Recently an old photograph album has come into the possession of my Mum and I. The cousin who gave it to us didn't know anyone in the photos and told us we could throw it out if we wanted. One look at the album and Mum and I are sure the photographs show relatives of my great great grandmother Susan Ellis (nee Hehir) who immigrated to Australia from Killow, Clareabbey, County Clare, Ireland. The photos appear to date from the 1880s/1890s.
When treasures are sometimes considered trash
I'm sure we've all experienced this story at one time or another in our family history journey... Aunt Nell remembers that her second cousin John had a photograph of great great great grandfather Smith. She remembers seeing the photograph years ago on John's wall - it was big, it was clear, it was treasured by the family...or so it was thought. Trouble is second cousin John had no children and when he passed away his nephew inherited all his 'junk'. The photograph meant nothing to this nephew...and one day it was thrown into the bin.
If you are like me such stories will possibly make you almost cry. Accidental loss would be tragic but understandable, but the deliberate destruction of priceless historical items is heartbreaking.
The story above was fictional, but I am afraid that similar stories have happened in my own family. We know a lot of historical things were thrown away by older relatives who unfortunately didn't like the "old things".
|This photograph of my Randall ancestors was saved|
Among Mum's grandmother's other possessions was a photograph of my third great grandparents, emigrants from Essex, England. It almost went to the tip too, if it had not been saved by my great aunt. Mum now has the photograph in her possession and copies of it have been distributed to other descendants across Australia. It is the only known photograph of my third great grandmother (see Wordless Wednesday: My Randall Family).
Then there was the story my Mum accidently overheard on a bus trip one day. Two older gentleman were sitting across the aisle discussing the disposal of items which had come into their possession following a death in the family. One of the men was new to the experience and quite nervous about how he should act. The other man had been through all this before and was ready with useful advice, which went something like this:
I inherited all these photos from Mum. But it wasn't only our family there were the grandparents and the aunts and the cousins. I wasn't interested in all that stuff. What could I do with it? So I called in the shire garbage disposal, and they left one of those big bins with me for a week...and I put the lot in it. That's what I'd suggest you do.
So there went all the photographs from that family! It has been a joke between my Mum and I since that every ancestor we can't find a photograph of was likely to have been pictured in one of the photographs thrown out in that man's bin! (That is, apart from the ones we know for certain went down old gold mines!)
But what if you don't want the treasure or can't take care of it?
If you are not interested in old photographs or documents, or you don't have a safe place to keep them, what should you do with them?
(1) I would suggest first of all to ask around any known relatives. You might find one of your cousins is interested in the family history, even if you are not.
(2) Check with the local historical society, genealogical society or local heritage museum. They might be interested in your old items.
- Family and Local History Societies in Australia - links on Cora Num's Web Sites for Genealogists
- Federation of Australian Historical Societies - Links
- Society of Australian Genealogists - Manuscript Collection
- Royal Historical Society of Victoria - Collections
General library, museums and collections links:
- Australian Libraries Gateway
- Museums Australia
- Collections Australia Network
- Collections Council of Australia
- National Library of Australia - Wanted: Australia's Missing Newspapers
- National Library of Australia - Offers of Material
- Donating items to the Australian War Memorial
- State Library of New South Wales - Bequests and Cultural Gifts
- State Library of Queensland - Donating
- State Library of Victoria - Donating items to the collection
- State Library of Victoria - Share Your Treasures
- State Library of South Australia - Donation of Materials
- State Library of Western Australia - Donations
- Donating to the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office
- Northern Territory - Donating Community Archives
- Picture Queensland - Contributor Resources
- Picture Australia - How to contribute
- Giving to the Powerhouse Museum
- Museum Victoria - Donating items to Museum Victoria
- National Museum of Australia - Donating objects
- Australian National Maritime Museum - Donate to the National Maritime Collection
- Vision Australia - Donate Historic Objects and Photographs - 'help tell the story of Australians who were blind or have low vision'
- Preserving Veteran's Heritage - Victoria
Examples of collections policies for various repositories:
- Queensland State Library - Collection Preservation Policies
- New South Wales State Library - Legislation and Policies
- New South Wales State Library - Collection Development Policy
- Victorian State Library - Collection & Resources Development Policy
- National Library of Australia - Collection Development Policy
You may realise how precious the old photographs and documents in your possession are and you may want to keep them safe yourself. I would suggest that you first photograph or scan the items and distribute digital or printed copies to other relatives. There are many places to access information about keeping family treasures safe. The following are some resources you may find helpful.
I treasure my items, how should I take care of them?
- Preserving your family history records - tips from Graham Jaunay of Adelaide Proformat.
- Caring for family history documents - advice from the State Library of Victoria.
- Collection Preservation Advice- State Library of Queensland.
- Looking after your family archive - advice for family historians from the National Archives of Australia.
- Caring for Collections - advice from the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material.
- reCollections - Caring for Collections Across Australia - advice from professional Conservators on the 'preventative care of cultural items'.
- Significance 2.0 - A guide to accessing the significance of collections - advice for museums mostly, but also useful for anyone who wants some help accessing the significance of an historical item, for example, accessing the provenance and context of an item. Similar is this Significance e-learning resource.
- Your Family History Archives: A Brief Introduction - by Shauna Hicks
- Keeping Family Treasures - "Learn how to preserve your precious family treasures", advice from the National Archives of Australia
- Keep in for the future - "How to set up small community archives", advice from the National Archives of Australia.
Archival storage products are available from:
- Gould Genealogy
- Archival Survival
- Zetta Florence
- Preservation Australia
- Conservation Resources
Copyright © 2010 Australian Genealogy Journeys.