“you don’t know what you’ve got…”

by | Jun 24, 2021 | Antiques, Organizing | 53 comments

I bet you thought I would finish the post title with “‘…til it’s gone”, but I’m not.  While that’s the way the saying goes, I’m going to change it up a bit.  Here’s my version, which is a little less catchy and will never be a song lyric…

  You don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve gone through it all.

There is an assumption that we know about everything we have in our homes (other than critters/pests), but I don’t know if that’s 100% true, especially if you’ve acquired items from a family member or an estate or if you tend to box things up “for later.”  And who knows what your spouse and children might be bringing home!  I think a part of having a house full of favorites is truly knowing everything you have.  That means you don’t have too much stuff stored and what is stored in stored in an organized, thoughtful way.  I’m getting there…

As I have been working through my house with a fine-toothed comb this year, I realized I had some things stored away that were surprises to me.  Some things I forgot about entirely and there were a few things in bins that I never knew I had.  With some of those pieces, I questioned if I even needed it if I forgot I had it.  In many cases, that answer has been no and I’ve made a lot of runs to the thrift store to drop things off.  But in some cases, I found little treasures.

When I helped clean out my Opa’s attic a few years ago, the job was overwhelming and we only had a couple of days to work through a pretty large area.  We rented a dumpster and had to make quick decisions about what to keep and what to pitch.  Sadly, many of the boxes were eaten away and infested with bugs, so a lot had to go in the dumpster.  I kept the paperwork, albums, and photos that seemed most significant to the family, though.  There were a few Ziplock bags that had the word “keep” scrawled on them in black Sharpie, so I did.  If someone thought they needed to be labeled, they were probably important.  When I came across those bags a few weeks ago, I realized I’ve had those bags for several years and never opened them.

Inside were postcards, mostly addressed to my Oma when she was a girl, but there were ones that were addressed to her siblings, parents, and even neighbors.  I learned from talking to my great-aunt, my Oma’s younger sister, that my Oma collected postcards.  Friends and relatives would give their old postcards to her or mail them to her from places they visited.

family postcards | organizing | miss mustard seed

My Oma was a serious collector of a lot of things and her postcard collection numbered in the thousands.  I mean, there were stacks and stacks.  Years ago, I sorted out all of the blank ones and sold them off in lots.  There were just too many to keep.  But these “keep bags” had ones that were family correspondence.  I had a great time looking through them and even sent some scans of ones addressed to my great-aunt and great-uncle so they could read their mail from so many years ago.

family postcards | organizing | miss mustard seed

But, in the stack, I also found the postcards and travel brochures from a woman named Alice B. Duggar.  I asked my great-aunt about her and it was a dead end.  Most of her postcards and travel brochures are from the early 1900s, a couple of decades before my Oma was even born.  Alice used her postcards as a sort of travel diary.  She would write her thoughts on the back about the place pictured on the front.

family postcards | organizing | miss mustard seed

The postcards are all beautiful sepia-toned photos with graceful handwriting on the back.  I am just so taken with them!

family postcards | organizing | miss mustard seed

Included in the grouping were programs, menus, and a passenger list for a Holland American Line cruise from 1911.  It definitely has Titanic vibes, as it sailed just seven months before Titanic sank.

holland american line menus and programs | organizing | miss mustard seed

The menus are so interesting and the cover art is beautiful!

holland american line menus and programs | organizing | miss mustard seed

And, there is our lady on the first-class passenger list – Miss Alice B. Duggar.

holland american line menus and programs | organizing | miss mustard seed

holland american line menus and programs | organizing | miss mustard seed

Alice also had brochures from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, Scotland, and more.  She wrote her name on the inside cover of each of them.  Maybe she was on a grand tour?

antique travel brochures | organizing | miss mustard seed

I did a bit of searching on Alice, using the addresses on the postcards (She had addresses in Hollins, Petersburg, and Farmville, VA.)  Of course, I got all sorts of news about the Duggars when I was running searches, but I eventually found an Alice B. Duggar that was potentially the woman from the postcards.  Alice B. Duggar was listed as the librarian at the State Female Normal School in Farmville, VA in their 1911 yearbook.

state female normal school | farmville, VA | alice b duggar | miss mustard seed

She’s somewhere in the mix of this group, but the photos aren’t labeled.  A lot of those ladies look like they could be well-traveled librarians!

state female normal school | farmville, VA | alice b duggar | miss mustard seedThat school eventually became Longwood University for those who are interested.  I couldn’t find anything beyond that.  UPDATE!  I found a bit more information.  She was Alice Boisseau Duggar (b. 1879 – d. 1973.)  My family knew some Boissaus in Petersburg, so maybe they were related somehow.  I also learned she is buried in the same cemetery as my Oma, Opa, and other relatives.  Thanks for those who are giving me little hints that they find!

