What Can One Do with Archival Material when Downsizing?

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Photo copyright Janet Hulstrand

One of the experts I interviewed in the process of researching our book was Mona Nelson, who was at the time the executive director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society in Willmar, Minnesota. When I asked her in the course of our conversation what kinds of things she wished people wouldn’t throw away when they were in the process of clearing out a home, she picked up a greeting card from her desk and said, “This kind of thing.” She explained that these kinds of things–old cards, letters, brochures, tickets, maps, etc., which she called “ephemera”–could be of interest to historians and that they welcomed the chance to review these things for possible inclusion in their collections.

I must admit that this knowledge was a bit problematic for someone like me, who already has a pretty acute sense of the potential historical value of things that everyone else tends to throw away. On the one hand, it puts one in something of a bind. What do you do with things that are not yet of historical interest? Do you keep saving them until they are? Or do you realize that you simply cannot save everything, and that if you do, that way lies madness?

In the years since, I have managed to adopt a middle-of-the-road approach for myself. On the one hand I no longer keep items that are of potential interest to either collectors or future historians, no matter how interesting and/or beautiful they are (stamps, for example). On the other hand, I do not throw away things that are already pretty old (let’s say 50 years or more). I don’t keep them either. I try, rather to get them to someone, or at least put them within reach of someone who might find value in them and help safeguard their future, as I wrote about in this post.

One special category of archival material is war letters, and in 2013 a special collection was established to collect American war letters. As Family History Month draws to a close and Veteran’s Day approaches,  one very meaningful way to contribute to our national history would be to consider donating old letters you have found in your home to the Center for American War Letters, which I wrote about here.

There are a number of other organizations that can help those who care about preserving historical documentation and archival materials. Here are a few of them:

The American Institute for Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works has helpful information about how to safeguard your own personal or family treasures.

Center for American War Letters

Ephemera Society

The Society of American Archivists has a helpful guide to how to go about donating personal papers or records to a repository.

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

 

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.

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.

 

page1

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.

 

img136. the farm - around 1930

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.

 

kids, Bklyn2

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

October Is National Family History Month…

Alice & Johnny Hulstrand

Today is the last day of National Family History Month, but if you missed it, don’t worry! This is one celebration that certainly can, and should, go on all year round. And in terms of downsizing, it’s a good activity to keep going so that when it’s time to make your next move you won’t be caught with boxes and boxes of unorganized photographs and documents–you’ll have separated what’s important from what’s not, and made sure the important stuff is properly preserved and kept. 

Here are links to a few great resources and ideas about how to preserve, discover, celebrate and explore your own family’s history.

https://familysearch.org/blog/en/october-family-history-month/

http://genealogy.about.com/od/holidays/tp/family-history-month.htm

As the holidays approach, there will be all kinds of opportunities for you to celebrate your family’s present–as well as your shared history.  Enjoy it!

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

Five Tips for Celebrating Family History Month

It’s October again, and that means it’s Family History Month!

Here are five ways to celebrate your family’s history.

1. Fill out a family tree, and include a brief “bio” for all of the “buds” on the tree that you can (for example: “Farmer, born in Sweden, came to America in 1873”).

2. Tell your children the story of one of their grandparents each week of the month. When and where were they born? Where did they go to school? What did they do for a living? When and where did they meet their spouse? What was the most special thing about them? (Think about turning on a digital recorder while you do this.)

3. Create a photo montage for each branch of your family. You can buy frames with pre-cut mattes with places for multiple pictures, or make your own. (It’s best to use copies of the photographs for framing: be sure to keep the original photos in a safe place, protected from sunlight, moisture and dust.)

4. Take a field trip to a site important in your family’s history. This could be the town your Mom grew up in, the graveyard where many of your relatives are buried, a house you lived in as a child.  Let the stories of the past come alive again as you show your family these places.

5. Go to these sites for more great ideas.

http://genealogy.about.com/od/holidays/tp/family-history-month.htm

http://www.squidoo.com/october-is-family-history-month

Do you have any favorite family history projects you’d like to share with us and our readers? If so, please leave a comment: we’d love to hear from you!

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

October: A Month for Preserving History

…if you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” Michael Crichton

My coauthor and I started out this month by drawing readers’ attention to the fact that this October marked the tenth annual celebration of  Family History Month (introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch in a Congressional resolution dated September 12, 2001).

October is also American Archives Month , a fact I discovered just a few days ago when, with Family History Month still on my mind, I followed the link to a post tweeted by  @achivesinfo and retweeted it. It turns out @archivesinfo had never heard of Family History Month, and was delighted to learn about it. We had a friendly little Twitter-chat, agreed that these two concurrent month-long celebrations have a lot in common, and wondered if maybe next year the two might share some of their celebrations or work together somehow.

Whether or not that happens, I think  it’s great that both family history and the important work of archivists are being given the kind of attention they deserve.

It’s important, and good, to know we’re part of a tree.

JH

It’s Family History Month!

What will you do with or for your family in celebration of Family History Month?

A couple of weeks ago my coauthor wrote an inspiring post about some of the interesting things she and her children learned when school assignments got them started asking some basic questions about their family history. And a couple of months ago I posted a few tips for getting started with your family history.

This week I looked around the Web to see what else was out there about celebrating Family History Month and came across this wonderful blog post which has links to various resources and suggestions for everyone from the kids to seniors.

Here’s hoping you will find  some special way to celebrate and honor your family’s history this month.

JH

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