It all started because someone took the time to write the names on the back of a photo.
And so it is that the story of William and Kate Hopkins' photograph became the story of Alice Sharp Greer, and eventually also the story of Lee, the current researcher who is picking up the pieces passed along of the Hopkins family history.
In reflecting over this whole experience—the photograph in California that connected me with Lee in Minnesota about a couple from Kentucky—Lee made the observation at the beginning of this post.
You may have been wondering about a gap in this story of Alice Sharp Greer's family history records, considering that she died in 1966 and this is now 2018. What happened to all of Alice's carefully compiled records in the interim?
That, in itself, is another story. Lee's mother-in-law was downsizing and needed help with the process of getting everything ready to move into a smaller apartment. As Lee remembers it,
I pulled a large box out of a closet and asked what to do with it. She couldn't even remember what was in it. Opening it was like opening a time capsule. It was a box full of family treasures handed down from another Hopkins ancestor who had no children and each object had a carefully written note attached to it explaining what it was and who had owned it. Lots of names, dates, photos, Alice Greer's 1931 letter and a one-page genealogy of the family were in the box. For someone who loves antiques and old photos as I do, it was a gold mine. This family came to life for me out of the box and I felt it my calling to keep their memory alive.
We gain encouragement from others as we learn their story. We certainly can empathize with Alice's situation, one in which there was no one to whom the treasured family discoveries could be entrusted. As it turned out in Alice's case, there was a gap of years before that treasure was rediscovered—a hiatus enough to make us genealogists hold our breath, if not give up hope entirely for recovery. But somehow, in the end, things did turn out differently and the family's story was rescued.
This sort of experience, once shared, gives us the faith that, in the end, things will work out. As Lee reflected in an email to me after yesterday's post,
I will leave a box twenty or thirty years from now in a closet and hope for the right person to find it.
Some of us already know who will take up our research after we are no longer able to do it. But for those who struggle with the possibility of seeing that life's work abandoned to an unknown fate, it certainly is encouraging to know that sometimes—maybe more often than we realize—there will be someone to take up the call and continue our work.
After all, a family's story is never done.