Monday, September 26, 2011

Family Papers

A few weeks ago my father sent me a handful of papers belonging to his father, Allen S. Crow. These were papers that my uncle had saved after my grandfather had passed away in 1993. My grandfather was a meticulous record keeper. He saved every paper that at one time was important, or at least he tried. His wife, my grandmother, balanced out his tendency to save paperwork by encouraging him to get rid of it all. I don't really know when most of his papers were thrown away. It may have been before grandmother's death in 1985 or after his death, but what I have in front of me today is a shadow of what he tried to keep.

That isn't to say he was a hoarder in the sense that we now see on television. When I was at his home it was always meticulously organized, if not strictly clean. The papers were kept where papers go, cabinets and file boxes. Items he showed off to guests were kept in display cases. There were no piles of items in every corner that he could not bring himself to throw away.  But there were things you might expect a normal person to keep, the bill of sale for a car, for example, except that he kept it for 70 years. And there were many of these kinds of paperwork.

In the end he probably saved too much paperwork. Instead of picking just the most important ones, or the most representative, he had too much for anyone to sort through. Whoever went through his papers was probably overwhelmed by the sheer volume and chucked it all. (note to self: go through my papers and chuck the ones I think aren't worth saving) The few papers that survived were at the bottom of a box that was overlooked in the purge. They give a glimpse of what he was doing, or trying to do, financially. There are a few personal items. A few photos. The obituary for his wife. A program from a daughter's missionary farewell. Some tracts from the RLDS church. But mostly it is financial paperwork.

So I have taken these papers on as a task. It is sort of my portion of a larger task to organize what we have on my grandfather before his children become too old to fill in the blanks. Already my uncle, who was sort of an amateur historian too (he collected their love letters), is no longer lucid enough to provide guidance, or even tell stories.

I'll be sorting though the papers and putting them into groups by content. From this I've created something like a finding aid and now I'm scanning the individual documents. I am even toying with OCR software to make the scans searchable. Then I'll burn copies to CD's for his children and grandchildren.

Finally the analysis. Every page, or group of pages tells me something about my grandfather. With my father's help as well as my aunts' I should be able to turn those pages into a narrative. And I'd like your help too. If you see something that I write that should be expanded or that you know a trick about how to find out more, let me know.

No comments: