How Do We Stop This Epidemic?

hoa_logo.JPGby Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

As I write this, it’s a gorgeous Saturday morning here in South Jersey. It’s bright and sunny–a perfect day for a walk. So my husband and I decided to meander around our town.

Not surprisingly, we stumbled across a few garage sales–and then, an auction. An elderly woman had been placed in a nursing home, so something had to be done with her belongings. That something was an auction.

History for Sale
All of this woman’s possessions had been piled in rows across the lawn and driveway. A crowd of perhaps twenty-five people milled about and poked through everything as an auctioneer sold off lot after lot. Linens, once stylish hats, even canned goods. You name it.

Of course, I had to look. I had to do exactly what I do whenever I enter an antiques store and check for any family-related items. Much to my dismay, I spotted it almost instantly. A framed, 1916 marriage certificate written in Cyrillic. I picked it up and sounded out the names–Maksim and Anastasia. I could make out that they had married in a church called St. Michael’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 12 February 1916. And this really got me–they were Greek Catholic. That’s the same relatively unknown faith of half of my own ancestors. An authentic marriage certificate like this was a treasure, up for sale to the highest bidder.

Alice’s Story
I went around to the back of the house where still more items were lined up. Here was a bag of framed family photos–one of them likely of the 1916 wedding. Picking up a book, I saw that it had been owned by Alice Shamley. In her school girl writing, she had scribbled her name multiple times on the inside cover. As is often the case, a slip of paper was tucked inside. It read:

“Sometimes you meet people who seem to take a delight in being discourteous. Everything they say is said in such a tone of voice and in such a manner that it can hardly fail to give offense. We naturally avoid such people. We have just as little to do with them as possible. Promotion passes them by, if indeed they are not dismissed from their ancestors.”

The pieces started fitting together. Alice was the woman who had just been put in the nursing home (in the interest of privacy, I’m deliberately not sharing her married name). Maksim and Anastasia had been her parents. That toddler in one of the photos was Alice. It was her family’s history that was being sold, and I couldn’t help wondering if she would consider the people selling her possessions “discourteous” and worthy of being “dismissed from their ancestors.”

What’s the Solution?
I’d like to tell you that I rescued these items–and if they had price tags on them, I probably would have. But they were being sold in lots and I would have had to wait hours for them to get to the family photos and documents–Alice’s husband’s Social Security card also being among them–that were scattered around the property. Like everyone these days, I’m busy, and therein lies the problem. We’re all so busy that we hardly give any thought to protecting our own family treasures, much less someone else’s.

I’m trying to be pragmatic. We literally cannot take it with us when we die, and we obviously have to be selective when we downsize into a smaller home or nursing facility. And I’m not trying to insinuate that auctioneers are somehow evil; the fact is that they provide a useful service. But how do we stop this epidemic of family history, and to a certain extent, national history (I’m thinking now of the fact that the only known photo of Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island, may have been tossed when her unmarried granddaughter passed away a few years ago) being tossed out, or at least, sold to strangers? This is not a rhetorical question. I’d like to hear your ideas. Seriously.

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Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, co-author (with Ann Turner) of Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree (as well as In Search of Our Ancestors, Honoring Our Ancestors and They Came to America), can be contacted through rootstelevision.com/blogs/megans-rootsworld.html, www.honoringourancestors.com, and www.genetealogy.com.

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59 thoughts on “How Do We Stop This Epidemic?

  1. As someone who has downsized my parents three times in the lastfive years from a house that had been in our family for 100 years (occupied by four generations at one time) to a smaller house, then to my house, and now to a nursing home, I know the task can be overwhelming. Many things simply cannot make the cut. To be kept, things had to be meaningful as well as useful. As a genealogist, I found that many documents simply had to be boxed up to be sorted over the next few years. I keep finding little gems as I go through each box. To my parents, it was important to know who wanted what while they were still with us. To know that a grandson now uses their favorite couch and a granddaughter finds a camera collection valuable even in this digital age validates their lives. I also mourn many things that I remember fondly but that must have been thrown away years ago by someone else.
    As for my own possessions, I learned the difference between stuff and treasures. It is memories. Whether it is the Nippon Vase given to my grandmother pre=1916 by a suitor (not my grandfather), to the table made by my great-grandfather from wood he brought back from Brazil where he emmigrated during Reconstruction, to the sewing work samples packet made by mother in her home economics class at Georgia State College for Women during the 1940s, seeing these things evokes memories and a sense of connection. I now am trying to pass this connection to future generations by talking about the histories of the many things we have kept and by writing down these stories. Without the memories, it is all just stuff.

  2. Dear Megan,

    I can so relate to this story. My Great Aunt was put into a nursing home by the State when she fell and broke her hip. The arrangment was supposed to be temporary. When my sister went to investigate she was told by the authorities that we would be notified if Aunt Gladys’ house was to be sold so we would have first access to and first opportunity to buy it.

    Unfortunately, we found out they had not only sold the house but all of her possessions! We were mortified, angry and frustrated. My Great Aunt must have had generations of information in that old house. I remember being with my Great Grandparents in that house. How very sad that these things happen. We lost a whole lifetime, and maybe several lifetime’s worth of genealogy information, documents and family photos.
    Barb

  3. Dear Megan,
    After cancer treatment 23 years ago,I was unable to get another job,so I started my own business. I became an antiques dealer. I have people come to me all the time with pictures,daguerreotypes,and all sorts of certificates. Now, this is the family. They simply don’t care like we do. They also sometimes just don’t know any better. I also have seen family fight over these things at an auction. That’s good. At least someone cares. I recently had a man,who was cleaning out his mother’s house,tell me he had spent all of the previous day filling a dumpster. He had a few things to sell and asked if I wanted to buy them. I told him I probably wanted to buy what he had thrown away the previous day. He,both didn’t care and didn’t know any better. The world is full of people like that. But,I found another arm of my husband’s family through a bible. I encourage family to keep things,rather than sell them. I know….not good for business. Just keep plugging away and preaching. I enjoy your columns.
    Anne Miller

  4. The best way to protect your family history is “publish” “distribute”, & “donate”. Publish your stories & information, distribute these to family members, libraries, historical societies, etc. & donate important documents to state archives [like original copies of family letters from 1860-1916][they are all copied published & transcribed ...there is no reason for me to keep the originals....I will protect them from loss.]
    Take pictures & document important items in your life.You may not be able to insure these items are kept & treasured but you will be able to insure the documentation of these items continues on.
    Waiting to publish can result in a total loss of your history.
    I decided along time ago….doing research for years will not benefit anyone if it is all lost. So I give my research to any family member that asks, & even some that don’t…[I include family sheets in my Christmas cards]. The more information that I give out the better chance it has to survive.

