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Contact me at Mom25dogs@gmail.com

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sorting Saturday - Organizing and Preserving Family Mementos

For those of us interested in genealogy, there are some sidelines that come with that. We are also interested in photography because we are taking photos of old home places, gravestones, cemeteries, old schoolhouses, barns, churches, etc. Another thing that we do is become a collector of family memorabilia. Once we've become familiar and deeply interested in our great great grandpa Whosit we get all excited when we find the very toothpick that ole Whosit used! Or, like the old saying, "I have George Washington's hammer. I've replaced the handle and I've replaced the head but it's George Washington's hammer!" I'm making fun of us, but it is true, that we become loath to let go of things that we accumulated from our family. It can run the gamut of recipes to quilt patterns, quilts to baby clothes, pots to tools, etc. How do we take care of this stuff?

First we have to be realistic. Unless you want to be on the TV series, Hoarders, you have to set down some rules of what to keep and what to get rid of and how you're going to store what you keep. What good does it do to save Great Great Grandma Suzie Q's ugly china figurine if it's balled up in newspaper and stored under the attic eaves? Two generations from now, no one will know it belonged to Suzie Q or why you kept that ugly china figurine.

Ask yourself the basic question.... Do I have room to properly store this item or these items? If not, it's best to let it go. I know how hard that is to do. I'm the world's worst. I got it honest from my Mom and Dad. I remember when my Dad's parents passed away and they had an estate auction. We were bidding all over the place and couldn't stand it if we lost something. And I still have dreams of being able to afford buying their old farm and using it as a vacation home. But we couldn't afford to do it and it was sold and is gone. But, just like I was realistic about buying or not buying the old farm, you have to make some hard decisions. How big is your home, how much storage space do you have? Maybe you can keep Grandma's old bowl and pitcher but you can't fit the old dresser in your home. Give yourself a break. Do what you can but don't beat yourself up if you can't do it. If it's driving you crazy, at least take photos of the item before you let it go.

Once you decide what you can keep and where you will store these things the next question is how to store them, protect them and make them accessible. Let's look at some ways to protect and store items.

First, there are photos. If you have inherited a box of old photos, it's very important to try and find out:

* Who is in the photo?
* Where was the photo taken?
* Identify anything in the background. Was that Grandaddy's 1954 Lincoln in the driveway? Is that the front porch swing on Aunt Ethel's porch? Didn't Grandmother sew that dress for Mom? Wasn't that the old basketball court at the school?
* Why was the photo taken? Was it sister's high school graduation, cousin John's Bar Mitzvah, was it Johnny's 1st birthday?

If you don't know the answer to these questions you might want to bring out the box at a family gathering and let relatives pore through it. If the stories start flying faster than you can write, get a digital recorder and record the conversations (those recorders aren't very expensive any more, they are like the old cassette recorders but they create a digital file you can listen to on your computer). Write the information on index cards. Then take the cards and photos to your scanner. Most home scanners are going to be slower than you like. Do this in the evening while you are watching TV. If you have too many to do, then it might be worth it to you to pay to have them scanned. Look for someone locally or send them off. Store these scanned photos and index cards in more than one place. For instance, make copies on a CD or DVD disc, have them on your computer, have another set on an external hard drive. Be sure to copy them to new media as it becomes available. For instance, computers used to use floppy diskettes but now we use flash drives (aka thumb drives, jump drives) and external hard drives or on DVDs. Computers don't even come with floppy disc drives any more so those old floppy diskettes are un-readable any more. You don't want your precious photos to fall the way of the dodo bird. So as you get new computers and storage devices or portable media (like DVDs) then copy those photo files to them so they are always on up-to-date technology. Another way to store them is to keep a set of your photo files on "the cloud". That term is a little scary for newbies but it just means that someone, somewhere, has a large computer system and they are willing to store your data for you so that you can access it no matter where you are. If you are in a hotel, your laptop can still access your data because it's stored in the cloud and can be downloaded via Internet. If you are at home, at the office, sitting on a bench at the cemetery, or at the library, whether using your smart computer, phone or tablet, your data is accessible because it's stored in the cloud and you download via Internet connection. This means that your precious files are not stored onsite so if your house burns down you haven't lost all your photos. If a hurricane or tornado or flood wipes out the whole town, you still have access to your photos because they are stored somewhere else "in the cloud". I don't know what happens if that storage place is hit by a tornado, I'm sure they have a backup system. If you have gigabytes of files (photos or other files) then you may have to pay for backup and storage at sites like Carbonite, BackBlaze, BackupGenie, Mozy and many others. If you use certain programs, they may offer you at least a 1 GB of free storage such as Picasa, Evernote, Adobe Photoshop, etc. Just do a Google search for "compare cloud storage and backup" and see what you can find. You want something that you can set up to automatically backup and can do it quickly. I tried Charter Cable cloud storage and it was so slow it would take DAYS to upload one folder of files. I didn't even try on my photos because I have close to a TB of photo files. I dropped Charter quick. No use paying for something that slow.

