It’s the plot of an old romance film mapped onto a common genealogical trajectory: boy meets ancestor, boy loses ancestor. Marshall Kirk used to talk about ‘former ancestors’—people you once believed you were descended from, and of whom you still might be fond. Sometimes they even find a way back into the family tree via another path. This just happened to me, not with actual ancestors, but with The Ancestor. While I was writing, recently, on The Ancestor and its editor Oswald Barron, and admiring the journal in its online form at archive.org, I was put in mind to shop for an actual set. A big west-coast used bookseller had the twelve-volume complete run for an astonishing $56, shipped free via USPS ‘media mail’. I ordered it without blinking and looked forward to its arrival. Imagine my dismay when a tattered, gaping open box showed up on my doorstep with just six volumes, held in by clear tape, the box itself missing one end and festooned with stamps stating “Received in Damaged Condition.”
The bookseller confirmed that all twelve vols. had been shipped in that one box. They deemed the six volumes lost forever, and of course offered to accept a return of the remaining volumes for a full refund, though I realized that I would never be able to find a replacement set for anything like that price. Unrealistic fantasies of completing the set with odd volumes ensued, with frantic web searching. Fortunately, a little perseverance with the USPS paid off—much to the surprise of our own letter carrier. After a few calls and e-mails (with pictures of the volumes so someone would know what to look for), they were found sitting in the dead letter area of the New England parcel post depot in Springfield, Mass.—a facility I was told was the size of a football field or so.
So my lost ancestors have been found, and I am delighting in their acquaintance.