29 November 2015

Sentimental Sunday – Saviors of “The Stuff”

On this nearly last day of November, I feel compelled to ensure that thanks goes where thanks belongs. That means that I say a heartfelt “thank you” to Steve and Nancy Baer (Strubbe).

Nan, as she was known to her friends, lovingly kept family materials given to her long ago. OK, lovingly might not be absolutely accurate, but at least they looked something like this when I got my Archivist hands on them:

The second batch of family history materials saved by Mary Strubbe
I include this photograph in a lecture I do about caring and maintaining family history materials, and it gets a chuckle from the audience every time. I love pointing out the picnic basket in the plastic tub; it’s a classic example of someone’s best effort at preserving something important.

And the things in those boxes, and the archival boxes that Nan’s daughter Mary had begun storing some of the materials in, were very important. The picnic basket secured a Bible and a large book of piano music, which has a published date of 1800 and a signature of ‘Robert Chambers Greene’ on the frontispiece. The other materials included marriage certificates, original letters from the great aunt of Nan, who at the time was completely unknown to any of us. There was just so much that it’s taken me several years to put the pieces together to create a rich family tapestry of stories.

When I stopped at Steve’s home in Bloomington, Indiana on my way back from NGS in Cincinnati in 2012, he showed me an original copy of a photograph of my second great-grandmother, Laura Louisa Greene Richards. Laura was born in 1837, and we believe the photo was taken around 1857, the year she married Randolph Richards. Steve, after a career as a dentist, had opened an antique store and had a house full of wonderful antiques. He maintained a genealogical collection; after he passed away in 2013, his children had a yard sale to get rid of much of what he’d had because they thought it was stuff he’d saved from the antique store. There's no way to know how much of it was from the family materials he'd described to me. I don’t know what happened to all the genealogical material that he’d researched over his adult life.

These two people were the keys to my ability to fill in the blanks of our family history. The twins, Stephen Burrows Baer and Nancy Richards Baer Strubbe, certainly had to be descendants of Stephen Burrows (1776-1849) and the Richards family (John Richards {1788-p1834} and Mary Penn {1785-1860}), and much of the materials were from these families. There are also materials from Greene, Hunt (a line by marriage), as well as mentions of Sargent and Penn. I’ve been able to fill in the blanks and research through to lines that include Sefton and Chouteau in French St. Louis; and a lengthy list of others including Russell, Wallace, Chambers and Camp.

Photo taken while processing the Strubbe Family Archives
This is the story of two families, Steve and Nan’s, who took different directions in handling their ‘stuff’ after they were gone. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to meet Steve personally and to see some of the genealogical material he’d acquired over his lifetime. There’s really no way to know what he had and it’s gone now. Nan had told her daughter, Mary, that there was a lot of “stuff” she’d kept and that if Mary didn’t want it that she could "get rid of it." So there's a measure of thanks that goes to Mary who found the material interesting and decided to keep it. When I left Cincinnati last, the material from the plastic tubs looked like this:

A portion of the Strubbe Family Archives
It’s not ‘perfect’ and I tell people all the time that it’s not about perfection. It’s about honoring those who kept the material for us, and helping those who will be its stewards in the future to understand its importance by putting it in containers that LOOK important. Thank you, Steve and Nan, for saving our family history so we can share its stories.

Steve and Nan with the Strubbe twins (courtesy of the Strubbe Family Archives)


  1. Thank You for putting it all together. I worry about where all my vast notebooks and books and so many things will end up. It is a lot - where will they keep it - who will preserve it and who will want that challenge. I guess I will have to threaten them that I will haunt them if they don't preserve it somehow.

    1. Jeanne, there are lots of ways that you can protect your material, and it doesn't have to cost a lot. An archival box (like the grey one in the photo is only about $6. I tell my audiences to take they're MOST precious things at the least and put them in an Archives box. Why? Because when you're gone, if stuff's disorderly and looks like 'stuff' there's a tendency for loved ones to just pitch it. If it's in a 'special' box, it must be 'Special' stuff. You can email me through my website and I can give you some additional suggestions. :-) And, thanks for reading and commenting!!

  2. Thanks for that tip. My kids know what I have and my work is in binders labeled with the family names. I hope to interest some of the 5 granddaughters one day.

  3. What an inspiring story about the keepers of history! And a photograph of your ancestor too.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Magda!

  5. You will never know how impressed I am regarding your organized storage of family heirlooms. Our middle bedroom is lined with bookcases and my "bankers boxes" are number 1-36 on the outside, I use all sorts of sheet protectors etc........but your organization methods are most impressive.


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