Closets are wonderful places. As a young child, I hid in them during games of hide and seek. I remember quickly pulling the folding doors closed, crouching down, catching my breath while my eyes adjusted to the dark. As I grew older, I hid things in my closet: little collections of memorabilia, my diary, and secret notes. At the end of the clothes rack were my favorite clothes I could not bear to part with. My parents had stuff in their closets, too: old tennis rackets, favorite purses, candy bars, and birthday presents.
When I think back of how I began my interest in family history, it began with a closet. A few years ago, I was at my parent’s home looking through a closet in a spare bedroom. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but something on the top shelf caught my eye. It was a red and black Nike shoebox, with “letters” written in black marker on the outside. “These are mother’s,” my mom said. “I got them after she died.” I opened the box, and we sat on the bed, opening letters. Unfolding their delicate pages, I was mesmerized by the handwriting, the words, and the photos that sometimes fell out as we opened them. These were my grandparent’s love letters. I couldn’t put them down.
There were more things in that closet. A hand-beaded dress made by my great grandmother June Bushman Smith. My great grandmother Ella Clark’s eyeglasses. My grandfather Ellsworth’s toy drum. I didn’t know it that day, but something in my heart changed. I became determined to not only rediscover who my ancestors were, but to find a way to share these discoveries with everyone.
Over time, this determination evolved into a path that led my cousin Kimball Clark and I to found Kindex, an online archive and transcription tool that enables families to collaboratively gather, index, and share their records. It hasn’t been an easy path, but whenever I think of giving up, I think of that red and black shoebox full of letters that inspired me so many years ago. I also think of the millions of other closets that hold family treasures. How many photos, letters, journals, and heirlooms will be lost or forgotten? How many family records will be thrown away by those who inherit our closets? Our own history is at risk. Will you be the one to rescue it?