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Family Heirlooms Are Perfect Family Gifts

Updated on July 13, 2014

Copyright ©2010 Stephanie Henkel

Paintings or Handmade Items May Become Your Family's Treasures

My painting of a Kingfisher on slate was a gift to my niece. It may become one of her family heirlooms.
My painting of a Kingfisher on slate was a gift to my niece. It may become one of her family heirlooms. | Source
German Beer Stein a family heirloom.
German Beer Stein a family heirloom. | Source

What Are Your Family Heirlooms?

Family heirlooms are not necessarily valuable paintings or antiques, but do say something about your ancestors or your family heritage. While some people are fortunate to have great great-grandmother’s English bone china, others treasure a hand crocheted tablecloth that Aunt Sadie made. In each case, the real pleasure of the heirloom is that it helps bring back family stories and memories and is a clear link to ancestors long gone. Can you imagine your ancestors sitting down to dinner in 1875 to a table set with the china you now use for your Thanksgiving dinner? When you use your grandmother’s crocheted tablecloth, do you picture her sitting by an old-time radio listening to her favorite Arthur Godfrey show and crocheting her fine work?

Like many people whose grandparents came to this country in the early 1900s to seek their fortunes, my husband and I did not inherit anything of great monetary value. But one of the things we do love is an old German Beer Stein. The full history of this stein is lost, but we believe that it originally belonged to my husband’s great grandfather and was eventually passed on to his mother. It sits now in a special place in our home, not because it’s worth a lot of money, but because it reminds him of his German heritage and brings back memories of his mother and her parents and grandparents. One of our sons will have it one day, and will value it because it was special to their father and a familiar sight in our home.

Do you have an old quilt made by your grandmother or a special photograph of your parents on their wedding day? Or maybe your prized possession is a silver spoon given to your father when he was born or your great grandmother’s sewing basket?

These keepsakes are tangible reminders of your family heritage as well as the individuals and characters in your family tree.

"New" Family Heirlooms

Just as important as the generations old heirlooms are the very special things that are first generation to your family. It might be wedding presents or Christening gifts you received or a painting done by a family member. Maybe it's a collection of figurines or Christmas ornaments or hand made crafts purchased on a special vacation trip.

My husband and I have a Black Forest Cuckoo clock that was given to us by our children on our 25th wedding anniversary. I consider it a family heirloom and hope that the child or grandchild who inherits it will remember it's history as well as our long and happy marriage.

Other "new" family heirlooms include china that I painted and cradles that my husband made for each of our sons' first children. Maybe you have a collection of plates or a special dish that is always used at Christmas. Or did you make pottery or paint watercolors or particularly like pewter? Some of these items that have been around your home for many years have become part of your family's heritage and will be valued by your children and grandchildren because they belonged to you.

A Black Forest Cuckoo clock

Black Forest Cuckoo clock was a 25th anniversary gift from our children. Now it's a family treasure.
Black Forest Cuckoo clock was a 25th anniversary gift from our children. Now it's a family treasure. | Source

Family Heirlooms Make Treasured Gifts

It’s a little bit of a shock to realize that you are suddenly the “older” generation. I’ve been a grandmother for 26 years, but suddenly, I am feeling like a grandmother. I don’t mean I’m feeling old (though it is true some days), but now that my parents and grandparents are gone, I feel a special responsibility to pass on family values and traditions to my grandchildren.

Along with values and traditions, I also want to be the one to pass on some family heirlooms now, while I can enjoy the response of the recipient and also pass on the stories that go with the item.

Isn’t Christmas or a milestone birthday, graduation, or a wedding a great time to pass on the new or old family heirlooms?

Sometimes it’s not easy to part with some treasured piece, even if it has not been in the family for generations, but think of what it would mean to your children or grandchildren to be gifted with one of your special pieces of jewelry or a Hummel from your collection.

One of my old friends had many interesting and very old items in her home. Some had been in the family for generations, others she had collected herself. One year, she decided not to buy anymore Christmas gifts. Instead, she chose a special item from her home for each of her family members: an old butter churn, an antique clock, a handmade quilt, a piece of framed embroidery or a painting. She wrote a short history of the item and included it with the gift. Her family was delighted, and I thought it was a wonderful way to be sure that special items went to the intended recipient.

A Journal is a Wonderful Legacy for Future Generations

Will this be your year?

Will this be your year to start thinning out your possessions while making someone you love very happy? Will your son get Dad's German Tankard? or his high school ring? Will your daughter get the hand painted porcelain vase or one of your rings? Maybe a granddaughter would love one of your childhood dolls?

If you do decide to pass on your family heirlooms now, do write a letter to go with them telling the recipients a little about the history of the items. Stories passed on by word of mouth can easily be lost, but a short written history telling about the original owner, the occasion it was received and any other information could be kept with the item and make it even more meaningful.

I'm going to give some special family heirlooms this coming year for graduation and wedding presents. How about you?

Family Heirloom Poll

How will you disperse of family heirlooms?

See results

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