My previous post was about approaching relatives to accept some or all of your family history, particularly photos, and about helping to save things from other cousins who have no heirs. Also I mentioned the idea of offering a single china setting (or a teacup, says reader Heather) to relatives.
This post is about researching possible non-family homes for your family's artifacts. NOTE: Seek out professional advice about highly valuable, quite historic, uniquely specialized, older/archeological, or extremely fragile items.
Idea: Classify your artifact - where would it fit?
My aunt, Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001), had no direct descendants. She was a WAC during World War II and led an interesting life--one worthy of being remembered. To keep her history alive, my sister and I wanted to donate some items we inherited (such as her Bronze Star citation and the written history of her WAC unit) to an appropriate institution.
I began by classifying the artifacts in various ways: (1) the items relate to the Women's Army Corps, part of the U.S. Army; (2) they relate to a U.S. Army veteran; (3) they relate to World War II.
In some cases, institutions are looking for specialized items for specific exhibits. The Norwalk CT Historical Society recently put out a call for artifacts related to an upcoming exhibit entitled "Miserable vagrants, petty thieves and scamps: a history of crime in Norwalk.” If that describes your ancestor, find out about the society's process (see illustration at right)!
Idea: Which institutions seem to be a good match?
Next, look at your classifications and search for institutions that have closely-related collections. Think about not only your top choice but your second choice.
I did online searches for the classification phrases Women's Army Corps, U.S. Army veterans, and World War II. Looking at the results, I read about the mission of each institution and also looked at what each institution is interested in collecting.
After doing this research, my conclusion was that the U.S. Army Women's Museum would be the best match for Sgt. Schwartz's artifacts. The website (see illustration at top, with a headshot of my aunt) offers these instructions, which I followed.
We are always actively seeking materials for our collection. If you would like to donate artifacts or archival materials please ensure you contact the Museum before sending anything. If you do not, it is possible the material will be sent directly back to you.
Idea: Understand the institution's process
Be guided by the institution's process, which usually begins by asking you to make contact and describe the artifact before sending it. I was able to donate my items to the museum, after receiving approval to send them--along with a biographical sketch of my aunt, and her role in the WACs during World War II. My sister and I are happy that our aunt, Sgt. Schwartz, is now represented in the museum's collection.
However, if the institution replies that your artifact doesn't fit in the scope of its collection, or it already has other examples similar to yours, do ask for suggestions of other institutions that usually collect your artifact. Or move down the list of results from your own research and contact your second choice.
To learn more about the general process of donating to any institution, please see my detailed blog post here.
My next post in this series will have ideas for what to do with your research and documents if you have no family heirs. Remember, these are only ideas--please adapt as appropriate to your situation. Also take a moment to read this Society of American Archivists article about donating your family history collection to an institution.