I know I have some great researchers who read this blog (you’ve helped me out on things like this before), so let me know if you do any digging and find anything on her.  I don’t know what I would do with that information, but it’s nice to know.

Detailed organizing is rewarding, but it can be monotonous and overwhelming at times.  It’s nice to discover these little prizes along the way and take a few minutes to appreciate them.  I’m going to review the family postcards and then put them in an archival box.  I put Miss Duggar’s things in with my antique papers and letters to use for creative purposes (although I rarely have the heart to cut them up or glue them down!)  I usually make pockets for them or affix them in a way they can be removed without damage.

So, do you think you have things in your house that you don’t know about?  I know many of you have been organizing over the past year or so.  Have you found any surprises?


  1. Diane L. Christy

    Just yesterday I found a pair of very lightly worn jazz shoes from my daughter’s stint on her high school dance team. Since she’s planning on taking a dance class soon, I thought it was very fortuitous. Whether they will still fit, 13 years on, is another question. But I think the concern is what my daughters will find after I have pirouetted into the Great Beyond. I’m not exactly a pack rat, but have to admit that having a flea market booth for the last six years has increased, versus decreased, my acquisitions. I already know that they will not want very much that’s in my house. My cottage style is not theirs. They will be intentional about they take and I don’t expect they will find any surprises later on.

    • Rhonda K

      Diane – I hear you on everything you said! I, too, would not consider myself a hoarder but a collector of beautiful things. Some of which I feel have value but maybe more sentimental value to probably only me. My children have already commented that I should start thinking of “downsizing” (which now I hear the correct term is “rightsizing”) even though I’m still young! I always wanted to have a market booth and in my younger years collected like I really thought I would. Now I am trying to “share” my collection with others. My kids won’t want much if anything that I have. It saddens me to think it will all end up at the thrift store or garbage one day.

  2. susan mccall

    what a cool collection. i love the mystery of your search. i’m 66 years old and have been battling cancer for 3 years. several times a day i say “why didn’t i ask my mom/dad/grandparents/aunts/uncles etc this.” now it is to late.

    • Kay Grogg

      Susan, My grandmother used to say to me, “One of these days you’re going to wish you had listened to me when I tell you about your heritage. “. My sister says, ..”yes, and we wish you had written it down for us. “. Write down what you know for those who follow you! Someone will want to know these things! Hugs to you and good vibes for your health!

      • Terry

        You are so correct. My paternal grandfather committed many stories to paper and I am soooo grateful. My mother put tags on many decorative things in her house with their provenance. As I approach my 70’s I have tried to do similar recording but alas without children I doubt anyone will care. Then again there might be another Marian out there some day that comes across my “stuff”.

        • Dana

          Farmville is my most favorite town in Virginia. My daughter graduated from Longwood Univ in 2018. When she was in high school I used to try to bribe her by telling her that I’d give her an extra $100 a month if she would go to school there. Just so I would have more reasons to go.
          Green Front furniture is there. There’s not another furniture store anywhere like it. It occupies many old tobacco warehouses. The buildings are amazing. They have thousands of rugs. Furniture from all over the world.
          Farmville is home to the High Bridge Trail, the Appomattox River, LU, Hampton Sydney College, lots of wonderful little restaurants, etc.

          • Kim

            Been there loved it. I’m Marians Mom and have a piece my Mom bought from Greenfront many yes ago. Our family is from Petersburg.

      • Marianne

        I love your blog, I am a retired Art Teacher, and have a lot in common with you. I recently was given a box of post cards that were my Gramma ‘s. Among them was a letter from my Uncle to my grandparents. He sent it from iwo Jima at the end of World War II , he talked about ,how him and 4 siblings which included my Dad would soon be home because the war was now over. What a treasure. (By the way I have a daughter who lives in Farmville, Virginia)

    • ellen

      Hi Susan, I’ll be praying for your complete recovery. Love and prayers coming your way! Ellen

  3. Cynthia Johnson

    Beautiful story.. wouldn’t it be incredible if you were able to find a relative to enjoy Alice’s life through one of your readers~

    Your stories and findings always give me hope that there is always something just around the corner if I keep my eyes open~

    Thank you Marian for your tidbits and whatnots 🙂


  4. judith

    What a beautiful surprise! This post was very moving. I’m glad you are the one who is now the steward of these treasures. As far as finding out more about Alice, it would help to know the approximate year she was born. You could do a search for her on ancestry.com, guessing Virginia was her birthplace. I bet you would find some census records and possibly relatives. Good luck to you!

