27 August 2013

Please keep your receipt - What and how many records should we keep, genealogically speaking?


One of the author's many closets of stored "memorabilia" -- paper, textiles and anything deemed "worthy" of being saved!

Records.  We are always seeking and acquiring records produced by or created with regards to our ancestors. 

Let’s turn this around and discuss what records should we “keep” for our descendants?  And, let’s broaden the questions – what “stuff” should we hold onto for further generations.

This thought crossed my mind after reading Please keep this receipt for your records, a blog post on The National Archives (UK) blog.  Though this post focused more on keeping records regarding their relevance to one’s business, I think the same questions need to be asked with regards to one’s personal life.

For each of my children and my husband and I, we have “memory boxes.” These are boxes where through time we can put any memorabilia, whether documents, images, favorite toys, special items of clothing, ticket stubs, and more to be “kept” for the future.  Just about every closet in our house has these types of boxes.  As one box gets full, I write “whose” box it is and the approximate date range of the contents included.  I figure that in the future, my children, grandchildren or other descendants might “chuck” it all out and at least that will be their decision!

I know that part of my efforts stem from leaving my house for my first job with just a shoe box of memorabilia (how can 20+ years of ones life boil down to a single shoebox?) and then years later all of the family photo albums and other trinkets “disappeared.”  If I wasn’t a pack rat before, I am certainly one now!

And, I clearly cannot keep everything!  As mentioned in the article, keeping receipts (unless you scan or photograph them) often has no purpose since within a short period of time they will have faded.  Since I use a financial software I now only keep “receipts” and documentation that has value when preparing my tax returns. 

As mentioned, anything that I or my children deem as relevant to the “memory box” also gets saved.  I also have an attic full of long ago used toys and other items – they sit there gathering dust and have not been used in many years. Should I hold onto them?  Should I donate them to a charity?  Are some just destined for the trash?

Additionally, I have a safe where I keep a few inherited keepsakes from the 1800s – which have deemed to have little monetary value and yet have great sentimental value – along with some photos and a few original documents from family members now deceased.

As genealogists and family historians, how do we decide what to keep for future generations?  When can we (and maybe should we) just cull through what we have collected and actually (gasp!) throw some things out?  I struggle with this.  Do you?




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