This blog, amazingly, has quite a few followers now, although hardly anybody ever interacts with me except to click ‘like’ – which, goodness knows, I appreciate – and I honestly have no idea who most of you are, or where you are, or what interests you about some sixty year old letters from a quite unremarkable family. (The few exceptions are a couple of distant relatives who have happened upon information having a bearing on their own family history, and have contacted me directly as a result.)
Most of you haven’t been here from the very beginning, and I didn’t really explain myself fully in the first place, so maybe it would be sensible to take advantage of this brief hiatus in the narrative – while Leonard and Eva are staying at Ruislip with five year old me, my three year old sister, and our parents – to give you a bit of context for this endeavour.
I started out with six – six – boxes of Fam. Hist. paperwork, plus a box of slides, two old Bibles, and a great deal more. That’s in excess of 300 litres of the stuff, which my online calculation thingy suggests is 0.3 of a cubic metre. My desk runs at about 0.9 of a cubic metre, so you can get the general idea; the volume of stuff I have (or, rather, had) would probably fill a four-drawer filing cabinet.
Even a quick perusal of the material indicated that not all of it was worth keeping. For example, there were paper copies of things that we also had in electronic form, and printouts from online genealogy sources that aren’t going to go away. They were easily dealt with.
One of the Bibles was in very poor condition. It was valuable only for the information it contained. We scanned and saved that and – yes, I admit it! – put the Bible itself in the paper recycling. The other one had been rebound at great expense and is therefore going to have to stay.
Then there was Leonard’s diary of the 1914-18 war – albeit his participation covered only a fraction of that time. It was written in pencil, and the covers were beginning to deteriorate, and it was time for the diaries to have some proper conservation as they were already 100 years old. After due consultation with the younger generations, who didn’t want to take on responsibility for it, we offered the original diary to the Royal Engineers Museum at Chatham and they accepted. There is a story to this, of course, which will be shared later when we start looking at the contents of the diary.
Alec’s QSL cards, however, were another matter. The younglings snapped those up with cries of glee, drooling over some of the Soviet-era artwork, and went off and plotted them all on a map.
But still, there were the letters – almost ten years’ worth of them. They imposed a storage requirement, and the younger generation weren’t remotely interested in them. I was, but I couldn’t see myself hanging onto bundles of paper for the rest of my life. The answer was to think of each letter as having two components – the paper itself, and the information on it. The information was worth keeping, but the paper wasn’t. Therefore the solution was to scan – or, more recently, to dictate – the text, and to shred the letters themselves.
This raises the question of observer bias. If it is not possible to compare the electronic version to the original, there are always going to be opportunities to challenge the electronic version. It may seem unlikely that this would happen in the case of some relatively benign and unimportant family correspondence, but unfortunately there are some living relatives who subscribe to a revisionist version of history – and, specifically, to The Narcissist’s Prayer:
That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
And if it is, that’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did, you deserved it.
The obvious response to this would of course be to keep the originals and make them available if ever the remaining family demand to see them, but life is too short – and they will only believe what they already want to believe anyway, whatever the evidence presented.
Thus, this blog – and its many backups – and the determined effort to reduce the volume of storage required by gradually disposing of all unnecessary items. There will still be plenty left over at the end, but hopefully if everything is stored in electronic form it will be less important if the originals end up in a skip somewhere at some future date.
Parts of this family’s story are interesting and parts are not. In future decades probably nobody will care if Leonard grew 285 lbs (130 kg) of runner beans in a single summer, or what he paid for his car repairs; however Alec’s experience of British Rail during the Beeching Purge may be of interest, and Leonard’s war diary has already added to the sum of human knowledge. It all goes together, the good and the bad, the relevant and the irrelevant; that’s just the way life works, and that’s why I’m not editing anything or making any selections. You, as the reader, will decide what is important to you; my job is simply to transmit the information.
And that, in a nutshell, is the answer to the question ‘Why?’
We now return you to your advertised programming, and thank you for watching this infomercial!