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Things You Should Keep for Posterity's Sake

November 14, 2020

You may not realize it, but many of the materials you've come across this year will be very valuable some day, if not now for various reasons. Even when we're not living through a major world event, knowing what to keep for posterity's sake can be tricky (or not, it's hard to tell sometimes). But, for both trying times and what we know as normal times, here's some information you may not already know, as a nudge, towards identifying what items you should keep for future generations.

Anita Williams' Convention badge from 1926
Anita William's Convention badge for the National League of Women Voters, in 1926

And since I'm mainly talking about the items to keep, here's a link to a previous blog post I wrote about preserving and caring for your important materials and artifacts - Old Letters and At-Home Archiving.

Things to keep, in general...

These are items unrelated to this year's events - the pandemic, the tornado that tore through Nashville in March, the election - but still important for future reference. 

  • Your marriage certificate and other vital records 

Manley-Loyd marriage, dated 4-27-1853
Manley-Loyd marriage, dated 4-27-1853

I mention this one not to call anyone out, but simply because we in Archives are aware that people don't like to hang on to such things after say, a divorce or if people think they are no longer useful. But especially with marriage certificates, despite whether the marriage has ended for any reason or not, that certificate has a purpose in the future for name-change verification and other reasons (insurance, social security, etc.).

And for posterity's sake, if your family is doing genealogy research in 50+ years, they'll have that document as evidence. Remember, all of us will someday be someone else's past, so leaving archival breadcrumbs for future family members and friends will save them some research trouble, even if documentation in the future will be made easier. It's already trending that way thanks to various institutions digitizing their records, and internet sites like Ancestry and Family Search, but there's still a long-way to go. 

Family register from the John Herman Ratterman Collection
John Herman Ratterman family register
  • Your journal or diary 

Cover of Katharina Dury's Diary
Cover of Katharina Dury's diary, the wife of the first George Dury to emigrate to the United States

Because finding these things in our records are real gems in revealing people's feelings, way of thinking, cultural references, etc. Or if your family keeps a family bible, which used to be a common custom; that's a highly valuable artifact. 

  •  Photographs

Hicks Green glass plate negative, girl with puppy
From the Hicks Green Glass Plate Negative Collection, little girl with her puppy

This seems obvious, but if you do save photos (digital or physical), please make note of the location and date taken, if you know. In the archival and library world, this is known as "metadata", or data that provides info on the item in question. 

With digital, the date is usually saved but putting those details in the saved name helps.

With physical images, writing on the back of photos isn't necessarily advised. But if they are not in an envelope, writing on the back of the photographs in pencil is best. Or putting a note with them, written in pencil, is a good idea. 

View of house, people during a flood, 1913
From the McClanahan-Weakley Collection, description and date written on the photograph. This isn't advised to do at all, but you also know what and when this is: "High waters, January 1913"
  • Video/audio footage

As we are in the age of rapidly-changing technology, nothing tells a story better than video or audio. And if not that, then a photograph. But the crux of saving these items is that technology is always changing, so who knows if we'll have the ability to access said footage in the future (like how floppy disks are almost impossible to access now). That's where the rule of 3 comes in - saving the material on 3 types of technology. And saving a device to access it, if possible. The internet might be one place to save it to; which I'm assuming the internet will still be around at least in the near future. 

Here's some example footage from the Archives' Audiovisual Heritage Center, from the March 2020 tornado damage in Germantown...

  • Other ephemera or items that may not be in physical form in years to come, including: voter registration cards, ID's or driver's licenses, passports, greeting or holiday cards, event tickets, invitations, calendars, etc. 

James Estes Voter Registration card
Voter registration card from 1945

I have no idea if some of these items won't be around in the future - namely if driver's licenses or anything of the sort goes digital. But, if you have any of these items that are expired, like your passport, it's wise to keep it for again, posterity's sake. 

Map of the Cholera Epidemic in Nashville, in 1873

Things to keep from the time of COVID-19...

The important thing to mention almost goes without saying, but still, I'll say it. If you've tested positive for the virus, anything you save should be sanitized. Although, the virus is not supposed to survive on a surface after a few days, I'd say it's still important to be cautious. 

