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  • Writer's pictureKristin Wenger

"Like a Box of Chocolates"

I recently read a fantastic article which compared vertical files in archives to Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - "You never know what you're going to get."[1]

This metaphor has proven itself true. I’ll use two examples to highlight why you are missing out on hidden and unexpected gems if you don’t visit your local archives.

1. Millhouse file at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society

In my last blog, I shared an obituary for one of my great-great grandmothers who had fourteen children. Note the file folder labeled “Millhouse” in the top left corner of the photo.

Her obituary, which another Millhouse descendant had clipped out of the newspaper in 1966, was an unexpected find. Within that same vertical family file, I found this gem:

Listing of the children of my 4x great grandfather

Early in my research, this document was a huge discovery! Obviously, it was a derivative source copied from a family Bible and the entries for the older children were made many years after their births; however, the provenance was clearly stated and it provided excellent leads for further research and verification of each of these fifteen children (born to two different wives after the first one died).

2. Research library at the Lititz Historical Foundation

I recently began serving as the in-house genealogist for the Lititz Historical Foundation and spent some time familiarizing myself with the overall collection in the research library. I could go on and on about the fascinating items, but I will feature just two here.

Spring 1885 report card from the Beck School for Boys for Frank J. Myers

In my years as a teacher, I spent many hours on student report cards, grades, and comments. I was intrigued by the difference in subjects taught in 1885 versus today. Most of all, this artifact just struck my funny bone! Rather than typical letter grades, students received marks of either “good,” “pretty good,” or “tolerable.” Poor Frank clearly did not have a future in music.

This one hundred dollar Confederate bill was a real surprise! Unlike the local school report card, it's not something I would necessarily expect to find in small town Pennsylvania. I had never laid eyes on Confederate money before, so it was interesting to inspect the details.

Check out your local archives. You never know what you’re going to get!

[1] Melissa Barker, “Using Vertical Files in Archives,” Genealogy Gems ( : accessed 10 May 2018).

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