Sentimental objects are one of the most challenging categories for professional organizers to help clients with. This is especially true with objects related to family history, such as:
Family history documents (letters, journals, diaries, invitations, etc.),
Education related (book reports, college papers, graduation diplomas, etc.),
Civil records about family members (marriage records, immigration records, birth/death certificates, etc.)
Photos, diaries, papers, trophies…these are all critical elements of your family legacy. They tell the story of important family members, and are the fabric of what binds families together. Personally, I am not an advocate of throwing this all away. On the other hand, how can anyone benefit if these materials are stashed away in the attic, basement, or closet?
The first step to any family history project is taking an inventory of what you have. Even if your project is simply tidying your family history boxes, you will be happy you did it. And I promise, your children will thank you!
Take some time to go through each box carefully and understand what is in them. It’s almost always the case we find things we had completely forgotten about. And it’s not at all uncommon to find objects we thought were lost. Once you know what you have, it will be much easier to figure out what to keep, and how to organize it all.
One complaint I hear frequently is that people don’t really know what to do with these materials. They accumulate and accumulate, taking up more room than you ever would have wanted. The fear of the materials being damaged, and frustration that nothing productive is being done with them, causes most people to feel anxious, along with a good measure of guilt.
Organizing family history materials allows us to honor family members and declutter. As I mentioned, I am not a fan of throwing these materials away. BUT, you’ll be surprised how much space is being taken up by duplicates, damaged papers/photos, old frames, and photos of people you don’t know—all of which can all be thrown away.
And watch out for newspaper clippings! Newspaper paper does not last. Not only that, it can damage other materials it comes into contact with.
The advent of online publishing has made printing books in small print runs very affordable. Imagine having a book of all your parents’ correspondence, and giving a copy to each of your children. Or imagine assembling all the civil records about your ancestors so the whole family can have a richer understanding of its roots and history. All you need is a scanner and a little patience. If you don’t have the time, there are many scanning services which can do this for you. The Association of Professional Photo Organizers is also a great place to find someone locally who can do this.
Once scanned, it’s time to select an online book publisher. There are many to choose from. Two of my favorites are Blurb and Mixbook. Mixbook in particular has some great layouts just for family history projects. Be sure to wait for a sale! Both these sites frequently offer significant discounts.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that these books become instant family heirlooms. They make terrific gifts for important birthdays or around the holidays.
If you run into a hiccup while organizing, scanning, or making your book, feel free to give me a call. I’m always happy to answer questions. Good luck with your family history project!