Readers know that I have a lot of stuff that I have approprriated after some deaths of people we know or when someone moved or left stuff in the attic, etc. That includes boxes of personal items from family members, boxes of garage/tools items from when my dad died a couple of years ago, stuff from when my brother moved out of state, and boxes and bags of genealogical research materials from, not kin, someone we know that died a year or so ago.
I do not want to go into 2011 without sorting through the research materials, throwing away all the chaff, and organizing the wheat. But it's not a trivial thing to do. All manner of paper materials are in boxes and bags, not organized to any extent, but all mixed in. That means that every single piece of paper must be checked over to see if it is worthwhile to save or not. That means family group sheets, letters from people (she was a prolific writer), family name newsletters,old photographs, but also regular junk email that somenow got mixed up in all that.
I have heard from others that they would do to her home in order to try to get newsletters (which are really excellent) and knock and knock and knock, but she would not answer the door. She also would not answer the phone but never got an answering machine either. I think she was not in good health for the last 10 years she was alive, When we found her newsletters, they were all in a closet, stacked up from floor to ceiling, sort of organized, but not in sets. I imagine to myself that she probably got sick and then was overwhelmed with the effort it would take to organize all this.
And I don't want to throw it all out. Genealogy has been an interest of mine since I was 14 years old and my grandparents took me and a cousin on a trip to a state where one family name originated. I met a whole lot of distant cousins, and was hooked from then on on looking things up. I have a grand uncle who also got interested in genealogy at the same time and started a newsletter about his surname. What he taught me was how to do research, including census checking. I actually think I take after him quite a bit in how much I love researching and looking at records. (That translates as well to enjoying looking at public information records from government).
Here's a woman whose life for many many years was involved not only with her professional life (she was a university professor) but also with collecting information, putting out newsletters, and assisting with compiling a family name book. As I look through the letters that are in these bags, I see many where the writer is telling her about his or her own life, what's going on, or sharing details about what they know about their own origins. There are many old photographs-I found one of a civil war soldier yesterday; some are marked with who they are, some are not. In other words, these are lives that are expressed through so many letters and communications and I can't just throw them away.
The woman's heir was going to throw all this out because he had no practical concern for the information. Plus, it simply isn't a trivial activity to go through and sort all of this. All the bags, boxes and file cabinets have been sitting in the garage since we got them, so effectively we have just transferred all the stuff that was sitting, unorganized, from one location to another. I also got to thinking that if I were to die tomorrow, what would *my* heirs do? I doubt that anyone in my family would care as much about all this information as I do, so I feel I must get it into some shape where, at the very least, it could be donated to a library as research materials.
Yesterday, I spent about 3 hours going through some of the materials. At some point I started to think of her as a hoarder, rather than just a pack rat; that shift in my thinking came when I started repeatedly finding checks she had not cashed for materials never sent. I mean, who doesn't make sure to take care of money? Threw all that out, of course, the checks are years and years old, but I felt a little sad to think how overwhelmed she must have been, that she wanted to keep the letters but couldn't get enough organization to take care of what people wanted to purchase.
I was exhausted after I finished about 5 boxes and bags. Not because I was running around exerting physical energy but because the mental concentration that it took to look at every single piece of paper and make a decision whether to keep or toss was huge. Going to dive into it again today. I'd like to get it all done today but it just may not be possible to do so. I WILL get it all done before January 1, 2011.
That granduncle I was speaking of before has willed me all his research materials as well for a different surname project. I hope he lives many more years, but of course when he eventually does pass away, I will be going through all of his materials as well and sorting them. And I want to do the same thing with the garage items from my father. For example, there are lots of those little plastic cabinets with drawers where people put screws and nuts and bolts, but they aren't labeled. I want them to be. What's the good of having things if, when you go to look, you can't figure out where they are?
My mother told me that if you have things from other people that you keep without going through them and making sure that they are added into your own life, productively, that it's a drain on you. I believe that. Already, just sorting through all of this, as well as doing other types of fall cleanup around here, I feel lightened and more free.