Family history can be an exciting venture not unlike a treasure hunt. The gold at the end of the rainbow does not always have monetary value, but learning more about these people who came before you and having a tactile reminder of who they were and what their lives were like can be priceless. You may think that no heirlooms exist for your family, but think again—you probably have something already that could be classified as an heirloom, and chances are that someone somewhere along the line saved some of your family’s stuff. People tend to hold onto things, especially the things that are significant to them. So don’t give up just yet—here are some places to start searching out your family heirlooms wherever they may be.
Find What You Already Have
First, start by searching your own house. What’s in that box in the attic or that bin in the basement? What about that old cedar chest inherited from your grandmother? You may find some real treasures in nooks and crannies around your house if you take the time to poke around. Old photos, heirloom clothing, and other artifacts may just be waiting for you to dust them off. Keep in mind that heirlooms don’t have to necessarily be old either. You may have heirlooms from your own life—a wedding dress, a christening gown, and a scrapbook, for example, all fall into the heirloom category. Just think of them as first-generation heirlooms. When you do find heirlooms, be sure to remove them from places where they may get damaged or ruined (places that are damp, have drastic changes in temperature, or are exposed to direct sunlight) and store them in a place in your house with the most stable environment so they’ll last for years to come.
Connect with Family Members
Once you’ve scoured your own house, ask around to your relatives to see what family heirlooms they may have. You may have to go a little further than your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—don’t be afraid to look down different branches of your family tree and reach out to more distant cousins to see what they know and have as well. Be sensitive to the fact that family members may not want to give you family heirlooms or even let you take them out of their house. If this happens, be respectful and request to take pictures and record the stories behind these heirlooms so the whole family can learn about their significance.
After you’ve exhausted talking to your relatives, you can turn to the wide world of the Internet and continue your search for heirlooms there; there are several sites online that function as a kind of family history “lost and found” where people can post family artifacts they’re seeking and things they have found with the goal of reuniting heirlooms, photos, and other artifacts with their families. The search gets a little trickier at this point. Internet sites can be most helpful, of course, when you know what you’re looking for. If your grandfather told you about an old cedar chest his father owned that had somehow been lost, you’ll want to know an approximate year, what type of wood it was, distinctive markings, a location, and so on to increase your chances of finding it. The more you know about an object, the better. Of course, you will be dependent on the generosity of other people for finding, identifying, and posting these objects online. But don’t give up—with some patience and searching you may stumble upon a priceless family treasure. You can find a list of several of these sites at http://www.cyndislist.com/lost/general/.
Find Joy in the Journey
Searching out pieces of your family history can be a long and sometimes discouraging process. However, instead of allowing yourself to become frustrated, persevere and enjoy the process along the way. Talk to your family, do research about the time period your ancestors lived, and write down the things that you learn and share them with others. You may find that the most precious things you discover in your search are not a “things” at all, but rather strengthened family ties that will stand the test of time.
Rebecca Jensen is a blogger and freelance writer who loves writing about sewing, baby fashion, faith, and preserving memories. She currently writes for the handmade christening gown supplier christeninggowns.com.