These are some of the ideas the two of us shared:
- Scrapbook(s) or photo album(s): The most comprehensive and attractive scrapbook that I saw while touring around doing the family history presentations was a combination of photos and original documents with brief written entries/mini-stories about each of the branches of family. Depending on the volume of material that you’ve collected, you could make four scrapbooks, one for each of your grandparents’ family branches. If you have limited information, one scrapbook may be adequate.
- Large binders with sheet protectors (I bought a box of 200 sheet protectors just to get started!): I’m organizing the bins and stacks of materials by my grandparents’ family branches into the largest binders that I could locate. So, I have four binders: Greenfield/Racher (alternatively spelled Rachar; there is information to suggest that the original name was Redshaw), Legg (originally Legge)/Collins (originally Collings), Beatty/North, and Hein/Lohr families. I’m also starting a binder of information and clippings for our family: the Lohr/Cathro binder. I photocopy original newspaper clippings—everything from articles written by or about family members, marriage announcements, obituaries, and so on—and include both the photocopy and the clipping in the plastic sheet protector. I have originals of birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, wills, homestead documents, tax receipts, travel diaries, and on and on and on. Handwritten copies of family history done by previous generations are also placed in the sheet protectors. If there is enough space in the binders, I’ll include photo pages; if not, I’ll do separate photo albums to accompany each binder.
- Memory/treasure boxes: These are just colorful boxes which can be purchased or home-decorated using any sturdy box of whatever size needed. In these memory boxes, I plan to place things that don’t fit in binders. For example, I have my Great-Grandmother Ida Greenfield Racher’s dress and purse (we’re trying to determine if this was her wedding dress), locks from my Granny North Lohr’s first haircut plus her baby booties, my Grandpa Lohr’s college sweater, and so on. Again, each grandparent family branch will have a memory box or perhaps two, depending on the amount of material.
- Use what you can: Many people are afraid to use antiques passed on so they are ‘put away.’ Get them out, and use them. Every time I open my Granny Lohr’s Purity Cookbook with her name on the front page, memories of all the wonderful food she made come back to me. Yes, the recipe book will be in tatters soon, but it was meant to be used. I use my Grandma Collins’ fancy crystal dish for cranberry sauce and remember Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Share those memories with whoever is around so that ancestors are remembered and valued. Tell your family—whether they are interested or not because some day when they are sorting your belongings they will wonder and might even be interested—where each antique came from. Write a brief history about the object and include it with your will. That way, not only will your children and grandchildren actually find the information when they get out the will, but they are more likely to continue to use or display the antique. If they don’t want a certain object, then tell or write that they should check with that branch of cousins to see if anyone does want it before it is hauled off to the antique store or the garbage dump! Examples: My Granny’s piano, Doug’s Grandparents White’s writing desk, my Great-Grandparents North’s wooden dresser with the curved mirror and their rocking chair are all used. Tea cups and china sets from various branches of the family are displayed in curios, and I tell my children, grandchildren, and anyone willing to listen, where things came from and the stories behind them.
- Display what you can: In our family room, we have numerous treasures displayed. (Our decorating would definitely be labelled eclectic, and I enjoy watching people whose decorating is themed or minimized gaze around in surprise, or even horror, at the mishmash we have displayed.) We’ve a statue of a version of the Blue Boy and Pink Lady which originally belonged to Doug’s Grandparents: Annie Germyn White and William (Bill) White. Doug was recently given a hand plane that his grandfather used in carpentry. Now it’s displayed on the mantle above the fireplace. A blue glass slipper purchased in 1900 that belonged to my Great-Grandmother Ida Greenfield Racher/Rachar sits on a shelf. Two plates are propped on display holders—one was a wedding gift in 1917 to my grandparents Eva Racher and Herman Collins. The other plate belonged to my Granny Beula North Lohr, and I remember her using it.
- Start Sorting Your Own Stuff: While you’re organizing the ancestors’ materials and treasures, remember that all of us—particularly those of a certain age—should start sorting our own stuff. I remember my Granny Lohr wrote on a box or envelope containing a treasure or information who she thought this should go to or what we should do with it. Sorting was made easier because of Granny’s preplanning. We also knew that we were fulfilling her wishes which made it easier, and much faster, to do the sorting.
- Give in Advance: If someone in your family has expressed interest in a treasure and you are ready to part with it, pass it on so that you can enjoy watching it being used and valued.
- Schedule Sorting Time: I schedule two-hour blocks for sorting time. It gives me immense satisfaction to be able to check off an item in my day timer. I don’t always get to that sorting time, but, if I don’t schedule it, I will never do it.