Where are your family treasures?

Where are your family treasures?This week, I was working with a wonderful organizing client. As she gave me a tour of the storage spaces in her home, she said, “This is my most treasured possession!” And she bent down and pulled a plastic bin out from under the bed. Inside was her father’s World War II photo album, along with a few other war artifacts. The photo album had small black-and-white photos mounted onto black paper with meticulous white handwritten captions. The pages were deteriorating and some of the photos had fallen out of their mounting.

I oohed and ahhhed because it was an amazing heirloom. But I challenged her a little by saying, “Why is your most treasured possession stored under the bed in a non-archival plastic bin?” One day (soon, I hope), we will work together to get this item and some other heirlooms into safer storage.

That very same day, my mother’s cousin asked me for a photo of my grandfather for the genealogy poster he is putting together. So I rifled through the box of family photos that my mother gave me, trying to locate a good picture for him. As I did that, I realized that these photos are among my most treasured possessions, yet I am not treating them with the respect they deserve. They’re not archivally stored, nor are they organized.

When I acquired this box in December, I blogged about my plan to deal with them. But I’ve done nothing. I keep waiting for a free block of time.  should know by now that the free time is never going to materialize on its own. I have to set aside time for this project. Luckily for me, this branch of the family is having a reunion in a couple of months, so I can get some help identifying the people in these photos!

How about you? Do you have treasured inherited items that are languishing in unsafe conditions? If you need information on how to handle and store them, check out Sally Jacobs of The Practical Archivist and Denise Levenick of The Family Curator. Don’t wait for something bad to happen. Carve out some time to deal with them now.

To print or not to print?

questionmarkI admit it. I like to print out source documents I find online. When I see a census record for an ancestor, for example, I have an overwhelming desire to print it out and put it in that ancestor’s paper file. That system has worked well for me, though of course there’s potential for all those printed records to take up a lot of space.

Yesterday, I was listening to Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems podcast, specifically the Digitize, Organize, and Archive episode in which she interviews Denise May Levenick about organizing family memorabilia and genealogy records. Listening to that, I was inspired to take their advice and try to squash my compulsion to print and instead save these documents as pdfs.

I thought I’d do that today, but I’m realizing that I take some comfort in having paper records. I know my house could catch on fire and the records would vanish. But I think I have more faith in my house remaining unburned than I do in my hard drive not failing. As I’m typing this, though, I know that’s not the true reason. (I back up to an external hard drive and I have an online backup service.) I think the real reason is that my paper files are more organized than my electronic genealogy files.

Saving pdfs rather than printing would require me to clean up my electronic act. And that would be a good thing. As I see it, I’d need to come up with a good naming system and file hierarchy. I’m a Mac user and I typically rely on its excellent search functionality to help me find what I need on my hard drive. But I can imagine that pinpointing specific records in a search might be more difficult.

One advantage I can see to saving these documents on my hard drive is that sometimes I’m doing research in the absence of my paper files. I might be using my laptop upstairs, while my file cart resides downstairs. I might be at a library or a conference. I can certainly see advantages to saving, not printing.

So I’m going to continue printing, but only until I get my head around doing a better job with organizing my hard drive. (Step 1: Read Denise May Levenick’s book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, which offers information on file naming protocols.) Once I clean up my electronic genealogy files, I think I’ll try saving, rather than printing, and see if I can feel comfortable.


Help for your keepsakes

How to Archive Family Keepsakes coverI just received a book I’d pre-ordered, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, by Denise May Levenick, of the blog Family Curator. The book is published by Family Tree Books.

I’m very excited to read it. I’m looking forward to learning not only how to deal with the (few) family keepsakes I own but also how to help clients who have inherited such items. As an organizer, I see a lot of inherited items–furniture, keepsakes, photographs and information. In cluttered homes, storing and caring for these items can become a real challenge.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to inherit family photos, memorabilia and genealogical information, this book might help you, too.

After I’ve read it, I’ll post a review. It looks absolutely terrific.