October 20, 2017

The Touching Stories our Heirlooms Hold

Some of us are using heirloom research for genealogy. A new exhibit traces the history of interesting heirlooms using genealogical research strategies. Be inspired by these examples and tips to research heirlooms and more fully discover their stories.

A new exhibit called Heirloom Genealogy: Tracing your Family Treasures has opened at The Star of the Republic Museum in Texas. You better believe it caught our interest! We know our readers are looking for unique and different ways to continue their genealogy journeys. We wanted to find out more about how family historians are using heirloom research for genealogy. Curator Shawn Carlson was kind enough to answer some questions about it and share the touching stories the heirlooms held.

Shawn Carlson, Curator of Collections and Exhibits, Star of the Republic Museum

Q: What an unusual exhibit idea! How did you think of it?

A: I had been researching artifacts at the museum for several years by tracing the genealogy of the families who donated the artifacts. The best exhibit text usually comes from real stories about artifacts—and doing the genealogy was where I found the stories. When I started thinking about this latest exhibit, I thought maybe there was a way that I could use the genealogical research I already had, and that’s when I came up with  the idea of “heirloom genealogy.”

Q: Who was involved in the research and how long did it take?

A: I did all of the research. Some of it had previously been done, but some was new. I usually spend the summer researching for an exhibit, and then write the text and begin production in the fall for a March opening during the Texas Independence Day celebration at Washington-on-the-Brazos.

Q: Can you share a couple of examples and images of artifacts and the documents that told their stories?

A: One of the artifacts I researched was a red-on-white appliqué quilt. It was made in 1805 in Vermont and donated by the quiltmaker’s 3X great-granddaughter who lived in Houston. It should have been easy to figure out the lineage by the inscription on the quilt—but it wasn’t. There were two Cynthia Tuckers and two Pearl Browns in the family and one quilt owner had been married a couple of times and used a nickname. So, it took a bit of sorting out. The research was all done using census data, but it all came back to the inscription on the quilt for final verification.

Another item in our collection is a small buckskin suit that belonged to a little boy named Edward Clark Boylan. He was born in New Orleans in 1840 and died three years later near Galveston, probably from yellow fever. We knew his birth and death dates from his sister’s descendant who donated the suit, but not much else. I found some cryptic notes in our files taken by a previous curator and was able to trace Edward to Captain James Boylan who was captain of the ship Brutus during the Texas Revolution.

I found a passenger list from 1839 with Captain Boylan, his wife, and daughter traveling from Puerto Rico to New York. Mrs. Boylan would have been pregnant with Edward during that voyage:

The year that Edward died, his father was mentioned frequently in the newspapers as he led a flotilla of ships out of Campeche. He was probably not present when little Edward died.

Q: What was an especially interesting story you came across while researching this exhibition?

A: One of the most interesting items we’ve received in recent years is a slave birth record that was part of a family collection:

The donor’s ancestors were early settlers of Washington County. The slave record was interesting because it listed birth dates from 1832 to 1865. Out of curiosity, I tried tracking some of the slaves to see if I could find living descendants. I started with the 1870 census—looking for African-Americans with the surname of the plantation owner and first names that matched the slaves in the birth record. I was able to follow through on one of the names to find a living descendant. She and her family came to visit the museum and see the birth record of their ancestor. While the family was visiting during last year’s Texas Independence Day celebration, the donor of the slave record also visited the museum and the two families were able to meet.

Q: What advice do you have for family historians with heirlooms?

A: Learn about the artifacts you have and match them to their owners. There is plenty of information online that will help you identify and date artifacts. Knowing the date of an artifact helps you determine who had it in the past.

More on Heirloom Research for Genealogy

Connect your heirlooms with their stories and bring the past to life!

Get Denise Levenick’s popular book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records. This book will help you sort, identify, and preserve your own treasured family artifacts and memorabilia. Save 10% with our exclusive Genealogy Gems promocode GEMS17 (good through Dec. 31, 2017).

How Facebook Users Reunited a Bible with its Family: Facebook for Family History

family-bible-cover-2These genealogy sleuths used Facebook for family history when they responded to a plea to help return a family Bible to its family.

