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Article posted: June 11, 1999
Sometimes Treasures Turn Up Unexpectedly
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
When Elizabeth Hope of Roseville, Ontario died a few weeks ago, her executors found that her historical collections were much larger than they thought. She not only had her own materials, but four other relations' collections also, covering many decades of historical interests.
Among the delights was a box of funeral cards. These pasteboard cards were printed when someone died, and gave information about when the funeral would take place. They were often displayed in store windows and given to friends and relations. They served as mementos and also as invitations to the funeral.
Funeral cards have a great attraction for genealogists. They were a kind of family document which even the poorest families could afford, and most managed to have one or two at least tucked away safely.
Many people have a few, but large numbers of them are rare. Several years ago I wrote about Jimmy Patterson's drawerful of funeral cards. He had forty years' worth in the office behind his hardware store in Ayr. He allowed the Kitchener Public Library to copy them, but he died not long after. The whereabouts of the originals is now unknown.
Elizabeth Hope's executors realized the value of her funeral cards and have invited the Waterloo Wellington branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society to transcribe the information on them for posterity. Norma Huber of Cambridge has begun creating a database which includes all of Hope's death cards.
Jimmy Patterson's cards have also been included in the database, and any others which the Kitchener library or genealogical society have in their files. The society has decided that a substantial book of information can be created from the cards they have. Huber says she has transcribed more than 800 cards so far.
These cards contain a great deal of genealogical and historical information which will be valued by researchers in the future. Recording it now in one place will make it easier to find in years to come.
One interesting movement in genealogical and historical societies in recent years has been the collection of similar kinds of miscellaneous information, which can be gathered into books or databases. In the future these will be searchable. The Daughters of the American Revolution in the United States, a patriotic group, have as one of their aims the collection of bible records, those family writings which were kept in the huge bibles of yesteryear. These are often the only place some of this information could be found.
The DAR records the bible records by photocopying it and providing a transcription. The records are part of the Genealogical Records Collection, kept principally at the DAR library in Washington DC. However, the GRC books will someday be given an every name index, probably to be made available on-line or via CD-ROM. All the names in these thousands of bibles will then be accessible everywhere.
The creation of databases of this kind may seem like a huge job, but as the old saying has it, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. People like Norma Huber, who collect information and make it ready for widespread distribution are the heroes of modern genealogical research.
Books By Ryan Taylor
Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.
Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997
More Family History Research Resources