A Treasure from a Keeper of the Past
Where has the summer gone? I cannot believe that we are heading into the last half of August. In a matter of weeks the campus will be a hive of activity again as students, new and returning, begin classes for the fall semester. It's been a while since my last post. I certainly hadn't intended for so much time to lapse between blog entries, but my Internet connection when I was working in the Quaker archives in Ontario was extremely limited.
I had a great trip to Ontario and managed to get a hold of some fantastic research as well as visit and catch up with family and friends. The Canadian Yearly Meeting Archives in Newmarket, Ontario (housed at Pickering College) have been a source of much excitement for me in my career as an historian. I remember my first trip into those archives in 1998; I was a graduate student working on my PhD. Simply working with documents - in some cases small little slips of paper - that could help to recreate the lives and experiences of folks who settled in Ontario over two hundred years ago was thrilling to me. I have continued to return to that archive, drawn back to materials that reveal little pieces of the past. Historians are like detectives putting together pieces of a puzzle (without a completed picture to work with!) and each trip to the archives makes the image of the past a bit clearer.
This trip I was particularly excited about a brand new collection of documents that had been donated to the archives. The E.H. Marion Cronk Fond did not disappoint! The collection is named for its donor, Marion Cronk, who has been the recipient of her family's heritage in documents. For more than two hundred years her family kept, gathered together and passed down documents relating to their family - diaries, letters, account books and notes. The collection includes hundreds of family letters and a number of fascinating diaries. Now itemized and organized into files and boxes, it occupies almost two metres or six linear feet on the shelf. It is incredible! To be one of the first scholars to have access to this material after it had been passed from attic to attic for a couple of centuries was equivalent to the discovery of a treasure. Now the work begins: reading (often deciphering), synthesizing, analyzing. I am excited about what will emerge from this untapped resource!
As I was working with the Marion Cronk Fond I was reminded about how many other family collections there must be lurking in people's attics or basements. Or maybe many of them have already disappeared. Sadly, much of this material is discarded over time as folks move, pass away, or simply try to clear out the piles of "stuff" that seem to accumulate over a life. I wish more people were keepers of the past like Marion Cronk.