September 26, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The older I get, the more tangible memories and items passed on from generation to generation become invaluable to me in retaining my family’s history. 

After my father packed up his home in Iowa, he discovered he had unknowingly stored away his parents’ wedding certificate in a back closet. It was a treasure that I had never seen before. 

This ornate certificate was not an ordinary legal document, it was a work of art. Beautiful drawings of traditional marriage iconography—flowers, bells, and shimmering silver ornaments—were speckled throughout the certificate. The bottom of the document read, “Published by Jennings & Graham, Cincinnati, Ohio.” With today’s technology, I was able to do a simple search on the name and learned these certificates were printed in Germany and distributed in places such as North Dakota and Pennsylvania. They are so ornate and beautiful that they are being featured on sites like ETSY and eBay, with names and dates of strangers sprawled across them, and selling for good sums.

As it turns out, I only needed to hold off showcasing my paternal grandparents’ wedding certificate until this year, as my father gifted me the century-old document to enjoy now, rather than waiting to inherit it.

My full-blooded German grandfather, Otto Nuehring, married my grandmother, Ruth Johnson, his Norwegian and Swedish sweetheart, on October 2, in 1919, in Belmond, Iowa. Together, they farmed and raised six children, with my father, Robert, being the youngest. After many years of farming, they retired to Mason City, Iowa. After celebrating 62 years of marriage, Otto passed away in October of 1981. Ironically, my dear grandmother, Ruth, also passed away in the month of October in 2007—just shy of 100 years old. She was known to many as “Grandma Sugar Cookie,” due to her special recipe and sweet nature. Fortunately, my siblings and I were able to spend every Sunday with my grandparents and extended family, creating countless cherished memories. I can vividly remember walking into their home and being greeted by the many wonderful smells of my grandmother’s kitchen!

Having such a special bond with my grandmother made having the original marriage certificate all the more special to me. It’s with this discovery that I had the idea for our October DIY—to preserve and display family heirlooms on walls and tables, instead of packing them away in closets and storage bins. You can do this with photographs, certificates, and any other memorabilia that is important to your family.

Preserving my grandparents’ marriage certificate was important to me, and I knew that, due to the age of the document, great care and consideration were essential. Many people might advise to have a good copy made and store the original away someplace safe. However, I opted to trust professionals with the framing process so I could enjoy this treasure for years to come without damaging the original certificate.

Methods used in framing a photo or work of art can have a significant effect on the preservation of that item. Important choices must be made, including: what material to use to mat and back the item; what technique to use to mount it to the backboard; what frame to use; whether to use a glaze or UV protective glass, and more. Do your research on the specific item you want to preserve and follow the experts’ advice. 

Pick up an antique frame at the local thrift store and spice it up with a fresh coat of paint, or buy something new that fits your style and home decor. Be sure to choose a color that will pair well with your document, as this can either enhance or distract from the piece. 

The bottom line is that family heirlooms do not “come alive” if they are tucked away in storage. Bring them out and into the open and share these reminders of loved ones with others and yourself. 


This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Sandy Matson's grandparents' wedding certificate/photo