Is Your ‘Grab & Go’ File Updated and Ready?

Editor’s note: This rerun of a post by Annie Payne (from November, 2012) is a reminder that wildfires, floods, and other disasters—natural or otherwise—can occur any time. Now is a good time to put together your “Grab & Go” file.

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.

~APH: Life, Story, People~

About today’s contributor: 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 family history magazine.

Photo credits: 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.
Front line of Zaca, California fire (October, 2007). Photo by John Newman, US Forest Service. Used via Wikimedia Commons.

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5 Responses to Is Your ‘Grab & Go’ File Updated and Ready?

  1. Judy Budreau says:

    What a good idea! Much more comprehensive than the “important papers” file I’ve organized so far, and frankly, even that is not easily accessible to grab in an emergency. Annie, thank you for listing the essential details, and for the reminder that family mementos are truly irreplaceable!

  2. Tara Fort says:

    Such important information given the loss of homes in nearby Yarnell – I live in Prescott. Our efforts are focusing on firefighter families and helping those who lost valuables recover what they can to rebuild their lives. We were evacuated ten years ago, and a box like this is imperative. We also use a list that outlines those things we need to get out of the house if given the time — we had four hours: photos, laundry (which includes clothes you most often wear), dog (yes, we had to be reminded to make sure we brought our dog with us — it’s easy to get sidetracked when loading the car! As we made trips up and down the stairs, my husband and I kept saying, “Don’t forget Casey, Don’t forget Casey!”) We needed her to be the last thing we loaded. Our house was fine after three days of evacuation, but we know that many others are not as lucky. Thanks for putting this info out there. As historians, we can help people create those boxes.

    • Fran Morley says:

      Oh, Tara! Four hours to decide what’s most important – besides the dog, of course! And many disasters happen with much less notice than that. But whether it’s a couple of days, as for a hurricane, or a few minutes for a tornado, the Grab & Go box is vital – and you’re right in suggesting that this is something personal historians could help clients put together. Good idea!

  3. Beth LaMie says:

    Annie, what a terrific comprehensive list. We have a few things gathered, but not nearly enough to truly be prepared. Thanks so much for sharing your list!


  4. Toni Pardoe Ellsworth says:

    Annie, thank you for your posting. This is going to help me update my family files. You can also scan everything and burn to a CD or DVD. Send to a family member out of state. If you want, you can send paper copies as well. I like Tara’s idea that they also had a list that they used to remind them of what they needed to get out of the house if they had the time. That list should be prioritized in order of importance to get an idea of a timeline to get things out. I also think that it’s a good idea to have a drill at least once a year. You also need to make sure your records are up to date and make any changes necessary at least once a year.

    This is going to make fantastic Christmas gifts this year. I can get the boxes, folders and lists made up of everything they need to put in them.

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