Don’t Let Those Precious Notes get Thrown Away!

After my fling with genealogy and making sure all the relatives had copies of them and the transcribed memoirs of grandmothers, I became a Den mother and school and church volunteer.

Genealogy got left behind.

But after Dan was in school every day, I spent time with my widowed mother. She still lived on the Madison County farm where I grew up, but we usually went somewhere, even if it was just taking a drive into Guthrie County. She’d tell stories of her growing up years in Dexter. I began to take notes, and learned to ask which house she lived in during which episode. Sometimes we’d drive by those houses in Stuart and Dexter. I’m thankful we did, since only one of them still stands.

House after house! Sometimes stories would emerge when someone else was driving. I’d be in the back seat scribbling notes on a scrap of paper.

Most of the stories weren’t new. I’d heard Mom tell them all my life. Well, I didn’t exactly hear them, as I’d pretty well shut them out. But here she was, putting flesh on those family trees, adding color to her own mother’s memoirs.

All of a sudden they’d become fascinating.

Mom, abetting me, scrolled through microfilms of old newspapers at the Iowa State Historical Library, where we’d make copies of clippings. Then we’d have pizza at Noah’s Ark on Ingersoll Avenue on the way home.

I began to sort them into file folders, house by house. After reading all the World War II letters and all the research about the brothers, I added a third four-drawer filing cabinet.

Then I read that if your notes are on backs of envelopes and scribbled on napkins, your descendants will toss all of them. No!

But I knew that’s exactly what would happen.

A couple of years ago I began typing up the notes chronologically and merging them with clippings, letters, postcards, significant dates. They are now safely in notebooks, which I’m pretty sure our son would at least take home before summarily tossing them. And by then, he just might find them fascinating.

The information in them have made old photos come to life, and have been so helpful as I’m sculpting the second of what will eventually turn into a trilogy of “Leora stories.” Leora was my mother’s mother, my delightful Grandma Leora.

The moral to this story is: Write down your stories, type up any that look like they probably should be recycled, label those old photos!

You’ll be so glad you did.


  1. Oh, how true this is! I used to be super organized. Knew where everything was, could put my hands on it in just minutes (sometimes seconds). Then we moved. I’ve been DISorganized ever since! Just yesterday I was trying to find an historic document, a certificate from the governor of Tennessee certifying that my great grandfather (whom I was fortunate enough to know for the last 14 years of his life) had been elected justice of the peace for Knox County. Do you think I could find it? I remembered seeing it just recently, and I put it “where I could find it when I needed it.” Well, I needed it but couldn’t find it! It’s not enough just to KEEP those notes and documents–you have to keep them where you can find them! Thanks for the guilt your post layed on me! 🙂 I’ll try to do better.

  2. Such wise advice! For one thing, when things are organized, they are less likely to be tossed. I love your filing cabinets, and how you have brought order and clarity to the notes; this way, the stories can be written, and not forgotten. It is quite a job to pull all that information together…it is impressive and inspiring to others!!!

  3. God bless your efforts and organization skills. It seems there’s at least one person in each generation of a family who is the “go-to” genealogist. In my generation, I am the only one who loves the family tree and its history. I wish more were interested enough to do some research. God’s grip – Alan

  4. Your advice is sound: write it down and save it. I didn’t do that with my grandparents, and now I can’t reconstruct their life in Germany, and some of their early history in the U.S. That’s one of the reasons for my book, to record our lives and God’s hand in them for the benefit of my grandchildren.

  5. My mother was the one who took on this task of organization–but there is still more yet to do. I was very glad that she wrote down a number of memories from her growing up years, stories that I hadn’t heard before, and perhaps she’d forgotten about until she started writing her family history.

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