Thursday, June 21, 2007

Heirlooms and family treasures...

Family Heirlooms from the past

A family is a circle without a beginning or an end.
Always bending never breaking in this love we can depend.
Love holds us all together as in life we travel round.
From one generation to another - years of love handed down.
So, remember in this family you are a special part.
Of a love that starts with God and lives within your heart

~Author unknown

According to Webster an heirloom is...

"A piece of property that descends to the heir as an inseparable part of an inheritance or something of special value handed on from one generation to another."

Most families have real heirlooms they hold dear and wish to pass down to future generations. Some have simple items, perhaps only a photo from a relative in generations past. Others may have elaborate pieces of furniture, jewelry, kitchen items, a family Bible or an entire photo album. Since I love all things old fashioned and especially items of heirloom quality, it’s no surprise I am a sentimental woman who adores all things from the past. Knowing someone touched them, wore them, used them, cared for them and still, they survived the test of time descending downward through the years and are now my personal possessions I will always treasure. Okay, I admit it, let’s just say I get all mushy thinking about them and the reasons I cherish fondly, those heritage items I have been blessed with.

My husband's maternal grandfather
and his brother in the 1890s.

I am the lucky “keeper” of many family heirloom items, a “keeper” only because my time on earth will pass one day and therefore I value the importance of associating the items with their family stories, because once passed through another generation, these stories become even more important. Many families have generational and historical backgrounds of family members consisting of hard working pioneer farmers or perhaps an aristocrat or two (we have a German Baron in one of our lineages, interesting!), tales of landing in the new world selling everything owned for their passage fare, and all things relating to settling within North America from abroad. Beyond that the sky’s the limit when discoveries delight us with research on our family trees. Obtaining detailed knowledge of those in our past family generations needs to be preserved, shared and detailed. It is within those details that we learn how we came to be, finding the good and sometimes the bad within our family history. Nevertheless, heirloom items we can touch and feel, need to be preserved as well, very carefully or they will not last for future generations.

My mother in law and her sisters
at play in the 1930s

Much thought needs to be put into the care of these items, where to store them, how to display them perhaps, but in the end, the most important thing is “who” will love them like we do down the road?

As heirloom items must begin somewhere, sometimes I wonder what item or items might survive as representation of my own life, and who will one day in the future become “keeper” when I am no longer able to keep them safe?

Who will become the future caretaker of the family heritage of our own immediate family? That is the question I wonder about, whom of my own children will someday willingly treasure and preserve the items I hold dear to my own heart personally, those of my own and also those many gifts from loved ones who aren’t living anymore to tell me more stories about them.

Family treasures link generations in a deep, personal way. Anyone who has seen their great-grandmother’s baptismal gown like my husband and I have from Holland, two of our children wearing it for their own special days and finding out the first time it was already 111 years old when our fourth child was able to wear this same exquisitely hand sewn gown, made by nuns. Though I haven't seen it since, I will always marvel over the delicacy and beauty of it and feel seeing and touching it contributed greatly to my love for victorian heirloom sewing I turned to some years later myself.

The baptismal gown is now 132 years old!

My mother in law wearing the
baptismal gown as an infant,
shown with her governess.

The same family baptismal gown in our home,
worn by two of our own children.

There are other things that pang and tug at the heart, a photo of a relative going off to war, finding out how it affected the family, those are the stories worth preserving. My own grandmother mentioned often how her youngest brother went to war at the young age of nineteen, his plane shot down and his imminent death because of it. How she missed him for years and years! How the tragedy affected her young heart, as she had also raised her siblings when her mother died while she was young. Treasured stories and items of heritage value such as these, passed down from generation to generation, providing detailed insight into the lives of our ancestors and a richer understanding of our family’s history.

Often these treasured family items make the journey from one generation to the next, but the stories that help give meaning to these treasures often don't survive the trip. As I have made an effort to do, why not begin today if you need a nudge to do so, by simply asking family members about their possessions from the past, who was the original owner, and if there are special stories attached or memories they can detail about each item. Please though, never use a regular pen or pencil, try using a pigma ink pen to complete this process, as it is permanent and acid free to last forever. My mother’s treasured stack of letters from her mother wrapped in a beautiful sateen ribbon became wet when a landslide of snow hit their home and caved in the back of the main floor. Her stack of letters was in dire need of drying, and sadly much of the writing disappeared due to the moisture content and regular ink used. Pigma ink pens are available everywhere, and come in an assortment of colors. Gel pens seem to also find their way into some permanence, try them as a secondary resource. Paper also needs to be acid free and lignin free, for over time it will begin to crumble from age, or yellow and gather foxing to it’s pages. No wonder museums and genealogy centers make folks wear white gloves to touch items of heritage value, protection at the forefront always.

“Living history” comes alive even when an item has no specific monetary value in general; its importance is beyond value to those who treasure them. Family heirlooms are a great treasure, but can be easily damaged by light, heat, humidity, pests, and handling

My paternal grandparents the day of their wedding.

One of my Aunties researched my paternal side of the family back to 1687 finding out the family name used to have two names with a hyphen in the center. When arriving in this new land, some chose to keep the first name, others chose the last, splitting the family forever more for future generations. Talk about confusion, it reigns when attempting to research the family tree!

My husband's maternal grandparents on their wedding day.

In my husband’s family’s case when arriving on North American shores, it was decided to make a slight change to the spelling of the name by omitting two letters and adding another for the Anglo Saxon pronunciation ease for their fellow countrymen in their new land. We’ve recently found a whole slew of other families also holding our “unique” family surname, all now wondering online on a surname site if they are somehow related, also having thought all the while how they were unique unto themselves. It’s been fun to find several families within an hour’s drive away and possibilities of meeting for a lovely afternoon together are in progress.

My Maternal Great Grandmother

My maternal family tree was fascinating to me as well, especially when I had just birthed child number three, named him, and found out there were others with his same name, three of them! Long ago, Adam Reitzel sold his material possessions to pay for passage on a ship to America. With him, his wife and small son, Adam Reitzel the second boarded the ship with so many hopes for their future together in the New World. Alas as fate would have it though, Adam was assigned duties aboard atop of his fare, and one very stormy night he fell into the ocean from the sails high above the wooden ship. Once landing on the shores of the New World, his wife and young son were sold into slavery to pay for the remaining passage fare the husband could not provide as agreed upon beforehand, and eventually when every last penny was paid off, Adam Reitzel the second grew up and had his own son, Adam Reitzel the third. And so the story goes… As I held my newborn baby Adam, I realized this is the type of story necessary to file into our generations to come, to value, to savor and to learn by. I mentioned a while back about watching the epic film “North and South” and knew this story, we did have slavery within our heritage ourselves. Thought provoking isn’t it?

Stay tuned as there will be three parts of this artible, I'm just gathering photos to scan into the writing.