RECORDING FAMILY HISTORY USING HEIRLOOMS AND OTHER COLLECTIBLES
You are in the right place if
- you have a large collection of heirlooms, and if
- you look at it periodically and walk away, frustrated, and if
- you’re tired of the piles of unorganized documentation, and if
- you want to record your history for your kids but don’t know where to begin.
Sound familiar? I thought so.
I was overwhelmed to the point where, even with the best of intentions, some days I’d walk away. I’m thankful for the trinkets and treasures we have, but our collection is
large really large and I didn’t know how or where to start.
You may be thinking:
- How do I begin? You have to start somewhere, so just dive in!
- How do I attach meaning to items that may have no meaning to my children? I can’t create meaning for my kids, but I can profile what matters to me.
- How do I instill in my children the importance of family heirlooms? By writing about people and items that make up our history, one day my kids may appreciate my efforts as I do dad’s. See below.
It doesn’t matter where; just start.
One way to preserve and share a legacy is through a memoir. Dad was a writer, photographer, and editor and knew how to convey his thoughts. He shared in the manner he knew best: he hit the keys.
Dad used a photocopy machine to create the pages for his memoir. He typed his thoughts, and copied and glued the old-fashioned way. All photo captions were typed, cut, and pasted in by hand. Including ancestry charts and writings about different times in his life, he placed his works in four inch notebooks.
I’m in awe when I think of the time dad spent. Not only were his efforts monumental, he made two copies of this book. It begs the question: WHY?
It was dad’s gift to his children. He wanted us to understand his beginnings, his life, the importance of family, and his work accomplishments; most of all, he wanted us to understand and remember him.
Dad is gone now, but as I reflect on his goals and try to replicate his efforts for my children, I realize how lucky we are for the legacy he left.
Points to remember: Elderly family members are a great source of information and lore. Stories may not be completely “factual” and it doesn’t matter; we are after memories, too. The point is to record (write down or tape) stories and memories while the opportunity exists. Asking elderly family members to jot down their thoughts is a great way to not only preserve that individual’s handwriting, but to collect memories as they are remembered.
Choose what’s meaningful to you
Decide which person, item, or collection to profile.
What matters to you is part of your legacy. Wanting us to understand and appreciate his work accomplishments, dad chose to include career stories in his memoir.
I might see great historical value in letters written 70 years ago, but my daughter may not. I might dearly love the antique high chair; my sons may think it nothing more than a dust collector. You need to decide which collections are worthy of profiling. Long after I am gone, the collections I profile will not only shed light on the collection and its owner, but reveal a bit about the profiler.
Points to remember: When in my 20s, I cared little about family history. My kids feel this way now. I changed my tune as I approached midlife. They may, too. A lack of interest now should not give you a reason to procrastinate. Additionally, if you’ve discussed ancestors and heirlooms in prior family conversations, and if your trinkets and treasures are sprinkled throughout your home, your children may already feel a connection.
Writing about the importance of family heirlooms
Pick a collection and begin. Letters.
- Our malevolent matriarch Orah wrote letters between 1940 and 1952
- Orah’s father Si wrote from Michigan, letters that start in 1889
- Dad’s letters between 1951 and 1954 tell about life in the Navy
What to do with our letters has weighed heavily on my mind. Why should these letters matter to my kids? They need to know that even though their grandfather is gone, his childhood was recorded on paper. They knew him and can learn from what is written about his childhood antics, school days, friends, his pets, holiday dinners, and so much more.
Orah wrote hundreds of letters but we also have two other collections. I created a series for each: The Malevolent Matriarch, Into Ironwood, and Navy Days. I selected specific letters, scanned and labeled them in my computer, and started writing.
Points to remember: It is easy to become overwhelmed, but a series can be created and tweaked in many ways. Orah’s collection contains too many letters to display. One option is to choose a letter from each year, creating a 12 letter series. Another is to choose those that best capture Orah’s personality–maybe 12-15–so the series isn’t too long. Due to sheer numbers, this is a work in progress; I have yet to read each letter.
Dive in. Pick something meaningful. Tell them why.
You have a gift to give.
Any thing or person can be the subject of a profile, but you are the key.
Profiling ancestors can be a chore. It is important, though, to not delay the process since you have answers to questions your children will ask later. By remaining silent, we may do them a significant disservice later. Time marches.
Points to remember: Your children will wonder about a number of things and people after you are gone. As mentioned, we can’t know what will interest others, but what and whom you choose to profile will begin the process of preserving your history. Your stories and profiles will contribute to your own legacy.
Beginning with a simple story, perhaps a memory of grandpa, is a great place to start. You will feel unbelievably good about yourself, guaranteed. The point is to get started. Your children will be grateful.
Dad and his daughters
Happy profiling! ❤