Genealogy has become an industry -- with sites like ancestry.com, and TV shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are?”
But these trace “family lineage.” What about the heirlooms and stories that fill the history of a family tree? A Huntersville woman is trying to make a business out of connecting people to their past.
At the recent International Collectibles and Antiques Show in Charlotte, dealers spread out items in different booths. The warehouse looked like a flea market. It’s old-school.
Then there’s Joy Shivar on her laptop.
“The way it works, when you join you list up to 20 surnames of interest you,” Shivar says as she demonstrates JustAJoy.com to a man who stopped by her table.
The website bills itself as a family heirloom exchange for sellers and buyers. That’s not unusual - there is eBay, after all.
But unlike eBay, JustAJoy doesn’t take a cut of transactions. Instead, it sells memberships for $20 a year. It’s more like a matching service.
“We do just provide a platform where these kinds of connections can happen,” Shivar says.
Once registered, you’re notified by email whenever something else is listed for sale that includes one of the surnames you list.
Joy Shivar says it can be anything – even an old most wanted poster. Take this one from 1904 when authorities were searching for a man named Charles Jamieson:
“He’s a crap shooter and a heavy drinker. He’s a glib talker and all around crook and hobo,” poster reads.
Or maybe it’s an old Army picture of your grandfather’s platoon, a 150-year-old love letter, or a long-lost family Bible -- Shivar says that’s among the most sought-after items.
“Lots of families know that there was one, they know it was lost and since it was a Bible they know it probably wasn’t destroyed so they feel like it’s out there somewhere.”
Like Macon, Ga.
“Now I have this Bible, and I love it,” says Lila Davis of Virginia Beach.
She located a family Bible in Macon, where her mother’s family is from. Someone found the book while cleaning a church.
“I got an email and I said, ‘Hey, that sounds like somebody in my ancestry,’ and it was my 3rd great grandfather. The bible dates back to 1810, and it listed a lot of family names, birthdates and deathdates.”
That’s the type of story Shivar likes to hear – when orphaned heirlooms are returned. She grew up collecting. Her mother ran an antique store, and Shivar briefly owned one. But she took her passion in a different direction about a decade ago. First, she developed a database. That only took six years.
“Obviously, with a membership site you’re not going to join unless you realize there’s something available. We had to have a large database before we introduced it.”
The site went live two years ago. JustaJoy boasts items connected to 50,000 surnames. But, with just about 1,000 memberships at $20 each, it remains mostly a labor of love, although she also sells items on the site.
Still, the president of the National Genealogical Society is impressed. Jordan Jones says he sees a lot of startup genealogy businesses related to tracing ancestry, but doesn’t know of any like JustAJoy.
“What interested me about it, is it’s kind of on the edge of what people think about when it comes to genealogy in a larger sense to include family history and the stories that are in these artifacts that a family had,” Jones says.
He sees it as a niche competitor to eBay, like the arts and crafts site Etsy.
But Shivar dreams of having a site that’s as big as ancestry.com. Until then, it’s life on the road selling memberships from one antiques road show to the next.