I nearly missed them. I was tired, frustrated, and saddened by the sheer volume of material to go through. My dear sweet aunt saved everything, and I do mean everything.
It wasn’t just the dried corsages, the snips of wrapping paper from gifts to my uncle, or even the old letters and cards that hit me hardest. It was sheets of old flyers and printouts carefully trimmed to be used for scratch paper. It was address labels cut off envelopes to be reused on outgoing mail. It was pencil stubs, old calendars, and rainy-day plastic bags from the newspaper.
Since her death in late August, I have been bringing home boxes from Auntie’s home to go through carefully as my sister and I work to settle her affairs. The old bumper pool table in our basement office, topped with a sturdy board, makes a good work surface for unpacking boxes. It’s slow work looking at things one-by-one, but it’s the only way to do it, I keep reminding myself.
Somewhere between a stack of recycled scratch paper and some old restaurant receipts two cabinet card photographs came into view.
The little girl in one photo looked familiar, I think I’ve seen images of my Grandmother that look similar, and when I turned over the photo, on the reverse side I recognized her handwriting: “That is the family cookbook I’m looking at. I think I was 2 or yrs. old” she had written.
The second photo shows a smiling baby, but the reverse is blank. Then, looking closer I saw a faint inscription pencilled in the bottom margin: “Arline Allen Kinsel”.
I have no idea how these two photographs became separated from the mass of material I inherited in 2000 that had originally belonged to my grandmother. Clearly, these photos were part of the collection. Maybe my aunt had held them back so that she would have a few to enjoy. How sad that they must have become misplaced over the years, and how fortunate that I found them at all.
I’m starting a new list of Lessons from the Archive, and this is #1– Examine everything. Every scrap of paper, every box, bag, and bundle. Don’t assume that a 6-inch stack of greeting cards contains only cards. You never know what might fall out and land in your lap!
Please leave a comment if you’ve made your own lucky discovery in your family archive; I’d love to hear about it.
What a lot of lucky researchers we are! Money, court evidence, letters, photos, school papers — that’s a lot of buried treasure. Anthony, you may get the prize for the oldest find. Unless Dr. Bill’s documents are even older. Thanks so much for sharing, all.