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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Entries in heirlooms (9)


    Treasures in Your Attic? Join Me for the Utah Genealogical Association Spring Conference

    16th Annual South Davis Family History Fair


    Woods Cross High School north of Salt Lake City is the new location for the Utah Genealogical Association Family History Fair April 19 and 20, 2013 where I will be presenting the Friday night keynote "Treasures in the Attic: Every Keepsake Has a Story."

    This two-day event offers over one hundred family history sessions on topics covering a wide variety of subjects, from finding Irish and German ancestors to working with newspapers and cemetery records.

    On Saturday, April 20, I will present two sessions on preserving family treasures and signing copies of my new book How to Archive Family Keepsakes:

    The Frugal Curator

    Archival storage doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Discover practical DIY (Do-It-Yourself) solutions that will save you time and money as you organize and store your family treasures. See how to make a family history time capsule for your next family reunion or event.

    The Things They Leave Behind: Caring for Family Keepsakes

    Learn how to care for common family treasures such as photo albums, loose photographs, Bibles, clocks, jewelry, and more.  View photos of damaged items, learn to identify common hazards such as silverfish, mold, acid migration. Discover what to save when you inherit a houseful of “treasures,” how and where to store your keepsakes, and how to set up a home archive so you can easily access items for research and sharing.

    Registration fees for this event are $15.00; a printed syllabus is available for an additional fee. More information is available at the Utah Genealogical Association Website.


    Hunting for Heirlooms with Houstory Scavenger Hunt

    IMG 0430

    Get into practice for the Easter Bunny with the Heirloom Registry's clever family keepsake Online Scavenger Hunt coming next week, March 4-10. And, like all good treasure hunts, you might even come away with some of the fantastic prizes contributed by participants, including a copy of my new book How to Archive Family Keepsakes.

    Each hunt will run for two days beginning Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, March 4, 6, and 8th with a prize package awarded each day, and a grand prize awarded at the end of the hunt. I'm excited to be included as one of the hunt blogs on Friday, March 8th. 

    Prizes include genealogy books, webinars, digital downloads, and a Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner. See the complete prize list here.

    To join the hunt, visit the day's participating blogs where you can find a unique Heirloom Registry ID code posted in an entry about the contest.

    Next, enter that code at the Heirloom Registry website to view the heirloom's record and find the secret word on the Registry Certificate.

    After you've collected all four secret words from the day's hunt, submit your entry using the Houstory Entry Form to be qualified to win the daily prize package and the grand prize. Complete directions are posted at The Houstory Hearth.

    See you March 8th for The Family Curator's special blog post for The Heirloom Registry Online Scavenger Hunt.


    Family Keepsakes: Save, Skim or Trash? Blog Book Tour Visits OliveTree Genealogy

    What to Save? What to Toss? 4 Questions That Can Help You Decide with FREE Handout for Tour Readers

    Today the How to Archive Family Keepsakes Blog Book Tour visits blogger Lorine McGinnis Schulze at OliveTreeGenealogy.

    We are talking about working with the "stuff" we inherit, but this applies to what we decide to keep and pass on to our descendants too! You'll want to read today's Guest Post at OliveTree Genealogy and download the FREE Handout -- a handy list of What to Save, What to Skim, and What to Toss. This handout will be available for a limited time, so don't delay. 

    Guest Post by Denise May Levenick, The Family Curator, author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes (Family Tree Books, 2012).

    It can be hard for family historians to let go of anything that might carry a family story, no matter how old or broken that keepsake might be -- the chipped china teacup you remember from your grandmother's kitchen cupboard, the mildewed children's book that was once bright and new, the keys to long-forgotten locks.

    One key isn't much to save, but it doesn't take long for family keepsakes to become a mountain of memorabilia that threatens to come down on our present life like an avalanche.

    So, how do we choose, what to save, what to toss, and what to give away? I've sifted, sorted, and organized dozens of family collections, and discovered that (continue reading at OliveTreeGenealogy). . .


    Family Heirlooms: The Ultimate Re-Gift

    Treasure Chest Thursday

    All I really want for Christmas is my grand-dad's stereo card viewer and his collection of vintage stereograph cards. They were a little warped the last time my Dad shared them with me, but they still conjure lazy Sunday afternoons in Grandpa's little study listening to the tick-tock of a mantle clock while I marveled at the Wonders of the World or Scenes from The Great War.

