Collecting and Preserving

Patty Roberts


Preserving family memorabilia isn't necessary using the word preserve literally.  Preserving here is how and where to keep memories that tie us all together as family and loved ones.

Collecting doesn't necessarily mean, either, that feeling of being cluttered with cartons of boxes of what some would call junk all around, but the making of memories and the collecting of them. You can create your own mini family museum to keep alive your heritage and those special feelings.

But you say, "I don't like the old look.  I prefer a more modern glass and brass look in my life right now".  So how do you still maintain 'old' with the 'new'? Start with photo albums, journals of happenings and biographical information in a file. These items can fit into any decor.  Trunks come in all sizes and are made in many different materials.  They can hold a lot of information and still fit your space and furnishings.  It is a start and a good start for your museum.

If you have larger items, like a four-poster Salem maple bed, that just doesn't fit into your life style but yet you can't possibly part with it, what do you do?  Most of us, even in a mobile home, have storage but if not, certainly a couple starting out would be grateful for its use or somewhere somebody has a garage with rafters.  Everything seems to come full circle and you can pretty well bet that a four-poster Salem maple bed will be in vogue again!

Some of you might say, "But I don't have anything of my past so where do I start?"  You start NOW and build from there.  Remember how good you felt receiving something that belonged to family?  If you are older, give treasures to grandkids and if you are a grandchild, start saving for your grandchildren.

Some of the most loved treasurers can't be measured by money value, but by sentimental value.  What would fit that category.........

    ..........a tape recording of your voice
    ..........letters of your special feelings
    ..........pages from a journal
    ..........photographs and snapshots (be sure to identify them)
    ..........something homemade by you
    ..........a poem or story
    ..........your favorite kitchen apron or grandpa's worn out work gloves

That should get you thinking.

Always be on the lookout for special treasures when you visit areas of your ancestors.  "What is one man's junk, is another man's treasure!"  You might find some surprises in piles of junk at old homesteads.  Be prepared to be just a little forward and not the least bit shy when looking for the unusual.  Most generally other people are more than willing to help you as they too, know how it feels to have found something special.  So leave 'shy' at home and pull up those boot straps, be a little gutsy and ask questions of strangers who live where relatives did or knew them.

When my cousin, Olive, and I went to PA back in the 80's, you should have seen the both of us.  We were out looking for the town of Panic, which didn't seem to exist any more as we drove and drove all around.  The map said it was there, but we sure couldn't find it.  We were on this back road amongst some trees in a meadow area, and we saw a mobile home way back in the distance across a field.  Olive ran over to them and asked them where in the world was Panic?  They all laughed and said, "Right here!"  Who would have known!  They pointed out up on a hillside the remnants of a wooden outside of a sidewalk  that used to be in the town.

After that find, we were trying to find where our relatives (we are both Straitiffs) had lived and after asking "questions"....we were given directions to an old homestead.  We both got out of the car and went to the door and introduced ourselves.  What neat people lived there!  They showed us the basement of the old homestead and I asked if I could possibly take a piece of the old wood with me. The man told me to wait and he left and came back with an old drawer and some cupboard door fronts with handmade hinges and pulls.  He explained that he had rescued them from the basement of the home (all that was left) and had just stuck them in his garage years and years ago.  He asked me if I would like them.  How wonderful for me! I couldn't take the drawer as I was flying on an airplane to go home so he took off the front of the drawer and gave it to me.

Later I wrapped up the kitchen cupboard door fronts and the drawer front using heavy brown wrapping paper and duck tape and I took them on the plane with me.

This was in that apple basket!  It is a piece of the old wall paper from the house.  
It is as thick as cardboard and in fact it feels like cardboard but it is beautiful anyway!

This same man took us further down the road to another homestead and those people were wonderful also.  They brought out an apple basket full of papers and odds and ends and told us to help ourselves.  They had found all of it in the attic when they purchased the place and didn't have the heart to throw it away.  Olive and I came home with a large bundle of old receipts, letters, and I even got an old pair of a man's high button shoes.

