Opinion

Letting go

My husband and I are in the process of renovating parts of our 196-year-old farmhouse.  You don’t realize how much you can accumulate until you tackle something like this.  

Over the years our house has been the repository for various relatives including parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and who knows how many others.  Out of loyalty I’ve kept many things I didn’t really like, want or need.  After all, they’re family pieces and letting them go is hard.  I feel guilty, though the more I shift things out of the house the less guilty I feel.  I know family members expected me to keep and treasure their unwanted items forever, but I can’t anymore.

And then there are my genealogy records.  I started genealogy before personal computers and genealogical software existed, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Everyone kept paper records. With the advent of personal computers and genealogical software I dutifully entered the genealogical information and filed the original material as a backup.  Then I had so many files I divided them by family surnames. 

As I acquired more I organized them into binders by individual family members, mainly because the software was limited and you couldn’t scan in a great deal of material.  Now it would take the rest of my life to scan everything into my software. Not happening. So I’m faced with a lot of binders, way over a hundred.  Each relative has a family group sheet, original records, photos if they exist and so on.  

Then there are the family physical items, large and small, such as the berry set given to my grandparents when they married in 1905.  The set was from my grandmother’s aunt and is the only item of hers anyone in the family has.  Pretty but never used, it takes up space in one china cabinet — but if I ever have to seriously downsize what happens to that?  What do I give up to keep it? Or the large crayon portraits of my great-grandparents and grand-aunts and uncles? My husband has his mother’s afghan crocheted by her uncle, a Catholic priest.  My stepsons won’t want it.  What to do with it?

As genealogists you will probably have to face the same sort of decisions I’m trying to resolve now before I get older and may have to move into smaller space.  I certainly don’t want someone else making these decisions for me.     

Letting go is hard.  I’ve sent things out of the house recently and I know Mom, a Depression baby who kept everything, would be appalled, but what else to do? 

If you’re also facing this kind of task, my advice is don’t throw everything away.  Keep what you use, need, or value highly.  In my case it’s still too much and I’ll have to wrestle with my conscience but eventually just let things go.  

We all have to do it no matter how painful it can be. But as for my genealogy, it remains where it is.  

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com. 

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.