Have you ever seen an item in a thrift store that made you wonder about the person who once owned it?
From handwritten diaries to old love letters, there’s a lot of history to be found on those shelves. Each memento represents a snapshot from the life of their former owner, and each is unique and meaningful in their own way. For Chelsey Brown, each of these items tells a story that deserves to be told, and the people who need to hear it are the ancestors of the original owner.
Chelsey is an interior designer whose hobby of investigating heirlooms and returning them to families has blossomed into a nearly full time job. She calls herself an “heirloom investigator,” a title that sounds simple enough, though her process is anything but simple.
It starts with endless trips to antique fairs, thrift shops, and flea markets all around New York City to unearth long-forgotten treasures like old letters, postcards, photographs, and other personal trinkets. Chelsey then uses the online genealogy platform MyHeritage.com to discover and connect with family descendants. After that, it’s just a matter of returning the beloved items to the family members, all at her own expense. So far, she’s returned more than 200 vintage pieces to grateful family members!
Just this past Christmas, Chelsey was able to send a man from Parker, Colorado a cookbook from 1940 that his grandmother had used decades before.
“There’s a whole section on holiday preparation,” Chelsey said. “I think there’s something special about returning a family cookbook to a descendant. This cookbook was definitely well-used.”
Another favorite find was a Christmas postcard dated 1910 from “cousin Leslie” to Lawrence Philbrook of Cardington, Ohio. Lawrence turned out to be a WWI veteran who died in France in 1918. After taking the time to create an intricate family tree for him, she was able to track down the granddaughter of his brother, who was overjoyed to receive the keepsake. It took 111 years for that postcard to go from a meaningless piece of paper in a box to a cherished family heirloom that tells a story of Lawrence’s bravery and sacrifice.
Chelsey shares the best items she finds on her social media pages, including a recent treasure trove of old love letters that gave her serious Jane Austen vibes.
Chelsey’s work is a reminder that times may change, but people never do! Heirlooms are a wonderful way to celebrate a family’s personal story, and we’re thankful for heirloom investigators like Chelsey for all she does to preserve history.
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