See what I mean about not being afraid to ask questions and make known what you are looking for?  You never know what you will end up by finding.  The young couple who lived in that last home asked us if we wanted to take a walk through the woods as they knew where the original homestead used to be.  So off we all went, including the man who had the drawer.  They explained some neat things as we walked down an overgrown road of sorts, well, it was a flat area anyway,  and they showed us a honey tree with bear claw marks up and down the tree.


We finally came to an area where we had to climb down an incline and to me there wasn't a thing there but they pointed out some old brick pieces that were used for a fireplace (it still had the black soot on them) and showed us where the old creek used to run.  Another find, and yup, you guess it, I now have some brick pieces and a picture of the area.

Now, I bet you are thinking, what in the world are you going to do with that "stuff?"  Well, the cupboard door fronts look wonderful in front of my fireplace during the summer months with the shoes and other "family finds" arranged in front.

"But," you are now probably saying, "my problem isn't having anything, as I have all this stuff and what do I do to make heads or tails out of it?"  A good place to start is to sort it, if it is pictures and/or paper, like my old receipts, etc.  Either sort by family, family members, places or occasions, etc.  Get some paper grocery sacks; fold down the top and use a mark-a-lot pen to write on the side to identify the contents and then start sorting.

It's like dealing a set of go here-you go there.  When you have done that step, then start sorting what is in one sack and sort it down further.

When you have children that look alike when babies, it is hard to remember who is who when you look at them years later (the pictures that is) so try to mark and identify the photos when you get them as it sure helps later!

Most collecting is not expensive but when you get into birth/death certificates and such, you start talking money for copies from the courts.  One way to help that situation is to ask relatives to share what they have with you.  Most generally they won't mind spending the money to have things copied for you.  When asking for copies of certificates, ask for photo duplications not just a hand written copy of the information. Also stress that they don't need to be notarized as that will really cost you some money. 

Another interesting method of collecting family memorabilia is tombstone rubbings.  Be sure to go to my Cemetery page and take a look.  Cemeteries 

Building memories are just as important as anything tangible.  You accomplish that by making and having family traditions, i.e., kite flying on a special day in March; eggs benedict for breakfast at Christmas; treasure hunts for birthdays and hiding eggs at Easter, for the adults as well as the kids.  Have you ever held an 'un-birthday' party?  The gifts can be homemade or something inexpensive from the store; the honored person's favorite food and making them feel special all day long. All on a day that is just a regular day to let them  know that you love them.

Making memories can be nothing more than a note in a packed lunch or placed on a pillow or stuck up on a mirror.  If the person lives far away, you can still accomplish the same feelings by having a friend or a neighbor do the surprising for you or use the mail.  Have you tried a single red rose in every bouquet that you send?  Just be prepared to keep up the rose tradition once you start it or else it will be missed by the recipient!

My oldest daughter, Kathy, made me this Dresden Plate pattern 
quilt for Mother's Day one year and I decorated the whole room
around it.  The little boy doll is one that I had given to my mum
when I found out that she never had a doll of her own.  I guess
she must of played with it as when it got really ratty looking, she
had this cute "Little Boy Blue" outfit made for it.  It is shown here
on the bed.  The other two dolls I made, with the one on the left
 a mop doll and the one on the right a candle wicking one.  My 
mother-in-law made one of the candle wicking pillows and I made
the one on the right.

One way to get your family started on traditions and collecting memorabilia, is by sharing what you have and can part with.  As each child or grandchild starts his or her own home, make them a gift of something that you have collected.  Send along a note of its origin or at least as much as you know about it.  While on this subject, make a list of what you have and the history of it so that when you are gone, that its importance will be noted and not left to guess work.

