Object Lesson

D. Bergevin's toothBy Melissa Salrin
Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

In archival processing, personal papers often include some unexpected formats. This was definitely the case as we worked through the materials donated by Denise Bergevin Ryan O’Bryan. Tucked in amidst bills of sale for household goods, handwritten correspondence and postcards was a small envelope neatly marked “D. Bergevin’s tooth.” We do not know whose fine penmanship labeled this item as such, but an inspection of the contents revealed one adult tooth. But how did it come to be in these papers? And why was this tooth saved? None of the letters in the box reference the tooth or shed any light on this mystery. In 1892, Damase Bergevin returned to Montreal from Washington to seek medical treatment for his encroaching blindness, likely caused by diabetes. Damase may have lost the tooth in an accident; or, since diabetes is associated with an increased risk of dental problems, it is also possible that his health challenges included gum disease. These possibilities still don’t explain, though, why the tooth was saved. While we are certainly keeping an eye out for any mention of missing or loose teeth in the rest of the sources, this unexpected object is a good reminder that not all questions can be answered in the archives. Sometimes, mysteries remain.