Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with the bits and pieces of other people’s lives. There’s no Archive, yet, of my late aunt’s family papers. Mostly, I’ve been carefully sifting boxes papers, files, books, and odd little things. Before deciding what to save and what to get rid of, I have to look at everything.
I recently worked on a webinar with Allison Stacy Dolan at Family Tree Magazine featuring the 24 boxes of family papers she inherited from her grandmother. Allison’s challenge was similar to mine, but her grandmother had already completed Stage One Triage with the material when she decided what she deemed “family history” and worth passing on to Allison. The boxes appeared to contain genealogy research, photos, letters, and memorabilia, exclusively. Allison’s grandmother was, after all, downsizing her home, and probably kept many other items for her personal use.
In contrast, most people who inherit an estate and have an interest in family history find that they have to create a Family Archive from the treasures they find mixed in with the bits and pieces of everyday life.
My aunt had given me only one small box of photographs belonging to my grandfather. We looked at them briefly sitting in the car one day last summer; she didn’t have the time or energy to spend more time with them. A few months later, she passed away and my sister and I found ourselves left with a house filled with the paper trail of our aunt’s life.
I’m finding that this situation might be the fairly common. It’s the side-story to the old “death and taxes” joke. When someone passes away, someone has to pay the taxes and tidy up the things left behind.
My aunt lived most of her life in Orange County, California, about 30 miles from my home in Pasadena. In Southern California, we measure distance by drive-time, not miles, and the drive can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes depending on traffic. To cut down on the time I’d need to spend at my aunt’s home as we cleared it out for sale, I decided to box up anything personal and bring it home to go through later.
My sister is the get rid of it type, so she was happy to send it off with me. I’m the saver type and came home with more than just paper in the boxes. I have crates of vintage dishes, sorta cool office supplies, 50’s linens, and lots and lots of paper. This is making for some interesting discoveries.
However. . . I’m supposed to be looking for family history materials, not getting nostalgic about teacher valentines, old yearbooks, or Bible bookmarks.
Focus. . . I need to print this word in big letters and hang it over the pile of stuff.
So here I am with all this stuff. Some days I feel like I’m living in the archives. We have an office in our basement that is filled with all the boxes and stacks of stuff. It’s depressing. I am determined to work my way through the mountain, and as the weather begins to warm up here in Southern California I am spending more time sorting and organizing. This isn’t the first time I’ve faced this task, unfortunately, and I’ve learned something each time I work with a new estate, locating and saving things for a Family Archive. I’m sure I’ll learn even more this time around. What about your archive? Did you inherit it as Family Archive, or did you inherit an estate filled with treasure (and trash)?