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How will you store your family history?

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If the families of the tens of thousands of young men who died in the horrors of WW1 could have known how the nation would have felt this month, 100 years after the start of the conflict, I wonder if they would have thought any differently about how to care for the mementoes left behind?

WW1 Medals In the intervening century, how many letters, diaries and personal effects have been lost because someone didn’t know how important they would be to their descendants and others trying to bridge the gap in time to imagine what life was like on that day in August 1914 when WW1 began, and the years that followed?

It’s a question that is impossible to answer today, but it begs another: what should we do now to store facets of our own lives that might interest future generations? How can we tell the stories and family histories to our own grandchildren’s children a further 100 years down the line?

The default answer would probably include the phrase ‘on the computer’ – but that’s arguably less durable at the beginning of the 21st century than the solutions available in the early 20th. How many of us remember floppy discs? Even CDs are getting past their sell-by date, and Windows XP is obsolete. Who knows what safety storage solutions will be available in 2114, making what we think of as state-of-the-art today look Victorian by comparison.

No, by far the best way is to commit today’s stories to paper, including as much detail as possible, to let future generations know what was important to you and your family – and store them properly. These stories form a social canvas, adding colour and texture to the hard facts of history, and giving future generations a much better picture of life now.

With the physical items, these can form a family archive, stored together in a suitable container resistant to fire and flood. Our family’s is in what we call the ‘black tin box’. It’s an old deed box which has been in the family for years, and contains all sorts of items with little or no monetary value, but intense sentimental attachment and interest. There is the mortgage agreement for my grandparents’ first house, bought as a new build just weeks before WW2 for less than £700; parents’ school reports, family jewellery, certificates, photographs; the list goes on.

History matters. The trouble is, we often don’t realise how much it matters until we don’t have it any more, by which time it’s too late. Take action now.

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