Friday, February 22, 2013

E is for Ephemera - Family History Through the Alphabet

I think I learned it -- or perhaps I inherited it -- from my mother, this love of all things paper.  I save them, these bits of beauty:  ornamental wrappers from embroidery floss, ticket stubs, cartoons clipped from newspapers, old and beautifully printed button cards, stickers, stamps, paint chips....  You name it, if I like it, I might save it.  For years I made blank wall calendars which I filled and decorated with these fading pieces of glory.

Those calendars with their glue-bound memories are ephemera married to ephemera.  They will not last long. When I began I knew nothing about acid and lignin eating away paper.  It's only been in the last twenty years that knowledge of preservation has become common to the general public.

My collection of ephemera is very different from my mother's.  We are from different eras.  She saved programs from special events; pamphlets of poetry; decorated paper napkins; newspaper clippings; greeting cards; and anything else that caught her fancy.  She also carefully saved some items that were my father's.  I'm grateful she saved them but sad to see them being slowly destroyed by invisible invaders.

I think of ephemera as a family historian's delight.  Those pieces of paper that were never meant to last longer than a brief time give me insight into the personalities, interests, and activities of my ancestors.  Granted, I really only have ephemera from my parents, but even at that, it helps me get to know them a wee bit better, especially their younger selves.  That my stoic father saved his own father's obituary hints at a tender side of my father that I never saw.  That my mother clipped poems published in newspapers hints at the artistic side of her that was not so evident in her frugal lifestyle.

An ancestor's ephemera is one of those things that you either have or you don't.  You can't retrieve it if it was never saved.  And if it's not properly preserved, it can't be retrieved, either.  If you have old family papers, guard and protect them carefully.  For the few items my parents saved, I'm truly grateful. 

This post is a contribution to the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge.  Go to the link and you can see other submissions for this meme.  Alona Tester of  Genealogy and History News is the creator and keeper of this meme.  Thank you, Alona! 



  1. I'm fortunate in that one side of my family were hoarders and we have ephemera coming out of our ears. The other side of my family virtually nothing. So I do treasure what we have, and have just started cataloguing it.

    1. Oh, how wonderful to have at least one side of your family who saved everything! Just think, there's enough for everyone to have a little if they want it. I hope your cataloging is going well, Alona.


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