Family History: How to Begin Sorting and Rescuing Your Heirlooms

Do you have the necessary items covered in my previous post, Things You will Need to Organize Your Family History?  If so, you are ready to start sorting through you boxes in order to find out what information you have and on who.  After you  have finished sorting and organizing your information and memorabilia you will be able to create beautiful scrapbooks, shadow boxes and other keepsakes.  Until these heirlooms are organized they are just trash in a box.

Part 1

♥ How to start organizing all those Family History Papers in those old Boxes:

  • 1.  Take one of the boxes to the table.  Take the top item out of the box. Pay attention as you work through the box.  I often found that things had been placed in the box in order, giving me clues as to the chronological order of the items.  Decide who the item pertains to and whether or not the item is worth keeping.  Some things aren’t worth keeping.  Generally, if it is you will know it.  If in doubt keep it.  You may find other things pertaining to it as you go through the rest of the box.  If you decide to keep it, start a pile on the table for items pertaining to that particular individual.  Memorabilia of the non paper variety such as quilts, needle work, special clothing, baby toys, and other such items that really won’t fit in a file folder should be piled near the paper pile for each individual. sorting process
    Boxes of Family History “Stuff” being sorted. I know, it’s not pretty, but honestly most of our boxes of junk aren’t. That’s why we are sorting it. Someday through persistent effort and creativity some, but not all, of this stuff will be pretty and worth keeping.
  • As you go through the box start a new pile for each pertinent individual you come across.  You will probably have a pile for each of your grandparents, your parents, yourself, each of your children, your spouse, and possibly his parents and grandparents.  You may even end up with piles for your each of your siblings.  You might make piles for your great-grandparents, if you are lucky enough to have anything from them.  How many piles you end up with is determined by how many boxes you have to go through and the number of people involved.
  • Sometimes you can’t do all of it at once, depending on how serious your relatives hoarding problem was. You may need to go back and forth between this and the next step until you get through all the boxes.   Leave yourself some space beside the pile of papers for a file box.   In my case I have so much “stuff” that I ran out of table space and had to use chairs to sit the file boxes on when I began filing.

When you get every thing sorted into piles you will be ready for Part 2:  Filing the Items You Have Sorted.  For more serious information on family history organization, check out this blog post: What do I do with all This Stuff

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Family History: Things You Will Need to Get Organized and Rescue Your Heirlooms

In order to organize that box of family history related papers that look like trash, you will need to have a few things available.  You may have some of it on hand, other items will need to be purchased.

♥ Things you will need to organize your family history:    

  1. Table space, I used card tables set up in my family room in order to avoid sorting everything on the dining room table.  It could take a while to do this and you don’t want to start over every time your family needs to have dinner if you can possibly avoid it.
  2. File folders, start with one box.
  3. File boxes,  If you are concerned about the finances, cardboard bankers boxes or most any cardboard boxes that will accommodate file folders will work.  For children’s memorabilia  accordion files may work well.  These boxes are not meant to be a permanent home for your memorabilia.  The quality of the boxes you will need is also determined by how long you will be using them.  If this process is going to take many years (and I do mean many years, my son’s memorabilia has been in an accordion file for 29 years!  Embarrassing, I know!) You will be best off purchasing archival boxes, file boxes however, they will be more expensive.  In my case, these items have survived for many years in old cardboard boxes, so most anything is an improvement!  I bought plastic file boxes at Walmart. You can decorate them pretty and make them cute. Mine are practical. I labeled them with a Sharpie. I will save the time involved in decorating the boxes and labeling them beautifully for my end product. Scrapbooks, shadow boxes and other keepsakes. If you are sorting through your children’s paperwork you will probably need one for each child, while you may be able to get both Grandma and Grandpa into the same box.  Don’t go buy a box for each individual from the past.  If your grandparents start crowding each other out you can separate them into 2 boxes when you get to that point.
  4. Trash Can some things really aren’t worth keeping.  For some items you may even want a Paper Shredder.
  5. Pen or Sharpie

When you have these items you will be ready for the next step: Sorting your family history.

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