From Christmas Newsletters to Family History Treasures

By Kerry Smith

It’s that wonderful time of year when Christmas cards, family photos, and newsletter updates flood our mailboxes or inboxes. For me, I love the updates about family and friends, cherishing the opportunity to keep in touch.

After the holidays, however, I used to feel stumped as to what I should do with all these paper treasures. It seemed wasteful to just toss them in the trash, and many of them contained one-year family summaries of important events. So I began to brainstorm.

What Should I Do with All the Christmas Cards?

Obviously, none of us can keep all of it. But we can sift through the pile and pull out the highlights. About 20 years ago, I decided to do this and came up with a simple system that allows me to store some of the best Christmas letters containing family information and easily refer to them as the years go by. 

I simply store them in a photo album. Before you roll your eyes and tune me out, give me a chance to explain. I don’t do anything high maintenance. 

Since the cards are already fancy, there’s no need to embellish them. Admittedly, the first year I did a page per family, but I soon saw that wasn’t necessary for me. In order to be consistent, I needed to be super simple and flexible.

Sometimes I attach them to a piece of scrapbook paper if they’re especially memorable, but I don’t add text unless it’s a small, handwritten caption that adds meaning. The page simply goes inside an archive-quality sheet protector and is placed in a three-ring album. 

Other times, I’ll gather a variety of cards or letters and slide them inside a simple pocket I create. Simply glue three sides of a half page of paper or cardstock to the bottom of a full page. Let it dry and insert cards through the unglued top edge.

The whole process takes me maybe an hour every January. I have skipped some years when I just wasn’t up to it or I’ve stored the keepers in a big envelope, labeled the front, and saved several years’ worth to do in one sitting.

If an album seems daunting to you, I suggest simply organizing your keeper cards in envelopes labeled by year and storing them in a box. Nothing wrong with that.

Items to Keep

Photos: I don’t feel the need to keep every card, but I focus on any from family and close friends that contain quality photos. I do try to jot down names and make sure the year is written on back.

Written Family Information: The card or newsletter is a for-sure keeper if it includes a written summary containing information that might be helpful for future posterity to know.

For instance, is Grandma telling you about a surgery she had or her feelings when a loved one passed away? That’s information I don’t want to lose, and it’s likely something my kids will forget as they grow older. I want a written record of it so they know the details in her words.

Important dates are also often included in our Christmas correspondence, especially when we’re excited to tell about a birth, graduation, wedding, or other important family event. Family members who may not keep a regular journal, thinking no one will read it, may write down special experiences or sentiments for a card and share it with you at Christmastime.

Handwriting: Even if the note isn’t the most eloquent, it’s still sentimental if handwritten. I treasure a card my aunt once sent with her note inside. Her penmanship is beautiful, and she didn’t write many notes. I only have one. I knew she was fighting breast cancer, so I saved the card. I am so grateful I did because her life ended way too early.

Be Selective and Simple

In order for this to be an ongoing tradition for you, I highly recommend that you adopt a simple process that works for you. Be selective about what you keep. The goal isn’t to keep every card. I receive probably 100 cards every year and keep maybe 20. I love them all and am happy to receive every one, but I choose keepers based on their potential family history merit.

I ask myself, “Is this information my children and posterity will want to know in the future?” 

I don’t feel guilty when I recycle everything else, knowing that’s not my archival purpose. We know that Mormon, one of our greatest record keepers, didn’t include every piece of written history in the Book of Mormon. The task would have been insurmountable, so he made a compilation of the important parts, which comprise not even a “hundredth part” of what was fully available to him.

It’s far better to keep a small part of your family’s history than none at all. Do what you can and know that “a little” adds up to “a lot” over the years, providing a Christmas treasure you can revisit and share with loved ones forever.

Kerry Griffin Smith enjoys uplifting those around her. She was a writer and editor for the former Ensign Magazine. You can find her sharing impactful, clean books in her online book club group. Feel free to join.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.