Today is a literal Treasure Chest Thursday, as I sort through
the family papers and photographs my mother bequeathed me.
But first I want to thank the readers and Facebook friends who reached out to me after the death of my mother on 10 December. My mother was 94 and her health and memory had been failing for the past year. While I’m sad at the loss, I am grateful that she is now at rest. So many of us have had to shepherd our parents through these long goodbyes, although in my case my local sister bore most of the burden.
Before we left for the airport to get to the funeral, my sister texted me to bring an empty extra checked bag with me so that I could get everything home. And so I filled 50 pounds of paper and photos in one checked suitcase and carried another 15 pounds of more fragile things on to the plane with me when I returned.
But what were these things from a treasure chest? My mother told me that she’d given me everything she had. For the last ten years I shared my research triumphs and disappointments on our family history with her. At some point, my sister went through these things and left some notes about the contents. But otherwise the existence of these wonderful papers and photographs are a complete surprise to me. I’m so grateful they were given to me.
The Enevoldsen & Hansen tin (top) perhaps was my Swedish great-grandmother’s sewing box? When I opened it today, it holds wonderful photographs of my German-American grandmother from the other side of the family. At bottom right is my mother’s wedding scrapbook, with newspaper announcements, invitations, reception cards, and photographs.
Above the scrapbook are air mail letters from her uncle in South Africa. They’d rediscovered each other after many decades almost by chance. Then she’d lost track again and I searched in vain for my second cousins in Johannesburg. My hastily purchased red accordion folders contain the biggest surprise and dearest find: letters from my great-great grandparents in who stayed on the family farm in Björka, Sweden, written to their daughters in Chicago, and another folder full of letters to my Norwegian great-grandparents from their siblings in Ringebu and Eiker. What a search it was to find these ancestral villages and now here are letters from those very places!
Certificates, military records, naturalizations, more correspondence, more photos and negatives, scrapbooks of my grandmothers’ weddings – there is a lot here and more discoveries to make. The archivist in me is champing at the bit to lay in some archival supplies and get started on organizing this treasure chest of family papers and photographs. Perhaps that will be my next Sassy Jane Genealogy Guide – arranging and caring for family papers.
There are two things I’ve learned already: one, that my 1880s immigrant grandparents missed their families very much and stayed in touch, and two, nobody’s going to be eating at our dining room table for a looooong time!