Keeping your heirloom in use or on display will often inspire conversation about the piece, helping you to keep the history alive. I have a piece of my great-grandparents' furniture that my grandparents passed down to me. It's unique and often spawns a "Where did you get that?" from people visiting our home. Then, I get to explain that it's one of only a couple hundred made in Ohio, my great-grandparents bought it in 1918, and it was a memorable fixture in my grandparents' house when I was growing up.
Collections you inherit are great conversation pieces, especially if you have them on display so you can see everything at once. If your heirloom happens to be your family's silver, use it. Silver is sturdy and holds up better with regular polishing and use. Looking at old photos is a great way to preserve special memories, but you need to be careful with them. Exposure to light can quickly fade a photo, so keep it away from sun and turn off lights when you leave the room where it's stored. Better yet, make a copy and frame it, then store the original for preservation.