Keepsakes and memories are the precious bits of our lives and those who have gone before that we can pass on. This article offers ideas and urges you to add your own. ———————- Virginia Banerjee (Frisbie #6-910)
Family treasures enrich our lives and bring our ancestors to life. Family history is the fabric of our lives. What did our ancestors do and why, the times they lived and how they felt about it are very important. Some of this can be found by researching their times and place in history books, etc. The rest is up to us. Perhaps some of my projects will give you ideas about ways you can preserve memories and keepsakes.
We are a very special and unique repository of our memories and may be the “keeper of things”. How we “package” these will vary with each of us…and what we have. Memory is a very fragile and our memories are ours alone. But we can record them so they may be kept and shared with family and descendants. I have started Memory Books. These are still just family stories, sayings, recollection of incidents as they pop into my head. I jot these down without concern for “nice writing”. Whether they will ever become more than this…I do not know…but they are recorded for future attention. Jog your own memory by thinking about your experiences; your childhood birthdays, vacations, school. Some of your memories will make you laugh, others bring tears. All are part of the fabric of your lives and the lives of those around you. My memory books have expanded and now include a photo tour to the ancestral home in Ireland and a fishing trip to Alaska with a ten year old grandson. All the family Christmas letters and photos stretching back to my grandfather in 1906 have been brought together in an album which is enjoyed each holiday season by family and guests.
My Document Books are perhaps of more interest to me as a genealogist than they may be to others. Mine have reached a great number, representing each surname branch of my family. These contain the original or best copy of the “proof” documents. This is the material that supports the conclusions I have reached about how my lineage fits together. My hope is that these binders will survive me and avoid the proverbial garage sale, even if extensive files and notes from decades of genealogy research do not. If you are not collecting genealogy materials, you might make similar notebooks of clippings, obituaries, family letters, whatever you have.
Keepsakes, the things that we have from family, be they big or small, many or precious few, and they deserve special attention. These items can speak to us of lives now gone. How we “package” these and preserve them will depend on what they are.
Perhaps photographs are the most common keepsake that most of us have. Are yours all identified? If not, do it now! In many cases, you are the only one that can record the identity of the images. Such a tragedy to see photos that no one can identify end up in garage sales and thrift shops, or worse yet, the trash.
If you are going to write on the back of a photograph, use only soft pencil or special pen designed for photos. A better solution is to place the photo (and its negative if there is one, which may outlast the positive image), in an envelope. Write the identification on the envelope. If you plan to mount photos, use photo “corners” and place in an archival quality album. Do not use tape, “sticky page” albums or paste to mount your photos. These popular items can result in the second death of your ancestors!
What about the rest of the things? Fabric items… clothing, quilts, handwork; letters, journals, furniture, toys, household items, books, and on and on. Each of us has different things. Memorabilia can take many shapes. I prefer to use things I have (at least occasionally) even though there is some risk of damage. I enjoy living among and using my keepsakes… they tell of my life and those before me. I decorate at Christmas with a collection of old family toys that include a few things more than a century old. Folks of all ages seem to enjoy and look forward to the display each year. I hope this familiarity will nurture family appreciation and a commitment to care for these things.
How we preserve these items will depend on what the item is and how we plan to share and use it. Archival quality page protectors, boxes, tubes, and tissue are available from suppliers. Your reference librarian or an Internet search will identify these companies. Articles about preservation are also available from your library or the Internet.
If you have few or no keepsakes and family stories to preserve, it is time to make some of your own! Start a notebook of your own memories. Perhaps you can engage a child, grandchild (or even great-grandchild) in recording them. Help them to interview you…what do they want to know about your life? Keep a journal. What things of yours will your descendants have? What have you kept throughout your life? Why? What is it? Be sure that these things are identified.
Today’s memorabilia is something someone else kept. And what you keep will be a keepsake to someone else some day. I have been asked “what should we keep?” I think that is such an individual matter. Perhaps the answer is “whatever is meaningful to you”. I would add that, if space is an issue, and you can’t “keep everything…keep items that are unique, give family history, or that document some aspect of your life. Consider “passing things” on to family members who share your desire that they be preserved…and enjoyed.
Take care of the memories and things that you have and add your own…and be sure that others know what they are.
(Virginia Banerjee is a professional genealogist. A version of this material was presented recently at Middlesex Genealogy Society in Darien, Connecticut and at Genealogy Club at Newtown, Connecticut)).