Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Time and Memory

This clock was given to me by my father. He had someone appraise it for historical purposes and gave me a laminated index card with that information on it as well. Having misplaced this card several times over the years, I have decided to put it right in with the clock now so the item and information will always be together. Even genealogists lose their “census” and I am surprised by how much I do not remember about research I have done. A recent example: During the past eight years or so of friendship, I have been helping a friend and her family gather information on their family history. Recently, this friend showed me photos she had taken of an old family bible in her aunt’s possession. I swore I had never seen that bible before. When I looked at notes I had taken about eight years ago though, I saw that I already had copies of the family history pages of that same bible! I guess I just didn’t recognize the cover as well the content.

I have cautioned this same friend to write down and take inventory of what she has and where it came from. She has been blessed with lots of old things that were her grandmother’s originally and then passed to an uncle who in turn gave it to her. Letters, old photos, bibles, books, etc. It’s been an amazing collection to look through and I’ve felt privileged to help in whatever way I can. I shared with her how my dad’s cousin sent me a lot of tintype pictures and tintype photo albums in the mail just after his mother, my great-aunt Ruby, died. I didn’t even know they were coming and was overjoyed to receive such a gift (it made me nervous to think that this might have gotten lost in the mail, too). This was back around 1991. At one point, having a rudimentary knowledge and fascination with historical artifacts, I decided to write an inventory of all the photographs and items he had given me in order to establish the provenance. Again, I am so surprised in looking at that inventory now how much I do not remember about what he sent. Even writing this up, I had to stop and think, “Wait a minute, did he mail those photo albums to me, too?” Luckily I have notes to refresh my recollection of this acquisition. My attention to detail has been a very useful trait in my work, but memory can be faulty or unreliable. I do wish now sometimes that I had pursued something more along the lines of archivist in my professional life, but at this point it’s not really a viable option.

It is the same with family stories. They need to be set down and archived in such a way that their historical value and provenance are preserved. The attention to detail is important so that we can accurately say that this photograph or story goes with this family and not another so as to not muddy the waters and get the truth mixed up with fiction. Historical accuracy is important. Even tiny details that might seem insignificant can lead to clues that will help in future family historical research. I guess if there’s a moral to my post, it is “write it down.”  


  1. I also try to put the photos of heirlooms in my digital family files and add information to the image file. If I have paperwork I scan that also. I figure that the more places I have the information the more likely it is I won't lose it.
    I agree that every little detail can make a difference in our assessment of our ancestors. Too bad we can't get a few more hours in a day to do the things we know we should before the information is forgotten!

    1. Good idea, Sonja, I like your way of thinking as more can definitely be better! (This blog is one more way of information preservation.) More hours in a day, oh, wouldn't that be great? My idea of heaven would be unlimited time in a library of records... :)