Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow: Will my family archives survive when I am gone?


This is a guest post by Joy Shiver. Joy is the owner of Family Heirloom Exchange, a surname searchable, bulletin board style website antique dealers use to reach out to family members. With thousands of original items associated with more than 100,000 surnames, has become the largest in the world at matching antiques and artifacts back to families. Joy’s background as a lifetime antique collector and dealer makes her uniquely qualified for such a venture. She describes her website as “Antique Hunting in the Family Tree” and loves when matches are made.

Many antique collectors express concerns over whether their treasured objects will be respectfully passed onto future generations. I am here to offer words of reassurance and encouragement as I have been nothing but impressed by the scores of youngsters I have encountered over the years.

As many of our readers know, “ Family Heirloom Exchange” molted from our antique business, “JustaJoy Historical Treasures” which specialized in “Investment Grade Artifacts from the American Experience”. Our inventory consisted of items related to the Revolutionary War, The Civil War, the African-American experience, World Wars I & II and political items. Our antique business became quite far-flung as we attended shows from Massachusetts to Florida, Virginia to California.

At every event we attended we would be blessed by wide-eyed children, as young as eight years old, full of curiosity, who would excitedly shift their weight from one foot to the other, anxious for their turn to participate in discussions about history and the artifacts it produced. They would wait not-so-patiently to ask dozens of questions, share what they had already learned and delicately touch or hold the precious (albeit usually inexpensive) items they were shown.

Booth at one of our shows.

Some had parents who were also historians but most of the parents of these historical prodigies were befuddled by their child’s passion. One mother of an 11-year-old memorably said, “Don’t ask me, I’m just hanging on for dear life!” Another impeccably coiffured single Mom told of following her son through mud puddles at reenactments and bumping her head on the roof of a B-24 airplane as she tagged along with his excited visit to the WWII monolith. Another Mom had no explanation for her child other than, “He’s an old soul.”

We had a regular fan club of young people whose parents often said the only reason their child wanted to come to the show was to visit our booth – one of the greatest compliments we had ever received. I often watched the parents standing quietly and proudly in the background as their children enjoyed the bounty of our booth and ultimately spent his or her birthday money or allowance on Civil War Minié balls, 1943 steel pennies, or a WWI backpack. During those moments, I felt the parents and I shared a secret – a certain knowledge that THIS young person was very special and would need very little guidance other than encouragement. These moments were quite a privilege and often justified the long drives and heavy lifting more than anything else.

Through our years as antique dealers, we watched many of these children grow up and become amazing people. They often had interests in law, politics or the military. More than one was an Eagle Scout and one was even elected by his peers to speak on their behalf at their law school graduation!

So, how does all this help you in your search for the right caregiver for your archive and artifacts? Maybe not at all, but I want to share this information because I believe all of your hard work and discovery will be extraordinarily cherished by SOMEONE in the future – maybe someone you will never meet. And just as you are thankful for the folks that you have never met who left a trail for you to follow, some as-of-yet unmet person(s) will be thankful for you.

I believe the study of genealogy is a blessed activity and benefits from guidance from an unseen hand. Even though the exact path may be unclear, there is no reason to believe our passion will end with the deaths of any of us. After all, we don’t really own family history. We simply protect it for the next generation.

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