Family heirlooms — What would you do?

"Royal Street Antique Shop", 1918 French Quarter of New Orleans, by Harry A. Nolan. (Wikimedia Commons - no copyright restrictions in US - This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. )

Royal Street Antique Shop, 1918 French Quarter of New Orleans, by Harry A. Nolan. (Wikimedia Commons – this work is in the public domain in the US and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less)

Every day people are faced with the challenge of eliminating clutter, downsizing, and figuring out what to do with old items, some of which may have been in their family for generations. Some may consider having so much stuff a blessing, others a curse. Some may find themselves in the position of having to clear out the family home fast; in their haste, items can get taken to a thrift/antique store, destroyed, tossed out, etc.

The fact that sites like eBay and Etsy are awash with provenance-less vintage items, old photos (often unlabeled), antiques, and other family heirlooms attests to the fact that folks are either in a hurry to part with things and make money or feel they have no alternative; nobody wants these things in their families, so they have to let them go. Or perhaps they’ve been left with provenance-less items and feel there’s no point in keeping them. Maybe they’re unsentimental and don’t really care. Or maybe they simply don’t have time to care—they are busy living in the present and just trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Who knows, our ancestors may be looking down from above with amazement, wondering why we’ve held onto their stuff for so long. Are they saying, “Go! Forget this obsession with the minutiae of family history! Preserve the basics, but go live your life! Forget about my old ______!”?

Pixabay free image

Antique boot (Pixabay free image)

I guess you may be wondering what’s prompted this post. Well, the other day I finally chanced upon the previously missing button hook used by my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law Sarah Jane Bowley Sargent who had no children and died in 1904 (see earlier post).

Sarah Jane Bowley Sargent's button hook

Sarah Jane Bowley Sargent’s very well-worn button hook

When I occasionally come across items like this button hook, I am torn about what to do with them. I mean I look around at my own “stuff”—I honestly can’t imagine anyone 100+ years from now holding onto something that once belonged to me (let alone blogging about it.) Would Sarah have ever expected someone in the family to hold onto her button hook 112 years after her death? No, I don’t think so. My grandmother is the one who felt it worth keeping since she had a personal connection with her aunt Sarah. And because of that, I’m not planning to part with it, but I can’t expect the grand kids in our family to feel the same way when they’re left to sift through family items somewhere down the road.

Anyway, just for the heck of it, this week I’m posting a poll. I’m curious to know what others might do with an item like this button hook, an item that belonged to someone in the family tree several or more generations ago who was not a direct ancestor and had no children to pass anything down to. Imagine this little, seemingly inconsequential button hook was in your possession. What would you do? (By the way, currently 560 antique button hooks are listed on eBay–most much nicer than this one, but this one has provenance!)

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Categories: Miscellaneous, Sargent | Tags: | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “Family heirlooms — What would you do?

  1. Let our daughter look at it and decide if she wants to keep it. The son probably wouldn’t care, or might sell it. 🙂 Tasha has already wandered around our house labelling things she wants someday. –Curt

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    • It’s interesting because you never know who is going to want what. I have a lot of souvenirs from travels and thought my nephews might like them, but for the moment anyway, there is no interest.

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      • Some of it, I would guess, is similar to the lack of interest young people show in genealogy. It seems to be an interest for later in life, as we have probably discussed. If you aren’t interested in your ancestors, why would you be interested in heirlooms from your ancestors… –Curt

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      • I think heirlooms can sometimes be a catalyst to get younger people interested. I remember when I was 4 or 5 my mom dumping the contents (hundreds of old coins from numerous countries) of an old Oriental-looking teapot out on the dining room table. Her parents and grandparents had had interactions with several missionaries at one time, so some coins were from Asia, So. America, and other places. I was spellbound, and I think that was perhaps what set me off on the road of being interested in other countries, travel, etc., and my ancestors who’d collected those old coins. (Mom had a method to her madness, I guess, since I am now the one carrying the torch, so to speak.)

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      • Glad it worked. My experience was a bit similar. My Great Uncle was an author who wrote historical fiction and we had some of his books around the house. He travelled extensively and wrote books on people like Marco Polo and the Vikings. It was definitely a factor in my love of travel. –Curt

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      • Interesting! Have you included him in your blog anywhere? Sounds like a fascinating guy.

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      • Yes, and I went looking for him. He is buried somewhere in my 500 plus blogs. Couldn’t find him. 🙂 Anyway, his name is Edison Marshall and he is my grandfather’s brother (on my mother’s side). He had a long career of writing that stretched from the 1920s to the 50s. Seven of his books were actually turned into movies. We had his encyclopedia set from the 20s. In the map section he had traced his many journeys. I used to drool over the maps and dream. –Curt

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      • I’ll have to research him; he definitely had a prolific career so there is bound to be plenty of info about him. I’m sure he would be impressed to see everything you’ve gotten up to in life and what you are doing now–living your dreams! No more drooling!

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  2. Aaagh! I can’t decide. My instinct is to preserve, but it isn’t in very good condition so unless it turned out to be an example of a new button hook design, or made by Faberge (or similar), I really do think the best thing to do is throw it out.

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    • I know what you mean about the instinct to preserve! Hope you are feeling much better. See a doctor if you don’t feel improvement soon.

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      • Thanks; I will. It is difficult to separate out an object from our knowledge of its owner. If we evaluate the object according to usual criteria — economic, aesthetic or practical — it may fail miserably but still have sentimental value. Maybe you could try the KonMari method? Heck, maybe I could try the KonMari method 🙂

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      • I’ll have to see what that’s about. It may help me declutter in other areas.

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      • A friend told me about this. http://tidyingup.com/

        We were joking about what we’d be left with in our lives. I figured I’d end up standing in my garden, clutching my camera in one hand and a box of old photos and the USB drive with my family history research in the other.

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      • That is too funny. You should do that and have someone photograph you just for laughs. I think if Kondo walked into our house she’d take one look around and pass out.

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      • Hehe. She’d probably do the same at ours!

        I love the photo idea except for one teeny thing. My friend and I decided we didn’t feel joy from much of our wardrobes either, so I’d likely be pretty near naked (I do have some earrings I love). Not sure that’s a photo that should see the light of day. 😁

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      • Well I can definitely understand your reluctance. I suppose you could find 11 friends willing to do the same and make one of those charity fundraising calendars—there’s safety in numbers. LOL.

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      • That is such a cool idea! I loved the movie ‘Calendar Girls’ 😀

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      • I loved that movie, too.

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  3. Your post makes me remember going through my father’s boxes a few years ago. He and my mother had down-sized to a smaller home some years ago, so these boxes, just two of them, represented to me what my father really felt important to keep. And so now those things are really important to me to keep.

    Keep the button hook.

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  4. I’m often surprised about which artifacts and memorabilia resonate with which person. My home has become a repository over the years for some items of distant relatives who didn’t have any descendants. I have been surprised how much some young adults who have no children like that I have these items. They say that they worry that if they have no children, that no one will remember them, and they like that I often share artifacts and tell stories of relatives who died years ago, but never had children.

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