Thursday, May 31, 2012

Canada Conference, Three New Talks and A Baseball

This coming Saturday and Sunday (June 2 &3), I’ll be on the north side of the St. Lawrence River in the Province of Ontario, Canada.  Region VII of the Ontario Genealogical Society is hosting the annual OGS conference at St. Lawrence College in Kingston and I’ll be presenting three of the talks, all of which are brand-new.

On Saturday, I’ll be discussing some underutilized references and resources for doing effective newspaper research and (in the other presentation) will be discussing some of the small wonders available for family researchers in the New York State Archives and Library. 

In the “newspaper” talk, I’ll be stressing that most newspapers have not yet been digitized, and even if they had been, there’s much more to competent newspaper research than just putting a name in a search engine on the internet and hoping for the best.  In the “Archives & Library” talk, I’ll be highlighting some of the manuscript resources of interest to United Empire Loyalist families from New York and also pointing out how to locate some of the obscure digitized material available for free research on the Library/Archives website.  I’ll also be pointing out the advantages of driving south from Ontario to Albany to use one of the best genealogical research collections in the northeast.

On Sunday, I’ll be doing a new talk called “Keepers of the Family Stuff: Some “Best Practice” Tips on Maintaining the Family Home Archives for Genealogists and Family Historians.”  This time, the focus will be on what we should be doing as the (sometimes accidental and inadvertent) curators of family documents, photographs, memorabilia and other treasures.  I’ll be stressing the importance of preservation, thorough identification and documentation, all of which are steps that even the most dedicated genealogists often fail to take.

The point here is that while family genealogists are often the repositories of detailed information about family and the “family stuff”, all too often that “repository” exists only in the family genealogist’s memory.  More often than not, it’s not written down, and even when it is, it’s not in a location or form that’s accessible to the uninitiated.  In a sense, it’s much like a “hidden collection” in an archives, understood by only a few archivists. 

Unlike institutional archival collections, however, family collections kept at home are in greater danger of loss. Should anything untoward happen to that genealogist, the memory (i.e., the repository) is lost for all time.

Sometimes, artifacts in family collections are obvious as to what they are.  In other cases, however, they often need further explanation when they are actually more than they seem on the surface.
Here’s an example from my own collection of “family stuff”.  Take a look at the picture:

It looks like a beat-up old baseball, right?. 

Not much to look at, and very likely the kind of thing that  - if found in my rather extensive collection of stuff - someone (other than me) might think was just an old baseball.  Something to pass along to a child as a plaything. After all, it’s just an old baseball.

But look again … this time on the other side.  Note that there’s some kind of faint writing.  Note also that there’s a date of “Oct 9, 1916”  

What’s that all about?

Oh, by the way, this ball belonged to my grandfather and was kept for years in his study.  My grandfather was a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox in 1916 and, as a result, I know the significance of the post-season date.

So, just in case I get taken away by aliens, I wrote it all down and added it to my “Family Stuff” spreadsheet, where it will eventually find its way in to the collection’s finding aid, if the aliens don’t get me first.

Here’s what I wrote:

Inscribed 1916 “Official American League” Baseball

From the personal collection of Meldon J. Wolfgang (1890 – 1947), this inscribed baseball is dated [handwritten in ink] “Oct 9, 1916”.  The ball shows some soil, scuffing and wear, possibly because it was used in game play or practice prior to being inscribed.

The inscription directly above the date is illegible. On the panel opposite the date, the ball is inscribed “Best Wishes [illegible] Best of Luck”.  The inscribed date (October 9) was a Monday, two days after the last game of the four-game post-season Chicago “City Series” between the White Sox and Cubs on October 4 – 7, 1916.  The White Sox won the 1916 City Series, beating the Cubs in every game (8 – 2; 3 – 1; 3 – 0; 6 – 3). 

Mel Wolfgang was a White Sox team member at the time, and although he was used mostly for batting practice and did not pitch in any of the four Series games, he would have shared in the proceeds of $19,581.88.  On October 7th, a Chicago Tribune sports writer estimated that since the winning team got 60% of the proceeds, each White Sox player would receive $489.55.

It is highly likely that each player received his share (probably in cash) along with an inscribed baseball like this on Monday, October 9, 1916. As a point of comparison, a wage of $20.00 for a six-day work week (48 hours) was the norm for skilled factory workers at this time, so a player’s “take” from the City Series would be about as much as a factory worker would earn in half a year.

The description places the baseball in context and surrounds it with additional data that allows for further interpretation.  So, it’s much more than an old beat-up baseball, especially to a family historian.

Yeah, it takes time to do this kind of documentation, but it sure beats thinking that the baseball will likely end up being tossed around by some little boy and his dog at some point in the future, just because nobody knew what it was.

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