When is a book a genealogical source?
July 01, 2022
It’s an unassuming book. It looks more like a marketing piece. Wedding Embassy Yearbook by Macy’s California (a department store chain) is a 130-page hardback. It begins with a store directory for everything the bride needs for her wedding and her first home. After that, the book provides helpful wedding advice about the engagement announcement, the wedding party attire, and etiquette surrounding brides who are widows and “older” (yes, older in this context means 30 years of age. The book states, “The woman of thirty or thereabouts is still sufficiently youthful to wear the traditional wedding gown and veil (p. 111). But for those in their later 30s, you’re better off with a “handsome dress.”)
If you found this in your family library during a decluttering exercise, you might be tempted to throw it out. After all, what genealogical use is it? It might be something you read for nostalgia, but not much else. But if you continue paging through to the back, you find this…
It’s a genealogical source masking as a department store wedding planner. The name of the bride and groom and attendants are here. The list of everyone who gave a gift, several pages, is here. The only thing not here is the wedding date, though judging from the list of when the gifts were received, it was most likely an October wedding. The book lacks a year, and the bride wrote “4” for the year in her list of gifts received and acknowledged. My original guess was that it might be 1964. Further research showed a California marriage index and a newspaper announcement that verified an October 1964 wedding.
This book is a source of many genealogical facts, from the bride and groom to the family members who gave gifts. Combining this with the online newspaper wedding announcement and a state marriage index, one can piece together that moment in time. Other details like the type of gift given provide some social history clues on what young couples received as they started their life together.
Now here’s the sad part of this genealogical record. This isn’t my family. It was given to me by someone who picked it up at a book sale. Why it ended up at the book sale is unknown, but further research uncovered a 1968 divorce for the couple.
The lesson here is that as we declutter our own home or that of a deceased family member’s estate, we need to remember that not all genealogical sources look like genealogical sources. Some look like marketing pieces or plain books, but in reality, they can hold so much more. Be careful as you go through things. It’s a tremendous job, but it can lead to exciting discoveries.
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.