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Accounting for the Past

By Daniel Hubbard | November 18, 2012

This week I used an unusual source. A 130-year-old personal bank book. It might not seem to be a likely piece of genealogical material let alone a treasure trove but one should never leave a stone unturned. Sometimes things were saved simply because they were never thrown away. Other times they were saved because they are meaningful. Their preservation provides a clue to their significance.

There were interesting items in the little book like money taken out to buy shingles or socks or suspenders. Those are all interesting things for a family historian. They tell us something about lifestyle and in this case even clothing style. There is income listed from renting farmland and selling chickens and hay. We can see when these things happened and start to imagine a bit more about a specific time and place.

Bank books might be a place for the family historian to find data but they are not were one would normally look for a story being told. Yet this bank book did just that. The first page is blank except for a single entry. The second page was written in a different hand and begins eleven months later with these words-

Commenced living with me this day. He agrees to turn over all his property both personal and real to me and I agree to keep clothe and care for him the same as I have always done for my own family of children under my own roof.

That was written by the son when his father had become too old to care for himself and his farm. Before this was that one single entry made by the father. Only after this do we see the son withdrawing money to buy his father clothes and make repairs to his father’s farm. We can read that he sold his father’s hay to put some money back into the bank. We can read something of the story of a son caring for his father.

Just over a year after his father moved in with him, the son wrote-

$44.50 for funeral expenses.

His father was dead. A receipt tucked in with the book makes it clear when it lists an amount “for father’s coffin.” I know of no other evidence for this man’s death, just a receipt for a coffin and a son’s notes in a bank book.

This bank book for one, is not just dry data. It tells a story.

Maybe stories are just data with souls.
-Brené Brown

That quote comes from a very different context, and yet it could be about this odd little source, this bank book. It should be “just data” but it was given a “soul.” It tells a story.

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Topics: Records | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Accounting for the Past”

  1. Anonymous Says:
    November 21st, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Data with soul – nice!