Family History Month: Spotlight on the Center for American War Letters

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“Tucked away in attics, closets, and basements throughout this country are millions of letters written by men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces….” says the opening line on the “Letters” page of the website for the Center for American War Letters.

A relatively new entity, the Center  for American War Letters was established in 2014,  when  Andrew Carroll  donated  the vast collection of war letters he had started in 1998 (known as The Legacy Project), to Chapman University in California. The Center is performing a valuable service to the nation by preserving letters from soldiers, and their loved ones, from the nation’s earliest days to the present.

It is also providing people who are downsizing their homes and don’t know what to do with the stashes of old letters they find in the process with a wonderful solution to the problem, by providing a home where they will safely preserved, and can contribute to a better understanding of our history, especially as seen from the point of view of the “ordinary” men and women who have served the nation in times of war.

If you think you might want to donate letters to the Center, you can find out more about how to do so here.

The Center also has a page with helpful tips about how to properly care for old letters, for those who wish to keep them.

October is Family History Month, and Veterans Day is coming up soon. Wouldn’t it be a nice way to honor the veterans in your family, or among your friends, to find  a way to honor and preserve their documentation of their wartime experiences, their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives–and to safeguard them for future generations?

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

The Importance of a Family Photo Album

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My grandmother’s photo albums

A recent question in The Ethicist column in the New York Times asked if there was an ethical obligation for siblings to share the family photo album after the death of a parent. A brother took them with an agreement to duplicate them for the other two siblings. The letter-writer offered to pay the expenses involved. Kwame Anthony Appiah had a complex answer that basically said the one who took the albums should fulfill his promise or give them to the sibling who treasures them more.

The meaning of photo albums is a varied and convoluted as the families who own them. And the importance of the albums remains, long after the family members are no longer with us.

A compelling prescriptive is to use the albums now, to share them with family members. According to an article in Psychology Today (in the context of therapy, but relevant here), a different side of a person comes out when sharing family photos. Remembering visually is different than remembering with words.

In a scholarly article in the Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, one professor says, “Family photography has most often been regarded as a ritualized and deeply ideological bourgeois self-representation.” Ouch! (Perhaps that could be said more accurately of Facebook postings.) Other professors enumerate the positive aspects: One says that photo albums “identify the deeply personal affection” of family members. These albums are “about social and emotional communication,” says another. We like the “idea of the album as a place to symbolically define and order the world.” Most importantly, perhaps, “family photographs link people to people, and people to objects or things in their lives.” They strongly relate to memory and nostalgia.

Marie Kondo, in her Spark Joy: an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up (a good book; more about it in a future post), describes making a photo album for her parents as part of her research on tidying. “Although my parents had taken their share of photos of important family events…I couldn’t recall them ever stopping to look at these photos with us and reminiscing about the past…” She found that sorting through photos as a family led to a lot of laughter and talk about memories. Maybe that’s more the point of a photo album, more so than finding out whether making an album has an impact on how people tidy up.

With the darker days of winter still with us, now could be a good time to work on your photo albums. Share the photos, reminisce, laugh together. Create memory books for a family event or an album for one family member. Make a photo collage (as suggested in a previous post on photographs). All are budget-conscious activities that are rich in memories.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

January is Get Organized Month!

SNOW

After the hectic activity of the holiday season, I always find January offers a welcome change of pace. Yes, it’s sad to see the Christmas tree go, and take the holiday cards down. But then there’s all that white space opened up again, and there’s something kind of nice about that.

January is the month for getting back to work, and it’s also been designated “Get Organized Month” by the National Association of Professional Organizers.

Here are a few of our past posts that may help you in this sleeve-rolling-up, back-to-work mode of January.

For those of you who are still “de-Christmas-ing” https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/a-few-tips-for-a-green-post-christmas/

Tips for recycling holiday decorations https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/recycling-christmas-trees-lights-cards-and-wrapping-paper/

In many parts of the world it’s cold outside, and it’s warm inside. Also, tax time is coming soon. What a great time for those who are determined to attack those piles of PAPER this month to get started with it. And here is some help for that task: https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/the-paper-chase-decluttering/

Finally, in recognition of Get Organized Month, there’s this post from last year: https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/get-organized-month-helps-jumpstart-the-new-year/

Wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and less cluttered New Year!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

 

A Gift of Family History

img139. 1893-1895 Johannes Persson (1851-1933) and Johanna (1858-1950) Per Joel is boy on the right

My grandfather’s family in 1893. My grandfather is center front, my cousin’s grandfather is on the left.

 

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The first page of our family history.

When my cousin Cecilia visited from Sweden this summer, she told me that she had a family history that traces our family back to 1663. She sent it to me recently, just in time for Family History Month.

Our grandfathers were brothers and someone in her family has traced back our family, on our grandfathers’ mother’s side, to Bengt Persson, our six times great grandfather, a man who lived from 1663 to 1709.

This is amazing to me. I’m so grateful to the person who researched this and to Cecilia and her husband Lars who preserved it and scanned it for us.

The gift of the family tree sent me to my grandmother’s photo album and what fun it was to see some of the history in family photos.

 

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The family farm, called Gyllholmen, in 1930.

 

img138. with Anna Rahm Johnson 1930

My great grandparents with their 10 children, some of their spouses, and a few grandchildren.

 

For a previous post on Family History Month, I talked about school projects that got our family started on researching our history. And in another post, I listed some places that may help you get started researching your own history.

You can also get some help from the experts.

