My sister and I have started a family archive box. We decided that almost anyone should be able to make room in their lives for one box. We don’t know where it will end up yet, but we figure we’ll make the box first, then coerce, or elect someone in the family, probably someone younger than us, to be the archivist. Once the archivist takes over, this will require some letting go on our part. Maybe the archivist will decide to rearrange everything, or throw out half of it (hope not) or scan it all and put it on Facebook. We’ll figure that out later.
So in the meantime, we’re keeping it simple. We’re taking all the old miscellaneous clippings, from Uncle Stan’s obituary to photos of Daddy from the local paper, taping them to white paper with archival photo tape, and putting them into page protectors. There probably is a better way: we could make photocopies of all the newspaper clippings, or scan them into a digital files, but we’re doing low tech for now, because the family archivist might decide to change it all later.
We’ve also got big brown envelopes, one for each family member. So into the envelope labeled “Huffygirl” goes all my childhood stuff. In goes the First Communion group picture where I was made to stand in the second row because I didn’t have the official white shoes. In goes my two baby pictures. In goes the graduation programs, old report cards, and engagement
announcement. In goes my wedding photo from the newspaper, taken back in the day when the photo featured only the bride, and a two-column article accompanied the picture, describing the bride’s and bridesmaid’s gowns. In goes all the school photos with hideous hair and silly looking glasses, the photos that make my kids say “Why did Dad marry YOU?”
In goes our parent’s wedding pictures, childhood pictures and the family photo album. In goes some of our parent’s things that we couldn’t decide who should take but didn’t know what to do with. Like the prayer book Mom carried up the aisle on her wedding day. The mother of pearl cover is brittle and breaking off from the rest of the book. But we couldn’t discard it. In goes Daddy’s Army uniform insignia. Some are service bars, maybe some are medals, we can’t tell. As far as we know he didn’t do anything unusually heroic that would have merited an important medal that could go to a museum, so it’s going in the box.
We’re not sure how far the box should go – we’ve got high school graduation photos for most of Daddy’s siblings. Should we disperse these to our cousins or keep them as part of our family history? So far they’re going in the box. We’re thinking that our cousins already have these photos too, but maybe their parents weren’t as good about saving things as ours were, so who knows. But for now, in the box.
There’s still stuff left that can’t go in the box, that we still don’t know what to do with: Mom’s wedding dress, Daddy’s Army and Legion uniforms; Mom’s First Communion veil, circa 1935, and more. We could start another box, but
then when would we stop? We could easily end up with multiple boxes of family things that get packed away somewhere because they’re too hard to store, and no one will ever look at because who wants to go through all those boxes? Saving so many boxes would defeat the purpose of preserving family history, as the task would become too lugubrious. So, for now we’re sticking with distilling our family history and memories down to what will fit in one box. By the time the house is emptied and we’re ready to pound the “For Sale” sign into the dandelion-specked grass, we may have come up with a different plan. But for now, we’ll stick with our original intent: to put our family in a box.