Earlier this month I attended my sister’s beautiful beach wedding in Rhode Island, which took place on my daughter’s birthday. In honor of the coincidence of the two dates, my sister gave my daughter, who is engaged, the engagement ring that belonged to my paternal grandmother, Julia Mary (Sakusky) Abromitis (1899-1980) of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.
Coincidentally, the week after the wedding, while going through papers and photos belonging to my late mother Lois (Neifert) Abromitis (1925-2017) we found Grandma Abromitis’ wedding photo.
My grandmother’s engagement ring was not the only family memento connected with my sister’s wedding. The bride wore the blue satin garter my mother and I wore in our weddings, and carried a silk chiffon and lace handkerchief made from the wedding dress of my maternal grandmother, Mary Irene (Weaver) Neifert (1898-1967) of Tamaqua, which my mother and I also carried. I wish I could report that we have Grandma Neifert’s wedding photos, but, unfortunately, they do not survive. I do have Grandma Neifert’s marriage license and return, the elaborately colored marriage certificate from her church, and the guestbook from her wedding. Thankfully, we do have my mother’s wedding photos. They are in my car right now en route to Minnesota, where they will be digitized.
My sister didn’t know the history of the garter and the handkerchief that we found in my late mother’s things, but was delighted when I told her what I knew about them. To me, this really highlights the importance of identifying family heirlooms like the ring, the garter, the handkerchief, and the documents, and recording their provenance! Here are some suggestions:
- Talk to family members about heirlooms when you bring them out. “Did you know that this silver tea set came from my mother’s great-aunt and godmother Annie Trewren? Aunt Annie lived on the fourth floor of the Elwood Apartments above Grandma and Grandpa Neifert. Her husband Uncle Bob was my great-grandmother’s brother. He was the caretaker for the Elwood and raised canaries.”
- Create an inventory of items, with photos and brief descriptions of their provenance—where they came from and how they came to you. For example, you could create a three-column Word table where the first column is the name of the item, the second column is the who-what-where-why, and the third column is a photo of the item. (Yes, you can put photos into the cells of a Word table.) Alternatively, you could create an electronic folder with a JPG or other image file and a text file for each heirloom. For my grandmother’s engagement ring, the two files could be named Sakusky_Julia_engagement_ring.jpg and Sakusky_Julia_engagement_ring.txt.[1. The idea of using twin JPG and TXT files comes from Dick Eastman, most recently in his Plus Edition article “My Method of Filing Digital Images and Documents,” published 16 June 2017 at Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter—Plus Edition (https://blog.eogn.com/ : accessed 20 July 2017). To view Plus Edition articles, you need a subscription—which you really should have if you’re serious about your genealogy.)]
There are lots of other methods of documenting your heirlooms—a very thorough, curatorial one is shown here on the website of the Nebraska State Historical Society (http://www.nebraskahistory.org/conserve/treasures/pdfs/Documenting-Your-Fam%231100E3.pdf).[2. “Documenting Your Family Heirlooms;” PDF file, Nebraska State Historical Society (http://www.nebraskahistory.org/conserve/treasures/pdfs/Documenting-Your-Fam%231100E3.pdf : accessed 20 July 2017).]
For more ideas, just Google “documenting heirlooms” or a similar phrase. You’ll find lots of material. I particularly liked an article published in Family Tree Magazine by Denise Levenick, The Family Curator, called “Treasure Tales” (http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/treasure-tales).[3. Denise Levenick, “Treasure Tales,” 30 May 2012, Family Tree Magazine (http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/treasure-tales : accessed 20 July 2017), citing Family Tree Magazine, January 2011.] Denise’s Family Curator website is a great source of suggestions.