From time to time, I run across fellow genealogy enthusiasts who share their one disappointment with me: that they have no one to whom they can pass their decades worth of family history research. Here they have invested multiple hours of a lifetime, devoting it to the premise that the family's multi-generational story is too valuable to lose—and yet, due to various circumstances, that is precisely what threatens to happen.
There are reasons for the threat of such a loss. For some, no one else in the family is even remotely interested in those relatives of a bygone era whom they had never met and never cared to know. For other, though, there is no family to take an interest in the researcher's life work.
Such was the case of Alice Sharp Greer, niece of the subject of the abandoned family photograph I found in an antique shop in northern California. When I learned about her from Lee, the family history researcher to whom I offered to send William and Kate Hopkins' found photograph from Kentucky, I began to see Alice take shape as an encouragement for all those who are in the same position.
As Lee mentioned to me in our ongoing email correspondence, Alice had no children of her own. Granted, she had some nieces and nephews, but as many of us discover, that is no guarantee that those members of the next generation will take up the mantle we feel so strongly about.
Alice—the "family genealogist," as Lee put it—had a unique opportunity to pursue her calling over the years. It was thanks to her husband's business, coupled with her ability to travel with him on his rounds, while she detoured during business hours to conduct some research of her own. According to Lee,
Alice Greer's husband was a traveling salesman from Kansas City whose territory was western U.S. On his letterhead it says Materials Equipment Engineer—Casters, Trucks, Lift-Trucks, Pallet Lift-Trucks, Conveyors.
While John Harry Greer was busy at his occupation, Alice was busy sending out letters of inquiry in that era far removed from today's online conveniences. Relentlessly, it seems, at least from Lee's description:
Alice sent out many letters of inquiry on the family history on her husband's business letterhead—J. Harry Greer. I have one of these letters from 1931 and amazingly enough, a woman found another one from 1951 in her mother's papers and sent it to me, providing me a great deal of new information about the Hopkins [family], which I have been relentlessly researching ever since.
Those letters Alice sent out in 1931 and 1951 were only two examples of the many she wrote in her pursuit of the family's history. Just like the one from 1951 that a woman found and returned to Lee, there are many more of Alice's letters out there—and Lee would love to find them. That plea is even posted on Alice's Find A Grave memorial. (You knew a researcher as dedicated as Lee would include volunteering for Find A Grave in a genealogical to-do list, didn't you?)
Eventually, despite surely still having some questions unanswered, it became time to pass that genealogical baton to someone else. Alice Sharp Greer passed away October 26, 1966, in Concord, California—yes, in Contra Costa County, that place we've got our eye on—and all her research came to a halt.
With no children to step up and continue Alice's legacy, that might have been the end of the story. But whether Alice knew this all along, or whether it was a circumstance that evolved after her passing, there was someone who turned out to be more than interested in taking up Alice's mantle: it was Lee. All the pedigree charts, all the family group sheets—and more important, all those irreplaceable letters from Alice to relatives, and Alice's extended family to each other—were eventually passed along to someone who would take up where Alice left off.
And that is the encouragement Alice gifts us with, too, with her story. There will be someone to preserve our work, and to carry it forward. It just doesn't always come from the direction we'd expect. But however it comes to us, it transforms us—and those who are willing to step up and take our place—from a research dead end to a bridge that connects the treasures of our past with the family members in our future.