    I have published 3 books & I’m working on my fourth book. I have donated them to Family History in Utah. the DAR Library in Wash. The National Archives, The Library of VA, Abingdon Historical Society in VA, Joliet Public Library in Joliet, IL, Jacksonville Library in Jacksonville, IL, The Polish Genealogical Society in Chicago.I donated them to places that I believe future descendants may look for information.
    I keep all my Family Tree Maker information on 6 thumb drives & a back up hard drive. The 6 thumb drives are spread out- one in my car, one at school, one at my parents house, one down loaded on my grown child’s computer. Every 6 months I make sure that they are updated.
    One other quick tip that isn’t said enough is….get a public e mail …like yahoo or hotmail to use for you genealogy. I can’t tell you the number of times I have tried to reach someone that has changed their account provider & therefore their e mail address. If you use hotmail or yahoo you never have to change that address when you leave it at sites….
    Blessing, Lesley

  5. Megan,
    Until the past year genealogy was a word to me,something I never thought about. My mother died 22 years ago and I left home. I had no siblings and a drunk for a father. After his death I had to return to NC to take care of the “homeplace”. As I began the arduous task of going through what was not only my father’s house, but his mother’s before that, I began finding old photos and paperwork dating back to 1914. I found the original deed to the house, photos of my grandfather, who died in 1935 and the brothers and sisters of my father. This was such a treasure. I learned more about my family in the past year than I ever knew. Research and the internet has helped me find out a lot of information. Two 3 inch binders house a lot of the information that I have found. Not only did these old papers and photos help me find out who I really am, but they have given me a purpose. While doing some research at the local library, the genealogy expert there was looking over my collection and asked if she could have copies of all of my work to be placed in the family archives. Feelings of gratitude flooded my heart. I had no idea that what I have been spending my time doing could help others. My advice is before you toss away old papers and photos, you might want to take them to your local library if they have a genalogy dept. They will be pleased to take this information if you have it in a binder.

  6. I always feel so sad when I hear of family ephemra, especially photographs and official documents, being discarded when elderly people pass away. It’s happened within branches of my own family and I’m mortified that I wasnt able to rescue them.
    Also, the same thing happens in the business world. When companies (from large operations to small one-man bands) cease trading a lot of what might be thought of as junk is tossed in a skip without a second thought. When businesses merge, the same rationalisation happens. This way a valuable insight into earlier ways of life are lost to future generations – photographs, internal records of the business, correspondence and invoices (incoming and outgoing), records of the companies’ products, etc. the list goes on.
    If the family (or the company) clearing the property don’t want to sort them, they could pass them to their local family history society who would be delighted to have them, treat them with respect and preserve any valuable/interesting records for the benefit of future research.
    This sort of advice needs to be publicised far and wide and, if you see a family clearing a homestead, try to make a tactful suggestion to this effect. It may fall on deaf ears or it may be that the person concerned had never even considered such items would have any value to anyone.
    As the article says, if we don’t make a start somewhere – how are we going to stop this epidemic!

  7. Dear Ms. Smolenak:

    I just read your column of “History for Sale” with great interest. I am a museum curator in the upper Midwest and I run across sold histories many time a year. People attend rummages and auctions and buy other people’s history. Then they are confused as to what to do with it. Sometimes, years after the sale when all details of the purchase are forgotten, they come to the museum as want to give it to us. Most often I have to politely refuse the donation as there is absolutely no information to make the photos useful to a museum. For me to accept old photos they have to fit with the character of the museum, the direction of the collection and they have to have some kernal of researchable information.

    Most often these well meaning donors recall nothing about where they got the pictures and have no idea who is in the pictures. They bought them as part of a lot or because they were “neat”. In fact, they separated the images from their documentation and lost every bit of personal history they might have contained. Sometimes I can use the images for the collection as examples of photo processes, or clothing style or an interesting local street scene. But that is rare.

    There are occasions where some snippet of family information remains. A name on the back of an image, a couple of documents, something. Then I try to obtain the materials to add to the local history collections. I then assign graduate students to research the images. Results vary but most often some level of information is retrievable (this works well with dimensional objects too as it does help recover business and neighborhood history information, sometimes personal/family information). The recovered information documents the collection (a museum’s first responsibility) and provides further data for researchers and for other organizations with which we share our collections.

    I guess what I am suggesting is that people with orphaned local and personal history materials contact local museums and historical societies and libraries with such photos, documents and objects. In my town we have our Museum, the county historical society, the humanities collections at the local library and the urban archives at the state sponsored university. All are interested in preserving the history, lives, businesses and politics of the area. Many of us curators have students who can and do research and organize the collections for public access.

    It may not be a perfect solution to saving these personal histories but it is a start and when accepted into the collections, the objects have a good home.

    Best Regards,

    Al Muchka
    Associate Curator of American & Local History
    Milwaukee Public Museum
    414-278-2785
    email muchka@mpm.edu

  8. I feel as you do about the historical and genealogical items of personal property being sold and scattered when they die. The solution I suggest is that the person sort through their things and donate them to their local historical and/or genealogical society, or if there is none, their local library or church. Many many organizations are trying to preserve these types of things but they cannot afford to go buy them at yard sales and auctions. We need to spread the word to them to donate these items or at least give written instructions to their heirs as to where the items should go. Too many people have the idea that museums are only interested in rich people’s furniture or antiques. Actually today’s small museums are interested in local people and their history, including genealogy, photos, etc.
    I have worked with the Fulton County Historical Society since it was founded in 1963, and we have rescued lots of family history things. We welcome such items to the collection. See our website at http://www.icss.net/~fchs.
    Also I have worked with the Potawatomi who had ancestors on the Trail of Death from Indiana to Kansas in 1838. They were marched at gunpoint down Rochester’s Main Street Sept. 5, 1838. See my new website http://www.potawatomi-tda.org.
    Thanks for anything you can do to help promote our websites and thereby help us preserve local history.
    Shirley Willard

  9. I think local genealogical & historicl societies need to be proactive in stemming this tide. When the local paper reveals the death of a person without immediate heirs, or an estate sale, they should contact the responsible party and see if they could negotiate retriving the items of interest to them. Then the items would be kept together, and in a local place, where later researchers would have a chance of finding them.

  10. This needs to come to the attention nationally, if not globally of the non genealogists & historians. Perhaps newspapers & magazines could be persuaded to run stories. However, Oprah has the best coverage, hands down.

  11. I’d like to think that you are “preaching to the converted”, but how many of us have taken the time to find a couple of people in the family (preferably younger ones!) and given them a list of items that should be preserved, where they are, and what to do with them? I live a long way from my roots. The local society would not be interested.

    Then there is the don’t know and don’t care crowd. I was unable to watch all your programs on GMA, but that would have been a national platform to start the education campaign. (Maybe you can get a return invitation?) As you said, we are all busy, but maybe some of us can take the time to write letters to the editor of the local paper (might get in on a slow day.) Is there a human interest reporter on your paper or at the local TV station? Can you put together a story in conjunction with the local Historical Society? Get the word out that these items have value – it’s not just the furniture. Talk to the local auctioneers and get them to keep an eye out for documents and Bibles.

    I was lucky that my younger brother saved everything when my grandmother’s house was cleared out. I have a photo of my g-g-g-grandmother from about 1900. But we lost all the b/w photos of my childhood when my older brother’s second wife threw them out. (Lesson learned too late; never let the scrapbooker take the negatives. We knew he was in ill health. Don’t be in denial. Don’t assume that someone in the family will take care of the hierlooms.)

