From my home in Australia, I watched as Superstorm Sandy roared into the coastline of New York and New Jersey. And because I have friends and colleagues from the Association of Personal Historians who live in that area, I waited anxiously until I heard that they were safe.
Storms, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, wild fires can happen anywhere at any time. Keeping a suitcase packed with emergency supplies and having canned goods and bottled water on hand are important.
I’d also like to suggest that we all start our own “Grab & Go” file containing the relevant papers of our life, which if lost or damaged take so long to replace—if they can be replaced at all. Our Grab & Go file is kept beside the bookcase next to the front door, ready to be grasped as we run out of our front door in an emergency, most likely a bushfire in our case.
The old boy scout motto ‘Be Prepared’ is one I have always followed as I’d hate to lose any of the information stored in my Grab and Go file, which not only includes important papers but also a handful of items of special family significance.
For each family member, I’ve compiled a small collection of photographs and small pieces of memorabilia—a baby bracelet, first school report , a favourite book, etc. and placed in their respective file. In the event of a disaster, it will be important to have your insurance papers, legal documents, and financial records . . . but it will be truly ‘lifesaving’ to have your family history mementoes.
Here’s practical advice for your own Grab & Go box.
1. Select a waterproof file box, with hanging pockets to contain the various files relevant to all of your family members. Store the box in a convenient place near your front door (Mine is in a book case, easy for me to grab but not particularly obvious to would-be identity thieves). Make sure your family members know where the box is located.
2. Make a list of the contact details (names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses ) of the immediate and extended family, employers, lawyer, doctor, dentist, veterinarian, etc.
3. Make another list of the Social Security numbers, Medicare numbers, private health fund number, and any other association numbers and add the relevant phone numbers and branches beside each agency.
4. Create a specific file for each family member. Photocopy all legal documents and certificates and place in the file. Include birth, marriage, and divorce records, passports, military records, professional documents such as degrees, immigration documents, property deeds, recent tax returns, and wills.
5. Make copies of all bank accounts, investment accounts, superannuation accounts, etc. and details of account numbers, a list of clues for your various PIN’s and file in each person’s file. Frequent flier and other loyalty accounts should also be noted. Add a list of the names, addresses, and phone numbers associated with all accounts.
6. Make a list and photograph (or video record) all pieces of personal jewellery, valuables, art works, and family heirlooms and the associated insurance policies and contact details and file in each person’s file.
7. Make a list of all property owned, including vehicles (and registration numbers) and furniture, insurance policies related to these and names, addresses and phone numbers associated with these. Also list the holders of any mortgages or hire purchase agreements and the relevant contact details for each item.
8. Make a list of computer access codes and key passwords, or instructions
on how to find them.
9. Include a list of safe-deposit boxes, with an inventory of the contents.
10. Each year, review the documents in the Grab & Go and update any that have changed.
About today’s contributor: Australian personal historian Annie Payne found her passion in 1988 when she began interviewing people about their life stories as part of an Australian Bicentennial project. She founded her company, History from the Heart, in 2006, the same year she joined APH. Annie spreads the word about personal history in Australia and New Zealand with frequent radio interviews and articles in Inside History, Australia’s new family history magazine.
Flooding in Manhattan. Photo by David Shankbone. Used via Wikimedia Commons.
Aerial views of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast taken during a search and rescue mission by 1-150 Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey Army National Guard, Oct. 30, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released) Used via Wikimedia Commons.