Like many people on the East Coast, I spent a good part of the last weekend of August waiting for the impact of Hurricane Irene. I worried about the two enormous trees in my front yard, bought batteries, and adjusted the drain spouts. More significantly, I was finally properly motivated to move many of my precious family possessions that long been in my basement — but shouldn’t have been. I certainly knew better, but when we moved into our house a lack of time and space upstairs led me to “temporarily” store many boxes of papers and photographs in the basement. A couple of years passed and the day-to-day demands of family and work life conspired to keep my boxes untouched.
With Irene on the way, I began to picture my things ruined by a flooded basement. Not only would I suffer the loss of many irreplaceable items, I would know it would all be due to my willful neglect and lack of care. So I finally took action. I first removed a family tree quilt from its resting place in a garbage bag on the floor of the basement. (Note to all: never store a treasured object in a dark green contractor garbage bag. I don’t deserve to still have that quilt but I’m glad I do!) I ferried boxes of nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographs upstairs, and removed cartons of documents, yearbooks, and keepsakes. In the end, Irene spared our house, and I was left with a cleaner basement — and a cleaner conscience.
Back at work on Monday morning, I exchanged emails with Carol Purinton, who wrote an article for last week’s enewsletter. I mentioned that I had cleaned my basement over the weekend and she replied that I was the fifth person she knew who had cleaned their basement during the hurricane weekend! She had spent her time scanning her father’s World War II photos. This impending disaster allowed some of us to make time that can’t seem to be found in our everyday lives to protect our family collections. (Of course, Irene did wreak havoc with some homes and communities, and people obviously suffered terrible losses, no matter their state of preparedness.)
Even so, my family papers and possessions could still use more organizing and protecting. I have resolved not to wait for the next hurricane to come barreling up the East Coast before I take action again.
“NEDCC Offers Hints for Preserving Family Collections”
The Northeast Document Conservation Center provides preservation guidelines and a list of archival suppliers.
“Preserving Treasures after a Disaster” and “Saving Family Treasures Guidelines”
These web pages from the Library of Congress and the National Archives offer useful advice for dealing with materials affected by a disaster — plenty of incentive for protecting family collections from harm.
Readers may view Wendy Dellery Hills’s account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the fall 2006 issue of New England Ancestors magazine.