Found old personal records sensitive in nature should they be mailed or burned? -

Found old personal records sensitive in nature should they be mailed or burned?


A friend and I have each been sorting through photos/paperwork for extended family members. We have each come across items that neither of us are certain what to do with. In some regards, we feel it is not our place to decide to discard, but we also don't know if it would be hurtful for the person involved to receive them should they be mailed. Item #1 - Over 40 years ago four cousins were made wards of the state and were placed with three family members. They did not return to their parents and are all considered siblings with the families they were placed with. Should the related court records be discarded or mailed to one of them? Item #2 - As part of a substance abuse intravention almost twenty years ago family members wrote letters. The individual involved has be doing well for since then. First reaction is to discard. the letters. Person involved may or may not have ever read them. Item #3 - Over forty-five years ago a family placed a child up for adoption. One time this adult child got in touch with the biological parent and grandparent, both now deceased. The meeting went well, but there was not any further communication. Adult child and adult half siblings have not ever initiated contact with each other. Can the family member who has photographs of the child (as a child) discard them. And the last item #4 - About 70 years ago there was a suicide. A family member several generations removed has been doing research and asking questions about the death. Should family member who has notes/letter written by the person who died release them? Family histories can get complicated and it is hard to know the right or best thing to do sometimes. Neither my friend or I want to nor do we feel it is our place to hold on to the items in question. We are left with the decision to return them (if possible) to the person or next of kin involved or have a respectful burning of the papers.

This question has been closed for answers. Ask a New Question.


I'm a saver myself, and if there is nothing criminal in nature, I'd lean towards the possibility that knowing the truth could set people free of certain misconceptions or resolve some mysteries. Few of us REALLY believe we come from a line of saints and angels!! I think the more sensitive the more likely its best to contact the stakeholders in person or at least by phone and get a feel for what they really want. They may already know a lot of it, at least vaguely, and really appreciate getting more details - it could make problematic memories or relationships with persons living or deceased much less so. Hand stuff over in sealed envelopes, maybe - give them the right to open, not open, store, or toss.
Helpful Answer (1)

All the more reason why we should do our own "cleaning out" while we are able. All families have skeletons in the closets. I agree with the above posters and really have nothing to add. I do genealogy research for my family and would think that the photos and letters would be of interest to the historian. Maybe you could write a brief cover letter explaining the nature of the items and leave it up to the recipient as to whether to open the package or not.
Helpful Answer (1)

1. I should seek the advice of an organisation that deals with adopted adults' relationships with their birth families on how to handle this discreetly. They will tell you the right questions to ask yourself before you do anything.

2. Who were these letters written to? As you've said, if possible I should return these to the individuals who wrote them. But if you can't, and if you're thinking of passing them to the person who was the subject of the intervention, make sure you do so in a way that is in complete, watertight confidence.

3. If you can, trace the child and let him have the photographs. Why not?

4. This distant family member is doing research. The notes and letters will assist the accuracy of that research. Why would you not give the researcher this important material?

I don't see how destroying something that is important to people's true understanding of their own family's history can be respectful, exactly; unless perhaps you're acting on the instructions or known wishes of the people who left these records behind. Be careful, be discreet; but you have information that other people have a right to know.
Helpful Answer (3)

#4 70 years is a long time ago, give them to the interested person. Family trees are best if we include the good with the bad, it helps to know where we have been
#3 Toss the pics unless you have an easy way to send them on to this person. Chances are they have written off that part of their life
#2 Toss the letters, they really aren't relevant to anyone today
#1 Do these cousins know their history? If yes, then definitely send them to them. If no it is a little more problematic, they have a right to know but it could be very disruptive. Maybe you should tuck those away and seek some more advice from family more closely involved.
Helpful Answer (1)

I should add that both my friend and I have already mailed many old photos and letters to back to family and friends, but they have been fun or of historical importance.
Helpful Answer (0)

This question has been closed for answers. Ask a New Question.