Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, encouraging participation, and networking.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Family Heirloom Project

Like many older people, I have acquired a number of family heirlooms.  None of them have any financial value to recommend them but they have connections to family members I knew when I was growing up, and to stories about family history.

My grandmother Mabel, my father's mother, was a notable seamstress.  In her youth, she and her mother, Catherine Sandman Young, had both supported themselves and their families when they were widowed, by sewing.  At one point, they made uniforms for the military through the Schuylkill Arsenal.  At that time, they lived in Philadelphia.  Catherine Sandman Young's family had come from Germany and a Philadelphia Census from the 1800's lists her profession at age 16 as "seamstress/dressmaker" so her sewing machine, a wooden covered cabinet portable that fit into a treadle table is of special importance.  Both Catherine and her daughter, Mabel, were also prolific quilters and I have two quilts made by Mabel, and a couple of her afghans (or lap robes).  One of the saddest little items is Mabel's diary from the summer when her twin sister who suffered demential from a head injury sustained during an purse snatching assault, committed suicide in their home.

From the other side of the family, I have chocolate pot made in occupied Japan, that sat in my Grandmother Lavinia Lyons' china cabinet and which I had always admired from childhood.  She said when I had a house of my own, I could have it for a house warming gift.  Good to her word, when I bought my house, she gave me the chocolate pot.  It isn't all that old or of any financial value but it was hers and it is beautiful.  My mother also had a fondness for pretty china and I have a Staffordshire bowl that she kept for many years and a delightful little-house cookie jar.  When I was  very small child, and home sick, my mother let me play with the little house cookie jar.  It has pride of place in m own china cabinet.  I also have my own mother's sewing machine which I have always used and still do.

I have a lot of personal mementos as well, a charm bracelet begun in the 1950's and finished in the 1970's, a sweater from Mexico from 1964, and a number of very old and beautiful postcards which I have collected all my life.  My daughter, too, has many mementoes of her childhood.

Then there are the family photographs.  The oldest ones I have date from 1884, of Catherine Sandman and her new young husband William Adam Young.

Like many people my age, I worry about what will become of these family heirlooms when I am gone.  They passed on to me because the grandmothers who gave them to me knew i would value them and care for them.  Who will care for them after I die?

Often, sadly, I see little stage sets of chairs, furniture, baskets of wool and knitting needles, forlorn tableaux of someone who has died and their relatives have put their possessions on the curb for scavengers and the trash collectors.  It is heartbreaking.

Once my sister saw a bag of family items on the curb near her home and falling out were old family photos.  She stopped and the two relatives were clearing out their mother's house and said they didn't want any of that old stuff.  My sister took some of it, a box of opera gloves with a working woman's employee card - she was a ballroom dancer for a big hotel in New York.  Their family passports from Italy were there and a lot of  photos of New York tenement backyard gardens as well as relatives back in Sicily, and postcards and letters from the 'old country.'  How could they put those irreplaceable family history items in the trash?  I can't understand it, and it worried me.  I took some of the items and put them in the Gloucester County Historical Society Library in their genealogy collection.

No one wants this stuff and the historical societies are overflowing, so if family doesn't want it, it is doomed.  Therefore, I made a looseleaf binder with a page for each photo of the object I wanted saved and the family member it belonged to and a  little family history.  I thought I would have it color/copied at Belia Copy Center and make a booklet for each of my four siblings, but the main binder for my daughter so when I am gone, these things may be saved somehow.  It is all I can do.

PREDICITON;  The day will come, maybe in 30 years, when such family items and family history will be of great value because we live in an age where nothing is saved and so the things will be increasingly rare and sought after.

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