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Passing on Family Heirlooms and Stories to the Next Generation

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Porcelain figurine and brass incense burnerOver the years I have done my fair share of collecting and keeping. Many items I have kept mean something to me. My first baby outfit, a diamond ring, my grandmother’s sugar bowl and my great aunt’s steamer trunk are all things that I have kept for years. My hope is to be able to pass on that keepsake and its story to my children. But when I look around at all of these “special keepsakes”, I realize I have failed to tell my family the story behind the relic. 

An old baby dress hanging in the closet means nothing to others if they do not know the story behind it. That little dress was worn in the first photo I had taken when I was one year old. I also had on that same dress the day that I climbed up on my grandmother’s dining room table with the white lace tablecloth. She had a beautiful milk glass bowl on the table filled with wax fruit. They looked so delicious to me and I tried to eat a wax peach. Boy, was I surprised when it did not taste sweet and juicy like I had expected. If you are old enough to remember wax shaped fruit, then you will understand that memory. By adding to the meaning of that old thin looking dress gives it value and hopefully a story that my children can pass on the next generation.

If you think back to a special holiday or event, you can remember some of the objects connected to that memory, whether it was the china on the table, the wallpaper on the walls of the dining room or maybe the smudges by the light switch, all of those things help to imprint that memory on your mind. 

Sharing stories about special objects helps family members to understand the past and learn to appreciate another side of their family. These stories are part of your family legacy. So how can you share this story in a simple way that can easily be shared, preserved and passed on to others?

Create a note card, video or recording that answers the following questions.

  • What is the name of the item?
  • When did you acquire it?
  • How did you acquire it?
  • When and how have you used it?
  • Who else has owned it before you?
  • Who do you want to give it to when you no longer need it?
  • Why do you want this person to receive it?
  • What other memories do you have of this item?
  • What memories do you have of the people who owned this before you?

If you are lucky to have the time to share these stories in person, that is great. My preference is to have it written down. If you are using note cards to capture all of this information, then find a way to attach that card to the item so it becomes a part of the item. When you attach it be sure you do so in a way that will not harm the item. For example, I would not want to staple or tape this to my baby dress, attaching the card to the hanger or hang tag may be a better option.

Family members are not going to understand or even value the importance of a family heirloom if the story is missing. That is why it is critical to make sure you have a method to tell the story so family members can understand and appreciate the significance of the item.

Source: Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate – Transferring Nontitle Property

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Denise Dias
Family and Consumer Sciences Agent