De Facto Family Archivists

June 2, 2011

My grandmother Bessie Allen (right) with a childhood friend, Lois Lewis.

I’ve heard that when word gets out you’ve taken up genealogy, documents and photos begin appearing on your doorstep and you become the de facto family archivist. I can confirm this to be true.

I received yet another package from my father this week. This one contained some photos I had never seen before, some photocopied pages of a family history and my parents’ wedding certificate, among other things. One of the photos (above) is of my father’s mother as a young child with another little girl. When I turned the picture over, hoping to find some identification, I found — to my surprise — my own handwriting.

Then I remembered making a trip to visit my grandmother some time in the late 1980s, a few years before she died. She had pulled out a box of old photos to show me and as she identified the people in them, I wrote the names on the backs. In pencil no less. I’m proud of that younger version of myself who had the foresight to do such a thing. So now, thanks to old me, I know the other little girl in the picture was friend of my grandmother’s named Lois Lewis. I may have to share it on DeadFred.

Also included in dad’s package was my current “most wanted” document … my maternal grandmother’s death certificate! Hallelujah! I now finally have her birth and death dates. It was interesting to look at her parents’ names on the certificate. Her father was identified as William, but I know from other records his name was Henry, and her mother’s name is missing completely.

The “takeaway” for all you de facto family archivists?

  1. Don’t believe everything you read on the internets (except for FTU of course) or on death certificates.
  2. Label all your photos! If you have older relatives, sit down with them and write for them. Now! The future, slightly older version of you will be very grateful. She might even take you out to dinner.

—Nancy

Related resources:


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Nancy Shively of Skiatook, OK. Read all her posts at Family Tree University.

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