It’s important for every family to protect the treasures that pass down from generation to generation. I’m not talking about keeping them in the actual household, ensuring they do not inadvertently end up in a charity shop. Rather, it’s about making sure that the history associated with the heirloom is documented and shared. How many times have we met a friend with an interesting old artifact, be it a jewelry chest, a crystal bowl or a favorite doll? We’ve all seen them. Museums are chock full. I invite you to go back to that friend and ask about the actual history of the heirloom. See if they can get past ‘it belonged to somebody in my family a few generations ago’ or ‘it came from somewhere in this country’. It’s sad that so much is lost over the years.
Kudos to the archivists, historians and preservation experts who do their best to keep the generations’ heirlooms for future researchers and museum goers. I firmly believe that each person has their own responsibility to take care of the heirlooms in their care. In our family, Grandma’s crystal serving plate has been photographed and matched to an accompanying piece of text that not only describes it but tells the story of how it was acquired plus who handed it down through in the generations. The same goes for many other family heirlooms. It’s not like we’re sitting here in rooms full of expensive jewelry or rare furniture. We do, however, greatly value the fascinating treasures from those who came before us. I understand how hard it was for my great grandfather to acquire a cake plate for his beloved wife. It’s heart wrenching to read about the family’s struggle with poverty and how it was overcome; the fact that they could afford a nice piece of crystal reinforces that fact. Tangible items help explain social history and are good educational tools for younger generations. Heirloom pieces often bring history alive for those who aren’t perhaps as enthused about family history research as others. It’s amazing what can spark interest, ranging from an old spade passed down through generations to a set of paste jewelry that a great, great aunt wore to a fancy costume ball back in the 1920s. Again, these items don’t offer much monetary value on the open market, but are of priceless value to one’s family.
Your heirlooms may not be destined for an incredible realized auction price on the world stage, however, consider how important they are for your children, your grandchildren and beyond. Family treasures give one a sense of roots and belonging. The treasures that previous generations coveted and preserved are now in your hands. What will you do with them?