Objects such as old photographs, letters and diaries have obvious significance to the family historian and may be among the most important and informative clues you have to work with during your research.
However, more solid memorabilia shouldn’t be ignored: such items as military insignia – badges etc – and, of course, medals which offer the serviceman’s rank, name and service number on their rim.
This may lead to the discovery of his archived service papers which in turn can be a mine of information. Mementos may link up e.g. the photo of the man in uniform, letters he wrote from the field of war to family members, and his subsequent medal awards, all form a context for the individual. It is worth keeping these in a group and ignoring any mercenary urge to split them up – such as selling the medal if it is a particularly valuable one. Heaven forbid – you, as his descendant, are the only collector who should own it.
Sometimes memorabilia may be connected with the ancestor’s occupation or profession e.g. a prized possession among descendants of Captain William Bell is his brass telescope, made by the famous Dolland company. The fact that
handled and used this instrument on a
daily basis for about forty years, I believe means it holds his personal
vibrations, a stamp that cannot be duplicated. The same might be said for my
father’s carpentry tools, or my mother’s violin. Bell
Recipe books can provide an insight into their owner’s food preferences and may, like my grandmother’s book, contain handwritten recipes – a treasure as I have no other example of her handwriting. Address books are equally valuable: my mother’s contains details of American cousins I would otherwise have known little about. She always added birth, marriage and death information to the basic postal address, and kept these updated. It is my bible.
A necklace found among my mother’s possessions proved to have belonged to my grandmother, and I recognized it immediately as that worn by my mother on her wedding day. So, two sets of vibrations there. I still wear it. It makes me feel in contact with both women.
Two wooden teak tubs, banded with brass and copper, were made by my maternal grandfather in the time-honoured method of the cooper – though he was in fact a marine engineer. The craftsmanship he put into these items is remarkable. They stand in my home today.
While the objects mentioned may not offer information per se, they provide a resonating link to our ancestors and a glimpse of their lives and times. DNA is all very well – but give me context!