    ReBox4 Flap 4

    Dad isn't quite ready yet to pass on this heirloom to the next generation, but I think I have some family treasures I might be ready move along to my sons and their families. If you are "re-gifting" family treasures this year, I hope you will take time to write a simple history for your family keepsake. It doesn't have to be a long involved project, but even a simple sentence or two could keep your treasure from being tossed into the trash. 

    If you aren't sure how to start, you can find ideas on crafting an heirloom history in my post Treasure Chest Thursday: Writing the History of Your Heirloom or on the Houstory Hearth Blog where Mike and Dan Hiestand, creators of The Heirloom Registry, write about saving family stories.

    I love meeting people like the Houstory Brothers who are dedicated to helping people save family history by preserving the provenance along with the heirloom. The Heirloom Registry online service is designed to help "stop the stories from disappearing." Whether you register your family keepsake on the Heirloom Registry or record it on paper and attach it to the item, by writing the history of your heirloom you are taking the single most important step toward preserving your family treasure.

    Too many times, we inherit things that seem significant, we just can't quite figure out why. Like the basket of stereo cards from my grandparents' home. I know my own story -- why I like the vintage cards -- but, I wonder if Dad ever looked at those as a kid and how they have survived all these years? Now, there's a conversation for our holiday gathering, and the beginning of an heirloom treasure tale.




    It's That Time of Year: Blog Caroling with Footnote Maven, "Silent Night" on the Heirloom Music Box

    Thank you, footnote Maven, for this wonderful tradition to pause again and listen to the beautiful sounds of Christmas music. Last year I nominated Stille Nacht accompanied by a (rather grainy) photo snapped of a German church steeple high above the Rhine Valley one December night in 2003 in Stille Nacht is Still My Favorite.


    I knew there was a reason that photograph was a favorite! Not long ago Mr. Curator brought home a large inlaid music box he inherited from his parents. It was prominently displayed in their living room in front of a set of large French windows; and every holiday, the box would be opened, brass records carefully selected, and the hand crank firmly turned. Then the music would begin. Enjoy!


     "Silent Night" by Music Box, on The Family Curator's YouTube Channel,


    Before the Pirate Toy Chest Became an Heirloom: Treasure Chest Thursday

    Fire! Fire! Fire! 

    As I researched the manufacturer of our newest family heirloom -- Mr. Curator's childhood "pirate" toy chest -- I discovered that we may own a unique relic of a once-thriving American toy company.

    Cass fire

    Fire at former Cass Toy factory, January 19, 2012
    Photo by Gary Beauchemin, K&G Photography, Used with Permission 

    The more I read about the Cass Toy Company, the more I was intrigued by the story of this successful three-generation business that was devastated by fire over and over again.

    Although this complete history may be somewhat lengthy for our toy chest entry at The Heirloom Registry, I am sure a summary version will give future readers some idea of the story behind our family heirloom.

    Pirates open

    Less than one year ago, in January 2012, the former Cass Toy Factory on Canal Street in Athol, Massachusetts was completely demolished by a massive fire that set off several explosions and called in over 100 firefighters to fight the blaze. The wooden building was being used for storage.

    Ironically, the Cass Toy warehouse on nearby South Athol Road suffered a similar fate on May 16, 1996 when fire broke out in the building causing nearby homes to be evacuated. The huge fire destroyed the warehouse and an adjacent home, and damaged six other homes on the street.

    Throughout it's long history, Cass Toys had been hit by fire at least once before. In 1917, The Standard weekly insurance newspaper reported

    March 20, fire in the plant of the N.D.Cass Company caused loss est at $10,000. The building formerly owned by the Eagle Furn Co frame and unsprinklered O.J. Powers 6 Sons, hat mfgrs, loss of $2,000 on mdse stored in the building and Ira D. Cass had a partial loss on automobiles, insured for $12,000.

    The total devastation of the 1996 fire, however, must have come at a time when it was more prudent to retire than rebuild. According to newspaper reports, the Cass Toy Company closed its doors in 1997.

