A Window into the Past

It’s been some time since my last blog post. There just hasn’t been an issue that caused me to have as big an emotional response as the one that I want to talk to you about now. I’m still trying to understand how and why people think the way that they do about historic preservation, if they think about it at all.

In the process of photographing artifacts for historical societies in eastern Pennsylvania, I was asked to record some documents for one society that were stored in an acid-free box, which had been stuck in the back of a closet. In the box, in a manila envelope, were many documents that included land sale contracts, wills, a divorce decree, and a labor contract between an apprentice and a farmer.

The oldest document dated to the 1760s, years before the Revolutionary War. One land sale was dated December 13, 1776; its significance was not lost on me. The cost was in British pounds and shillings.

The divorce decree, dated December 19, 1798, told the entire story of the marital issues between Abraham and Mary Moyer. Six months after tying the knot, Mary walks out on Abraham and is accused of having “adulterous conversation and intercourse” with someone not named. A jury of all men (normal in those days) found her guilty and granted Abraham the divorce.

What disturbs me most about this collection of documents is the letter that came with it. The owner writes that we can display them as we see fit or if not, “feel free to discard them – I have no use for them.” They go on to say that they believe the collection came from the writer’s grandparents.

We should be happy that these documents came into the possession of an historical society, I suppose. What I don’t understand is the lack of regard that the owner had for these items that tell important stories of life in early America. We can only hope the sentiment, “I have no use for them” is not one shared by very many other people.

Documents such as these give us insight into the past; how business was done, how lives were lived, what money was worth, how communities were formed. Historians and genealogists depend on them to find and verify facts, used to put the history of our towns, counties, states, and country together.

If you have documents and don’t know what to do with them, contact your local historic society first! It may be a township or county society, but they will be happy to hear from you!

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