Sunday, August 5, 2012
I threw someone's life away today
What to keep? What to jettison? The historian in me says to keep it all. The day may come when some researcher would like to see just what the wages were like for a milk truck driver back in 1948. The practical part says, but who's going to go looking in an obscure county museum for minutiae like that? In the end, it comes down to what makes sense to go into a file based on what people are usually looking for when they call the museum: family information. The man's high school diploma, family photos if they're labeled, a death certificate, some papers from the VA regarding his military service, and not much more. A log with hours worked and wages paid for a stint in a Ford assembly plant will go into our Ford Motor Company collection -- we keep anything related to Ford because, among other things, Ford had three sawmills in Baraga County so was a major influence on local history. And that's about it. Several shoe-boxes worth of paper distilled down to one not very fat file folder. The rest of it -- the wallet photos, most of the check stubs, several dozen unlabeled snapshots, greeting cards the man had saved, and a lot of other miscellaneous pieces of paper -- hit the waste basket.
I probably shouldn't have felt as depressed as I did when I saw those kids' photos go into the trash. They're all adults now, probably about the same age as me, and they'd already gone through the boxes and taken what they wanted. Besides, this man isn't going to be totally forgotten. He's now a file folder. If a generation or two from now his descendants come looking for information, they'll actually find something. That's more than is true for most of us.