After your demise, will your family know the importance of that odd assortment of china you inherited from your grandmother? Or will they (gasp!) sell your precious family treasures at a garage sale? Telling family members the objects’ importance can’t hurt, but they might not remember the story you’ve told about each item. Instead, make an inventory of your family artifacts.
For each keepsake, include details such as:
- how it came into your possession
- who owned it originally
- when it was made
- what family stories are associated with the heirloom
Keep this with your important papers.
You also might want to catalog heirlooms that aren’t in your possession, so you and future generations know family treasures’ whereabouts.
Here’s a sample from one family’s heirloom inventory:
Dark blue Stafforshire tea and coffee set, circa 1840. Set consists of a coffeepot, teapot, creamer, sugar bowl, and four cups and saucers. All but the sugar bowl and creamer, purchased at a later date, belonged to the family of Emma (Ludwig) Rhoads and were used at their farm at Yellow House, Pa. Present owner: [name and address].
You can even inventory missing family heirlooms. Make the descriptions as complete as possible:
Unfinished and unsigned needlework sampler, probably stitched by Ellen M. Lorah, daughter of Mary (Rhoads) Lorah, Broomfieldville, Berks Company, Pa., who attended the Linden Hail School for Girls in Lititz, Po., in 1860, when she was 16. Floral decorated, about 6 ×18 inches. Current owner. unknown.
Make at least two copies of your family history inventory and any pictures of heirlooms. Keep one copy with your genealogical files, and store another copy with your important papers, so it will stay in the family. If you have a family history Web site or publish a family newsletter, you might want to post the list of family heirlooms, especially if it includes unidentified or lost items.
From the May 2004 Preserving Family History