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A HERITAGE OF ARTIFACTS
October 2, 2011
Over time, older family members hand down various items that meant something to them or things that were necessary for their survival. Each of us has at least one such precious item. What we do with these or how we collect these is important. Dianne Davies sent me an article on how to save them. It is from Ann Carter Fleming’s book, The Organized Family Historian, 2004. Part I, Your Heritage Trunk, defines artifacts as all the “stuff you have physically and even things and stories you remember.”
I have many artifacts. One of my favorites is the wooden bench my parents sat on in the Morris School. It is old. It needs a good paint job and sanding, but to me it is too precious to try to improve it in any way. Another is the old black iron pot used to make lye soap and to wash clothes over a wooden fire. My father wrote in a small silver covered note pad documenting his thoughts and those of others during his hospital recovery after his war injury. Some of his hospital companions wrote notes to their wives, mothers and girlfriends in case they did not survive their injuries. It brings tears to the eyes of those who read it.
One of my friends, an exceptional person with amazing energy and expertise, told me how she identified her treasures. First, she entered everything into an MS Excel database. Then she spread a blanket over her coffee table and took a picture of each item. This gives a written record as well as an image database. I thought that showed exceptional forethought.
In the database is the description of each item; to whom it belonged; when it was passed on; and to whom it was given. The name and address of each person who has ‘custody’ of the items is also in the database and will be highly important in years to come. The tagging system I was using did not have room for all the information, so the MS Excel database is certainly necessary for proper identification.
Another interesting book on this subject is Katherine Scott Sturdevant’s “Organizing and Preserving Your Heirloom Documents.” In it, Sturdevant explains proper organization and storing of diaries, letters, and memoirs to name just a few items covered in this excellent book. She covers the care and preservation of older papers and fragile documents with systematic directions providing you with the opportunity to be the keeper and teller of your family’s story. Both Fleming’s and Sturdevant’s books are available in the library.
Holidays are perfect for collecting memories. How does your family celebrate the holiday? Do you just visit and eat yourself into oblivion, or do you also make it a constructive time of learning and recording stories of times gone by? Holidays are certainly the time to get those family recipes. If there is none, then record the usual meal in times past. What did your family do back in the olden times? My family brought musical instruments or used those on the premises to play, sing and maybe even break out in a dance or two. They also played bingo with kernels of corn. They rounded up and rode the horses out back. Sometimes there was even a game of touch football.
Volunteer to help an elderly family member pull out those holiday decorations and record the memories for each item. Does the tree angel, tree skirt, gravy boat, or soup tureen have a story? My tree angel, bought the first year we were married, is still in good condition and sits atop our big tree each year. When you find these keepsakes, take a picture of each to keep with your record. Make a distinctive book for each holiday and include these special memories and pictures. You might also incorporate the traditional meal with recipes. This unique gift becomes a personal treasure from you to your descendants. They will love it for generations to come!
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.