The first part of your family search is gathering information. Where do I start gathering information? In your own home. Go through you attic, basement, chests, and hutches. You will want to gather up all of your photos, certificates, letters, heirlooms (or at least a list of the items), diaries, and books about your family.
Okay, now what do you do with that pill in the living room floor!!? Don't panic, but do pick a place where you can spread everything out for a few days while you work on this. Preferably where the dog won't get it, your hubby won't trip over it, and the kids won't get their sticky paws on it.
Now start separating all of that into piles. One for photos, one for letters, one for heirlooms, another for books and diaries and so forth. Now the books and diaries are the easiest, start there. These are either yours or they have been passed down in the family. What you don't want is for them to deteriorate, so you can pass them on for the next several generations. Air and sunlight are their enemy. As much as I'm sure you would love to display them on a shelf with pride, DON'T. What you need to get are some book boxes to put them in. They need to be archival safe boxes. Here is a list of websites you can visit that offer many types of archival safe products.
Check out these websites to get an idea of the types of boxes you want and will need to preserve your books. Gravity is also another enemy of books, especially heavy ones. So once you get your boxes, label them on one side so you can see what book(s) you placed in them and then lay the box flat on the shelf, not on it's end.
If this is not an option for you then what you can do won't be as good, but can help to prolong the life of you families books. Find a dark and dry room with very little dust and a moderate temperature, and put your shelf there. Then place your books on that shelf again laying flat, this will save the spin for years to come.
Now the books are out of your way. It's just a dent, but your making progress. Now lets set down and work on the family heirlooms. Some may be very large, others may be small like rings. As much as possible you want to set down at your computer and type up information that you will then attach to each family heirloom.
The information should include the first ancestor to first own it and how it was passed down in the family, and if there is any certain pattern to be followed for the future generations. The date if know when it was first purchased or given as a gift to the first ancestor, and by whom the gift was given. Also include any special story that tells if it was given for an event in that persons life or just because great grandpa cherished and loved great grandma.
Now find acid free labels to print the information on. You may want sheet size so you can cut it to whatever size is needed. Then attach it in a very inconspicuous place. For example on great grandma's oak table attach the label on the underside of the table, you may also want to put a smaller one on each of the chairs so it is understood those chairs stay with that table. But then you will have many items that do not have that kind of room or that you do not want to attach a label to such as a purse or quilt. If it is cloth you could consider making or having made an embroidered label and attach it so that it does not distract from the heirloom.
The only reason I say label each item if possible is if for some reason it is stolen or if you pass away and the rest of the family doesn't pay attention, they may see this label later and realize what they have, or someone else may find it and make an effort to reunite it with your family. But no mater if you use labels or not, you most definitely should create a data sheet of your heirlooms, listing the items, a description, who was the first ancestor, how it was passed down, the dates and places as well as the story behind each item. Then put it in a safe place, like a fire safe, make several copies and give to your children or other family member, and then just cross your fingers that nothing bad ever happens. But if God forbid you have a fire, robbery, flood or any other disaster hopefully you will be able to recover the items or at least prove to you insurance, though anything they pay you in restitution would not even compare to it's real value to you. Also include photos of each item.
Next lets tackle the pictures. Some of them you treasure and hang on your wall. I do too, but are they safe from their natural enemies, sunlight and moisture. Yes the ones on your walls are just as important to organize as the big old box from you basement. Check through these steps for each wall photo
- Get it OUT of SUNLIGHT! If you want to show off your photo then consider a low watt spot light in a darker room.
- Get the GLASS OFF the PHOTO! If you want glass over the photo to protect it from dust, flies, and scratches you can. The only safe way to do that is with a matting around the photo, or if it is in a frame you can't part with then consider taking the photo out and placing thin strips of card board between the glass and the photo, but where the frame will hide it this will put space so that the glass does not touch the photo. But be careful when removing. Move slowly because it may already be too late. If your photo has stuck to the glass, stop don't go any further. Consult a professional framer or photographer. They may or may not be able to help you depending on the damage.
- Make sure that you label the back of the photos. Use a soft pencil to write down the names of all in the photo, as well as the place and date it was taken and by whom.
- Last find a nice place as described in 1 to display your wall portraits with pride and place your spot lights on them if you choose.
Then the fun begins. But I'm going to stop here. I will continue this later. The next thing we will go over is that pile of loose photos. So for now work on your heirlooms, those books, and your wall portraits. Believe it or not this is just as important to find and preserving you family history as the hunt that will follow later, but if you don't organize first the hunt may become too daunting later.