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Connecting Collections: A Veteran's Personal and Family History

By Alice Creed

Not everyone thinks to save their documents from elementary, middle, or high school. Not everyone thinks to record their dad telling family stories. However, Jonathan White’s collection shows how preserving these moments of history might be important in the long run. Jonathan, a Philadelphia veteran and lifelong achiever, was inspired by his grandmother’s collection of photographs and family oral histories to begin collecting and preserving his own history. His collection houses personal achievement certificates, tax records, and land deeds from his genealogy search, and DVDs with family photo albums and videos. White, a lover of history, saves his personal and familial history so that he and his family’s struggles and accomplishments will be remembered by their descendants. The combination of genealogy records and personal history in White’s collection highlights the importance that family history holds for future generations.

Jonathan donated his collection to HSP to pay homage to his ancestors who inspired him to work hard, get an education, and join the military. In telling their story, Jonathan honors his family by recognizing their struggles and accomplishments. He honors his grandfather for moving up to the North from South Carolina so that their family could escape Jim Crow laws to find better opportunities. He honors his father for being the first in the family to graduate from high school, and his uncle Calvin for being the first to join the military. Jonathan said, “Remembering those who helped me get here, and knowing that I am in this position because of them, is important to me.” Jonathan’s family paved the way, and knowing their history meant that he didn’t walk his path alone.

Knowledge of his family history is what drove Jonathan to pursue his education. One of the first college graduates in his family, the numerous diplomas and perfect attendance certificates in the collection represent his commitment to education. In the 1950s, Jonathan’s uncle was told to drop out of school because “he wasn’t smart enough to learn.” This family story ensured that Jonathan pursued an education that other members of his family weren’t allowed. He said, “My father, grandfather, and other family members fought for me to be where I am right now. And although society still has work to do, I am going to take advantage of those opportunities that were denied to people in my family.”

Connecting Collections is a series focusing on recent additions to the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Over 100 new collections are added per year, primarily through donation. Do you have significant family or community documents you might want to donate? Reach out to us at Connecting Collections was researched and written by 2023 undergraduate interns Alice Creed and Liam Reilly.

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