52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: the heirloom that got away


Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 6’s topic is Family Heirlooms. For which family heirloom are you most thankful? How did you acquire this treasure and what does it mean to you and your family? 

As a child I lived next door to my paternal grandparents so it was rather like having two homes. I knew where “everything” was and largely had free rein. Through all those years my grandmother kept one drawer in her kitchen dresser for her family news clippings. Into it went all the notices for births, deaths and marriages that occurred in her family, and probably her friendship circle, though I must admit I never knew her to have a friend other than family. Of course she was quite elderly when I was growing up (hmm thinking on it, when I was a child she was probably a similar age to me right now). She’d also emigrated with her mother and siblings when she was in her twenties so I guess that made them even more tight-knit.

I’ve spoken to different members of my grandmother’s family over the years and we all hold the memory of her BDM drawer. As a teenager I could so easily have talked to my grandmother about the family stories represented in that drawer and built a family tree from them, but I was a typically self-obsessed teenager, focused on school and uni. My love then was science not history so this great opportunity for family knowledge was wasted on me.

So what happened to this family heirloom collection?

My grandmother died near Christmas one year when I was down from Papua New Guinea on holidays but her effects weren’t sorted for some time. My best guess is that in the cleaning-up process this “scrap” paper went into the bin. A couple were salvaged, including those relating to her brother’s violent death in a road accident, but most have long gone. It would be nice to think that if I’d been around I might have boxed all those clippings up, but if I’m honest I may well have taken no interest – in those days I was preoccupied with our young baby. I’d also have lost the opportunity to understand their significance as my father was never big on family stories. I do have other heirlooms that have family significance though none has any financial value. I also have furniture from my grandparents’ house. I treasure them and will hand them down to my children and grandchildren but somehow the “one that got away” is the one that haunts my “might-have-beens”.

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14 thoughts on “52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: the heirloom that got away

  1. Oh, I know exactly what you mean. The letters my dad wrote to my mom when he was away in India during WWII were in the bottom drawer of her dresser. When she died my dad asked my sister and me to clean out all of her belongings because he couldn’t face it. Out of respect for them, we left the box in the drawer (unread, I might add). At some point my dad threw them away. How I would have loved to put all or some of them in the book I wrote about his military service! Definitely the one that got away from me!

    • Thanks Kim…yes we act out of respect and privacy but sometimes it kind of backfires. Perhaps your father didn’t really want anyone reading them anyway…but yes, a good complement to your stories..if only.

  2. Yes, if only we could turn back the clock and salvage all those family history clues! Talking about furniture… when I update my will, I must remember to mention the coffee tables, bookcases, picture frames, letter racks, fruit bowls etc that my father made from a beefwood tree (it’s beautiful timber) that was on our family property near Cunnamulla. I have no children, nieces or nephews, so I will probably specify that all those lovely things should go to my cousin’s children.

    • Judy I guess there’s not one of us that doesn’t have a retrospective wish list. Great idea to specify the furniture and its significance. I’ve never heard of beefwood before.

  3. I am still haunted as my own carelessness and disregard caused the loss of turn of the century heirlooms; my grandmother’s prized elocution book and the set of dolls and doll clothes made for my twin aunts. We moved out to a rustic ranch with limited resources, no electricity or running water. The roof of the pump house where I “stored” my treasures blew off and rain drenched and ruined these items that even then I loved. My mother let me know in no uncertain terms that I should have left these items safe in her possession. Sadly, that was true.

    • Oh Joan, I feel so sad for you …to lose them was punishment enough. I do try to tell myself that we hold the memories in our hearts as you so plainly do. The problem is that life gets in the way and the pump house roof going west is one of those horrid things. My clippings seem quite insignificant. Virtual sympathy hugs. Pauleen

  4. I also can really relate to this post. There are so many things that have been lost over the years–and so many questions that I should have asked but never thought of until it was too late. But I guess that in some strange way, all of the things that I’ve lost, makes me value more what I have.

  5. It wasn’t so much a family heirloom as a person – my great aunt died within a few weeks of me starting research my family history. There were so many questions I would have asked her…

    • I hadn’t thought of an heirloom as a person but you’re very right – I wish I’d been interested enough to ask my grandparents about their lives and history. Perhaps your great-aunt’s death was the trigger for starting on this journey so not altogether a loss.

  6. Ah yes….the ‘ones that got away’ are so often the most longed for and most treasured. My elderly aunt – a nun who died aged 90- so regularly asked if I had ever seen the patchwork quilt so loving created by her mother, who died when my aunt was only 12. Although I was born into the same house some 14 years after my aunt joined the convent, I do recall the quilt being on my bed when I was quite young. Then I suspect it must have been thrown away. A precious link with the past gone forever.

    • I guess we long for them in part because they got away. How sad to have had the quilt thrown away. Perhaps someone else liked it enough to purloin it…preferably to think it’s gone altogether. I suspect it may have been in part because women’s work and craft was under-valued whereas men’s items were more likely to be regarded as assets but perhaps I’m being too women’s lib about it.

  7. You have certainly stirred memories in many of us…firstly, you reminded me of my own small BDM drawer which is part of one of my wall spice racks. To others, it is probably just a pile of clippings, to me it is the history of family and friends. I WILL get them out and scan those yellowing clippings… ask me in a few weeks. My heirlooms are many… crocheted doilies and runners from my grandmother and Aunts and mother in law; a key that my grandfather made for an office he added to the house he built; a metal shirt ‘bracelet’ to keep errant sleeves out of the way.. it belonged to an uncle, as did the fabulous artists paint box I’ve been entrusted with. Then there is the small suitcase which held all my grandfather’s worldly goods when he left Greece for a new life in 1904… there are many others, all so precious to me as I know their history. Most are identified, but I really must label the rest so the family will know to whom they belonged and where their new home should be.

    • What a wealth of “treasures” you have. It’s not the economic value of something that’s important but the memories attached and you have a wealth of them there. Yes, scanning and labelling seem a wise investment in passing the heritage on. It’s strange how one post can trigger people’s emotions and memories. Thanks for sharing.

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