Print

In 1900 my great-grandfather Henry Thomas Wake gave to his grandson, my Uncle Leonard, a small notebook.  Then nine years old, Uncle Leonard  wrote in the front of the book his "life-list" of flowers, and in the back, his "life list" of birds.  Between was recorded in an adult hand a set of household tasks, apparently his daily jobs at the Quaker boarding school at Fritchley, Derbyshire.  Later, at about fourteen in 1905, Leonard lists the gifts he planned for his family.  There are no dates on the entries; all must be inferred from the other facts known about this family.  One fact is that at fourteen he commenced full time work, and it seems that among his first expenditures were the gifts for his family.  His youngest sister Daisie remembered that later when all the family was in Canada, when Len came home for a visit he he always brought exciting gifts.  He started work at fourteen, but his brother Alfie who is on the list for a gift died when Len was fifteen, in 1906.  These events bracket this entry.

Other entries include lists of names and addresses of family and friends in England with whom he wanted to keep in touch after he immigrated to Canada. These lists are assigned a date of late 1910 or early 1911.  He and his older sister emigrated a year ahead of the rest of the family.

In 1924 Len lent his notebook to his younger sister Elsie, for her use on her extended visit to their sister Winnie and her family in Iowa.  Elsie recorded similar lists of gifts, also a variety of expenditures.  It is astonishing to see the prices for items such as yard goods 85 years ago.

Yesterday I emailed my second cousin David in Newfoundland to ask about one of the addresses, which had been of his grandmother's family - his grandmother being a daughter of Henry Thomas Wake.  I explained what I was doing, and in his reply he described me as a "forensic diary interpreter!"  Delightful!  

The point I make is that ANY scrap of family memorabilia can be a rich source of information about that family and its life in the past.  This little notebook was first written in more than a century ago, and without the entries being dated or the several writers identifying themselves,  it is possible to  put flesh on some of the bones of the family's story.  And this means that every scrap of memorabilia, every document, every photograph from the past must be preserved.  This will be a joy to the "keepers" among us, but a burden to others, the "tossers."  I beg the tossers to find someone in the extended family to whom to toss family treasures. I hear horror stories about bonfires, and visits to the town dump, and they appall me.

My beloved cousin Rawd who died in October 2007 was, like me, a keeper, but he had been one all his life whereas I am a relatively recent convert.  Soon, from his partner Graeme, I will be receiving Rawd's entire family archive.  I have had to make alterations in my living space to prepare for the arrival of MANY archive boxes, and I do that willingly, even joyfully.  There will be more family history projects to do to make the material accessible to the extended family, and I look forward to that too.  I only wish Rawd was still with us, so we could work on these projects together.