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Two Sisters' Approach to Preserving Family History

I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty. - John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960)

Just about every time a call comes in from an executor, we hear the same lament: I don't know what to keep. Usually accompanied with a shrug & a tight smile, many of our clients have just inherited a houseful & are feeling overwhelmed & a tad guilty for needing to be rid of the stuff.

We always say the same thing: Your grandmother would not have expected you to keep it all. She wouldn't have wished that burden on you. A vintage AGA stove or a Wurlitzer jukebox may rekindle wonderful memories, but both items cost a fortune to move, to restore, to insure. That set of floral dishes your grandfather brought home from WWII is easily chipped, rarely used, awkward to store & has minimal resale value. And so it goes with many inherited items. Preserving memories in less cumbersome ways - through downsizing, de-cluttering, simplifying - makes sense in our increasingly informal, aging society.

So what to keep? Think precious & portable - a handmade quilt, an inscribed wedding band, a jar of buttons, a single paperweight, old photos. Just about every household has boxes & boxes of ephemera - these photographs, letters, postcards, certificates, newspaper clippings, genealogy et al can be preserved in all sorts of creative & meaningful ways.

And that's the point of this section, to show how two sisters worked together to safeguard their family history & some of the gratifying results - through 1) edited photo albums, 2) collage, assemblage & transfer, 3) genealogy & other ephemera & 4) photographed objects.

There are only two or three human stories & they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before. - Willa S. Cather (1873-1947)

It was a rainy week in October 2006 when I flew into Boston for a visit with my sister. We had a project in mind that involved reducing her many jumbled photographs, stored willy-nilly in the basement. Too many outgrown relationships & poor quality pictures were depriving her of any enjoyment whatsoever. It was my assigned job, as editor & big sis, to condense these memories into a cheerful & manageable collection; Beth needed her photos to make sense.

First off, a trip to Barnes & Noble yielded top-quality archival photo albums, an X-ACTO knife, a stainless steel ruler, a self-healing mat, retro black photo corners. Judicious editing, good wine, lots of reminiscing (uh, or was that lots of wine & good reminiscing?) & a couple days later we had three sweet albums - our childhood, her adulthood, her cats. The unwanted photographs were tossed into the recycling bin.

Now, 13 years later, these cherished collections are still frequently & proudly trotted out for guests. They don't take up any significant space & that particular family history can now be effortlessly accessed & appreciated.

Note: This page is under construction. More to come.

Entire website contents: Copyright 2007-2020 by Anne Patterson Dee

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