Time travel as close as your local cemetery.

The importance of passing on family heirlooms

June 30, 2014 / by davidwalton

estate saleOn a recent weekend, I went to an estate sale along with over a couple hundred other people hoping to make off with a bargain — or piece of history.

Everything you could possibly imagine was up for grabs: tractors, tools, lawn equipment, shotguns, taxidermy bear and deer heads, knives, ladders, home furnishings, antiques, silver coins, a doll collection, books, old magazines, dishes, clothes, a vintage typewriter, an old adding machine, timepieces, a grandfather clock, jewelry, Christmas decorations – even the family sedan.

According to some of the browsers, the family who owned this farm had occupied it their entire lives. The children certainly had first dibs on the items before they went on sale to the public. But with so much being offered, it kind of made me wonder what they took, if anything at all.

Whenever I go to any kind of sale, whether it’s a garage sale, yard sale or going out of business sale, the phrase “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure” always comes to mind. An antique chest might not appeal to you but to me, it means a lot not only in terms of value, but sentimentality as well.

I can honestly say I didn’t walk away with a single item from this estate sale because nothing caught my attention nor did I need anything. However, the sale did cause me to think about items in my parents’ house. Do they have anything I’d like to have some day?

You betcha! My parents’ house is filled with antiques that once belonged to my ancestors which have a lot of emotional value to me. I’ve already made clear to my mom which items I’d most like to have such as a large round oak table and chairs. What do I plan to do with them? Hopefully use or display them someday in my dream cottage in Minnesota.

I realize antiques don’t appeal to everyone, but no one should ever lose track of their heritage. Even if it’s something small, like an ashtray, a piece of jewelry or glassware from your parents, at least you’ll have something to pass along to your own children and they, in turn, can pass along to the next generation. Your family’s history may not mean much to you now, but down the road you’ll live to regret not having kept something if not for the monetary value, then at least something to remember your parents by.

Below are some of the items I hope to someday call my own. Do you own any items that once belonged to your ancestors? If so, what are they? I’d like to know.

Until next time…


My maternal great-great-grandfather and namesake David Gilmore kept this table beside his bed and had a gun in the drawer. The table earned the nickname “gun table.” The oil lamp belonged to his wife, my great-great-grandmother Ruth Snapp Gilmore.













I had no idea my paternal grandfather Elmer was an artist! This is a Valentine’s Day card he made for my dad, who he called “Tommy Boy.” Here’s the front cover and two inside pages. Unfold all the pages to reveal an endearing note to my father.










My paternal grandfather also was a sailor in the Navy during World War II. He witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor and lived to tell about it! These are his campaign ribbons. Below them is an antique train knife that once belonged to him.












These jewelry pieces belonged to my maternal grandmother, Blanche. Her engagement ring is on the left; her wedding ring on the right.











This is a picture consisting of my Uncle Jimmy (from left), my mother and my Uncle Larry. My grandmother took each of their 1-year-old pictures and had them mounted together into a single frame. The frame is nearly 100 years old.











This is called an eagle nest table because of the claw feet holding glass balls. It belonged to my maternal great-great-grandmother.













These are my dad’s baby shoes, his St. Joseph Sunday Missal and his First Communion rosary.











These Hall’s superior quality mixing bowls belonged to my great-aunt Maggie. According to my mom, she alway put mashed potatoes in the large bowl and if company came filled both bowls.












This table belonged to mu maternal great-grandmother Ethel Lee Boyd. The top drawer held miscellaneous items; the bottom had a locked door and was used for valuables. What’s more interesting than this well-kept table was the bloodline of my great-grandmother: her mother was Native American Indian and her father was a big red-headed Irishman.















My paternal grandmother Dorothy’s watch with blue sapphires, a beautiful turquoise tinted necklace she wore when my father was a student at St. Martin’s Catholic School and the 1920 Communion Cross off her rosary.













My maternal great-aunt Maggie and her husband Paul owned a mom and pop store during the 50s, 60s and 70s in southern Indiana where they sold soft drinks in glass bottles. It was common to have bottle openers fastened to the wall so customers had a way to open their beverage. This was one of the bottle openers from Endres Market.












This vintage pink depression glass dish engraved with flowers once belonged to my maternal great-grandmother. 














2 thoughts on “The importance of passing on family heirlooms

  1. Ray J says:

    Sometimes I am saddened when I go to estate sales and see all the items, many obviously valuable and many not so valuable but clearly keepsakes of the deceased. What surprises me the most, I guess, are the many family pictures I see boxed up for sale as a lot. I like to look at the old photos, many using old printing processes and paper, many old cabinet-cards, and some framed very ornately or with otherwise interesting frames. In fact, I like to collect the old tin-type photos. I always wonder though, “Why are the family photos being thrown out?” Isn’t there no one left in this family that has a place for them or the sentimentality to at least store them somewhere, if not at least for some future relative who would take an interest? Going to so many sales has prompted me to try to begin early–now–to dispose of many of the things I keep at home. I don’t want my “valuable” items to be displayed and sold in box lots to the highest bidder. I guess I am just saddened that what was once so cherished and held private is now put out for everyone to see–and often by other members of the same family.–

  2. Gail says:

    I am in that situation where our daughters an nieces could care less about family heirlooms and genealogy books that I have put together for them. I am in my late 50s but I know I need to address this now. When I was 18, I bought my first late 19th century photo album, it made me sad that some family out there just tossed it or sold it to a junk dealer. I never thought I would find myself in that position 40 years later, thinking about how I will not have anyone to pass my family heirlooms and my late Mom’s paintings (she was an artist) on to. I would like to try and write stories to go with each of the pictures or with a set of love letters that my great grandmother (after whom I named one of my daughters) wrote to my great grandfather.
    If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them. It is just so depressing but young adults these days that care about such tings seem to be in short supply.

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