Three red suitcases
I have heard of family historians being gifted or inheriting documents, memorabilia or an entire family archive, precious as a result of age and sympathetic attachment. I remember being pleased and disappointed at the same time. Pleased for them, for the tangible connection they now had with those who had gone before. Disappointed that, while I have appreciated very much the moments of genealogical serendipity that have come my way, pieces of information that have demonstrated the types of people my ancestors were, that tactile connection had not happened for me.
Then … several months ago … it did, in the form of three red suitcases. Their contents tell the tale of the Taylor family from Tullamore. Letters, photographs, newspaper articles and memorabilia give Taylor descendants the tangible connection, one I have so longed for, to their Irish immigrant ancestors who journeyed from what was Kings County to Australia. They travelled inland to Queensland’s Burnett region to become the pioneers we now understand them to be. Their stories link me to my heritage; a fact I find both fascinating and a responsibility.
The cases are cardboard, very sturdy, and into the interior of each lid my grandad etched in blue ink his name and different addresses at which he and his family lived over a period of time. This same grandfather marked many of his black and white photographs, writing in ink people’s names above their heads or marking certain friends with an ‘X’. Many of the photographs are of horses, not unusual for a family well known for breaking and racing them. An old metal cash tin, notebooks listing cheques written to family members, telegrams sent by granddad to his brother congratulating him on a TKO; the family also well known as boxers.
One of the items most meaningful to me is a collection of sympathy cards and ribbons from wreaths given by mourners on the occasion of my grandmother’s funeral. A grandmother I never met; I was born 11 days before she died. These mementoes have been placed in an old fashioned photo album with self adhesive pages that have yellowed as they have aged over the years. In order to prevent any further deterioration, I should remove the cards and ribbons but my aunt put them in this album and I want to preserve, not only the items, but the context. I have placed some of the larger items, such as cardboard photograph albums that are beginning to come adrift in Glad Snaplock bags. This will keep the loose parts of each item contained, the bags are easy to write on with a marker pen and can be sealed to keep out dust and vermin. According to the Glad web site, the bags are Bisphenol-A (BPA) free but I seem to recollect hearing that they are also acid free. If so they would make ideal long term containers for precious family artefacts. Can anyone confirm this?
I am so thrilled to have been entrusted with this wonderful archive; my plan to share it is simple. I aim to catalogue each piece. I prefer using a spreadsheet, with a small photograph next to each entry to enable easier identification of each piece. Columns will be based on author or creator’s name, item date, description, ancestor’s name and source. This will allow me to data sort by category, identify gaps and forward plan any research I might want to undertake. Once I am able to create a list of the contents based on date, I hope to begin a blog site with regular posts; each post to include images of the Taylor’s items beginning with the oldest and gradually making my way to the most recent item. Now to consider layout, design and a title for the site that I hope to unapologetically use as cousin bait. Any tips on wording, branding and how to present the content would be appreciated.
Wow Lyndall, I am so excited for you. Receiving a collection of memorabilia is such a thrill, and to know that those people you only had scant details of, had actually touched, used, treasured, saved those items, and imbued them with daily cares, brings you so much more than mere details. You have windows into their lives.
I agree with your feeling of responsibility, and your concern as to how best to preserve and document it all. Spreadsheets and categories are definitely the way to go.
It is so wonderful you have these suitcases and are looking after their contents so carefully. Have you given any thought to their home when you are, dare I say, gone?
What a wonderful gift from the past… I would love a progress report later on, whenever you have time. You inspire me to get moving with the things I have yet to finish labelling.
I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
Thank you, Chris
Thanks so much to each of you for your comments & support. I was thrilled and incredibly respectful of the archive I received.
Sue, great point you raise. Yes, I have given thoughts to who will progress our family history when I am no longer able. I have five nieces and one of them will ‘take up the mantle’. While she’s 12 years old, I’m already working with her to encourage her interest in genealogy and communicate to her how important lineage and heritage are. As she becomes older I’m thankful this archive and other information I’ve compiled should be cared for and cared for well. How important we ‘succession plan’ our research and ‘archives’ so that our families don’t lose what we’ve spent so much time pulling together.
Chris, One of the reasons I chose this topic for the post was to keep me accountable. We all know it’s so easy for life to happen and our research to take a back seat. While I have a couple of other family history tasks on my to do list, it is important to me to share the information I’ve received and not keep it to myself. Thank you for including my post in Friday Fossicking; just thrilled.