Category Archives: Heirlooms

Tracing My Treasures: A Measure of Love

How do you measure love? Is it felt by the intensity of a hug, the passion of a kiss, the size of a box of chocolates or the number of rose stems in a bouquet?

Today, I measure love with a tin-measuring cup.

For years upon years my Tennessee grandmother whipped up homemade biscuits served with red eye gravy, eggs, bacon for her family.  I was fortunate enough to be part of many of those special family breakfasts.

I would watch my petite Southern grandmother measure out the flour, salt, baking powder, milk, and shortening using the very same old measuring cup and measuring spoons that she had used for decades.   Once everything was in the mixing bowl, she would give a little stir, and then pour out the ingredients on to a breadboard. After kneading it a little, the dough was placed into an black and worn cast iron skillet.  Into the oven it would go until the biscuits were baked light brown and to perfection.

The butter and cloverleaf honey were already out when those hot-out-of-the-oven biscuits were placed in the center of the kitchen table for the family to enjoy.

So much love and attention went into this early morning ritual.

After grandmother died, her sons asked me what of her possessions I would like to have.  Without hesitation, I asked, ‘Could I possibly have her set of kitchen measuring spoons and her measuring cup?’  I’m sure they thought ‘what a crazy woman to be asking for such mundane things!’

But the deeper truth is that by holding in my hands these simple objects, I remember a woman who was a special part of my life for so many years.

A tin measuring cup and a set of measuring spoons.  Symbols of love.

What treasured family heirlooms do you possess? What memories do these items stir up inside of you? We’d love to hear from you!

The Value of a Personal Historian, by Dan Curtis

If you’re thinking of hiring a personal historian, keep reading.  If you’re a practicing personal historian, remember that potential clients don’t really care what you do. What they care about are the benefits they’ll get from hiring you.  I must admit that I sometimes forget this fact.  So as a reminder to myself and to anyone else who needs a prompt about the benefits –  here are five important ones. Can you think of more? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

1. Your story will get told. This is the most important benefit of all. Countless times  people have told me that they started working on their life story or that of a family member but never seemed to be able to get it finished. Hiring a personal historian means the work will get done on time and in a professional manner.

2. It’s more fun.
Let’s face it, sitting alone with a blank computer screen or piece of paper and waiting for inspiration to strike can be daunting. We are by nature conversationalists. Sitting with a personal historian who is a skilled interviewer and empathetic listener makes telling your story an enjoyable experience.

3. Your story will be richer in detail. Because of the familiarity with your own story, you can easily miss details that others would find fascinating. You need a personal historian who is fresh to your story and has the skill to bring out the richness of your life’s journey.

4. A personal historian relieves you of the burden of  producing your film. Putting together a life story is an overwhelming undertaking for most people. From start to finish it requires a set of skills  that include – interviewing, editing, research, photo enhancement, design and layout, and printing.  A personal historian takes on these production tasks  and ensures that all are handled professionally.

5. A personal historian has the time. Are you someone who simply can’t find enough hours in a day to devote to working on your own story or that of a family member? Hiring a personal historian relieves you of the guilt of not putting in the time you need to get your life story or that of a family member told.

Thank you to personal historian Dan Curtis for this article, which was previously published on his blog. You can learn more about Dan and his work at

Tracing My Treasures: Perky, the 107-year old Bear

In the fall of 1999, my grandmother Frances Mackin came to visit us. She was 97 years old. In her suitcase was a special treat: her cherished childhood toy, Perky.  Her desire had always been to give Perky to her first great granddaughter. She was about to turn this desire into a reality.

On the day Perky was bestowed to Frances’ Great Granddaughter, Annie, she told our family the story of how she had originally acquired Perky. Annie listened in awe.

In 1904, Frances’ parents, Fred Henry and Amelia Meyer, traveled from Sturgis, SD to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair.  While at the fair they saw Richard Steiff and his aunt selling stuffed bears. They decided to purchase one of the little mohair bears as a gift for their two-year-old little daughter. They had no idea that Steiff would go on to become a world-famous toymaker.

As she continued to speak, Frances reflected back that she must have dearly loved Perky because she hardly ever played with him.  And when she did, she handled him with extreme care.  It is obvious that this is true because over one hundred years later, Perky shows very few signs of damage that might otherwise have been seen in a child’s stuffed animal.

