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Meet Chelsey Brown, the Interior Designer Who Reunites Lost Heirlooms with Their Owners

If you listened to MyHeritage’s Blast From My Past podcast episode 6, “Heirloom Hunters,” or read our recent story about the returned World War II-era love letters, you may have already had the pleasure of meeting Chelsey Brown and hearing about her work.

Photo of Chelsey Brown

Chelsey Brown

Chelsey Brown is an heirloom hunter: she finds lost artifacts such as letters, photographs, diaries, and family photo albums at flea markets and thrift shops and returns them to their rightful owners or their descendants. She shares her finds and the stories behind them on her Instagram and TikTok accounts, which have amassed a huge following from people all over the world.

MyHeritage is delighted to partner with Chelsey. Our Research team collaborates with her to help with complex cases, and this has resulted in some beautiful success stories. We’ve also already hosted her for a couple of successful Instagram Live events and are looking forward to more!

A different kind of treasure

Chelsey makes her living as an interior designer who specializes in helping people decorate living spaces on a tight budget. Because of her work, she has spent a great deal of time at one of the best places to find high-quality, inexpensive furniture and decorative items: the Chelsea Flea Market. Alongside the quirky antiques and vintage artwork, she found herself drawn to a different kind of treasure: personal documents and photographs.

Beyond her fascination with the historical value of these items, Chelsey recognized that they would be of priceless personal value to the families of the people who once owned them. She decided to do what she could to find the families of the former owners and return the artifacts to them. Chelsey subsequently turned to MyHeritage as the natural choice for conducting her family history research.

Starting with whatever details were mentioned or inscribed on the item — a name, perhaps a date or location — Chelsey searches historical records and family trees on MyHeritage to identify the individual. Then, she finds potential heirs and reaches out to them. If they respond and are interested in the item, Chelsey mails or delivers it to them. She purchases and ships the items at her own expense and never asks for any kind of compensation.

To date, Chelsey has returned hundreds of items — and along the way, she’s come across some incredible stories. Here are just a few examples of her fascinating finds:

A letter from a Holocaust survivor to her only surviving relative

In a New York flea market, Chelsey uncovered a remarkable letter sent from Berlin to the United States in 1945. It turned out that the author of the letter, Ilse, had survived the Holocaust by jumping out of the train to Auschwitz — but tragically, none of her other family members survived, except for one sister who had immigrated to the United States before the war.

The letter

The letter

In the letter, Ilse informs her sister Carla of the deaths of their other family members and describes her grief: “Through the kindness of our liberators, I am able to give you a sign of life from me after so many years. Dad, Mom, Grete, Lottchen and Hermann: no one is alive anymore. My pain is unspeakably big. My husband, whom I married 3.5 years ago, was also taken from me!… When there will be a regular mail connection, I will tell you everything in detail.”

Chelsey set out to find descendants of Carla or Ilse, but found that Carla and her husband, Siegfried, never had children. Chelsey found, however, that Siegfried’s brother Ludwig had a granddaughter — and Chelsey was able to contact her through MyHeritage and return her great-aunt’s letter to her.

A yearbook from 1940 belonging to a war hero

Chelsey purchased this yearbook for $40 from a flea market in New York City — pricey, but it was such an amazing find, she just couldn’t help herself!

A yearbook from 1940

The yearbook

The yearbook, dated 1940, was inscribed with many sweet messages to the young man it belonged to. Chelsey looked the man up on MyHeritage and discovered that he went on to join the army in 1942 and marry his high school sweetheart in 1943. In 1944, he flew in the D-Day Normandy landings. He also fought in the Vietnam War later on, and survived.

Using MyHeritage, Chelsey was able to identify the war hero’s daughter, and reached out to her on social media. The daughter was skeptical at first, as people often are, but when she understood that it wasn’t a scam, she was very excited to receive this precious keepsake that belonged to her father.

Learn more in her Instagram reel here.

A diary full of love poems from 1901

Another amazing find is this diary, written by a 17-year-old girl in 1901:

A diary from 1901

The diary, dated 1901

The diary contained poems and letters, mostly about the boy the girl was in love with in 1901. He went to Washington State, all the way on the other side of the country, to teach for 7 years, and they decided that when they came back, if they still cared for each other, they would get married. Chelsey had to know what happened — and after a lot of research, she discovered that they did, in fact, get married and raise 6 children together!

Learn more details, including some beautiful quotes from the diary, in Chelsey’s TikTok post below:


This diary from 1901 gave me CHILLS #wwi #genealogy #historytok #familyheirlooms #mystery #familydrama #scandal #storytime #historytiktok #familymystery

♬ Nara (Theme to Cold Case) – E.S. Posthumus

Love letters revealing a dark family secret

Not all the items Chelsey finds reveal happy stories. Sometimes, the information contained in an artifact might pose an ethical quandary. For example, she came across a pile of love letters that revealed a dark family secret — one she was afraid might turn some lives upside down.

The letters reveal that a woman had an affair with her fiancé’s best friend during their engagement and possibly into the early years of their marriage. Chelsey wasn’t sure what to do with them. She understood that returning these letters would mean revealing a secret that could cause a lot of pain and might even break a family apart. So for now, she’s holding onto them.

Learn more in Chelsey’s post below:


#storytime #wwi #historytime #historybuff #loveletters #loveaffairs #familyheirlooms #fleamarketfinds #genealogy #myheritage

♬ Falling Apart – Michael Schulte

A trailblazer in the field of heirloom hunting

Chelsey’s fascinating discoveries have garnered a lot of attention both in social media and traditional media, and she has become a globally recognized trailblazer in the field of heirloom hunting. Though she makes most of her finds at the flea market, people have begun shipping her items they find in their attics and basements, and she’s in contact with vendors all over the U.S. who let her know when they come across something that she might find interesting.

We look forward to sharing more exciting stories about family history discoveries she’s made and heirloom returns.

The post Meet Chelsey Brown, the Interior Designer Who Reunites Lost Heirlooms with Their Owners appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Source: My Heritage

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