more aware I am of the way our society lets the gift of the older generation slip away as useless or outdated. I am also more aware of the hardships and sacrifices they endured to give us the gift of our today, and how much wisdom they have, if only we care to listen.

  4. Kara Gans Page says

    A beautiful tribute, Kerry. Grandfather Gans also was very into “Paint by Numbers” and painted mostly ships like the ones he drew. I wonder if anyone has any of them floating around. Katie, Campbell and Addie are so blessed to have such a great relationship with your parents! xoxo

  5. Amazing discoveries, Kerry. Worth treasuring.

  6. A touching post – a reminder of the importance of roots. It’s wonderful that you were able to connect with your grandfather through his drawings. Thanks for sharing.


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