This is where I store my small memories. It is a glass front hanging shelf unit. Every single piece has a story with it. At the very top left hand corner is a small pitcher that has "Yankee Potter" inscribed on the bottom.  My brother's hockey puck from 1948 is on the next shelf down on the right.  My Aunt Nellie Kingsbury Wilson's husband's porcelain shaving mug (complete with soap and the brush) is on the next shelf and that book in front of the pewter offering plate from the late 1600's in Pepperell, MA, is the Bible that was carried in the Civil War by one of my grandfathers.  I have my mum's funny looking wire framed glasses that she wore when she was six years old that are on the bottom shelf and the list goes on and on.  The shelves keep them really handy to look at but out of the way and especially from little ones with curious fingers.  I have the information for most of them hidden away on the piece somewhere so that the story of it won't get lost.  The ones that are too tiny, are kept on a list.

Many heirlooms have been tossed aside because the knowledge of what it really was or where it came from was not known.  Also along with that list, have your children designate which ones they would be interested in so that, hopefully, arguments or hard feelings can be partially eliminated after you are gone.  Some children might surprise you and not want what you think they are interested in and visa versa.  Knowing ahead of time will  help later on what to give to whom.  Also try not to break up sets of things by giving  few pieces to each child. They will appreciate and use complete sets of things than just a few pieces.

When you have collected memorabilia that is useable, use them.  Just to pack them away, unseen and hardly remembered, is a shame.  Things are made to use and to see, so try to have your treasures accessible.  On that cold winter day, open the china cupboard, get out that beautiful old cup and saucer and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate in it.  If you ever have a little girl visiting, try serving her 'tea' using your oldest pieces and include the linen table cloth and napkins and............then you have made memories!


This is my beautiful and much treasured porcelain doll,
Isabel Jane, made just for me by Jeanne Pender.

One time on a trip back to Pepperell, the home of my parents ancestors, I went by the house that my father, and his father before him, and his father, was born in.  I finally found the man who lived there and told him who I was.  I asked if there was something that I could possibly have to take back home with me as a remembrance.  He walked over to the barn and grabbed a hold of a piece of the old siding, broke it off and wiped the cobwebs, etc., off on his pants and handed the wood to me.  How now has a written explanation attached to the back of it and it sits along with the shoes, etc., in front of the fireplace.  <smile>

I hope that this has given you some ideas to get you started as it's never too late to begin making memories!  Oh, by the way, my home is done in 'memories!'  <smile>  I don't have things to be having things as just about everything in my home has a story behind it and why I have it.  There isn't a single day go by that I don't feel my family and friends presence with me.  When I pull the chains on the coo-coo clock, I think of my dear friend, Lillian, as it was a gift from her; when I get something from the bathroom hanging shelf, I think of sweet Elda as the shelf holds some darling crocheted dolls and roses that she made for me; a small bread board with an Aunt Ri replica and poem, hangs on the wall by my kitchen sink, ever remindful of wonderful Shirley as another gift of love that I have been given. A porcelain doll from Jeanne and another from Louisa.  See how you can make memories?  Give to others something from your heart and they will feel your love daily as they either use it or look at it.



These are photo's of my "Marcos Stone" prints dated 1902 and 1903.   They were given to me by my neighbor George after his wife died.

Raymond and I are 'grandparents' of sorts to a young girl, Katie Bug, and just about every holiday we get a pair of small bears, and other ceramic  animals that sit on a special shelf by the fireplace, always showing the love that she has for us. Every time they come by to visit, she always looks at that shelf and smiles.

Our home teachers from church don't seem to miss a holiday that we don't get something homemade or a stuffed animal.  Every holiday that the gift represents, out it comes to be displayed and feelings remembered.  I sure am glad that we have the ability of "memories"!  So, if you haven't started on yours, please do so as you will be truly blessed with the neat feelings you will have in your heart and your soul, whether you are the giver or the getter! CAN keep for ever and ever!    <smile>

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