Monday, May 18, 2009

Social History of our Ancestors Through Postcards

We can use all sorts of sources, not just original documents such as letters, vital records, deeds and such, to fill out the details of our ancestors' lives. One of the tasks we want to accomplish as family historians is to put our ancestors in context. We want to know -- and show -- what was the social milieu in which our ancestors lived.

One way to do that is with postcards. My husband is fortunate in that his grandfather, Andrew Lewis Rhodes (1882-1966) collected postcards. His collection dates from the 1920s into the 1960s. The locations range from Florida, where he lived from young manhood until his death, to other southern states such as North Carolina, where the family vacationed.

Here is an example from his collection:

This is Jacksonville, Florida, circa 1925, showing the beach, Jacksonville Naval Air Station, a couple of city parks, and Oriental Gardens, a former tourist attraction which is now a subdivision. Andrew Lewis Rhodes lived in Jacksonville from the early 1920s until his death.

The postcard above shows the Hotel Regal in Tampa, where Andrew lived circa 1918-1920.

In the early 20th century, one could have a personal photograph made into a postcard. The example below is a photo of Andrew's wife Della Mae Marshall, facing the camera, circa 1918.

The back is the typical postcard back, with one half devoted to the message and one half to the address and the stamp.

Postcards serve not only as mementoes of travels, people, and places for the collector, but also serve the collector's ancestors as a means of placing the ancestor in his or her social context, a means of learning where the ancestor may have traveled, and even a way to see the important people in the ancestor's life.

Don't throw away those old postcards.


Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Karen, your article is a fine addition to the Festival of Postcards. Thank you for participating!
Evelyn in Montral

Anonymous said...

I hadn't really thought about using postcards as a way to track the social history of my ancestors probaby because I don't have many postcards. However, after having participated in this first edition of Festival of Postcards and seeing the ways people have used them, I agree with you. Thank you for sharing.

Judith Richards Shubert said...

I love your postcards, Karen. I agree with you that they help put our ancestors lives in context and I love them. Thanks for sharing these with us.

Sheila said...

The aspects of social history, and any history really, are what attracts me to postcards. they have so much more to offer than just a pretty view.