Monday, October 15, 2012

Heirloom Trails and Tales

 Our family has been blessed with a treasure trove of sentimentalities that reside in nooks and crannies throughout our homes. When we view one, even out of the corner of our eye, the story or memory associated with the object is immediately recalled - or in some cases, vaguely recalled. Beyond items, there have also been unfortunate stories passed down that tell of a lost family heirloom and how it was of great family import. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of this subject by a dear woman who understood not only the importance of family heirlooms, but also the delicate family relationship balance that always threatens to tear families apart if this subject is ignored until a will is read.

The woman I speak of is Alisonia B. Todd of Franklin County Kentucky. Isn't that just the coolest name ever? Her husband, James H. Todd passed away in 1897 and left a very brief will, passing the whole of his possessions to his wife Alisonia. Within a couple months of the filing of his will in the Franklin County Court system, Alisonia took the wise measure of creating her own will to prepare for that certain eventuality, which unfortunately, took place within the next year, 1898.

The most amazing element of Alisonia's will is an addendum section called "Schedule A". This section takes up about 3 full ledger sized pages and details not only how she wants her belongings to be divided amongst her children, but also the origin of each piece. In some cases she explains the family importance of the item, and in others, she gives a justification of why a certain person should have the item she is bestowing upon them. I will not post the entire three pages here, but am including some transcribed snippets below:

"To Letty and Jim I want you to distribute my old traps which have served their purpose for forty five years and became so worn that they only serve as Momentres of the old Home in which our children and Grandchildren have passed so many happy hours."

"Alex asked me years ago to give him his Grandfather and Grandmother Todds portraits by Janett. We looked upon them as his own and was proud of them.....if he dies without heirs or Lilian dies without heirs they must go back into the Todd family."

"[to Johnston]...also I give him my Grandfather Lee's writing desk and his sword that he used in the War of '12' being Major of his regiment."

"....also the fish desk presented to Mrs. Gov. Garrard by my uncle Elija Graig while she was occupying the Governors Mansion."

"We gave Jim the Liquor set inherited from his Grandfather Todd, also two napkin rings of the 25th anniversary 1 plated tea pot 1 molasses pitcher 1 spoon holder and soup turene the only value in these things are that we used them on our table so far back as he can remember."

"The big haircloth rocker is for Arthur and the sewing machine I give to Nettie to help make her stout boy James clothes...I want to furnish one of Nettie's attic rooms also one of Lettys. Into Netties I want the bedroom set that I found in my room when I entered it as a bride consisting bedstead wash stand dressing table and wardrobe the feather mattress bolster and cases pillows and cases the large looking glass in the room..."

As you can see, Alisonia also interjected little family memories and personal comments among her acts of distribution. It also appears that she details when some things were given away prior to her death, to whom she gave them and why. Towards the end of Schedule A she also details who has borrowed some of her furniture and whose furniture she has borrowed which must be returned at her death.

I find Alisonia's will addition to be priceless - not only for her family - but for those of us interested in 19th century Kentucky life. The entire document has reminded me that the stories behind heirlooms hold great keys to our research. After all, just by reading Alisonia's heirloom distribution, we learn which ancestor was in the War of 1812 and his rank....we learn that her uncle was an acquaintance of Governor Garrard.....we learn about her life as a young bride.....we learn about the gifts the couple was given at their 25th wedding anniversary.....we learn about upholstery and fabrics, even color (yellow)....we learn about paintings.....and we learn about warm family memories.

As we document and organize our genealogy research for the next generation, I look upon this task of heirloom distribution and story documentation to be a vitally important makes me wonder if the majority of items for sale in antique stores are not always there because of financial hardship or apathy, but rather because the previous generations forgot about their importance....the story trail ended and so did the family's legacy. There is also one other motivation for me....don't you just love the idea of filing this kind of heirloom heavy will with the courts and imagining an excited descendant finding it generations later? Oh yeah, one more thing....any attorney today will tell you that more family rifts happen because of estate dispersals, or a lack of planning in this your family the grief and strife - include your own "Schedule A" today!
Happy Heirloom hunting & sharing!


Anonymous said...

I love a good Will too, Cheri. When I first saw "old traps" I thought of mousetraps, but the penny dropped eventually! I've found a lot of important (sometimes crucial) details in Wills. Jo :-)

Unknown said...

I know! Sometimes I look at so many, just hoping for a relationship entry, but every once in a while I find a really special one - they are exciting, and sometimes moving!

Jim (Hidden Genealogy Nuggets Blog) said...

I love the heirloom possessions I have. They connect us to our past. My daughters have jewelery passed down from their great great grandmother.

Regards, Jim
Hidden Genealogy Nuggets


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