Dear Amy:

I am in a quandary about what to do with a vast store of old family documents, photos from the early 19th century and letters between my (now deceased) parents and their families that date from World War II and earlier.

Ordinarily, these items would be valuable to pass on to descendants. However, neither my brother nor I has children, and there are no immediate family members who might want these materials.

I suppose I could give my father's military documents to the Veterans History Project. Other items like my grandmother's 1914 college degree from the University of Nebraska or my mother's 1941 law degree from that school and other documents from her legal career would seem to have some historical significance.

Perhaps all I am seeking is reassurance that it is all right to direct my executor to dispose of these things when I am no longer around to care about them.

Susan in Va.

I can't quite give you the reassurance you seek, and that's because I want for you to do this important job yourself.

You should honor your accomplished family by making sure that these historical documents find their way into the proper archives.

The Veterans History Project is a worthy repository for some of your material. Just navigating through the Web site (www.loc.gov/vets) made me want to dive in and dig through the collection of Americana donated by families such as yours. This project, administered by the Library of Congress and supported by tax dollars, is a treasure -- brought to life through the records, photos, documents and letters of ordinary Americans.

If you don't have the heart to go through these things, then by all means direct your executor to do it. But make sure that every photo and document is labeled so that its context is understood. There is nothing more frustrating than uncovering a shoebox full of photos from another era and having no idea who the people are.

I hope you will consider undertaking this important task yourself. It could be interesting and rewarding -- not only for the lucky recipients and the public who will view these photos, letters and documents, but for you and your brother too.

Dear Amy:

I have a distant in-law who insists on buying me gifts for my birthday and other holidays. I do not want to buy her presents at times other than Christmas.

I have tried to tell her how I feel, and for a while I thought she was respecting my wishes, but she skirts the issue and won't let me be honest.

She is a real sweetheart and the last thing I want to do is hurt her feelings, but she puts me in a difficult position.

It's not enough anymore to hear her giggle about it like her gift giving is nothing.

It is something, and it is something that I want to stop.

What can I say to her?

How else can I handle this?

Gifted Out

You could start by remembering that this woman is a "sweetheart" and that she is doing what she wants to do. Some people give gifts with no expectation of a gift in return -- your in-law might be one of those people.

The next time she sends or gives you a gift and you thank her by note, you can write, "You are so sweet to always remember me and I really appreciate it, but I have an idea -- let's just exchange cards from here on out and then do a gift exchange at Christmas time, okay?"

Close your note by expressing how lucky you feel to be a part of her family.

Sometimes it's best to try and kill a kindness with kindness.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

(c)2005 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.