As a young girl visiting my grandmother in upstate New York during the summers, we would often go to see her friend Fanny who lived not far away.
I remember the old country farm house set in large surrounding fields. While Grandma and Fanny were talking downstairs, I was given permission to go up to the attic and scrounge around.
Fanny and her family had bought the place from people who had long been living there, and the attic was full of what people generally hide away. I found ancient letters, old newspapers covering historical events, all sorts of documents, books, photographs, as well as odd pieces of furniture, art work and old-fashioned clothing. At that young age, I didn't recognize the importance of these finds.
Now that I am so involved in family history and artifacts, I often wish I had an opportunity to revisit that treasure trove. Unfortunately, the house is long gone, and a housing development fills those fields.
Preserving the records of a people helps researchers around the world.
The Korea Times reported on a three-year project to create a digital database of genealogical records organized by the Paik Inje Memorial Library at Inje University.
I have to admit that some of my own recent research is not as organized as it could be, due to lack of time. There are notes on loose papers not yet in the correct folder or binder. There are photographs waiting to be sorted. There are miscellaneous printed emails that I understand - would anyone else?
Although beginning researchers might not think about this important topic, it is essential to address at every stage of research.
What will happen to your research if you become ill or worse? Will it be just thrown away? Will close family or other relatives understand what your work represents and its value?
This is a very personal topic for me as our family lost a 300-year-old family tree brought by one of the last family members to arrive from Belarus to the US in the early 1900s. He died in Florida in the 1950s and neither of his children were there. Everything in the house, including our priceless family history, was simply thrown away.
No matter how much research I do, the information contained in that tree will be impossible to replace in its entirety. It was compiled by those who lived that history and who knew much more than I can ever learn.
Look around your living room. What do you see?
You probably have at least one family heirloom, possibly an antique, passed down from your ancestors through the generations.
Here's just one example of a Russian samovar; there are many types and shapes. The samovar was also used in Iran. In our family we have both: a late 19th century Russian samovar from my great-grandmother and a late 19th century Persian samovar (produced in Russia).
Many people will have tangible items of family history on display including precious photographs, portraits, and objects carefully carried during difficult immigrations to new homes around the world. Others may hold collections of papers and documents passed down from ancestors, holiday greeting cards, wedding invitations and more. One researcher even has her Lithuanian grandmother's 1901 wedding trousseau.
One family treasure often seen in the homes of those with Eastern European Jewish roots is a brass or silver candlestick or pair of candlesticks.
PHOTO: An Eastern European candlestick
My own family heirlooms - from Belarus - include a beautiful tablecloth, cross-stitched by my great-grandmother, a Russian samovar she carried to New York in 1904, and a wedding gift of six large silver spoons, each bearing the Cyrillic initial for "T" (Talalay).
From my husband's Persian family, we preserve beautiful handmade pieces of naghde, netting embroidered with gold and silver bullion (very thin strips of the precious metal used as embroidery materials), and a few pieces of termeh, a rich brocade intricately embellished with the same gold and silver embroidery. We have beautiful Persian carpets, as well as silver pieces, and numerous handcrafted copper trays mde in Isfahan. The trays are heavy and come in all sizes, from very large (coffee-table size) to small serving trays, created with all types of designs. Here's one example of what these trays look like:
Imagine if these treasures could speak? We would learn family history, understand and unravel family mysteries and we could even ask them questions!
Family history research is not only names and dates, but learning about real people - our ancestors. Who were they? What did they do? How did they live their lives every day?
Each item, regardless of origin, carries the story of where it came from, how it arrived in the our ancestor's hands, and how we today came to possess it. As we continue to tell these stories, we also keep our family history alive.
There is another side, however, to being the guardians of these precious heirlooms. What will happen to them in the future? Who will inherit them? Who will care for them, love them, and continue to tell their stories with love and respect?
Some say a wise mother or father should make arrangements for the disposition of heirlooms while they are still alive, that they should decide which items should go to which child or other relative.
Others ask what will happen when the younger generations don't want to polish ornate silver or the design doesn't fit in with their taste.
What you can also do to prepare for the future is to learn how to properly preserve artifacts. Talk to experts as different materials require different methods. Do identify each object, photograph it, and keep records. Research each item's history and its relation to your family.
Encourage the younger generations of your family to get involved, by gifting them with books on family history or related books on names or geography relevant to your family. Provide them with copies of genealogy data, photographs, documents and family letters.
Family history didn't stop with our ancestors. What happens today is family history for future generations. Use every opportunity to encourage family members to get involved and to keep this alive.
I look forward to hearing from readers who have their own family heirlooms. What are they? What do they represent? Where are they from? How do you share their stories? And to whom will you give them in the future?