Ephemera is my old love returned


I love old things and I have a special fondness for paper. Books, letters, cards, written things, call to me, especially when they are old. Paper not designed to be retained is called Ephemera, and if it’s old and discarded and has a story, for me, it’s love. But I’ve been out of touch for quite a while. I collected postcards and stamps as a child. I still have my collection, and boxes of stamps and postcards preserved someday to be added when I have the time. Last year when I worked on the Sketchbook Project I found that passion once again.

One of my fondest paper memories is scavenging two boxes of letters in my husband’s grandmother’s attic which were tagged for trash. I sorted through them, organized them, read them, treasured them. I learned all about this lovely lady’s early life and her travels, boyfriends and beaus. There were even a few photos. I saved them from loss. It made me very happy.


I have another recent happy Ephemera story to share. This last weekend, my mother (who is awesome by the way), visited a local estate sale and on the want of a Christmas quest (which I won’t disclose right now), she acquired all the old paper and photos at the sale. She got one big box lot at a fixed price.

I cannot tell you the pleasure I got from sorting through the boxes. If you understand the love of paper, you will know. In that box was a marriage certificate, some school records all in German, 2 family trees, a bunch of letters (including one dated 1907 which outlined a family history back to Russia through China), and a few photos. I was stunned and saddened that these precious bits of family history, this ephemera, would be lost to the family.

You might not know that I’m also the keeper of the family tree, and I really enjoy a good information hunt. For me, it’s like treasure hunting. So finding a crumb of lost family history I find exhilarating. With this particular family, who were very well traveled, spoke more than one language, and were living near me I couldn’t bear to just drop the papers in a pile, or cut them up and use them for collage.

As a whim I googled a couple of names. I found an obituary and a bunch of kid’s names. Now I had a context for this family. I knew I had to go deeper on the search. More googling and I hit a dead end. I went back a generation and I googled the marriage certificate. Nothing. Off to Ancestry.com. BINGO. There was a family tree which included the names on the certificate. I sent an email. I got an answer. I was fortunate enough to have stumbled upon the family historian. Yippee! I will be filling an envelope this weekend and sending it off. Happy Ending for this family.

I hope it gets paid forward. I hope you who are reading this will consider it twice before ditching, trashing or selling that box of old paper, the photo album, the family bible, without carefully sorting through it. It only takes one tiny crumb for the Family Historian to open up a whole wing of research. The photo with the name on the back, the old letter with a return address, or a mention of a family member, could be vital links to the seemingly never ending family quest.

Our uncle who is the other historian of our family, has his grandfather’s trip diaries which he kept when going to Alaska for the Klondike Rush. He’s transcribing them, and I hope that somewhere within is a mention of his mother or father, as for now it’s a family mystery who they were.

So the rest of the ephemera in that box lot? Not of use to the family, but wonderful for my collage art and my postcard/stamp collection. Many happy days of cutting and pasting ahead…

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