Some families are very fortunate that many personal items from their grandparents or earlier ancestors have remained in the family lineage and passed down over the decades. In some cases there is so much that has been saved, that some people feel overwhelmed keeping so much of someone else’s property or stuff.
However, there are solutions to keeping your ancestors’ treasured items. First, it does not have to be just one person in a generation who is the keeper of family heirlooms. Check with siblings, cousins, aunts, etc., there very well may be other family relatives who would welcome the steamer chest that a great grandmother used to cross the Atlantic Ocean at the turn of the century.
Even if a person never knew this great grandparent, when they are aware of the story of the relative’s travel from their homeland and starting fresh, a greater appreciation is acquired. This is where learning the individual personal story about our ancestors becomes so useful. Having that chest takes on a greater aspect, by touching an object so useful and meaningful to the ancestor.
This concept is the same behind why societies and communities have museums, to preserve our past and remember the individuals who shaped the present-day. An excellent example is demonstrated by the thousands of objects from the September 11th tragedy which have been recovered and are now part of the World Trade Center Museum in New York City. Since 2001, many objects, assorted personal remnants, have been located from the rubble, most of the time it may be the only reminder of the lost individuals who died that fateful day.
The victims’ families (where identification was made) were offered the found relics first. Many of those families decided to donate the relative’s object to the museum. Whether the items was kept by the family or placed in a museum, it was assured that those that died on September 11th would be remembered though the possessions that had once been a part of their own life.
My great great grandfather served during the American Civil War as a Union Captain in Co. B of the 1st Potomac Home Brigade of Maryland. He was at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1 -3, 1863. On July 3rd he was wound in the leg and the Confederate bullet removed. He kept that bullet for the rest of his life and it has been passed down to his descendants. It is presently cared for by my 3rd cousin in the family hometown. I have a photograph of it and never have actually seen it, but it is still holds significance to me. If the bullet had hit him in a different location or he hadn’t gotten medical treatment, he could have been part of the thousands who died at Gettysburg in 1863. His daughter, my great grandmother, born July 1, 1870 and later generations would never have been born.
So every heirloom does tell a story and is meaningful for some reason. Keep those family treasures if you can, make a record or inventory of each, photo the object and record the history. If you can’t keep the item due to space limitations, see that someone in the family can carry the torch of the family heirloom. At the very least have the items donated to a museum and provide the history behind the articles.
Each family artifact has a story and being able to touch and appreciate that item is so worthwhile.