I used to love rummaging through the attic of my maternal grandparents’ home when I was a kid.
Part of the fascination was because it was so different from my friends’ homes. My grandfather, a cabinetmaker who emigrated from Denmark, designed and built it. It was a fairly small house at first but, as his family grew, he did what practical people did in those days: he dug by hand a hole for a basement, laid a foundation, moved his existing house, turned it 90 degrees and added a second story – the attic.
He raised five kids in that house – including two boys, who shared a small room in the attic. There were a couple of other small rooms up there, perfect for storage. It was a wondrous place, chock full of the memories that rotated through a household of seven over more than a half-century. Old photos, clothing, books – the raw materials of family legacy. Sadly, most of it is gone now. The house is no longer in the family. Many contents were sold or given away while the more precious items found new homes, distributed around the widespread extended family.
This is not a unique experience. You may have a similar story to tell. I’m not certain that my children will, though. By my best count, I’ve lived in 10 homes as an adult, none of them with an attic like that. Still, I’m hopeful that they carry with them similar memories and a reverence for the past.
You take your family history where you find it. Sometimes that can be unexpected places.
Consider this recent case in England, where a plain metal filing cabinet discovered in a basement laundry room was found to contain “a love letter by Napoleon; a diplomatic note to the king of France in the hand of Elizabeth I; a letter of condolence by John Donne; … and a withering letter by Charlotte Brontë on male shortcomings.”
Or the discovery by a book researcher of over 4,000 invoices and receipts from 165 businesses over a 75-year period in a small English town, “in seven dusty trash bags stored in a farmer's shed.”
It’s even possible that images of family history are still contained on unexposed film in an old camera gathering dust on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere in your own house.
So, open those drawers and boxes, check those shelves and peek into those old purses before you get rid of something. Who knows what family treasure may lurk there?