How do you store paper photos after you've scanned them? Look for acid free photo books with sleeves and slip the photo in one sleeve and the index card in another sleeve.  Or type the photo information in your computer and print them on acid free paper, clip and slip into the photo sleeve. Avery 13406 Photo Pages for Four 4 x 6 Horizontal Photos 3-Hole Punched 10 Pack (Google Affiliate Ad)

For more ideas on storing and organizing your photos, check out my post about PHOTOS.

What else do you have to store? How about a Family Bible? Check out my post on Preserving A Family Bible.

Did you inherit china sets, crystal, silver? Check out my post on Storing China, Crystal, And Silver.

Do you have a quilt or other fabric items? If you are a good seamstress, repair the quilt yourself. Use small stitches, cotton thread and try to find fabric that match the design and colors of your quilt. If you can't do it, find a reputable seamstress to do it for you. Do not dry clean or machine wash an heirloom piece. Dry cleaning chemicals can permanently harm old fabrics and the agitation action of a washing machine can cause fibers to shred. To hand-wash, fill a deep, laundry sink or bathtub with cold water. Be certain that the sink or tub is very clean and has no residue from cleaning agents that could cause damage to the quilt. Use a liquid detergent that is gentle and free of dyes and perfumes. A liquid detergent will disperse in the water and leave less residue on the fabric. Add 1/2 cup vinegar to the water to both brighten colors and soften the quilt. Place your quilt in the water, being certain that the entire quilt gets wet. Gently move your quilt around in the water. Allow the quilt to remain in the water for about 10 minutes. Next, drain the wash water and fill the tub again with fresh water. Repeat draining and refilling the tub until the water and quilt are soap free – clear water and no suds. The quilt will be heavy and should be dried flat. To lift the quilt from the tub, use a white sheet to create a sling. Allow the excess water to drain than place the quilt on a bed of heavy towels. Cover with more towels and roll up to absorb water. Move the quilt to another bed of dry towels, spread out flat and allow to dry. Placing a fan in the room will help to speed the process. If you have space, place a sheet on the grass outside and spread out the quilt. Cover the quilt with another clean sheet and allow to dry. Do not dry in direct sunlight. When storing, keeping the quilt flat will eliminate creases and wear on folds. Simple cover the quilt with a clean sheet or bedspread. If flat is not an option, store the quilt in a cotton or muslin bag or in an acid-free box. You can get acid free boxes and acid free tissue paper at Amazon or other places on the Internet. Just do a Google search. You can find all different types and sizes to fit almost any kind of need. You would wash and dry any fabric item much the same way and store in acid free boxes. Be sure to use an acid free pen to label the boxes and put the story of the item on the box. I even took some acid free paper, wrote who made the quilt and hand stitched the paper label to the corner of the quilt with a few quick stitches.

If you inherited furniture, have it professionally refinished or re-upholstered and then use in your home. Don't attempt to store furniture out in the garage, in the attic or barn. Wood reacts poorly to humidity, dampness, and extreme temperatures. You will sure enough ruin it. What's the purpose of keeping it just to see it ruin? If you don't have a place in your house, or another temperature controlled place, let it go. I knew a woman who had inherited truckloads of stuff from rich relatives. She stored all over town in anything. The beds of transfer trailer trucks, abandoned buildings, sheds. She wouldn't sell it, she just stored it and stored it poorly. By the time we met her, all that stuff was ruined with mildew, rot, and pests. Then she had a nasty mess on her hands all over the place. If she had been willing to sell it, had an auction or commissioned it out, she would have at least made some money on it. But she was tightfisted and kept it, only to see it ruin and be worthless and cost more to clean up than it was ever worth. That's being penny wise and pound foolish! I have a lot of pieces I inherited. They aren't expensive pieces, worth nothing much except to me. But I have them in my home, they are well cared for and well loved. For instance, I have an oak chest of drawers from each grandmother. So I bought an oak rice bed and oak bedside table and it made a suite for my bedroom. If I were to sell those oak chests, I'd be lucky to get $100@. But they are worth it to me because of who they came from, they look nice in my bedroom and are useful to me. The drawers don't slide well anymore so I use the drawers for storing some of those quilts, crocheted items, doilies, etc. that I inherited. Perfect permanent storage.

