My dad’s fifth birthday party

This is a 16mm home movie that was likely taken on or around on my dad’s fifth birthday on 1 Jan 1949. The three boys pictured as the movie opens are Peter (my dad), John (age 10), and Jerry Leonard (age 8) and a group of (currently) unidentified kids at the kitchen table about to blow out the candles on a cake with 5 candles on it. The second part of the move has just the three boys playing with balloons that were above the kitchen table in the first part, standing in front of a Christmas tree and playing with toys they likely got that year. My grandmother Catherine (Morse) Leonard makes her first appearance at about :57 seconds in, and we see an older woman at about :35 seconds that would likely be my Great-Grandmother Emma (Kupps) Leonard. This footage was likely shot in their home on Langlade Road in Antigo, WI.

I found this footage in the items that were given to me by the daughters of John Leonard after his passing. It’s on a 5 min. reel of 16mm Kodak film, and it looks like it was developed soon after it was shot by my Grandfather Jerry Leonard. The rubber band on the outside of the film was very old and cracked, and I’d guess that this film hasn’t been screened since around the time it was developed.

There are a couple of great lessons to be learned from this movie. First, I’m deeply indebted to my cousins Denise, Diane and Susan for entrusting me with some many great family artifacts. That trust, I think, comes from a few places. They know that I’m deeply interested and that I make sure to share what I find with everyone in the family. I’ve increasingly become the family historian, and I’ve always viewed my role as a conduit to take what information various family members have collected, protect that information so that it will be available for future generations, and to share the information to everyone. I think that helps family members feel comfortable sharing valuable objects, and it makes them feel a part of this collective family history project we’re all participating in. Additionally, I think many times people have these types of artifacts in boxes and they know they are too valuable to just throw away, but they also don’t know what to do with them. Build these relationships as soon as you start researching your family, and over time you’re going to collect more valuable objects than you would have guessed.

Another great lesson is get these objects when you can, because you likely won’t get another chance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been close to getting some old box of photos, or miscellaneous documents, and we’ve decided I’ll get them later, and I’ve never seen them again. This movie ended up in my possession because my cousin called me about 24 hours before the closing on my late Uncle’s house and told me that there were boxes of family history set aside for me in a bedroom. I left work that afternoon, and my mother and I drove 8 hours round trip that night to take everything left for me. It was a treasure trove, and it would have been gone the next day.

The transfer to digital video was done by and it was both easy and economical. I shipped the film to them via FedEx and it took about 2 weeks before I had the digital download, as well as several DVD’s. The total cost was under $50, and while it was scary sending off something so valuable, their process and constant communication put me at ease.

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