I've been thinking about items that were commonplace 10+ years ago that are not so common now. These items will soon be considered antiques, worthy of nostalgia and collecting but not used in an ever-changing world.
You know these items and have used them, things like phone booths come to mind. Once in a while, I'll see one at a public place, but largely, depending on where you are, you might be hard-pressed to find one or one that works. In a world where the vast majority of people always have a phone with them, phone booths are a relic.
Another relic that is used by some but most likely not seen as a modern-day necessity is the personal address book. No, not the address book in your cell phone but the actual printed handwritten address book that we use to jot down our family and friends' contact information. These books have evolved with the times, such as including a space for a fax number or, later, an email address, but today they are not as convenient as information easily stored in an electronic mobile device.
As these personal items, such as address books, disappear, it makes me consider their importance as a genealogist. Having inherited a few address books from family members that have passed, I can attest to their genealogical relevance. Still, these small personal books also may be one of those things that are quickly discarded. After all, you may have to choose what inherited items deserve space in an overcrowded house and which don't.
What makes a source have genealogical value? Many sources we use are "names lists," meaning they are a list of names, perhaps all names in a community or a select, curated list. Think of the census (which tracks almost everyone) or a tax list (which includes only those who pay taxes). From there, genealogical records can contain other biographical information, such as a residential address. It may collect information about an occupation, participation in an event (such as a school graduation), or religious affiliation, to name a few.
How is an address book a genealogically relevant record? What can an old address book hold, especially one that isn't yours? My mom has a fabulous address book given to her as a young bride. It includes family contact information and a place to mark who sent you a Christmas card. For a genealogist, this address book provides family member names that may include those she was in touch with but that I wasn't acquainted with. Notations about Christmas cards can include information about a death or a move. Address books are personal manuscripts. Although, like a form, it specifies what to add and where, owners may annotate other details such as relationship, marriage or death dates, and subsequent residential addresses. They are akin to a diary or journal in that the owner adds information that is relevant to them but, in turn, may have historical relevance to descendants.
As family historians, we need to consider the history we document or are curators of and the information we leave behind about ourselves and our immediate family. What can we add to our old written address books that might help the next generation of researchers? How can we annotate it to make it something that our children and family can read? As we inherit items such as the personal writings of family, we need to take a second look at what may seem like "trash" and see if, instead, they lead us to information not available elsewhere.
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.