My Dad inherited tools from his family. His Dad was a carpenter and farmer. One of his grandfathers was a blacksmith and farmer. The other was a farmer. Of course, Dad grew up on a farm and he remembers all the tools and stuff in his Dad's barn. At the estate auction, Dad was determined not to let any of that stuff get gone. He had too many memories of he and his Dad and brother working on the tractor, plowing for cotton, making things in the barn, etc. Sure enough he got the tractor, his grandfather's blacksmith bellows, anvil, and tools, etc. Heck, my Dad even bought the chicken house (made from nails that his grandfather had forged), loaded it up on a flatbed and drove it back to SC! That was about 20 yrs ago and he still has all that stuff, even the chicken house. He built a big ole barn, 2 stories with sheds. And he brought the wagon, tractor, tools, blacksmith stuff home to the barn. If he passes it down to his grandsons that would be stuff from their great and great-great grandfathers. Luke has a place that could store those things in a pinch. And he's expecting a son next June. New baby William will inherit his great-great and great-great-great grandfathers stuff. I hope he will have a place to save these for even further generations. But, if not, what has to be done, has to be done. It would not be right for us to pressure him if he doesn't have a way to store and protect these things. Same for the girls. If they don't have a place to treasure something handed down, then they have to let it go and it's not up to us to put pressure on them to do something they can't or don't want to do. It's only stuff in the long run. The best we can hope for is that it could be sold or donated to someone or some place that can treasure it and take proper care of it.

I inherited some boxes of ephemera. One Grandmother collected poems and recipes, quilt patterns and local stories, prayers and obituaries in cigar and shoe boxes. I got some. I carefully went through these boxes and found some valuable genealogical information. One of her grandfathers was a Civil War veteran who lived until the 1930's! His obituary! In her careful little girl handwriting was a list of her aunts and uncles! Papa always kept a little spiral notebook in his bib overalls where he kept tabs of his hours (working as a carpenter) on a job, the cost of his materials, how much he sold a cow for, what he paid for a new piece of equipment, how many bushels of corn he grew, etc. I got a couple of those out of her shoe and cigar boxes. I scanned some of this stuff in and used them in making scrapbook pages. How should you store something like this? First, scanning, like the photos. Second, make a photocopy on acid free paper (check the office supply stores, their printer paper is often acid free) place in acid free photo albums or acid free page protectors in acid free binders. I particularly like this Beseler Archival Safe-T 3-Ring Binder Box. Be sure to label your boxes, binders or albums thoroughly.

Have you inherited a picture or something to be framed? Be sure to have it professionally framed using archival products and glass that protects it from fading. That is available now and worth any extra cost (it's not a lot different from regular framing materials). Maybe it needs re-framing. Do it. If the sealing paper on the back is torn, if the matte is yellowing, then it needs to be re-framed with proper materials to preserve it. Do NOT try to frame it yourself with cheap frames bought at Walmart. That will give it minimal protection and the acid in the cardboard backing will turn your keepsake brittle and yellow. The dust gets in because it's not sealed and it's not protected from fading. Get it done right or not at all. You can store prints in acid free boxes cheaper. But if you want to enjoy it, get it professionally framed. Another tip is never place a valuable framed piece in a place that gets sunlight. Even with the right glass, it can still fade a little. Keep it on inside walls that don't receive direct sun.

If you have inherited recipes, then check out my post on how to preserve and organize RECIPES.

Now that you have thought about how to store your family heirlooms. How do you organize them and make them easily accessible? Try taking inventory. Probably the fastest way is to use your digital camera. Take photos and store them either in a photo album or digitally. For instance, save the photos of your living room and it's inventory of stuff in a digital folder called "Living Room Inventory". Be sure to name the folder, name the photos with room and date and store in the correct folder or those photos will be lost in your huge and growing "Pictures" folder. It will be hard to find.

I hope this helps you start thinking about how to safely store and organize your family heirlooms.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Sharon,

I am new to blogging and just making the rounds on Geneabloggers and checking out all the blogs. It looks like you are a very busy blogger. You have been at it a while and very consistent.

I am going to have to follow you. You have such great organization tips. It will take me awhile but I would like to go through and read all your blogs. The titles are so great, I just got through the first 2 tonight.



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