Ask the Archivist: Heirloom Hunting
Q. How would genealogists know what family heirlooms they’re missing?
A. Listen to stories and review old photo albums with artifacts in mind. Then ask around: “I wonder where that old [insert object] went to?” A discussion may uncover leads.
Q. Where do heirlooms that get separated from their families usually end up?
A. As much as 90 percent of museum-quality documents are in private collections. But items that wouldn’t be considered museum-quality may be of urgent importance to genealogists—and many are with antique dealers or people who rescue heirlooms from yard sales and try to find their owners.
Q. How can genealogists find lost documents and photographs?
A. People use sites such as GenForum to find other descendants who may have inherited items. I’ve also heard of researchers tracking down second wives to recover orphaned heirlooms. Often, these items don’t mean as much to subsequent spouses because it’s not their family, and the item can be bought or traded for easily.
Websites such as DeadFred collect photos with names on them and offer scans for free. You can check eBay listings, too, but those are up for a short time and the description may not offer enough detail to identify your orphaned heirloom. Our family heirloom exchange advertises heirloom items with family connections that are for sale from antique dealers and others. We give all surnames associated with each item. Members of our service are notified if new items match their surname list.
Q. Tell us about an item you reunited with a family.
A. We still get Christmas cards from a lady in California who discovered her grandfather’s WWI sword on our site three years ago. Another family found a yearbook from 1919; their grandchild was named after the person in the yearbook.
Q. What’s in your inventory now?
Archival Action: automate your heirloom search
2. Log in to your Google account if you have one, or create one at accounts.google.com. Then go to google.com/alerts. Enter search terms similar to the ones described in step 1. Sample search results will appear. Once you’ve hit on terms that produce results relevant to your research, click Create Alert. You’ll receive emailed alerts when newly posted online material matches the search terms you specified.
3. Create an account at AncientFaces and enter surnames you’re researching. The website will email you when new photos, stories and recipes are posted for your surnames.
4. Become a member of JustaJoy’s Family Heirloom Exchange service for a $20 annual membership fee. After creating an account, enter surnames you’re researching. You will be notified when new heirlooms related to your surnames are listed.
Here, you can search or browse orphaned family photos and documents by time period, category or surname.
Search the orphaned photos on this site by surname, or run a “detailed” search with additional parameters.
Use this auction site’s tools to generate alerts when an item related to your family surnames goes up for bid.