Did the blog book tour leave you motivated to organize and digitize your family photos, documents, and letters? When I inherited my grandmother’s treasures in 2000, I didn’t know where to begin. I spent a lot of time just looking at stuff, reading letters, examining old photos, and trying to make sense of what I had.
If you’re reading my book How to Archive Family Keepsakes, I suggest you use the book as a workbook to guide you step-by-step from taking stock to sorting and preserving. The 10 Checkpoints in chapters 1 through 5 are designed a worksheets to help you gain control of the project without being overwhelmed.
Just “looking at things” isn’t a bad way to start a family archive project. You need to know what you have before you can do much of anything. The trick is, you want to MAINTAIN ORDER at all times (yes, that’s a firm directive). By keeping “like with like” you help retain context that can provide clues to identification and meaning.
Always work with clean hands on a sturdy clean surface. White cotton gloves are sometimes recommended, but they can be clumsy and actually cause damage too. It may be easier, and less risky to carefully handle paper and photos by the edges with clean hands.
Order in the Archive
The original owner is the first level of organization important to maintain. For many years, I was only concerned with my maternal grandmother Arline’s collection. Then, my father started sending over things from his parents, bit by bit. They didn’t arrive in boxes, but as individual items, and were easily misplaced or mixed in with Arline’s albums and boxes.
Keep each collection separated by original owner or family.
Keep items that arrive in groups or packets together, even if they are all different kinds of things such as photos, ticket stubs, or letters. Ask yourself why they were kept at all, and why they might be in this particular group?
Maybe the assorted items are souvenirs of a weekend getaway, or mementoes from a relationship. The answer might not even be obvious for a long time. You can move things into archival envelopes and boxes when the time comes, but when you are just beginning to work with a collection, resist the urge to reorganize.
Get to know your family history treasures, but keep order in the archive.