To Save or Not to Save?

To Save or Not to Save?

My mom’s been helping clean out Grandma’s garage. Last night when I visited, Mom was telling me about the piles of old receipts Grandma’s been hanging onto all these years. Mom had pulled out some papers—the hospital bill for my aunt’s birth, the building materials order for the family’s first...

My mom’s been helping clean out Grandma’s garage. Last night when I visited, Mom was telling me about the piles of old receipts Grandma’s been hanging onto all these years.

Mom had pulled out some papers—the hospital bill for my aunt’s birth, the building materials order for the family’s first home—and the rest were in what-do-we-do-with-this? limbo.

Of course, I had to go through it all. I took a bunch of papers, including the bill for Mom’s first communion around 1954

and the receipts for her second-grade schoolbooks (someone played connect-the-dots on the back)

and 12th-grade tuition (including a $25 graduation fee).

I’ll definitely save stuff related to my mom. But what about the other kids’ schoolbook lists, random furniture receipts, a refrigerator repair ticket, ancient correspondence from an insurance company, BBB reports on business schools an aunt was thinking about attending, and similar items?

Theoretically, it’s great to keep every piece of paper. But with limited space and crowded lives, reality demands most of us be choosy about what we save. What would you do with these papers? Click Comments (below) to reply.

Added to my to-do list: Review the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine guide for what to do when you inherit the family archives (print copies are sold out, but this issue is available as a PDF download). And if you’re considering donating family materials to a historical archive, see the advice on our Now What? blog.

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  1. There are some universities (UNC Southern Memories collection?) that collect the family materials- see if there is a regional university that might like tyhem for the economic history value….

  2. If it were me, i’d scan the pages for safekeeping and then with all the other important paper with birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc, I would file them away in a sheet protector in a 3-ring binder. But that’s just me 🙂

  3. Save or copy everything that can support events in your family’s life, such as first communion and graduations. Also include those things which can be used to give color to your family history when you sit down t write it, such as, the list and cost of items for the first communion and second grade. They may not add anything to your family history file but they will provide interesting insight some day.

  4. I save EVERYTHING! And I am glad that I have. Years later some notes make sense to me after I’ve uncovered more information. What would I have done when my children were complaining about the cost of braces for their kids: show them the letter my mother wrote to my grandmother complaining about the same thing – only the price was $500. [in the 1950’s this WAS a big deal]. Or the letter written to a sister of a recently divorced daughter-in-law telling about the husband’s problems with the disease of drink – and a warning to that family line re alcoholism. The random entry in an old diary, that this was the day her son cut a femoral artory while butching a cow in his Chicago market – but was saved because a doctor had told him what to do when a young clerk suffered the same self-inflicted wound 3 months before, but bled to death before the doctor’s arrival. I keep all notes, receipts, etc in an archival sheet in the particular family notebook. I was able to supply a cousin’s birth announcement to her that she’d never seen. Her parents had divorced shortly after her birth and she’d had little contact with either of them – was adopted by ‘outsiders’. It was calming to her to know that they were happy and proud at her birth. I complained when I first was married at the cost of groceries. We were an instant family of 4 children under the age of 5 – the growing group finished off a box of cereal per morning. At 50 cents per box it was running up my grocery bill! Hard to believe today when the cost/box can run over $5.00.

    Genealogy is SO much MORE than just the birth, marriage, death dates. It means a lot to know that an ancestor fought during the Rev. War without apparent injury, but had the misfortune to ‘fall off a roof’ to his death in 1787. Now one can imagine a man in full physical ability, actively mending or building a roof when he met with an unfortunate accident. Much more of a memory than just ‘he died in 1787’.

    I treasure the letters my grandmother wrote to my mom – giving details that let me know the chickens they raised were more than just destined to her kitchen table – she dressed and delivered them to local dinners for additional cash for the household just after WWII.

  5. Someone sent me a box that they bought at a garage sale that contained school books used by my gggrandparents. Another item in the box was a deed book in perfect condition. I looked at it, and realized that it was signed by all of the original founders and immigrants to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and that it was in fact priceless. I ended up giving it to the Mennonite Historical Society of Lancaster. They have the facilities to properly store it, and it will be available to anyone who ever wants to look at it. That sure beats being hidden in a file cabinet in my office. Some things are fine to keep, but others, need to be protected but available to others.

    I save some things at home, but not the really valuable things, or what is irreplaceable.

  6. Like a couple of people who have also commented, I save EVERYTHING that I can get my hands on. I have inherited some old family papers and am delighted to have them, no matter how mundane. These papers are a connection to lives that were lived, whether in 1850 or 1950, and they document those lives. It may look like a repair bill for fridge now but later it will be something of interest to someone. I inherited a diary that my grandfather’s uncle kept, faithfully, on a dialy basis, from 1920 to 1926, until the day before he died. It is filled with references to people, places and things that mean something to me.. and some references I still can’t figure out, but it makes great reading, even if he only recorded the weather for a particular day. He owned our small town bank and detailed the burglary that took place in the middle of the night and its aftermath. A cousin has an envelope addressed to my great-great-grandfather when he was in the Enrolled Missouri Militia in the Civil War. Just the envelope, official business, but I was delighted when he scanned it and sent it to me by e-mail. Oh yes, keep everything and keep in mind that it may be an amazing treasure trove for future generations to come. And use archival quality material to store it in, too!

  7. I would scan everything that seemed really important and keep only things that were personally important such as things with a signature. I find I just can’t keep everything but if I have it scanned I can always print it out again – true it won’t be the original but close enough for me unless like I said, it was somehow really personal.

  8. I would send the other children’s things to them to do with as they see if, but if any of it is particularly interesting to you, scan it before you send it to them. I save almost everything, but some things are just too much for our humble home to store.

  9. Either donate to a local historical society, library, or other group who collects items of local interest OR scan everything, which makes it easier to share with family members and then decide what you have room to save.

  10. Yes, scanning is wonderful for reducing paper. I’m an organized digital pack rat:) Let’s see a refigerator repair receipt…hmmm..I might scan it if there was a story with it. If, for example, you got to eat all the popscicles when it broke, write a childhood story about it and include an image. If you can definately associate a furniture receipt with a particular piece of furniture, it would prove age someday. At my aunt’s estate sale, we included copies of reciepts with a couple items and sometimes a photo if there was one available. The auctioneer said that really generated interest. I would offer siblings items not of interest to me to my siblings but would not offer to store them:)

  11. We saved lots of old paperwork after my father in law died in 1992. Two years ago, I found my husband’s name on a state list for unclaimed money. He needed to prove he had lived at an address in 1957, and we found his dad’s tax return for that year, which proved adequate and he got over $800 from the state from an old insurance policy we had not known about! I vote for &quot;Save!&quot;