There's just something about holding something old in your own hands. You wonder who else has held the thing you hold in that moment. How did it come down through so many years to land in your hands? How many eyes have passed over it? Who bent over to write upon it? What was your ancestor thinking about the moment the camera captured their face? Were they thinking about you, their descendant, who would one day end up with their photograph in your possession?
I am writing a book on the history of the Mulry family in Indianapolis. I have had the pleasure to meet so many distant relatives in my research for the book, and have had priceless things loaned to me to contribute to the book. Just the other night I met with my grandma's cousin, who she never really knew, and she gave me a funeral register for my great-great-great uncle, Matthew Mulry. Inside were the signatures of so many relatives, including my great-great grandmother. I just ran my fingers over them and thought about how she had stood over this very book to write her name. Living history, right there.
This record, below, is what I believe to be the oldest thing in my possession. It is a very fragile handwritten record of the children of Thomas Coen and Phoebe Randle, my great-great-great-great grandparents. I found it in the old family Bible, which dates to the 1860s, given to me by my grandmother. Just think of all the hands it's passed through, and now it's sitting in my desk drawer. Now that's a treasure chest.
What about you, genealogist? What's the oldest thing in your collection?