I’ve been sorting through yet another pile of mixed pictures, snapshots, ephemera, a letter or two (recent), etc.  Somehow this pile landed on my desk.  It may be an orphan-pile, left over from the boxes I was going through earlier in the year.  I am really not sure at this point.  What I do know is who the pile came from.  One of the pack-rats in my family, my Cousin Jessie, managed to pass lots of family stuff along to me; some of it came directly from her to me.  Some of it came via one or another of my siblings or from my parents.  Some of came from her long-time companion, Sister C.  Cousin Jessie never married and had no closer relatives than my parents and our family.   She also lived a long and full life.  She also came from a long line of women who saved things and left those things to others.  And finally, she was also interested in family history (particularly the Coffin family) and she was the last in several family lines, so she had lots of stuff.

Unfortunately, or maybe it wasn’t completely unfortunate if you ask my husband, much of Cousin Jessie’s collected treasures got lost to the family (read: me) when she died and left everything to her companion.  My sister and I had been in contact with Sister C., and visited a couple of times but never were informed when she was sick for the last time and when she died.  So the entire household was cleared out and property sold before we knew it had happened.  Perfectly reasonable given that it all belonged to her.  But there were a few treasures from our family that I would have loved the chance to buy from the estate.  And a few historical objects that I would like to know had been preserved but fear went into a dumpster.

Regardless of lost possibilities, I still possess a lot of things from Cousin Jessie and her family.  Just to place the people in this post:  Cousin Jessie’s grandmother (Jessie Malvina) was the older sister of my great-grandmother (Katie Justice) who married a Salt, both of whom were the daughters of Zebulon B. Coffin of Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky.   So the keepsakes are from these combined Coffin lines.  The majority of what has come to me is paper: pictures both formal and snapshots; cards from a variety of occasions; newspaper clippings that include marriages and obituaries (often of people who are not related) but also include stories of the day; postcards and other mementos of trips; baptism cards, at least one high school commencement exercises program, many invitations to weddings or “at home” evenings; etc., etc.  And being the good family historian and genealogist as well as archivist, I try to sort through and figure out how to preserve what is important.

And that is part of the problem I have.  What is important?  What do I need to keep and what can/should I get rid of?  Here’s an example:  Do I really need to keep 6 identical cards of “Godly Resolutions” (that I think were purchased for use in a Sunday School class)?  They’re pretty little cards  but do I need to keep all six?  And if I don’t keep all of them, am I being stupid to just throw out the other 5?  Maybe they’re worth something to someone else and I should try to sell them on eBay.  I don’t want the next generation to be faced with a similar dilemma, at least not about the same stuff just because I couldn’t make up my mind.  I also have a tendency to get to a point going through piles that I start to throw out everything.  And I don’t want to find that I have trashed something that I want later (which happens to me all the time with books and sometimes with clothing), or that someone else wanted.  Not that anyone in my family does want any of this stuff.  That’s why I have it in the first place.

Current piles

Current piles

This picture shows the current set of stuff I am trying to deal with.  You can see that I have divided things into several piles.  I am trying to achieve the state of being able to throw some of it away and to know how and where to store the rest of it.  You can also  see a stack of inboxes all of which contain other family stuff I am trying to sort.  This stuff has already gone through the process of being in piles on the desktop.  Some of it has made it into sheet protectors and there are a couple of folders there.  But it is all still sitting on my desk.  I wish once I sorted through the stuff and decided what stays and what goes, that the keepers would encase themselves in the appropriate archival container and leap into files or binders or boxes!  I don’t know why, but it takes me several passes to get this kind of mess looked through and considered and then actually *put* someplace besides my desk top.  I know that the organizer people, you know the ones who are experts at time management or organizing other people’s stuff, say that you should only touch something once.  Not move it from pile to pile the way I currently do.   This may be the beginning of a resolution or goal for next year.  May be.

Update Note: As originally posted, this did not link to all of the sites I mentioned and one of the blog names was incorrect. I have made changes to correct these mistakes.

