Genealogy & Food: Beware the bugaboo of cutting-edge technology. A recipe for disaster?

Ahh, technology!  Where would we be without it?  Back in caves somewhere I imagine!  Or for us genealogy folks, we would be traveling a whole lot more and getting a lot less done in the same amount of time.

Tech is wonderful and I love it!  However, today I learned, or rather, relearned a good lesson on the limits of technology, especially as it changes over time – and as time changes its output!

Sure, I have a few boxes of old floppy disks that are of no use these days and I have some data locked up in old cellphones in a drawer someplace, but this new warning to me came as a bit of a surprise – and came in the kitchen!

Our daughter had come home to visit for the weekend and this Sunday morning I found her poring over her mom’s cookbook of family favorites.  She was just browsing to see if anything of interest caught her eye.  She came upon the below piece of paper when I happened to be sipping my coffee and chatting with her.

I took it from her hand, looked at it and suggested this was one for the trash bin.  As you can see (By clicking on the image to see a larger copy) this is one sorry, blank sheet of paper.

This is the page we found.

This is the page we found.

Our daughter wondered aloud why a sheet of old, blank paper would have made its way into a recipe book and then, being the good logically thinking lawyer she is, started to investigate.

She first said “Dad, this paper feels weird!  It is crispy like nothing I have felt before.”  I took a closer look and hazarded a guess – “Perhaps it’s an old mimeograph sheet”, but then retracted my statement when I realized that was not quite the feel of this paper, even while I harkened back to that unique aroma that accompanied the school detention task of running off dozens of mimeograph copies for teachers.

She was about to toss it away, when she held it up to the light.  I could tell by how long she was looking there was something there, but certainly nothing I could see!

She was silent for several minutes then said “It is a recipe!  From Mimi (her grandmother’s nickname) to Mom and it is for one of my favorite holiday cookies, Chocolate Ribbons!  I can see a faint copy of the letters on the paper when there is bright light behind it!”

I took it and looked again, this time up against my desk lamp and lo and behold, she was right! As you can see in the image below, there is evidence of faint words typed or printed on the paper.

One of my favorite words in a recipe! Chocolate!

One of my favorite words in a recipe! Chocolate!

In the upper corner was a date – December 14, 1999.  Way past the prime for mimeograph machines.  Plus my folks never had one in our home.

We began the slow process of one of us holding the paper to a bright light and reading what could be seen, while the other of us took to typing the dictation.

It was during this process that my memory banks were working in overdrive trying to figure out the source of our mystery paper and why, in a relatively short period of time, it would fade to nothing.  While my mind wandered, my hand floated to the metal shade of my desk lamp and I touched my finger to it.  “Shoot, I said.  That is HOT and it hurt!”

Then it hit me!  Not the pain, but the memory!  For years my dad had an old thermal paper printer attached to his computer!  The heat and pressure from being folded and stuffed in the recipe book had caused the chemicals to breakdown and almost totally fade the printing!  As I explained this to our daughter, I laughed as I recalled to her the pride in my father’s voice when he brought that printer home!  “State of the art!”  “We’ll never need another printer!”  “This is like magic!”

I doubt he ever knew how quickly all those copies he printed would fade into almost, or total, nothingness.

It was a good lesson in the vagaries of safe keeping of documents, the trust we place in technology, and how fleeting some of those technologies, and their output can be!  So I wanted to share it here with you.

Oh, and just in case you would like it, you can see the transcribed recipe below!  The only thing missing is the temperature and duration for baking.  If we had to lose something in one of the folds I guess that wasn’t the worst!

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to try and make some Chocolate Ribbons right now!

A Genealogical Historian, who is focused on family history and genealogy of the highest quality, but with a dose of fun. Avid about documentation and evidence. Loves helping folks of all levels in their genealogy pursuits, especially in the areas of Bohemia, Czech Republic, Italy, Cornwall, Kent, United Kingdom, U.S. Immigration and Cleveland, Ohio.
  1. Jana Last Reply


    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2016/04/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-april-8-2016.html

    Have a great weekend!

    • Scott Phillips Reply

      Thanks Jana! I appreciate your mention and cross post!

      You have a great weekend too!

      Scott at Onward To Our Past

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