Your House is on Fire

Your House is on Fire

by Kerry Scott on 7 June 2011

Post image for Your House is on Fire

Most genealogists have at least a few family heirlooms.  If you’re the historian in your family, you tend to be the one who collects the old stuff.

I have this clock.  I’m told it was a wedding gift to my great-grandparents, Severina Nelson and Art Scheiber.  They were married in Minneapolis 98 years ago this month.  The clock came to me 11 years ago, when I got married.  It doesn’t match our decor at all, but we don’t care.  It’s part of our home.  I look forward to winding it every week.  It chimes on the hour and on the half-hour, and when we’ve had to let it wind down to move it, we’ve missed the chime terribly.  I like imagining my grandpa as a little boy, listening to the chime (and probably getting yelled at for trying to touch it, just like my kids do).

If my house was on fire, and my husband and kids were already safely out, the one thing I’d grab is this clock.

So here’s my I-don-’t-have-time-for-a-serious-post question for you:  Your house is in fire.  Your loved ones are safely out.  You have time to grab only one thing. 

What do you grab?  Why?

EDITED TO ADD: I wrote a follow-up to this post, about where you store your computer files and why.  It’s here.  Some folks also wrote posts in response to this one.  Yay!  Here are the ones I know about:

Nick Gombash’s Genealogy Blog

Nolichucky Roots

JLog

Elyse’s Genealogy Blog

Adventures in Genealogy

Orations of OMcHodoy

Bayside Blog

The Genealogy Gals

If you’ve posted about this, send me a link and I’ll add you here.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

robert June 7, 2011 at 6:55 am

For her 40 somethingish birthday, my wife was given a scrapbook of her life put together by her mother. It’s filled with photos, notes, stories and stuff from her childhood in Cairo, Beruit, Athens and Bonn. There is a hand drawn map of their Beruit neighborhood where her late, LA Times correspondent father noted things like “Where the rockets hit the tennis court”.

The book resides in my wardrobe cabinet. It’s probably the most un-replacable thing in the house, so I’d grab that.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:52 am

Have you scanned that, or taken photos of the pages? Because that is REALLY cool.

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Diana Ritchie June 7, 2011 at 7:07 am

That’s easy ~ I have the 200+ year old German family Bible. It’s in my bedroom so I’d immediately grab that. And then, because I’m a cheater, I’d run to the genealogy room and grab the big black artist portfolio case thingie with some of the larger old pictures in it….I mean that seems fair because it’s on my way from my bed room to outside (well, if I choose to go out the back door but then the front door is one fire, I’m sure)

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:53 am

You can cheat in this exercise. That is the beauty of pretend fires.

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Lynn Palermo June 7, 2011 at 7:09 am

Geez….only one thing! I would be hard-pressed to choose between the family history book I published, and a cake plate I received from my Grandmother for my bridal shower 24 years ago. The book represents years of work but I could probably print another copy of the book so I’ll pick the plate. My Grandmother Ruth received it as a wedding gift when she married in 1930. It is beautiful pink depression glass.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:54 am

I also have a cake plate that I received as a wedding gift, from my grandpa’s first cousin, who died eight years before I got married. She chose wedding gifts for the kids in the family before she died. If I had time after the clock, I’d probably grab the cake plate too.

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kathy June 7, 2011 at 7:18 am

i have always said i would grab my jewelry box. most of my jewelry is not worth anything, but i have spent years finding pieces i love.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:55 am

I know exactly what you mean. It takes years to figure out your own unique style, and then more years to acquire the pieces that suit you.

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Kathleen Brandt June 7, 2011 at 7:38 am

Have you dated and valued clock? Curious!
The question scares me too much to think about it.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:57 am

Yes. When I got the clock, had been sitting in an attic since my great-grandma died in 1971. I found a great clock-repair place, and they fixed it, showed me how to take care of it, and confirmed that the date the clock would have been made was consistent with the date they were married. The dollar value isn’t enough to rock anybody’s world (so internet, please don’t break into my house and steal my clock!). But to us it’s irreplaceable.

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kristin June 7, 2011 at 8:03 am

my computer with backup hardrive attached. i have too much other stuff if i start trying to decide what to grab. my info and scanned photos are what i’d grab. now if i could find an online storage place then what? too many boxes of photos. i just better keep scanning.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:58 am

I store them on three hard drives AND online. I am paranoid about losing them.

