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What's to be done with a box of old photos and letters

(42 Posts)
Grammaretto Mon 02-Jan-23 00:18:54

My SiL is clearing her DM house .
She has a box full of letters and photos which are not her family.
I have tried to contact someone from that family via Ancestry but have had no replies .
Is there any point in keeping these things?
What would you do?

SueDonim Mon 02-Jan-23 00:22:16

Do you think they’re of local people/events? If so, what about putting some info on the local FB page?

Kalu Mon 02-Jan-23 00:23:50

Once both my parents had died I chose photographs and cards of sentimental value which my parents had sent to one another. What was left, I burned as I hated the thought they may fall into the hands of strangers somehow.

Ro60 Mon 02-Jan-23 00:24:05

Failing your best plan, donate to a museum. Photographs and letters are a thing of the past & so (imo) important to keep.

Grammaretto Mon 02-Jan-23 00:50:58

Thanks. It's a complicated story. We knew the lady whose letters etc they are but she died in 1980 with noone to inherit apart from DFiL who is dead. She lived in North Wales latterly but came from Stoke on Trent.
She had a nephew but we have tried to make contact via a family tree on Ancestry where her name appears - but no response.

I thought there could be a local FB site for that area. I would prefer not to destroy them if there's a hope of someone being interested.

Doodledog Mon 02-Jan-23 00:55:45

Are they personal letters? If so, I would shred them. They were not addressed to you, and I feel very uneasy about personal correspondence being read by anyone other than the intended recipient.

Ro60 Mon 02-Jan-23 01:07:40

Maybe the local newspaper would either help, or be interested?

Grammaretto Mon 02-Jan-23 01:09:37

I don't know if they are personal. I haven't read them. She was the midwife who delivered my DFiL. His mother died in childbirth and as nobody wanted the baby, this lady took him home and was a mother to him until he was 5 when his DF remarried and claimed him.
They always kept in touch, hence the letters but there is just so much more important stuff now his house is being cleared.
Do you really think they should be burned?

nanna8 Mon 02-Jan-23 04:09:07

No ,don’t burn them. They are part of history. I’d skim through them to see if any of them are important because the people are probably long gone so it is not so much a matter of confidentiality now. A letter from my husband’s family survived from the 1930s and it makes me tearful every time I read it because the person who wrote it died very young at the end of WW2. It is a lovely and poignant memory.

LRavenscroft Mon 02-Jan-23 07:29:27

Do you have a local archive centre that deals with local history? Where I live the people at the local archive are delightful and very caring. You have different levels of choice as to how you would like the family papers to be kept and one of them is to donate completely. They can be very useful for historians researching local history or Phd students. If there is no one to claim them and all the people involved are long dead, unless the letters contain anything accusatory or offensive they should be OK. Archives too have their rules.

Doodledog Mon 02-Jan-23 08:10:22

I would hate the idea that people were reading personal correspondence of mine when I wasn’t there to stop them or (potentially) to give an alternative point of view. It feels really intrusive and disrespectful to me. I am a very private person though.

Ashcombe Mon 02-Jan-23 08:18:13

When we had a lot of old photos from my mother, we kept a few that were of special interest to our family then advertised the others on Freecycle. A student researching a social history project was delighted to have them.

Kalu Mon 02-Jan-23 09:11:12


I would hate the idea that people were reading personal correspondence of mine when I wasn’t there to stop them or (potentially) to give an alternative point of view. It feels really intrusive and disrespectful to me. I am a very private person though.

My feelings too knowing my parents would have agreed with my decision.

midgey Mon 02-Jan-23 09:20:41

Stoke on Trent has an excellent museum,, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, perhaps they could help you?

Chestnut Mon 02-Jan-23 10:07:54

I agree with Doodledog. These are private letters and as there are no direct descendants then the letters should be destroyed. I have a lot of family letters and none of them contain historic information of interest to the world. Respect the people involved and shred or burn them. The photos you could keep in case a relative appears down the road, but you could even get rid of those if you have them digitalised.

This may all sound rather heartless, but I have a lot of old letters and photos. These include several wonderful pictures including one beautiful large 1900 group wedding photo on cardboard backing where there are no living descendants or family at all. I have scanned them all but no-one will want them. I have hundreds of letters, but they are all my own parents. I would never keep anyone else's letters.

Grammaretto Mon 02-Jan-23 10:27:52

Some good suggestions here.
I may contact archives in Stoke.
I know that old postcards are collectible but not sure that just photos are - especially if they aren't named.

They could be scanned and digitised but I feel life is too short and I haven't even done my own family.

Yammy Mon 02-Jan-23 10:33:04

I was left the same when my mother died. Some were photos and correspondence out of her grandmother's house. I quickly went through them and burned a lot. Now 12 years later after doing the family tree I realise they were photos of my great gran's sister and her family who emigrated to Canada.
Your local history Centre might be interested in them if they show the conditions and why people felt the need to emigrate.
The ones I am glad I did burn are my father's letters to my mother whilst stationed in India in WW2 in the Navy. My father a very mild-mannered man came over as a complete bigot and racist which he wasn't when I knew him. I did keep the photos.
If the person was not closely related to you I would pass them to a local history society after having a quick skim through.

Joseanne Mon 02-Jan-23 11:14:00

Some junior schools might like them for KS2 History topics, especially if there are photos relating to WW2. Children are fascinated by old pictures of real people when put into context with their learning.

Baggs Mon 02-Jan-23 11:52:12

Write a novel?

LovelyCuppa Mon 02-Jan-23 12:03:25

It sounds like they aren’t of exceptional historical significance so I’d say it is up to your SIL what she wants to do. There might be a local archive who would appreciate them, but at the same time there are many many photos and letters in existence and we don’t need to keep all of them. Keeping or getting rid of would be equally fine options.

Chestnut Mon 02-Jan-23 12:06:51

Without knowing what is in the photos how can anyone know whether schools, record offices or libraries would be interested? The OP must decide whether the pictures are historically relevant or just random snap shots of unidentified people or unknown places. Any decision depends on what the photos are.

Joseanne Mon 02-Jan-23 12:21:47

Without wishing to argue with you Chestnut, but as someone who teaches in schools, (going back in on Wednesday), you would be surprised what mileage can be got ftom old photos .... in History lessons, Art lessons, stories etc.
I think most posters are just giving suggestions for the OP to consider.

Joseanne Mon 02-Jan-23 12:28:43

As an example, here's one a 9 year old did last term in Art from a 1930s portrait I had lying around. Of course the original was in sepia, and the child was allowed to imagine the colours of the clothes.

Theexwife Mon 02-Jan-23 12:37:46

I regularly buy from auction houses, there are often old photos and letters in mixed lots.

I used to offer them to history groups relevant to the area they were from, libraries and traced family members, sadly nobody wanted them.

SueDonim Mon 02-Jan-23 13:28:16

I’m drawn back to this topic, for some reason, maybe because my mother has two very old letters in her possession that meant almost nothing at one time but since I’ve researched my family history have become significant.

I can understand wanting to destroy intimate/unpleasant letters but I have to say, I did a huge declutter of correspondence (not intimate, just that between friends) many years ago and I regret it now.

There may be a lot of letters and photos currently in existence but I’ve been pondering lately that I think they’ll eventually become a snapshot in time. People no longer write letters to each other and physical photos are dying a death too. The days of the camera never lying have well and truly gone!

How big a box are you talking about, Grammaretto? If it’s shoebox or office paperwork size, I’d keep it and stick it somewhere out of the way. If it’s shipping container size, that’ll need a different solution.