Family wearing masks, including the cat
Everyone in the family wearing their masks in 1918, including the cat. Photo came to Metro Archives via a former intern, original source - the Dublin Heritage Park and Museums
  • Your mask; see above info here.

  • If you were tested, any info pertaining to the test or pandemic (use discretion on how much personal medical info you'd like to save).

  • Any important news articles, especially ones with statistics and factual data (very important for future analysis).

Abbeville Herald clipping, January 1919
Clipping from January, 1919 from the Abbeville Herald in Alabama
  • Any important mail or email pertaining to the pandemic you received from your work, government, etc.

  • Photos of signs you've seen during the pandemic

Store signs, road signs, signs from the CDC, etc. Anything that's providing evidence that we are in a pandemic.

  • And for a little humor, memes and gifs

Who knows if memes or gifs eventually become a thing of the past, so saving any of your favorite memes from throughout the pandemic is a good idea. These are the modern day's newspaper comics and political cartoons that convey, in a cheeky way, a little bit of cultural attitude.

Meme from 2020 conveying the fear of others coughing, and the drop in airline prices
A great meme conveying the fear of others coughing during the pandemic, while also showing the drop in airline prices


Things to keep from the 2020 election...

Political ad for George Cate, running for Vice Mayor
Political ad advocating for the elimination of the old "political machines" by voting for George Cate for Mayor 

There's a collection we have in Archives that's all political signs and memorabilia. So collecting these isn't something that's new, but as this election is historic in a few ways, it's important to document it, no matter who you voted for. 

  • Voter registration card 

Backside of voter registration card from 1945
Backside of voter registration card from 1945, frontside view is above. 
Voter registration card for George Marsh, dated 1867
Voter registration card for George Marsh, for 1867

As mentioned above, when your registration card is no longer needed, say if you are registered in a new location or any of the "termination and cancellation" qualifications, then it's important to hang onto this for posterity's sake. 

  • Yard signs 

Dr. Dorothy Brown poster when she ran for TN state senate
Dr. Dorothy Brown poster when she ran for the TN State Senate in 1968
  • Ballot you received in the mail, to show all candidates running

First Metro Council Ballot
From the Dick Battle Papers, the first Metro Council ballot
  • Any mail you received from candidates

  • Important news stories or merely headlines 

Tennessean masthead for November 2nd, 1920
Tennessean masthead for November 2nd, 1920

I know I don't need to explain this one, but too bad - I am anyway. I mention this cause even though newspaper archives exist online nowadays, especially with, saving originals can be even more important and valuable. What's so great about printed newspapers are that these are words and photos frozen in time - even if what's printed is wrong. Like with the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" error in the Chicago Daily Tribune, in 1948, when the newspaper printed the wrong candidate winning (which I found copies online for sale for as much as $3,000). So, just saying...newspapers are soooo highly useful, albeit printed on highly acidic paper. They're honestly one of my favorite things to thumb through in Archives.  

  • Other ephemera such as buttons, stickers, clothing items, pins, etc.

Various political buttons
Political buttons from the Ronnie Steine Collection
  • Photos of signs and graffiti, to document various points of view 

  • Other photos to document protests, rallies, or other events pertaining to current issues, candidates, and the various elections

Welcome Mr. Kennedy sign, Metro Day for JFK
Metro welcoming President Kennedy sign, from the Ronnie Steine Collection

And to finish this blog post with something unrelated to either the pandemic or the election, a clipping from a short-lived newspaper published in Nashville during World War II - the Nashville Good News Weekly. For the most part, the newspaper focuses on somewhat positive stories (minus the one about how bad people drove here in 1941...some things never change), social highlights of citizens, motion picture ads, and various other oddities like this clipping from 1942...enjoy!

Nashville Good News Weekly, 1942

'Til next time, 


lucille ball


Sarah is a Program Coordinator with Metro Archives. Her interests and areas of expertise are history, reading books (of any kind), music, travel, Harry Potter, and bingeing a good comedy series. When not in Archives, she is either nose-deep in a book or planning her next trip. Learn more about the fascinating materials found at Metro Archives through their website.