Working with Insignia

In going through my mother’s things after her death last May, my family and I found insignia related to schools and organizations she and my father were associated with. We found their high school class rings, along with what we thought were fraternity and sorority pins. In my jewel cases and drawers I also have high-school and college rings, along with insignia from several lineage societies I belong to. You probably have similar items.

In most cases, only people who belong to an organization are entitled to wear its insignia. So what do you do with insignia you find or inherit?

First of all, don’t put them on eBay! Lineage societies, fraternities, sororities, and other groups have mechanisms to adopt or find new homes for their insignia. If you or other family members don’t want to keep insignia that belonged to your family member, here are some suggestions:

  • Google the organization. If they have a website, look for information on their pins and insignia. Use their Contact Us link to send an online message. You can also write, or phone them to ask whether they can help you dispose of the insignia. I was able to find the national website of Pi Beta Phi, the sorority my mother belonged to at Duke. They were happy to accept our donation of her insignia, and to place a notice of her death in their magazine.
  • Find a local group. You may be able to find a chapter in your area that would either accept a donation of the insignia you have or connect you with a state or national group willing to do so.
  • Contact a museum in the area connected with the insignia. I was able to donate my parents’ high school class rings to the historical society of the town where they grew up and graduated from high school. With the rings I included brief biographical notes. My mother had already donated my father’s Naval Academy ring and her own miniature to the Naval Academy Museum.

There was a little effort involved in disposing of my parents’ insignia. I did have to find and communicate with the organizations, and package up and mail the pieces, but it made me feel good! I’m already a researcher, so finding the organizations wasn’t as onerous as a lot of the research I do. They expressed their appreciation for having the insignia returned.

Before I sent the items to their new homes, I photographed them front and back, making a note of the information engraved on them, so that my family has a record of what they looked like. I can use these photos, along with the information I scanned from my parents’ yearbooks, to help tell their stories. I even discovered something I never knew about my father. The pin shown above belonged to my father. Our family always thought it was a fraternity pin, but it was actually the insignia of a history honor society he was elected to at the University of Pittsburgh. This opened my eyes to a different aspect of him–I knew he was a really smart man, but I’ve always thought of him primarily in connection with the Navy, athletics, and the social scene. I love knowing that he was an academic star too!