Some people are just drawn to artifacts of the past. Entire books have been written about ephemera found in someone else’s trash. So it was not a complete surprise when I received a message on Ancestry from a woman who had found an autograph album that originally belonged to a cousin of mine and dating from 1934. She told me she had found the album in a dumpster along with some other items in a bag. That she had looked up the name of the young woman whose album it was and found her in my family tree and would I be interested in receiving it. Of course I would! A few days later, it showed up in the mail along with a beautiful and touching letter about how pleased she was to be able to reunite the album with its family.
Autograph albums were apparently a popular keepsake item in the 1930s. Most books contain messages, poems, photographs, and sketches from family and friends usually during school years. And this album is no exception. There are “calling cards” with girls’ names and phone numbers, little friendship poems, some interesting photographs, a note from her mother and other cousins, some magazine clippings, (apparently she was a local beauty queen) and some pages that just have autographs on them, no sentiment.
I never knew this cousin. She was a 2nd cousin to me in that her grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers. I never met her and my grandmother may have known her. Her grandfather was a guest at my grandmother’s wedding. But suffice it to say, our families didn’t interact. But when I got into genealogy and built out her tree, I was in touch with several descendants of that family node.
I found her two daughters online. Both were on Facebook and I messaged them. I didn’t hear anything back and for a few weeks, this album sat on my desk, reminding me to help it find it’s way home. I eventually sent a text message to one introducing myself and telling her what I had. In my genealogical journey, I have learned that not everyone is excited to hear from cousins they don’t know. So I try to give people as much info about myself up front so that I don’t appear to be a scary stalker and wait. But then after a few weeks, I reached out again and was told that she and her sister were not interested. They didn’t know me and had everything from their mother that they needed. I asked if I could send her some photos of the album and she agreed. She received them and responded with a thanks.
I remember spending hours going through my cousin Eileen’s photos and when we eventually found one of our mutual great-grandparents, i was as ecstatic as if I’d found a diamond ring on the grass. I have so little from my family that I guess I don’t understand others who are not eager to receive gifts from the past. But I don’t know their story, or the relationships in their family and with their mother. And I’m still not sure what to do with this album.