Recently I sifted through a box that turned out to be a treasure box because it yielded some great information about a recent ancestor. The ancestor was my father, George Rohrbach (1909-1999), and I was the one who had made the box.
Let me explain. When my stepmother died in 2010, I helped clean out all her and my late father’s belongings. I spent hours going through drawers and boxes and bins, putting many things in the trash or recycling — Mom seemed to love nothing more than newspaper clippings — and also putting some things, not closely reviewed, in a carton to send to myself.
This winter, as part of a long-term project to organize papers and photos, I opened the box and put the recycling bin nearby, certain I had sent myself some things to be discarded.
Among some definite keepers — a rare photo of Dad at 18; his death certificate; clippings of his obituaries — I found some papers and clippings related to his late-in-life college graduation. Dad had quit high school to help support his family. When he was almost 60, he took the GED. He attended Baldwin-Wallace College part time and received a B.S. in geology in 1983, at age 74.
Mom had saved all the clippings of the newspaper articles written about Dad — multiple copies, of course. I was tempted to toss them after reading them; after all, I was there and I remember it all well. But then I remembered that I have children. They weren’t born until after Dad graduated, and although they know he went to college as an older adult, they haven’t read of their grandpa saying, “Going to B-W made me feel like I was young again.” They will want to see all these papers some day, and so will Dad’s other descendants.
Also retained from the box: clippings relating to Dad’s retirement, noting the forty-plus years he spent working for Ohio Edison Company. And the barbershoppers’ photos. Dad sang in a men’s barbershop chorus, the kind where the singers dress in garish outfits and ham it up. One year’s chorus portrait shows them wearing green vests and straw hats; another year’s, mustard-colored suits; another year, farm-themed outfits, with Dad in overalls. These photos are definitely keepers; not only do they tell a part of Dad’s story but they tell a story of twentieth-century America.
I have spent so much time trying to look way back in my family history that I have to remind myself that the recent past, as recent as the 1980s, is also significant. Just the fact that I can remember something doesn’t mean that it’s not important for posterity. I say this to writers of family histories all the time, and I had to say it to myself.
A few of those duplicate clippings got recycled. But everything else was filed away in a folder labeled, simply, “Dad.”