  12. Megan,

    In 35 years of family history research, both my mother and I have had many of these experiences, even within our own family. My mother had to go to an antique shop to buy items belonging to my Great Grandfather. Happily, the shop owner handed over my Great Grandfather’s journal, free of charge, refusing any money my mother offered. I rescued a large portrait of my husbands grandfather that was bent in half, piled in a truck headed for the dump with other items that had been cleaned out of an old chicken coop used as a storage shed. It hangs in our house now, with a large crease across the middle, and stains testifying of it’s years of neglect.

    Tossing things out is a result of “minimizing”, designing “clean lines”, and a “clutter-free, stress-free space.” I appreciate the need for those things too, but the difference is that some families value these family treasures enough to take the time to create a space for them and some do not. We have a “forward-thinking, get-to-the-point” culture that takes too little time telling family stories and instilling in children a sense of family history and the appreciation of that history. That is ground zero of the epidemic.

    I believe there are solutions. As family historians we continually try to instill a sense of family history in our children and grandchildren, with story telling, family newsletters, emailing pictures, reinactments of family stories at reunions and family gatherings, but what do we do about these forgotten and neglected treasures right NOW before more of them are lost forever? Where is there a place for these unwanted items of historic value? A repository for old pictures, year books, journals, ledgers, and letters would be helpful. When I find an item that should be treasured by another family, I think of buying it and reuniting it with it’s family. Ah, but then, which of them wants it? Which of them tossed it? Like the man who started a repository for copies of war letters, we need a repository for old photographs. Then, when we find them at garage sales we could send them there with what information we can gather about the people. Digitizing them and having an online data base of these pictures that could be searched by name, location or with other criteria would be a wonderful thing. I believe, if the call went out, the response would be overwhelming.

    Thank you for your article. It reminds me to be more proactive in protecting such items I run into, in hopes that I can pass them on, perhaps to a database one day.

    Cindy-Rae Jones

  13. Wouldn’t it be nice if some sort of arrangement could be made between Auctioneers & local family history societies whereby the Auctioneers notified them that photos or documents were up for auction. Perhaps a volunteer could visit & make notes at the least. This could be of benefit to the auctioneer where perhaps people really wanting the items are made aware of them. This may work with a quick email to members by their family history society or by notifying another society if the items obviously are from a different region.

    Or maybe a website could be set up for auctioneers to advertise that items related to a particular surname are due to be auctioned, with email notifications sent out to registered users from that website.

    I can’t see why these things couldn’t work when they are for the benefit of both.
    I suppose this all takes time & money… but there’s not much we can do about that I guess.
    Also, if items aren’t sold, what do they do with them? Could they donate them? I hope they don’t throw them out.

    I try not to think about the things that end up at the rubbish tip like my Grandmother’s family’s things (so I’ve been told anyway) :o (. At least with auctions, there is a chance that someday somewhere the items may resurface to put a smile on someone’s face :o ).

  14. Dear Megan,

    Thank you for the article “How Do We Stop this Epidemic?”. I,too, have faced this dilemma. My mother and I spent a couple of years looking for a distant relative so we could send them a copy of their grandparents’ family picture. (Finally through a round-about way we connected. And they were pleased!) Then I have paused over old photos at sales and considered my options. Recently my mother moved to an assisted living. You are so right that pragmatism has a place. We worked long and took pains to review photos, letters, etc. One briefcase hidden under the stairs on first glance appeared to be nothing but old papers. On closer look, there were old postcards, letters, and even a tintype photo from 1870s. I am the family archives and collector and have files full of family treasures others did not want.

    So what to do? 1. If it is an estate sale, go to organizers with the items in hand and ask if the family is aware. Then offer a bid within your means with the promise to track down interested family members. 2. If it is an auction. Go to organizers, explain your concern,ask if these items can be placed in one lot and offer a manageable written bid if you cannot stay. 3. There are websites for these abandoned treasures. I like Cindy Jones’ idea of a repository for old pictures etc. 4. Finally I will never assume something is trash and take a second or third look.

    Thank you for your interest and concern about this situation.
    Arlene Raudenbush

  15. Sadly, many years ago when my grandmother was clearing out her house prior ro moving to senior housing, she inadvertently disposed of the family bible and my great-great grandfather’s Civil War diary. It was more mental confusion than lack of caring. She refused to “burden” any of the family by letting us help her. For years everyone thought some other family member had them but finally we came to the conclusion they were gone. It breaks my heart. As a child I had poured over that diary, struggling to read the handwriting. I hold out hope that someday I may find them but they undoubtedly went to the dump.

  16. After reading your “How Do We Stop This Epidemic?” article, I was struck by the obvious connection between historical societies and genealogy. More specifically the need to get the holdings of local historical societies made known to the public they serve. Unforntuately, these groups often lack the necessary funding to setup online database, which represent a “card catalog” of their holdings.

  17. They should have tried to find some family memeber who would have taken an interest in saving those precious items. It doesn’t dawn on most people how valuable and historic they may become to future generations trying to find thier family genealogy. I am one who has tried to find ANY family treasures-photos, marriage certificates, etc. I am thrilled when one comes to light.
    This is very sad and breaks my heart that this womans possessions could be sold with so much callous disregard.

  18. Megan,

    A few years ago, I visited my hometown. My stepdad was a garage sale freak. He collected any number of items, like golf clubs, which he reconditioned.

    I could not help noticing a pile of old photos. Probably these were family members of the people putting on the garage sale.

    Having studied genealogy for years, I felt bad that someone had wanted to sell these important pictures depicting their family history. I bought the pictures. Since that time, I look at the pictures and wonder how I could get them back to relatives who cared about their ancestors.

    There is only one clue, a Minnesota license plate on an old Model T car. I was wondering if states keep an archive on license plate numbers? It might help find other members of this family and get these pictures out to them.

  19. I know exactly what you mean. I see priceless family pictures and records sold in antique shops and auctions all the time, but I don’t have the money to buy them or the room to store them.

    One of my brother-in-laws had to buy family heirlooms when his sister sold their mother’s estate.

    Also, I have no idea what happened to my grandpa Lehmann’s family bible. It came from Germany with the family when they immigrated to the United States. The bible was large with a black cover, written in German, the pages were trimmed in gold, and it had elaborate pictures. After grandpa died no one in the family could find it. All I want is to copy the records that are inside. I don’t have to have the book itself. Either some relative is lying about having the bible or grandma got rid of it. I can only hope she sold it instead of destroying it. The bible is one of the reasons I go to antique stores and auctions. I know the odds are against me ever finding it, but that doesn’t stop me from looking.

  20. I,too, attended an estate sale of an elderly lady survived by only 2 uninterested nieces. This lady was actually a descendant of Patrick Henry and had been an avid genealogist and history buff. My heart broke as I went thru the one room, absolutely filled with all her personal possessions…and to see on a large table in the corner, boxes and boxes of photographs, some, even with names on the backs, (an absolute godsend for most of us), that were extremely old. There were lots of them, that, just by guessing, went back to the 1800′s and early 1900′s. And these, they were selling by the piece. There was no way financially, that i could have ever purchased it all. I found out later that the local library had been interested; but that the family had not even told them about the items being sold off. It was a very sad day for me.
    As for the antique shops, i did buy a couple of old photos one day, and, by reading the backs of the pictures, i was able to get enough clues, to post messages on the surname message boards on Rootsweb regarding the families. I had 2 ladies contact me, and after confirming their relationship, i mailed the photos to them. I had previously mailed one of the photos to a lady who thought it was her line, only to find out it wasn’t. She was kind enough to return the photo to me, in case i found the right person. A definate RAOGK!
    But, it does sadden me to see history for sale like this. I guess the people are just not interested nor enlightened enough to find a good home for the items. Hopefully things will change.

