Donating family history, china, bibles and more needs planning.

The treasures found in historical societies, libraries, archives, museums, and other repositories are never-ending. We already know that there is no one place that’s best for all of our family history or community research. Today, online catalogs, finding aids, and photos help us locate items related to a family or locality. One of the frequent questions I receive is “where should I donate my” bible, candlesticks, research files, farm equipment, or other items. I have a several pronged response:

  1. Donate to a place that has good cataloging and an online presence so that others may find your cool stuff.
  2. Be sure that place is run by caring staff and that it has the proper temperature-controlled storage.
  3. Donate to a place that relates to the material. If you family research is largely connected to Iowa, don’t give it to a place in Oregon. If the candlesticks are truly unique and were initially used in Indiana, do they really belong in a museum in Texas?
  4. Don’t drop off your box or boxes of material without first checking to see if the repository really wants your items.
  5. If that place is ready to accept your boxes, be sure to follow their instructions as far as arranging, appointment time, descriptions of what you are donating, and anything else that is required. Sometimes, funding is requested to rebind books or to arrange a collection or to create a finding aid.

A recent article in the West Central Tribune published in Willmar, Minnesota, was titled “West central Minnesota museums struggle with too much of a good thing.” It’s worth a read and explains some of the issues facing our historical societies, archives, and museums. I’m guessing many of us have been sorting things around our house, attic, and basement and are thinking of donating items. We really do need to think before we even contact the place.

© 2021, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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