Vermont Folklife Center

The Scrimshaw Ring

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Reader Activities

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An heirloom is an object passed down in a family through many generations because the object is treasured by family members. Heirlooms can be anything: photographs of family members or important family places, artwork, furniture, diaries, letters, maps, tools, jewelry, silverware, dishes, clothing, toys, quilts, holiday ornaments—even a favorite family recipe.

Often, heirlooms are the source of wonderful stories and narratives. The Scrimshaw Ring is an example of an heirloom story that was passed down through seven generations of the Bateman and Beck families.

Why not see what heirloom stories your family has?

Go to older family members—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles—and ask them to show you their important family heirlooms. Maybe the heirloom is a picture of a family member who is no longer alive. Maybe it’s a family antique, such as a painting, a chair, a watch, a dish, a dress.

Have the older person tell you all about the heirloom and why it is important to your family. Maybe there is a story connected to the heirloom and the family members who used it. With the help of your family, write down the story about the heirloom so that it’s never forgotten.

Choose an object important to you and make it an instant heirloom. Is there a toy or some other object of yours that you might wish to pass on to your children someday? If so, write about it so that you can give your children that writing too.

Sponsor a Family Heirloom Day at your school. On that day, have everybody in your class bring in family heirlooms and share stories about them. Try it. Heirlooms are great touchstones to the past!

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