  21. Dear Megan,
    I enjoy reading the newsletter and your articles, and like you and many other people,love rummaging in antique shops and garage sales, etc, for forgotten treasures. I’m a journalist, living in New Zealand, and as a feature writer for the local daily newspaper,I do a weekly Saturday feature, called Memory Lane, about people, places and events in our city’s history.
    Just a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Paul, a young man who happened to stroll into a Salvation Army store and buy a huge old family Bible for $20. He wasn’t, he told me, all that interested in genealogy, but the book was beautifully bound and illustrated. When he looked inside he found it had been published in 1873 and had birth, death and marriage entries for five families who had owned the Bible through the years. The first couple had written down a statement about where they came from in England, when they had emigrated to New Zealand (1842) and the name of their ship.Suddenly, Paul got all fired up to find out about this couple, and as he searched local archives he found not only their names on the ship manifest, but a book containing excerpts from a log of that very voyage, kept by the ship’s surgeon. One of the couple’s children had been born at sea. The Bible also had, pasted to the inside front cover, copies of newspaper death notices and marriages. As a result of the story that appeared about this “orphan heirloom” descendants of two of the families contacted me and I was able to direct them to Paul. It was a sheer delight for me, needless to say. I think there’s always at least one person in an extended family who does care about rescuing precious memorabilia — the trick is just to connect one with the other.
    Tina White.

  22. Fortunately, for me I have a daughter, who is one child out of four, who is as interested as I in having and passing on all information and heirlooms. But, I have a friend who is in the position described. She has two children who are not interested at all and no other family left to give these valuable family heirlooms. We are both reaching an age where we need to make a decision regarding the disposition of our research and items. I would like to see a web site on ancestry or a related site where notices could be left regarding the family names covered in your collection. Interested parties (those researching same names or collateral families)could get in touch with one another and after deciding that these persons are authentic, by whatever means you personally may decide, either send your collection or leave instructions that on your death these things be sent to the person interested. I would much rather my important research live on after me with anyone who is equally interested. Of course there are drawbacks as there are in all human interactions, but on the whole I think it would be a good resource. Libraries and geneological societies are good repositories of paperwork, but who gets great Aunt Edna’s milk glass candy dish, with the history behind it?

  23. Megan, I have several instances of this situation. When my g-grandfather died, none of his decendents lived in town anymore so his sister’s family took care of his estate. But, that also means that they have the originals of photos and papers. The decendents have shared several of the photos with me, but I don’t know what happened to the paperwork.
    Another situation is that there is an antique dealer somewhere with a family bible. He was kind enough to photograph the birth, death and marriage pages but he won’t sell the bible back to the family.
    Luckily I have most of my parents papers and photos, but there are some things missing that I remember from childhood and I’m not sure if they were already given to my brother. He has now passed away and that means I will probably never gain access to the missing items.
    My philosophy is to digitize and share all the photos and paperwork I have so that my child and grandchildren as well as my nieces and their children have access to everything that I have saved. Unfortunately not everyone feels that way.

  24. I really enjoyed your article. I, to, cringe whenever I see old photographs, a family Bible, or other family documents being sold.

    A few years ago, a man who lived diagonal from us died. We had known both him, his sister and his parents. The house had been in the family for several decades. When his sister came with her immediate family to clean out the house, a big dumpster was rented and everything just pitched in. We eventually went to look at the house, and as I was leaving a noticed something sticking out of that dumpster that looked like a yearbook. It was. I saw others in there also. My next door neighbor happened to see me (also a genealogist), so I went over and asked her for a stepladder. I went back to the dumpster and started pulling out everything of historical value I could find – more yearbooks, pictures, certificates. I called another genealogist friend, told her what I had done, and asked her where I could take these items. She took the yearbooks and donated them to the Ohio Genealogical Society library in Mansfield. She gave me the name of a man at Bowling Green State University for the atletic-related items, and then gave me a suggestion as to what to do with the rest. Of course, my brother-in-law had teased me about ‘dumpster diving,’ but I was very please that I had found a good home for everything. The man’s sister (the one that died) knew what I was doing and said I could take anything I wanted!

    Even if you don’t have the money to purchase items, there are other ways you can save them.

  25. Megan,
    The sad thing about the aution of items such as you found is the buyers will buy for the frame on the certificate or the chest in which the pictures or letters were stored. Oftentimes they will destroy the contents. I go to several “country” estate sales. They are sad. A lifetime on the lawn. No respect no one caring.
    Most autioneers would gladly allow you to bundle several of these “useless” lots and will oftentimes put them up next. What you do with the winnings…that’s another story.

  26. Dear Megan,
    I am glad that you’re getting so much comment on this article. It shows that a lot of people have deep feelings about this. I also had a very disquieting experience with this type of thing, made even worse for me by the fact that I knew the person whose “life” was being sold off. She was a good friend of mine, and was a talented visual artist who had a master’s degree in fine art from one of the best art schools in the U.S.
    At the time, she was ill and also suffered from dementia, and had been placed in a nursing home. All of her posessions were being sold by an estate auction company out of her home. I went, hoping to get a souvenir of her. To my horror, all of her paintings, (including a self-portrait) were for sale, for a shamefully low price. Many large size oils and watercolors were marked $5.00 if unframed, and $10.00 framed. I know that not long before she had become ill, she was negotiating a sale of one of her paintings–she was asking $1,000.00 for it. While everyone has a different idea of the value of a piece of art, even a high-school kid with some talent would expect to receive more than $5.00 or $10.00 for a piece of original work. I felt this was an insult to my friend–I did get one of the paintings just to remember her, and it hangs in my home today, but I think that this is a form of abuse of those who cannot defend themselves. I also feel sad at seeing so many anonymous photos and snapshots in antique shops. I feel they are there because no one remembered those people. I have instructed a relative of mine to take all my family and personal photographs, conserve the ones that are meaningful to the family, and discard the rest; I particularly want to do this because I also have pictures with other friends on them, and I don’t want them to “find” themselves for sale in a shop.
    (I may also label some with names and addresses so they could be returned to the person in them, but sometimes this may not be practical or even possible.)
    Sincerely,
    Pat Loeffler

  27. Megan, though in my large family, there are a number of us who cherish, protect and educate about the families history, we have had similar experiences. The one that comes to mind is the time my mother, anxious to express her condolances about the recent death of a favorite aunt, stopped at the farm, and found the immediate relatives throwing her aunt’s possesions into a bonfire in the barnyard. She hurriedly reached a photo album and wall clock already being licked by flames. Unfortunately, since it was that aunt who had lived with the grandparents in their home, this resulted in much family history and documentation going up in flame. Now, the descendants in this family are spending endless hours trying to replace the history that was lost.
    My parents, and my husband and I, have found a way that has worked very well in insuring that the family’s belongings and history go to those who most want each item. I helped my parents prepare a list of their belongings. Copies of the lists were sent to all of their children, and the suggestion was made that these families also consult their children prior to returning the list to my parents. Each family prioritized the items they would like to have. When my parents passed away, I had the list, signed by them, with a name next to every item. It was a simple process of having everyone come and pick up their family treasures. Luckily, all five of our children are interested in the family genealogy and history and are anxious to continue thia family tradition. Also, if someone who has received a family article that has some history wishes to not own it anymore, they return it to me to be re-distributed to another member of the family who would like to have it. This has worked beautifully, and has become ‘the way we do it’ around our family!
    Thanks for the great article. I cried as it brought back so many memories of trying to find a family member interested in something picked up at a flea market or antique store.

