One Woman's Junk Is Another Woman's Treasure

I am in the process of organizing the notes, pictures, and memorabilia I have compiled from years of researching my family tree. This afternoon, I looked through one of my Grandma Donaldson's scrapbooks, which contains greeting cards she received from the late 1960s to her death in September 1976. Like her mother, Mary Shaper Dudley, she saved things that, to some people, might seem meaningless and needed to be disposed of. However, these "meaningless" remnants give us an important glimpse at their lives and what was important to them.

My great-grandmother kept hundreds of mementos of her children. She had dozens of pictures of her eldest son, Charlie, including one in front of the Packard factory in Detroit, where he was employed. She kept the funeral card and newspaper clippings from Lew's death in 1906, when he was struck by a train. She saved postcards from her son Frank telling about his travels around the country, a photo of Ab in his army uniform with his wife Christena, a picture of Tom and his navy buddies taken at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and an army photo of Clarence before he was shipped overseas to fight in World War I. The postcard shown at the left is from her daughter Mary and reads "To Mamma from Mary. Birthday Grettings."

My grandma's mementos include letters from a friend she met on a bus when she travelled to Florida, Mamie Duncan. Grandma and Mamie corresponded for many years. From reading these letters, I can tell that Mamie was a kind and considerate friend, which leads me to believe that grandma was a good friend to Mamie as well. Grandma also corresponded with Helen Klanke, her brother Charlie's step-daughter.

Through her illnesses, she received cards from her children, her brother Clarence and sister-in-law Dot, and her church friends. She kept birthday and Christmas cards and Valentines. She saved handmade cards and artwork from her grandchildren. She kept a postcard of a ship her grandson served on during the Vietnam war. She saved letters she wrote to my grandfather. She kept the remnants of my mom's World War II rationing book and, much to her embarassment, some of her report cards. She kept newspaper clippings about the happenings in the lives of friends and neighbors.

At some point in her life, grandma began writing her autobiography. She didn't get very far, but wrote enough to give us an idea of what her childhood was like. She told what it was like to grow up in the country as the youngest in her family with six older brothers. She explained how the family worked together to make a living. She told how the neighbors would all pitch in to help neighbors in need. Thankfully, grandma didn't throw away the beginning of her autobiography when she didn't get back to it (as I probably would have), since I consider it one of the most valuable items I possess.


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