Help - I have become the Family History Archivist and I am drowning...

(30 Posts)
SuperMumNot Sun 27-Mar-16 16:43:30

To cut a long story short, when my Dad died a couple of years ago I ended up emptying his house and ended up bringing box loads of photos/documents/ memorabilia from both his and my late mother's families back to our house.

Basically, he was 'the end of the line', as was my mum, and so as each relative died, a box load of their 'important documents' ended up with my Dad (who was also quite a hoarder in his own right sad ).

I only have a brother left in our family. He is very sentimental about stuff and keeps telling me that I should keep things for the 'family archives' ! However he only has a small house and is 'unable' to take anything hmm.
Problem is that the 'family archives' are currently about a dozen large cardboard boxes in my spare room at home which I desperately want to tidy up!

I've had another go at it this weekend, and it feels like such a huge responsibility to have to decide what to do with everything sad

For example, here are the sorts of things I have been trying to decide what to do with:

- birth and death certificates
- certificates from qualifications e.g. degrees
- old photo albums from 1900 onwards
- bits of war uniforms- badges, medals
- bits of jewellery - wedding rings/ watches
- manuscripts which my dad wrote ( he was an aspiring writer - I keep thinking I should read it before I chuck it, or try to publish it for him?)
- largish framed family pictures
- medical records
- sympathy cards after death (e.g. my Mum)
- items which my Dad kept for their 'value' e.g. wartime Dinky models/ china tea sets etc (I should eBay these, I know, but it is so damn time-consuming)

I really seem to be making little headway, and I simply don't feel able to dump it all sad.
Help - any ideas or experience?

wowfudge Sun 27-Mar-16 19:03:45

Scan all the documents, photos, etc to the cloud then destroy the originals or give your brother the option of keeping them himself once scanned? Should anyone want an official document like a birth certificate, etc you can buy copies from the General Register Office; they are not irreplaceable. There are companies who will scan and catalogue stuff for you though I've no idea of the cost.

Speak to an auction house about the collectibles, etc. Look into a safety deposit box or just put in the loft anything which you don't feel can be dealt with/disposed of.

iyamehooru Sun 27-Mar-16 19:40:05

Set a date for you and your bro to go through everything and decide what to do,with is. This is not just your responsibility.

Runner05 Sun 27-Mar-16 20:06:44

As the archivist of my family the thought of destroying anything like that makes me come out in a cold sweat!
These things are irreplaceable. If you don't want them then give them to your local museum / historical society or regional archive but please don't destroy any of it. I would also make sure your brother has the chance to keep anything he wants first. But personally I would think twice before getting rid of any of it. It may not mean little to you now but it meant a lot to your collective family and it may mean a lot to your children/grandchildren or your brothers children and grandchildren.

SuperMumNot Sun 27-Mar-16 20:28:05

My brother lives quite far away and isn't coming to see me any time soon. We've had discussions about this stuff in the past and he just says we should keep it, but that means I have to keep it, as he doesn't have space! He also lives in a house that was in our family, so that already has quite a lot of 'sentimental stuff' in it for him. He doesn't have any children and won't ever have any.

Runner - most historical / museum places don't want/ won't take this sort of stuff - I've already tried! And I simply don't have time to chase around to different places for everything.
I don't know who would every be interested in it in the future either - in my entire life nobody has ever mentioned/looked at it and I first became aware of it all when I had to clear my Dad's house. To be honest that made me slightly annoyed as there are things there I can't identify and I wish I'd had a chance to discuss them with Dad when he was alive.

I have tried to show them to my DH and my children and they're polite about them, but not really very interested.

I am just feeling so stressed by the responsibility of all this STUFF in my house. If I throw it away I will feel guilty and if I keep it I will feel overwhelmed.

Perhaps I could distil it all into just two large plastic boxes and put it in the eaves.

Ohfuckaducky Sun 27-Mar-16 20:30:11

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SuperMumNot Sun 27-Mar-16 20:41:02

We had out loft converted a few years ago, so we only have limited storage in our eaves now.

I don't think there's enough of anything significant for auction houses to be interested? How does that work, do I just contact an auctioneer in advance to see if things will sell?

My Grandmother was a Mason, so I've just unearthed a box full of all her Masonic memorabilia confused

Finola1step Sun 27-Mar-16 20:52:23

We have been going through something very similar. MIL died and we had to clear the family home. The large house which had been in the family over 100 years, where her own father had been born. You can imagine the amount of stuff.

We are nowhere near done but this is what we have found useful:

1. An agreement between DH and BIL that we can't keep everything.
2. Clear plastic storage boxes for the stuff that must be kept.
3. Some stuff just has to go to charity shop or recycled. Some will be sold.

