Historic “gems” lie in wait to be discovered–one student’s story

You never know what sort of historical treasures lie right under your nose. I was cleaning up one of the barns at my family’s farm when I stumbled across a large stack of documents. Upon closer inspection, the documents turned out to be pages of an herbarium (i.e., a collection of pressed plants) that was compiled locally. The herbarium was in excellent condition and fairly detailed. Many of its entries listed the year, location, etc. pertaining to each plant. The herbarium was compiled in 1889 by cousins John Sedgwick Tracy and Benjamin Sedgwick.

When I returned to college after Thanksgiving break, I brought the herbarium to the attention of Dr. Betty Ferster, an adjunct biology professor at Gettysburg. Ferster suggested that we could use my findings in a biohistory study. The idea was that I would create a modern herbarium depicting different sites on the farm. Later, I would compare the 1889 herbarium to the modern one.

Such a story shows that you never know what historic “gems” you can find in your very own attic! Do you have any herbariums in your own collections?

Viola cucullata (common blue violet) collected by Benjamin Sedgwick.

-Abby Adam, Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center Summer Intern and rising junior at Gettysburg College

The herbarium is a collection of loose-leaf pages. It was compiled by John Sedgwick Tracy and Benjamin Sedgwick.

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