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As Historian for my chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, I feel a bit more like an archivist, preserving print traces of the chapter’s activities, the occasional photo, and our certificates of achievement from the national office. Many of us also act as the archivists and curators of family scrapbooks and memorabilia. But what will become of those things when we pass?
There’s a lot of them.
My father once dug out all his old photo albums, drove to our house, and spread it all out on my dining table and reorganized them into volumes for my brother and me. Fortunately for us, he knew the names of the people in the old photos, people dead before we were born or so far away we’ll never meet. Now his, my brother’s and mine all live at my house. Dad passed away a year and a half ago, over 30 years after doing his scrapbooks.
When my uncle passed, he left behind curated antiques from family all set up in plexiglass cases. My aunt was downsizing and had me take some that pertained to Grandfather. Thus I have some eyeglasses from the Depression, his Phi Kappa Phi key (the Phi Beta Kappa of land grant universities) and some odds and ends.
My brother’s antique firearms live at my house in a safe. He lives where it isn’t wise to have such things. In fact, I have a lot of keepsakes for him because space is at such a premium.
When my Dad passed, I got boxes of stuff from his wife, who was downsizing and didn’t want the stuff around: service length awards from work up to 40 years, his entire Highland piper costume, a fancy Bavarian pipe, and some Central American souvenirs. Also in the load were some ceramic soldiers my youngest brother handpainted, broken. I have set these aside and haven’t yet repaired them.
Plus I have over 40 years of photos, mostly not in albums, and souvenirs of ours. Why not? Because nobody comes after to look at them.
What to do with scrapbooks and memorabilia?
Antique clutter is the same as any clutter, I suppose. Someone may want such stuff. The trick is getting this material out the door and into the hands of someone who wants it.
And increasingly, it’s not our successor generation. In my case, there isn’t anyone to ask; you may have kids that don’t want your grandmother’s china. As the end of the line person, I have quilts of unknown provenance, fine linens for bridge parties, and banquet-sized tablecloths. And one dinette table.
The stuff just doesn’t fit anyone any more. We all have less and less room for curiosities, unless we’re actually into that sort of thing.
So who gets excited about scrapbooks and memorabilia?
Once I used a pay receipt from my great-grandfather, who wrote checks to pay the town teacher out in western Nebraska, in a paper about frontier living in graduate school. My professor was so wild about it I brought in the original for him to look at. Later on he took a job at a museum of frontier life in Nebraska and met my great-aunt. She had written a book about her memories of growing up there, which I’d used as a reference. and they hit it off wonderfully.
So you could use old stuff as props for history yourself, write about your memories and illustrate with your period snapshots. Who knows? You might become a go-to reference for future historians.
You could donate your related stuff to a receptive museum, historical society, or other organization that has an interest. My mother’s father had a role in rural electrification that went back 60 years, and papers from the whole time. We donated those to the archives of the US Department of Agriculture, and they were glad to get them.
Is it worth anything?
What about the stuff that’s nice, but doesn’t fit your life? The Highland piper outfit might be of use to another HIghland piper. It could be sold online to reach a reasonable number of Highland pipers.
Try consignment or antique stores for getting rid of glassware, old eyeglasses and watches and other such things. Old tools are popular with some folks. If they’re rare, try the Internet again for better reach. And research what other people get for such things so you know what to ask for yours.
Local businesses can also get involved. A while back I saw that in a neighboring town, an old coworker of mine was buying up old linens. I haven’t contacted her yet to find out what she’s doing with them but it would be a possible thing to do with the ones I’ll never use.
Can I just use or repurpose it?
Why haven’t I just used my bridge tablecloths as overlays on my round table? Guess I just never went that far. But I could, and it’d look a lot better! I do use the old quilts instead of packing them away. They’re a bit ratty and could use some restoration, Maybe I can do that later, some winter when I would like to cover up and do some hand sewing at the same time.
Some of the antique guns still fire, but others are dangerous and just for looking at. You have to know which is which. My husband and brother keep track of that. But can you imagine using a Frontier Colt to ward off a burglar? Luckily we are already set for security!
Some things in my collection will never get into the hands of history, and that’s okay. Nobody who doesn’t know the regimental uniforms my brother painted will want the soldiers, even put back together. I’ll do it for my brother but otherwise it won’t matter a lick to anybody. Maybe nobody will know what to make of my Central American goddess or the Remington bronze replica, to say nothing of the sheepskin jacket, with the fleece still on!
Perhaps someday I’ll write the stories of some of the stuff in my care, take pictures of them, and leave that to posterity via Amazon. It would be a nice project.
How will you deal with your scrapbooks and memorabilia?