Autograph books. A bit of a novelty in today’s world, but I still have the one my parents gave me when I was in the fifth grade. I asked all my school friends to write in it, mainly so it wouldn’t draw attention when I asked the boy I’d secretly been crushing on since AT LEAST fourth grade. It went nowhere, by the way. The little 3×5 album traveled with me to England the next December when we visited my family in Northamptonshire for the holidays. The Brits really know how to fill a page with rhyming wit, and reading their words of wisdom masked in no small amount of silliness stills makes me smile. It’s tucked in a special box of childhood ephemera and remains one of my treasures.
In my work at the ECHS archives, I’ve discovered many family collections contain autograph books, and they never fail to provide interesting insight into their young owners’ lives. Last week, I was thrilled to find two in the Virginia Drown Smith Collection, dating back to the 1880s. Beautiful and charming in their own right, they reveal something of the personalities of the owners and their friends and family, and they also confirm relationships suggested by other colder, dryer records [finally coming to my point :-)]
Master Cyril Myron Drown’s autograph book begins with sage advice from his father Hosea:
so that you cannot say with regret at night
‘This day was lost.’
It’s filled with many tender sentiments such as the entry from his cousin Jessie Drown:
This little boy whom I respect.
The humor of a brother, January 27, 1889:
Far far off where the
Wood chucks die off Whooping
And this, from his younger brother:
Vintage children’s autograph books are miniature wonders. If your ancestors’ family papers were donated to a local archive, or if you are lucky enough to find a personal stash of family memorabilia tucked away in the attic of your ancestral home, be sure to keep an eye out these little gems. They are a wonderful find!
if it appears green-believe what you have seen;
if it appears blue-remember I’m watching you;
if it appears red-keep a cool head; and
if days might seem black-just never look back.