Do you remember the “Priceless” ad campaign? The credit card paid for dinner or a ball game, but it was the experience or conversation between father and son that was “Priceless.” The take-away for family archivists is much the same — the artifact might be called “Heirloom,” “Keepsake,” or “Stuff,” but it’s the memories that make it Priceless.
Trash or Treasure?
Lately I’ve been handling a plethora of “priceless” family artifacts. Quite literally. We are moving from one address to another. The houses happen to be next door to each other and I’ve found it’s easier to pick up something in one house and carry it by hand to the other than to carefully entomb the old bauble in bubble-wrap and place it in a packing crate to be transported 52 steps (yep, I counted).
Each time I pick up something, I’m asking myself, Do I need to keep this? Is it an heirloom? A keepsake? Or, just more stuff?
Invariably, more than a few things are just stuff. I envy people who moved houses a few times, because 40 years in the same house gave us a lot of time to stash away things that might be needed, might be important, might be valuable One Day.
Now that One Day is here, I am finding a bit of clarity in deciding what to keep and what toss by throwing in another question: Do I want to save this enough to carry it down three brick steps, along a concrete path, down two more steps, around a gravel path, up three concrete steps (hold the old gate open because it will swing shut at any breeze), across the patio, and up two more steps into the new house.
- That huge crystal fruit bowl never used even once? Not moving it.
- Boxes of Christmas cards, no photos, no envelopes, no letters? Not moving them.
- Scrapbooks, photo albums, boxes of slides? You know the answer to that; they are moved and already tucked into a new archive closet.
I know I am a collector, but I refuse to be a packrat. I collect family stories, family histories, and family connections. When letters and photos come my way, I treasure them as sources and artifacts.
Curiously, the new house has more space but less storage, so until I repurpose a room as a true Archives, I am making choices. Instead of archiving Stuff, I am making decisions to archive family history. Documents, photos, and heirlooms with memories and provenance attached.
I don’t have room or time to carry a load of knick-knacks into the next decade. Grandma’s button box is an interesting artifact that adds context to the social history of her life. I snapped digital photos, studied that box filled with loose earrings and buttons, and wrote about it in “Why You Don’t Want to Throw Grandma’s Buttons in the Trash.” But, I don’t need to keep the actual stuff forever.
- The buttons and baubles? Stuff.
- The stories they tell? Priceless.
What’s in your archive?
Ellspeth Roberts says
I grew up in the home of a true hoarder. As an adult, I remember all the stuff that my mom could not part with – and most of it should have been thrown out or recycled. However, as a hoarder that also meant that there were true treasures in among the junk. Be wise and don’t get rid of photos, letters, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, diarys, yearbooks, report cards, old written on old cards, etc until you can go through these items one by one without distractions.
Because my mom never threw anything away and my grandma kept every letter from mom she ever got (we lived out West, my grandparents in PA) I now have a treasure trove of letters that read in order are almost like listening to them have a conversation. They included clippings, photos, and other odd papers (like report cards) that now are precious to me. I have since filed them carefully and in the middle of scanning them all into the computer.
Junk is junk, but family treasures are priceless.
Denise May Levenick says
You make the point well, Ellspeth, that a “hoard” can hold a lifetime of treasures we value as genealogists. How fortunate you have the material to study, and that you can see what to save and what to keep. Best wishes with your research!