Have you ever had one of those grand moments where you’re searching for one thing and find something else even better than what you were looking for in the first place?
It happens occasionally when people are researching their family history: While tracking down some dates for grandpa, you come across a tidbit of previously unknown information about a more obscure member of your family tree.
Of course, hard-working, curious people who are always on the alert have a better chance of experiencing such joyful moments of serendipity. Many members of my family seem to share the trait of walking around with our eyes occasionally scanning the ground, looking for stuff. It’s amazing what you can find out there.
I once regularly parked my car about a half-mile from my workplace. On the walk into work, I passed several dozen parking meters. Scanning the ground for loose change, I picked up enough cash to bankroll a dinner out with my wife every March. At another time, I rode my bike about 3 miles to work, dodging an array of mechanical junk that had fallen from cars. I picked up much of it and wrote a newspaper column detailing all the stuff I had found.
My oldest son paid for a good portion of his first year of college by collecting and redeeming beverage cans and bottles that he found on the streets of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Since he had his nose to the ground, he found other things, too, most notably cash.
Little snippets of personal history can be found among the litter of our landscapes, too. Found Magazine was created in 2001 expressly to showcase the salvaged jetsam of modern life. The Flickr photo sharing site has a “Found Stuff” pool with 53 members.
While much of the stuff of others that we retrieve in public places appeals mostly to our curious and voyeuristic natures, those unexpected finds of our own family history research serve the much larger purpose of expanding or enriching our knowledge of what really matters to us. It’s important that besides being focused on the task directly before us that we also be alert to clues to what may be available to us elsewhere.
Photo: Aaron Lehmer sits with road trash picked up by his bike-riding father. Posted by lwlehmer.