Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What to Save?

You are down-sizing, moving from your family home of decades into a small apartment.  You can't take everything with you, and you come upon a box of old photographs of high school classmates who are also down-sizing and don't need anymore things to store.
Of, you have lost a parent and you are going through old magazines, postcards, photographs, and other things you cannot even associate with your parent.  What do you do with these things that your parents saved but that mean nothing to you?
Don't discard them!
Older friends in our home town mentioned to my husband that they had some old funeral cards, and among them was the card of my grandfather.  Would I like to see what they had? they asked him.  Of course the answer was yes, and I went through the small stack of cards and scanned them onto my computer.  The card pictured above was from the funeral of the father of a dear friend of mine.  He died in service when she was very young, and the framed picture of her handsome father hung in my friend's bedroom.  I remember seeing it there and asking her who it was.  She too has passed, but she has children who are descendants of Gaylord Thompson.  How sad it would be if this funeral card were to be destroyed when my older friends are no longer able to preserve it.
Those of you who follow my blog may remember seeing the photograph to the left.  When I mentioned the Tousley family in the blog, a family member shared this image with me, a treasured part of my research about Isaac Werner.  I was delighted with the photograph, and she was pleased with the research I had done about her family, and it was this old photograph that brought us together.
When my mother-in-law passed away, there was a box of photographs that she had inherited at the time of her own mother's death, who in turn had inherited them from among her mother's things.  We recognized none of them, and my husband was ready to give up and discard them.  I insisted that they be saved, and painstakingly I began using my genealogy research to unravel the mystery of their identities.  Eventually I identified all but three of the people pictured in this box of photographs.  In a future blog I will offer suggestions for identifying unmarked photographs.
I have the post cards pictured at right because a thoughtful family going through their elderly aunt's things donated them to a museum.  Sadly, it was not a museum primarily utilized by researchers.  The museum used the antique post cards as party favors at a fund raiser--a clever table decoration at the Victorian tea which was a favorite annual event for many years because of the lovely table decorations, clever and tasty refreshments, and special entertainment.  However, gifting the post cards to a museum that serves researchers could have provided a wealth of information about the family and the historic period through the correspondence on the reverse side of the post cards.  When you donate things to a museum, consider the ways in which that museum will be able to preserve and utilize what you donate.
A museum that does save photographs and documents is the perfect place to donate correspondence, old photographs and albums.  My mother-in-law had a full box of obituaries she had clipped from newspapers over the years, and when I offered them to Michael Hathaway at the Stafford County Historical and Genealogical Museum he was delighted.  Pause before you discard things that researchers might appreciate.
I was doing research for Isaac at the Pratt County Historical Museum when Marcia Brown was the director, and I mentioned some of Isaac's neighbors when I was going through old photographs in the museum's collection in hopes of finding a photograph of Isaac.  Marcia has a memory like a Pratt County walking archive, and months later someone brought in a box of old photographs to donate to the museum.  In going through the box she spotted a picture of Dr. Dix, and she remembered my having mentioned him.  I was thrilled!  She e-mailed the image to me, and now I have a picture of one of Isaac Werner's best friends--thanks to the person who brought the box of unidentified photographs to the museum rather than discarding them, and thanks to Marcia Brown's amazing memory and her thoughtfulness in contacting me.  I also have one of Issac's own books because Marcia spotted it at the library deacquisition sale and bought it for me.
I am still hopeful that someone will discover a picture of a group of men standing in a potato patch and remember my story about the photograph of the cooperative potato growing experiment in Stafford County.  Or some one whose ancestors were early Stafford County settlers shown in a photograph in which the background is a house or a well or a big tree or a promenade in a tree grove that they can't recognize from other family pictures, and they may remember my blog about neighbors who came to Isaac's farm to pose for pictures in a more prosperous setting at a time when their own homesteads were rather primitive.
A wealth of irreplaceable information is destroyed each time a box of old letters or old photographs goes into the trash, and when the people whose memories are preserved in those documents are gone, that information cannot be replicated.  Consider before you discard such things whether they should be preserved and where you might deliver them to insure their preservation.  History is more than just  books about famous people and events!

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