Back on March 21, Donna Whitten posted a video on her church Facebook page. Her post says, “How far would you go to get back something you’ve lost?”

She was talking about a 150 year-old family Bible she’d come across while antiquing one day in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her post says, “We want to find this family and return it to them! Can you help?” (Click here to see that post and video.)

family-bible-marriagesThat video post got 34,000 views, thanks in part to more than 600 people who shared it! Family history fans immediately stepped up to the challenge. They looked for names on Ancestry.com and reached out to tree owners. Within two days, several descendants were aware of the Bible and asking for copies. The bible eventually went to a woman in California named Carrie Robinson, who has been researching her tree for several years. It contained obituaries clipped from newspapers and handwritten vital family events. (Wouldn’t you love to receive that kind of family treasure?) Click here to watch the follow-up video about when Donna took the bible to the new owner.

Hats off to Donna and her team of sleuths who took the time to find Carrie’s family and return their past to them! I find a few take-home messages in this story:

  • Social media is a great way to cast your net wide, not just when you’re sharing family history, but when you’re looking for information. Click here to read more about gathering memories through Facebook.
  • You can watch for orphaned heirlooms in your path and return them to descendants. Click here to read tips on how to do that.
  • The video Donna created got attention on Facebook! Video is powerful. Use it to share your family history. (Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I appreciate you using these links because that compensation helps make the Genealogy Gems blog possible. Thank you!)  Click here to read about Animoto, a DIY-video making service I love that lets you produce your own professional-quality videos. Below is one quick video I created. Can you say shareable?!

This Family Tree Quilt Stitches 2600 Relatives Together

White family tree quilt center compressedA giant family tree quilt documents 9 generations and just over 2600 family names. Here’s how the quilter completed this beautiful family heirloom.

Not long ago, I came across this article from a local news outlet about the White family celebrating its 104th reunion. That’s quite an accomplishment, but what really caught my eye was the heirloom on display: a family tree quilt so large it couldn’t easily fit in a single photograph.

I tracked down the designer and creator of the family tree quilt. She’s a busy young mom named Jennifer Reiter. “Before we had our 100th reunion, I was reading a book with my girls about pioneer days,” she says. “A little girl was traveling. When they arrived at their destination, they made a quilt with all the memories from their favorite dress material. I got a crazy idea to do something like that for our family’s 100th-anniversary reunion: a quilt with everyone’s names on it.”

White family tree quilt sketch center block compressedIt wasn’t an easy undertaking. Jennifer took the names from a family history book her mother-in-law had. The founding couple from the 1700s had four children. Jennifer designed the quilt such that each quadrant of the quilt would represent one branch of the family. She sketched out her design across 46 pages from a notebook. Then she copied everyone’s names onto quilt block templates that were sent each out to volunteers in the family to help hand-stitch.

White family tree quilt showing family separation compressedAll the descendants’ names are on the quilt, Jennifer reports. “Each family unit appeared on one square. If a child got married and had a family, they got another square of their own. Each generation was a different color thread. My color is orange, so I can easily see who else is from the same generation I am. I tried to keep the colors of the fabric about the same, family-wise, too.”

“It took a year,” Jennifer says. “I didn’t get quite as much help as I white family tree quilt key for color generation compressedthought I would.” The final quilt documents 9 generations with 2601 names in it on a quilt that’s larger than king-sized. There are 256 quilt blocks, each of them 6″ square.

The quilt made its debut appearance at the 100th White family reunion, and a few years since then. It also took an honorable mention in the county fair. But she learned a lesson about letting it out of her sight too often: “There were a few years it was missing after it got left at the reunion. Someone went to the camp and they were looking for it again. The secretary had it. Now I have it my possession permanently.”

What an amazing accomplishment–and what an heirloom for the White family! Thanks for sharing it with us, Jennifer.

More Inspiring Family Quilts from Genealogy Gems

wedding quilt dressA New Heritage Quilt from Old Family Fabrics (with an entire wedding dress sewn into it!)

