Papers written in a spidery hand
August 22, 2008 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Today I had a reason to be looking up a family document, and once again I became fascinated looking at the old family certificates and documents I have in my files.

My sister and are both childless, there are no other close relatives, and although the documents have no obvious historic value it seems a pity they should eventually just get tossed out when I die.

I have a basic family tree which diagrams out the relationships between most of the people mentioned on the documents. Are there genealogists who take an interest in such things even for families they're not related to? Any other organizations I may not be thinking of that might have some interest in such things?

I'm in Canada, and the documents come from Canadian and British sources.
posted by zadcat to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No such thing as an old document without historic value. Contact the local historic societies in your current and your parents' home communities.
posted by nax at 9:57 AM on August 22, 2008

Well- you could go UP the tree and see if someone on another branch is interested.
And there ARE genealogical societies that may be interested depending on your heritage?
Maybe if you post our heritage (OR check to see if there is a society withyour surname).
posted by beccaj at 9:57 AM on August 22, 2008

the mormons have the largest, most comprehensive genealogy collection. i would bet they'd be very interested in your documents. if you're worried about the religion, while your dead relatives will be "baptised", the family history centers are run pretty much without bias.
posted by nadawi at 10:22 AM on August 22, 2008

old stuff is neat. that's reason enough for keeping it.

otherwise, i would definitely try to find a historical society that a) is about your family's heritage/ethnicity or b) is about the area in canada/america/other place that your family was while creating those documents. you never know who's going to be writing a book or article 40 years from now and who would love to have your old documents as primary resources.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:31 AM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: Well, I do plan to keep the papers for now, myself. I was asking because I don't have anyone particular to leave them to, later on.
posted by zadcat at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: Oh yes, and I live in Quebec, and my impression is that Quebec's genealogists are pretty much only concerned with tracing the descent of the Quebec majority whose ancestry comes from France. But I may drop a line to the local Irish community group and see what they have to say.

Thanks all for the ideas.
posted by zadcat at 10:45 AM on August 22, 2008

Don't assume a historical society is going to want old papers. Most historical societies are now evolving, or have already evolved, collections policies that delineate what they do and don't want to keep. It is an important step toward long-term sustainability; museums and archives simply cannot keep everything. There's not the space, climate control, or staff to manage everything like that according to proper standards.

You can find this out, though, by inquiring at your provincial and local historical societies to see whether these papers would fall within their collections policies.

Generally they would need to have some significance outside your family. Or your family would have to be significant in local or regional history.

It's hard to say more without knowing what the papers are. Stock certificates in a major regional company? The corporate archives might want them. Birth certificates, marriage certificates? Not so much unless they are unusually interesting.

The question comes down to one of "significance." To whom would these be important or interesting? How common a type of document are they? How much information do they yield, and about what?

If you have no one to leave them to, you could stipulate that they be sold at an ephemera auction of some sort and the proceeds used to settle your estate or as a donation to some other cause.
posted by Miko at 10:48 AM on August 22, 2008

the mormon church in quebec cares about all family lines, not just the francophones. any papers that show family history or movement will be scanned in. more than just the mormons use those resources. if you want it to be actually useful, i'd find your local family history center. the best part about that is when you go to talk to them you can also sit at one of the computers and look up parts of your family history that aren't included in your papers.
posted by nadawi at 11:12 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I endorse the idea of finding someone in your family tree who is interested in genealogy, preferably very interested. This person doesn't need to be close. The (now deceased) person who compiled my family's genealogy (updating a 1905 book) in 1971 is so distantly related to me I have no idea -- maybe a fifth cousin twice removed. But this is the kind of thing that could get compiled into a family history book if there's someone so inclined.

In reality, stuff like this gets tossed all the time, and if it turns up in the auction market, has only limited value. If you're the only remaining people to whom this matters, well, that's tough luck for the documents. This is an example of how history is stories for people. Without the people, there is no story.
posted by dhartung at 11:15 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, good to read the other side of the coin too. I'm not in a hurry to throw them away but I won't concern myself with passing them on to anyone in particular.
posted by zadcat at 12:30 PM on August 22, 2008

You might be able to check and see if any one else is tracking side branches of your family.
posted by metahawk at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2008

Are you worried about your family disappearing from the pages of history? Or you just don't want to (eventually) throw away some documents if they are interesting to someone?

Either way, I second metahawk's suggestion to check Family histories and genealogies are often strange things insofar as there may be a thousand details about one person and almost nothing known about another. There is bound to be someone who would love to have a thousand details about a distant, distant relative.
posted by wabashbdw at 1:49 PM on August 22, 2008

Look into heritage societies, as well. Is there a Canadian equivalent to the Daughters of the American Revolution? If you can trace your lineage back to someone famous or important (even you're distantly related to someone minutely important), there might be a heritage society wanting to document all descendants.
posted by donajo at 3:17 PM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: Are you worried about your family disappearing from the pages of history? Or you just don't want to (eventually) throw away some documents if they are interesting to someone?

More the latter. If I were worried about my family disappearing I could have arranged for it not to disappear. But there's an odd feeling that, once I'm gone, my great-grandparents and my grandparents will be utterly forgotten. I don't know why that should matter but it makes me a little sad.
posted by zadcat at 5:35 PM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: (And I never met any of them.)
posted by zadcat at 5:36 PM on August 22, 2008

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