Papers from a Life in the 1940s-50s

At the end of 2011, I bought a second-hand book about President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When I first opened the book I was surprised and excited to discover a small collection of papers hidden inside. One of the documents was a certificate awarded to a Kathryn Terenyi by the US Treasury in 1944. Kathryn had been given the certificate because, like many Americans, she had bought US Government war bonds during the Sixth War Loan Drive. Sale of these bonds helped to finance the US war effort during the Second World War. Along with the certificate were three newspaper clippings from the mid-1950s.

I’m a history PhD student and spend a lot of time reading and writing about the past. When writing history, historians explain events by constructing narratives. People from the past become agents, actors and characters within the historian’s story. Sometimes when I write history I find it difficult to think of the past as having truly taken place. Events and people can become unreal and fictitious.

But uncovering these papers gave me a physical, tangible link to the past and connected me to a specific individual. They made me think about what it must have been like to live in the 1940s and 1950s – with no knowledge of what the future held and how much the world would change. Stumbling across these papers was a useful reminder that the past was inhabited by real people, living real lives.

At one time, these papers meant something to someone. Over fifty-five years later, I found them in a book and they meant something to me. Maybe they can mean something to you, too.


— mailed from the UK



  1. Eric M. Friedman says:

    While conducting research for my dissertation I came upon an old war bond issued to a woman living in the Journal Square neighborhood in Jersey City. I held it for awhile, thinking about an earlier time when people were engaged in all sorts of ways in helping with the war effort. It was a different kind of war, not an oil war, a real battle for freedom and democracy. These tangible reminders are somewhat different than virtual, digital images. Hard to explain.

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