I love museums. It figures, since I also love history. A tour through a museum is like a walk back in time. A stroll through history. A brief look into the lives of others. Every time we visit a new town, I drag my family to their local museum. In these buildings, we get to see the photos and belongings of people from another lifetime. We many not even know who some of those people were, but seeing their photos and belongings just really brings history alive! So imagine how much more interesting those same objects could be if they were from YOUR family and displayed in YOUR home! Imagine having a family history museum of your own!
Since I live in Texas, the majority of our museums go back as far as the 1800’s and pioneer days, so we get to see cowboy hats and chaps, butter churns, sunbonnets, and all manner of prairie trappings.
Have you ever considered that you may have a museum in your attic or closet? Maybe you have some boxes or suitcases stored away full of dusty photo albums and possibly a few pieces of family memorabilia. Maybe Grandpa’s toy truck, or your Mom’s baby doll. Maybe you saved your Barbies or Nancy Drew books or 45 records.
I have some childhood memories in a storage tote, my husband has some great stuff from his childhood and teen years (okay, he has saved everything), and my parents and grandparents had even more memories in the form of things. Every once in awhile, when cleaning out a closet or after a move, we’ll look through the pictures or belongings from our childhood or our family and reminisce and ooh and aaaah. We’d show the kids and say, “Remember when we used to listen to music on cassettes?” Hahahahaha! The good ol’ days! Then the stuff will get boxed up, and forgotten for a few more years. Has this ever happened to you?
I recently had the bright idea to keep these great memories on display so our kids could see them and remember the stories. And ladies and gentlemen, our Family History Museum was born.
You see, I learned that kids remember things they are consistently exposed to. They remember a vacation so much more when they look at the vacation photos over and over. When we watch home videos, they remember the games in the backyard or the first song they sang. These things become a part of them, and not just a story they hear when they grow up.
I wanted to use this same concept to pass on our family history to them.
So here’s how I did it: First, I needed a display piece of some sort. I thought it might just be a bookcase to start, and I began to keep my eye out for a new one. In the meantime, I started piling things in a box for this future Museum. Photos, old toys, my husband’s Sony Walkman, my pink teddy bear, my mom’s class picture from 1st grade. When a friend of mine announced that she was selling a china cabinet, I pounced on it!
After a new shabby-creamy paint job and some cute new knobs from Hobby Lobby, I began to stock the museum.
It started out a little bare, but once it was in progress, I began to watch for anything and everything that could go in it. Every time my husband opened a box of goodies, I’d say, “Oooooh, that’s perfect for the museum!” In went his hand-held electronic football game, his grandma’s eyeglasses, my great-grandfather’s Air Force memorabilia, and on and on.
Vacation memories, political memorabilia, old toys, photos — everything became a museum artifact. When a new piece went in, I called the kids to the dining room (where the Museum lives) and explained what it was.
But I also went a little further: I created little museum labels for many things.
The pieces are much more interesting if we know what they were or who they belonged to.
Once the Museum was underway, I told all of my extended family about it. I showed them when they came to our house. And then the donations multiplied! I now have my great-aunt’s iron that she received as a wedding gift in 1937 and used until she died.
I have my great-grandfather’s camping thermos. I have my grandmother’s toaster (from her wedding in 1954) and her Betty Crocker cookbook. I have a few of my dad’s handkerchiefs.
Several of my husband’s toys, electronics, and his high school band letter-jacket emblem are in there. My Reagan-Bush ’84 pin is there.
There are two drawers on the bottom of the cabinet that hold even more. See that Sears Wish Book? 1990 is history now. Don’t laugh! That’s the year I turned 18! And those iPod Nanos – – – – they’re history, too. Technology changes rapidly. Save a few examples for your kids to laugh at.
The value of this Family History Museum is priceless to us. Most of the items hold little monetary value, but they tell the story of my family and my husband’s family. They tell of our connections to our local cities and towns, Texas, America, the U.S. Military, and World War II. Each item has a story. Each photo is of a relative. And they are all connected to our kids. My husband’s parents have both passed away. My dad and my grandmother, and all the great-grandparents are gone. These few possessions mean so much to us.
These belongings are now a part of our daily lives. We see them in the dining room every day.
When a conversation includes a certain family member or is related to anything in that cabinet, I open it up and pull out the stuff. I remind the kids who or what it is and how it’s relevant.
I didn’t want the kids to find boxes of nameless photos and items that belonged to who-knew-who when my husband and I were too old to remember (or gone from this world). I wanted them to know and remember and connect to our history. The Family Museum does that.
So, now that you’ve read about our museum, can you envision your boxes of stuff being on display? Whether you have one shelf or mantle to start with, or a cabinet or bookcase, you can start today. No matter what you have, it’s your history. A medicine bottle, some sewing scissors, a favorite old book, a framed photo, or a beautiful dish…they all have a connection to your family history and they will bring that history to life for your descendants.
I hope you’ve been inspired to get those dusty old artifacts out of storage and share them with your family!
Do you have a Family History Museum (or something similar)? Would you be interested in starting one?
While you’re here, visit my Knowledge Keepers Bookstore! In it you’ll find the books and the stories that have shaped this great country, the books that influenced our founders and our ancestors, the books that Americans have mostly ignored or never heard of, but the good books that we should all read and protect. Join me in saving Western Civilization, one book at a time!
Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She is a homemaker at heart, and loves books, freedom, history and quilts, and blogs about all of these at nickitruesdell.com. She believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. Nicki is a member of the Texas Home Educators Board of Directors. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.