Is That a Family Heirloom?

Heirloom--Photos, handbag, jewelryThat can be a hard question to answer and it will vary from family to family. It becomes very important to know what is worth saving if you are part of the group sorting and clearing out a family estate. I recall a situation in a family where a relative was going through boxes of papers they held from earlier generations and she figured now-a-days no one would want them. Many of these papers turned out to be the handwritten letters of a Union soldier to his father. They covered his days while stationed in South Carolina and even later letters when he was captured by Rebel soldiers and sent to Belle Isle Prison in Virginia. Included was a letter from a friend of the Union soldier in the prison when he was very ill and later died. All the letters had been kept by the father and later descendants. Now the present-day relative was tossing those priceless letters in the trash. Luckily, a friend was assisting, saw the value of these letters, got them out of the trash without being seen and send them to another family relative who was very grateful to have these heirlooms. The key to remember, what is not important to one family relative may be a real treasure – a family heirloom to another relative.

Besides personal handwritten letters as well as diaries / journals, other examples of heirlooms defined as ‘family possession handed down to later generations’ are:

Photos – casual and portraits; the main heirloom that can be scanned and shared.

Family Bible – had the written ledger of births-marriages and deaths in the family.

Pieces of Furniture – these can be a simple as a baby’s crib, a cedar hope chest or a complete set of bedroom furniture.

Heirloom--PitcherGlassware, Dishes, Silverware – always popular heirloom, ones that can be used generation after generation.

Personal items – such as jewelry, watches, mirrors, handbags, eyeglasses, clothing, thimbles, awards, vases, collections, dolls, items from hobbies, etc.

Military – a person’s military uniforms, weapons, ribbons, equipment, etc.

Quilts / Handmade tablecloths – popular items to hand down to later generations.

Musical Instruments – from a harmonic, to a violin, or piano, etc.

Heirloom--Civil war lettersRecipes – you might not of thought the old family recipe for potato soup was an heirloom but it is.

Family Stories – These maybe the most valuable, because if lost they can not be duplicated.

An important thing to do with each family heirloom is to document, who-when-where — have written and kept with the heirloom who has owned the items, approximate dates, where did the people live and what event occurred with the heirloom. This way future generations will know the detail about each item.

Heirloom--Civil war letters-a

Photos: Family Photos, handbags, jewelry; Cut-glass pitcher; and Civil War Letters.

Related genealogy blogs:

Heirlooms Missing?

Memorabilia in a Shadowbox

Weird Places to Find Family Heirlooms


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