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Show Off Heirlooms

Displaying family heirlooms can create a deeper understanding of your ancestors' lives and add a physical connection to them. But take care to protect them.

The material things we use in our everyday life tell about us. If we eat from the best china, we're probably wealthy. If we own pitch forks we're likely involved in agriculture. If lilies-of-the-valley decorate our hairbrush, we probably love that flower. The same may be said of what our ancestors owned. Their things give us insight into their lives and connect us to them in an almost spiritual way.

Displaying things you've inherited from ancestors helps other family members understand their roots better. So, if you feel it won't create envy or strife to do so, invite people to bring heirlooms they have and show them to others.

If you display heirlooms at a reunion, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Protect the heirlooms. Very precious things should be placed in display cases. If there will be many people present, rope off the area in front of the heirlooms so people don't get close enough to touch them. Consider having a guard to remind people not to touch and post signs saying the same thing.
  • Display the heirlooms nicely. Take some time and effort to arrange them in a nice setting. Drape quiet, elegant fabrics behind the objects. Set them on tables.
  • Label them. Provide a label next to each object that explains:
    • What the object is and what it was used for
    • The date or time period it was created
    • Who it belonged to
    • Who the current owner is
  • Catalog the heirlooms. Take photos of each one. Keep a copy of the label. Include the information in a memory book about the reunion or in a separate booklet or post it online at a family web site if appropriate. Give a copy of the catalog to family members to help them understand their heritage.