  28. Most of my thoughts have been covered in the other posts. I will talk to our historical society and see if we can not come up with a letter to send to our local auction houses,independent auctioneers and to the sheriff asking to be alerted to sales of pictures, bibles and family documents. If we can not secure funding to purchase them, perhaps we will be allowed to photograph or copy them. One family toss their ancestors and someone else purchases them for instant ancestors.

  29. I, also, prowl estate sales and antique stores looking for names on the backs of pictures. I have managed to reunite several lots of pictures with family members this way. One antique store gave the pictures to the man for free! It gave me a really good feeling, and I hope that someday someone will find that missing Bedgood/Jones family Bible that disappeared in the 1930′s.

  30. While I to see this dilemma happening a lot it can have silver linings. A few years ago a friend asked me to sell some collectible anitques of the gold rush era in my store. While logging the items in there was an old copy of the New Testment printed in 1830 with some handwritten names of about the same time writtion in the front and back. I purchased it myself with the intent of posting it on rootsweb or a simlar site to find relatives of the man this had belonged to a John Doak. While serching on rootsweb for the surname I found the surname “Doak” linked to a line I had been unable to do research on for over 20 years. This link helped me to complete 3 generations on my blocked line. I now treasure this old copy of the New Testament and am glad I rescued this bit of family history.

    While we may not always find that those bits of others family history is ours, whenever possible if I can I buy it if the price isn’t to terrily high in hopes of rescuing it for someone else that has also hit a brick wall in their family history research.

  31. A few years ago I was contacted by 2 fellow members of our genealogical society about a posting on our county genealogical web site (which at that time I did not monitor, but now do) concerning a half dozen photos with our surname on the back. It is an unusual name so was probably related. These pictures had been donated to the Salvation Army and were for sale at their store for $3.00 each. I immediately called the store to see if they still had them. They did! I hurried right down and purchased the photos of my husband’s grandfather’s brother’s families. These were the immigrants and 1st generation Americans. Wedding photos for the most part. Thank goodness they were identified on the back. I never did find out who donated them as we are the only ones in the phone book with the surname. I sent a “Thank You” via the county web site to the person who posted the notice. She was happy to have them reunited with a family member. I have since shared a copy with a cousin of my husband’s and will share copies with any family members who show an interest. Probably there were other family items, but these were identified.

  32. And now on to the rest of my post: I had to sign in as anonymous1 because this subject is extremely sensitive to me at the moment. My sister has absolutely NO interest in anything genealogical. However, she has GREAT interest in exerting her ‘control freak’ behavior upon the one person in the family who has been researching our family for forty years. That one person would be: me.

    She has a treasure trove of old family letters, photos, etc. that sit in her basement. When I have asked her to look at my uncle’s wartime letters to his mother (my grandmother) for genealogy clues, she proceeded to tell me that letters are “private” and that I was just ‘too involved’ and she couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t publish the letters in some way. I am not even allowed to touch them.

    Genealogy is my passion. And passionate people light up and are animated in their conversations about what they are passionate about. My sister is passionate about two things: her children and her motorcycle. She abhors passion in others and sees it as a sign of ‘imbalance.’ And to douse the light of passion, she squelches conversation and denigrates it as ‘close to crazy.’

    Recently, she and her husband were called to help clear out the home of an uncle who passed away. Of course they are the people who are called upon to do such things… because they are so ‘reliable.’

    Her husband would not allow a cousin to look at anything. A cousin described as ‘greedy’ who is actually a history professor who was trying to collect some important family history about a family member who was an important person in the community they lived in. Her husband made spot decisions to shred whatever HE deemed private. And shred he did.

    Her garage and basement are filled with genealogical gems from my family and her husband’s family. When hearing the story about the cousin, I suggested that perhaps they might want to donate the materials they have on her husband’s VERY WELL KNOWN uncle to the local historical society. My sister replied that ‘no one in the family cares about this crap.’

    Thanks for the opportunity to engage in my rant here. Megan’s article stirred up a lot of feelings about what exists in that basement and what I will never be ‘allowed’ to see. It’s just so frustrating and sad.

  33. Having grown up in Southside Virginia, way out in the country among great-aunts, great-grand-aunts, a deliciously endowed great-grandmother whose lap was famous in our little world of cousins, I treasure all those bits and pieces – tangible and intangible. As an adult, I began hand tinting family photographs. Fascinated with the magic of seeing a brush stroke of blue or green give warmth to eyes that went unnoticed and cheeks come alive with the slightest hint of rose, I was drawn to yard sales, antique shops, auctions, fair ground bazaars, summer tent sales and estate sales. I studied every face and so often winced at the beauty of these people lost forever to their relatives. It’s impossible to save every scrap, to salvage all the photos and find repositories for every celluloid collar, gowns of tulle and satin or the aprons of our favorite aunts. But, as we move into this new century, we seem to have lost the connection to our pasts; the need to remember is forgotten; the once-nurtured habit of adding captions, names, stories and dates to photographs is being cast aside for the digital half-lives of the people we see through the lens…and then delete with a click. Do we risk deleting too much only to make way for a fast forward into a sort of nothing…certainly nothing as precious as our history? Scrapbooks now hold the dozens and dozens of tinted photographs. As I turn the pages, a great sadness shades the images for me…their families discarded them, yard sales consumed them and I know nothing about them…where will they go when I finally close each book?

  34. Maybe we should make a real effort to become visable to the community. I have posted everywhere and recently came upon a real historical treasure because someone searching the web saw my name in relation to a family that I am researching. She contacted me and told me about something she bought at a flea market. I bought it from her for almost nothing, because she had no need for it. It’s the signatures of everyone who founded and lived in Lancaster County Pennsylvania from 1710 to 1760. I gave it to a historical society because that’s where it belongs, and where it will be treasured and kept safe. I think we need to make sure that local estate dealers know our interests and how to contact us. I have contacted local thrift stores and asked them to call me whenever they find a Family Bible with any writing.

    Anyhow, my suggestion is that anyone with an interest in genealogy, let people who are in a position to come across old treasures, know that we are interested, and ask that they contact us for first refusal.

  35. Auctions where they are selling “grandma’s or mother’s” estate, such as the one you spoke of reminds me of the program “Cash in the attic” on HGTV encouraging people to sell “Old” things. It is so sad to see all those items that someone loved so much to keep for years being sold. Both of these would be worthy of being “dismissed by their ancestors” in my opinion.

