A Genealogist Hunts: Finds Ernest Hemingway in Unusual Places

When the genealogist goes on a hunt for history, papers and info sometimes turn up in very odd places.
Our RecordClick genealogy researcher Joan Shurtliff reminds us that looking in and being open to unusual locations makes for much better genealogical sleuthing. The case of Ernest Hemingway is her perfect example.

A good genealogist needs to be on the lookout for reminders about useful resources. We always like new ideas. One way to be inspired is through Blogs. The genealogist often finds this is an easy resource.

However, this RecordClick genealogist is selective about informational blogs… especially the genealogical blogs.

I have a couple of reasons why.

One is that sometimes a family has provided information on several major web sites and sometimes this info is inaccurate. Reason number two is that many genealogical research techniques get recycled over and over and over.

You see, this genealogist has limited time. Many a genealogist will discuss the importance of delving into more than names and dates. But, as I look and read, much of what I see are names and dates.

I’m the kind of genealogist who likes to learn something new. I like to find a fresh perspective.

One of my favorite postings is written by the staff of (surprise!) the U.S. National Archives. It arrives via Facebook.

This recent posting on July 21 is a good example. That date would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 116th birthday. He led a life most us can only dream about. He witnessed three wars – the Spanish Civil War, World War I and World War II. He lived in Paris and Cuba. He hunted in Africa and fished in the Caribbean. Little about the family is mentioned. So what could be of interest to a genealogist?

The National Archives Facebook article had a wonderful picture of a kitten peeking out from one of Hemingway’s boots. Then it explained where Hemingway’s papers wound up (along with the kitty pictures). The place wasn’t on my top five places of where I would look for the papers of a Nobel Laureate.  History helps tell the tale and the lessons should be of interest to a family historian or genealogist.

It seems that Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba in the late 1940s and 1950s. He eventually moved back to the United States, but many of his belongings were left in his Cuban home. Because of the politics of the day – Fidel Castro coming into power and that nation becoming Communist – retrieving them was not feasible. After Hemingway died in 1961, his wife, Mary, very much wanted to have the belongings returned to the United States. How could this be accomplished?

It took an extraordinary act.

While many of our ancestors were not the same caliber of individual as Ernest Hemingway, they, too, did extraordinary things. Note should be taken. Mary Hemingway went to the President of the United States, John Kennedy. Although there was a travel ban, he saw to it that arrangements were made for her to go to Cuba to retrieve the writer’s effects. Research lesson for the genealogist:  There are very few absolutes. And there is a paper trail.

In 1972, Mary Hemingway deeded the collection to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Lesson for the genealogist: Kind acts are often rewarded.

Another lesson for the genealogist is that papers and effects can wind up in unusual places. These places might be somewhere the genealogist could never think of immediately. History may play a role in the placement of family artifacts. If I were to surmise where the papers of Ernest Hemingway could be found, my first guesses might be where he died (Idaho), where he attended school and grew up (Chicago), where his early writing evolved in style and depth (Paris), or a favorite residence (Key West). When researching Hemingway, these places should not be overlooked. However, his papers wound up at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Massachusetts – in a place accessible to all, but not necessarily where a genealogist would ever think to look first.

The last lesson for the genealogist: Be generous and leave documents where they can be found. With that said, the search to find information isn’t always easy.

Hire a genealogist at RecordClick and we will find documents in places around the world where you wouldn’t think of looking. We work hard at making your family history complete because it is special.