This week I made a new friend in the acquaintance of one, Bill Tracy, a recent follower of my blogs. Bill made some wonderful comments and admiration of my writings and referred me to his blog site thinking I might show equal interest in one of his thoughts. His insightful blog entitled "Web Log As Family History" (Seen in its entirety at this link) ponders whether the day and age of internet blogging and web logs may lead to the eventual loss of thousands of words not in other ways recorded.
Bill asks the question: will thoughts and diaries written on the internet be archived for future generations to research and recall or will, with no other written and recorded accounts created, the words of today's people be lost and subsequently forgotten through future time?
Bill's words got me seriously thinking about the importance of traditional writing, recording names, dates, events, thoughts and family history in methods other than digital or internet postings.
Of absolute importance to the recording of history, DO identify and label all your photographs. So many generations never labeled or identified their photographs and the identity of the faces and places are now a mystery........and a forgotten shame.
Absolutely NEVER, however, write on the front or back of photographs in pen! A pencil isn't highly recommended either but, it is better than ink.
I cannot tell you how many times I have dealt with water and flood damage in a customer's home where stacks of photographs were presented to me stuck to each other. Photographs in this condition can be salvaged, but upon separation, when written upon, usually reveal that the ink on the back of a top photograph transferred to the surface gelatin of another causing permanent damage to the surface of the photograph underneath.
The archival way to identify photographs is to use a pencil to do any and all recording and second to simply number each photograph and record all details and data about the photograph in an accompanying book or filing system. It is important to write to your heart's content about the people, places and events in each photograph but, do this on a separate location, NOT on the front or back of the photograph.
Several methods of numbering photographs can be done. You can store each photograph individually in an archival (acid-free) envelop with an assigned number, place the photograph in an archival transparent sleeve which can be identified with an archival attached number sticker or purchase archival albums that contain pages that have strips for writing above, beside or below the photographic sleeve.
When it comes to identification and retaining information writing is a must. Just identify and log the photograph and do the recording on accompanying paper, not on the photographs themselves.
In terms of written record keeping, here is a piece of true history. In times long passed, one of the most formalized of all the occasions of etiquette was the "morning call", which, despite its name, took place between three and six in the afternoon. (Visits before midday were reserved for close acquaintances only.)
You would never invite another to your home, however often you may have met them elsewhere, until you had first called upon them in a formal manner at their house and they, in return, then wished to visit you. This was a kind of safeguard against expecting any acquaintances to show up which were thought to be undesirable.
The person making the call would be led to the drawing room while the footman ascertains verbally whether the Master or Mistress of the house was "at home" to receive company. In fashionable circles, it more and more became the custom to dodge the burden of unwanted visitors by being officially "not at home" whenever visits of formality were made.
Upon finding the homeowners at home, everything about the visit was regulated from the number of buttons expected to be on one's gloves, acceptable and non-acceptable topics of conversation to the menu for food and drink.
Social conduct then decreed that, following the visit, the appearance of the guest was appropriately recorded in writing by leaving a calling card. An unaccompanied married lady left one calling card of her own and two of her husband's---one of these intended for the man of the house and one for the lady. When leaving cards on behalf of her husband, the wife left those on the silver tray or basket on the hall table, never on the drawing-room table where she left hers.
Calling cards have long since evolved into the company business card with less restrictions of social behavior. My point in bringing this item to mind, however, is to point out that one's presence was, at this time in history, recorded. Although calling cards were pre-printed in masses, the names of guests were forever left at the door to be saved as a remembrance of people's presence.
In another entry I spoke about the myriad of items my ancestors saved. One of the many items I inherited was an album of calling cards. These records ranged from simple cards of names in hand-written script to ornate paper and aluminum embossed cutouts that were lifted to reveal the pre-printed name of the caller. I show a number of examples of such items from my personal collection below.
If it were not for the written word on paper or card, these people and their names may have been lost forever. I can say that these calling cards revealed many a missing ancestor in the puzzle of my family as did they reveal many middle names and initials since it was important in the past to formally use one's full name when making a call. What treasures!
In the absence of discovering a collection of calling cards, imagine looking for signatures. Assuming your ancestors could write, at the very least, search for anything they signed. A simple thing, but as you attempt to locate a photograph of each member of your family imagine how much additional insight and information you could learn by matching their signatures with their images. Just imagine seeing a signature of every family member who influenced, or was responsible for, your life.
Here are some of my family members.
