Sunday, March 27, 2011

My dear Sister

I start my introduction to Edna B. Humphrey with the letter below.  What a letter!  The reason I start with this letter is simply because it was the first one I picked up.  I also was drawn to the  little note written on the back of this letter - "My brother's last letter to me."

I'll tell you up front that "My dear Sister" is Edna B. Humphrey - or at least it is her box of 'stuff' I purchased. I found it rather interesting that W. E. Humphrey is living in Washington, D.C. He is writing to his sister in answer to letters she had written to his wife, Helen.  He mentions both he and his wife have fully recovered from their attack of tomaine poisoning.  Tomaine poisoning?  OK, I just cannot let that pass without mention.  

Good ol' Wikipedia (sometimes called the undergraduates encyclopedia) has my answer.  Ptomaine poisoning is a reference to food poisoning.  In particular, it is an archaic term referring to alkaloids created as food decays.  These alkaloids, it was believed, caused food poisoning.  This was disproved with the discovery of bacteria and bacterial toxins as the cause of food poisoning.   

It was a pretty easy thing to find out who the writer of this letter was.  William E. Humphrey was a U.S. Representative from the state of Washington.  He later was appointed to the Federal trade Commission by Calvin Coolidge.  He was reappointed to the FTC in 1931.  This is where his problems started.  He was a conservative Republican and immediately at odds with the new Roosevelt administration.  FDR removed him from the Commission in order to appoint someone more in line with his administration's views.

William Humphrey promptly sues the Roosevelt administration regarding being removed from his position for political reasons.  The case ends up being heard by the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately for William, he doesn't live to see his law suit to the end.  He dies on 14 Feb 1934.  I found the picture of William Humphrey at Wikipedia.
So let's see what else is in this box of stuff...

I did it again!

I just don't know what it is about the letters people write that I find so irresistible.  Maybe it's the fact that, with  the possible exception of the famous, the letters we write are momentary.  That is to say, an individual wrote a letter to someone as a means of communication to the addressee.  I can guarantee you that the individuals who penned these letters would never have dreamt a perfect stranger, i.e. me, would be reading their correspondence a hundred years after it was written.

When I read a letter or look at a newspaper clipping or document contained in a collection of 'stuff', I realize it survived for a reason.  It was important to someone at some point, otherwise it would have ended up in the trash which, I would submit to you, was the original destination these documents were designed for.  So when I manage to find a box of stuff collected by the same individual or family, it draws me like a magnet.  These collections of documents are like time machines to me.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bidding competition when these boxes of ephemera come on the market.  There are stamp collectors who are not interested in the contents of the letters, just the envelopes.  There are collectors of letterheads who are interested in only a document or two.  Dealers in ephemera are likely to break apart the box of documents, selling letters, letterheads, envelopes, and what ever else is in the collection a piece at a time.  And then there are people like me.

I approach a box of documents as an historically significant record.  As long as the collection remains together, it creates a window into the past.  It speaks to us one individual and one place at a time.  Events that may have long been forgotten live once again.

So with that in mind, I will introduce the Humphrey family to you.  I purchased a collection of letters and documents relating to the Humphrey family at an auction in New York.  It looks to me like the documents had been sorted by an ephemera collector, ready for piece by piece sale.  For whatever reason, the collection remained intact.  So now, we get to put back together a little section of the tapestry we call history...              

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Looking Back

Well, this is not my usual kind of Blog post here at Gen Journey, but it really is a journey of sorts.  Even though winter still has its icy grip around my home, there are signs that those old boney fingers are loosening their grip.  The mornings have more sunlight and an avian chorus greets me as I leave for work.  Even the air seems to have an excited ‘feel’ about things to come.  For some reason the early stirrings of spring always make me think back to family long past.
I just recently came across a shoe box full of old 8mm home movies my father had taken in the sixties.  I had the movies converted to DVD and it was like looking at a time machine.  The various moments in a typical family, vacations, birthdays, Christmas morning, family reunions, and the like are remembered once more.  Why the stirrings of warmer weather make me think of family has long intrigued me.  I guess it has to do with renewal.
Our lives can be compared to seasons, too.  Spring is the magical step in this process.  It is the renewal of the cycle.  Life goes on.  However, it is also a time to remember all the lives come and gone.  Remembrance is a very complex ‘emotion’.  Memories have powerful abilities to stir many different types of feelings from sadness, anger and remorse, to happiness, joy, and contentment.  I have often wondered if it is the complex interplay of memories, emotions, and feelings which family tree research stirs up, creates the hook that draws so many people to this pastime.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that regardless of how mundane we may think ‘our ancestors’ were, their lives mattered.  They were part of the giant tapestry of life.  A single loose thread in a tapestry can unravel the whole thing.  Every thread in a tapestry counts – it is needed.  This is why we need to remember those who have walked the living world before us.  Every life is part of this tapestry, whether they were good or bad.
Ok … enough of that …