In our research we usually concentrate on looking for documents such as birth and death certificates and marriage licenses…they are, after all, the stuff of genealogy. We also thrive on finding old photographs because they help us identify ancestors and sometimes even relationship among ancestors.
But what about old cameras, old
books, furniture, eye glasses, desks, tools, and even houses? Those also can have
a value to us genealogists although we don’t always stop to think of it. They
can carry family history that is just as important to us in giving "life"
to our ancestors as those documents that we spend so much time trying to find. And
just like photographs, they can stimulate memories from the living members of
our families that might never see the light of day without such a prompt.
We genealogists become antique
collectors because we are commentators of family history. Antique dealers
treasure such items because of their monetary value; we treasure them because
of the stories and history about our families that they carry…their value to us
is intrinsic. An old corncob pipe may not be worth very much money, but if we
know that it belonged to our great-great grandfather, and that it was his chief
pleasure to sit on the porch in the evenings and smoke it while telling stories
with the family after working the farm all day, then it has great value.
Other items that may have value
to your family are those associated with ancestors’ hobbies or jobs, such as
nurses’ uniforms or scissors, pocket watches or cuff links, dried flowers or
pressed ones, etc. The list is virtually endless. Often it just requires us to
change our focus during our research to recognize the genealogical values of
My family, for instance, treasures
a small marble topped table that belonged to my great grandmother. She, as a
child, as well as her children and her children's children all, at one time or
another, did their arithmetic homework on its top. They wrote directly on the
marble with a pencil and then erased their figures to begin again, making the
top dull and even wavy in spots. The table is valuable because of the history
it carries…because of the role it played in the life of our family, and its
imperfections add to the value.
Even houses can hold
genealogical value. Parents and grandparents may have wonderful childhood
memories about living in a specific house. Another set of stories that might be
connected with a house deals with when it was first purchased. Our homes
typically are the most expensive possessions we have, and committing to such an
obligation for the first time usually impresses itself indelibly on our minds.
Those types of memories deserve to be recorded and even amplified with
appropriate photographs. They give a broader and deeper understanding of our
families and the lives they led.
Treasures of this type are
probably scattered with members of your family. A brother may have an old family
desk; a cousin may possess a hall tree that once was a great grandparent’s. And
of course there is always our own basement or attic that can hold an item
waiting to be discovered.
Once an item is found and we
discover the story associated with it, don’t forget to write that story down
and also record when, where, and who told the story. And when you are recording
the story and its source, don’t forget to describe the object that started it
all, its location, and take a picture of it as well. Completely documenting
sources applies equally to documents and artifacts alike. An excellent source
to guide source documentation is Evidence
Explained: Citing history sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Second
Edition) by Elizabeth Shown Mills, Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc.,
The Pinellas Genealogy Society
offers a class on documenting sources that may be of value to you. Check the
website at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~flpgs/index.htm
for more information.
So broaden your field of view
during your research and consider family possessions as well as documents. The
result will be a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the lives your