Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Some Genealogy Treasures Come at a Price

A couple years ago I had asked my paternal grandmother about her pictures. She had shown me a few pictures here and there over the years, but I had a feeling she had more. I wanted a chance to go through her pictures with her.

In April we found out she had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a scary diagnosis, but she had already beat cancer twice and the doctors were optimistic that she could beat it again this time. Everything was going okay until a little over a week ago when they found that the cancer had spread. Suddenly things weren't so optimistic.

Last Thursday, I got a call. My dad had talked to the doctor and they were saying she was down to just a few days. I left the next day. We drove all night to get there. Once we got to town, we visited with other family members who had already came in. We were heading out the door to see my grandmother when the call came. Despite all my efforts to get down there to see her one last time and say my goodbyes, it was too late.

The next day we went to her house to find her insurance papers and start the huge project of going through the house. My dad got the few things that were important to him and then told us we could take whatever we wanted. We were surprised to find that my grandmother had already boxed up and set aside things that she knew was important to us grandchildren.

One sister had asked about my grandmother's Aunt Jemima collection in the past. We found them already boxed up with her name on it. Another sister had asked about the family Bible and a set of Legos we had played with as children. Those were also set aside for her. We also unearthed three Uno decks. Some of our favorite memories of childhood is playing Uno with our grandparents when we were staying with them so it was nice to find three decks, one for each of us girls to treasure.

As for me, I guess Grandma remembered me asking about the pictures and being interested in our family history. She had already gathered all of them from the various rooms, taking them off the walls in some cases, and packed them away so I didn't have to hunt for them. We found a large plastic bin and two cardboard boxes about half the size of the bin. There was also a plastic shoebox full of obituaries, funeral cards and newspaper articles about various family members.

Since we needed some pictures for the funeral slideshow, we dragged everything out in the living room and my dad, my sister and I started going through them. To my surprise, I found that she had also taken the time to label many of them. They were sorted into the paper envelopes that they come back from the photo developing shops in and she had written on the envelopes the date and what was going on when the pictures were taken. For instance, one is labeled as being from my second trip to West Virginia and had the dates of our trip.

I also found pictures that my great grandmother had had, which had been passed down to my grandmother when she passed away. I haven't saw everything in the bins yet since there was three of us going through them, but it's definitely a genealogy goldmine. So far I've found:
  • A picture of my great grandmother as a baby with her dad when he returned home from war
  • A picture of my great grandparents as young adults (I suspect it's their wedding picture)
  • Pictures of my grandmother and her siblings as children
  • A picture of my grandparents from when they were dating
  • A copy of a page from another family Bible (judging from the names I suspect it's the Carson family Bible)
  • My dad's baby book
  • Artwork my dad had done in 4th grade and won a ribbon for
  • My grandfather's high school yearbook (which also has my grandmother and her siblings in it)
  • Letters I had written my grandmother over the years

There's no telling what else might be in the bins since it's going to take me quite a while to go through all of them. Even with three of us doing a quick sort through them to find pictures for the slide-show, it still took several hours.

These are an amazing find from a genealogy standpoint, but they come at a high price. Losing my grandmother, one of the family members I was closest to, has knocked me to my knees. It's especially hard coming on the heels of losing four other family members, including my two grandfathers, in less than two years.

But I'd like to think she's smiling down on me from Heaven, secure in the belief that I will treasure these pictures and other items as much as she did. And that I will use them to ensure future generations will know their heritage.


  1. Oh wow, that is definitely a genealogical goldmine but so sorry it came at such a high price. Keep your memories close to your heart and know how much she loved you to have put everything together in one place for you. What a gift!

  2. My condolences on the loss of your grandmother. But what a great lady - she thought of you all and organized everything - what a demonstration of love!

  3. My condolences as well! I had a similar experience with my uncle who passed away recently. He set aside an album belonging to my great-grandmother, just for me. I had published her memoirs and included many photos I had found, but never knew this album existed. He found the album shortly before he died, and knew it's value especially for me. What a gift to receive from someone you love, and after they died!