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The Lost and Found Lives
I'm a sucker for artifacts--yellowed yearbooks that end up in thrift stores, family photos sold at stoop sales, letters meant for someone else long ago. I once found an abandoned bag of sticker-covered notebooks from an aspiring model/yoga instructor on a Manhattan street and was beside myself with excitement, though I had that weird (and slightly guilty) feeling of having some responsibility to do something with them. Not that I ever did. So it was with a particular shiver that I discovered Paul Lukas' new "Permanent Record" series for Slate.
In 1996 when Lukas found 400 report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls he didn't know quite what to do with them. The cards are reproduced on the site--fascinating documents that include photos of the students and their teachers' notes on everything from the girls' performance in school to their appearance and personal habits. (For example: "Walks around as if she were dying—absolutely pepless.") He writes, "It all reads like the storyboard for a movie or a play—the rough outline of a young woman's life, from her mid-teens through early adulthood, with the later chapters still to be written."
Recently Lukas started tracking down the ladies on the cards, contacting their families to see what became of them. The results of this sleuthing are being recorded on Slate and on Lukas's blog Permanent Record. There's something highly addictive about browsing through the annotated cards and photos, and reading about Lukas's encounters with the children of these women is strangely, deeply moving. These milliners and seamstresses probably never would have imagined that the mundane details of their lives--stunning attendance records, spotty job histories--would be so fascinating to us, here, today.
Maybe it's because we leave so much evidence of ourselves all over the place. Our career trajectories, families, even our teeniest likes and dislikes are plastered all over the internet. In such a world, there's something wonderful about the thought of being hard to find—and painstakingly tracked down.
Read more about finding treasures from the past:
Found: a 53-year-old love letter.
Peek inside Oprah's journals (she said it's okay).
Should you keep private letters and journals around?
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