How to Document the Stories Behind Family Heirlooms

March 2024

Tags:

Family Stories

Family heirlooms connect the past to the present in a uniquely personal way. From furniture to jewelry to military memorabilia, these objects embody history and lived experiences. Passing your hands across a worn table or smoothing out the creases in a christening gown sparks the imagination of what those who came before may have felt or done. Caring for and preserving these precious items is a way to honor the past, remember family members, and even pass our heritage down to the next generation.

It is easy to lose the history behind these objects over time, however. Memories fade like old photographs and time ravages even the hardiest of hard woods. In addition to physical preservation of family heirlooms, documenting the stories behind them is an important way to carry forward their history and meaning.

The three key steps to documenting the stories behind your family heirlooms are:

  1. Identify your family heirlooms
  2. Find your expert
  3. Record the story
Antique, wooden desk with chair. Family heirlooms sit on top of the desk including an antique typewriter, phone, and fan.
Photo by Ray Shrewsberry

How to Document the Stories Behind Family Heirlooms

1. Identify Your Family Heirlooms

The first step is to identify the items you consider heirlooms. These could be photographs, art, figurines, baseball cards, clothing, furniture, jewelry - anything at all. It might be an item in your possession or something that a relative has in their home. It could be worth a lot of money or have deep sentimental value, what matters is that it is important to you or your family.

2. Find Your Expert

Next, figure out who knows the most about each item. Typically your best bet is to start with your oldest living relatives - or whoever passed the item down to you. There may be written accounts or old family photos. You may know enough about an item's origin to start piecing together its story, but collect any and all info you can.

3. Record the Story

How you preserve a family heirloom will vary based on the item itself of course, but at a minimum we recommend taking photos and notes and storing them with other important documents. This might be digitally, in a photo album, or even in a safe - whatever makes sense for you. Try and capture a description of the item, when and where it came from, who owned it, and what it was used for.

If you're lucky enough to have a living relative who knows the story behind an heirloom, record a video of them talking about it. You will not only capture the history of the object but also create a wonderful memento of that family member. You'll get much more nuance and emotion from a video versus a few notes on paper. Here are some questions to help get you started (or use the Remento app which has a pre-created set of prompts to make it even easier):

  • What is this object?
  • What was it used for?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Who has used it or owned it over the years?
  • Why is it important? What does it mean to you?
  • What memories or stories do you have about this object?
  • What do you hope happens to it?
  • What do you want other people to know about this object?
  • Who else in our family might have a story about this?

Next up: 20 Questions to Ask Your Parents or Grandparents

Tags:

Family Stories

How to Document the Stories Behind Family Heirlooms

Remento Staff

March 2024

Family heirlooms connect the past to the present in a uniquely personal way. From furniture to jewelry to military memorabilia, these objects embody history and lived experiences. Passing your hands across a worn table or smoothing out the creases in a christening gown sparks the imagination of what those who came before may have felt or done. Caring for and preserving these precious items is a way to honor the past, remember family members, and even pass our heritage down to the next generation.

It is easy to lose the history behind these objects over time, however. Memories fade like old photographs and time ravages even the hardiest of hard woods. In addition to physical preservation of family heirlooms, documenting the stories behind them is an important way to carry forward their history and meaning.

The three key steps to documenting the stories behind your family heirlooms are:

  1. Identify your family heirlooms
  2. Find your expert
  3. Record the story
Antique, wooden desk with chair. Family heirlooms sit on top of the desk including an antique typewriter, phone, and fan.
Photo by Ray Shrewsberry

How to Document the Stories Behind Family Heirlooms

1. Identify Your Family Heirlooms

The first step is to identify the items you consider heirlooms. These could be photographs, art, figurines, baseball cards, clothing, furniture, jewelry - anything at all. It might be an item in your possession or something that a relative has in their home. It could be worth a lot of money or have deep sentimental value, what matters is that it is important to you or your family.

2. Find Your Expert

Next, figure out who knows the most about each item. Typically your best bet is to start with your oldest living relatives - or whoever passed the item down to you. There may be written accounts or old family photos. You may know enough about an item's origin to start piecing together its story, but collect any and all info you can.

3. Record the Story

How you preserve a family heirloom will vary based on the item itself of course, but at a minimum we recommend taking photos and notes and storing them with other important documents. This might be digitally, in a photo album, or even in a safe - whatever makes sense for you. Try and capture a description of the item, when and where it came from, who owned it, and what it was used for.

If you're lucky enough to have a living relative who knows the story behind an heirloom, record a video of them talking about it. You will not only capture the history of the object but also create a wonderful memento of that family member. You'll get much more nuance and emotion from a video versus a few notes on paper. Here are some questions to help get you started (or use the Remento app which has a pre-created set of prompts to make it even easier):

  • What is this object?
  • What was it used for?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Who has used it or owned it over the years?
  • Why is it important? What does it mean to you?
  • What memories or stories do you have about this object?
  • What do you hope happens to it?
  • What do you want other people to know about this object?
  • Who else in our family might have a story about this?

Next up: 20 Questions to Ask Your Parents or Grandparents

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A rich text element

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

A rich text element

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

A rich text element

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

A rich text element

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

A rich text element

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

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