  36. Megan,

    You are absolutely right about the absolutely aweful greed that has enveloped our country. Pair that with the “get rid of your “clutter” ” phenomenon, and you’ve got the problem that you are describing.

    One of the people already mentioned that a national campaign is necessary – I second that. Unless you’re on television, millions of people will never pay attention simply because they are not interested in the genealogical topic.

    But there’s another avenue we haven’t addressed: the explosion of photo taking with digital cameras. By taking photos of the items before they get rid of them, people could preserve the history – so that future genealogists can have the fun of hunting the items down, but still have an idea of what was useful to and cherished by their ancestors.

    If there were a permanent archive available for photographs of cherished items, we could at least preserve SOME of history.

    I just don’t think we’re (as genealogists) going to ever have enough time, money and paper to save all of the important documents from our time period. A television campaign would at least help save some of it. And some is better than none!

  37. Dear Meagan,
    I am the ‘keeper’ in our family – and many older aunts and uncles have given me family items because they knew I would care for them and cherish them (and I have). I have orginial school board contracts for teachers in the family, land deeds, railroad papers from a grandfather, original marriage certificates, confirmation certificates, birth records, etc from the mid-to-late 1800s, old photos, and a large collection of family newpaper clippings courtesy of my mother and grandmothers. When we downsized, I gave many of the large furniture items which were family ‘heirlooms’ to my children with the proviso that if they ever decided to get rid of them, they must go to a sibling. All agreed. I have a large box of small items which are slowly going to my children with the same proviso. Fortunately, my children, while not overly enthusiastic over researching genealogy itself, are enthusiastic about knowing about and owning bits of their family history. I feel fortunate to know my family’s items will be safe with them.

  38. PLEASE READ THIS: I volunteer in my church’s thrift store and pioneering history came in. The documents were original and some dated back to the 1790′s. Of course, the store manager wanted to throw everything in the dumpster, and I, being the historian for my own family, was appalled at his decision. Much of the history, taken from a house where it was stored, was previously thrown out in the town dump by one of my church’s pastors (he told me so and said he knew NOTHING about who the documents belonged to) and that he just donated a few leftover tubs to the store. Standing at the loading dock by the dumpster, I had to make a quick decision, so I took home many binders of original documents I could and some photos from the 1920′s, not knowing what in the world I would do with them. Since the rest of the stuff wouldn’t fit in my car, the manager threw them out. Well, don’t think I didn’t create a stink about that! I told everyone in church I could. After reading all the binders, I realized I got some of the documents of a woman’s family, and she was the one who had kept and compiled all the records. Only her maiden name was written, and that she came from my city, with no street address. AND she was adopted. She was not listed in the city phone book so I went online and put out queries in geneaology sites. Since I had pioneer documentation, I figured the last resort would be to send the lot to the historical society (out of state) for safe keeping. Then reading the details of a death notice, I saw a pallbearer listed with the same last name of the adopted woman. I found his address online and telephone him (out of state). He was her brother and yes, he wanted his family’s history! He paid for the shipment. AND, he told me the woman’s married name. She and her husband were missionaries overseas for our church, and of course, I now recognized them both. Meanwhile, my complaints had gotten around church and a few people came to me and asked me for the documents, that they knew who they belonged to, and would keep them. Too little too late. I told them they were already shipped out of state to a relative. I eventually got the email address for the missionary couple and told them. The responded that they had made an AGREEMENT with that pastor to keep their family records until they returned to the U.S. They were grateful for what was saved, but heartbroken for what was tossed (most of her husband’s history and collections) and that their agreement was violated. POINT OF THE STORY: get involved anyway. You could be a blessing to someone else, change things, rattle cages, get truth out, and learn that it takes ONE individual to make a difference.

  39. Megan,
    We were lucky when my grandmothers died. When my dad’s mom died, one of my aunt’s went through the house carefully and made 11 different piles of pictures and anything related to that child (now all grown, all with kids and most with grandkids) and gave them to the respective child or in my dad’s case gave me everything to me. When my mom’s mom died, I couldn’t bear to see the house sold, so I asked and got it. Upside or downside, I got nearly everything in the house. After thinking and thinking about what to do with all the old pictures I came up with a solution. I put together manilla envelopes with each of my grandmother’s great grandchildren names and put their and their parents pictures in them. So far 4 out of the 5 have gotten the pictures and loved them. I guess the moral of the story is find a relative that is interested and give them all the photos and other miscellanous papers that will save them for the next generation. Though I have to admit with 3 (sometimes 4) copies of all my old school pictures I did throw the worn out ones away. I wound up with both grandparents sets and my great grandmother’s set of old school pictures. And my mom still has one set. I was lucky when my dad died as he had given all his old pictures and other miscellanous stuff a couple of years before he died.

  40. This artical reminded me of a photograph I saw in an antique shop in a small town south of Buffalo, NY a few years ago. The 16 x 20 photo was of a father with his two little girls. The dress looked like late 19th century fashions. The love on that man’s face would bring tears to your eyes. There was no identification on the portrait at all. It was so touching that I have regretted ever since that I didn’t buy it just for the inspiration of looking at it. It is heartbreaking that such treasures are lost to the families that would cherish them.

    Jo Prytherch

  41. I am glad so many people responded to this article. I have made sure all 6 of our children have their childhood pictures by putting together an album for each of them about 5 years ago as part of their Christmas gift. They loved them! I am in the process of making albums for each of our grandchildren as they grow up and when they graduate from high school that will be part of their gift from the grandparents–sort of a pictorial diary of their childhood. This accomplishes 2 things: it gets the pictures out of my house and into the correct hands without someone spending hours trying to sort it all out when I die, and they are preserved with notations for the future.

    I am fortunate that a niece has already spoken for my research papers on our families, in case my children don’t want to keep it up. I also know that most children/grandchildren are not interested in their heritage until they become older and many times it is too late because the parents/grandparents are not very cognizant anymore. My grandmother gave me her wedding album many years ago when I was about 19 years old. She went through and identified the pictures (many were tintypes) and asked me to write down the names. I said, “Oh, I will remember them,”; she replied, “No, you won’t”. Guess what, I now kick myself because I only recognize one or two and the other older relatives don’t remember either. So now, I write on the back edge of my pictures with a photographer’s pen.

    I put together a condensed version of our family history/pedigree a few years ago, placed it in a binder and gave it to each of our children. This way when they get older and have time to look at it, they already have a good start. This is insurance also in case something happens to my large binders (4 of them)– we at least have the basics to follow up on.

    One more bit of advice for those who have very elderly relatives. Sometimes as they age, particularly if they live alone, they apparently think no one cares and they start getting rid of everything. My Mom burned antique incidentals (including old Christmas ornmaments–she wasn’t using them anymore!) and my husband’s mother cut up pictures and documents because she did not have a good relationship with her relatives and I guess assumed her son wouldn’t want them. I pursued an elderly single distant cousin for genealogy info several times and she finally gave me the family Bible from 1870s last summer. When I went through it, I found several locks of hair that we think one set belonged to my gr-grandmother and the other one probably belonged to a baby boy that died — it had a blue ribbon tied to it. When I wrote her & asked about them, she had no idea they were in there — moral of that story, be sure to flip through the Bible several times to see what is in there. The only reason I did was because my son watched me open the book and told me to carefully page through it. We also found 2 personal letters written in German — one dated 1877 and the other 1880 after my gr-grandfather died.