A Photo Quilt Stitches Together Childhood Memories

A Quilt that Brought My Family Together (story in free Genealogy Gems podcast)

The priceless gift my daughter gave me at Rootstech – Heritage Jewelry

Did you know you can memorialize a loved one’s handwriting in a piece of custom jewelry? Check out this very special piece of heritage jewelry. bracelet

Last week I celebrated my birthday at RootsTech 2016. What a party! A highlight was an impromptu birthday serenade by the audience after my Think Tank lecture at the Genealogy Gems booth.

Something I’ll also never forget was receiving this birthday gift from my daughter Lacey. It’s a bracelet that says “Mother” in handwriting script. Lacey asked me, “do you recognize the handwriting?”

Recognize the handwriting? What did she mean? As I gave it a closer look, I did indeed recognize it. It was my beloved Grandma Burkett’s handwriting. I would know it anywhere.

My Grandma Burkett is so special to me. She loved me with all her heart and I always knew it. She also introduced me to family history, as I explain in the RootsTech video clip below.

Yes, I know that handwriting on my bracelet well, and it is a tender memory to wear it. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve–this is like wearing my heart around my wrist.

Lacey says it was really easy to order this custom heirloom piece, and she loves it because “no one else will ever have the same one!” Here are Lacey’s tips for ordering something like it:

1. “Plan ahead, as most of the vendors who create these types of jewelry take at least 4 weeks. I used Monogrammed Necklaces, an Etsy.com vendor.

2. In the case of the bracelet, the handwriting piece was included in the total length of the bracelet, but the writing lays flat instead of curving with your wrist so it actually shortens the length of the chain. So I would suggest ordering an inch or two longer than you need.

3. Provide them with the actual word(s) you want written. If you have more than one word, they will be squished together to be one continuous piece. (You might be able to get them written on two lines, but again the top and bottom would be squished together.)

4. Read reviews before ordering. Make sure people aren’t saying the piece breaks easily or feels low-quality. Look at examples of the jewelry to get an idea of what kind of sample you want to select. I researched several vendors before picking this one. This one also came ready to go in a pretty box, which was a nice touch. They can also engrave pendants with handwriting, which is great if you want the words with spaces between or longer writings.”

family heirlooms

This isn’t the first piece of jewelry I’ve worn in honor of Grandma Burkett. I’ve blogged in the past about turning one of her earrings into a ponytail holder, which is quite a conversation piece whenever I wear it. Click here to read that post.

Find more heritage jewelry, family history craft and display ideas on the Genealogy Gems Pinterest boards. Have you made or purchased something special yourself? We’d love to hear about it!

Deck the Halls with Family Photos: Family History Wreath

wreath redA few years ago, I created a video series that demonstrates how to make a family history wreath (watch below). I was reminded of that series this year when I received a nice email from Genealogy Gems Premium member Mary Ann. She sent in these photos of wreaths she made after finding my instructions through the Genealogy Gems podcast (episode 32).

wreath silverHer female cousins have a tradition of exchanging gifts at Thanksgiving, she says. She made the red wreath for that exchange two years ago. “I made the silver one for my mom’s birthday,” she adds.  “The photos on the wreaths are of my grandparents and great-grandparents.”

These are beautiful wreaths and I’m so pleased Mary Ann shared them with us! Below is the four-part video series I created with instructions on how to make these. Happy heritage crafting!


Find more beautiful family history displays and crafts on the Genealogy Gems Pinterest boards. We have boards for family history displays, crafts, quilts, heritage scrapbooking, ideas for family history activities with kids and more! Will you take a second and share this post (or one of our Pinterest pins) with someone who would just love it?

Be a Hero! 4 Ways to Rescue Military Memories and Artifacts

Remembering the stories of our veterans–both the living and the dead–is an important way we can all honor their service and sacrifices. Here we offer four ways to do that.

heroic rescue artifactsIn our countdown to Veterans Day, we are honoring veterans and recognizing efforts of those who help document their lives and legacies. How might YOU put yourself in the right place at the right time to preserve a veteran’s story?

