06 May 2013

"No longer saved for generations, family heirlooms are being shed"

My great great grandfather's thimbles -- he was a saddler from Scotland who settled in Oldham England

Paula Stewart Warren (Paula's Genealogical Eclectica) posted a piece with the above title which was based on an article which ran in the Star-Tribune which talks about people “shedding” heirlooms.

As my husband would say, Sacrebleu!

Basically, I grew up in a family where there were “few” heirlooms.  As the product of emigrants new (1960s) and old (c. 1900), everyone traveled lightly.  My mother did inherit a few pieces from her grandmother (which she divided amongst her daughters) and then I have acquired a few pieces from a great aunt.  Additionally few pictures survived the vagaries of life, weather, remarriages, etc.  And, there were never any diaries, scrapbooks or similar.

So, the few items I have are treasures to me; though, I can appreciate that they are just “stuff” to my kids. I do sometimes wonder what will happen when I am no longer here as a steward for my little collection.  I have often thought about whether I should “deposit” any of it with a library or archive?  For now, in my will, they are explicitly bequeathed to my children.  Will they care?  Will they hold onto it until they recognize the value?

How often are we “looking” for just the things that the article talks about as being shed?  I found it painful to read.

Have you made plans for your “stuff” to remain in the family or end up in a local archive?

How do we ensure that people understand the “value” of such “stuff” beyond the dollars and cents that a sale might bring?

Editor’s Note: Check out this related Upfront with NGS post -- Digitizing Curios -- A neat window into hard-to-digitize objects!

copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog.
Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to [email protected]. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
Follow NGS via Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter
Think your friends, colleagues, or fellow genealogy researchers would find this blog post interesting? If so, please let them know that anyone can read past UpFront with NGS posts or subscribe!
Suggestions for topics for future UpFront with NGS posts are always welcome. Please send any suggested topics to [email protected]


  1. At this time, I plan to leave heirlooms and documents related to the family I share with my cousin to his family, and research on family that is not published to Internet Archive. I will also leave instructions for my digital material (family tree in ancestry.com and many documents on my computer) to be accessible to my cousin's family.

  2. An Upfront with NGS reader stated ...

    Please get those items out of your Will! If they are in it, they will be taxed! Write to whom you are giving what, and give a copy to each of your children. You may keep the items for them until they are ready to appreciate their importance, with the understanding that the heirlooms are theirs.

    As for what your readers are doing in the same situation, some of my things are understood to go to the child who has expressed the desire for something, some things have been already given. (I have a batch of 'stuff' and six children to share it, with varying interests in not only the items but also genealogy.) When I first became interested in tracing my ancestors each of my parents gave me a family Bible and photo album, and later other heirlooms were distributed among my two sisters and me. I have been photographing items such as thimbles, and then scanning the photos. I also have a grandfather's thimble, but his was for his nightly "thimbleful" of whiskey for his heart, and is a shot-sized silver replica of a thimble.

  3. My great niece graduates from college as a math major next month. I'm giving her money, of course, but also the algerbra textbook of her great, great grandmother. We only received a few things from Mildred Waters Nutter because she died of TB before she was 30. As the keeper of all family heirlooms, I am making sure each of her descendants receives something and keeping a record of who got which item in my genealogy.