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What to Save

When collecting family records, you may feel a strong connection with all kinds of objects you associate with loved ones who have passed—photographs, letters, small objects, even whole rooms. Over time you may gradually realize that some of these mementos are very important to you, and you want to keep them; others may lose their power for you, and you may find you are ready to let them go.

Sometimes when for emotional reasons or practical ones, such as space, it is important to select some things to keep and others to let go of, making those decisions can feel overwhelming and be very difficult.

What matters most?

Here are some questions that might help you think about which items are most important for you to preserve for yourself or others:

  • Do you want to save materials as part of the legacy of your loved ones to share with future generations?
  • Do you or others in your family feel a strong emotional connection to certain items?
  • Are there several similar items? If so, might you keep just one or two?
  • Is an item something you would be likely to display or use, or is it something you would put away for safe keeping?
  • Does an item seem to capture something unique, important, or characteristic about the person?
  • Does an item, or a group of items, help tell an important story about your family?
  • Does an item, or a group of items capture some part of your family history that has a broader historical significance? Do you wish to preserve these materials as part of the larger historical record? If so, you might consider donating the item or group of items to a historical repository that would preserve them and make them accessible to the public.
  • What guidance do spiritual or cultural beliefs provide about holding on to or discarding these materials?
  • Do all the members of your family agree about the disposition of these materials? If not, you may want to seek help to build consensus and receive support from your family members about your decisions.

What can you take care of?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have the space for the item or items?
  • Will you have the space in a few years?
  • Is the space available a safe enough environment for storing the item or items?
  • How delicate or fragile is the item?

Consider ways you can preserve your memories without having to keep and care for so many objects:

  • Photograph a specific item or set of items and save this documentation.
  • Video a set of items or a room before dismantling or dispersing the contents. This is a good idea whether or not you are keeping the items.
  • Keep selected parts of a large collection instead of keeping everything.