Monday, December 4, 2006

Got Stuff? What will you do with it?

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak has a great article on Juliana Smith's 24/7 Family History Circle blog here. It is titled "How Do We Stop This Epidemic?" and concerns the ephemera found at garage sales, antique shops, trash bins - photos, papers, letters, books, etc. The comments to Megan's article are great - lots of experience there and lots of wisdom.

The money part of Megan's article is:

I’d like to tell you that I rescued these items–and if they had price tags on them, I probably would have. But they were being sold in lots and I would have had to wait hours for them to get to the family photos and documents–Alice’s husband’s Social Security card also being among them–that were scattered around the property. Like everyone these days, I’m busy, and therein lies the problem. We’re all so busy that we hardly give any thought to protecting our own family treasures, much less someone else’s.
I’m trying to be pragmatic. We literally cannot take it with us when we die, and we obviously have to be selective when we downsize into a smaller home or nursing facility. And I’m not trying to insinuate that auctioneers are somehow evil; the fact is that they provide a useful service. But how do we stop this epidemic of family history, and to a certain extent, national history (I’m thinking now of the fact that the only known photo of Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island, may have been tossed when her unmarried granddaughter passed away a few years ago) being tossed out, or at least, sold to strangers? This is not a rhetorical question. I’d like to hear your ideas. Seriously.

My own experience is probably typical. When my grandparents died in the 1970s (before I even thought about genealogy), my mother (an only child) had a garage sale and lots of the ephemera went - I remember boxes of old pictures (not with names or captions) and books being sold. Fortunately, my mother kept most of the family photos and letters that she could identify with. My parents moved into the house. Fortunately, they were packrats, like me!

When I started my genealogy research in 1988, my mother gladly gave me boxes of "stuff" - books, letters, photos, account books, etc. They were priceless to me - and provided much unique family information.

When my mother died in 2002, not much was new since the 1970s. When we enptied the house for sale, I concentrated on the family history stuff - the spoon holder, the family Bibles, the photos, and, most importantly, the briefcase up in the corner of the closet. My father had saved the deeds, wills, military records and other family data (including tax returns) after my grandparents died, put them in the briefcase, and put it up in the closet. My brothers and our kids took the artwork and the furniture, but I got the memories.

At present, I have most of this "stuff" in boxes or file cabinets in my genealogy cave. I know what there is, I've abstracted or transcribed much of it, but I don't have a real plan to pass it on if the inevitable happens to me before I know it.

Megan's article is an eye opener - for each of us. Doing something about it is on my to-do list, but it's after the more time-critical activities like the holidays and my society responsibilities.

How about you? You might want to read Megan's article and make a comment on it - either there or here.

No comments: