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I did it!

Posted by Elisabeth Doucett on July 28th, 2017

Well, I did it!  My last blog provided information about what to keep and what to throw away when you are trying to clean out family papers and photographs.  Immediately after writing that blog I took a week’s “staycation” at home.  The weather wasn’t great (a potential hazard of summers in Maine) so I decided to jump full-throttle into Project “Clean-Out-the-Family-Stuff”.

Here’s how I worked:

  • I took one pile or one box or one bag of photos or old news clippings or old papers and emptied it out on to the sofa next to me. I never looked at anything other than the pile next to me because if I did I would have immediately been overwhelmed and come to a screeching halt!
  • I sorted completely through that pile.
    • Anything that I didn’t think should be saved immediately went into a garbage bag or a shredding bag. If I didn’t know the name of a person in a photo was, the photo was thrown out or put in a pile for family members to research.  I trusted myself to make the correct decision about keep or throw.  If I made a mistake I decided ahead of time it was ok because if the photo or clipping stayed where it was no one would ever have seen it anyway.  That was a very freeing way of approaching the project.
    • I sorted all items that I was keeping into piles (based on subject) and labeled each pile.
    • I was remorseless with photographs. I asked both my sister and brother if they wanted photos of their kids.  They both said no because they had copies of everything.  So, unless I wanted a specific photo of a nephew or niece, into the shredding pile it went.
    • Once I finished putting like items in a pile, I put the pile into a file folder with its subject name on it. The folder then went into a box.  This kept my room from getting too crowded with stuff.
  • Once I finished a pile I started immediately on the next pile. I worked three hours on each bad weather day and finished in a week – amazing.  This is a project that I’ve avoided for ages.

Here is the photo of the materials that will be going either to a shredder or into the garbage/recycling.  The final count was six bags and a much emptier basement.

The next step will involve going through the labeled folders and making sure the labels are right and make sense so other family members can find what they want if they go through the files.  I will also make sure I write on the back of any photo (in pencil) the name of the people in the photo if that hasn’t already been done.

Some folders will get made into albums, some will get digitized, and some will stay in folders in boxes.  But, they will be labeled and identified for the next generation and they can decide if they want to keep them or not.  I will feel like I’ve done the best job I can passing on the family stuff to the next generation in a way that will actually let them use that “stuff”.  Good luck with your sorting efforts and I will tell you that it feels REALLY good to have done this!



What to keep and what to throw away

Posted by Elisabeth Doucett on July 14th, 2017

My personal genealogy goal this summer is to finish cleaning out and organizing all of the family “paper” that I’ve accumulated as the family historian.  In all honesty this has been my project for every one of the past three summers and so far it hasn’t happened.  I probably have 10 boxes of stuff to go through and every time I start, I get completely overwhelmed.  I’m guessing I’m not the only person in the world with this problem so I decided to do some research on tips that might help me be more successful this time around.

The article “Minimalism and Family History: Part II by Alison Taylor provided a very practical method for working my way through the paper files, asking myself the following questions as I sort:

Do I know what this is? If you don’t know what it is, toss it.
Do I care about this any more? Will my children ever care about it?
Would I want to include this in a book of my life stories someday? If it helps tell the story of your life or if it would be interesting to future generations, keep it for now.
Is it a duplicate? You only need one. Pick the best quality copy and pitch the rest.
Is it large and bulky? Snap a photo of your kids’ dog-eared second-grade science project and let it go.
Is it accessible online? This especially applies to old printed genealogical data, like pedigree charts from your great Aunt Martha circa 1973. If that data is stored on your computer, or now resides in Family Search or Ancestry, pitch it!

This next article was discovered in FamilyTree Magazine (What to Keep and What to Toss) and was short and simple.  It provided three key headings for your sorting: Save, Skim then trash; Trash.  It was a bit too simplistic for me but might be perfect for someone else.

Another good article came from the Family Curator blog who provides 7 questions to ask yourself to help decide what to keep and what to throw out.  3 “yes” answers says you should probably think carefully about putting that object in the “keep” pile.

  1. Do I have the resources to care for this?
  2. Is this the only keepsake from my ancestor?
  3. What is my relationship to the owner?
  4. Was this item saved as a family heirloom?
  5. How old is it?
  6. Is it valuable?
  7. Is it priceless to me or to our family?

Finally, I’ll share a few tips that I uncovered in my reading:

  • If you have memories associated with a keepsake but don’t want to keep that item any longer, take a picture of it to remind you of your memories – and then let it go.
  • When you are weeding/decluttering don’t stop and start to read documents in great detail. If you do, you will never finish your project.  Just read enough to figure out what is in the document and how you are going to treat it.
  • Remember that items don’t have magical properties, memories do — getting rid of something your loved one owned isn’t getting rid of that person

These articles have provided me with some very helpful guidance for my weeding project.  I hope they do the same for you!  Happy research!

Brigham Young University Family History Library

Posted by Elisabeth Doucett on June 30th, 2017

If you haven’t taken a look at the Brigham Young University Family History Library website, here’s a suggestion to check it out.

If you go here it will take you to their Subject List page.  It is exhaustive and I’m still working my way through what they have available for free.

Most of my research is focused on Canada so I tend to look for new resources in that geography.  I’ve been doing genealogy long enough now that I don’t find new resources all that often.  But, on this website I did.

I found the “Historical Atlas of Canada Online Learning Project” at    The site has interactive maps around specific events in Canadian history – fascinating.  Here’s how the website describes itself:

The Historical Atlas of Canada was a three-volume collaborative research and publishing project, finished in 1993, which used maps text and other graphics to explore themes in the history of Canada.  The Historical Atlas of Canada Online Learning Project is intended to make the maps and data generated for the Atlas available to a wider audience by
re-designing them for the Internet.

Some of the identified resources are links to other websites and some are BYU Family History Library websites.  There is also a link to free online genealogy webinars – definitely worth taking a look at.  You can find that page here.

I hope you have a great 4th of July and the opportunity to do lots of genealogy.  Happy research!