Much of the time we spend on genealogy, we are hunting. We’re always looking for that precious document or artifact that will take us further in filling in the details of our family stories, and if we’re lucky, we find something. But now and then we get even luckier than that. A gift falls into our lap. It could be a sheaf of letters a cousin finds in an old drawer, a pile of photos long forgotten, or an unexpected conversation that uncovers stories we never knew to ask about. We can and should be prepared to make the most of such things, and ideally we should be prepared to act quickly. Sometimes the gift is a loan, sometimes it is fragile. If we have a reliable process, we can swing into action and respond to the genealogical gift with care and gratitude.
Here is the process I followed for dealing with an interesting bundle given to my mother recently and shared with me. It was a brief handwritten history, a photocopied newspaper clipping. and a scrap of notepaper listing family names. The author of the letter, a cousin, handed the bundle over, on loan, during a conversation with my mother a few days ago.
My first step was to evaluate, that is, quickly determine the nature of the material and its physical state. It was sturdy enough to be scanned, so I moved to step two, capture. Even though I had a few days to examine the actual documents, I wanted to make sure I had a digital copy for future examination and reference.
Step three was to analyze the find. I read each piece carefully and considered how it might relate to information I already had about the branch of the family this was about. Finally, I documented the find, how I came to have it, and my ideas and conclusions about its meaning within my research. If I had not been required to return the documents, I would have implemented a fifth step, which would be to preserve the original in an appropriate container to protect it from damage.
So here are my steps, which, it turns out, are very similar to the steps we should follow for things we find on purpose!
Did I miss anything? What do you do when serendipity strikes?