What to Keep and What to Toss

By Denise May Levenick Premium

As you sort through an inherited family archive of papers, photos, genealogy records, albums, newspaper clippings, magazines and other assorted “stuff,” you might be tempted to either keep everything or throw everything out. Resist both of these urges. Instead, look at each item and use the following lists to help you quickly decide what to save and what to trash (shred any records with sensitive information).


  • vital records
  • graduation, baby, marriage invitations and announcements
  • educational records—school report cards, school photos
  • military records—discharge papers, letters, awards
  • Christmas cards and envelopes
  • Christmas Card List
  • recipes, handwritten favorites
  • address books
  • bank passbooks
  • income tax returns
  • journals, diaries, ledgers
  • scrapbooks, autograph and photo albums
  • correspondence
  • employment records—pay stubs, contracts, résumés (keep enough to verify employment and salary)
  • telephone books
  • city and club directories and rosters
  • genealogy and family history charts, narratives, family trees

Skim, then trash:

  • church and club newsletters (skim first for family news and consider saving a representative copy)
  • cancelled checks, check registers (skim first for purchases of family heirlooms or details on relatives’ cost of living)
  • news clippings (skim for news of family or friends)
  • travel itineraries and brochures (skim for information on trips or places where relatives might live)
  • old calendars (skim for anniversaries and dates of birth)
  • receipts (skim for purchases of heirlooms and other important items such as automobiles)
  • medical bills and records (extract genealogical information before throwing away)


  • random newspaper and magazine clippings 
  • bank statements
  • old insurance policies (check first whether they’re still in effect)
  • travel brochures
From the July/August 2012 Family Tree Magazine