A genealogical gold mine can sometimes be found in old family effects. I’ve gone through many of my family’s old belongings now in the hands of various cousins, but my mother has been resisting me a little. I have been begging her to go through my grandfather’s things. They are all up in the attic of her home and have at least six years’ worth of dust covering them.I know that his death was hard on my mom, and I totally understand and respect that. She would rather not touch his stuff, which I also understand. I’ve offered to do it instead, but she claims that she wants to do it so she can part with whatever she doesn’t want anymore. She keeps telling me that she will head up there to check everything out and then gets sidetracked with whatever else is going on. But she finally went up today and called me immediately.She found my great-grandmother’s bible, hidden inside a folded tablecloth in a chest of my grandfather’s stuff. This bible is something various family members have been searching for going back a while now, so it was nice to finally have it in our sights again.
My great-grandmother hada few obituaries pressed in between the first few pages of the bible. Luckily, she had saved one about an aunt whom I had not been able to locate. It turned out that everything had been stacked against me: apparently she had gotten married and moved. To my complete delight, my mother said she had also written down a family tree that went back four generations (and ahead all the way to my mother, it would seem). I was able to confirm some guesses thanks to the dates she had written down, and eliminate one or two suspected relatives who no longer fit the criteria. My mom promised to send some pictures because she knows how much I love to see research materials written in the person’s own handwriting—there’s something about it that just makes family history come alive for me, especially when I did not have the opportunity to meet the person in question. I feel like you can learn a lot about someone based on their writing, through their penmanship, word choice, and what they chose to write about and/or save.
But there was something else tucked into the pages of that bible. My great-grandfather’s proposal! It seems he sent her a telegraph while travelling back from the war that read, “Coming home. Buy a dress and I’ll meet you at the church.” My mom was quick to broadcast that story around to members of the family, and everyone thought it was both pretty typical of my not-very-subtle great grandfather and very plausible because it seems to correspond to family “legends” as well.
This was a surprising and interesting piece of information. I’m going to make a digital copy of the telegram the next time I am at mom’s house so that it can be preserved for future generations.