    Geraldine Barbeau

  42. After my Great Uncle was moved to a nursing home, many of his belongings were headed for “the transfer station”. I didn’t have the time then to go through everything, but I did offer up my (clean) barn as a storage location. (Certainly not perfect, but better than being tossed). Then, as time allowed, I sorted and cleaned, initially at a really high level. Anything personal, I kept. But, items that had been published in quantity, especially if within the last 50 years, and items that were badly damaged, I either gave away or tossed. (Trust me when I say “badly damaged”). My Uncle was able to bring many photos to the nursing home with him. And two years ago, while organizing a family reunion, I scanned in about 50 of his photographs (dating back to the late 1800′s). Then, each household attending the reunion was provided with a CD that they could bring to their local photo shop to get the pictures printed out. (My Great Uncle and his sister-in-law were both able to attend the reunion). The other treasure he had with him were his Mother’s diaries. I would visit him in the nursing home and read his Mother’s diaries to him. At 93, he was able to explain some of the entries to me that I otherwise could not have understood. And they would trigger other wonderful tales such as sleigh rides to Worcester that he remembered in his own lifetime. When he died (Nov 2005) I was blessed (and burdened) with inheriting the nearly 30-year diary collection.

    Today, everything is in from the barn and I am going through it all at another level of review, cleaning and sorting by the decade. Now, my passion (and my obsession) is transcribing the diaries and making them available to other family members. And as I go through the other paperwork, I find more corresponding photos, autograph album entries, letters, cards etc. (For example, one diary entry made mention of photos taken of the grandchildren playing with kittens – the photos are still with us). At times, it is overwhelming. But I know I have such a treasure (and such a responsibility). It takes time, space and, an appreciation of its’ value…

  43. Dear Meagan, You have hit a nerve. I also hate to see family heirlooms hit the market–especially books. I found leather-bound book of poetry signed, “To Anne on her thirteenth birthday from her grandmother with love.” It broke my heart to see that a family had discarded it. Educating the public is a tough job. Perhaps a clearing house situation would be helpful. People not interested in family history will never understand the loss–as some people do not understand the loss of an endangered species…it doesn’t touch them until it’s too late. Thanks for the thoughts. Susan Elder

  44. Meagan: Your article has struck such a chord! I am just now in the process of getting my 83 year old dad into a nursing home and what you have said couldn’t be more appropriate. Fortunately I got turned on to genaelogy and family history when my grandfather died 20 years ago so I have been able to collect many of those precious surviving bits of our history before they turned into artifacts for someone in the far future to dig up – perhaps. I treasure the many hours of interview tapes I made when Mom and my aged cousins were still alive. Unfortunatley I was not in time to save some things that could have been of meaning – my relatives virtually pillaged my grandfather’s home after his death – selling off heirlooms and doing Heaven only knows what with papers.

    However, the important thing is indeed for we who know better to find and treasure what we can of our past – but perhaps just as importantly we need to learn from mistakes we and others have made and assure that what we treasure NOW – our own things – are preserved for our descendants. Our passion is both a backward and, by necessity, also a forward looking one. We preserve the past but must also preserve the present because that will inevitably and inexorably become our family’s past some day. Thanks for a great, touching article and for the thoughts it evoked. Regards, John Ursillo

  45. Dear Meagan: When my parents were moving from our large family home to an apartment, I did not live nearby. My father, an interdisciplinary type, had had a song publishing company in the ’40s in NYC. He told me that he had thrown out about 200 of his own song compositions. I was devastated. Mary

  46. Dear Meagan
    You article hit a nerve. I crinch every time I read about family history being sold and destroyed. Currently, I have been making the rounds with a talk “Disasters Happen! Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for the Genealogist”. When I get to the part of the talk on the sale or the destruction of records, I generally get some laughter, then a somber tone takes over when the realization sets in about what I am talking about.
    The leaders in the genealogical community need to continually address this issue, reminding people about the realities of loss, and to advise everyone to make arrangements with a local library or archives on the donation of personal historical property, and to amend their Last Will and Testament with instructions on the handling of personal historical property.
    The Society of American Archivists web site has some brochures available about personal property donations.
    Bill

  47. Jumping in again. If you do happen to rescue a photo or document from someone else’s past, please make a copy of it before you give it to someone else. (Can’t copy the whole Bible, but maybe the relevant pages.) At least keep a copy of the name and address of who it went to. I recently came across a posting from a woman who had bought a photo of my 3rd great-grandfather at an estate sale. She was looking for descendants to give it too. Unfortunately, the woman who contacted her did so off the board, so no record. The woman who posted it did not keep a record of who she sent it to, nor did she make a copy of the photo. So I am now trying to track descendants of his 8 children to see if I can find the photo.

    Also, see the article on clutter in this month’s AARP Magazine. It advises people to throw all that stuff out before someone else has to do it. I can see people throwing out all those old photos figuring no one will want them. Yikes!

  48. Yesterday I saw work by a Tennessee artist in which he made beautiful collages using, among other things, foreign money, can and cigar labels AND BEAUTIFULLY HANDWRITTEN OLD LETTERS AND DOCUMENTS, some Eighteenth Century. He spoke of the asthetics and tonal varieties of the old paper and gorgeous old handwriting.They did provide fabulous aspects to his work, but as a genealogist, my heart broke to think what those papers might mean to the right family researcher. No, I did not speak to him about it. He gets them at flea markets and on eBay where the supply apparently seems unlimited.

  49. Hi Megan-
    This article really hit home with me. All I can say is that I am glad I am a subscriber to a county specific message board. There was a posting from a gentlemen that had been dabbling on ebay and he had come across a family bible from the county my ancestors are from. I recognized the name immediately and went to investigate the bible. I sent a few questions to the seller and found that she had purchased a box of books (including this family bible) from an estate sale – because the owner was taken to a nursing home.
    Okay, the twist to this whole story is this. Last summer I had taken my 94 year old grandmother to visit her cousin in the nursing home she had just moved into after her husband passing. While we visited, we talked about my involvement in family history, but of course she couldn’t remember a whole lot at that time. I made sure she had my address and contact information – for just in case.
    Not only was the family bible (which I did win on ebay by the way!) from this same woman’s estate – she probably didn’t even realize she had it. Reason being I found out that before her mother died, she had come to live with her and all of her belongings were kept in boxes and stored away, only to be found to prepare for an estate sale.
    I wondered why no one would have kept this bible instead of selling it but it has found its way home to me. The bible inside cover had my grandmother’s mother’s name in it so it had originally belonged to my great grandmother! You know how they used to tuck things into the sleeves – I found her diploma from 1906, some locks of hair (hmmm…DNA?), newspapers clippings, obits, and other various items. It is a TREASURE!!!!
    P.S. I did manage to find out that the photos were not sold, and am in the process of writing them to see if I can get copies.
    Jonna

