Family History: What’s in your attic?


Aren’t attics – and cellars – magical places to explore?

When I was a young girl, we spent our summers in upstate New York, with our grandparents. I often went with my grandmother to visit her friend Fanny, who lived a few miles away.

I remember the old country farm house set amid large surrounding fields. While Grandma and Fanny were talking downstairs, I was given permission to go up to the attic and scrounge around.

Fanny and her family had bought the place from people who had long been living there, and the attic was full of what people generally hide away. I found ancient letters, old newspapers covering historical events, all sorts of documents, books, photographs, as well as odd pieces of furniture, art work and old-fashioned clothing. At that young age, I didn’t recognize the importance of these finds.

Now that I am so involved in family history and artifacts, I often wish I had an opportunity to revisit that treasure trove. Unfortunately, the house is long gone, and a housing development fills those fields.

My grandparents’ home in Brooklyn, New York, had a large cellar filled with more personal treasures. Long ago, while rooting around in the boxes I discovered my grandparents’ ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate). I remember wanting to bring it upstairs and ask her about it, but felt it was almost an invasion of privacy to have been looking around, so I put it back in the box.

And, as readers will guess, it was never seen again and the house was sold long ago.

If you have the opportunity to explore an elderly relative’s attic or cellar, take the time to do so. Family treasures may be lurking there, long forgotten.

You might find diaries, letters, photos, and documents for birth, marriage or death. In old boxes or in drawers of old furniture might be hidden family bibles, yearbooks, postcards, maps, old newspapers, military memorabilia and more.

What’s in your attic?

Have you found family history in an attic or cellar? Share your discoveries in the comments below.

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  • Olav Flottorp

    January 17, 2013

    I’m a 16 year old who live on an old farm in Audnedal, Norway. It’s about 400 years old, and stopped as a farm in the 1980’s. My dad found a perfectly preserved corner cabinet in our old barn which my great grandfather built in the 30’s. The cabinet had an inscription that said “1697”! Really old. Inside he found even more old stuff. A bible from 1862, and a piece of paper that contained information about all of my ancestors on my father’s side back to the beginning of the 1600’s. It’s quite a big barn. Who knows what more is hiding 😛

  • Schelly

    January 18, 2013

    Hi, Olav – Thank you for writing. What a wonderful discovery in your barn! No matter where we find information on our family, it is always exciting and wonderful.

  • Stephen Cob

    January 20, 2013

    My home and attic contain many pieces of family history like furniture, linens and personal items which I cannot connect to individuals. It was all inherited but so “well loved” for generations that few clues remain. A qualified antiques appraiser ($$) could help with dates and regions that perhaps I can connect to my ancestors.

  • C. D.

    March 8, 2013

    My great grandfather lived in a house that was built in the 1860s. when I was there last i was washing down the hardwood floor in the living room. I noticed something behind the trim. I managed to pull it out, and it was half of a photo taken in 1919! I recently found the other half in the family bible along with old calling cards and a stevengraph bookmark! Old houses can hide alot of stuff!

  • Beryl

    February 28, 2015

    I love reading the stories about the olden days.

  • William Cooke

    March 3, 2020

    Someone gave me a family bible, I do not know where she got it. One of the names in it is” Cooke” with an e on Cooke. The e in my name was added by myself in 1940’s. Not my relatives.
    The bible was owned by EMMA Lucile Stevens. married to Clarence Russell Morrison on September 24. 1930 in Willeville, N.Y. This and the following information is hand written in the bible.On child was listed, Richard Clayton Morrison. August 15, 1932.
    Other Family names, with some information, written in the book are:
    Cooke, Francis, with note “May Flower 1580-1633 and other members of the family.
    Willard, W. and others,. Dates 1851-1940
    Allen, Geo, and others
    Kenyon, John , with others, with dates ranging from 1605 to 1951
    Calleder family 1756-1868
    Abbey, family 1865-1981

    The bible is in good shape about 3 inches thick.

    How can I get this to a location where the family can view, or use?