Friday, March 20, 2015

Keepers of Personal History

I recall a recent discussion between a cousin and myself. At the time, he was in the process of moving. Perhaps he shouldn't have mentioned he was throwing out some old posters of his past concerts (he's a gospel singer), because I just had to tell him that he ought to be saving some personal history. He came back and said he didn't want to be a called a hoarder. I was truly surprised at him, because he's been very interested in everything I've been discovering so far on our mutual ancestor. And just where did he think I was getting this information? I bet he didn't put two and two together. *smile* He would be compiling his own personal history for his descendants and I know he has at least two.
Genealogists, historians, and librarians consider journals, photo albums and scrapbooks as treasure troves of information, because so few people keep them. If it weren't for the keepers and savers, we wouldn't have materials to research from. Thanks to a certain cable television show, which I've heard this cousin mention from time to time, people are being led to believe that collecting of any sort is a shameful thing and it makes them fearful of being labeled a misfit of society, not realizing that one poster in a scrapbook does not a hoarder make. This is yellow journalism at its worst -- ridiculing the mentally ill who truly cannot help themselves. Hence the consequences of a throw-a-way society who are constantly bombarded with messages to buy, buy, buy. At one time, thriftiness was considered a virtue.
And while I'm on the subject, I have been urging my fellow paper artists not to recycle/upcycle old ledgers, handwritten letters and ephemera to use in their artwork. In these days of easy photocopying/scanning and printing, making a copy and donating their flea-market finds to their local genealogy/historical society makes perfect sense to me. If it hadn't been for my thrifty great-grandmother and hence my grandmother, I wouldn't have had Hannah's wonderful letters to scan and transcribe like this one:
Dec 18, '29
Dear Tacy, So sorry to hear Laura had the small-pox and you had to be vaccinated. Hope she did not have it very hard and that she is getting along all right.
Am sending a check for $3.00 to you to use wherever you most need it.
Ronald wrote me about Laura. Hope this doesn't put her back in her studies at school.
It turned cold last night and we are in a snow blizzard now. We are promised zero weather soon.
Mildred had a baby girl born to her and Clarence Dec. 10th. Both Mildred and baby are doing well.
Love to all, Hannah

Here's gold! First of all, this letter tells me that Laura had small-pox when she was old enough to attend school. These days when small-pox has mostly been eliminated by immunizations, it's hard to believe that a family member would have this terrible disease in the twentieth century. Laura lived through it and not only did she live through it, but she lived to a ripe old age scar-free. That was a blessing! Not many people did. My encyclopedia says it was the most contagious air-borne disease and was usually considered a death sentence when people were diagnosed with it. The current ebola epidemic in Africa should serve as an example. People had to be isolated in quarantine to try to stop the spread of it and when you had precious little to begin with, burning all the personal possessions of a sick person, because back then one didn't have anti-bacterial cleaners to sterilize the sick person's room with as we do today, was heart-breaking as well. Young people should realize that the risks that come with vaccinations are a lot less than should their children get the real disease. I've seen many young children's tombstones cemetery walking that has made me realize how heart-breaking it must have been to lose their precious heirs to disease outbreaks.
Second, pooled information from other genealogists, may indicate to county historians, who also in the region may have died from smallpox in 1929.
Third, this letter tells me that Hannah was a compassionate woman and knew their need. It also tells me that she lived somewhere above the equator by the weather she was experiencing in December of 1929. And it tells me that she had been communicating with family members, about the birth of a baby girl (her niece). She names names! And last, but not least, we have a sample of her handwriting!
Since I've decoded a few clues from this letter about our family from this single sheet of paper, I can now apply that to a family genealogy chart. For the clueless, genealogy is like a scavenger hunt and a jig-saw puzzle all rolled together. You have to hunt for primary documents (ie. like this letter), then decode the clues from the documents (ie. see above), and fit the clues together to reassemble your ancestor's lives. (Note: And be sure to record where you obtained your clues if you wish to be taken seriously. It has saved my bacon more than once!)

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