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February 17, 2009

Genealogy and Family Hope Chest Step 6: Treasures

We're making good progress in the plan for a Genealogy and Family Hope Chest. We've organized and identified old photographs, and stored them safely after making copies for other family members.

We've separated original documents from photocopies and stored those documents in a document box.

An interesting thing has been happening since I started writing these posts. I've taken a second and third look at my own cherished family items - and realized I have a great deal more work to do in organizing and preparing them for others to have one day. Last night my I created (by hand) a fan chart showing 5 generations of my ancestry. These were added to my document box that I talked about in Step 5: Original Documents.

Now it's time to move on to actual physical objects - the family treasures we have inherited and cherished over the years. Objects such as jewellery, china, family silver, a book that belonged to an ancestor, etc. go into this category. Maybe you have Uncle Henry's College ring, Grandpa's clock that sat on the mantle, Great-grandma's bride basket, your Grandmother's bible. Some objects will be huge, others small.

To Keep or Not To Keep, That is the Question

The first thing you must do is decide whether you are going to KEEP all your cherished objects (they will eventually be passed on in the family) or give some (or all) away to chosen family members. Do you want to safeguard the items and hope they are passed on to interested family members after your demise? Or would you prefer to hand-select family now to take over the guardianship? It isn't an all or nothing choice, you might want to keep some of the family treasures while passing other items on. But you do need to make that decision.

Your basic choice is KEEP or PASS ON. When you pass an item on be sure you have labelled it if possible or that you give information about it to whoever is getting the treasure.

Show & Tell

My grandmother told me endless stories of her family and family heirlooms she had. She showed me the items repeatedly - my grandfather's engraved gold pocket watch given to him by his parents on his 21st birthday, his watch fob and chain, her wedding ring, his signet ring, her grandmother's Prattware pot lids, her mother's special knives and forks, a toast rack her mother used ... and so on.

With each item she told me the story behind it. I knew more about Grandma's precious family objects than I did my subjects in school! Hearing the same story so many times really stuck in my mind. When I was a teenager, Grandma passed on almost all her treasured and cherished family items to me for safekeeping. I am so glad she did because they would almost certainly have been lost otherwise! I was not around when she passed away and no one would have known the stories behind these objects.

Keeping Your Family Heirlooms

Let's assume you are keeping some or all of your family heirlooms. What next? Now you have to decide

1. Do you want the items out where you can see and enjoy them?

2. Do you want to store the items safely until you have decided who gets them or you have passed on and someone else has to make that decision?

Your basic choice is DISPLAY or STORAGE

Displaying your Family Heirlooms

This choice is fairly easy to accomplish - just choose where and how you want to place your treasures in your home. I talked about ideas for displaying family mementoes such as medals and other small objects in an earlier series of posts on Displaying Family Heirlooms

Before you display your items take a good look at each one and see if you can safely label it on the back or the bottom. You want to label each item if possible with a brief description - what the item is, who owned it, who gave it to you and when.

If you can't safely attach a label, this would be a good time to take a photo and label the photo. Hopefully you already did this if you were following along in Step 1 making a list and taking photographs.

If you already have certain family members in mind for some of your treasured items, this would be a good time to add that information to the label or photograph.

Storing Your Family Heirlooms

Perhaps you don't want to display your family mementoes but prefer to store them safely until you are ready to give them away to others or your executors are carrying out your wishes. All you need do is pack them safely and carefully in a clearly labelled plastic storage tub or wooden blanket box or some other container.

It's a Personal Choice

My personal preference is to display my family treasures. Some, like Grandma and Great-Grandma's teacups, I use. I don't want the items packed away where I can't see them, I want to enjoy them and think about the ancestors who once owned them.

When my grandchildren visit, I show them some of the items that I think will interest them. I talk about who owned them, when and where they lived, and how the items were passed on down to me. I tell them that they might one day in the future be responsible for cherishing and guarding some of the objects I'm showing them. My hope is that I can instill a sense of pride and family responsibility as well as eagerness to own and cherish these items too.

Of course I am also trying to do a bit of brainwashing and watching to see which of the grandchildren might be "The One" who will carry on. With any luck there will be more than one! I have my eye on my 11 year old grandson as a future guardian for he is the one who asks for the family stories and who refers to himself as my "history-loving grandson" But I'm not ready to make any decisions right now, I'm still enjoying the wonderful memories and treasures that have been given to me to cherish by others long gone.


wendy said...

I've really enjoyed reading this series! My grandparents always displayed their stuff & now my mom or cousin has a lot & they display it too. The only thing I have packed away is the German tea set my grandmother gave (a set each) to each granddaughter. Have no where to put it safely right now. Thanks for all your tips!

Olive's Granddaughter said...

I love your blog! I have just started a genealogy blog dedicated to my Grandma Olive! And I'm currently deciding what to do with the china, silver and heirlooms I've inherited.

I have nominated you for a KreativBlogger Award. View my blog to see details.

Mary pat said...

When my parents passed away, I was glad I paid some attention to some of the family items, but unfortunately my mom didn't have real specifics on them, as to who they actually belonged to. My gr grandma built the 2 flat in Chicago and as family members passed, the items got put down in an old coal storage shed in the basement.
I have decided that instead of actually putting names on items as to who they should go to (unless someone has shown interest), I have been putting clear labels on items with where they came from i.e.: shed, or gr grandma or grandma and so on. I spend a lot of free time going to flea markets and this way my kids will know what items to focus on and can sell the other items, that have no attachment.
This is a suggestion I have made to many of my friends and they are all doing it as well. Although, right now, none of my kids are interested in this old "sh*t".
Hope this suggestion can help some of you. It made life a whole lot easier not worrying about being even on designating the items.