Using random keepsakes
What to do with a pile of seemingly disconnected artifacts
You’ve dusted the keepsake box. You’ve brought it downstairs and emptied its contents. You’ve carefully spread them in front of you, and, well, you begin to feel helpless. You have a hunch this one may will take some effort.
“File 13” never looked so good but, not so fast. This isn’t trash. What you see may provide significant insight, not just what happened when.
Do you see the tiny National Bank of Tacoma booklet? This receipt book is a record of each payment made by my great aunt Hazel to my grandma, her sister, for a house on Park avenue. Wait a minute! I know that house. I have pictures, and of the remodel done by Hazel’s husband. This was dad’s first home! And, we have the record of receipts when the house sold. Good heavens! How many people have photos of their father’s first home, its 1940s remodel, and payment records?
These are the makings for a great story!
Admittedly, we are quite lucky to have several sources of information available to create this story, but it isn’t always the case.
Photo matching and how this matters
When looking through our photo collection on my father’s side, I kept coming across photos of a woman I could not identify. I thought she was a friend of my great aunt Hazel as opposed to a relative, but I wasn’t certain. She must have been important, as there are photos of dinners together, afternoons in the yard, but also of her wedding. I was stumped. None of the photos were identified.
I was eventually able to identify her by the shape of her face and her teeth. Are you smiling? Perhaps it paid off to be in dentistry for 34 years. One notices these things. Her smile revealed one front tooth that sits slightly recessed from the others. I gathered all of the loose, unidentified photos of her and was able to match her with an identified woman in another album. I eventually solved this one by not giving up.
If you are serious about leaving behind a great legacy but one that makes sense, use the resources at hand. Scan in your unknowns and enlarge them on the computer, or get out the magnifying glass. Look at everything!
Here is another example of an Unsolved Mystery. I’m stumped, but not ready to give up:
See my article called UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.
Who caught the mistake? Anyone?
Look closely at dad’s photo description in the upper left photo. He writes this is a view of the house on Park from the back. Yet, look at the roof line. It isn’t sloped. The roof on the two houses on the right is sloped and the pitch seems steeper. The chimney position also seems off. Oh, no, what now? No worries. I already knew there were two houses the family lived in on Park, that dad mixed up the houses.
Sometimes it takes a keen eye, but suppose I hadn’t known about the second house? Photo matching may save hours of confusion.
The value of letters
This takes time, but it’s well worth your effort
Great grandma Orah often referred in her letters to the Langton family. Orah’s aunt, Mary Smith, was married to Adelbert Phelps. Mary’s sister Sarah Smith married William Byron Langton. After Mary and William died, Sarah married Adelbert. Two Smith sisters married the same man, Mr. Phelps. This makes for quite a Smith/Langton/Phelps story.
I came across a letter recently written to my great aunt Hazel Kasae from a woman named Dora. This set off all kinds of bells in my head. I knew I’d seen that name, figured she was a relative. I suspected the letter held significant clues. And, was I right.
Dora refers to a well known photo in our family, she had found a copy, and tells Hazel what is written on the back. The mention of “tuberculosis” lends credence to a story I’d heard all my life: Orah’s daughter Lillian was, indeed, afflicted.
Dora tells Hazel who is in the photo from the note on the back, something we questioned since it’s hard to tell. The note says Josiah or “Si,” Forrest, Orah, Lalla, and the woman in the bonnet. (I might have to respectfully disagree; Lalla was four years younger than Lillian–wearing the bonnet–but this little girl looks much younger. Lillian died in 1912 when Lalla was 14. I suspect the little girl is Bertha, the youngest sister, who was 14 years younger than Lillian and would be four and a half in August of 1912). Regardless, it does help identify the woman seated in front.
Below is our photo with Lillian’s temporary outside home, her quarantine tent.
Dora refers to “Sate,” a nickname for Sarah. She asks about the Smith family bible, and mentions who received family data when aunt Sarah passed. Aunt Edith, Orah’s sister-in-law, is also mentioned as are Edith’s uncertain origins. A husband of another family member was mentioned, all of this was news to me.
Most of what Dora wrote provided information, not proof, but the letter offers clues I can follow up with to learn more.
The artifacts in your pile may seem disconnected, and, they may be. However, it’s worth a closer look before you look longingly at file 13. Read those letters. Spend some time pouring over the photos. Bring in another set of eyes. Ask living relatives.
Hover over these two photos for another clue about photo matching.
BEFORE YOU TOSS: Give it some time. In the case of random items, a possible source of proof or lore, it’s better to keep than toss. When in doubt, save and store. You can always toss later.
You may be surprised that, given the artifacts in front of you, there are connections and stories waiting to be discovered.
Happy profiling! ❤