Thursday, November 15, 2012

Treasure Chest Thursday: To My Complete Surprise

Charlie Wallen was one of my dad's paternal first cousins. Until January 1, 1998, I didn't know anything about Charlie. Our family had moved around and we were all in different parts of the country. We kept up more with Mom's side of the family than we did Dad's. 

Charlie circa 2007
When Charlie called me on that first day of 1998, it was because he, as a genealogist, was looking for other members of the family and had found me in his search. Charlie had been working on our family history for about 16 years at that time and I was fairly new to genealogy, only 3 years worth then. That was the beginning of a long and close relationship that ended with Charlie's passing in October of 2009.

In early 2005, Charlie decided to sell his home and move into an assisted living facility. He was still sharp of mind but his physical condition was deteriorating. He couldn't take all his years of accumulated genealogy with him so, with the help of his wonderful sister-in-law Betty, most of those things were packed up and mailed to me. In late March five very large boxes arrived at my house. It felt sad to me because I thought I'd never be doing genealogy with Charlie again. Thankfully, I was wrong. Charlie continued from his little room, on his computer, with the few books he kept, to plug away on his database, just as addicted as ever.

Most of the genealogy books that arrived at my house that day were duplicates of the ones I already had and most of Charlie's files on his paternal family had long ago been copied and sent to me over the years. Everything he thought I'd want, he had copied and sent to me via "snail-mail". I did the same for him. We copied and exchanged everything. In fact, I was surprised to see that every manila envelope I'd sent him over the years, arrived back to me in those boxes and the sheer number of envelopes with my name on them made me laugh with joy. Charlie and I had done some serious postal correspondence, not to mention all the daily e-mailing and weekly phone conversations!

All the duplicate books, 59 in all, promptly went up for sale on eBay. In my auction listings, because I didn't feel right about accepting money for them, I stated that 100% of the proceeds for the books would go to help fund the new youth building that was under construction at my church. In the last minutes of the auction the bidding became frenzied, it was very exciting! When all was finished, I had over $930.00 to donate to the church and there were a lot of happy auction winners, some who won books that were no longer in print. 

Weeks later, the rest of the binders full of pages and pages of genealogy, each page in a page protector, and all the manila folders full of more pages, were consolidated into two boxes and put into storage. Over the years, other things got piled in front and on top of those boxes but I never worried about it. I knew they were there, and they were safe, and there was nothing in them that I didn't already have or know about. Or so I thought.

Photos, some I'd never seen
This week we started clearing that room where those two boxes were stored. I separated the two boxes of genealogy from the rest of the boxes and yesterday I moved them into my recently reorganized office. I couldn't resist reaching into one of the manila envelopes and when I did, I pulled out a bunch of photos. What? I thought I'd looked through everything! There were photos here I had not seen. Woot! So I started rummaging...there were more photos, and there were some original certificates: birth, marriage, death, etc., that I had previously only had copies of. Then, this morning I was transferring the binders to a better box and I opened one of the smaller binders and, to my complete surprise, it was full of copies of photos of members of the family that I had never seen. How Charlie had overlooked making duplicates of these photos for me is a mystery. He was always giddy with excitement to share everything with me. These were oversights, I have no doubt, and were there just waiting for me to discover them so I could become excited all over again.

The binder of copied photos

So, I have new treasures to inspect, new faces to put with names that previously had none. Gloat.

I wonder what else I'll find? I have a feeling I'm in for more surprises.

Thanks Charlie!



  1. What a wonderful surprise! Have fun sorting through all of this.

  2. I bet you're in for more surprise too. :)

  3. What a treasure, indeed! Congratulations on re-finding these. I'm sure Charlie is up there laughing, wondering why you didn't open those envelopes sooner!!

  4. Very nice! What a true treasure chest and thank you for sharing the nice memory of your dad's cousin Charlie.

  5. How lovely that Charlie found you and you were able to share documents (and enthusiasm). Wonder what other surprises are in there? :-) Jo

  6. I really enjoyed your story and I included it on my Favorites for this week:

  7. I would love nothing more than to have a Charlie in my life - someone who would care about this stuff like I do. What a gift he has left you, both with the newly discovered treasures and the memories the two of you had together.