Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Look and look again

In college days we were told to devote at least two hours to study for every hour in the classroom.  A corollary, for me, is that it’s important to spend at least as much time -- right away -- to examining research results as was expended in planning the original search.  And it is important to go back and look at the material more than once.
The same theory applies to family heirlooms, which are, after all, just as research-worthy. Don’t simply acquire, store and forget.  Old photos could have names on the back that were a vague mystery at first glance, but later have more meaning.  (Take care to examine the front, too -- sometimes really faint writing will show up under close scrutiny.) Costume and hair styles may help date the images and and a photographer’s imprint could provide the all-important location.
As for old letters -- let me tell you!  Years ago, after just a quick look, I filed away a stack of Howard/Cain family correspondence because it was not from the time period I was working on.  It languished, nearly forgotten, until this past week, when I pulled out the box so I could stash away another item. Inside I re-discovered many letters written by my father around the time he enlisted in the Army in WW I. They were sent to his parents and sisters, and besides the wealth of personal information inside, the addresses pinpointed for me where these individuals were living at the time.  

Another previously overlooked find was a 1916 letter from my grandmother’s half-sister which gave me a clue to the whereabouts of her son. I have been trying to trace him for years!
In yet one more missive from this collection, my great-grandfather wrote how he was presented with a gold-headed cane by fellow Masonic members when he retired as Grand Master of the Sunflower Lodge in Wichita, Kansas.  The cane is still in the family, but the details of its 1891 presentation had vanished from our collective memory.

After careful scanning the letters will be placed with their envelopes in a suitable storage environment and I’ll be able to use the scanned images for further study and possible transcription. [For more information on preserving correspondence go to  Though the site is specifically about saving wartime mail, the guidelines are universally applicable.]

It is likely there will be more discoveries and unexpected clues when I zero in on the contents of these letters.
I am reminded once more that research more often than not has unpredictable results.  Searching for specific data or scrutinising a set of documents for any possible clue (as I will be doing), may not yield what we think it will.  I can recall times when I was going through vital records for one specific bit of information and instead came up with data I had not even known existed.  And that goes for the second-time-around look, too.

So let me say it again -- as much for myself as for you -- look, and look again!

1 comment:

Ann said...

Enjoying your blog! There is so much to learn from what we find in correspondence from the past! And thank you for the resource on war letter preservation.