Ephemeral traces of lives past

Invitation to my great grandparents 50th wedding anniversary party. Image: Ramsay-Leslie family archive.

Invitation to my great grandparents 50th wedding anniversary party. Image: Ramsay-Leslie family archive.

For archivists, ephemeral has a specific meaning. Ephemera refers to a class of documents which are not originally intended to be preserved.  Invitations, postcards, tickets, pamphlets and greeting cards would all fall into this category.

That many of these items are preserved (in collections of ephemera) is due to the fact that they can offer valuable historical insights — and are often incredibly interesting. Who has never rummaged amongst the old postcards in second-hand shop and wondered why Jock and Mary thought Eileen worthy of a postcard from Ostend? Or opened a library book, found a first class British Rail ticket from Stevenage to Edinburgh and wondered about the person who made the trip (actually that was me, going to visit a sick aunt).

Over the last few years, my mother has been sending me photographs and other items that she has treasured over the years. Since I’ve become the family historian, she feels happy to pass them into my care. The invitation above is one of the things she gave me.

My great grandparents, Catherine Black and Alexander Cruden got married as pregnant teenagers (he was 17, she 18). They remained married for 62 years, until my great grandad’s death in 1970. I’ve written about them in the past (Getting a telegram from the Queen, On growing old together), partly because I have quite a lot of information about them, but mainly because they were around when I was a small child and I remember them with enormous affection.

It’s lovely then, to have this little piece of ephemera from their lives. The invitation is addressed to my grandparents David Ramsay and Margaret Cruden.

I also have a couple of photos from the event; one of my great grandparents, the other of my mother and a couple of cousins. These provide not only interesting insights into social customs (cups and saucers at a party — these days I’d expect wine glasses), but are also precious memories of people I love.

My great gran, Catherine Black and her sister Caroline. Photo taken at my great grandparents Golden Wedding anniversary. Also in the shot my great grandad, Alexander Cruden and (far left) his brother in law, James Fowler. Photo: Leslie family archive.

Photo taken at my great grandparents Golden Wedding anniversary. Left to right James Fowler (husband of my great grandfather’s sister Betsy), my great grandad, Alexander Cruden, my great gran Catherine Black and (far right) her sister Jessie. Photo: Leslie family archive.

Also taken at my great grandparents anniversary party; Elizabeth Leslie (nee Ramsay) with niece Margaret Ladyka and nephew Robert Guthrie. Photo: Leslie-Ramsay family archive.

Also taken at my great grandparents anniversary party; Elizabeth Leslie (nee Ramsay) with niece Margaret Ladyka and nephew Robert Guthrie. Photo: Leslie family archive.

This post was written for the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: ephemeral.

Ephemeral

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21 thoughts on “Ephemeral traces of lives past

  1. Fascinating article explaining ephemera – I hadn’t heard that term applied to old documents before. I think my cousin Tina does quite a bit of trying to dig out the family’s history but I’ll admit that it hasn’t always been high up my todo list – perhaps it should be! Those photographs are wonderful mementoes – thank you for sharing.

    You may find the ‘Ephemera’ at the bottom of this post interesting… https://2e0mca.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/what-did-you-do-in-the-war-dad/

    • Hi Raewyn. I love going to junk shops and rummaging through the old cards and photos. There’s one in Northcote called Junk and Disorderly that is absolutely brilliant. I can easily spend a whole afternoon there; they’ve even got a cafe now, cos so many people spend so much time there 🙂

  2. Next time you’re in Auckland! The towns on the Hauraki Plains are great for antique shops, but they tend to be a bit more focused on objects, rather than ephemera.

    • I’m incredibly grateful to my mother who has saved these things, and transported them from house to house, country to country as she has moved around. My dream is to have a proper family archive (materials properly stored and cataloged, and electronic copies made, cataloged and put in the cloud). Perhaps when I retire 🙂 (sound of distant laughter).

  3. You couldn’t have found a better choice for the challenge Su Dear!
    The world ephemeral is of Greek origin and it has such a deep and philosophical meaning …
    Love it because almost everything is ephemeral … ~ Happy Easter Weekend ~ Doda 🙂 ღ ღ ღ

    • Thank you Doda. I didn’t realise that Orthodox Easter was not at the same time as “ours’ (for lack of a better word). I’ve never been quite sure how the dates are calculated. I must check that out. I hope you have a wonderful weekend my dear friend. xx Su.

  4. Pingback: Ephemeral | My Atheist Blog

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