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March 22, 2017

Does anybody want this?

Do you worry about what’s going happen to your “stuff”? Do you find yourself wondering, “Who should I give this to?” Or “Who’s going to want this?” I do – a lot. I’m pretty sure it’s an age thing. The older I get, the more concerned I am about what to do with all my stuff.

To be clear, I’m not talking about everyday tools and trinkets and tchotchkes. I’m referring to things that have been passed down from parents and grandparents. Things that have been in the family for generations. That have value – both monetary and sentimental. Things with a story. The family heirlooms.

family heirlooms - 1900 butter dishAs the historian and archivist in my family, I am keeper of lots of “stuff.” My paternal grandmother’s pre-engagement ring. A cast iron hanging oil lamp from the 1880s that belonged to my great-great-grandparents. A butter dish that was a wedding gift for my great-grandparents. Just to name a few…

Butter dishes, oil lamps, and engagement rings will last forever barring accident or theft. Can the same be said about written treasures? What about your grandmother’s diaries or your father’s letters? What about that box of recipes? These will fade over time. They may become too delicate to handle. And there is the possibility of damage by insects, mold, water, or fire.

Your treasured journals, diaries, logbooks, letters, and recipes are in peril right now. The good news is that these are easily preserved and protected when you choose to scan and transcribe them. The creation of a digital version ensures their existence for generations to come.

Back to the butter dish… It’s 117 years old now. Thirty-plus years ago, my grandmother made a point of pulling me aside to tell me she wanted me to have it. It belonged to her parents and it meant a lot to her. It was important to her that I have it. It’s been safely on display in a china cabinet since then. And I’ve come to cherish it, too.

If I don’t tell my heirs about the dish, it will have no meaning to them. Just another dish to throw out or sell on eBay. When they know its history, and they know the parties involved through their journals and letters, there’s a better chance it will have meaning to them, too.

There’s gold in your diaries and letters. They give successive generations the chance to meet those who came before, to learn who they were and what they thought and how they lived. And with that comes a newfound appreciation of the things they thought were important to keep, their butter dishes and oil lamps.

If you have grappled with the question of what will happen to the family heirlooms in your possession, post a comment below and tell me how you are managing this for your family.

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