Sunday, February 10, 2019

Is It Time to Marie Kondo Your Family History?

I believe it's safe to say that genealogists are hoarders. We save every old photograph (even those of people we can't identify), diaries, autograph books, letters, documents, family heirlooms, receipts - anything and everything we can get our hands on that were once touched by an ancestor.

When I started The Organized Genealogist Facebook group several years ago, it was obvious that we all have a problem with not only too much stuff, but what to do with that stuff. When I left my position as group administrator a few years ago, there were about 22,000 members. I see that it is now more than 31,000 members. That's a lot of people with a desire to find ways of dealing with stuff.

Yet how does one resolve our obsession with our hobby with our desire to downsize, minimize and declutter our lives as we grow older? I'm quite certain that the majority of people reading this post will respond with cries of Outrageous! No Way! How could I ever get rid of any of my precious family history?

On the other hand, there's a few of us who have reached the point of wanting to move on.

When enough is too much
During the years I spent as caregiver for my father, my free time was mostly restricted to doing online family history research. I moved my research findings ahead a lot in that time, just with information available on line. On Monday mornings at work when I was asked how I spent my weekend, my standard response was "Hanging out with the dead relatives." Even after I retired six years ago and after my father's death, I continued my obsession with the family history search as well as giving lectures and teaching about genealogy.

After a while, a switch was flipped. After 10 years of caregiving I found I had the opportunity to live my own life again. I began traveling for leisure once again after many years of traveling only for work. I was able to reignite my passion for music and theater and begin attending performances again.

I discovered I was tired of spending my free time hanging out with the dead relatives. I wanted to experience the joy of living my life my own way, meeting new people and having new experiences.

With that shift, I've slowly come to the realization that I no longer want to be burdened by my ancestor's Stuff. What once seemed like the Holy Grail of family history turned into my home becoming the repository for my ancestor's Junk. Stuff. Crap. It was suffocating me and my home. 

Before you gasp in panic, no, I haven't thrown it all away - yet. I'm just approaching it all much differently. That's where the Marie Kondo approach or the Minimalist movement enters the picture. Do these items spark Joy? Unlike 15 or 20 years ago, not so much.

My Family Heritage Center is still intact.
As I experience the process of downsizing my genealogy and family history research, I am aware of my desire to leave behind information and artifacts for future generations. I've decided that I am only taking my research back to the immigrant ancestors. I'm approaching my documents and photographs as an archivist, first by digitizing the paper items and then organizing them into physical folders and paper reports that will make sense to a future researcher. Heirlooms will be photographed using my Shotbox before I find a new home for them. I continue to explore options for the best archive, library or museum willing to accept the documents. It's also my intention to print my charts and stories into a format that I can assemble into a book - nothing fancy, just something that can be photocopied, printed and bound. Those books will go to the appropriate genealogy libraries in the ancestor's home counties. I'm also committed to including scans of documents and photographs in my public tree on Ancestry.

I'm the last living member of my immediate family and no known cousins have expressed any interest of becoming caretakers of the family history hoarder mess. I do want to leave behind a trail of bread crumbs that future researchers will be able to use as a starting point for their own research. 

While I continue to have an interest in family history, I've turned into a dabbler rather than an avid researcher. I can still spend hours going down the rabbit hole based on a clue I've found on a newspaper site. But, as has happened with my obsession with other hobbies over the years - a photography darkroom, tennis, golf, needle craft, etc. . . . the passion that sparked Joy is no longer there. I much prefer being out among the living once again rather than hanging out with the dead relatives.

Your mileage may vary.