  5. Christine Irvine

    That was a very interesting story. It would be nice to locate her family, in hopes they would like some of the items.

    I have organized our families momentos, papers and photographs after loved ones have passed as we were helping clean out their homes. I found a neat journal by a relative of my husband one time. As a newly and young married couple, they moved from Boston, Massachusetts to a place they described as very rural…and they built a cabin, had to use a sled to pull groceries and household items in from the main road, did not having running water, electricity, plumbing, etc. We thought this must be up in a rural part of New Hampshire or Maine, but it was what is now an overgrown suburb of Boston. A town maybe 45 minutes outside of Boston. Apparently, at the turn of the century it was very rural and you could buy tracts of land and create camps on them. Now these suburbs have half a million dollar houses in them, or more. It was very interesting to read how they left the city and took this on.

    New Hampshire

  6. Deborah Raney

    At first glance, I thought it was a 1911 version of a singles cruise! Quite a few single ladies and a few seemingly unattached gentlemen. 🙂 So fascinating! And yes, I have a big Rubbermaid tub of photos and postcards and letters my dad gave me after my mom passed away four years ago. I STILL haven’t gone through them! And we’ll be getting a similar tub that was my mother-in-law’s when my brother-in-law visits next month. I guess I’d better set aside some time!

  7. Babs

    Thank you for a thought provoking posting once again. My family had no letters or papers to pass forward which is a shame as one of my ancestors fought at Gettysburg and survived. I do have some photos and some copper engraved calling card plates from my great grandmother and grandfather which I have framed and placed near their photos.
    I am hoping parents will teach their children to read cursive writing (if it is not taught in school) so they can actually read these family letters that may have been passed down. It would be a real shame to miss all the family history.

    • noreen

      Do American children not use cursive writing any more? I am a scot who lives in Australia and my daughter and young relatives in both countries all write that way

      • Marian Parsons

        It depends on the school, but many of them have stopped teaching cursive. I think it’s unfortunate, too. It’s a bit of an art that we’re losing.

      • Vanessa Prohaska

        Interesting question that I always wondered about!
        I’m from the Caribbean and children (I’m not sure now, but I grew taking 25 min of “cursive class”), HAVE to learn cursive and expected to use it. I too noticed that hardly any millennial writes in cursive. Such a beautiful thing to do.

    • Annie

      We homeschool and teach cursive! But yes, most schools today do not! They find it to be something you cannot “test” and gain funding for, nor does it assist for typing. It’s actually an easy way to write and our dyslexic child took to it quickly vs standard Zaner Bloser type.

  8. Teddee Grace

    I loved this. I think all of those women are potentials. Perhaps the one with the pince-nez and beautiful cameo or the one with the Gibson Girl hairdo? You should have a contest and let your readers select the image they think is Alice. I have a wonderful collection of post cards, many of them gorgeous with three dimensional ornamentation, that my father’s parents sent to each other when they were courting. Both the images and the messages are wonderful. Good luck with your research!

  9. Jan A.

    Hello…I just happened to have Ancestry.com open (working on my tree) when I read your email. I found Alice B. Dugger (correct spelling) with much documentation. Unfortunately, unless you have a paid Ancestry account, you probably won’t be able to view the pictures. One individual attached a couple of photos. One is from a 1943 newspaper clipping, and the other is her obituary. She apparently never married. I thought it was interesting that in the 1900 US Census, she was a boarder at 106 South St, Petersburg, VA, and had been a music teacher for three months. Apparently, though, her more notable career to follow was that of a public health nurse. I am happy to send you the photos contained in Ancestry, if you wish.

    • Babs

      There are several “no cost” ancestry searching sites you can research for free. The Mormon Church is a wonderful resource. I believe one of their sites is “The Family Research Center ” or something like it. You can always google it. Be prepared to get lost in all the information…it takes many hours but it is fascinating. You may turn up some new family members!

    • Cathie P Helgeland

      Hi Jan I’m so interested in ancestry and took a look at the census from 1900 and noted it stated that she was a boarder/ daughter in law. so I went back further and found that she was actually living with her Mom and step dad at that address. Her Moms name matched with an earlier census (Lou). I don’t find that she ever married and had any children of her own. It so fascinating to do this research and see what I can find!

