What to Do With Family Pictures, Documents, Journals & More?

boxes of family records 2I am spending an enormous amount of time going through scrapbooks, photo albums, slide boxes, certificates, and much more. I’ve been away from this blog for a couple of months, focusing all my extra time on these boxes and boxes of family records.

How does one decide what to keep (and what to toss)? I have pictures from all sides — left to me from the Pascale, Massey, Corbo, and Slover families. Many photos appear to date back into the late 1800s and many are in postcard form. Countless pictures have no explanation of who the people are or what they are doing. I started out the process with 15 boxes all jam-packed with photos, certificates, under membership cards, slides of family vacations, citizenship papers, mortgage records and so much more.

About 175 spiral notebooks, journals, written by three different people, are filled with memories and observations, but most of what I’ve read is not especially interesting to anyone but me. Yes, I am learning family details here and there, and especially more about what life was like for young second-generation adults, the children of immigrants, but most writings relate to my family, not information or thoughts that others would be particularly interested in reading.

piles of family records1The question I keep asking myself, as does every adult child working on this task, is what to keep and what to throw it away? It’s a painful sorting process. My one realization, though, it that I must look at each item to be certain what it is and try to evaluate its importance — no tossing handfuls of things into the trash.

The labeled photos and the citizenship papers are significant, I know — no question of keeping them. But other materials? Do I throw away all of the unlabeled photos? Should I keep the union membership cards, or the contract and mortgage information from the 1929 Sears Robuck house? And what about the journals, the diplomas, the elementary school report cards, and all the other items from long lives, well-lived?

Every time I sit down and start sorting I think about, way too late, how I wish I had looked over these things with grandparents and parents. Now there is no one left to give me more information and context.

How I wonder, do other adult children work on these projects and achieve a satisfactory result? Is that even possible?




4 thoughts on “What to Do With Family Pictures, Documents, Journals & More?

  1. Another feature of this burden is that it takes so much psychic energy. Even the most conscientious person cannot stay “on task” for more than a couple hours at a time. I’ve also found as I’ve plowed through the stuff that my criteria for retaining pictures and documents have changed and that tempts needs to reassess the earlier boxes. Oh no!


  2. it’s simply a matter of space with me. We live in a two bedroom condo and have little room for family heirlooms. Cleaning out my mother’s apt. would take months otherwise.


  3. Pingback: How to ease your parents’ transition to assisted living – The Senior health Letter

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