  50. A strongly agree with those that have said to document and publish. We may not be able to save all source items, but we can tell their stories…

  51. Hi Megan I met you two years ago in Lancaster, Pa. where you were speaking at a conference on Genealogy that I attended and had you sign two books that you had written.
    In reference to the above article, I understand exactly what your mean. Many years ago before I became actively involved in searching family history, I went to a rather large auction house and in going through boxes came across a very personal letter that the lady whose items were being auctioned apparently had written. Upon reading, I was so saddened and I wondered how many other personal letters and such might be in other boxes and immediately left the building because it was so sad to me. Today though I have found and returned a Bible to a family that had been in a box of other books at an auction, two little family history books only about4″ by 5″ that were in the bottom of a box at a yard sale with Christmas items in it and they were successfully turned over to relatives who never knew of the existence of them. There are other stories I could relate about some items I have presently that haven’t found a home yet but you are so right when you say that it is history lost and what it could mean to someone. I always try to tell others especially when they say that no one would be interested or that no one in the family is interested then turn the pictures, certificates, an actual history of the family, etc. over to a local historical society, genealogy society, library, etc. so it won’t be lost forever.
    And as I have said before, thank you for the work you are doing and have done on behave of families everywhere. Peggy Cingle

  52. I was just reading all those comments about family history and can relate on many levels–Cleaning out my parents home where mother collected old stories etc.; to being the wife of an auctioneer and seeing family things being sold; and having worked in a bank where people use to take important items for storage and finding an old family bible there that was very large and beautiful with obituaries inside. I only wish the family could be found that should have this bible. Having retired now, I’m not sure if its still there but it contained (from what I remember) the Sturgis family and relatives of that family. I’m also wondering what happened to my grandmothers old bible with history in it as when my grandmothers house was cleaned out this bible was sent to Missouri and now no-one seems to know what happened to it.

  53. I have several albums of old photographs that had been in my paternal great-grandmother’s house in Illinois. Then my great-uncle, the genealogist, inherited them. When he went into a nursing home, all his stuff went to auction. Amazingly, a former employer and friend of my MOTHER, knowing that this was my mother’s husband’s family, rescued the photos and gave them to my mother, who by now was living in Arizona. I have them now. I also have the genealogy notebook–but all the documentation, which he surely had, having been an attorney, is gone. I’m just glad that I have the photos, most of them identified in my great-uncle’s handwriting. I have physical possession of a lot of that stuff, some of it is with a nephew who knows I will kill him if he gets rid of it, but there is so much that I’m looking for a solution to the next generation problem. I’ve digitized piles of those photos, but even that has a problem: how long will a CD–and the chosen file format–last before the media is unreadable?

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  56. Hello, I enjoyed reading your article. I too am a geneology fan. I am a beginner, but I love it ! I was left, to clean out our parents house, after my mom passed, and my father passed.
    Everyone else, either didn’t care, or couldn’t be bothered.
    IT WAS A PLEASURE FOR ME TO PRESERVE, THEIR PAST. We did have the unpleasant tasks, cleaning out the back yard, old utility rooms, and an old shed, plus the house. Alot of it was donated to charity, suits, clothes, books, kitchenware, tupperware, regular furiture, not ornate antiques, but I kept the most precious, most sentimental things. Which are usually are the things not replaceable, namely photos, documents, childhood memories, etc. I found all kinds of documents, photos, tax records, my dads old navy papers, from WW2. I took grocery bags and set aside all photos from my siblings, in their own bags, even their childhood school momentos,art pictures, put their names on it, with a marker, and gave it to them, when I was done. I found all sorts of things, my dads old work records, death certificates, obituaries, many many things. Even old love letters, from when they were dating. My dad came home on leave when he was in the navy, my parents got married, and letters, waiting for him to come home. They are priceless to me ! I brought all the boxes home, and have since made about 10 different notebooks, the ones with the clear sleeves, not pasting them, but preserving them as much as possible. My favorite treasure, was an old wallet size photo of my mother when she was younger, in the 1940s, that I found in an old brown accordian type bill/organizer, that my father had placed outside in an old storage shed ! I don’t think he knew it was in there, it was the only thing in the envelope. He was diabetic, and could not see well, and this was in there,and could have been easily thrown out ! I think God meant for me to find it , I truly do !
    I took the photo, had it restored (expensive) and had copies made for each of my siblings, I kept the original.
    I also, found an old piece of yellowed typing paper, that my mother had documented her experience with an angel, in the late 1960′s, when we were little, that she had saved. Typed with the old underwood typewriters. I made color copies, of this paper, cut out just the wording with decorative sissors, pasted on computer paper that looked like floating clouds, then made a collage’ of this document, added a smaller, copy of the photo found in the shed, added card-cutouts of angels,(from Christmas cards) added more embellishments, and a white feather, then had all this laminated, and gave my siblings this for Christmas, and her remaining brother and sister, (aunt & uncle) gave them copies as well. They said it was the most beautiful gift they had ever gotten. To me this is keeping their life in safe-keeping, and in our hearts. I wish I too could find my great-great grandmothers bible. It was my grandmother on my mothers side, family. It would be William Moffitt & Sarah Sally Rominger.
    My grandmothers name was Esther Moffitt, who married Orville Lee Light. They were from Randolph County North Carolina, and Kingsport Tennessee. I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE THAT BIBLE, WITH ALL MY HEART. My mother told me many stories, about that bible, she too, never knew what happenend to it. People, we need to re-educate society today, and tell everyone we know, friends, family, neighbors, the importance of keeping family history alive. Our familes are not trash, and therefore, their history does not belong in the dump ! Wheres that AARP editor, I’ll tell them a thing or two! They should not even publish an article like that ! Shame on them all ! No, do not keep grannies slippers, or her RX glasses, or grandpas suspenders, her old plastic margarine tubs, BUT DO KEEP PAPERS, BIBLES, PHOTOS, precious and sentimental things, keep documentation of their lives. Its not just right, its blood, its life and generations, slipping through our hands.
    Society has become so disposable, and heartless to things that mean the most. HISTORY……. It is/was my favorite subject !
    God Bless you Minnie Bell Morrison & James Robert Morrison.
    I am also looking for any documentation of her being in The Shriners Hospital in Greenville SC, in 1939 as a child of 9 years old she got gangrene & blood poisoning, she had a bad leg caused from bullies at school. And had to be in there for 1 year. She said there was a newspaper article written about her, when she became a girlscout, and was wearing a knitted sweater & hat set, and was sitting in a wheelchair. I contacted the girls scouts headquaters in 2003 & 2004 they have no records. Someday, I want to find that photo, God is able. Also, I lost my mothers old Singer 99K sewing machine, that she taught me to sew on in 2001. She died in 2001. But my husband donated it to CITA (Christ Is The Answer) Thrift Shop, in Melbourne, Florida. Its was an old 1950s portable, special to only me. I cried and cried for years over this. I went back the next morning to buy it back, and it had already been put out and sold. We since moved to Colorado, if anone knows anything, let me know. My email is tenn1056@yahoo.com
    This is long, so I’ll close. Thank you all, for your comments. Lets keep our familes alive, as long as we can.
    Sincerely,
    Deborah Morrison Woodrow
    Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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