  1. Collect and preserve the stories of living veterans. Use a tool like the free StoryCorp app to record a veteran’s story. Invite a story-preservation organization like  Witness to War to a veterans’ reunion near you, or upload combat-related photos to their site.
  2. Collect “orphaned heirlooms” you may come across and return them to their families or to a museum or archive where others can appreciate them. For example, a garbage collector rescued more than 5000 WWI artifacts from the trash bins he collected. Another rescuer spent years tracking down the heir of heirlooms found in an attic. A third found a lost dog tag and returned to it the family.
  3. Take images of veterans’ grave markers and upload them to sites like Find a Grave or Billion Graves. Be sure to include in your photo(s) clear images of military markers. This makes it easier for descendants to find and honor their own. For example, last summer, FGS and BillionGraves invited the public to post War of 1812 grave markers on BillionGraves. Why not keep up that effort?
  4. Document and display the stories of veterans in your family or community. Lisa created a beautiful display

Here at Genealogy Gems, we {heart} veterans and honor their service. Veterans Day in the U.S. is coming up. How can you honor the veterans in your family or community? We’d love to hear about your heroic experiences doing that! Tell us about it on our Facebook page with the hashtag #CountdownToVeteransDay or contact us with your story. How many days until Veterans Day?

Family Photo Charm Bracelet: Heritage Jewelry Idea

family photo braceletRecently we received this picture of a photo charm bracelet made by Genealogy Gems Premium member Mary Ann. We loved it so much we thought we’d share it with everyone (with her permission, of course).

“I got the idea from one of the vendors you had spoken about on one of your podcasts, someone I think you saw in an exhibit hall perhaps and gave their web site link.” She made a bracelet previously that she gave away for a family gift exchange. Shown here is a bracelet she made recently for a relative after her father died of cancer. “I went to…the funeral and took this bracelet to her.  It includes the six photos on the original…bracelet plus photos of her mom and dad.”

What a sweet gift to give someone after losing a loved one! It would also make a beautiful gift for any occasion–including a gift you give yourself.

A custom family history bracelet like this is available for purchase through the Genealogy Gems store.

A custom family history bracelet like this is available for purchase through the Genealogy Gems store.

The good news is that you don’t even have to make a bracelet like this yourself. The inspiration piece Mary Ann mentioned was a discovery I made at a family history conference. The vendor makes beautiful custom heritage jewelry for others, with their family photos. I carry her bracelet in the Genealogy Gems store because I think it’s a gem.

Looking for more craft ideas like this one? Check out the Genealogy Gems Pinterest boards, where you’ll find displays, crafts, jewelry, home decor, heritage scrapbooking ideas, quilts and more.

See the Incredible Piece of History This Auctioneer Stumbled Into

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

Every man-made object has a story behind it–and sometimes an entire chapter in history. One such object is a bottle of ale recently discovered in a garage in Shropshire, England. As reported by TheBlaze.com, a British auctioneer found the bottle. “It looked interesting, so I took a closer look — and, lo and behold, there on the cap were the words ‘Allsopp’s Arctic Ale,’ then embossed on the seal was ‘Arctic Expedition 1875.’”

Now the bottle is up for auction! Here’s the description from the auction site:

“An unopened bottle of Arctic Expedition beer dated 1875, with original intact label and contents. Allsopp’s Arctic Ale was brewed for The British Arctic Expedition of 1875. The Expedition was an attempt by the British Admiralty to reach the North Pole and included two ships HMS Alert and HMS Discovery under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Sir George Nares (1831-1915). Unfortunately the expedition failed to reach the pole but succeeded in mapping the coast lines of Greenland and Ellesmere Island.”

I wondered whether anyone else has sampled another bottle of ’75 Arctic brew. So I googled it. I found a beer blogger who loves the stuff! From Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile: Beer Now and Then blog post of June 10, 2012:

“One indisputably legendary beer is Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, the powerful, rich Burton Ale, original gravity 1130, north of 11 per cent alcohol, brewed in Victorian times….There are a very few bottles left of the Arctic Ale brewed for the expedition under Sir George Nares which set out in 1875 to reach the North Pole. And this week I drank some….

