Discover your inside story with AncestryDNA®

February 10, 2009

Starting a Genealogy and Family Hope Chest

Going through my mother's boxes from her apartment, and re-examing Doris' Genealogy Box has made me stop and think. Have I made sure that the genealogy and family treasures in my care are going to be passed on to others for safe-keeping?

I am sure that many of us have such treasured items. Even if we have no family heirlooms we have our genealogy research and papers. I've learned that when a loved one dies, it is not always easy, or possible, to preserve precious documents or heirlooms. Even if saved, how and when does one pass them on to others?

It should be easy. You save everything you think is worth saving, and immediately decide you are passing everything on. Done - not your problem anymore. But wait! Who says the folks you want to pass these treasures on to are prepared to accept them. I'm learning it's not as easy as you might think.

Will Others Treasure Your Treasures?

Another scenario - you have family treasures that you enjoy so you don't want to pass them on to others now, but you want to be sure they go to other family members when you are gone. That's even more difficult to guarantee.

There are logistics involved in passing on family heirlooms and genealogy papers. If you expect your journals to be kept for the next hundred years or more, you should be thinking ahead to the problems future generations might encounter. People move. Families split up. Your great-grandson might treasure your journals but his wife may think they are just taking up space and getting musty and dirty. You might have so many journals that they become scattered and lost.

What about Great grandma's wedding ring? How will you ensure that is passed on and its history known and shared?

Your great-uncle's Military Medals and papers - is it really logical to think that a jumbled mass of documents with some tarnished medals is still going to be kept all together by one descendant and its provenance still remembered?

Who Wants Your Masses of Genealogy Papers!

And your genealogy papers and records that take up 4 filing cabinet drawers or 10 binders. Who on earth is going to want to store those? Even if you have a son or daughter ready and willing, what are the chances that the next generation will accept those 4 filing cabinets of papers and store them safely?

Who Will Carry the Torch?

I've been giving this a lot of thought over the past year and even more so since my mother passed away. As the unofficial keeper of the family photos and treasures in my family, I need to make sure that everything I love and hold dear will go on to the people I think most apt to pick up the torch and continue to cherish them.

I thank my lucky stars that my grandmother passed on most of her cherished heirlooms to me when I was a teenager. She saw an interest from me and she leapt at the opportunity to tell me the stories of who owned each item and what it meant to her.

It must have been difficult for her to let them go in her lifetime but it was a very wise step on her part. Had she waited, it is unlikely many would have been saved when she died, as no one but me knew their significance. And I was many miles away with no say over who in the family was given any mementoes.

Develop a Plan

So I have developed a plan - a Genealogy & Family Hope Chest - for helping to ensure that treasured family items and genealogy papers do get passed on and cherished by others. I call it a Genealogy & Family Hope Chest because you cannot of course guarantee that what you consider important to pass on will be preserved and passed on by others. All you can do is hope. But along with that hope you can take steps to maximize the possibility that what you want will happen!

Step 1

Let's start with Step 1 of the Genealogy & Family Hope Chest

First, make a list. Yes, sit down today and make a list of all the family treasures and heirlooms that you have in your possession.

Beside each item, write a brief description of its provenance - who owned it and how old it is, and how and when it came into your possession. Take a photograph of it or scan it. Do this for each cherished item you have.

Print the photos. You can print 4 to a page or 6 to a page, or print each separately. It's up to you. Make sure you clearly label each photo with the name and brief description of what it is. Yes, you're duplicating your list you just created, but in a visual format.

You now have a written or printed list of family heirlooms with a description of each. You also have a photo of each family heirloom clearly labelled and described.

Put one copy of the list and photos in your Safety Deposit Box (if you have one) This is just to safeguard against losing the other copy!

The other copy (list plus photos) should go in a manilla envelope marked "FOR MY EXECUTORS" and placed where your Executor(s) will remember to go to first. You have written a will and appointed executor(s) haven't you? Phone your executor(s) and tell them where you are putting this envelope and what is in it. (You should already have such an envelope which contains instructions on what you want done with your remains, where your safety deposit box is, a list of bank accounts, lawyer's name etc but that's a topic for another blog post)

This is the Family part of your Hope Chest, don't worry about your Genealogy papers just now. We'll get to those later. You can have a break now and relax. I'll talk about Step 2 of a Genealogy & Family Hope Chest in my next blog post. I think you will find Step 2 is a lot of fun!


Gini said...

Great idea, I have been thinking alot about this too, I look forward to your part 2 post on the "Genealogy Family Hope Chest"
Thank you...

Becky Jamison said...

This is a wonderful idea and very workable. Thank you so much! I'm going to follow it to the letter! I'll be watching for the next step!

Sally J. (Practical Archivist) said...

Fantastic *real world* problem solving. Bravo!

Robin said...

Thank you for taking the time to do this. One of the reasons, I started my genealogy blog, is for my children. They spend 90% of their time online and they have watched me work on our family tree and start the blog. They are starting to ask question even at their "young, uninterested" ages. Each day they do become a litte more interested even if to satisfy me in order for me to cook dinner, wash clothes or whatever they may want from me... LOL I actually do think they are someone curious. I have several items of no value to anyone but me, but hopefully one day they will take the time to wonder and explore... Im going to start this hope chest this week.

BDM said...

Excellent advice, Lorine. You've inspired me to review my Treasure List and get the camera out. It won't happen all in one day, of course, but thanks for the boost!

Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting place you've got here. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.