With the modern age so geared toward immediacy, instant gratification, and being all about the present, it's not surprising that more and more people have become disconnected from their past. Though we're able to document everything that happens to us today thanks to technology and the internet, the same could not be said for generations past, meaning it's easier to lose the connection one might feel to them.
That doesn't mean these connections are lost forever, though. With enough work and dedication from even one person, a piece of history can be preserved and a family can learn more about those who came before them.
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Links To Our Past
Heirlooms are important family treasures representing one's connection to their ancestors, a reminder of happy memories, and tangible proof of their heritage. They often remind us of the loved ones gone before us and can be used to keep their memories alive in the hearts and minds of those who remember them throughout the generations.
Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of life, these heirlooms can sometimes become lost or damaged through the passing of time and neglect. Thankfully, there are some heroes out there whose life mission it is to reunite heirlooms with their original families.
A Side Journey
Meet Chelsey Brown, the social media 'Heirloom Hunter.'
By trade, she's an interior decorator. Due to her work, she often finds herself in thrift stores trying to find unique, vintage pieces to furnish clients' homes with. This frequent perusing of antique stock led her down a touching path full of historical revelations.
As she was picking through discounted furniture to help customers furnish their homes on a budget, she found herself drawn to another type of hidden gem: people's old personal documents and photographs.
Sending Them Back
She was fascinated by these objects, able to see their inherent value and know that these personal accounts of lives lost are truly priceless. She also knew right away that these items were better suited to be returned to the descendants of those they belonged to, reclaiming their status as precious family heirlooms.
Thus began her journey as the heirloom hunter.
"Basically, what I do is find lost family heirlooms and I return them to their rightful families using genealogy," she told ABC News.
How She Does It
Her process starts with finding any identifying details that she can find on the object. Names, locations, dates, whatever she can find to start narrowing down where on earth this item should be sent.
She then crosschecks whatever she can find with records and family trees documented on sites such as MyHeritage, who she's partnered with after using them so often, to see if she can find the person the item originally belonged to. From there, she follows the familial line until she's able to identify potential heirs.
She'll contact those heirs and, should they be interested in receiving the item in question, will ship them out free of cost. She doesn't charge the families a cent for the item, instead believing it should return to its rightful owners, especially since they're usually lost by accident or through other unfortunate circumstances.
"There is this myth that when you see items at the flea market, they're just thrown away," she said. "These items end up at the flea markets and thrift stores because of family drama, ninety-five percent of the time."
Brown has now reunited hundreds of objects with their family lineage and has come across some truly incredible stories along the way.
A Letter From A Holocaust Survivor To Her Sister
At a New York flea market, Brown found a letter sent from Berlin to the U.S. in 1945. After some research, she found that the letter's author, Ilse, survived the Holocaust by jumping off a train on its way to Auschwitz. The rest of her family didn't survive, save for one sister who had immigrated to the U.S. before the war broke out.
The letter has Ilse telling Carla of their family's fate, lamenting her grief. "Through the kindness of our liberators, I am able to give you a sign of life from me after so many years. Dad, Mom, Grete, Lottchen and Hermann: no one is alive anymore. My pain is unspeakably big. My husband, whom I married 3.5 years ago, was also taken from me!"
Neither Carla nor Ilse would go on to have children, but Carla's brother-in-law had a living granddaughter, whom Chelsey was able to find and return the letter to.
A Yearbook Belonging To A War Hero
Brown found a rather pricey vintage notebook that she couldn't help but scoop up, even though it was $40.
The interior was inscribed with a number of sweet messages meant for the young man it once belonged to, which is what helped her find its exact owner and all he would go on to do.
He joined the army in 1942, and in 1944, he went on to fly in the D-Day Normandy landings. He also fought in the Vietnam War and lived to have a family later in life.
Brown was able to find the man's daughter, contacting her via Instagram and shipping her the long-lost yearbook.
Century-Old Love Poems
Another incredible find includes a love-poem-filled diary from 1901. It belonged to a 17-year-old girl who largely wrote about the boy she was in love with who moved across the country to Washington State to teach for 7 years.
In her poems, she declared that when he came back, if they still love one another, they would get married. That's where their story left off...until Brown started researching.
Turns out the two did get married! They had six children together, meaning the girl's years spent pining weren't for nothing.
More Love, But With A Dark Twist
Sometimes Brown does stumble across something that tells a darker story rather than a happy one, even tales that pose ethical questions, showing that we humans are always capable of morally grey behavior.
Once, she found a pile of love letters all belonging to one woman, but they initially made her nervous, as the confessions within them might not be something the family would want to hear.
Turns out, the author had an affair with her fiancé's best friend throughout their engagement and maybe the early years of their marriage as well. She knows that finding and informing the family might cause some drama or pain, so she's decided that it's best she keeps these ones a secret.
Brown has made quite the name for herself thanks to her discoveries and often shares the stories behind the documents she finds on social media. Because these are real items written and created by real people, the tales they tell have a human element to them, and remind everyone that though times have greatly changed, at our cores, we're still the same as we were decades, even centuries ago.
"I have to say some of my favorite items to return have to be the love letters," she says, "Because they tell you not just about the person, but about the couple. Love letters just tell you something about the people and the family that no record could."
Anyone Can Participate
She also encourages her viewers to join her in this task, hoping others are inspired by her work to try and see if they can reunite some long-lost artifacts with families who would love to have them back. Be it at thrift stores or flea markets, you never know what you might come across.
As she puts it, "Genealogists and researchers are not the only people who can do this. You could do this too."
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