What's the right thing to do?

jannieJanuary 24, 2006

My mother in law passed away last year. She left two daughters and my DH, her son. Also four grandkids. In going through her home and sorting thru her belongings, we found a number of sentimental but useless items: her high school autograph book from 1937, and many photos. Her children divided up her things, and we were given a big box of stuff. Some of the photos are so old, I feel like it's a sin to throw them out. And the autograph book? What should we do with them? I personally have plenty of memories of her and photos of her taken later in life, which is how I wish to remember her. But I feel guilty throwing out her keepsakes. No one else wants them. (Believe me. I asked my two SILs and the grandchildren.) I am cetain most of the people who signed the autograph book are dead. What would you do with these things? There is one photo, a picture of my in-laws at a restaurant on a date, probably taken 60 years ago, they are smiling and looking so young. I will save this, but nothing else. DH wants to put everything in a box and store it in the basement or attic. But to me those places are either too cold and damp or dry and hot, so the paper will disintegrate. What should I do?

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Put them in the basement or attic, let the paper disintegrate, and then DH will let you throw them away.

I threw away stuff I was given from my Grandmother.

It didn't matter to me, nobody else wanted. And some of it was just stuff she happened to own at the time she died; if she'd lived 5 years longer, she'd have probably not owned it anymore; it's not like it was a keepsake.

And the autograph book--if nobody knows who those people are, etc., it has no value. Just cause it's old?

An autograph book is intended as messages to its original owner. Those people weren't writing to you. And so its purpose is done, and in fact, it's sort of an invasion of privacy.

The other thing you *might* do is see if some historical society would like them. My grandmother's collection included a yearbook from her high school--from, oddly, enough, 1 year AFTER she graduated. I sent it (didn't even check first) to the historical society for her county; found them on the Web. They wrote back that they were glad to receive it, bcs they had only 2 copies, and one was very fragile, and now they could loan one out if necessary.

So, if there's any geographical link--her hometown, or her county, or her high school--you might consider seeing if some organization there would want any of it.

And if they don't, put it in a box, and set it somewhere it'll get damaged, and then you'll *know* you can throw it out.

Remember, they were HER keepsakes--her emotions, her memories. NOT yours.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2006 at 11:20AM
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I vote for the historical society!!!! These things are clues for the next generation.

If you elect to keep them, there is special archival protection available for a few dollars -- sleeves for the autograph book, ziplock bags for the momentoes and archival boxes for the whole lot. I can't imagine grandchildren not being interested in things from 60 years ago.

If no one else really wants them, I bet some school that focuses on historical inquiry and first hand evidence would love t design a project around them.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2006 at 8:27PM
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you know, I'm starting to be sorry I mentioned the historial society. I'm not so sure that an autograph book full of "You're a great friend! Love, Jenny" is all that useful to history.

My vote: ifyou can find a historical society-type place fast, send it there (if you can get DH to). If you can't find one in about a week, then just shove the boxes into whichever place the stuff is MOST likely to be damaged, and forget about it.

Honestly, in years to come, no one needs to know why MY friends wrote in my autograph book. The yearbook is one thing--it has some actual facts in it.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2006 at 9:12PM
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When my grandmother passed away, I kept only the things that had some memory of her in it. I kept her eyeglasses because they were the only ones that I ever remember her wearing. Things that I remember about her from my childhood I kept, the rest was just her stuff, and there was no connection of her to it so it was given to someone who could use it. Could you have the old pictures, autograph pages, etc. scanned and saved on disc? That way your husband will always have them, its easy to store, and is not dependant on the elements for storage. You don't want him to be resentful towards you because you gave away her things, do you?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2006 at 10:11PM
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I have my great-grandmother's autograph book. She was born in 1865, so the handwriting in it is so beautiful. I love reading the messages. It's the only thing I have other than the quilt she made before her marriage at age 14.

Even though they were your MIL's keepsakes, it sounds like your DH is not ready to let them go. Her keepsakes are still attached to him. Really, they won't take up much room. I would box them up and label well. I'll bet you have magazines around the house which take up more space than this box.

You may find someday that your own children might be interested in a teenaged grandmother. Do you have any pictures of her during this time period where you could maybe make a couple of scrapbook pages with the autographs as a background?

Or DH may be ready to let it go in a few years. It isn't like it's a huge piece of furniture that interfers with your ability to live in your home. I vote top of a closet.


    Bookmark   January 24, 2006 at 11:06PM
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How about creating a shadowbox -- containing her picture as a younger women -- and her autograph book??

Add it to a wall of family photos -- create a nice memory for all. A respectful -- and easy way to hold a memory -- until a time later on when other choices can be made.


Here's a great link from Pottery Barn.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2006 at 11:52PM
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I take it back; I agree w/ Gloria--as long as it's not that huge, and the things aren't just "the most recent bathroom tissue holder she owned." And as long as it can fit in no more than one largish box. Label well, and stick it in the closet.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 4:19PM
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Forty years ago, my Grandmother died at age 77. My mother is an only child, so she had the job of going thru all her belongings. She found a large box of unsorted photographs. She recognized none of the people in the photos, but kept it anyway. She told me they were probably relatives. Well, my mom is now 82 and she still has that box. I know it will one day pass to me. I did learn one lesson from this: I write the date ,or at least the year, and subject and names of all people on the back of all my photos, even the ones I placed in albums.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 6:55PM
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My mom is 88 and I have been hounding her for years to get the photos labeled. The generations in my family are often 35-40 years apart, so many of the photos are of people I knew as very old people, but I certainly don't recognize them when they were young.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2006 at 12:34AM
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Hi All
I hope it's all right for a newbie to jump in. I've been lurking for a while but finally registered so I can chat occasionally with you kind, inspiring people. Jannie, I can't advise on the right thing to do with your MIL's stuff, that's a tough one.

Perhaps those of you who have relatives with unlabelled photographs might want to try what my mother and I have done. Whenever I see Mama (She's 91.), I get out a few photographs, and we go through them together. She names those in the picture, and I write the names on a label. The pictures usually bring back some memory that she shares. "Oh, that's Great Uncle John. He used a rusty nail instead of a button on his overalls. He was rough as a cob!" We started this game by accident, but what might have been a chore has turned into lots of fun for both of us.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2006 at 3:40PM
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My aunt ended up with all my grandmother's photos after she died. (My Grandmother was my uncle's and dad's mom, but my uncle's wife seems to be more into preserving history).

We have been receiving an old photo with one of us in it each year in our Christmas cards from my aunt, and we have SO enjoyed it. I cannot tell you how BIG I smiled when I received a photo this year of my brother and me, circa 1966, and saw the silver tree mom used that year, the dolls, the toy top that I still remember being my favorite toy, and this Santa doll who held a bottle of Coca-Cola (we still have him somewhere).

I am really looking forward to Christmas cards from her now!!!!!!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2006 at 9:13PM
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I sat down with my grandmother when I was in high school and we labelled her pictures ... my favorite is the one of her, her best girlfriend Bessie and two suitors (names long forgotten) sitting on the front steps with a bucket of beer.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2006 at 5:25PM
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I always hate to see photos thrown out. If they aren't marked and you can't use them, try to sell them to an antique dealer. They are often looking for old photos that others use in card making and other projects. As for the autograph book, can you send it, with a letter, to her old high school or historical society in her hometown? They often are excited to have things like that.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 7:54PM
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