It used to be that, for displaying family heirlooms, our grandmothers’ houses had glass curio cabinets full of fragile heirlooms. They were fun to look at, but could feel sterile and even forgotten. While this still works for many of us, others want to get those heirlooms out of their glass cases! Others also want to get heirlooms out of old boxes in the basement or cellar. Showing off treasures and keepsakes helps keep their memories alive by using them as conversation pieces.

Photos and Art

Get your old photos out of their boxes and display them! Find nice frames, possibly with mattes if you want to frame a specific person, and hang them on the wall. If you have limited space, try displaying pictures of your grandparents and great-grandparents alone. If not, try creating a collage of your ancestors on the wall! You can use your ancestors’ photos to decorate and add inspiration to your personal research desk.

Do the same with art. And this doesn’t have to be from your ancestors! You can frame art your children or grandchildren have done, especially if it’s something they did when they were very small–like handprint paintings. This will make a great treasure for when they grow up (if they haven’t already).

Shadow Boxes

If you’ve got bulky, fragile, or oddly-shaped small items, try shadow boxes! These are great for keys, cameos, glasses, jewelry, and more. You can even theme them by what your grandfather owned, or putting jewelry from both grandparents in the same box. However your imagination strikes, let it run wild!

Then, just like a framed photo, you can hang these on the wall or set them up where everyone can see them.

Mantles, Tables, and Shelves

One of the best places to display heirlooms? Pick a shelf–any shelf–in your house! Break up stacks of books by artfully arranging a treasured possession between them or in front of them, or as a bookend if your item is sturdy enough. Or arrange it between photos–especially if you have any of the item’s former owner! That helps tie your heirloom to a specific person, and then to special memories. You can also do this on mantles and other sturdy fixtures around the house.

Books like your MyCanvas photo book look great on coffee tables! Here, it becomes a fixture and a talking point, and something for visiting family to look at. It’s an easy way to spread the love of your family history!

When choosing a table or shelf, just be sure that it’s out of reach of little ones. Some heirlooms can be shared with all ages, but others are fragile. But don’t discourage interest! If a child, grandchild, niece, or nephew shows interest in your heirloom, take some time to sit down with them and tell them about the item. You may spark future fascination in family history!


Finally, some of us are lucky enough to have sewn items from our ancestors, like quilts or clothing. For the latter, you can find large shadow boxes of the type used to preserve wedding dresses. For quilts, though, you have a couple of options.

You can drill a curtain rod into two studs on your wall (making sure first that it’s strong enough to hold the weight!) and drape the quilt over it. This shows off the pattern for all to see, and should keep it free from damage. If possible, go for a rod or rack that has a shelf over it. You can use this shelf to display other heirlooms!

Some quilts are sturdy enough or see so little use that you can put them into guest bedrooms or on the foot of your own bed. This is a great way to keep interacting with the past. And again, this makes it a conversation piece.


What are your tips for displaying family heirlooms through your house? We’d love to share ideas with you!