Outtakes 23


I work in the complaints and correspondence department of a major annuities company. I’m often required to review old documents to verify names, dates of birth, contract ownership and so on. Clients have provided wonderful glimpses into their lives by the materials they send. I’ve received French Canadian birth certificates, Mexican marriage licenses, hand-written records, legal documents that appear to have been typed on old onionskin paper. But the most interesting was entitled Non-Relative Affidavit.

Even though it was scanned into our files, the age and fragility of the document was obvious. The shading indicated the page had yellowed over the years. Wrinkles and tears marred the submission and made reading the information difficult. The affidavit verified a birth in 1929, but the verification was not entered into the county records until some fourteen years after the birth. The age and unique format fueled possible reasons for the delay in filing the birth of this child.

My speculation went along these lines. This was a point in our history when home births were more common than hospital births. Perhaps a doctor did not attend the birth and record it. If the parents were not married, the event might not have been registered in an attempt to spare the mother and child embarrassment and ridicule. Was the child of minority origins? In the Old South, were minority births always registered? Some folks did not trust the government; therefore they might not want to have the birth registered. With this in mind, I realized I had the beginnings of a possible short story. I have not filled in many details;  so for now, this sketch will go into my story ideas notebook.

The point is that our story inspiration comes in many forms. Why not take a few minutes to go through boxes of old paperwork molding in the attic. Or maybe visit the archives in your local library or museum. A name or a place or a piece of paper might just trigger the next best seller.

Cait Collins

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