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Genealogy has been big business in this country for quite some time, think of hugely popular websites like Ancestry.com or TV shows such as "Who Do You Think You Are?" These mostly trace family lineages, providing lists of names and dates. But there's a huge opportunity when it comes to family heirlooms and the stories they tell.

Greg Collard, of member station WFAE, profiles a North Carolina woman trying to make a business out of connecting people to their past.

GREG COLLARD, BYLINE: At the recent International Collectibles and Antiques Show in Charlotte, dealers spread out items in different booths. The warehouse looked like a flea market. Its old-school, then there's Joy Shivar on her laptop.

JOY SHIVAR: The way it works, when you join you list up to 20 surnames that are important to you.

COLLARD: She's demonstrating JustAJoy.com. Enter a name in a database and see if something hits.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The name was Boardman.

SHIVAR: Boardman, B-O-A-R...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: B-O-A-R-D-M-A-N.

SHIVAR: OK, from North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: First name was Moses...

SHIVAR: OK...

COLLARD: 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.

SHIVAR: We do just provide a platform where these kinds of connections can happen.

COLLARD: 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 a most wanted poster from 1904.

SHIVAR: (Reading) And he's a crap shooter and a heavy drinker. He's a glib talker and all around crook and hobo.

COLLARD: 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.

SHIVAR: Lots of families know that there was one. They know it was lost. And since it was a Bible it probably wasn't destroyed. So they feel like it's out there somewhere.

COLLARD: Like Macon, Georgia.

LILA DAVIS: Now I have this Bible, and I love it.

COLLARD: Lila Davis of Virginia Beach located a family Bible in Macon, where her mother's family is from. Someone found the book while cleaning a church.

DAVIS: I got an email. I looked at the information on it and I thought: Hey, wait a minute - that sounds like somebody in my ancestry and double checked. And it was my third great grandfather. And it's a Bible dates back to 1810 and it listed a lot of family - just names, birthdates and death dates.

COLLARD: 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.

SHIVAR: Obviously with it being a membership site, you're not going to join unless they realize there's actually items available. So we had to have a large database before we even introduced it.

COLLARD: The site went live two years ago. JustAJoy boasts items connected to 50,000 surnames. But with just about 1,000 memberships at $20 dollars 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.

JORDAN JONES: What interested me about it is it's kind of on the edge of what people think about genealogical in a wider sense, to include family history and the stories in these artifacts that the family had.

COLLARD: 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 a life on the road selling memberships from one Antiques Road Show to the next.

For NPR News, I'm Greg Collard, in Charlotte.

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