Archives / Family Histories / Genealogy

What’s Missing

If you spend any time at all in archives of early American material, you will stumble over genealogies. Lots of ways and types of producing genealogy. What I call “vernacular genealogy.” (And you can see lots of examples on my Instagram, where my handle is VernacularGenealogy.) Although the John Carter Brown Library is known as a world-class collection of early American printed materials (books, maps, prints about the early Americas and the Caribbean), with one major archive, the Brown Family Business Papers, we do also have a few codices. And last week I stumbled over one I hadn’t read before, an account of the Kimber family of England, New York and Pennsylvania. This notebook of family history was written by multiple hands, from the mid- 18th into the mid-20th century. 

There’s a lot that’s interesting in this volume, lots of ways it echoes other like family histories, but one thing caught my eye immediately. There are pages missing. Right at the start of the volume, one page is torn, and one is cut. I can see some letters from words in the gutter of the latter, nothing of the former (torn too close). I always wonder what could possibly have been there to warrant its removal. It could be sensitive material. Or it could be that, like many of us and like many of their contemporaries, the authors of the volume started to use it one way, then decided on another purpose and just got rid of the first few pages.

What’s helpful about these kinds of material observations is they remind me to stay close to the purposes of the work–even when that’s obscured. Someone had intent here in the production of these texts, the full volume itself, and even in the pages torn and cut away.

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