Today, like any other day, I walked out to my mailbox and found an envelope from my elderly father. I can\’t remember receiving much mail from Dad in the past; it has always been Mom who sent me things. But it was Dad\’s handwriting, and I have been worried because he hasn\’t been well. I opened the letter not knowing quite what to expect. Much to my surprise, I found the following letter along with a handful of photographs that had been enlarged:

Dear Julie,

I am enclosing several enlargements of old slides I found in the back of the garage. I thought you and the others that are in the photos should have them — sorry, in some of them you weren\’t even born yet. It is important for you to have these because they show both sides of your family; these are the people you come from. You should preserve these and show them to your children and grandchildren, as your mother and I are doing now.

Love to all, DAD

It made me realize two things. First, our older parents do think about these things and do worry that once they are gone, all family lineage will die with them. In my estate business, I see this all too often. On the flip side, I see families that preserve almost too much and it becomes information overload for the kids. As a result, they lose interest. Is there a happy medium? I think there can be.

Secondly, as a boomer myself, I feel that many of us in our 40s, 50s, and 60s neglect to ask about our heritage until our loved ones are either infirm or pass away. I have seen so many of my boomer clients say they "wish they could talk to mom and ask who this person is in the photo."

So what can be done? It takes a little planning, but here\’s what I suggest:

  • While your parents are still living, and if you are blessed to still have grandparents living, start asking questions, have them share stories, and ask to go through photographs so you can play the game of "name that person." All too often I see heirs throwing away family photographs because they are unidentified.
  • The tricky part is to make sure you ask your older relatives prior to memory impairment. Once they are gone, or their memory is gone, the likelihood of someone else in the family remembering is very small.
  • Choose a select amount of photos that you would like to preserve and have them professionally copied for other siblings/heirs. This is a lovely gift to give family members! Some clients of mine have actually done this and created memory books for each child, complete with "who\’s who" for each photo. If photos are worn, creased or damaged from time, there are services available to restore those pictures to amazing quality.
  • If there are too many photographs to have reproduced and it is not financially feasible to do so, use your digital camera and photograph each picture. This can be put on CDs for you and for other family members. This costs very little and takes up almost no room.
  • Remember: If you handle original photos, keep them in acid-free envelopes. Use a tiny post-it arrow on the back to identify who is in each photo, until you can write on your own inventory sheet, reproduction photo, or CD.
  • Use this article from Kimberly Powell (About.com) to help you with proper scanning procedures: http://genealogy.about.com/cs/digitalphoto/a/digital_photos.htm
  • It doesn\’t only have to be about photos. It can be your father\’s war items that you can have beautifully displayed in a shadow box, like the one I saw recently at a friend\’s house. Her father\’s Army photo, with his dog tags, and several other mementos looked terrific on the wall, instead of thrown in a box that won\’t be admired much.

    Perhaps grandma never finished the quilt she was working on, and all you have are square remnants. Why not take these to a professional and have them made into pillows for the siblings? I have even seen these framed as well.

    Of course, I still feel the best way to preserve family history is to give your elders the most spectacular gift of all — yourself and some time. Spend a Sunday every few weeks and make it a point to record or video them (with permission, of course) or just write down everything they say: the funny stories, family tragedies, etc. Accumulate this precious information and create your own family book based on first-hand information.

    These are just a few ideas that will help you preserve your family history. Remember, one of the biggest regrets I see is when a loved one dies and it\’s too late to ask questions. Take a little time with a loved one, make their day, and learn about where you came from!

    copyright 2010, The Estate Lady®

    Julie Hall, known as The Estate Lady, is a professional estate liquidator and certified personal property appraiser. With more than eighteen years experience, she has assisted thousands of individuals in the daunting and often painful process of managing their deceased parents\’ affairs. She is a best-selling author and speaker to Boomers and their parents.