Family Tree Magazine has some suggestions for tracing your family tree.

Family Search Blog lists activities for celebrating the month.

On the Ancestry website, you can find family history events.

Here’s hoping you find a special way to celebrate and honor the story of your family.

 

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The first generation born in the U.S. on a street in Brooklyn. My mother’s family on the left, cousins on the right. My mother is the baby standing by the carriage.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Preserving War Letters

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This week has been National Preservation Week, a week when libraries and other institutions call attention to what we can do, both individually and collectively, to preserve our personal and shared collections of various kinds.

It’s also spring cleaning time, a time when we try to “get rid of the stuff” while “keeping the memories.”

And of course, in less than a month we will celebrate Memorial Day, honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country.

So this seems like an appropriate time to address the question of what to do with old war letters we may be keeping–or finding–in boxes or drawers, on shelves or in files, in our homes.

Clearly, old war letters are not just “stuff.” They’re an important part of our collective history. They can be valuable to historians–and to the rest of us–in trying to help us understand wars as they have been experienced by those who lived through them, not just as they have been written about in history books. They should be honored, and preserved, as valuable documentation of servicemen and women’s lives: of the sacrifices they made, the fears they felt, the difficulties they overcame, the pride they felt in serving their country.

Keeping old letters in homes, especially in rooms where they are subjected to extremes of temperature and humidity, or to dust, is not a good idea. But how should they be kept, and where?

The good news is, there’s a whole new Center for American War Letters being created to provide just such a place. The Center is directed by Andrew Carroll, who in 2013 donated his entire collection of 100,000 war letters to begin the Center. The touching story of how he came to this work is told in a Washington Post story here. “Every day, letters get thrown out,” Carroll says, in the interview. “When people move or pass away, they get lost.”

That is really just a shame.

So, as you work on downsizing or spring cleaning this year, you should know that if and when you are ready to find a safe home for any family war letters you may be holding onto, that now there is a safe place for them to be.

And if you’re not ready to give them up yet, you can find good advice about how to keep them safe for posterity here.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Downsizing Tasks for Snowy Days

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After

 

Snowed in, are you? Here are three great downsizing tasks good for snowy days:

1. Attack that pile of junk mail, magazines, etc. that is staring you in the face and that you now find even harder to ignore. Recycle anything you don’t need/want. File (right away!) anything you do need/want.

Now: Enjoy gazing upon a clear, clean surface, where once only guilt and dread were staring you in the face.

Alice & Johnny HulstrandUncle Lewey war letter

 

2. Do something about the old family photos/videos/movies/letters you keep meaning to “do something about.” But before doing anything, read up a bit on the issue of digital preservation. You can learn about why this is a complicated issue here, or here. And you can get some help in knowing what to do about it from the following sources:

From the Library of Congress http://digitalpreservation.gov/personalarchiving/

From the National Archives http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/ (Most of the information here is good, and still current. Some is surprisingly out of date, for example the allusion to videos. (Budget cuts?)

From The Legacy Project  http://warletters.com/preserve.html 

3. Browse around this blog and see what other information may be helpful to you as you plan your attack on All That Stuff when spring is here. It won’t be long now!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

A time to keep, a time to throw away….and a time to preserve…

Uncle Lewey war letter

In our book, we talk about the fact that in the process of downsizing a family home, it often seems that the world is divided into the “keepers” and the “throwers.” And how in most families there are some of each personality type, and how one of the challenges in getting through the process harmoniously requires these two opposite types to respect each other’s differences, and find ways to cooperate, collaborate, and find a middle ground–to keep some things, and to get rid of many others.

One of my cousins has been engaged in the process of going through all the things left behind by her recently deceased parents. And she has reminded me that in downsizing a family home, it’s not always just about keeping some things, and getting rid of others. Sometimes it’s about preserving things–not necessarily for ourselves, but for our families, or our communities.

My uncle was a man deeply involved in his church, in his political party, and in his community. He was also by nature an archivist. After he died my cousin spent many hours, many days, many months going through his papers. At a certain point she called for help from the local historical society, who came to take a look at the overwhelming collection of documents she was dealing with. Ultimately they took 26 boxes of his papers, and were delighted to receive them. Several more boxes went to his alma mater, a small liberal arts college where he had sat on the board, and kept all his notes from board meetings over a period of many years. Other files were delivered to his church, and some were kept for the family. All of the recipients of these documents, which my uncle kept so carefully for so many years, deeply appreciated the care my cousin had taken in going through what many people would have simply thrown out.

“When we talk about preserving things, it’s more about keeping things for others than for ourselves,” my cousin says. Of course the painstaking, often tedious task of going through papers is extremely time-consuming, and not everyone can do it. My cousin did not go through every piece of paper in her father’s office, she couldn’t! But she did at least look into every drawer, she tried to assess what was there, and what she couldn’t deal with herself, she gave to someone she knew would be able to do so.

When it comes time to empty out the family home, it’s good to remember that there is another option presented than the strict dichotomy of “keeping” or “throwing.” And there are many institutions and organizations set up to help preserve those things we don’t know what to do with–but know somehow, should not just be thrown out.  If you’re not sure where to turn or who to contact in your community, your local librarian can help. There is also help in the resource section of our book. Goodhue Cty thanks

Of course, this kind of painstaking care with preserving the artifacts and documentation of our collective history can’t be done in a weekend, or a month. In order to ensure that you will have the time needed to find the right place for everything to go, you’ll need to follow our first and most important piece of advice: start now!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.