What Physical Material Should I Keep?

+7 votes
I have been seriously researching my family tree for only a few months, but have already got a problem. What physical material should I keep? Since my father moved into a residential home the family has been slowly clearing the house in preparation for selling it, and we have found masses of papers and photographs going back over 130 years. Currently I have the equivalent of three large boxes full and we are finding more.

Some is obviously of no use: things like holiday snaps of landscapes. Others are "must keep", such as birth, marriage and death certificates. It is what to do with other ephemera: letters with snippets of family information, old bills, a poem written by a great aunt. It can't be kept as storage is limited.

What have others done in this fortunate situation?
in The Tree House by Martin Honor G2G6 Mach 2 (28.0k points)
How exciting to have access to so much !

I have scanned what little I have and saved all to an external hard-drive as well. I can not bring my self to discard any of it, so I have it in small hard plastic cases slid in wherever I can in my small unit.

4 Answers

+5 votes

If there are real historical items you could contact one of  your local historical societies or archives and ask them if they would be interested.

As Marion says: scan it all first if you have the time. Then you also get a feel what you like and not.

A very formal guideline is this: https://www.museumvereniging.nl/media/lamo_2016_guidelines_for_the_deaccessioning_of_museum_objects_1.pdf

by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (267k points)
+3 votes
I like the archive option, but if you are scanning, look at mdisc media. I need to get one myself, much hardier than disk drives or cd/dvd/flash
by Jonathan Crawford G2G6 Pilot (228k points)
+3 votes

Just to add to what others have said: 

You may consider keeping genetic artifacts. If you have a letter in an envelope, don't just keep the letter and toss the envelope! ToTheLetterDNA


has been around for a year or two. They will try to extract DNA from an envelope flap, stamp, or other artifact, sequence it, and provide it in a file that is useful for genetic genealogy. Even if you aren't into genetic genealogy yet, you or a relative may be someday. (But it's a ton of fun -- I highly recommend it!)

ToTheLetterDNA is too pricy for me right now, and I don't know of other players in this niche area, but probably their price will come down and other players will come in. When that happens, I'll be happy to have kept the stuff.

If you have a lock of hair, it has been said many places that only mitochondrial DNA can be extracted unless you have the roots attached to the hair. Mitchondrial DNA can be useful regardless, but anyway this seems to be a myth -- I guess it's hard to extract nuclear DNA from hair, but possible:


And maybe 20 years from now, it will be easy. So hang on to these artifacts!

by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (246k points)
+1 vote
I seem to be the repository for family items from my own family and my husband's family. Needless to say, I am overwhelmed with photos, letters, notes, etc. Right now, I am cleaning out but.....I purchased some smallish plastic containers (14. 17.5") that accommodate hanging file folders. I am sorting into these containers in preparation for scanning. I have already scanned and filed a lot in the past but these are things I just stored and had not done anything with. I am amazed at some of the family tidbits I am finding. So...do not be hasty in throwing things away. Keep everything you can until you have time to really go through and read and make decisions about items when not in a rush.
by Virginia Fields G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)

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