“One day, this will be yours.” That infamous phrase used by generations of parents and grandparents whenever we make the fatal mistake of hinting that we like something in their house. Whenever we hear this, we have one of two reactions: excitement at the notion of inheriting a precious family heirloom or hesitation as we ponder where in the world we would put this in our home. I tend to be on the side of questioning due to my past experiences within my own family.
When my great-grandmother was alive, she had a chair which had been in her house for years and had begun to show its age. When she passed, my grandmother inherited the chair, but she barely used it. She then passed it on to my mother, who has carefully restored it to its original form. However, despite my mother’s efforts to preserve the chair, I find we have run into a common problem amongst families who inherit these items: there simply is not enough room for it in our home. This problem is especially prevalent among people of the younger generation, the millennials, who are just starting out in their lives and cannot afford a flat let alone a house large enough to accommodate such heirlooms. When they hear that they will soon inherit something from their parents or grandparents they start wondering where they could possibly fit it, making them reluctant to accept these gifts.
Another reason people of the younger generation might be hesitant to inherit these items is because the personal connection to these items becomes lost as it is passed down through the generations. Why does this happen you ask? The likely cause of this is due to the fact that as an heirloom is passed down through the generations, the emotional attachment to it is lost. A young person who never met their great-grandparents will likely not fully grasp the importance of an item in the same way that their grandparents or even their parents would have. The older generations knew the original owners of these items and may have an emotional attachment to them while the younger generation, who never knew their great-grandparents, may tend to feel less sentimental towards these items. This disconnect may lead to people of the younger generation to not want to care for the item as much as their ancestors may have hoped, and it may be left in disarray.
However, it is important for the younger generation to understand that these items cannot be simply given away by the people who have an attachment to them. If your family is in possession of your great-grandmother’s chair or your grandfather’s clock it would be hard to justify throwing these items in the rubbish rather than passing them down to the next generation. Not only do these items serve as a reminder of and connection to the past and those who have gone before us, but they are also invaluable resources for genealogical research.
I have discovered during my own genealogical work that perhaps the most important connection to our ancestors are the photos and stories that are passed down through the generations. For several years I have been conducting research on my own family tree throughout the United States and Europe, including the United Kingdom, Russia, Hungary, and Belarus, where my ancestors lived. I also recently started my own freelance genealogy business, Greenland Genealogy. While conducting research on my own family tree and for clients, I have found these pictures and stories to be of incredible value to genealogical research. These photos and stories add the important element of humanising the ancestors that are being researched. While the records found during research provide important information about ancestors, these pictures and stories help to put a face with the name on the page.
So where does this leave us in the inherited items discussion? Although the concerns of available space are important to consider when inheriting these items, it is also important to consider the value these items have in your family’s history. In many instances, these items are the only personal connection that we have to our ancestors and should not simply be disregarded. So how can the older generations help people of younger generations see the importance of these items? The solution is simple: tell them the stories of their ancestors. Sharing these stories provides them with information about why this item is important to your family. It passes on that personal and emotional connection to this item and helps them to see that this is more than just some chair in your grandmother’s house or a book of pictures of people you don’t know. These artefacts and the stories passed down with them will provide future generations with a tangible connection to their ancestors and ensure that they will not be forgotten.
Bradley Greenland @GenealogyGreen