1. Set your sights
Even if you don’t find anything connected to your family, it’s fun to track down items that represent your ancestors. Look for artifacts related to their trade, ethnicity, religion—any aspect of their lives that interests you. It might be a shoemaker’s boot form, tartan, photo of your ancestor’s church, or piece of scrip from a coal company store. Consider finding duplicates of items you recall from a loved one’s home, such as a framed print or a piece from the same china or silver pattern (Replacements Ltd. is one source for old dinnerware).
2. Home in on hunting grounds
Distant cousins also may be fruitful heirloom sources. Maybe your second cousin has Great-grandma’s hope chest or Great-grandpa’s rifle. Go as far up the family tree as you care to and then back down (perhaps with the help of Family Tree University’s video course on finding living relatives). Fewer heirlooms may be available the further back in time you go, and multiplying descendants means items are more far-flung. When making contact, offer information about your shared ancestry to prove your connection. If family artifacts exist, ask politely about purchasing them or having photographs or copies made. If a relative remarried, look for your family’s heirlooms among that new family: They might have kept items they’d be willing to sell or give away.
3. Head into the wild
EBay is a well-known hunting ground for lost heirlooms, and a great place to find surrogate ones. There you’ll find sellers including Howell (seller name: genpaper) who spent more than 10 years rescuing boxes of family documents from oblivion. Now her massive collection is stacked sky-high, and she’s beginning to list parts of it online.
4. Value your catch
5. Care for your trophies
For many game hunters, the ultimate reward isn’t just a mounted head on a wall, but the dressed meat that stocks his freezer for the season. Similarly, a meaningful heirloom can feed your family memory and deepen your appreciation for your heritage. These genealogical trophies—the items themselves and the stories and connections they represent—become part of your legacy. So if you don’t already own meaningful heirlooms, it’s time to start tracking some down. Happy hunting.