Sunday, June 18, 2006

Going through Your Parents' Stuff

This article couldn't have been better timed for me. Heirs should sift slowly through attic is a look into an issue more and more of us are dealing with -- sifting through a lifetime's worth of memories and memorabilia left to us by our parents:

"Much has been made of the ongoing "transfer of wealth" from the World War II generation, but the old soldiers and their wives are leaving behind a lot of stuff along with their stocks and bonds. Puzzled middle-aged children, some ready to downsize their own households, are left to decide what to keep, what to sell, what to donate to charity and what to haul to the dump."

With my mother's recent passing, I'm in this midst of this process right now, and even as a genealogist, there's a temptation to rush it. Just so much stuff. But it pays to go slowly. I found my father's original baptismal certificate. He and my mom divorced about 30 years ago, but she still had this document. Until now, even my father did not know where he had been baptized.

I found a prayer card given to my mother by a nun in the family at the time of my birth. The convent records of this distant cousin of mine turned out to be the key to unlocking a lot of mysteries about the Nelligan branch of my family tree. But until now, I hadn't realized that my mother and Sister Aldegonde had even known each other.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and as the family historian, I'm the recipient of countless boxes and bags of photos. It will take me ages to sort through and organize, but it will be worth it.

Please take a moment to read this article -- and ponder it not only in terms of dealing with your parents' stuff, but also in terms of others dealing with your stuff.


At 11:50 PM, Blogger Randy Seaver said...

Hi Megan

Boy that article hits home...deja vu all over again!

My mom died four years ago and I was the trustee. We gradually cleaned out the house and sold it. My kids, my niece, my two brothers and I took sentimental art, furniture and books for ourselves.

We didn't have an estate sale, and ended up donating quite a bit of furniture and sending the rest to an auction house, including the leftover china, silverware, Oriental artworks, etc. It was our opinion that doing an estate sale was more work than we wanted to take on, you don't make that much money, and you still have half the stuff left over at the end. The house was the big prize.

I discovered a briefcase of wills and deeds going back 80 years (4 generations) in the bedroom closet, and a spoon rack with a note on the back describing whose initials were on them. They were precious to me...ho hum to my brothers.

My daughter, the high school English teacher, took many of the literature and primer books from the 1860 to 1920 period. I still have my mom's art school portfolio, her scrapbooks and photo albums, and my grandfathers account books (1920 to 1950). And 60 years of my parents tax returns.

Going through this effort was good for me - I marvelled at how prudent, responsible and wise that my parents, her parents and grandparents were in living their lives. I am proud of them and how they persevered and succeeded in life. I also know where I get my packrat gene from...

I hope you find many treasures in your mom's "household stuff" -- Randy

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Marijane said...

Mother was 98 when she died in 2000. We knew that she had become the family's historian, so were not overly surprised at the papers & little explanatory notes we found. But I was surprised to find that my dad had also saved papers from his father, many of which were records of civic & business organizations of 100 or more years ago.
The town where I grew up was founded by a group of Germans in 1845, & the citizens have always been interested in their heritage & have established a wonderful museum & archives. After the grandchildren had gone thru the contents of the house & taken what they wanted & I had chosen what I wished to keep, I gave many things to the museum, & the papers to the archives.
One wall in the house was filled to the ceiling with books, many in German. I advertised that these books were included in the small estate sale we held, & was amazed at the number of people who climbed step-stools to reach the top shelves & came down with 10 & 20 books, even the German ones (which some admitted they couldn't read). I still have closets & cabinets full of things I couldn't part with immediately, but am now slowly going thru the papers to better organize them (so that I can find what I want!)
We found the invoice for the piano Grandpa bought for Mother in 1912 for $275 (my son now has the piano), & the deed for their home which cost them $3500 in 1936. The most exciting find was a large certificate in Latin(folded up in the very bottom of a desk drawer) that was issued to a gr-gr-grandfather in Hanover in 1827. I hope that I can be as good a custodian of the past as my parents were.


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