How to Donate Heirlooms to a Historical Society

Is that a butter churn collecting dust in your attic?
Is that a butter churn collecting dust in your attic?

Have you inherited an unattractive heirloom that your spouse refuses to allow guests -- or even family -- to see? Are you afraid that your great-grandmother's armoire will be sold at a garage sale after you're gone? Instead of letting your heirlooms rot away in the attic, why not donate them to a historical society?

Historical societies are nonprofit organizations that preserve and maintain the historical record of places, people and events from a bygone era. Most historical societies are focused on commemorating the history of specific geographical places, such as states, towns and counties. Groups like the American Jewish Historical Society work to preserve the history of a specific culture. Other organizations, such as the Eastern Auto Racing Society and the French Colonial Historical Society, are dedicated to specific historical activities and events.

Making a donation to a historical society might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're bequeathed your great-aunt's butter churn, but doing so will help you preserve a piece of your family's history and educate future generations. If you have a few family stories to pass down about the heirloom and its owner, a historical society may even educate people about your great-aunt. (Oh, and one last perk: Most donations are tax deductible!)

What's the catch? There are thousands of historical societies in the United States, but most of them won't be able to accept or give your heirloom the prominence you feel it deserves. Coming up, we'll learn why your family heirloom might end up in a historical society's storeroom.