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    Discovering Family History Through Cards

    Clues to your family's past often can be discovered in cards they've received over the years. Some families are great collectors who save every letter and many of the cards sent to them. This is particularly true if the family didn't have to move much during a lifetime, as was the case with my mom and grandmothers.

    Within these cards and postcards may be notes from the sender, mention of other family members you may not have known about, clues to where they lived and what they did. Other cards may have only a signature but were kept for sentimental reasons or because they were colorful and attractive.

    Grandmother's Cards

    I've discovered that my paternal grandmother was a great collector of cards. She was especially fond of those given at Christmas. Although she died in 1942, her cards date back to the 1920s. Many of these consisted of colorful postcards. Others were the traditional folded cards.

    The cards of those days were often elaborate with cut work and gold and silver trim, along with red and green. The cards came in various sizes and are such fun to look at now.

    Family History From Cards

    As I've read through the cards my grandmother and my mom saved, I've learned more about their lives. My mom's cards brought back memories of those days when I was growing up on a farm in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. At Christmas, our family wrote cards on December evenings, perhaps enjoying a cup of cocoa and some cookies before we finished. The younger children played around us and the Christmas tree.

    Some of Grandma's cards contained notes from friends and family. Others were merely signed with perhaps a handwritten greeting. These delicate, colorful cards, with their artistic designs give me a peek into my grandmother's era.

    Post Card Memories

    Many people collect post cards and others enjoy sending them. My husband's grandmother saved cards sent to her when she was a youngster. She brought them to the United States when she immigrated from England at age 16. She also saved cards sent to her in later years.

    These cards give us insight into her life before she was married and shortly after. Through them, we've gained information about her friends and family, tidbits which help us in our research.

    My grandmother also saved post cards. I discovered from her collection that many people sent these at Christmas and for birthdays.

    Photo postcards were popular in my grandmother's and mother's eras. People had their pictures taken, then printed on postcards which they sent to friends and relatives. If you look on the back of some old photos, you'll find they are postcards.

    I came across a delightful one of my mom and her siblings when Mother was about 4 years old. One of my grandmother's photo cards came from her uncle, William "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson and shows a photo of him I'd not seen.

    Saving Cards

    Sometimes you'll incorporate your favorite cards into scrapbook or album pages with other memorabilia about the person who sent them to you. Another way is saving all your special cards from each year in a card collection, perhaps with a notation about the sender and some decorative items on the page with the cards.

    To save the cards where we could enjoy them, until we decided if we wanted to do something else, my daughter inserted them into acid free plastic sleeves designed for cards. If there were letters included, we placed these with the card.

    The same can be done with gift wrap and them where you can see them until you have decided exactly how you'll use them.

    Will cards and postcards become something of the past as we evolve into the world of e-cards and e-mail newsletters? I hope not because I've found such enjoyment in the old cards I've discovered. Send cards to others and perhaps this tradition will continue in your family.

    Copyright © 2003 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen collects family memorabilia and enjoys studying, researching and writing about her family, past and present. She teaches classes on this topic as well as scrapbooking. Visit her web site for more information about her books:

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ

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