My first project is pictured at right. I purchased this collection of documents from e-Bay and this is how they arrived. I'll admit it was a little overwhelming looking at all of this stuff. Obviously, these letters must have meant something to someone as they survived to the 21st century!
You would be amazed at how much of this stuff is destroyed every single day. Grandma dies, or Uncle Joe, or whomever, and during the inevitable cleaning (or should I say purging) most of this stuff goes out in the trash as 'junk'. I can just hear the family now, "Why did she keep so much junk?"
Some of the more enterprising families will have an estate sale and just maybe a collection of old letters will make it into the hands of an ephemera dealer. I always thought ephemera was a rather strange sounding word. The first thing that comes to my mind is the word effeminate which is associated with feminine behavior. Ephemera is used to describe items that were really never meant to be saved. In other words, they were created with the idea they would eventually be discarded.
The appeal of ephemera, to me at least, is the idea of looking into the past using documents and items created by the individuals you are studying. These letters are like tiny little droplets of paint in the mural of history. Doesn't that sound grand? This is how this collection came to be in my possession. An ephemera dealer purchased it and, thankfully, listed it on e-Bay as an entire lot rather than breaking it down into several chunks, like some dealers do.
So the first thing is to see just what is in the box. It became apparent the individual who saved these letters was Sarah L. Cummings, wife of William H. Cummings. She was interested in her family history and corresponded with numerous individuals all over the country. Most of the correspondence dates from the 1880s to the early 1900s, an era sometimes referred to as the 'golden age of genealogy'. The earliest letter dated from 1830 and so far I have not been able to determine the most recent document. The image on the left shows the collection out of the box and as I stand back and look, I begin to realize putting this family back together is going to be a huge project.
Now let's see what we can find out about Sarah L. Cummings...