Again, I have spoken about all the letters my family wrote back and forth to each other and, all of which, my Great Great Grandfather kept. My collection of letters date back to 1820 and I might draw your attention to one of the more poignant from Margret Ives Deeds to one of her brothers, but asks to have the letter passed on to brother, Francis Edward Ives, my Great Great Grandfather. Margret writes about the death of her husband, David, and the letter reads as follows:
Dear Brother and Sister
I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am still in the land of the living although it seems
to be my lot to see hardships and trouble in this world.
David killed himself on the fourth of August. I watched him all summer. I left him about one
hour and had the gun hid but he found it and he went about two hundred yards from the house
and he shot himself through the heart. He shot himself about noon. I did not find him till on
the 5th about sundown.
I have a farm, two spam of horses and four head of cattle, 16 sheep, 20 head of hogs.
I would like to know if you have seen Thomas or what you can do.
I would like to have you send this letter on to Francis.
I want you to write to me all about how things are.
I do not feel like letter writing any more at this time.
We have it very dry here this summer.
This letter tells of a tragedy, no doubt, (including that very important, and necessary, farming report about the weather) but wouldn't it be worse if this hand written piece of history were never written down, never saved and never passed down to generations to come afterward? Without this single piece of actual writing on paper no one alive today would have known how David Deeds ended his time on this Earth.
I tracked down descendants of Margret and David Deeds in the mid-western United States and can attest to the fact that, until the letters found in my Great Grandfather's Ship Captain's ditty box were handed to me and transcribed, not one other family member knew anything about David except his birth date. No one had left a record about him or his method of passing. Only the written word handed down to me has kept this information alive.
Truly more tragic than this letter is another, written three years earlier, where Margret writes home to tell her family that her despondent 17 year old son also shoots himself through the heart this time. Imagine a Mother's overwhelming sadness but, I, alone, had the information in my possession and, again, only the actual hand written but, aged papers, keeps my family alive.
I am looking for the missing grave locations of five brothers and sisters who passed away at young ages in the mid 1800's. No one thought to write down where the precious children were laid to rest----not even the government. Nothing was written down, I cannot locate their graves and nothing remains of their existence. What a shame.
Alas, now we have web logs, internet blogs, chat rooms, bulletin boards and email all of which produce quick and immediately viewing, but do these musings have any permanence? I have read some of the most profound thoughts on the internet, but fear that some day these thoughts and words will vanish from view. Will they be archived in some vast repository able to be searched by title and author in generations to come? In answer to Bill Tracy's query, I am seriously doubting it.
I was seventeen, in the mid 1970's when I went off to university in another country. Long distance phone calling was reserved for a once a month major expense. Letters written and sent throught the Post Office were the only things that kept my family and friends informed of my activities and my presence. Little did I know at the time, my parents kept every item I wrote to them as a record of my adventures and advancement toward my future in arts and education.
As I became faced with the out of country university departure of my own daughter, Tania, in the year 2000, the internet had become one with our lives. Although daily contact and Instant Messaging had taken the trauma out of Mother/Daughter separation my Mother knew, I felt a loss of permanence in that so much of my child's learning and adventures would never be remembered beyond its initial reading. I began to print out each and every computer contact and conversation between us and preserve it forever in a book.
Many years after she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Digital Animation I was attempting to bring Tania's attention to a particular matter and parallel her current experiences with an event in her days at University. Her bemused look was only followed by the single comment, "I don't remember that". I stood without speaking, retrieved the now overstuffed binder of dated pages from it's place of honour in the top shelf of my book case and handed the book to her saying, "Perhaps you'd better read this." She was overjoyed to recall what, until that time, had been the best years of her life.
A mother remembers many things forgotten by others over time. Some things about her life and the lives of her husband, children and extended family are just worth remembering and worth writing down. This latest written addition was just an accounting of a young girl's journey into the world, a memoir of her self-discovery and growth, but names, dates and details are worth remembering by all.
History only becomes history (right or wrong) because it is written down, recorded and filed for safekeeping and passed on to the next generation. History, of all kinds, is worth remembering.
Do I think everything talked about on the internet will be retrievable information by future generations? Not really.
One written word is worth a thousand pieces of gold. Write it on paper and pass it on for all to read. It will become a treasure with priceless value.
Only by the hand writings of his wife do later generations of David's family know about his fateful demise, yet the man, himself, could not place even his own name onto paper and could leave us no written words.