Touching the past

I’ve been doing the museum thing for some time now; just about mid-way through my 3rd decade in the museum world.   That being said, it’s really nice to get a reminder every now and then of just what got me started in this field well over 20 years ago.

Here at the Historical Park, we’ve been working on digitizing some primary source documents that are extremely important to our site – two journals (one from the 1870s the other from the 1880s) and a family bible from  Dr. Samuel Gilbert.  Gilbert’s house is the cornerstone of our park, and was built in 1856; Gilbert lived in it until his death in 1890.

Looking through the images taken during the process, I was struck by this one:


I couldn’t help but notice what appears to be a fingerprint near the left margin.  Could this fingerprint belong to Dr. Gilbert himself?  Did he spill some ink and inadvertently leave behind his fingerprint for us to find well over 100 years later?  Casual inspection tells me that the fingerprint and the text are using the same color ink – So what are the odds that we have found yet another trace of Dr. Gilbert in the journal outside of his daily accounting?  It’s a small thing indeed but it’s enough to remind me of the curiosity of our past that got me interested in history as a young child; literally it’s enough of a mystery that it will have my brain churning for some time.

Upon perusing the family Bible, we came upon another discovery – that of a baby boy “borned” to the Gilberts prior to their arrival here in Farmers Branch.  No one was aware of this fact until we opened up the Bible (a new donation) and saw this:


Other than this brief mention of the Gilbert’s son, there has been no other record that we were aware of and this brief, one sentence of the life and death of a baby boy is a stark reminder of the fragile nature of life in the mid 19th century.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day reality of making a modern museum work. Budget, meetings, memos, broken irrigation, maintenance issues, etc that can make you forget just why you chose this job over doing something else.  Discoveries like this, however, help keep me motivated and excited to come to work and remind me what a privilege it is to be a caretaker of our past.

How about you??  What keeps you going at your site? Why did you get involved in the museum world and living history?


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