Creators of Family Heirlooms, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

I was just watching Antiques Roadshow and sat there thinking about whether the ceramic handprint one of my children made years ago would be valued at the same level as a piece of pottery shown on this episode. I have to admit that in reality, the monetary value of such things made by our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews is not going to equal such amazing dollar levels as we often see on that show, but the true value is so much more. So, what does this have to do with this column?

What’s in Your Family History?
Much as I love my family, I don’t think their elementary school creations will make the history books. Your’s either? But, what if Great Grandpa’s brother was a potter, made clocks, created exquisite glass objects, built sought-after furniture, or crafted beautiful silver items? Could you find out more about that person? Maybe you have a creation from that person. You will find many magazines, books, and websites devoted to identifying the objects and the creator, but in this case we want to learn much more about the person.

The “Usual” Resources
The starting point would be checking for details on these family members in the census, vital records, newspapers, and other records we use in tracing our family history–just doing a basic genealogy search before you venture further. There are additional resources for learning more about some specialized tradespeople. These include both electronic and printed materials, and details about such craftspeople may even show up in a manuscript collection. We want to place the person in a time and place(s). Not everyone will show up in these resources, but it’s worth a try. I think you will agree once you see some of the extensive information.

Printed Materials
Directories and biographical collections for many occupations have been published over the years. Some of the biographical collections are mini-family histories. The ones I’m mentioning below are all U.S. related, but such compilations exist for other countries.

Clockmakers and Watchmakers of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, by Stacy Wood, published by the Lancaster County Historical Society, 1995.

Early Potters and Potteries of New York State, by William C. Ketchum, Jr., published by Funk & Wagnalls, 1970. Reprinted by Syracuse University in 1987.

Furniture Makers of Indiana, 1793-1850, by Betty Lawson Walters, Indiana Historical Society, 1972.

Potteries: The Story of Trenton’s Ceramic Industry, by David Goldberg and published by the Trenton Museum Society in 1998.

Silversmiths of North Carolina 1696-1860, 2d edition, by George Barton Cutten, published by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources in 1984. It has footnoted biographies on each person and appears to be well researched.

Finding the Books

  • Search at bookstores carrying used books and online used book dealers. Check dealers of new books for new compilations and/or reprint editions.
  • Visit historical and large public libraries (don’t forget the general reference section).
  • Interlibrary loan the books from other libraries (George G. Morgan wrote a Ancestry column a few years ago on The Secrets of Interlibrary Loan.  
  • Search major public, historical, and university catalogs online to find titles of books that may connect to the area or type of craftsman of your family member.
  • Check University presses for their catalogs which sometimes have such historical compilations. Links to many such presses are at Association of American University Presses These are worthwhile sites to peruse on a variety of topics.
  • The Family History Library has some occupational biographies and lists. Some are on microfilm.

If these live links don’t take you directly to the site discussed, just copy and past the link into your favorite search engine. On that same search engine, try typing in the occupation and the locality such as New York, United States, or Sweden.

Whether your family had a butcher, baker, candlestick-maker, or other occupations, you are in for a pleasant surprise on the help that is available. You may not find the sought-after biography, but you may find a discussion of the occupation, of the tools and equipment used, and of the occupation’s history in a specific location. You may find the origin of a family surname such as Chandler, Cooper, or Zlotnik. That antique desk in your home may take on a whole new meaning. Maybe you will even find the maker of the tub that the Butcher, Baker or Candlestick-maker took a ride in!

About the author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured all across the U.S. and coordinates the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is a contributor to several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments will reach her at Paula is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of e-mails received. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in my writings. I will not use your name but may use your place of residence (i.e. Davenport, IA).
Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
(I enjoy meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an “Ancestry Weekly Journal” and 24/7 Family History Circle reader.)

  • August 30-September 2, 2006: 4-day Conference Boston, Massachusetts, Federation of Genealogical Societies/New England Historic Genealogical Society. To view the program grid and to register, visit the FGS site. To keep up to date on conference happenings, tips, speaker, check out the conference blog.
  • October 14, 2006 Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
    Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Fall Seminar
  • October 27-28, 2006, Washington, DC
    Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Conference on Early American Records.

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5 thoughts on “Creators of Family Heirlooms, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

  1. Just when I’m about to get cauht up on my desk full of paperwork, you come along with a page that blows my mind — like today’s about various crafts of ancestors — and I’m off again, searching web sites, libraries,books, etc. I’ll never get caught up at this rate. But I might discover some treasures. Oh, well. The desk’ll be here next week. If I take a break long enough to pay the light bill. Keep up the good work. TOM HESTO

  2. Hi! Loved the article, I too love to read and roam cemetaries Applegate is a BIG name in Oregon
    their people settled in Jackson County (I think)
    I love Historical Books, and have found a lot of information in them. My people were from Kentucky, lived there for generations, my grandfather was one of the first to move west, I did go back there several years ago and couldn’t find a book that didn’t have their name in it, just blew my mind! Even found some historical Society fellow that had written a book about the area, still living and spent all day with him hearing his stories–FUN! Loved the article

  3. You’ve given me something else to search. I know my grandmother handpainted china and sold it at several stores. I have several pieces of her work, but do not know if she was well-known. My sister and I like to look at old china. We both turn over the pieces if they look anything like Grandma’s, hoping to find more of her work.

    There are other family stories about the grandfathers. Since they were union men, perhaps the best place to start is with the unions. And a great-grandfather, but he’s another story.

    Fortunately one son is interested in them, so if I don’t finish the search, it’s likely he will.

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