My Family Treasure Boxes

A couple of years ago, I made the decision to ensure I had a robust method in place to ensure my genealogy research is preserved for future generations. I do have my own self-hosted family history website, but I decided to contribute as much as I can to FamilySearch Family Tree. Since making that decision for my digital stuff, I’ve reflected on what I can do for my physical collection. I started giving this much more thought at the beginning of the year after DearMyrtle announced her 2016 Get Organized Checklists series. 

Currently, I have many 3-ring binders of paper, plastic bins with even more papers that I use as a catch-all, and family mementos scattered here and there. When I need to find something, it can sometimes be a pain.

One of my boxes of family history stuff. This one has on top a letter my great-uncle wrote to my grandmother, Kalonji’s parent’s marriage certificate, and my high school graduation announcement. This is not the way to keep family history. #shameful

I knew I had to do better so I began devising a new plan. My goals for my new organization plan included the following:

  • when it comes to vital records I will keep the physical form only if it is not readily or easily available elsewhere (a somewhat subjective determination) or if I paid quite a bit to obtain it
  • keep the physical stuff to a minimum so that when I am no longer around (I’m thinking about the future here!), my family won’t have to worry about going through my things and trying to figure out what should be kept 
  • use a more “browsing-friendly” approach to what I keep, rather than numbering systems, surname binders, etc. By this, I mean that I want to keep the files and items organized, but in a way that makes it appealing just to look through, rather than keeping documents organized by a specific person or family.  My digital record-keeping is where info is tracked by each individual & family, so I don’t feel I need to replicate that for my physical collection. 

With these principles in mind, I decided to create what I will call my Family Treasure Boxes!

Setting Up the Family Treasure Box

Taking advantage of Michael’s sale today – 50% off all decorative boxes, I picked up 4 of them to start my Family Treasure Box collection. The box sizes vary, but the are between 15-17 inches wide, 11-14 inches deep, and 5-8 inches high. These 4 boxes will be used for 1) my maternal family, 2) my paternal family, 3) my husband’s family (both sides combined for now), and 4) for my husband and I.

Family Treasure Box for my maternal family

Family Treasure Box for my paternal family

Family Treasure Box for my husband’s family

Family Treasure Box for my Kalonji and I

For the documents that will go in each box, I’ll use file folders with labels such as “Birth Certificates,” “Marriage Certificates,” “Death Certificates,” “Obituaries,” “Funeral Programs,” etc.  The folders will then be placed in larger, expandable folders to keep them together.

file folders to organize documents like certificates and funeral programs

I will place mementos in envelopes or small bins. For now, my materials are not archival quality, but I once I get the boxes established, I will switch to archival quality materials.  My family pictures are stored elsewhere, in photo books, but I may put a select few in each box. It will take me awhile to move my stuff into their new box homes, as I will need to sort through all my current papers and make sure every item I decide to keep in physical form is digitized and digitally archived. But, once I do, I’ll share pics of the insides.

I think the concept of a “treasure box” will make our family history items much more interesting to look through than what I am currently doing. And besides, they just look so pretty on my shelf! 🙂   And, even my tween daughter will know that THESE are the important family history things – she’s already told me she wants her own treasure box.  What do you think?

Comments (12)

  1. John Vincent Vince Powers

    Sounds like a Plan TK! 🙂

  2. Taneya Koonce (Post author)

    Thanks Vince! I am pleased so far 🙂

  3. John G. West

    “Treasure boxes” are a cool way of organizing these “physical” materials & items. I think the most important thing is that you are organizing these things. Shortly after I began my genealogy, I realized that I might collect lots of papers, photos, etc. I was studying some office-type classes working on a business degree in college. This was in the 1970s before much emphasis was on computers. Using filing cabinets to organize business records seemed like a perfect way to store my genealogy stuff. Where I had worked, about that time, the company was modernizing their filing cabinets and needed to sale the older cabinets. They were individuals drawers that stacked on each other. They were great to make 3,4,5 or whatever high cabinets. Since they were individual drawers, I began with a drawer for Mom & Dad and then started four more for the families of each of my grandparents… thus a five-drawer cabinet. I had bout 20 drawers since they were so inexpensive. However, over the last 40 years, my system needs to be re-organized. Thanks to you Taneya for giving me an idea to begin seriously digitalizing these files. I need to first organize them into filing folders like I did when I started and then digitalize them while eliminating dublicates and un-needed items!

  4. Taneya Koonce (Post author)

    Hi John – yes, over time our collections do just get bigger and bigger don’t they! I haven’t had as many years of experience as you but it is important to reassess our collections every now and then. Good luck on your digitization it will take a while but it will be worth the effort!

  5. Robyn Smith

    I Love your ideas, Taneya. I think the desire to get better organized is a never ending quest for us. I’m constantly rethinking it. Now, I’m trying to digitize most docs and get rid of my gazillion file folders. I’m storing many things in Evernote which is a godsend. I’m backing up data on external drives. One will stay at my parent’s house. Historical family photos are also stored in the Amazon Cloud. It’s really a challenge and lots of work to really get it right. THanks for this post.

  6. Taneya Koonce (Post author)

    Thanks Robyn for the feedback and sharing the processes that you use. There are of course many ways to go about organizing off work and we are ultimately just have to find what works best for us! I hope to hear more about your organization work on your blog too!

  7. Patrice

    Great idea, Taneya!

  8. Taneya Koonce (Post author)

    Thanks Patrice!

  9. Deborah Biggs

    Taneya,, I enjoyed reading your post! What a great idea, and I LOVE how you have thought about the future generations and how to draw their interest! Plus, you got your daughter’s buy-in! I was impressed with how you thought through every step before your action…….saves time and money doesn’t it! Thanks for posting, and nice job!

  10. Taneya Koonce (Post author)

    Thanks Deborah! Yes, I did think about this for awhile. I knew I needed to sort through my things but I couldn’t do it until I knew where they would live 🙂

  11. magda (@genealogyworks)

    Once again, you inspired me to set up a great way to organize our research for our kids and kins. I did get two of them for starts and put in my Dad’s, and relatives’ military files and it captured everyone’s interest already. I also started one for myself and my parents. I am not going to use a numbering system anymore on my external files. For years, I used the MRINs numbering system because it correlated with the software I had but our kids are not going to have software, and probably not do research but they do like leafing through binders. I taped one group sheet and one pedigree chart on top to show what’s in the boxes. Still experimenting.

  12. Taneya Koonce (Post author)

    Oh that is awesome!! You made the point about a numbering system better than I – it is true, our families aren’t going to care about that level of detail. I am so glad you are trying it!

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