  10. Nita Youngberry

    About 10 years ago I bought two first class deck chairs / steamer chairs from the SS New Amsterdam.. Maybe Alice sat on my chairs.

    • Marian Parsons

      Wow! What a cool connection. Yes, perhaps she did. 🙂

      • Marian Parsons

        Nita, would you like one of the menus to go with your chairs? I have a few, so I could send one to you if it would be special to you. Send me an e-mail to marian@missmustardseed.com if you’re interested.

        • Nita Youngberry

          I sold my chairs about two months ago. The foot rests had come away and I had had my fun with them. We called them the Titanic chairs as the two ships were commissioned about the same time. It was time for them to move on. But thanks for your kind offer, Marian.😁

  11. Chris Strautnieks

    Based on info and a picture I found on Ancestry, she is probably the woman with glasses on the lower left side of the photos collage you posted.

  12. Judy Kulmaczeski

    Not to be mercenary but be sure to check the stamps on the postcards. I used to collect stamps and the stamps on the postcards caught my eye!

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, good to know! I’m not even sure what I’m looking for, but I will research it a bit. Thanks!

  13. Kris

    Such an interesting find! My mother passed away in March and we four kids divided her belongings between us. I haven’t had a chance to sort through everything yet but thanks for the reminder that I need to do it sooner rather than later. I did want to mention that I channeled my inner Marian and painted her old dresser for my daughter’s room. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried anything like that and it turned out well. I think mom would have approved. 🙂

  14. Darby Miller

    The sorority Kappa Delta was formed at the State Female Normal School is 1897.

  15. Karen B.

    I have a graduation program from my great-grandfather’s high school graduation. It’s fun to see some of these documents.

  16. SueA

    When we were kids, we would visit “Great Aunt Abby” who was unmarried and lived “on the farm in Kingston”. As time wore on, Aunt Abby became elderly and Grandma (her sister) died and we lost track of dear Aunt Abby and eventually she and all her siblings died too, leaving no will and no apparent heirs. The only way her executors found us is from a Christmas card Uncle John sent which was found in her papers. You see, Uncle John’s middle name was their last name! And the connection was made and a not-small inheritance occurred. Eventually we were able to find the approximate location of the farm and I actually purchased a postcard through an online collector that was sent to Aunt Abby from a friend in New York at the turn of the century which looks just like the sepia ones in your Mother’s collection. Long story but family histories are so interesting! thanks for sharing yours.

  17. Jennifer

    I love hearing about other people’s history as much as I love learning about my own. My paternal grandmother wrote little stories on the backs of all of the pictures she had telling us who was in the picture and what was happening when the picture was taken. I love this. And I am so grateful that she took the time to do this.

  18. Holly Binns

    Those travel brochures in particular are just gorgeous and so fascinating! What a cool find. I’ve always been fascinated by the 1910 -1945 time period because so much changed so very quickly, both socially and technologically. I’d be poring through them to see what was featured, how it is described, etc.! When we moved my dad up to live near us, my husband came across a bunch of old letters and photographs. Included were some sweet love letters from my dad to my mom when they were first dating back in the late 1960s. We lost my mom to cancer over twenty years ago, and my dad is losing his memory, so it was very special to find these treasures. Thx for sharing this amazing find. It’s very special.

  19. Marti M

    I enjoyed your post and would add a caveat. Don’t judge a book by its cover! While going through my late mother’s things, my sister and I found what at first appeared to be a lesson planning book from my mother’s early years as a home ec teacher. Looking inside, we discovered it was her journal prior to marrying our father! She wrote about their trips back and forth on the train to visit, her fabric choices for her home-made dress, wedding plans, and her deep love for our father. It is precious to us.

    An ordinary ledger book, the first few pages listing bowling scores for my father’s bowling league, subsequently included his journal about building our first house with his brother and brothers-in-law. I was a baby and have no memory of this enormous project. Apparently it rained a lot that year, money was tight, and waiting for supplies was a problem then, too!

    My sister and I cherish these journals revealing our parents’ dedication to earch other and sacrifices to make our young lives better.

  20. Kari

    I have a funny story related to this topic. My friend went to visit her very elderly mother who was suffering with dementia, and her mother handed her a big stack of old photos full of people my friend did not recognize. Her mother said, “I’d like you to help me by writing everyone’s names on the backs of these photos.” My friend said, “I’d be glad to help, Mother. Who are these people?” Her mother said, “I can’t remember. That’s why I need you to write their names on the back!”
    I giggle about this sweet story every time I see unlabeled photos, and it spurs me on to label mine so I won’t have this same conversation with my own daughter.

