116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Emmah Lewis’ favorite family heirlooms are her great-great-grandfather’s Stradivarius violin and his old rocking chair.
Both live in her grandmother’s computer room in Cedar Rapids. The violin hangs on the wall in a glass case, and the rocking chair — which has intricate carvings and is stuffed with horse hair — sits nearby.
They are just two of many antiques at her grandma’s house, which all help Emmah learn about her family history and feel connected to her ancestors.
She loves sitting in the chair, which is likely about 100 years old. And the violin — which according to an old receipt was bought in 1912 — has always seemed cool to her.
“I like music and instruments — I have a drum set at my dad’s and guitars,” she said. “I just think it’s pretty interesting that thing can still probably work.”
Both the rocking chair and the violin belonged to her great-great-grandfather, who Emmah’s grandmother, Rachelle Lewis, said was born almost 125 years ago.
“I have some form of heirloom in every room,” Lewis said. “She's been raised with all this stuff.”
When Lewis’ grandmother — Emmah’s great-great-grandmother — died, she inherited lots of her family’s old possessions. Over time, she’s put labels on everything — explaining who used to own it, when they lived and how they are related to Emmah.
“I’m set for history class,” Emmah said.
Lewis, who volunteers at the Linn County Genealogical Society, has also done a lot of research on their family history. That kind of research is called genealogy.
It’s helped her answer questions about her family, like why was her son, Emmah’s dad, born with bright red hair? It turns out red hair runs in their family but skips generations.
Digging into their history feels like doing a puzzle, or solving a mystery like Detective Sherlock Holmes, Lewis said.
If you want to learn more about your own family’s history, Lewis recommended looking at old family photos and asking someone older than you questions about them.
Emmah said it’s best to go straight to the source.
“Grandmas keep just about everything,” she said. “Go look in your grandma’s closet.”