One of the biggest products of daily life seems to be paper. It’s stacked up around my house, and it’s one of the first things to deal with when you inherit a home after someone passes away.
A Cure for Rheumatism
My mother-in-law saved envelopes for scratch paper. My aunt repurposed them by cutting off her name and address for a kind of DIY return-address label. And, nearly 100 years ago my Grandmother Arline used an envelope to write — “Gum-go-wack, get enough for one qt. whiskey for rheumatism. one oz. 3 times a day.”
Letter from E.B. Kinsel, Ruth, Nevada to Mrs. A.A. Parker, Wilder, Kansas
The letter was sent from E.B. Kinsel, Arline’s father. I know that Eliphaz Bigelow Kinsel worked for the railroad and was rarely at home in Kansas. In 1926, my grandmother Arline was married to Charlie Parker but she must have been living either on E.B.’s farm in Wilder or on Parker’s farm.
The other address noted at the top of the envelope — R.W. McCleery of Benton is new to me. Looks like another clue to follow.
So, what exactly — as a family historian — do you do with “Found Ephemera” when you acquire a collection of papers?
Digitize, Transcribe, Preserve
Some folks would throw it away. Some might read the letter first, and then toss it. I tend to just keep on saving it. I unfold the letter, scan it and place it in an acid-free paper folder. The folders are filed by author and date in an archival vertical file box. I use the scanned image for transcribing. Any genealogical data like names, dates, events, and vital records such as neighborhood gossip (*smile*) are entered into my genealogy database program with the letter cited as the source of the information.
When I’m lucky, information from these bits of “found ephemera” help build a chain of evidence for a claim such a date or place of birth, marriage, or death. These tidbits are not uncommon. My ancestors lived at a distance from close family members and news traveled by letter; those letters were passed around like chocolates after dinner. They were read, re-read, and savored. Unlike the game of “Telephone” where a whispered message quickly becomes garbled and often reshaped as it makes it’s way around a circle, the news found in letters doesn’t change when the letter moves from hand to hand.
I’m looking at the photo of this envelope today and wondering what the letter inside is all about. . . or if there is a letter inside. I’m also wondering if one ounce of whiskey three times a day really does help rheumatism. . .
On April 12, 2013 I’ll be talking with Caroline Pointer of 4YourFamilyStory.com about finding and caring for ephemera for Caroline’s What’s Up Genealogy show on Google+ Hangouts. Join us!