Sunday, April 24, 2022

Surprises in the Mail


In this age of online connectivity, it's quite a surprise just to even receive something via "snail" mail anymore. In the past few weeks, and again yesterday, our local genealogical society did receive such a surprise. More than that, it was the unexpected content which made the packages even more of a surprise: photographs, clippings from newspaper articles, and other memorabilia concerning a specific family once resident in our county.

We hadn't asked for such a gift. But I can't say this sort of unexpected arrival was out of place. We are, after all, a society dedicated to preserving the family history of residents of our area. Like any other local genealogical society, though, we are pressed for space—not to mention, funds. What to do to honor such a gift—and the memory of the long-gone people it represents?

As far as I can tell from a cursory study, the principle people mentioned in the contents left no living direct line descendants, just joining those many dubbed the "last leaf on the branch." Yet that, too, begs the question: how did our benefactor stumble upon such personal papers (including, among other things, an original marriage certificate and even a social security card)?

Somewhere out there is—must be—someone who is related to this family. The situation of an only child of an only child can't be a situation repeated over too many generations; somewhere there must be third or fourth cousins who might take an interest in distant relatives like this family. 

I think of the possible ways to share this collection of memorabilia. Like many local societies, we coordinate a "First Families" program in partnership with our county's historical society, where materials donated through the program can be archived. At this point, though, such a method would lock those photos and letters behind pandemic-restricted doors. I'm looking for a way to share which involves people coming to us in a less-restricted way.

The possibility of using the same sort of channels we use for our personal family trees may be the best option. Some of those online portals provide ways to upload items such as photographs, which other members can then retrieve and save for their own records. It's a way to have our "cake" and eat it, too: to share the content someone wanted to pass along while finding a way to keep it safely preserved for future reference.

It is this very project we've begun, starting with this one local family, thanks to the prompting of an unexpected gift received through the mail. While in the past, I've spent time searching for "orphan photographs" to research and return to the subject's descendants, now the photographs have started coming to us. It will be interesting to go through the same process we use to research our own ancestors, yet this time, benefiting the larger community by preserving a piece of local history for all to share.    

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