Tips for Preserving Family Mementos

by Jeannine Bryant

I recently finished a very large undertaking; I sorted, scanned and labeled over 1500 photographs from my ancestors on all sides of my family, dating back to the 1890’s.  It so happened that many of the family history notes, photos and mementoes from both sides of my family ended up in the hands of my mother and father, who were apparently dubbed the “family historians.”  All of these boxes (and boxes, and boxes!) of photos, newspaper clippings, and letters were quite overwhelming, and I knew it was time that they be preserved in a way that they could be shared with our extended family, labeled with correct information, and preserved so that if anything were to happen to the originals, a back-up would be available.  It took just over three months, but I finally finished this mammoth project of scanning all the photos onto my computer’s hard drive.  I’ve made back-up copies for my brother and my father, so they will be safe no matter what.

Some of the best advice I have for folks when preserving their family mementoes is this:  attach a story and meaning to whatever objects or photos you hope to pass on to your children.  Story gives an object meaning and importance, and it is the stories of our ancestors that give us a connection to our past, rather than the objects themselves.  If you have boxes of photos that are not labeled with names and approximate dates, try to make that a goal over the next few months.

If you have special objects such as china or figurines or artwork that you hope to pass on to your children or grandchildren, make sure they know how much the piece means to you and why.  A great way of doing this is to make an audio or video recording of you talking about the object.  Someday, that recording of you talking about the object will be even more valuable to your loved ones than the object itself, and it will also ensure that the object holds a place of great importance in your family, because your descendants will know how much it meant to you.

Finally, if there are items you hope to pass on to your family members some day, why wait?  Gift these items to them now (or at their next birthday or holiday) and see these items enjoyed by a new generation.