Thrift store detective Chelsea Brown hunts down lost heirlooms and returns them to their owners

NEWYORK — Chelsey Brown is an author and self-proclaimed ‘Heirloom Hunter’ with a mission: To reunite long-lost heirlooms with their owners.

“Basically what I do is find lost heirlooms and I return them to their rightful family using genealogy,” said Chelsea, who often spends her days strolling through New York City’s many flea markets and thrift stores in its quest.

From beloved family photos to touching love letters from world wars, she says it’s not uncommon to find these very personal heirlooms at flea markets, but not for the reasons you expect.

“There’s a myth that when you see items at a flea market, they get thrown away,” she says, noting that that’s simply not the case. “These items are ultimately only available at flea markets and home movie thrift stores, ninety-five percent of the time.”

When Chelsey finds an heirloom, the real work begins. She uses her knowledge of genealogy and online tools like to track down any living or deceased owners of the items. She then contacts families she can find, hoping to reconnect them with their heirlooms.

“I have to say that some of my favorite items to return are love letters,” she said, “Because they tell you not just about the person, but about the couple. Love letters. just tells you something about people and family that no record can.”

Chelsey often encourages others to visit their local flea markets to see if they can help find lost heirlooms. “Researchers and genealogists aren’t the only ones who can do this,” she notes. “You can too.”

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Dais Johnston

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