In the first year of her marriage, my great grandmother, Margaret "Madge" (Olmsted) Ogden, started keeping a record of gifts received by each family member. She would unfailingly maintain these entries in a lined notebook for nearly fifty years: from 1904 through 1951, the year before she died. It was a habit passed on to subsequent generations and still maintained by my mother, who could no more sit at ease on Christmas morning without with a yellow pad and pen in her hands than my Dad could sit in the stands at a ballgame without his pencil and scorecard.
In 1904 the family had more resources than any time before or since, thanks to a windfall inheritance from a wealthy uncle. The man of the house, Archibald Gracie Ogden, received an umbrella, a gold collar stud and a brass watch box. Furs were in fashion, with various female members of the family decked out in squirrel and lynx muffs, but there was also a book for Uncle John O. Stearns Jr. entitled "How to Know the Wild Flowers." Portraits of family members, lamps, scarves and bridge sets appear on the list. Nieces and nephews received rag dolls, toy stoves and candy.
The following decade saw 5 Ogden children added to the household. In 1912 the brood received a circus tent. The girls were extensively bestowed with doll paraphernalia, while young Archie (age 3) got a hobby horse, big brown stuffed bear, and toy soldiers. Various adult family members received India China plates, cups and saucers, and $5 gold pieces. in 1918 my Gr-aunt Margie (then age 13) received an electric grill!
The lists grew longer as the family expanded. Sometimes Madge would keep a record of cards received as well as gifts given. Starting in 1913 she regularly affixed that year's Red Cross Christmas stamp on the inside cover of her notebook. Children aged and football helmets and shirt waists replaced dolls and lead soldiers. My teen-aged grandmother got a Kimono and silk stockings in 1925, the year of her first communion! My great Aunt Esther received pearls and a poetry anthology.
The depression recked the family finances, and my gr-grandfather's death in 1934 was a heavy blow. Gold pieces no longer went to distant cousins - pickles and "don't forget pads" were more the style - and items like cellophane plate covers and laundry bags make their first appearances. Still, there were fashionable items for immediate family members. Margie got rhinestone earrings in 1935, and also bloomers, while Dayton enjoyed a pair of pigskin gloves and six pair of socks. in 1937, they year he married into the family, my Grandfather received an ice mallet and bag - what was commonly called a "Jigger Whacker."
Madge Ogden was by now a grandmother, known as "Gar" to the youngest generation which would eventually number 12 cousins. At this time Gar was living in New York and Margie with her, so the Christmas record includes $10.00 tips to the building superintendent and elevator operators, with more modest amounts for the milkman, laundry boy and newspaper boy. For the benefit of regular readers and cousins Tigerhawk and Charlottesvillain, in 1946 your father the historian received copies of "The Last of the Mohegans" and "Oregon Trail", a jigsaw with two blades, and a tie pin, while your grandfather got 50 matches in a holder and a cork bottle stopper. My grandfather got a book on bugs which I expect delighted him. My mother, then 4 years old, got an Indian tom-tom, a paper doll book and Santa soap. Uncle Dayt got a glass martini pitcher and swizzle and some bar stoppers - my, this is a drinking family - and Uncle Archie some airmail paper and a pack of cigarettes, foreshadowing his many expatriate years in London and the throat cancer that sadly would claim his life.
By 1951 - her last Christmas - Gar writes in a darker, unsteady hand but her gifts still illustrate the care that went into choosing them for those on her list. My mother the lover of birds got a hummingbird feeder - and pearls, quite possibly family jewelry. Her grandchildren Johnny and Ned Henneman each unwrapped leather writing cases and striped neckties, suitable for their subsequent academic careers. My grandfather received matches embossed with the name of his beloved weekend home "Windrock."
We have by any measure a remarkable family record. What is even more remarkable is the depth and breadth of the material in our archives. Items like the nearly half century of Christmas memories preserved by Margaret (Olmsted) Ogden from 1904-1951 make their time and mine seem no time at all.