Emily Josephine (Bates) Haynes
Discovery of and Processing the Archives
|I (Stephen Haynes) had known for probably
ten years before her death that some family-related stuff was stored
in Mother's basement. I had found some older photographs that
I used for a self-published book of Bates family photos, and I had
retrieved a box of letters from her mother she had saved, that I had
for a time at our home in Minneapolis and had begun reading and
recording. I didn't realize that what I knew about only
scratched the surface.
My wife and I drove to Michigan in early August 2011 for Mother's last days, and after she passed we stayed on to start inventorying her possessions for eventual division within the family (we ended up listing and photographing over 400 items, a story in its own right). During those days I went down to survey the stuff in the basement, and quickly concluded the volume was much greater than I had appreciated on earlier visits. One part of the basement was covered three levels deep with multiple piles of cardboard boxes, and an entire back wall contained four levels of shelves of more boxes and other unseen artifacts. Another part of the basement had metal shelving with easily a dozen large boxes of more correspondence, books, scrapbooks, and other materials. The most accessible boxes contained more recent stuff, a mix of letters and cards (usually in their original envelopes), newspaper and magazine clippings, and notes scribbled by Mother (usually of no consequence due to her dementia). Her caretakers had collected them periodically, dumped them into these boxes, and then stored the boxes with neither rhyme nor reason in that part of the basement. I started to sort through some of those boxes during the week following Mother's death, but became discouraged by the size of the task and thus only made a small dent. What I did not realize at the time was the volume and quality of the treasures that lay beneath that veneer of contemporaneous material.
I returned in September committed to spending a full week finishing the inventory and processing the basement's contents. That's when the treasures began to surface. To understand their significance, however, a little family history is in order.
Chester and Eliza Jackson had three girls. Eliza came from the Keys family. Only one of their girls, however, Wilma (the middle child -- my grandmother), married and had children. Mother was the eldest child of Wilma's four. By family tradition, family papers, memorabilia and photographs relating to Mother's Jackson grandparents passed to each generation's oldest child, first to Mother's maiden aunt Myra, and then to her. Again by tradition, that material was to pass to me. In addition, one of Eliza's siblings who possessed a large number of Keys family photographs from the 19th Century gave that trove to Eliza, and that material also passed from Eliza to Myra to Mother, and now to me -- as I discovered.
After working through those top layers of boxes, discarding most of their contents (but saving letters written by immediate family, and any photos found), underneath I began to find boxes of hundred-year old documents, correspondence and other materials. Some of the boxes contained vast quantities of photos, many of them what are called "Cabinet Cards," dating them from the mid-1860s to 1890s, and not a few tintypes (dating from the late 1850s and 1860s). Even a daguerreotype. Letters dated from 1802 onward, from various Keys relatives (including two letters from young Ezra Keys, who perished at Fredericksburg in the Civil War). On one of the wooden shelves I found two 19th century photo albums, one of them an exquisite Victorian-era album for Cabinet Cards covered with purple velvet, with the script logo "Album" in brass on its front. All this material had come down through my Aunt Myra to my mother, who had apparently not processed the material at all or made it known to the rest of the family.
Most materials have come to light only after bringing the boxes' contents home (I've been working on them virtually non-stop since October and am still only about one-half finished).
Just a few of the treasures found that no living person knew existed:
The list could go on and on. The family details and incidents recounted in the correspondence have filled in our history to an extent never before accomplished.
Then, on the back corner shelf, a set of metal file drawers that contained documents my father saved, permitting us a much better look inside his first marriage, his youth, and his time in the Navy in World War II. In fact, from the orders he saved I was able to put together a pretty accurate chronology of his entire time in the Navy. He also saved two photograph albums that provided a glimpse into his childhood never before seen.
And more photographs, more extraordinary photographs. A recent find was an envelope of the medium-format negatives my grandfather (Emily's father) took of her from the day of her birth on -- about 140 in toto. They permit enlargement and processing at an extraordinary level of quality. Just this single photograph, of my grandmother holding my mother at only a few weeks old, is priceless:
I scanned at a quality level that will permit a very large blowup.
I have processed the materials as I've encountered them, which means more or less randomly. I had stored photographs and written materials in separate boxes for transit, so was able to segregate and deal with most of the photos separately and early (although the Ezra Keys tintype and the negatives of my mother were later found separately). The correspondence has also been read, extracted and summarized as it has emerged from the boxes -- which means in no particular order -- one bundle might date from 1928, the next one from 1941. I deferred all correspondence following my parents' marriage, belonging as it does to a different era.
The discoveries continue even as I write.