Friday, September 30, 2011

Genealogy Serendipity Moments - Grandma Helen's Personal Papers

I was blessed to have two wonderful grandmothers. They were two very different people who highly influenced my life in many ways. Helen Eloise Anderson Cole Haynes lived to age 95 and Zella Alice Straw Olsen lived to age 92. For this post I will focus on Grandma Helen as I have been sorting through a large plastic tub of her paper files. She passed away on 6 December 2005. My mother was her caretaker for the last years of her life, after her second husband died. I was her tax preparer, listed second on her power of attorney and second in her will as an administrator. Not long ago in writing a post for this blog I realized I did not have a copy of her death certificate. So, I asked my mother if she had an extra copy, realizing she probably ordered several at the time of her death.

My mother said there would be a copy in the large plastic tub where she had tossed all of grandma's personal papers. On a visit to my mother's home we went looking for the death certificate. In viewing the tub my mother mentioned that it was probably time to get rid of most of the stuff. The only thing is that there are a lot of memories, good and bad mixed into those papers, making it difficult for her to choose what to discard. I suggested she let me take the tub home so I could put some order to this random collection of papers. It would be a time consuming task, but it was the only way to mine for the genealogical treasures within.

Years ago I had taken all of grandma's pictures and made three albums for her, so there were only a few of pictures mixed into the papers. This collection will eventually lead to a fourth notebook. Within the collection are:

Family Histories, including a story about her early life written in 2002
Letters written by her first husband Orville Cole in 1952, he died 4 February 1956
Her personal telephone book
Funeral Books for Helen and her second husband Howard Haynes, he died 29 April 1994
Funeral pictures and pictures of her at Thanksgiving two weeks before she died
Birth and death records
Cemetery and burial records
Insurance papers
Obituaries and newspaper articles
Obituary for her twin sister Hilda Anderson Briggs who died 16 May 2006, five months after Helen
Birthday, Christmas and Sympathy cards from family and friends
Email letters from family members
Checks and account registers
Deeds and records from the sale of her home, with pictures
Medical Records
Probate Records, many pages of court documents
Property tax statements
Personal income tax records
Household bills and receipts

Now that I have the collection sorted I need to decide what to keep and what is discarded. That is one of the hardest decisions for a genealogist. Once something from this collection is discarded it is gone forever. I will scan some of it and create a file of her most important papers. Then there are some sensitive items that I may keep but not share with others. These are different types of serendipity moments. I have been through a journey of personal memories in the past few days. There are certainly elements that will truly enhance our family history. Just the connections to cousins who I do not know well are key pieces. How do you make these hard decisions?

1 comment:

  1. That's a very tough call. Since disk space is relatively cheap, I would be inclined to scan almost everything, than discard only the really minor items. So many stories can be read in the slightest thing - I recall my mother sifting through receipts from a long ago trip to Europe and remembering anecdotes based on the name of the restaurant.