Search Your House for Heirlooms
9/27/2009
There's no place like home for starting your family history research. Here's how to use what you find around the house—letters, photos, scrapbooks and souvenirs—to unlock the mysteries of your past.

Think of looking for home sources as a genealogical scavenger hunt. All these family history items give information about you, your children, your parents or other relatives—how many can you find?

Hunt for artifacts and heirlooms that may give you genealogical clues or tell you about a person's life. For a guide to identifying and interpreting family treasures from the PBS hit series "Antiques Roadshow," see the February 2001 Family Tree Magazine, or check out Antiques Roadshow Primer by Carol Prisant (Workman Publishing, $19.95). But first, you have to find those valuable heirlooms. Here are some items to look for:

  • needlework, quilts: Did the artisan stitch initials, a date or the name of a location on the object?
  • dishes, china, silverware, pewter items: Do the pieces have any markings that reveal the maker or date?
  • weapons, such as knives, guns, swords: Can you date these items by matching them to antique catalogs or online sources? Do they have any engravings on them?
  • clothing, shoes, hats: Look for reproductions of or historical catalogs on antique clothing to date these items.
  • jewelry: Has it been inscribed with initials and dates? Can you date the piece from books, online sites or antique jewelry catalogs?
  • books, magazines: These reveal your relatives' and ancestors' personalities.
  • knickknacks, souvenirs: Where did they come from? Can you determine their age and identity?
  • toys, games: Research books and catalogs about antique toys and games.
  • furniture: Did the maker carve initials on a piece of furniture?
  • collectibles, such as coins, stamps, bottle tops, baseball cards, political buttons: These items can reveal much about an ancestor's personality and possibly divulge political views.
  • musical instruments: Can you determine when the instrument was made? Who in your family owned and played it?
  • tools, kitchen items, household devices and farming equipment: Can you identify tools and devices through reference books or catalogs?

Thoroughly examine everything you find for genealogical information or clues. Let's look at a few examples.

Contributing editor Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's new book, You Can Write a Family History, will be published this summer by Betterway Books.