Thursday, 31 January 2013

One Man’s Trash….Our Descendants Treasure?

I was at a genealogy conference in the fall where Dr Kevin James, an historian from the University of Guelph’s Scottish Studies Program was the keynote speaker. He has transcribed the guest registers from 19th century hotels in Ireland. During his talk, James spoke of ephemera, particularly how much we, as genealogists, treasure the ephemera of our ancestors (ship’s passage tickets, journals, calling cards, invitations, funeral cards etc). Of particular interest to me, were his comments on our own ephemera and how we handle it. Many of us are “savers” (some say “hoarders”) and save ticket stubs, pamphlets, wrist bracelets or other “souvenirs’. However, all of us get flyers on a weekly basis and take them from our front door mailbox to our back door recycling bin without a second thought.

According to James, these pieces of ephemera will tell our descendants a great deal about the times in which we live. What people were interested in purchasing, what we ate, how much things cost, where we shopped. Just think of how intrigued we are now when we are scanning through newspapers and come across ads, or when we find treasures like a 1937 Eaton’s catalogue. And yet we never give our own catalogues or ads a second thought. I have to admit, I am not intrigued enough to start hoarding my weekly flyers, but it certainly might make me more aware that the impact of the ephemera I have tucked away might have on future generations of my offspring. 


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