In reading about the 2010 GeneaBlogger Games, and the current COG, I decided to start a timeline for a couple of my female ancestors and see where it took me.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  While it has become clear that I won’t be writing the Genealogy Gals’ COG entry this time around, this post will explain why.  You will see just how distractible I am in doing this work.  (I never knew how distractible I can be until I started thinking about how I do my genealogy research!)  To borrow an idea from the Gene Notes blog, I think I have Family Research Attention Deficit Disorder (FRADD which is not yet listed in the DSM but may be in the one coming out in 10-12 years).  So, over the course of the past week, this is what I’ve been doing.

Actually I started with one timeline, for Catherine Justice Coffin (1821-1866), and then something inspired me to start another, Laura Denman Booth (1828-1920).  Truthfully, what made me start the second one was looking at how little information I had about Catherine and remembering that I have a copy of a memoir written by Laura which should give me all kinds of details.  Opportunistic?  Yes, but she is an ancestor and I do have that memoir.  Now just where is it?  I know it’s here on one of the bookshelves…  Before I got too sidetracked looking I thought I’d just list the dates for Laura that I have information for in my computer program.  So I did that.  Now I have 2 little text files of dates and events to work from.

Then, I got distracted by the timeline file Miriam at AnceStories had suggested as an easy timeline form to use.  Some time later I finally had a computer file I thought I could use (either printing it out or filling it out on the computer).  Decided to try it out with my information on Catherine, so I printed one and started writing dates and events.  When I looked at the years I realized I had an 1850 census for her family so went back to my computer file to enter that information for her and source it.  Done.  Thought about the fact that I don’t yet have the other censuses that she should be in.  Contemplated going to look for them and decided that this would really be a distraction.  Better put it on a to-do list.  Then, when I looked at the deaths of some of her siblings when she was young it occurred to me to look at causes of death for them (I have cemetery card images for them).  This raised the question of cholera and when there were epidemics in southwestern Ohio.  Use my search engine to look for epidemics and cholera.  Read that cholera was introduced into the United States in 1832 and there were epidemics by 1833 (when one of Catherine’s infant brothers and a sister died).  Interesting.  There is a family story about one of Catherine’s cousins nursing a neighbor through cholera and  coming home to die of it herself just a brief time before she was to marry (one of my Salt ancestors).

Ok, so I refocused on Catherine’s information and remembered that she had died at a pretty young age (she was 44 in 1866) in Yellow Springs, Ohio (not where she lived) and I had a vague idea that there had been a health spa or something like it in Yellow Springs.  Looked at her cemetery card told me that she was said to have died from pulmonary consumption (probably tuberculosis).  That would fit with having gone to a health spa for treatment.  So I tried, using my trusty search engine, to find out about health spas and Yellow Springs.  With some, but not great, success.  So I thought of my friend the archivist at a college in Ohio who might know.  So I emailed him.  And got a couple of suggestions about where to look for information about the early history of Yellow Springs.  Stopped to look for a book I thought I remembered had been published on the history of Yellow Springs by the newspaper there.  Found it – shall I order it or not?

The other piece of information I noticed in my RootsMagic file was a note that I had a piece of silverware that had been Catherine’s, with her initials on the front and date on the back.  The date was what would have been their 25th wedding anniversary, so I’m guessing that this was a present for that important date.  I wanted to look at it to remind myself, so I went looking in the silverware drawer in the kitchen.

Didn’t find the small knife I was looking for but did find a pickle fork and it too has her initials and the same date on the back.

Catherine's butterknife and pickle fork

Finally found the knife put away in another drawer for safekeeping.  No legible mark on the back to tell me who the manufacturer was or the pattern.  Back online I went to try to track this down – I want to know about these pieces.  Hours later, I may have figured out the manufacturer but haven’t found a picture of the pattern I have yet.  Decided that I should take pictures with my digital camera of the two pieces to add to my files on old family possessions, and to add to the genealogy file on Catherine.  Got several that I thought are all right, downloaded them to the folders I want them in, made a version to attach to my genealogy file on Catherine.  And that is where that project stands.