    Cass Furn CoPHOTO 15889178 61862 37512104 ap

    Former Cass Toy Factory, Athol, MA, 2010

    For over 100 years, Cass Toys manufactured and sold a wide variety of children's toys and musical instruments, including pianos, drums, chalkboards, and wooden furniture. Founded in 1893 by Nathan D. Cass, at one time the firm boasted factories in Athol, Hingham, and Somerville, Massachusets and in Brent, Alabama, with showrooms on Fifth Avenue in New York City. In 1921, the company proposed expanding to with a plant in Manchester, Vermont. 

    Cass was well-known for the popular Casspinette children's pianos, sized from table models to baby grand, all produced at the Athol toy factory. A 1974 newspaper article notes that the Brent plant produced planned to add piano manufacture to it's 15,000 toy chests, 60,000 blackboards, 100,000 child's rockers, and 22,500 play and peg desks. 

    A 1943 advertisement in the trade magazine, Playthings announced

    We’re Busy on Two Fronts

    The Home Front – Thanks to your cooperation – in spite of present difficulties – our popularly priced, individually boxed military toys and train sets will be as widely and equitably distributed as is humanly possible under existing conditions.

    The War Front – Yes, we’re backing the attack by devoting the major portion of our extensive manufacturing facilities to Uncle Sam. And when war’s over over there, our enlarged plant with additional modern equipment will enable us to serve you better than ever.

    Wood Toys have been featured by America’s leading wholesalers and retialers for three generations.

    Buy War Bonds!

    N.D. Cass Co. W. F. Cass, Gen Manager

    Factories, Athol, Hingham, Somerville, Mass.

    Showroom: Room 314, 200 Fifth Avenue, New York 10, N.Y.

    Cass Wood Toys have been featured by America’s leading wholesalers and retailers for three generations.

    Cass wooden toys were well-positioned to weather the wartime shortages of the 1940's. With metal in short-supply, Cass could meet the demand for children's Christmas gifts with their quality wooden furniture, accessories, and toys.

    Who were these three generations of American wood toy makers?

    Nathan D. Cass was a native New Yorker, born in 1875, the son of an English machinist. By 1900, he was married to Grace M. Fish of Massachusetts and the couple was living with Grace's parents in Athol, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Nathan's occupation was listed in the federal census as paper box manufacturer.

    In 1906, William F. Cass is born; the young family continues to live with Grace's parents, and by 1910 Nathan is in the toy business. In 1920, Nathan Cass is listed in the federal census for the first time as a Head of Household, although his mother-in-law, presumably a widow, is still living in the home. William F. is now 13 years old and has a young sister, Grace, just over one year old. Nathan now makes a living from a "toy shop."

    In 1930, Nathan and Grace move to Florida, leaving William F. Cass in charge of the Athol toy business. William appears in the 1930 federal census age 24 with wife Hazel E. Cass. They own a radio set and live in an average-priced home on Union Street in Athol. 

    By 1940, however, William has a new address and a new wife. He is now married to Mabel E. Cass, age 38, and the couple has a five year old son, William F. The family now live on Old Keene Road in Athol and their home valued at $8000 is the most expensive on the block, nearly three times the value of their neighbors. At an annual salary of $4420 with other income as well, William is also the highest wage-earner on his street.

    A 2007 obituary for William F. Cass, Jr. fills in some of the story of the Cass family. The late toymaker, son of William F Cass, Sr. and Mabel E. (Peppard) Cass. He was survived by his wife of 54 years, Martha (Still) Cass, and by two daughters, Gina L. Cass and Lori Stewart, and two sons Bradford N. Cass and William Brent Cass, as well as 15 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. 

    Mr. Cass was the past president of N.D. Cass Co., Inc., of Athol, N.C. Cass Co. of Brent, Alabama and Cass Sales Company in New York City. For many years he operated Cass Dairy Farms in Athol. Mr. Cass was a life long member of the Athol-Orange Elks Club. He was also a member of the Kiwanis Club, Camp Cheneo, Petersham Curling Club and the Toy Manufacturers of America. Mr. Cass owned harness race horses for over 40 years. His passion for the sport took him from Maine to Florida. He was a member of the Standardbred Owners of New England, New York, New Jersey and Florida. Bill enjoyed many years of retirement in Pompano Beach, Florida. Bill was known to enjoy an occasional bet now and then and loved his trips to Las Vegas and Foxwoods. 