  21. Loretta

    Many years ago, I found a love letter, complete with the envelope, written on railroad company stationary from a man to his wife around 1906. It was so beautiful and eloquent I had it framed. I never could read the last name but several years ago I looked at it and the last name came to me clear as day, like it was time to go home. I went on the internet and found relatives of the couple. They came from a well-known family in the mid-west and never had children of their own. I wrote letters and received an answer from a great or great-great niece. The love letter is now back home after a big traveling trip and it did my heart good to send that letter back to where it belonged.

  22. Judy

    Isn’t it a shame that most of the pictures we now take are on our phones. I’ve started printing some of mine so that my children will have them when I’m gone. Technology is not always better in this case is it.

  23. Vicki Cooley

    What an awesome post! I love all the comments as well! You can do a cemetery search and you will most likely be able to see her grave and any comments. I’ve done this in searching for relatives. What great collections you have!

  24. lynn wheeler

    loved this post! i attended longwood university in the late 60’s

  25. Rick S

    I love family history and not just my own family. I can still hear some of my parents and grandparents stories.
    An online archivist always said “the shortest pencil is better than the longest memory “. Maybe I need to write down the stories I was hoping others would.
    Often obituaries tell much about a person and their family and surviving relatives.

    • Rick S

      Ps today would’ve been my parents 61st wedding anniversary. They have both passed and I wished I had sat down to label photos and record my mom doing the Czech children’s verse about a spider crawling up their arm. My kids would giggle when her fingers got up up their arm and tickled them.
      I am beginning to learn Czech and hope to find it.

  26. Lora G

    These are just beautiful! I love the idea of using postcards as a travel journal, too. Ms. Duggar was on to something 🙂

  27. Pam


    Great post!

    I live in Roanoke (Botetourt Co.), Virginia, and am about 10 minutes from Hollins University! Also, my friend and neighbor, who went to college at Hollins now works there for the Hollins Alumni Association. She is on vacation until next week, but when she returns, I will be happy to show her your blog entry to see if she can do some research on Ms. Duggar. What fun!

  28. Amy G.

    Just wanted to note that the spelling of her last name is Dugger with an e rather than with an a, which might aid further research and to make sure you have the correct person! ☺️

    • Martha

      Good catch, not only the cruise line spelled her name with and e, it is also clear on the post card addressed to her Dugger not Duggar.

  29. Elise

    What treasures you have! I have the old postcards and letters my grandfather sent my grandmother during WWII. Some of them were a little risque and it makes me laugh to think of them as an early married couple and how much they missed one another. Thanks for sharing your beautiful finds and you’re encouraging me to go through my own house with a fine tooth comb!

  30. Vanessa Prohaska

    Fascinating story. Marian; your blog is one of two blogs that I never skip on my emails. You’re so eloquent and interesting on selecting your topics! Thank you.
    My husband helped his step siblings sort their late dad paperwork. Once my mother in law passed away from colon cancer; the sweet man couldn’t bear her absence (-they met late in life and were only together 5 years-) and turned into a hoarder.
    The labeling of pictures of unknown family members was excruciating, yet so rewarding. Now he understands why I fuzz , so much when he doesn’t date every card he gives to me or any of our children. 🤦🏽‍♀️😃

  31. Frances

    Where did you get the metal shelving used in your storage room? I am encouraged to “clean out” and organize. We have retired, sold the big house and moved to a condo at the beach. Need to organize the things I want to keep and have just closets in the 3 bedrooms to use. I now have 3 storage units and my husband strongly suggest we get down to at least 1.
    Enjoy your blog and thank you for your help.

    • Marian Parsons

      I am pretty sure I bought them from Home Depot. They are 48″ wide wire shelving and are great for storage rooms. They come apart for easy moving.

  32. Cathie P Helgeland

    Hi there.. I did a little more research into Alice and this is what I discovered. Her father was Benjamin Boisseaun and her Mom is Lou Chase. Her parents separated and her Mom married William Lane who was a pharmacist I found her living In Petersberg , Virginia from the 1900 census at the age of 21 with her Mom and step father and his children from his first marriage and other children from this union. The 1900 census shows that she is a music teacher. On that same census it lists Emma W. Chase a widower who is also the sister to Alice’s Mom. The 1910 census shows that she is a teacher as well at the school you had mentioned. It looks as if she never married and may have never had any children.

  33. Linda🐝

    Very interesting and informative blog post! I really enjoyed the comments. It’s wonderful when your kind followers get involved as they have. That makes me feel like a part of a community of kindred spirits! 💞


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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