Thursday, April 17, 2014

Antique Baby Books, The So Cal Genealogy Jamboree, and Heirloom Roadshow

I have mentioned before that I am going to be attending, and blogging from, the 2014 Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. As part of the festivities, Heirloom Roadshow ( ) is coming to this year’s Jamboree and they are looking for heirlooms that need preservation.

So far, I have submitted something that I find both fascinating and unusual: my father’s baby book from 1918. Despite having spent years in the antique biz and even more years in genealogy, I have never seen ,or even heard of a baby book from that era. I had no idea that such things existed 95 years ago. In fact, I thought that baby books came about in the post-WWII era.

Thus, I wrote and told the nice people at Heirloom Roadshow a bit about the book and sent photos showing both the uniqueness of the book and the challenges that I face in preserving it. I was limited to a mere 3 photos maximum, but here I am posting several more to show you what an amazing little gem this is, and also so that you can see the condition that it is in at the moment.

It is a somewhat, mass-produced book with a brown suede cover, entitled, “The Baby’s Record of Mental and Physical Growth,” by Bonnibel Butler. Inside, on the title page, the title is expanded to read, “The Baby’s Record of Mental and Physical Growth, and His Horoscope.” It was published by M.A. Donohue & Company, Chicago.

Dad's Capricorn Horoscope
Horoscopes for babies in the WWI era? Who knew?

My father, and his parents, were given this book as a baby gift when he was born, as a baby gift from Dad’s mother’s sister, his Aunt Helga, who was a nurse. There is a picture of Aunt Helga in her nurse’s uniform, holding my 11-month-old father, outside a hospital in El Paso, Texas, in 1919. It is glued into the book, of course. The paper behind it is degrading. This is a challenge, but I digress.

Dad with his Aunt Helga, Nov. 1919

You see, my father was born on the 22nd of December, 1918, in Fertile Township, North Dakota. We (meaning my husband and I, plus our children) knew nothing about this book until shortly before my father died. Dad told us, before he died, that he had always had it with him, but I had known nothing of it. He told me little else and as an only child, there is really no one else to ask. No matter as this book gives an amazing view of his early life.  It gives glimpses, sometimes shocking, sometimes surprising, but always interesting, into his childhood, into the culture of those times, and into his family’s unusually well-traveled life. It is filled with photos, reflections, and perspectives on a time that has not been chronicled, especially from a baby’s daily perspective. It is filled with stories and quotes and many, many pictures, in varying states of decay.

There is also a silhouette that is lovely, but glued solidly into the book surrounded tightly by photos. The pages that were not used as heavily, such as baby’s horoscope, are in decent condition but the entire book needs to be stabilized and restored. Throughout the book are wonderful stories and hand-written notes. The ink has smeared in places, too.

Even though it is not quite 100 years old, it is quite a snapshot into who my father was as a child and how the people around him lived. There are many photos of the times that depict the culture and family relationships. There are photos of my father with his cousin, Gordon, playing”Indians” in matching outfits that their grandfather had bought for them. Other vignettes show that one of the most popular activities for children of the time was to throw “fake weddings” and there are several photos of these. There are also photos of my father’s young life on a massive cattle ranch in Cuba during the 1920s and early 1930s.
"Fake" Weddings

Dad and his cousin,
Gordan, playing "Indians"

Pics from Dad's life in Cuba

This baby book has traveled from North Dakota to Cuba, to Kansas City, and back to Cuba, where it spent many years, to Miami in the 1930s. In the 1940s, it moved to Montana, and various states in the Pacific Northwest before moving to Illinois where it settled in for a few decades. In 1988, the book returned to Florida again, where it remained until 2012, when it moved, again with my father, to Colorado. Since my father’s death in November 2013, it now resides with me. I hope to take it to the Jamboree in June to get this treasure the help that it needs. Keep your fingers crossed in hoping that Heirloom Roadshow will see that this book is special enough to warrant their attention.

So enjoy the pictures and I will keep you updated on the progress with Heirloom Roadshow.