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What to do when you inherit memorabilia...

What do you do when you inherit a family member's "stuff"? This can include photos, videos, paperwork, certificates, negatives and more. This can be a challenge for some like me. I have a problem throwing stuff out. So when I come across plaques, lapel pins, old watches, etc., I get nervous. And yes, I am a photo organizer. I do have to say that in the last few years, it has been getting easier for me to chunk that junk. Here is an example....

This is a small amount of "stuff" that I got from my cousin who passed away from COVID back in 2021. He was a minimalist, never married and no children and did not hang on to things. It includes his high school certificate, yearbook, military papers and annuals from his naval ship and basic training, photos, etc. The amount of paper things that I inherited has dwindled down a lot because what he did have was not necessary to keep after probate. So a lot of this I will not want to keep because it has no meaning to me, but I plan on scanning it and having at least the digital copy to live on in the family genealogy.

When you inherit items like this, you have to determine it's value to you. Does it have special meaning? Is it worth saving for prosperity? Is there anyone else in the family that might want a copy or the original? All of these are questions you need to ask yourself. If there is someone else that wants their share of the content, be sure to scan it. You can keep the digital copies if there is nothing of real value to you and your projects then pass on the originals to someone else.

If you have items that needs to be placed in the family history albums, ask yourself who the keeper of that information is. Is it you? Is it your mother? Father? An aunt or cousin? If that someone is not yourself, and you want a copy of it, once again, scan it and pass the originals on to the gatekeeper of your family's history. In my case, that has been handed to me from my mother. So, even though I have scanned most of this and put it in my FOREVER permanent online storage account, I will place any original paperwork (birth certificates, death certificates, military records, newspaper articles, etc) in the genealogy albums. At that point, I will be able to chunk the rest of the paper copies because I will have the digital images.

Just remember, if you scan photos and want to trash them, make sure you dispose of them properly. The common process is to find someone who recycles the photos because the chemicals in photos can degrade over time and contaminate the water table. Be responsible and put those in another box for disposal until you find the proper place to take them to be recycled. You can do a Google search on how to properly dispose of photographs and find someone in your local area to help with this.

If you need my help, please feel free to contact me using the email form on the Contact Me page of this website. You do not have to be local to me for me to help you with your photo organizing project.


Elizabeth Shaw is the owner of Elegant Photo Solutions, LLC, a Certified Photo Manager/Privacy Advocate through The Photo Managers and a FOREVER Executive Ambassador. It is her goal to help families preserve their photos and documents for future generations so that they will know who their families were and where they came from. You can contact her by emailing

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