Synchronicity in the Work Place

Synchronicity is the occurrence of events that relate but the connection was made in an unexplainable way. I’ve written about odd happening with my genealogy many times before. Sometimes I randomly start up a conversation with an individual and discover we’re related. A wayward email or a post from long ago (remember mail list servs?!) finds there way to me and uncovers the key to long sought after records. I’m in an archive miles from where my ancestor lived and something pops in my mind to check an individual out and discover records there that shouldn’t be. Those eebee jeebee occurrences are indeed special!

I realize that all of us humans on planet earth are related; sharing something close to 99.5% DNA. Perhaps the following true story is not as weird as I see it. You be the judge.

My primary job is still in the educational arena and that’s where the occurrence I’m about to describe happened in mid-January. The flu hit our workplace hard the first week of January. One of the individuals in a supervisory capacity went from flu to bronchitis to pneumonia over a 2 week period. While home recuperating, she received in the US mail a piece of junk mail from Reader’s Digest for a man she supervises.

I don’t know about you, but I weekly get someone else’s mail delivered to my house so this is no big deal, right? Wrong! The two do not reside in the same neighborhood. In fact, they don’t even live in the same county. The names of the cities where they live are not similar and neither is the street address or zip code. The envelope was not stuck to another. The supervisor who received it does not have a last name alphabetically close to her employee so that wasn’t a reason for the wrong delivery.

Upon receiving the letter, the supervisor texted the employee that he might want to stop by her home after work to pick up his mail. He responded, “Huh? What mail.” She then took a pic of what had arrived at her home that day and sent it to him. The address was clearly typewritten showing his first and last name, home address, city, state and zip. Typically, his mail is delivered to a post office box. He called his local post office and spoke with the postmaster for an explanation of how this could have happened.

The postmaster said he couldn’t explain it. From where the letter was mailed, it would have arrived at the Tampa International Airport receiving facility where it would have been sorted. It would have then traveled by truck to the county where the man lives to be further sorted and delivered to his local post office where the employees should have put it in his pick up box. The truck from the airport to the county post office would not have been the same vehicle that carried mail for the person who received it since she resides in a different county.

The postmaster could offer no explanation in how it went through 4 sorts (the airport, the county facility, the local facility, the home mail delivery person) and no one noticed it was headed for the wrong destination or how its final arrival was to someone who knew the person well.

Both supervisor and employee have endured a lot of ribbing about the universe wanting to connect them personally. I’d be tired of hearing how they should purchase a lottery ticket or take advantage of the junk mail offer. Certainly weird things happen and perhaps there is no hidden message to uncover here. We’re still talking about it 3 weeks later so I said I’d put it out there to cyberspace to see if someone can come up with a rational explanation. Any ideas?

Empty Envelopes Provide a Wealth of Genealogical Data

A FABULOUS FIND of 22 March 2016

Originally published on on 5 March 2016.

A colleague of mine brought in a pile of old envelopes recently and asked me if they were important genealogically.  The reason for the question is that the addressed envelopes contained no content.  She assumed family had saved them because they were stamp collectors who hadn’t gotten around to removing the stamps.

My answer to her was a resounding YES!  Those envelopes tell a story even though they are empty.  I suggested she first put them in chronological order based on the postmark date, if any.  Next she should try to match the envelopes to letters that she had found and store them together.  Any remaining envelopes should be examined closely for information regarding:

  • Addressee
  • Sender
  • Postmark
  • Possible notations
  • Envelope condition
  • Handwriting
  • Type of writing utensil used
  • Cost of postage

Examining the addressee and sender aids in identifying relationships, although the type of relationship is still unknown.  Definitely don’t assume the relationship was family!  I have some old letters addressed to a grandfather that had the contents.  He did not know the sender; the writer was inquiring about a device the grandfather was selling.

Carefully analyze who the envelope was addressed to.  Was it to a Miss or Mrs.? Was a nickname used, such as Nelia for Cornelia?  How was the last name spelled?  That is extremely important if your family changed spelling.  How I wish I had envelopes for my Koss family from the mid 1920’s. The name changed from Kos (in 1920) to Koss (in 1930) but when the change occurred I don’t know. An envelope could assist in narrowing down the date.

Look at the addressee’s residence – was it a rural route?  a city?  a county?  If the postmark is illegible or missing that information could help identify the time period.  Although the Rural Free Delivery (RFD) began in the late 1800’s it was not widespread.  Prior to that, letters may have been addressed, for example, as Columbia County, New York.  That’s a clue the resident lived outside of a town or city.  If the envelope was dated, check the census to see if that address was also used for the individual.  The 1940 census may show the person’s home address but the envelope could provide a clue as to where the individual was staying temporarily if they don’t match.  My colleague recognized an address as belonging to her grandmother but the envelope was addressed to an unknown person at that address 20 years before her grandmother’s birth.  Perhaps the home belonged to a family member that she was not aware of or perhaps the envelope was found after the grandmother moved in.  I doubt the second explanation as that would not be a reason to keep an envelope with family records but who knows?!  She was the stamp collector so maybe she saved it for the stamp.  I recommended that a title search on the property be done to gain more information about the occupants.

I love postmarks because they often tell an interesting story.  If the sender’s address was Connecticut and the addressee’s was New York but the postmark was California either the U.S. Post Office really messed up (which unfortunately happens frequently) or the sender was in California for business or pleasure when the letter was mailed.  This could open up a whole new area to check for records!

My mom, a product of the Great Depression, always reused envelopes as scratch paper.  Grocery lists, things to do, phone messages – check the envelope for any notations.  Although you won’t for certain know who wrote the notes unless they’re signed or had such a unique handwriting that you can identify without a signature, you can gain insight on the day to day lives of the family that received the letter.  One envelope my colleague had this notation printed in caps “BURN THIS AFTER READING.”  Guess the receiver followed directions but we were dying to know what the contents had been.

Now look at the envelope itself.  Is it stained?  Is it brittle?  Has the color aged?  This lets you know the conditions that affected it since it was written.  Perhaps the stain was from water – was it delivered in a rainstorm?  Did it survive a sea voyage?  Maybe a cup of tea was spilled on it as the contents were being read!  You might never discover what really happened but it sure is fun to try.

I love handwriting, mainly because mine was always criticized while growing up.  The style can give you much more information about the time period and the sender.  Was it printed, cursive, Palmer, D’Nealian, or calligraphy?  Is it legible or not?  Perhaps the writer was in a hurry to mail the contents! Handwriting can also help you match the envelope to an individual if the sender did not include his/her name in the return address.

Writing utensils can also help you identify a time period.  A ballpoint pen came into use in the late 1800’s.  Prior to that fountain pens and dip pens were used.  The color of the ink can give you even more clues – the dye or pigment used could be a regional product.

The postage price can help you determine the time period.  Although we’re not talking about post cards I always think of them as “penny postcards” even though they now cost 35 cents to send. I don’t think they could be sent for a penny when I was a kid but that’s what my family called them and that’s how I still think of them.  The art on the stamp also “may” disclose information about what was important to the sender – or not!  A few years ago I became known as the “stamp girl” in my office as I would make several trips to the post office a week to mail packages my husband had sold on ebay because I was closer to the post office then he was.  I would purchase stamps for coworkers on those trips.  Some coworkers would request a certain type of stamp and others could care less.  Although you might not find out for sure if the stamp conveyed a message from the sender it might.  Remember the 1973 LOVE stamp?  If the sender was breaking up with addressee I doubt that stamp would have been used.

Let me know if your envelope analysis unveils a genealogical gem!