|Bartlett Jackson. Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection|
For many people, January and February are the months they spend the most time at home. The cold and snowy weather discourages them from venturing outside, or they feel like they need time to decompress from the excitement and stress of the winter holidays. With the recent increase in COVID cases, many people find comfort and safety in just staying home. If you're spending more time at home these days, this might be a good time to focus on organizing your family papers and photos. Like genealogy research, organizing your family papers will help you connect to your personal and local history, build relationships with your relatives and friends, and strengthen your memories. Here are some tips and resources to help you organize your family's papers and photo collections:
Basic rules for organizing family archives:
Practice good personal records management for the paper you are creating or collecting today:
The day-to-day business of living generates a lot of paper: receipts, pamphlets, bills, napkins, free mailing labels, shopping lists, and scraps of reminders (just to name a few). Some of these things need to be saved for a specific period of time (e.g. tax returns) and some of these things should be saved indefinitely (e.g. wills and birth certificates). Most of the paper you create and collect should be discarded, but when you're busy and focused on living your life, it's easy to let it all accumulate and mix together. One of the best things you can do for yourself and the future generations who might inherit your papers is to set aside some time regularly (e.g. every month) to sort your papers, discard what is ready to be discarded, and file what needs to be saved. Labeling and filing what you need or want to keep will make it easier to figure out what should be kept indefinitely or passed on to future generations.
Figure out what's important to keep:
There's lots of information online about what people should keep and for how long, but a lot of this advice focuses on the practical or current use of personal papers. Tax returns, for example, should be saved for several years in case you are audited or you need to amend a past return. Receipts should be saved so you can reconcile your financial statements, return items, or make claims against a warranty. However, when thinking about your papers from a historical perspective, the value or reason for keeping something may change and no longer fit the original or practical purpose. Not everything is meant to be kept indefinitely, and the reasons for keeping something may be unique to you and your family!
What to save indefinitely as part of your family archives varies from person to person and family to family, but there are a few ways to help you determine what's best for your collection. First, ask yourself:
The answers to these questions will help you determine how large your collection can be and which materials you should prioritize. It's alright if you can't keep something!
There are some types of papers that are almost universally considered important enough to keep indefinitely, even if their practical purpose no longer exists:
For other types of papers, consider these questions when trying to figure out whether to keep them indefinitely:
Keep like with like:
How to Organize Your Family Keepsakes and Collections by Denise May Levenick
Organize Old Family Photos with the Parking Lot System by Denise May Levenick
When to Keep and When to Throw Away Important Documents by Elizabeth Larkin
How Long to Keep Tax Records and Other Documents by Consumer Reports