Saturday, May 26, 2007

The paper trail of generations

My brother came to see me yesterday - he lives a 40-minute drive away. Each of us had a bunch of family papers which had come down to us, and which we needed to finish sorting and making decisions about: keep; chuck; or send to a museum or records office? We last tackled them five years ago, and it has taken us until now to complete the job. Well, I say complete, but each of us handed over a bunch of papers to the other one to take away, rather than spend all day on the job, so each of us still has some decisions to make.


We have been dealing with:

A file of papers about the sale by our grandfather in 1942 of our great grandfather's jewellery business - [Premises and contents = £209.8s.6d: Goodwill = £100.0s.0d: less Expenses = £260.11s.1d]


Our grandfather's personal papers and souvenirs.

Our mother's and father's personal papers and souvenirs.

Our mother's sister's personal papers and souvenirs.

All these include, according to the talents and interests of each individual: letters; writings; artwork; photographs; theatre programmes; souvenirs of the war and of professional, artistic, literary and political associations; diaries, address books ............ eeeek!


And upstairs in one of my spare rooms are boxes and boxes of my late husband's papers and souvenirs and photographs etc to be sorted through in due course.

And here in my workroom, as you can see from my pictures which take a turn around the room, I am building up my own massive collection of papers to pass on to my heirs.


What folly for my brother and me to have left it until now to deal with our forbears' leavings. The generations march relentlessly on, and we need to keep up or our heirs will be swamped.

Of course, we could just chuck everything away regardless. But my brother has his family genealogy which he is building up on his computer, and needs anything relevant to that. And in addition to keeping stuff I might use in my autobiographical notes, I am just plain sentimental. Throwing away my parents' love letters to each other, for instance, seems somehow like throwing away their love for each other, and for the family they created out of their happiness.

But somehow we must catch up, or we shall live the rest of our lives in the past!!!!!


J Cosmo Newbery said...

Ye Gods! My family history fits on half a foolscap page, double spaced.

Judith said...

How come you're still using foolscap, Cosmo? I only find it in these inherited papers, and it's very annoying because it doesn't fit in the standard folders or wallets that I have.

stitchwort said...

My mother used to say "three house moves or a fire" sorted out all your old stuff.
It can be liberating to clear away the weight of the past.
Mind you, we have few old family photos and no papers - so don't have the problem you are faced with.

herhimnbryn said...

Good luck J, good luck!

Avus said...

My past fascinates me, yet the thought of amassing reams of paper horrifies. I took over a box of my grandmother's photographs - not annoted - apart from the few faces I know they are absolutely meaningless - why do I keep them?

Judith said...

With me it's a mixture of things:
I like to feel my connection with the previous generations. Throwing them way would seem like cutting yourself off from them, saying a final goodbye. Perhaps you hope something will turn up to tell you who the unknown ones are too - that sort of thing does happen if you keep enough photos and paperwork! I take it you have nobody left now to tell you who they are. Fortunately my mother's father was meticulous about naming photos on the back, and his other daughter my aunt filled in a lot which came later.

Knowleypowley said...


All the best to you. It truly is amazing howw much "clutter" we accumulate in our lifetime, only to find it of great interest further on in time


J Cosmo Newbery said...

I suppose you are going to pick on my quill, too? (It is so hard to get good goose feathers.)

Mum said...

We moved out of our house after 27 years last summer. We got rid of bins full of stuff. I don't miss any of it, in fact, once I got over the initial indecision of this or that, I got on a roll. I feel about 25 pounds lighter! The first thing to go was a huge box of pictures that I kept after my mum died. I had gone through and kept any that interested me, but most ended up in the bin. I have a great picture of my mum in my head. I just cannot imagine leaving all that stuff for my kids. I saved them from it. Now if I could just convince my mother in law to do some chucking......

Granny J said...

That is the essense of history -- what's left over after generations have chucked their own excess baggage!