Packing a Punch

By Allison Dolan Premium

I have a confession to make: I am not a pack rat.

My closets don’t bulge with shoeboxes of photos, postcards, letters and memorabilia. My basement doesn’t resemble a newspaper morgue or a Tupperware graveyard. I haven’t amassed enough old clothes to open my own thrift store. I don’t own every complete set of Arby’s commemorative holiday tumblers dating back to 1986.

This might sound like a risky admission for the editor of a publication called Preserve Your Family History. Throughout these pages — and in our bimonthly issues of Family Tree Magazine — we encourage you to stockpile family artifacts. We insist especially that you squirrel away any and every genealogically valuable possession, from the family Bible to your fifth-grade pen-pal letters. If that weren’t enough, we also suggest saving the occasional everyday object (think hair barrettes and those holiday tumblers) to pique your descendants’ interest.

Yet I cavalierly discard much of my stuff. So why don’t I feel guilty — or at least ashamed to admit it? Because our admonitions aren’t meant to drive you into the ranks of Hoarders Anonymous. We merely hope to inspire you to save your most important family treasures — not only the objects themselves, but also the family stories that make them so valuable.

One of the 21 winners in this issue’s heritage-album tips contest sums up this philosophy: “The sheer volume of things people hold onto in a lifetime can be considerable,” says Melanie Stiles of Cypress, Texas. “Too much is just that — too much.”

In other words, it’s the quality, not the quantity, of your keepsakes that counts. So instead of collecting overzealously, save selectively: Pick and choose your most meaningful memories, and preserve them carefully. I call this practice “strategic hoarding.”

You’ll get a lesson in this tactic in this issue: Contributing editor Sharon DeBartolo Carmack outlines 10 types of keepsakes you can make or buy, from dolls to dishes. Her ideas include everyday objects you might normally send to the trash heap — but are worth saving when they have family history value. For example, a Niagara Falls 1952 ashtray ceases to be junk if your parents bought it on their honeymoon.

The key is context. Photos mean little without details about the people in them. But a scrapbook that identifies and describes your family tree makes a cherished keepsake. We’ve got plenty of tips and advice for crafting a heritage album — including those great ideas from Stiles and 20 more of your fellow family historians.

For more advice on creating lasting albums, see our “Scrapbook Survival Guide.” Then flip to our list of six common safe-scrapbooking beliefs — then read as experts reveal the truth about them.

We even offer tips for saving the albums constructed by past generations. It might surprise you to learn that scrapbooking isn’t strictly a contemporary craze; its roots go back to the 18th century. Famous Americans who scrapbooked include President Thomas Jefferson and author Mark Twain. Perhaps your ancestors did, too.

You’ll also learn to protect your family photos — old and new — through savvy storage: Our resident photo expert, Maureen A. Taylor, shares guidelines for preserving prints and negatives on page 36. And if you have timeworn black-and-white photos, we’ll show you ways to revive them digitally.

As you use the advice in this issue, you’ll see that it doesn’t require finding more closet space. If you properly preserve the meaningful family artifacts and the associated memories, your heirloom collection will be far easier to manage, and your descendants will enjoy it far more — even without the Tupperware.

From the May 2004 Preserve Your Family History.