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Susan June 7, 2011 at 8:14 am

You caught me on a bad morning, Kerry. ;-)  But you did kick me into gear! Here’s my response.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:59 am

I’m going to do some links above so people can see the ones who responded on their own blogs.

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Debbie June 7, 2011 at 8:30 am

All my scrapbooks are next to the front door… although they are scanned and the pictures are backed up, they will NOT burn if I have any say in it.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 4:59 am

My clock is strategically located about halfway between both the front and back doors…just in case (and also because it’s a small house so that’s pretty easy to do).

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Debi June 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I’ve been pondering this all day and I think I’ve come up with a solution.

My first thought is that I’d need to grab “the” bracelet which was a high school graduation gift to my great grandmother in 1894. Besides the sentinmental value (which is priceless), it also has quite a bit of monetary value and heck, I might need some money for food and water since I’ll be homeless.

But I also need to save the radio that was my dad’s and his brother’s. It is from the 1930′s and I can remember lying on the ground in my dad’s childhood bedroom listening to that radio while I colored in my Babes in Toyland coloring book. I don’t know how it happened but when my grandmother died in 1982, this was given to me and I’ve cherished it always.

So what to do? Then I came up with a plan. I’m going to put the bracelet in a nice box and store it inside the radio. It will be a safe hiding place and if I need to leave quickly I’ll just grab the radio and run. I’ll be playing by the rules and grabbing only one item yet I’ll get the bracelet as a bonus.

Good thing our house has a sprinkler system and is monitored by the fire department because I never, ever want to have to think about this again :-)

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 5:01 am

I like this plan…and I am envious of your sprinklers and fire department monitoring. Everyone has one disaster that scares them the most, and fire is definitely mine.

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Judy June 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

It’s a vase my grandfather bought around 1918 when he had no money for such things. Many would consider it ugly, but not me. Thanks to you, Kerry, I know what I’m going to write about for next Monday’s post

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 5:01 am

Send me a link when you do (or I’ll try to catch it in my Reader, but I’m usually at least a few days behind on that). I’m going to put the links up above.

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Susan Tiner June 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm

My sewing machine :-).

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 5:04 am

Totally lime popsicle (off topic), but I forgot to tell you: I have decided to take up knitting (and by “take up,” I mean, “I bought a bunch of stuff in a frenzy of new-hobby excitment, and now it’s sitting here untouched, because obviously I have no time to sleep or shower let alone knit…but in my head I’m totally taking up knitting).

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Judy Webster June 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I wrote about this after the disastrous floods in January. My precious photos and documents have been digitised, and copies of the digital files are stored away from my home (in fact, in another district) – so I would probably grab the beautiful beefwood fruit bowl that my father made from timber he felled on the grazing property where I grew up.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 5:02 am

I read about the floods. It seems like disasters are everywhere this year. That bowl sounds fantastic.

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Greta Koehl June 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Probably just my cats. Maybe my grandmother’s quilts and/or the file box with documents in it (some are originals).

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 5:05 am

The cats get a free pass in this exercise. Living things outrank stuff, always.

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Susan June 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Just wanted you to know that I’m glad you’re taking the clock. Time’s worth grabbing!

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 5:05 am

Amen to that!

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Brenda June 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I’d be sitting at my computer of course, so I’d grab the bag with my external hard drive and flash drives. Then on my way out I’d have to check under my mattress in case my life savings are there. So I’d better have an empty bag, optimistically, on the bedroom doorknob.

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Kerry Scott June 8, 2011 at 5:06 am

You know, now that I think about it, it’s statistically likely that I’d be sitting at the computer too. I read somewhere that most fires start in the predawn hours, and that’s where I am at that time.

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MN Family Historian June 8, 2011 at 5:40 am

A violin my great-grandfather carried on the boat over from Germany in 1888. It’s in a case next to several antique family photos, so I could probably grab most of those at the same time.

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Heather Wilkinson Rojo June 8, 2011 at 6:21 am

I hope your grandfather passed along his musical ability genes so you can also play that violin! There were three decades of music teachers in my family, and I can’t even carry a note in church- people move down the aisle so I don’t throw them out of tune. But I did pass the gene (obviously not a dominant gene) to my daughter.

