by Anne Berard, Reference & Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library, member Digital Commonwealth Education & Outreach Committee
When I first saw the name of the recently added collection, Knapp Family Financial Records from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, I must admit I was expecting something else altogether. I thought I might find wills, codicils, estate documents, tax filings and the like. Imagine my surprise and delight to find instead an intimate and workaday glimpse into the life of a middle class family from JP during the first half of the 20th century.
While I’ve never met the Knapps of 15 Holbrook St., by perusing their receipts for life insurance premiums, their notices from the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston, billing statements from the Centre Street Public Market, and their deposit books from the Eliot Savings Bank of Roxbury, I somehow slid into their lives. George, Emma, Robert, Daisy are there in the details. Robert’s Navy Plaid Suit, cleaned at Lewandos, with starched vest. A Degree of Pocahontas Resolutions of Respect from the Baboosic Council # 7 of Roxbury issued in Daisy’s memory.
Aside from the sartorial and emotional elements in these records, there is much economic detail here proving that the inflation rate has always a part of consumers’ lives. For example, in 1910 for the grand sum of $116.05, you could buy two tables, five chairs, a bureau, a bed, and a rocker from Jordan Marsh Company. Today, those same items would cost thousands of dollars.
I encourage other history geeks like me to spend some time with the Knapps, looking through these records, living vicariously on Holbrook St. for a little while. So much is different in 2021 from 1921. Still, the necessities: food, shelter, clothing, utilities and plaid suits remain the same.