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February 15, 2009

Genealogy and Family Hope Chest Step 5: Original Documents

We've taken care of all your wonderful family photos, now let's move on to those original documents in your possession!

An original document is something that is unique, one-of-a-kind. It isn't a copy of a record found in an archive or library and once it is lost, it's gone forever.

Examples of Original Documents

Your original documents might include Great Grandpa's land deed from the 1800s, Grandma's Family Bible, Great-great grandma's journal she kept while taking a Conestoga Wagon across Pennsylvania to Upper Canada, letters written by your father to your mother from WW2 or WW1, Certificates, Receipts for Funeral Expenses for Great Grandma's sister, School Report Cards, original military papers of your great-uncle, the passport issued to your grandmother in the 1920s, etc.

There's always exceptions to the "rule" and it is true that some of these family documents can be found again. The military papers may be held in an archive, a vital statistics registration may be available to researchers, but they are not the original document saved by the family. You can set your own "rules" of course! These are just my definitions/rules for the plan I came up with for my personal Genealogy Family Hope Chest.

Don't Forget About YOU

Don't forget that your own items are important, and one day your descendants will be thrilled that you thought to preserve them. So toss in your Report Card from Grade 2, your Certificate of Good Citizenship from Grade 4, your old diaries, your will, legal papers, Marriage Certificate and whatever else you have that will become of historical or genealogical interest in the future.

Yes, you too may be part of history one day. Did you write about 911 in your journal? About Obama becoming the first African American President of the USA? Perhaps you wrote about a family death and funeral or a family reunion or a birth or marriage. Even if you simply made a one line notation of these events it becomes historically or genealogically interesting. So don't discount your own importance in the Genealogy Family Hope Chest.

The Hope Chest

I think choosing the right container for your treasured documents is very important. You want to maximize the chances that the chest you choose will be kept by one of your descendants. So you need to pick one that conveys importance and that would look good in someone else's home. It should also be small enough to be easily carried by one person, so something like a blanket box is not the best idea.

Why do I call it a Hope Chest? Because I hope it will be cherished and passed on down many more generations!

This is one of the boxes I use for keeping my family documents, letters, papers and journals in. I chose it because it's an antique, it looks great, and it looks like something that should be kept.

Having the documents in a box like this makes it almost certain that at some point in the future one of my descendants will pick it up and take it home. I doubt they'll throw out anything that is inside, because it has an implied importance by virtue of being in the box in the first place! This box is about 21"x14"x6" and I haven't filled it yet.

Start a Hope Chest for your Children

One of the things I did for each of my sons was to gather together their baby books, their little bracelets worn when they were first born, school certificates, report cards, trophies won, and other memorabilia from their childhood. Then I placed these treasures in WW2 Ammo boxes with rope handles that I won at an antique auction. I stencilled their full name on each box to personalize it. Each was given his box when he left home and set up a house of his own.

My sons tell me that they have added their own mementoes since that day, and I feel pretty confident they will pass those boxes on to one of their own children. I don't have a photo of the boxes I bought for my sons but here is an ammo box that looks similar. I wanted something masculine and durable for them. If I were doing this for a daughter I'd choose something more feminine

The next generation to take care of my Genealogy Family Hope Chest might not ever look through it. But I'm willing to bet they keep it and tell one of their children that it belonged to Grandma or Great-Grandma Lorine, and that it should be kept and passed on to the next generation.


JoLyn said...

This is terrific - what a great idea! Where did you obtain all your original documents? I wish I had things like this!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

JoLyn - I don't want to make my document box contents sound more important or old than they really are! I do have an original birth certificate from the 1880s but many of my papers are items from the 1920s and up. They're important to me of course, and should be of interest to future generations.

Where did I get them? I save everything, have since I was a kid. So for eg. I have all my siblings wedding invitations from the 1950s. My mom gave me her scrapbook when I was a teenager and it had newspaper clippings from the 1920s plus her wedding invitation. I wasn't organized or discriminatory in my saving, I wanted it all and I just tossed everything I got into various boxes. Somehow I managed to hang on to them over the years and the dozens of moves I've made.

I also started young, and saved many letters and postcards from relatives back in the 1960s. My grandmother gave me her scrapbook when I was a teenager, and it contained newspaper clippings including one of her wedding in 1914.

When relatives passed away the word went out that "Lorine would like all your junk!" (Yes that's what they called it) So papers and photos began to come to me when elderly relatives passed on.

It's also helpful to put the word out to family that you are very happy to preserve documents if they are thinking of spring cleaning and clearing out what they consider clutter.

I have such assorted items such as death certificates, birth certificates, letters, postcards, odds 'n ends of ephemera (my dad's membership to the United Church of Canada, letters of recommendation about various family members, military papers, etc ) report cards going back to 1918 for various family members, etc.

Basically I keep what many would throw out! I made my brother laugh last night by telling him I have a serviette (napkin) from his first wedding in the 1950s - complete with the date and name of bride and groom.

I always have one question in my mind - would my future great great great grandchild be excited to find this in my document box. If my answer is YES, then I keep it.

It's not too late for you to start! Ask around in your family. Start saving things NOW. Remember your present is your descendants' past.