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Heir Apparent
12/29/2010
You just inherited boxes upon boxes of family heirlooms and papers from your late great-aunt. Don’t panic! We’ll help you sort the trash from the family treasures.
When my in-laws passed away, we were left with the contents of the home they lived in for 50 years. The basement held boxes still unopened from their move into the house; upstairs were cancelled checks from their entire married life. The sheer volume of stuff was overwhelming. But it was also a great opportunity to learn more about my husband's parents and their parents. Once we started to think about the estate as a family collection, how could we part with anything?

Family historians face internal conflicts when tasked with sorting an entire lifetime's worth of inherited belongings. We're eager to tackle the mountain as quickly as possible -- it's tempting to select items we want to keep and get rid of what's left. On the other hand, we're wary of discarding clues to our ancestors' lives. Is anything really trash? If we could, we'd keep every family-related item, carefully examine it and store it.

Try to approach your inherited items with the eyes of an archivist. Just as an archivist understands that not everything merits the time and expense of being cataloged, indexed and stored, a family historian must understand that not every inherited item is worth holding on to. Some items are discarded, others donated and still others marked for preservation. We'll help you determine what to keep, and how to pass on what you don't.

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