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Linda Gartz June 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I’m in BIG trouble! I have 25 bankers’ boxes of letters, diaires, photos, memorabilia. I guess I’d stack the world war II correspondence box (250 letters) onto the Journal box (about 15 diaries) onto the “old correspondence from Romania box” (couple hundred letters) and see if I could get down the steps and out the door without falling into the flames. Computer tucked in backpack. I’ve scanned oodles of photos and scores of letters. But I need help — can’t possibly do it all. Any ideas for getting help with this, all you creative family historians out there? After meeting with the Newberry Library (highly respected research library) here in Chicago, they want the whole kit’n-kaboodle (how DO you spell that word?) when I’m ready. I thought about an archivist intern — but no bites so far. Open to all suggestions! BTW, Kerry, thanks for the comment on the latest missive I posted. The huge decision to leave for America communicated via postcard vs communication today — it’s an impossible comparison. Totally different world views between then and now that changes everything.

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Dee June 12, 2011 at 8:29 am

Ah geez…the flashdrives! They have everything on them.

If I can, also the computer…

But definitely the flashdrives…

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Margie June 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

Oh my–your post really got me thinking and I cannot decide the one family historical item I would grab! I am so fortunate to have boxes and boxes (actually a whole attic full of items) that have been in the family for years, some letters and cards back to the 1840′s. Almost all my furniture was once in my parents, grandparents, or great grandparents’ home. My Dad’s family lived in the same house for about 100 years and they were pack rats. They never moved so they never threw anything out and I am lucky (or cursed as per my husband) to have inherited lots of it. So I guess I would grab the garden hose and put the fire out!

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Ellen Taylor June 25, 2011 at 7:27 pm

I can speak from very recent experience. I live in Sierra Vista AZ. Last week, thanks to the Monument Fire, we were evacuated. The day before the surprise evacuation, we had brought our RV to our home, because it was pre evac status. We had decided to get out of town, no matter what. I had 15 photo albums, most with antique photos, a fire proof box with all of our important papers, a family Bible from 1837, and some other old books, that I had place on the day bed in my office just in case. My husband went to the dentist. I loaded the RV except for his stuff. My paper genealogy files would be toast, and, of course, I had not scanned all of them, but they could not go. All of my genealogy that had been scanned was loaded into Amazon Cloud-a few weeks ago. As soon as my husband got home from the dentist, and was very slowly loading his stuff the fire headed in our direction, as did the sheriff and the border patrol with their loud speakers. “Get Out Now” I set a land speed record loading those books and important papers into the car. I went into CPR mode with my husband, yelling at him to MOVE!!!! . Got the laptops and back up drives into the trailer and took off. We discovered when when got to where we were going, that the evacuation was only 4 hours long. We also discovered that we forgot some pretty important stuff-my husband’s medication and beer. We brought enough meat to serve the whole RV park, but not one vegetable. (They do sell beer and vegetables where we were.)
We saved what we could. Fortunately for us, our home survived, but had it not, I would have lost a lot of my 30 some years of research.
So, starting today, everything gets scanned and put some place in a cloud.

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Kerry Scott June 26, 2011 at 5:19 am

Just reading that made my heart pound. I am now totally, totally motivated to do some more scanning. Like, today.

I am so glad your house (and your stuff) survived. I grew up in southern California, and I remember the fires. No fun at all.

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Ellen Taylor June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am

I didn’t say that we were luckier than most of our neighbors who were blindsided-”This won’t happen-the fire won’t get here.” We were somewhat prepared, because of the storage facility for our trailer being on pre-evac status. We also have two cats who were loaded into their cage and into the truck. Fortunately, it was just a fire drill. 57 homes were lost, including one belonging to good friends. I realized after I wrote it, that you were talking about your house being on fire, and ours wasn’t, but this was as close as I ever want to get. Fires are so unforgiving-everything burns. Cloud computing, here I come!

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Ronco McPhereson July 3, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I would take as much as I could. I would be hard pressed to get one thing. My dogs DO count as loved ones, correct?

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Kerry Scott July 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Dogs count the same as humans.

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Ellen Taylor July 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I took my cats…..I just received, this week, a box of Civil war letters that my Great Great Grandfather and others wrote to my Great Great Grandmother when he was in the 2cnd IL Cavalry. He was killed in the war. They are absolutely amazing. They might be the first thing to get to the car, before husband and cat. We are lucky this year, so far. No fires. Colorado was much worse this year then we were last year. So sad.

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