Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Give Your Junk to the Family Genealogist

Photo of an old trunk, courtesy featurePicsI was amused at the quote my wife read from an article1 about baby boomers trying to dejunk their homes.

Bamlett is a proponent of “guilt-free” organizing. “If you’re holding onto something because you feel you should, don’t. Give it to a charity that speaks to your heart. Or find another relative, someone who’s interested in family genealogy.”

A closer look at the article had me singing a different tune. The article highlights the problem people face when parents die. Their descendants are often left with a large amount of stuff. Just when they are burdened with grief, they are burdened with the task of sifting and sorting through the evidence of their loved one’s existence. Some possessions were of value only to the deceased. Some are valued by multiple descendants who must navigate through fragile feelings. Inevitably, someone without the time to do so is left to sort all the belongings in-between.

That’s when priceless genealogical treasures often hit the trash heap.

After a bit of reading I found myself in complete agreement with the funny-sounding statement. Before you throw everything out, let the family genealogist have a shot at that old trunk of dusty documents and ancient photographs with unfamiliar names written on the backs.

The article also made a suggestion we should all take to heart. Gather together before their (or your own) death. Dejunk, divvy, and divide. Decreasing the amount of stuff that must be sifted afterwards decreases inadvertent losses. Identifying and locating genealogical gold nuggets beforehand increases the likelihood that they will pass to loving hands.

Read the entire article on the Sacramento Bee website.


     1.  Claudia Buck, “Personal Finance: Parents’ ‘Stuff’ Can Be a Burden for Boomers,” Sacramento Bee ( : accessed 12 July 2014).


  1. I'm the family historian for my side and the recipient of family photos, autobiographical sketches, etc. and have assembled some interesting collections of publications and other artistic products. But the follow-up question would seem to be -- what if no one else in the family is interested..... what do you do with the archives when YOU pass? I've identified a couple of county historical societies that might be interested in some of the material, not sure about the FHL, and there is NO archives for vaudeville, apparently (I've even asked an NYU professor who is the go-to person for this period of performing arts history).

  2. When I started genealogy my relatives thought that would be a good time to clean out their closets. I'm so glad they did! I was able to sift through the important genealogical information from things that did not really need to be kept. By sorting the items and discussing their importance (or lack thereof) in a non-crisis time, it was win-win for us all!

  3. Related observation: About 5 or 6 years ago the Globe & Mail newspaper had an article aimed at homeowners who want to declutter their homes. A professional organizer featured in the article advised people to simply throw out boxes containing old photographs.


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