Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 7, Number 2 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 January 28, 2015
In this article we continue to discuss organizing our genealogy files and looking back through them to determine where to focus our efforts this year. I really enjoyed all the comments from the last article on "House Cleaning Time". The comments ranged from "And when did you get into my dining room? I did not see you...maybe because of the lack of housekeeping there" to a proclamation of the "Best Mountain Press ever".
Hopefully, you are using the cold winter days to organize all your research!
James L. Douthat
Somewhere in those dark closets and boxes in the attic, basement or garage lies a treasure trove of ancestral information. We all have some letters, papers of our ancestors, photographs and other memoribia that is of great interest in telling the story of those ancestors.
We all dream of finding the oldest family Bible filled with all of the dates, names and places of our ancestors. Most of us do not find that item in our search, but we keep dreaming. Never give up!! I started my search at age seventeen and I knew about an old family Bible somewhere. My last clue was it was in a bank vault in Memphis, Tennessee. About five years ago, I received an email with photographs of an old family Bible that the sender had, but he never knew where it came from or who it belonged to - Eureka!! My search was ended. There was my Bible I had been searching for almost sixty years at the time.
Just last week, I was cleaning some shelves in my library and ran across an album of postcards that my grandmother had given me before she died in 1969. I began to go back through the 60 to 70 postcards she gave me and discovered a whole new side of my grandmother. She graduated from Christiansburg [VA] High School in 1910 and I am lucky to have a photograph of that graduation.
These postcards have notes shared between these High School friends and old boyfriends. They had a game going to see who could put the most on one postcard. They are written in the tiniest script you have ever seen. I have tried to type out one in 10 point type on the computer and it takes a little over a half a page. They wrote in the message box, across the top and bottom of the address side and then completely covering the photograph on the other side. They are extremely hard to read and at different points even harder to understand what they are talking about in the first place. I am not as worried about the parts I don’t understand, but the parts I do understand are a gold mine of information about the families, neighborhoods, the area and the times in which they lived. Teenagers are universal in any age. I do hate it when they referred to “B” or “Miss E” as I don’t know who they are talking about. A few minutes with the 1910 Federal Census, I can get a picture of the neighborhood and quess who some of these folks are and that really helps.
As I mentioned some of the cards are to boyfriends my grandmother had before she married my grandfather and settled down to raise three children. Boy/girl friends are also universal through the ages and I can really appreciate how “normal” they both were during these days. In addition to the written information, there is usually a photograph of some kind on the front. Knowing the area fairly well in today’s terms, they are of great interest to see how the changes have occurred over the years and what is long gone. I cherish this collection and know that few will ever experience the thrill of understanding your grandparents with such insight.
There are plenty of other materials lying around your house. There are “love letters” from parents and grandparents. There are probably Christmas cards, Valentine cards, and get well cards in your collection. Any of these are well worth going back over today and seeing something new you might have missed in the past. There might be a real nugget of gold in those words.
One of the great finds are letters written from family during war time to or from the soldiers in the field. In my wife’s family, I have some letters from her great grandmother’s first husband who was later killed at Andersonville Prison. They really make the Civil War come alive to us over a hundred and twenty-five plus years later. In my family, I have a collection of dozens of letters from ancestors during the same war, but on a different side. Every soldier at this time was universal - please write me - do you still love me? - do you have enough to eat? - are you safe? No matter which side they fought on, they would ask the same questions of the home folks. All of this information make the ancestors live in our eyes. They become real. This is very important as we don’t see them just as a name on a tombstone or page in the Bible. We want to make them come alive.
You can also find lots of information from the most unlikely sources. One of the unusual items in my collection are copies of local post office receipts. I am not too interested in the number of 1 cent stamps that sold in 1898, but the records of each money order purchased. In this listing is the name of those who purchased it, where it was going and best of all, what it was for. I am amazed at the different magazines they purchased and books they ordered. In this list are the types of seeds they had to have and many other items. Another unusual source is those cancelled checks and how they tell us something about our ancestors. Have you been so lucky as to find of their grocery receipts? The items they bought and the amounts they paid are so interesting.
Any little tidbit of information helps us to round out the lives of those who went before us. Now is the time to get into the attic, basement or garage and find our lost treasures.
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