15    Jan 20132 comments

Research: Address books as a resource

Do you have an address book? Have you inherited an old address book from your parents or grandparents? This is almost as good as discovering an ancestor's journal.

Will Kenny, wrote a post for Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) - Address book is a family history, bound by tradition - in which he writes:

....And this annual ritual recently reminded us of a big difference between pulling out a physical, paper address book and pulling up a contact list.

These days, if you keep your contact list on your phone or your computer, you live very much in the present. When you update an entry in your electronic contact list, you just edit the information. You replace the old with the new.

And when people are no longer connected to you, whether you somehow lose touch or they pass away, you merely delete them from your list, and from your life. At the same time, you delete a piece of your own personal history.

Diane Richards wrote a great blog post in Upfront (the National Genealogical Society blog) on her own use of these hand-written resources for family history, who writes that she is on her third one (begun in December 1998). Earlier ones now live in her "memory boxes." She also shows examples from her latest address book.

Basically, after about 15 years, the typical address book has so many cross-outs and white outs and a run on list of years where cards were sent/received as to become a bit unworkable.

I’ve often hoped that maybe in the future, a descendant will open the saved boxes and check out my scribbles, including those of the old address books!

When I read Will’s article, a light bulb went off! When I look through my current address book (not the electronic kind) you can see where I have noted those who died, those who were born, those who have moved and those whom I’ve stopped sending Christmas cards to.

I used to keep a handwritten address book - I'm sure I still have the old ones in a box somewhere - but like many people these days tend to use email or smartphone contact lists instead.  Will Kenny's comment about replacing the old with the new really brought this home to me. After all, a computer failure won't wipe out your paper address book!

Do read both Will's and Diane's post at the links above.

Do you still keep a handwritten address book? Have you used them for family history research? What do you do with the old ones? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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  1. I was lucky to inherit several old address books from my mother, one of which predated her wedding and had a list of people who attended bridal showers for her and what they even gave. Wow, a real time capsule and interesting to see what people gave back then. We found addresses from relatives in Scotland and when we asked cousins, who live there now about those addresses, they were even amazed their great aunt lived there and had a husband they never knew about.
  2. I'm looking right now at "The Bride's Notebook,"" a ringbinder I acquired in January 1953 as I was preparing for my March wedding. It lists the participants in my wedding to Walter Roth in March '53, as well as the names and addresses of those people to whom I sent invitations and "faire-parts," and from whom I got presents. It's been a gold mine of information in the past 25 years of my genealogical research. Invaluable

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