Recently I was on vacation in western New York and visited a small-town flea market. While there were only 15 to 20 booths set up, many of them had genealogical treasures abound including old letters, photos and World War II ration books scattered across tables among the costume jewelry and used board games.
Of course my first thoughts as I saw these items outdoors and uncovered were, “Get these things out of the sun and into acid-free tissue paper!” These are someone’s family heirlooms after all. I scoured piles of unmarked pictures, scrutinizing each one and lamenting that they did not have a home. All the while I am sure the sun took a disastrous toll on them.
If you come across a similar situation, Dead Fred allows users to upload found photos, search identified photo databases, and help identify and find mates for unidentified photos. Flickr’s Found Photographs group features mostly unidentified photos picked up at garage sales, flea markets or your grandmother’s attic.
Also at the flea market I found a bag full of WWII ration cards, and I was amazed at the genealogical information available on them. Some just had name and address, but others went further supplying age, sex, weight, height and occupation. The books for sale were from the third and fourth series, both issued in 1943. The names on two of the books at the flea market were Kenneth and Hazel E. Valk. To search for your ancestors in a war ration book database of over 9,000 names click here.
While these were all great finds, the letters were most intriguing. Some sellers at least put them in plastic baggies, but still others let them bake in the sun – folded up at that! There were unopened letters, letters in envelops, envelops without letters, greeting cards, postcards, wedding invitations, governmental correspondence – even a few marked “passed by censor” sent from an infantry unit postmarked “JY. 15, 18”
Most of the letters were sent to Leroy Elder, but many are either unsigned or are signed with a nickname. They are postmarked from 1909 to 1922. One of the funnier postcards was from a pastor sternly urging Edler to pay him a visit to discuss the state of Elder’s Christianity.
Among the stack of letters was a folded poem of sorts titled “The Charming Young Widow In The Train.” The paper is yellowed and ripping along the folds; the ink is disappearing. It wasn’t dated and it was not in an envelope. The top has some sort of imprint or watermark and the end says, “Written B. Mollie E.V.”
I did a Google search of the title and an old song pops up, written in the mid-1800s according to most accounts. The poem roughly follows the song, although some lines and words are different, the main ideas are the same. How the lyrics got among the letters is a mystery.
Overall, the trip to the flea market was eye opening. I didn’t realize how readily family history was for sale. And if sellers don’t use the modern flea market of eBay many people won’t be reunited with their relative’s items.