As you downsize to a smaller home, you may be tempted to throw away the boxes of old photos, family papers and memorabilia that have been gathering dust in the attic or basement.
Think again. What you toss out might be valuable to your family, your descendants and the community.
For centuries, the Jewish people have survived by telling and retelling their history. Photographs of your parents and grandparents will help your grandchildren flesh out their heritage. Perhaps you have passports, ship tickets, military discharge papers or diplomas that anchor your forebearers in time and place.
Reliable history depends on original documents. Historians require access to original papers, personal letters, photographs, official records and memorabilia. They build the record piece by piece. You may think of your personal trove of historical material as insignificant by itself. Brought together with those of many other individuals, families and organizations, your documents become the raw material from which the wider historical piece emerges.
Last summer, the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) relocated to the headquarters of the New England Historic Genealogical Society on Newbury Street in Boston. The AJHS serves as the historical repository of record for the Greater Boston Jewish community.
AJHS has embarked on an ambitious plan to scan all of the 2 million items in its Boston holdings: every document, letter, photograph, newspaper article, synagogue newsletter and women’s group bulletin. The project is more than half way through. Soon the first of these scanned items will be available on a website, accesible to anyone, anywhere in the world.
The AJHS can help you preserve the personal and family records you no longer have room to store. Are the photos of your great-grandparents frayed and yellowed? To assure that these precious items will be available when any family member wants to see them, AJHS can scan everything, provide family members with a DVD of the collection and upload images to a Web site. The materials can be available to any researcher, or restricted to family members and others by your permission.
You won’t simply be saving the personal past for your family. Your documents can become tiles in the mosaic of the American Jewish experience.
Your unrestricted donation of archival materials is tax deductible. Your tax adviser can explain how the IRS permits you to value your gift up to $5,000 without appraisal. If you believe your collection may be worth above $5,000, you will need a professional appraisal to obtain maximum tax benefits. Of course, your primary purpose in preserving the past is not financial, but it’s good to know that much of the cost of having an organization like AJHS provide perpetual care for your family records can be offset by a charitable deduction.
Michael Feldberg is a former executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society.
To contact AJHS about preserving your records, visit http://www.ajhsboston.org or call 617-226-1245.
About the photograph: George and Gussie Wyner with their grandchildren, undated. From the Wyner Family Papers, P-803.