Perky is about one foot high with soft, light brown mohair fur, black shoe button eyes and is filled from the top of his ears to the bottom of his feet with something similar to straw called excelsior.  He has beige felt paws and a hand-sewn brown thread nose.  He also has a small squeaker that allows him to make little chirps when the middle of his tummy is gently pressed. That was quite the technological breakthrough back in 1904!

But in my opinion, the sweetest thing about Perky is his indomitable smile! That smile has stayed firm for 107 years now.

Chapter Two: 2011 

In fact, Perky’s smile seems to be even bigger these days. A new chapter in Perky’s long life has begun. Annie is now all grown up and has become a mommy herself.  Annie decided that her one and only daughter, Emily, age three and a half, should now take possession of Perky. Who else could love a stuffed bear with such a history?

I have no doubt that Perky will continue to get the love and attention that he’s gotten for so many years. Together, Emily and Perky will create their own stories and make their own memories.

There are many things that bond children, their parents, and their grandparents. If Fred and Amelia could only see how their small purchase in 1904 continues to connect our family 107 years later. Perky isn’t just a little bear. He’s a symbol of love, continuity, and stability for four generations. What a treat.

What is your family heirloom story? Who are the people through the years in your family who have cherished a particular family keepsake?

Tell us all about how you came to possess your family heirloom. We’d love to hear from you.

Tracing My Treasures: The Adventures of the Oil Lamp

One of my very favorite family heirlooms is the glass oil lamp my maternal grandmother gave me.  Her German-born mother had originally owned the lamp. The story passed on to me was that my great grandmother, Amelia Meyer, purchased the lamp from the Montgomery Ward Catalog in 1907. Not long afterwards, the family of five left their ranch in South Dakota for the milder climate of the Willamette River Valley in Oregon. The family evidently had enough of the hard, cruel winters of South Dakota. The lamp was hand carried on board the locomotive train as it headed west, to their new life.

As I hold this lamp in my hands, I can’t help but think back about the life this old oil lamp has lived.  And how it has been connected to my family for over one hundred years.

I imagine this lamp sitting on a primitive, hand cut, wooden table in that ranch house near Sturgis, South Dakota.  I imagine my ancestors sitting around its glowing light poring over maps of the ranch, eating simple but filling meals together, or using its light to carefully tend to a sick child in the middle of a cold winter’s night.

I’ve seen many oil lamps sitting on shelves in antique shops near my home.  I wonder who their owners were. But all I know is what that little white price tag tells me.  It’s cold, and empty, and leaves me wanting to know more.

Luckily, my family’s oil lamp sits on a wooden dresser in my bedroom. It connects me to those that came before me and contributed to the woman I am today.  My oil lamp may not create light anymore, but it serves as an everlasting beacon to the family history I cherish.

What family heirlooms have been entrusted into your care?

What stories were you told about them?

We’d love to hear from you!

The Keepsakes of a National Tragedy

Image credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times


The memories of those who witnessed the 9-11 attacks were vividly described in a recent article published in the New York Times.

On that day, many citizens saved the simplest items to connect with what had occurred. One man pulls a business-size envelope from his pocket and scoops some of the gray powder that fell from the sky after the first tower fell; another saved the shreds of T-shirt material that were used to filter the dust- filled air. The face masks, Mass cards, children’s drawings, a part a Peace Corps application – all small pieces of paper that fell from the sky across the East River, and pieces of lives lost.

For some these items became sacred relics.  They are tangible possessions that link to a national tragedy and provide solace for the owner.  I encourage you to read the entire piece. It is beautifully told.

The New York Times story speaks to our national story, and our need to feel connected to our fellow citizens.  It speaks to the power of ordinary and commonplace items to connect us to our past.

When you were a teenager did you ever save the corsage that your date placed on your wrist? Or maybe you saved the home run ball from the first major league game you ever attended?

The memories that swirl around these ordinary possessions make us treasure them.  The corsage might recall a first date, first dance or a first kiss. The scarred baseball brings back memories of a much-anticipated outing with dad, eating hot peanuts out of a brown paper bag and becoming hoarse while cheering a favorite team. These are the memories we hold dear.

What possessions do you cling on to?   As you hold that item, what part of your life are you remembering?

Your life is your story in the making. Preserve the memories.