Posts Tagged ‘Ephemera’

Ephemera of the Genealogical Type

Some might say, “What the heck is Ephemera?”
Pronounced “eff-em-er-uh” (at least that’s the way I pronounce it.)

Ephemera means an item that relates to the moment. This term is normally applied to just paper, but to some it might also include items of 3 dimensional types, and something that one might hang on to for a keepsake or future reference.

Some of the items that fall into this category are; manuscripts, autographs, letters, diaries, handbills, matchbooks, photographs, broadsides, almanacs, programs, advertisements, funeral cards, posters, newspapers, tax lists, old bill heads, valentines, business cards, and on and on.

“Why would genealogists care?”

Well what about funeral cards? They would be pretty helpful right? You would get the name of the deceased, their vital dates and other clues.

Let’s discuss some of the other neat little items that just might provide some clues to your research.

Old Almanacs from the late 1700′s into the 1800′s usually had a chart of distances from location to location. Say from Albany to Buffalo, the routes would be described starting at Albany, so many miles to the first stop, which might be a village, or a tavern, or some such landmark. As you study these charts you will notice that most of the distances between locations were within one days “walk.” Most of our ancestors, I venture to say the majority of them, did not have access to horse and wagon, stage coach, Erie Canal, and so on. They walked from place to place! I have read dozens of accounts of the early settlers that came into “Upstate New York” from New England or down along the Hudson River, or up from New Jersey, and they almost always tell about coming in with their belongings on an ox-cart. That means everyone else walked!

So those distance markers would be of importance to determine where the actual dirt roads went. There were no paved roads. It was easier to travel in the winter after the snow was on, because they could pull the goods on a sledge of some kind, and the ground was not a soupy mess.

I can’t begin to tell you the importance of reading old family letters and diaries. You will learn so many details that you will never find in a court house or on a census about the families you are researching.

Use your imagination regarding any of the items listed above and see if you can’t make a determined effort to locate some of these treasures to assist you in shaking your family tree.

The Ephemera Society of America has an excellent website at, replete with many informative articles, websites of member/vendors, notices of exhibits and forthcoming shows. They publish a very professional and scholarly journal, and the membership is open to everyone.

Dick Hillenbrand – Upstate New York Genealogy –

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