So in your situation, buy a large plastic box. Put all the highly sentimental, must be kept stuff in there. Put in eaves.

The old war stuff...may be of interest to your local primary or secondary school. They could use them as artefacts for when learning about the period. So take a few photos ready to send emails when term starts.

Yes to scanning documents and then only keeping those that relate directly to your parents. Is this a job that your dh could do? Or send them to your brother for him to sort out.

Make a pile of stuff for ebay. Aim to put 2 items on for sale per week.

Jewellery..sell most of it but keep the most precious (e.g your parent's wedding rings).

Let your brother know what is happening. And give him the choice that if he wants to sort through stuff himself, he had to come over to collect them or pay for the boxes to be sent to him. I sent about 8 heavy bankers boxes via Parcelforce and the price wasn't ridiculous as long as you don't want fast delivery. You can even get them to pick them up from your house.

Good luck.

specialsubject Sun 27-Mar-16 21:18:11

I am very into my family history but also don't like clutter. Here's my suggested compromise for keeping info, not junk. Your brother has to recognise this. But kids may be interested in the future - this was me!

NB all digital data needs to be backed up on to a hard drive. My comments interspersed.

- birth and death certificates: keep the originals, expensive to replace. Can't be more than 1 file?
- certificates from qualifications e.g. degrees: photograph clearly, then can go.
- old photo albums from 1900 onwards: tricky one. If you know who people are, keep a few labelled photos of each person - there are some photos of my ancestors I would love to see. If you don't know who is who, then maybe a local museum, or just maybe they have to go.
- bits of war uniforms- badges, medals; these are of no value and the medals awarded to each soldier are recorded on ancestry/findmypast. Find a dealer.
- bits of jewellery - wedding rings/ watches; find your local metal dealer and sell the lot. Brutal - but makes cash!
- manuscripts which my dad wrote ( he was an aspiring writer - I keep thinking I should read it before I chuck it, or try to publish it for him?); I think it is worth a read.
- largish framed family pictures; photograph if you know who people are. Frames to the charity shop.
- medical records; destroy.
- sympathy cards after death (e.g. my Mum); keep what you want. Or photograph, then destroy.
- items which my Dad kept for their 'value' e.g. wartime Dinky models/ china tea sets etc (I should eBay these, I know, but it is so damn time-consuming); don't bother with the tea sets, they have no worthwhile value. Charity shop! Dinky models may be worth some research.

Hope this helps a bit!

LifeOfBriony Sun 27-Mar-16 21:30:10

After my FIL died we offered some old tea sets to the National Trust - I emailed them with some photographs and a list of what was in each set. They said they would like them for 'house dressing' and told us where they would be used. We had to take them to our nearest property and sign them over to the NT. One day we will go and see them in situ. We were delighted to find a home for them - an auction house was not interested.

Ohfuckaducky Sun 27-Mar-16 21:40:41

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GrubbyWindows Sun 27-Mar-16 23:15:09

Any photos you keep- write who, where and when on the back, if you know! My grandmother did that after sorting her own parents' photos after they died- sorting her photos has been much easier as a result.
Photos and jewellery are prob the only two I would keep out of your boxes- and only the jewellery that you like, or is spectacularly significant. I wear my two grandmothers' rings every day.
I have had to deal with three house clearances like yours, and am not great at it. The best thing I learned about photos was from a friend of my stepmum's. If anyone in a picture would not have liked it- she chucks it. I'm inclined to keep very rare pictures too, but she would quite happily chuck the only photo in the world of someone if it is unflattering!
My brother is like yours. At this point, several years on, my attitude is, she who stores it, gets to chuck it. I notify him if I'm on a spree, but if he needs it keeping, he needs to store it.

RustyPaperclip Sun 27-Mar-16 23:19:33

Professional archivist here, let me know if you need any help

RustyPaperclip Sun 27-Mar-16 23:22:12

Also, without wanting to give to much away, I know great deal about family history, both professionally and personally

rhodes15 Sun 27-Mar-16 23:56:55

You could give the uniform/medal bits and the tea sets and watches to a drama school or theatre. If you have a college or uni near you with a strong drama dept for they are likely to have a prop and costume store. When you need to prop a show these period items are often invaluable.

lljkk Mon 28-Mar-16 10:00:58

Over my dead body would I get rid of birth and death certificates or old photo albums. I have a wonderful 1855 marriage certificate on display. I would also scan them & put on line. (Unless you've got 7 copies of bad quality 1970s fotos of people you will never recognise, maybe.)

