What to Keep When Cleaning Out a Relative’s Home

Cleaning Out a Relative's HomeRecently, Genealogy Gems podcast listener Debra Ingrum Trammel wrote to me with this question about cleaning out a relative’s home. Does it sound familiar?

“Hi Lisa, My husband is faced with the daunting task of disposing of his parent’s belongings. His parents at age 92 and 86 have things that go way back!!

We live in Tennessee and his parents lived in Texas so that in itself is a real chore to have to make numerous trips back and forth. My husband is so eager to get all of this finished but I am concerned that he will overlook or not be aware of any items that should be kept for his family history.

I continue to work on researching his side of the family. I know that we should keep certain documents: birth certificates, marriage licenses, definitely old photographs, etc. but I fear that there are items that I might not think about as being important. Might you offer some suggestions for us?

Here’s my answer:

Debra, I sympathize with your concern about overlooking things. When my Grandpa died I was pregnant with my last child and unable to go back and help clear out the house in another state. I worried too about things being tossed without folks realizing they were important.

One area to keep an eye out for is bills & receipts – a lot of folks (like my Grandmother) kept receipts from way back. While on the surface they seemed prime to toss, I was able to retrace their steps and homes through the 1940s and 1950s based on the addresses written on the receipts. What a delightful walk that was!

Old letters genealogyPaperwork is often the area we itch to toss, but old envelopes and letters from other people writing to our relatives can provide many clues.

I also carefully go through all old books before giving them away because more than once a special tidbit has been tucked inside the pages. If you don’t plan on keeping the book or don’t want to keep the item in the book, be sure to make note of which pages it was nestled in between. There could be a special meaning there. If everyone involved is in a big hurry to finish the cleanup and you don’t have the luxury of time to go through the pages of the books, at least give them a gentle shake over a table allowing anything tucked inside to fall out.

In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 39 I tell the story of one of the most significant finds in my family that almost got tossed out. But Grandmother was tapping me on the shoulder, prodding me to look further before wrapping things up – and boy am I glad that I did!  If folks in your family think you are being too persnickety about not overlooking things, play that segment of the show for them, or tell them the story.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I invite all of you readers out there to share your unusual finds and recommendations for Debra on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. (And don’t forget to “Like” us!)

We also have a large selection of free and Premium videos devoted to organizing and preserving family history items and information. Visit our Videos page and click the topic Organizing & Preserving. Each video includes a downloadable show notes cheat sheet.

Wishing you family history success, and many thanks for writing!  Lisa

Read History As It Was Written via Chronicling America

If you research ancestors in the U.S., you’ve probably already used the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website for searching digitized newspapers. Now they’ve added a new feature: you can subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics!

Chronicling America

The Evening World (New York, NY), Sept 10, 1900, Evening Edition, Page 2. Digitized image from Chronicling America.

Here’s how it works. You can sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.)

My favorite family history-related topics are natural disasters (like the Chicago fire or Galveston flood), war topics (from Appomattox to World War I) and civil and human rights events (from the Railroad Strike of 1886 to Ellis Island to coverage of Pullman porters). But there are a lot of topics that might relate to your family: industrialization (electric cars!), arts, sports (think Babe Ruth and the Boston Marathon), major crimes and trials, politics, holidays and public celebrations and public works and technology marvels (like the Panama Canal or Titanic).

To subscribe, just use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America home page.

Learn more about finding your ancestors in the newspaper in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. She walks you through the process of determining which newspapers might mention your ancestors and where to find those papers (both online and offline). You’ll learn in detail about Chronicling America and more about other free and subscription options for searching online newspapers. Best of all, Lisa shares mouthwatering examples from her own research that show you why newspapers can be such a valuable source of information on our family history.

 

 

Genealogy Gems Book Club: MORE Great Books Recommended

genealogy book club genealogy gemsLooking for something fun to read this holiday season? Whether you need reading material for holiday travels or just want to curl up under a blanket at home, here are two great titles I love. I shared these with Lisa in the December episode of the Genealogy Gems podcast–click here to hear our discussion and excerpts!

Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History
by Helene Stapinski is one of my favorite published family histories. The author recounts her family’s upbringing in the context of the notoriously corrupt culture of Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A. It’s a page-turner, from the jaw-dropping opening sentence to the author’s final musings about how her own life reflects hand-me-down criminal tendencies. Some of the stories are snickeringly funny and some are sad, and the author keeps just the right distance from the drama. She’s close enough to sympathize with people who are trying to make their way within a culture that rewards dishonesty, greed and violence, yet can laugh at ironies like trying to learn about her grandfather’s petty thefts–when he’s stolen the very newspaper pages about his misdeeds from the library.

Homemade Biography: How to Collect, Record, and Tell the Life Story of Someone You Love
This is more than “just” a how-to book for family historians—it’s a story of its own. I re-read it every time I want to be freshly inspired to pursue the stories of my family. New York Times best-selling author and journalist Tom Zoellner weaves stories of his own into fabulous, hard-won advice on interviewing people. He shares insider tips on how to get the best stories out of those we talk to. There’s even a helpful chapter on how to work with the memories of those who have Alzheimer’s!

Tune in next month to learn our next featured book for the first quarter of 2015. Learn more about other books we’ve recommended at the Genealogy Gems Book Club page.

Orphan Train: More Genealogists are Talking About It!

Guess what? The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has also been covering Orphan Train as a book club selection!

Their format’s a little different than ours: they have weekly blog posts on the book and members are invited to get together over coffee and chat about it. The blog posts are part plot summary, part personal response, and even part genealogy and history instruction! Check out these posts:

genealogy book club genealogy gemsWhat do you think of Orphan Train? Post your response on our Facebook page or email us with your comments. We’d love to hear them!

Click here to go to our Genealogy Gems Book Club page, with more about Orphan Train and other great titles we have featured on the show.

Old Maps of Chicago Now Online

Do you have ancestors who lived in the “Windy City” of Chicago, Illinois (USA)? You should check out Chicago in Maps, a web portal to historic, current and thematic maps.

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As the News-Gazette reports, “There are direct links to over three dozen historic maps of Chicago, from 1834 to 1921. The thematic maps include Chicago railroad maps, transit maps and geological maps.”

Of course, there are current maps, too, including a Chicago street guide for 2014. There’s a fascinating set of maps showing the effects of landfill projects. The Sources and Links page  directs users to helpful guides to street name changes and house numbers. You’ll find links to surveyors’ maps, too.

From the home page, you can also click to a sister site on Chicago streetcars that includes a 1937 map of streetcar lines. (There’s a second sister site on Chicago bridges.)

Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about using maps for family history research in my online video class, 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps. To learn more about the benefits of Premium membership (including a year’s full access to over 2 dozen full-length video classes), click here.

 

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