Archiving the Physical: Collections


Most of us think of old pictures when we start thinking about archiving. Perhaps even letters and newspaper articles as well. Acid free papers, archival tapes, plastic sleeves, boxes. But what about big things? Collections of things? *Weird* things? And what happens when your family just doesn’t want your stuff? These are some of the questions that came up in my recent workshop, The Story Collector.

But there’s so *many*!

I like to collect things. Knitting needles. Books. Native American and Norse art. Tarot decks. Drums. We all have our favorite things. But what happens when these collections just get too big for one person? What if no one wants to inherit the collection?

Consider sharing the collection among family members who are interested.

My grandfather had a small collection of owl statues. When he passed, my grandmother distributed an owl statue to each grandchild. Mine still sits on my writing desk. Distributing a collection can make it more manageable, and the pieces are still within the family. You can attach the story and history behind the collection, and why it was so important to the person who held it. It makes it easier for the recipients to store and hopefully pass along to their children one day.

But what if the collection has to stay together?

Look into organizations who might take the collection as a whole and preserve it.

In the course of writing an article for the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, I spoke to a gentleman who has been donating his massive book collection to the GFO over the last few years. He was a teacher, and gathered many books that are no longer in print, or would cost a fortune to obtain otherwise. As part of his retirement planning, he chose to donate his collection so that others could use them in their own history research. He also wanted to be able to go see his collection from time to time, and know it was in a safe place.

Check local genealogical societies or historical societies to gauge interest. Try museums, or look into private collectors who might want to purchase or be gifted the whole lot. Look at educational avenues; for example, say you have a collection of old cameras. Perhaps there is a photography organization that would be interested in receiving your collection to put on display, or a teacher who could use them as teaching tools. Think outside the box to find places who will treasure your treasures with similar gusto and passion.

Next up: Big things and textiles.