    Abram Cass was a craftsman machinist who must have taught his son Nathan something about creating things with his hands. Nathan went on from making paper boxes to make wooden toys, and created a thriving business that weathered two world wars, the Great Depression, and the rise of computer games. Abram's legacy grew into a business that  employed hundreds of people in Massachusetts and Alabama, building toys and furniture that would be enjoyed by thousands of children.

    I'm saddened that the legacy of Cass Toy Company went up in flames with the warehouse in 1996. It would be nice to think they are still turning out sturdy toy chests with brightly painted pirate scenes. On eBay, Cass Toys have become somewhat collectible and chests like ours are fairly hard to find. I'm glad we saved it from the estate sale, and happier yet that it is once again a Pirate Toy Chest.

    You are invited to read the history of our Pirate Toy Chest at The Heirloom Registry--

    Go to The Heirloom Registry website

    Enter the registration serial number in the photo below.


    Pirates label

    Article and Photographs Copyright Denise Levenick, The Family Curator, 2012, All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise noted.

    Fingerprint Your Heirlooms

    Learn how to preserve your own heirlooms with The Family Curator's new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes and receive three free Heirloom Registry stickers with purchase during the Fingerprint Your Heirlooms special offer.

    The Family Curator has partnered with The Heirloom Registry and Family Tree Magazine for this special offer through December 31, 2001. Purchase your copy of my new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, from or and receive three free Registry stickers to identify your own heirlooms.


    Barnes, George. “Fire destroys former Athol toy factory: Blace closes Canal Street.” Worcester Telegram & Gazette –, 19 January 2012,

    Ed Watkins, NewsWest Alabama Editor, “Santa may do his shopping in Brent,” The Tuscaloosa News – Dec 15, 1974, 16A, Sunday Google news.

    Johnson, Patrick. “Former Cass toy factory in Athol goes up in flames,”, 19 January 2012,

    Playthings, Oct 1943, pg 69,

    The Standard, March 31, 1917, Volume 80, pg 349.

    William F. Cass, Jr., 73 of Athol, 22 July 2007,

    Copyright Denise Levenick, The Family Curator, 2012.



    5 First Aid Tips for Water Damaged Family Photos

    Wet recovery workshop

    In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, thousands of family historians may be facing the task of salvaging precious family photos, papers, and heirlooms. Salvage efforts should begin within 48 hours, according to the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

    Here are a few first steps to help with your recovery efforts of family photos:

    1. Photographs and paper items will be extremely fragile when wet; handle with care. Avoid touching the print surface.

    2. Framed photos that become wet should be removed from the frame to air dry flat, when possible. Remove frame backing, loosen edges, and gently free prints from frame.

    3. Rinse photos gently with clear water to clean off silt and debris without touching the surface of the print.

    4. Air dry wet items indoors if possible. Encourage air circulation by opening windows, running room fans,  air conditioners, and dehumidifiers. 

    5. Do not store damp items in plastic bags -- this will cause mold to grow. If you need to store temporarily in plastic containers, leave the lid off or ajar and encourage air circulation.

    Consult a professional conservator for further restoration treatment.

    This information is adapted from Disaster Response & Recovery, American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and Disaster Recovery Conserve-O-Gram, National Parks Service, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training

    Further Resources

    National Institute for Conservation
    National Parks Service, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training

    Download NCPTT Disaster Recovery Conserve-O-Gram pdf

    Photo: NCPTT Wet Recovery Workshop, 2008.


    Treasure Chest Thursday: Writing the History of Your Heirloom

    Do You Know Where Your Stuff Has Been? 

    Sometimes I find an interesting old photo album or a piece of beautiful engraved silver at an estate sale, and I have to wonder, Where did this come from? 

    It's a sad fact that so many family heirlooms end up in the hands of antique dealers and collectors instead in the homes of family members. Fortunately for me, I seem to come from a line of women who took a few extra steps to keep their treasures from becoming lost from the family.

    I'm still finding notes that my mom (and my mother-in-law, too) tucked inside jewelry boxes, vases, and books. Sometimes the notes tell a story of how the item was acquired, and sometimes the story is more about the item itself.

    Moms treasures 21

    One of my favorite heirloom histories is actually pretty short,

    "Nothing special about this but it is nice -- for candy, olives, pickles & etc."

    When you stop and think about it, that note is actually liberating for someone who might feel overwhelmed by inherited treasures and reluctant to part with anything that just might turn out to have some great sentimental value. No one wants to hear their aunt say, "Why in the world would you get rid of that wonderful so and so? It was a gift from Mr. Whozit and it's been halfway around the world and back."

