Tossing out the family history binders

16 August 2021

Yes! I am finally doing it. It’s a little scary but I know it is the right thing for me. Ever since my shock cancer diagnosis in August 2019, I have been weeding and downsizing my family history records that reflect 44 years of research. A truly daunting task with a mix of paper files, photographs, books, memorabilia, binders, and of course edocs and efiles.

Tossing out the binders
Tossing out the binders

You can read about the first five months as I posted monthly reports of my progress. Month 5 has links to the first four monthly reports.

But the scale of the job was just too big and time consuming even in Covid lockdown with nothing else to do. Plus, scanning and organising edocs and photos is boring.

Another thing I didn’t count on was that re-examining old records would lead to new research – obvious in hindsight. We all know that family history research is never ending.

After much thinking, I decided that to get the job done I really had to do it family by family. With eight sets of great great grandparents, I picked two sets to work on – my Cornish emigrants and my Scottish emigrants. They weren’t the smallest, but I had already started to write up a draft family history for each of them.

My Goal Now

The ultimate end goal is a digital copy of all certificates, documents, photographs, a written family history (not a best seller but one that captures their lives, and where they were from) and a genealogy database that has all their ancestors and descendants. All on one USB to give away to relatives, or on my website for anyone to download, or for any family history society that might want information on families in their area.

Front cover of my draft family history on my Cornish ancestors
Front cover of my draft Cornish family history

My Cornish Families Progress

The paper files are gone, and the scanning completed. The family history is written, although in draft form and the genealogy database still to be updated and missing citations added. Decades ago, I didn’t bother adding sources to the database, as the evidence was in my paper files.  

The history looks primarily at my three primary families, Trevaskis, Rosewarne and Guy. It is currently 62 pages long and just over 9000 words.

It still needs some illustrations and an index and a lot of tweaking to make it more interesting. I console myself with the thought that at least the information is there for future generations and will not be lost when I am gone.

My Scottish Families Progress

This is like the Cornish, but there are still paper files with documents that need scanning. I have discovered more about my Scottish Carnegie and Stratton families in both Scotland and Canada which needs to be added to the family history draft. My draft is already 91 pages and just under 20,000 words. It might have been easier to start my PhD (also on the bucket list).

Looking at my draft cover and title, it seems I was originally only going to write about the family in Australia. But now I have chapters on the families in Scotland and the Stratton families who emigrated to Canada. Maybe I need two volumes? Although with an epublication size is not as important as if I was doing print copies. Still the title will have to change.

Everything in the Carnegie/Stratton binders has been added to either my efiles, my genealogy database or the draft family history. The binders are empty, and I have a small mountain of plastic sleeves that I used to keep all my family group sheets and documents in.

Draft cover of Carnegie @ Pumicestone, my Scottish ancestors' story
Draft cover of Carnegie @ Pumicestone,
my Scottish ancestors’ story

What Next

Before I move on to another family, I really do need to finalise all the last bits and pieces for the Cornish and Scottish families. Why do we/I always leave all the boring stuff to the end?

While I happily tossed out paper documents and old microfilm printouts, I am not so keen to throw out my certificates which I have paid for over the decades. They are all scanned so I don’t need the originals but why do I resist throwing them out? On the other hand, I don’t want to keep them because they will get chucked out at the end of the day.

Should I give them to my local family history society? Would they even want the certificates? What do I do with memorabilia? I have taken photos but still hang on to individual items which have sentimental value for me but will mean nothing to whoever cleans out my study.

Yes, it is a milestone in my goal of weeding and downsizing my family history collection. But I am only one eighth of the way there. Still another six sets of great great grandparents to weed and downsize. At my rate of progress, I will need to live another 12 years at least!

Plus, I have my son’s family history records on his father’s side to organise and my partner’s maternal and paternal family history records. Together that’s another lot of paper files, photographs, documents, efiles, databases and binders. My four drawer filing cabinets won’t be looking for a new home any time soon!

My approach is working. I can see progress. I’m finally tossing out the binders. What I need is to stay focused, disciplined and dedicate serious time each week to progress each family grouping. Wish me luck.  

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  1. One of my granddaughters is interested in the family history but she’s only 5 so goodness knows if she’ll still be interested later on when I’m gone. I don’t have many paper files because I didn’t start researching until about 2006/7 and kept as much as possible digital. I admire all your work Shauna!! Kylie

  2. That is amazing progress to have scanned and written so much given all the other things you do for the rest of the genealogy community. Well done, I wish I had your determination to get things done!

  3. Shauna, I was so saddened to hear of your shock diagnosis, and send my love to you. We have never met, but I have attended some of your talks and enjoyed them and learnt a lot from you.
    I can so empathise with the cleaning out process you are going through. I am in a long process of the same, due to old age I am scared of what will get thrown out. I know what you mean about not wanting to part with real certificates and for me, it is also the old photos even though we have scanned them all. They just have a personal attachment.
    I wish you all the best for the rest of the work and your PhD

  4. Thanks for this blog Shauna. It’s a real conundrum isn’t it? I haven’t been doing my family for anything like 44 years and when I started I really didn’t think about organisation. BIG mistake. I had to laugh when I read the bit about being distracted by new research while sorting through the old.

  5. Thanks Kylie. I am still hoping for a grandchild but as you say they won’t be old enough to really take an interest. But at least they will be able to read about my family discoveries.

  6. Thanks Carmel. It is only when you get towards the end of a project that you really realise how much you have done. Salami tactics!

  7. Thanks Isabel for your comments. You reminded me about the photos – some I have tossed because they were travel type photos and meaningless to anyone else. But yes I have shoe boxes of family photos, some scanned some not. All part of the downsize.

  8. Thanks Kym. We live in a time of expanding records online and this just leads to so many new research opportunities. All those bright shiny objects so I am trying to balance between time spent downsizing and the more exciting new discoveries.

  9. Oh Shauna you are an inspiration. Thank you for giving me some ideas on how to tackle what I currently see as an elephant that is just too big to eat. This month, I was going to tackle one particular shelf on one of my many bookcases….digitizing or tossing some files/folders that I have inherited from my father. Have I started ? No. I will do anything else to avoid starting, including housework. It is crazy how much I have to do but I just have to take a small bite and then hopefully I will be rolling along nicely, just like you.

  10. Small steps Alex. It is the only way as it is really too overwhelming. Don’t worry about the housework. No one will care and they will have more regrets if your research is not saved. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Good luck and hope to see you seen in person.

  11. Shauna, you and I met through my Callaghan in-laws when I first started my research and I appreciated the help you gave me. My son went to live in Charters Towers about 10 years ago and Ron and I with his sister went to the local history group to find out what we could about Trevaskis and Guy relatives. No luck with Trevaskis but we found the grave of Elizabeth Guy which was in a mess, broken headstone and dirty. Went back next day and cleaned it up as much as we could and took photos. If you would like to see them send me your email address and I will send them to you. Best wishes to you. Thanks again.

  12. Hi Glenniese I remember you from all those years ago. I have also been to Charters Towers and taken photos of Elizabeth’s grave. Nice to hear from you again. Stay safe and well.

  13. You really are an inspiration, Shauna. Thanks for the update on your 2019 challenge, you’ve certainly done excellently with something that despite my intentions, I have not even begun… Keep it up, as I’m sure you’re able to finish the project.

  14. Thanks Bobbie. The hard part is starting and then just slowly chipping away at a family project.

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