All This Old Family History

For several days now, I’ve seen several families discussing what to do with their newly rediscovered collection of Boy Scout Handbooks. This speaks to a larger trend of discovery, reminiscence, and then wanting to move on. These families all experience great joy in revisiting these tangible links to the past but after paging through them . . . they were ready to move on and retire these pieces of history.

Purging and decluttering are complex procedures when one is a trained archivist. You find yourself balancing your need and desire to reduce the undesired excesses of your life with the professional urgency and constant advocacy to save history, not discard it.

Happily, it is possible to maintain that delicate balancing act, to rid your house and your life of these physical and metaphorical weights but also to help save history for the future.

For those families with old Scouts Handbooks, older relatives who served on local, regional, or state governments, or extensive photographic collections documenting their family’s history in a particular region . . . have you considered donating your materials to an archival repository?

It sounds stuffy, doesn’t it? Archival Repository.

An Archival Repository is merely a shorthand way of referring to a home for historic materials. Archives appear in many, many walks of life, and are therefore represented by the catch-all term “Archival Repository”. You will find Archives in:

  • All levels of government
  • Colleges & universities
  • Museums
  • Grade schools
  • History societies (regional and topical)
  • Public libraries
  • Private sector companies
  • Non-profits

If you  have all of your grandfather’s old uniforms, a stack of old scouting handbooks, or a mountain of photographs from the turn of the century, there’s probably an archive out there somewhere that would be very happy to accept these materials.

The Society of American Archivists, the oldest professional organization for archivists in North America, has several wonderful guides all about donating your personal or family collections, including what to donate, how to find an archives to donate to, and what the general procedure should be.

I would heartily encourage families to take a moment when tidying up to consider the historical value of your collection. Tangible links to our history exist only if we do the work now to save it.

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