    Mom's notes clued us in to wedding gifts, special memories, and a few items she wanted given to special people.

    Of course, all these little bits of paper can become separated from the item and eventually lost. And there will be a time when someone wonders Who wrote the notes? and What family wedding?

    Moms treasures 17

    If you are the keeper of the stuff in your family, it can be a good idea to use some kind of template or form to help you keep record the history of your keepsakes. It's easy to forget to include a physical description or measurements when you are busy telling stories about an item, but this information can be vital if the item is lost or stolen. Using a template also allows you to take your time and involve other family members, as well as collect photos to illustrate your heirloom history.

    My form is short and simple, but it reminds me to include all the important facts. I've included a link for you to download a copy at the end of this article.

    Some items in your family archive may be special keepsakes; these are great candidates for online registration with The Heirloom Registry. The unique serial number can be attached directly to your heirloom and your notes added by cut-and-paste to the Heirloom Registry online form.

    Any family member can write an heirloom history; it's a great project for a family gathering or  something special to do with school-age children. And, a handwritten history is even more special when the careful script is made by someone you love. Scan the handwritten sheets and save a digital image to attach online; keep the originals in your own heirloom notebook. This notebook (or file folder) is also a good place to preserve the special notes you may find tucked inside various items. 

    Mom was right. The crystal bowl might not have been a wedding gift, but it is pretty nice and I use it often "for candy, olives, pickles, & etc."

    Link to download my Heirloom History form in editable text format -- 

    The Family Curator's Heirloom History Form


    Heirloom Hunting

    Sunny Jane Morton Interviews The Family Curator for Family Tree Magazine

    Not everyone inherits a family archive. But Sunny Jane Morton's article in the Oct-Nov 2012 issue of Family Tree Magazine is full of ideas for finding ancestral artifacts, documents, and photos. 

    Sunny called me last summer to talk about elusive family heirlooms, how to identify them and where to find them. I talked to her by cell phone standing in my in-law's nearly empty living room where my husband and I had been sorting and organizing for weeks. When she asked me What makes a family heirloom? I had to laugh. It wasn't the beautiful grandfather clock still standing against the wall that my husband treasured most from his family home; instead, he brought home a walking stick he once carved for his dad.

    One person's family heirloom is another person's trash. That's probably why so many family artifacts end up on auction sites and thrift stores. Not everyone wants to keep a box of old snapshots showing grams and gramps in front of their house proudly holding the new baby. 

    Sunny's article, "Heirloom Hunting" offers ideas for identifying family treasures in your own home and those found elsewhere, like a tournament trophy displayed at a local country club, or a school yearbook or photo in the local historical society. She also presents tips from experts Joy Shivar, JustaJoy heirloom exchange service and Nancy Howell, eBay genealogical document dealer on how to find family treasures that might be for sale.

    If you are fortunate enough to locate and bring home "new to you" family heirlooms, you'll want to safely preserve and store them for future generations. My new book How to Archive Family Keepsakes offers specific instructions for caring for everything from correspondence and photos to film and cassettes; from furniture and jewelry to military and scouting memorabilia; from china and glassware to dolls and toys, and much much more.

    Talking with Sunny reminded me how easy it is to lose family history because our memories become entwined with tangible objects, whether it's a walking stick or a photograph. It's a good idea to write down the story of the heirloom and keep it with the item, if possible.

    If you've ever wished you inherited more than a surname from your ancestors, you may find ideas for discovering your own heirlooms in Sunny's new article for Family Tree Magazine.

    The October-November 2012 issue also features articles

    • Stolen Moments, by Lisa Alzo -- finding more research time
    • Preventive Medicine, by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack --working with sources
    • Genealogy GPS, by Sunny Jane Morton -- evaluating research with the GPS
    • Weekend Warrior, by David A. Fryxell -- 7 weekend genealogy projects
    • Your Latin American Genealogy Journey, by Chris Staats -- research resources
    • Researching Quaker Ancestors, by James M. Beidler -- religious records
    • Houston City Guide, by Amy Coffin
    • Fort Wayne, Indiana City Guide, by Sunny Jane Morton

    Family Tree Magazine is available from in print or digital editions.

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