The rest is discretionary, military medals ARE history in my mind. You can take photos under A3 size out of frames & put into albums, somewhat reduces the storage space required; think about acid-free wallets with old wallets to protect the old photos.

lljkk Mon 28-Mar-16 10:02:24

..acid-free wallets (clear sleeves) for the old photos, I meant.

SurelyYoureJokingMrFeynman Mon 28-Mar-16 10:12:28

Getting on this thread, because I have similar issues.

I can't imagine ever letting photos go, even if I didn't know who they were. The social history content can be enormous. But they can be scanned and kept that way. It's time consuming, but I have an idea there may be companies that will do this for you.

SurelyYoureJokingMrFeynman Mon 28-Mar-16 10:28:37

Rusty, I have to keep the following items. I wonder if you could say a bit about how they need to be stored.

– papers, personal & newsprint
– silver medals (considerable historical & sentimental value)
– photos (some in albums)
– photographic slides (currently in original boxes)

I've looked at museum-grade suppliers like Conservation Resources but can't tell if these are good value or proportionate to my needs.

SurelyYoureJokingMrFeynman Mon 28-Mar-16 10:31:28

(Sorry to be taking advantage of your thread, Super.)

Melfish Mon 28-Mar-16 11:10:09

Am in the same position as you OP. I'm in the process of clearing out my parents' house but I do have the caveat of relatives who might take some stuff. I do find these things interesting but just do not have the space where I could keep them. The garage is not suitable for paper stuff.

If your brother is so keen then he should take some. Think about what you would like to keep for yourself-items that have a sentimental value for you, not what you feel obliged to keep. E.g. I kept my mum's dressmaking scissors as I really link them with her, but would not keep her china set. All the left over stuff, I would suggest that you give him a date to collect (list of stuff) by and if he does not want to collect them then arrange for disposal/sale. He can always arrange and pay for storage if he thinks they are worth keeping.

Family bible-enormous- planning to dump on male relative with the excuse that I have married out. If I was lumbered with it I would probably carefully remove the page with the family record and then dispose of the book (it is a Victorian bible).

Old photos- I have kept the Victorian photos and some of my dad's childhood ones. However of the ones from when I was little I have binned some and all duplicates. DF worked in a museum and 'archived' pictures using Secol products. He was fussy about that sort of stuff and worked in that sort of environment so they may be good for those of you looking for storage products.

Medical stuff-binned except 2 brief reports listing my parents' ailments for my future reference.

Furniture-to be skipped/charity shopped/auctioned (in rare case).

China sets- DM collected bits of sets- there are a couple of websites which buy pieces from sets, I think other collectors buy from them to complete a set or replace breakages, I think you complete an online form and they give you a price and then send packaging over? if you can't be bothered to ebay there may be someone local who can do it for you and they take a cut?

Miscellaneous items- photograph them for memories and list them for sale? I had a friend who had her relative's old toys- she got her teenagers to photo and list them on ebay and they kept the money generated. She kept a couple that were unusual or meaningful.

Family trees- have kept and may scan but they are a bit big at the moment.

Jewellery-sell unless there are pieces that you like enough to wear. If you're not sure what they are then they probably have limited sentimental or emotional value IYSWIM- not like you can connect them with Great Aunt Hilda's wedding day.

I am trying to narrow down the actual stuff to a box each for DM and DF and a small box for my grandparents. I really don't want to leave tons of stuff for DD to sort through on my demise as dealing with DPs stuff has cheesed me off no end. Sorry for the long post, it's been quite cathartic and I'm part way through sorting another batch of their stuff.

specialsubject Mon 28-Mar-16 20:15:42

there are china buying websites to which you send a list of what you have. Do not hold your breath for them actually wanting the stuff, but worth a go.

re birth/death/marriage certificates; they are £9 each from the GRO and this will only increase. That's why I think it is worth keeping them for future historians!

SurelyYoureJokingMrFeynman Mon 28-Mar-16 20:18:07

Thank you for the Secol recommendation, Melfish.

SuperMumNot Mon 28-Mar-16 20:34:45

Thanks for all these suggestions - really helpful, and good to know I'm not alone in this!

Can anyone advise me about how to sell jewellery etc without getting ripped off?
I have several things like antique watches, bits of gold jewellery, silver spoons, cuff links etc. I've no idea about gold/silver markings and whether it's worth £2/ £20 or £200! Where do I go for trustworthy advice?

GrubbyWindows Tue 29-Mar-16 18:48:25

super if you can bear it get three quotes- a vintage jeweller, an antiques shop and an auction house should all be good bets.Then you'll know what sounds sensible, much like getting quotes from trades.
But only if you have the energy for it!

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