I am currently working on a project to digitize items from the Seidelman Family Fonds and to assist with the creation of an online exhibit showcasing these items. This fonds set is focused on the family of the current president of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, Perry Seidelman. So far, I have been working on digitizing letters that Perry’s uncle, Private Edward Joseph Seidelman, had sent to his family while he was fighting in World War I. Between 1916 – 1917, Private Seidelman sent 87 letters back home to his family, which included his mother, his younger sister Rachel, and younger brothers Harry, Ben, and William. At the time when Private Seidelman enlisted for military service in World War I, he was still a student at the University of British Columbia.
Since learning about what I would be working on for this project, I was very excited to begin. I’ve always had a strong interest in things related to World War I and World War II, going as far back to when I was still in Elementary School. Throughout the years, my friends and family had to put up with my constant rants of World War I and World War II stories, and with being forced to watch movies and documentaries about the world wars with me. I’m not really sure why this interest in the world wars developed. Maybe it’s because these two events captured a moment in time when everyday civilians had to take on extraordinary tasks, and hearing stories about these people rising to the occasion is so fascinating. So getting the chance to work on this project is a perfect match for me.
As I started working through the files of Private Seidelman’s World War I letters, it didn’t take long to come across some interesting things. One of the first things I noticed was Joseph’s writing style. His letters are written in beautiful cursive. It is definitely a rarity these days to see letters so elegantly handwritten, when one can simply send an email or a text. Other noteworthy things I came across included a photograph of an unknown creature that Joseph took in as a pet while he was on leave at a farm in Canada, and an embroidered postcard of a dragonfly sent from England.
From reading his letters to his family, I got a sense of the type of relationship Joseph had with his sister, Rachel, to whom he addressed the majority of his letters. It made me realize that this family from a hundred years ago doesn’t sound all that different from a family in the present day. In the letters, Joseph comes across as a typical responsible older brother who looked out for his family. He would always be giving some type of advice in the letters, trying to help out with the financial situation at home. There were also moments of teasing his sister, as any older brother today would do to his younger siblings, such as when Joseph guessed that Rachel would probably be in “the casualty lists of the B.C. University” regarding her university examinations.
Through working on this project, I think it’s amazing that I’m getting the chance to know an actual soldier from my city who fought in one of the world wars. When I was studying at UBC, I remember seeing plaques on the walls of the War Memorial Gym at the university, honouring the students who had served for Canada in different military conflicts. The names of the soldiers were written on these plaques and I believe going back and looking at the plaques again the experience will have much more significance the second time around. As I continue on with my work on the Seidelman Family Fonds, I’m looking forward to seeing more photographs of Private Seidelman and his family as well as reading more interesting stories of the family’s life in that era.
Junie Chow is the 2016 Archives Assistant at the JMABC, where she is working to bring items from the Seidelman Family Fonds online. This position has been made possible through the generous support of the Documentary Heritage Communities Program by Library and Archives Canada.