Except that I read a comment on Miriam’s blog from someone (Michelle Goodrum) who left a link to show how she had used the timeline and when I looked at her site I realized that she had made the form landscape instead of portrait and added a Sources column to the others.  What a good idea!  So I’m off to edit my form.

I recently made a day trip with a friend, to visit her brother and sister-in-law.  My friend’s family is related to the Coffin family and I am too.  Her sister-in-law is very interested in genealogy and so it makes sense to get us together.  I think that my line of Coffins diverged from theirs long ago (moved from Nantucket to southwestern Ohio – wish I knew why).  I think my friend’s line flows from the families that did not move to Nantucket permanently but stayed in New Hampshire/northeastern Massachusetts.  Still the same family but not connected very recently (may be as far back as the original emigrant ancestor who came between 1640-1643).  So, now I’m trying to figure out what I want to find out from these new cousins, and what to take with me on this visit.  What questions do I want to ask?  This is a line I haven’t researched much because so much has already been done.  I know, I know, you always do your own research.  And truthfully much of my direct line in this family hasn’t been well researched (or at least the information hasn’t been sourced).  That’s why I don’t know why they moved from Nantucket to Cincinnati Ohio in the early 1800s.

What I learned was that Massachusetts is a good state for having records that go back to very early days, and that they are findable.  My friend’s brother (who has gotten more interested in genealogy in the last few years) showed me copies of several registers or ledgers and talked about what he has learned about going into town offices.  Check before you go to find out about what hours and days they are open (some small towns don’t have offices open 5 days a week).  Go early in the day and be ready to wait or to come back at a later time in the day if the clerk is already busy.  Don’t be the next person after someone has been demanding or nasty with the clerk.  Try bringing coffee for the clerk if you leave and come back.

While I have learned and heard all of these tips before, hearing them from a newly-enthusiastic genealogist was useful.  And all of what he said and showed me increased my motivation to follow up on this family line and do my own work.

Well, we had the family here for Thanksgiving and a good time was had by all.  And I noticed (as I do every time family comes to my house, but then I forget again) that the painting of my great great grandfather Zebulon Coffin and the various family pictures that I have on my dining room wall elicited interest and questions.  One wall in my dining room is a sort of collage of various family pictures from both my side and my husband’s, some older and some more recent.

Now, like many genealogists, I have found that if I raise the topic and start asking questions about family history people’s eyes glaze over and they back away.  However, when they look at the pictures as they sit at the table or wander around waiting for dinner they get interested and ask questions.  Some of the questions I can answer and others I can’t (at least not yet).  And people even tell stories or talk about what they remember based on the pictures.  This year, non-direct family members also asked questions and told their own family stories.  It was wonderful!  I wish I had been part of each of those conversations, but just knowing that they happened makes me happy.

Mary Alice Dalton, granddaughter of Zebulon B. Coffin

Mary Alice Dalton, tintype

From the time I was very young, my mother would tell me that I looked like Cousin Alice when I pouted and talk about how Daisy (her nickname) would pout to get her own way.  And then she would stick out her own lower lip to show me how I looked.  There was an old picture, actually a tintype, of Cousin Alice as a little girl with her dog.  I was intrigued by the clothing and hair.  And I wanted to know more about her.  Where was she now?  Had I ever met her?  Would she ever come visit us?  Who were her parents?  And on and on.  My mother knew most of these answers and was happy to tell me. This was my father’s family and she had been trying to understand the complicated relationships for a long time.  There were secrets, things that were never spoken of.  And there was a pride in belonging to the Coffin family.  While she didn’t talk about the secrets until I was much older, she did explain the relationships.

There were also two very old photograph albums, with thick rigid pages with openings into which pictures had been slid.  She knew who some of the people were but not all.  And she could tell me stories about some of them.  They were all part of the extended Coffin family in southwestern Ohio but some of them had actually gone and lived in Argentina for a long time.  How exotic!  For a little girl growing up in the middle of Indiana this was all intriguing.  How could I not be interested?