Actually, my real advice here is "Don't go rooting around in Grandma's attic until you know enough about what you might find to recognize it when it falls into your lap."
My own encounter with the treasures my Grandmother preserved was a horrible disaster, although I did not realize it at the time. Flash back to a by-gone century: I was about 19 or 20, home from college for the summer and bored silly. My mother happened to mention that she needed to clean out the attic, and I thought I'd take a look around before she did so.
In a trunk of things she had kept after my grandmother died, I found some amazing old clothes, a beaded evening bag worthy of a Charleston flapper, a couple of Kewpie dolls, and a mysterious white box tied with string. Inside the box, carefully protected from the rest of the objects in the trunk, were items for which I could see no obvious value. (Remember, I was young, stupid, and not yet a history buff.) Three yellow and crumbling newspapers lay on top. All were from Beaver, Pennsylvania -- one dated November 23, 1827; one dated December 15, 1841; the other dated January 21, 1846. None seemed to contain anything other than local news, and I didn't spot any familiar names, although each had a handwritten name at the top.
Among the other unexplainable objects were an undated obituary, a red ribbon tied to a blackened medal of some sort, with no discernible legend, a piece of tattered and unraveling gold fringe, a newspaper clipping about a WWI soldier in France, and a single daguerreotype of another soldier. All the other items in the box were letters from people I had never heard of. Each had its own envelope, although the stamps of each had been cut out.
"Odd," I thought, shaking my head at the foibles of old folks who saved such trivial items. I carelessly dropped the whole lot back into the trunk and went downstairs. "Nothing important that I might want," I reported.
Now we fast-forward some twenty years. After my mother's death, I was left to clean out her house. Many of the items I had seen in the attic were gone by then, but I did find the little white box and stuffed it into the parcel of photos I was keeping. The medal, the piece of fringe, and the daguerreotype were not to be found. By then I was a history graduate student, and I began to sift Grandma's treasures with a more educated eye.
I was most excited about a bundle of eight letters, all written during the Civil War. I had been looking for a research project for my American history seminar, and they seemed to hold great promise. And so they were. It took years of reading and researching, but they eventually provided the structure for my book, A Scratch with the Rebels, which tells the story of my great uncle, Sgt. James McCaskey, a Union soldier who longed to see military action and died during his first battle. You can read about the book elsewhere on this website.
But what about the rest of the items in Grandma's attic? Well, a few of them helped me with some genealogical research in building Grandma's family tree. I still have not figured out the importance of the newspapers, and their condition continues to deteriorate. There were a few other items that I did not even remember from my first exploration -- a poem, the front of a greeting card, a couple of pages from a child's book. But most of all, I regret the loss of the items I did not recognize and preserve.
These are the items that fell into my lap and then slipped through my fingers into oblivion because I did not know what I was looking at. The medal? I think it came from WWI and had been awarded to my mother's cousin, the subject of the newspaper clipping. The fringe? Probably, although I cannot say for certain, a remnant of one of the battle flags of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment. And the daguerreotype? Almost certainly the only photograph ever taken of James McCaskey in his Civil War uniform.
History doesn't come to you neatly packed and labeled with its level of importance. It may be dirty, wrinkled, or crumbling from age. What about you? Have trivial items you found turned out to be among the most important for your research?