Amazingly, there was still a touch of Burtonian sulphur in the nose, together with a spectrum of flavours that encompassed pears, figs, liquorice, charred raisins, stewed plums, mint, a hint of tobacco, and a memory of cherries. It was dark, powerful and still sweet….Those frozen sailors on the 1875 British Arctic Expedition, some of whom set a new record for furthest north, traveling to within 460 miles of the North Pole, must have cheered whenever another bottle was thawed out and decanted into their mugs.”

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

What history do your family artifacts hold? Click here to read about other family heirlooms, lost and found, trashed or treasured, reported here on our blog, like a post about a Purple Heart medal like the one shown here.

Have you heard a great story like this? Post it on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page or email me!

 

Family History for Kids Starts WITH the Kids

This quilt hanging in my daughter Seneca's room was made by her Grandma Morton. It's a photo quilt, packed with pictures of Seneca as a little girl. She loves looking at her own history hanging in bright colors above her bed!

This quilt hanging in my daughter Seneca’s room was made by her Grandma Morton. It’s a photo quilt, packed with pictures of Seneca as a little girl. She loves looking at her own history hanging in bright colors above her bed!

Kids don’t recall much of their young lives. But we as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles know their stories. We can give their lost memories back to them.

Conversations with my kids always go better when I let them choose the topic. So I chat a lot about Minecraft, music and the everyday dramas of third grade. But the number one thing each of my kids loves to talk about? Themselves!

So how do I talk to them about family history? About ancestors they never met, who never played Minecraft or heard a Piano Guys song? With my kids–and likely with the ones in your life–family history starts with THEM.

Kids don’t recall much of their young lives. Our memories before the age of 10 or so aren’t that specific or consistent. But we as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles know their stories. We can give their lost memories back to them. We tell them about the day they were born. About grandpa playing his guitar for them. Which television shows they loved. How they felt about sitting on Santa’s lap. Who gave them which toys and quilts. The funny tantrums they threw. How they got their biggest scars.

They love stories about themselves. My kids ask for these stories over and over. They commit them to memory. They push for more details. These stories–and the tone in which they’re told–teach them how valued they are and influence their sense of identity and self-worth.

We blogged recently about how powerfully our personal stories influence our present and future. That can be true for children, too! What stories can you tell a child you love to teach them more about themselves? What could you make or give them that shares a piece of their past with them? If you’re a quilter, why not make a little photo quilt like Seneca’s? Here’s a tutorial video from YouTube: 

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Want more inspiring ideas for sharing family history with children? Check out our interview with Janet Hovorka, author of Zap the Grandma Gap: Connect with Your Family by Connecting Them to Their Family Historyin the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 162. Family history for kids has never been easier or more fun!

 

 

 

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 179 Now Available

Genealogy Gems Podcast and Family HistoryEpisode 179 of the free Genealogy Gems podcast is now available for your listening pleasure! In this episode, Lisa shares:

  • stories of TWO inspiring family history discoveries: a stash of photos and documents AND a long-lost birth mother;
  • highlights from meeting many of YOU at recent conferences across the U.S., from New England to Texas to Alaska and then to NGS in Missouri;
  • tips on creating an Evernote genealogy library;
  • more on Genealogy Gems Book Club selection The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) by Nathan Dylan Goodwin;
  • and Lisa’s thoughts from recent “Tornado Central” Texas on backing up your computer data.

evernote_libraryThe Evernote tip is easy and SO useful: Lisa gives you a quick idea for creating a list of all the genealogy books on your bookshelf. No, you’re not creating a tedious bibliography–all you do is snap a few pictures and let Evernote do the work. Just click on the episode link at the beginning of this post and listen (or read the shownotes!).

As always, Lisa takes all that genealogy buzz and technology noise out there and distills it down into the best, most usable genealogy gems. That’s what the free Genealogy Gems podcast is all about. If you love it and wish you had MORE podcast episodes to listen to, consider becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium member. You’ll get a full-year’s access to monthly Premium podcast episodes with MORE in-depth news, conversations and inspiring stories–and access to ALL the archived episodes from the past! Premium membership gives you access to an entire series of full-length videos, too. Click here to learn more.