Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, helps us understand which genealogy and family history records you should NEVER discard!
Marcy in Oregon asks: “I have been tasked with cleaning out my Grandmother’s house since she passed a year ago. My Grandmother never threw anything away. As a genealogist, I am grateful for the opportunity to archive the records she left behind about our family, but there is just so much. As a genealogist and archivist, what are the top five types of genealogical records you would advise to not throw away?”
Marcy has asked the one question I get the most as an archivist and records preservationist. There are many people who have been given the task of cleaning out a loved one’s home after they have passed. Whether that loved one kept everything or just a few things, it can be very overwhelming trying to decide what to keep and what not to discard. Let’s face it; most of us just can’t keep everything. Even as an archivist whose job it is to save and preserve a local county history in records, I can’t keep everything. The main reason we can’t keep everything is storage space. Many of us in our homes and in the local archives just don’t have unlimited space to store genealogical records.
There are five types of genealogical records that a genealogist should never throw away. This doesn’t mean that after you have kept these types of records that you should throw everything else away, it just means these are the five most important types of records that I believe should be saved from the trash bin.
Any record that is an original record and not a photocopy should be kept. This could include records like birth records, marriage certificates, death records, military records, etc. Any record that is in its original state should be kept and definitely not thrown away. Some of these original records are the only copies that survive. There could be a copy or a transcription available at the local courthouse or archive, but many of our original records are one-of-a-kind. These records are very important to save.
Diaries and Journals
If you are fortunate enough to have in your possession diaries or journals that your ancestors actually wrote, you have a true treasure. These are unique, one-of-a-kind records that were written in your ancestor’s hand and filled with the events of their lives and those that lived near them. Original diaries and journals should never be thrown away or destroyed. They should be studied and the information in them should be part of the ancestor’s life story.
Scrapbooks can be some of the most indispensable records for the genealogist. These records are a window into the lives of our ancestors, their surroundings, experiences and the history they lived through. There are many different kinds of scrapbooks such as newspaper clipping scrapbooks, ephemera scrapbooks and memory scrapbooks where your ancestor included notes with what they pasted on the pages. Scrapbooks are a real time glimpse into lives our ancestors lived and should never been thrown away.
This particular record group is one that, for the most part, has gone by the wayside in our current culture. Old family letters should be saved, read, transcribed and shared with the genealogical and historical community. Old letters add so much to our ancestors’ life stories. Depending on when the letters were written, it could also add significantly to the local historical community story. Preserving old family letters, including the envelopes, is a high priority in most archives because of the importance that is placed on them. Anyone who reads history books will notice in the footnotes or endnotes many references of the author accessing old letters to help tell the historical story. Old letters should also never be thrown away.
For most of us, we cannot fathom the idea of throwing away photographs, but I can tell you that unfortunately they do get thrown away. Some families were very prolific in how many photographs they took or sat for in their lifetimes. This can generate massive amounts of photographs that the heirs will need to address. Photographs of our ancestors can be that one record that touches us more than any other. Many of us don’t have photographs of some of our ancestors and we would love to find such items. If you have inherited boxes and boxes of photographs, weed through them carefully. Throwing out duplicates is perfectly find and acceptable although it might be better to share them with other family members if you can. If you simply do not want them, please consider donating them to a local archive, state archive, historical society or genealogical society. Especially if there are photographs of local buildings, local events or local landscapes in addition to photographs of people.
These five types of records represent important items that should never be thrown away. If you have no room for them or just can’t keep them for other reasons, please seek out an archive, historical society, genealogical society or museum and see if they would be willing to take the records. If we don’t save our history and the records of our ancestors, that history could be lost forever.
If you have original documents, diaries and journals, scrapbooks, old letters or photographs that you are trying to find a home for, please contact me and I might be able to help you find a repository to donate them. Please email me at: email@example.com
Melissa Barker’s Legacy Quick Guide
Scrapbooks! Do you want to know how to find scrapbooks about your ancestors or do you have scrapbooks that you own and would like to know how to preserve them? Get my latest Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide:
Scrapbooks: A Genealogist’s Gold Mine
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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