The Value of Old Documents

You'll see me mention the phrases "genealogical" and "family history" value often, so I thought it would be appropriate to explain the subtle differences. There's a third phrase that I think we're all familiar with, "sentimental" value.

When you find that old "shoebox" in your closet, or your parents, it will be filled with items of different values. And when I'm talking about value, it's not in dollars.

If an item has vital statistics on it or relationship information, then it has genealogical value. An old drivers license may show the date of birth. An old newspaper clipping may list a child's parents. And then there are the obvious documents: birth, marriage and death certificates. But my point is that ANY document with this kind of core information has genealogical value.

Your family tree will identify all of the people you are related to, along with their core information (birth/marriage/death) and their relationships to other people (parent/child). But going beyond the basic genealogy is what I refer to as "family history". What activities filled the lives of the people on your tree? Their education, employment, community involvement, and military service are just a few examples of family historical information.

If you find an item in that mentions a person's name, a date and a place, it has family history value. Things like member lists from clubs and societies, yearbooks, magazines and newsletters from employers, military and Masonic rosters, all offer clues into a person's life. That's family history value.

An item may possess these "values", but be of no use to you -- either you don't know the people mentioned or you're not interested. But, other researchers may be very interested. You may have a item that mentions other individuals in a Lodge or Cavalry unit.

As you approach that trash can with a pile of documents, think about their value before discarding them. Not sure who to give them to? Don't worry, that's what this blog is all about.

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