Keepsakes or Heirlooms?

K2020As the generations pass away behind us, we inherit bits and bobs that were once owned by family members. We may also have gifts that we’ve kept over the years because a much loved relative has given them to us. Unless your family was well off I think of these items as keepsakes – they evoke the person who owned them or who gave them to you, and they often have little monetary value. For example, there are decorative items of my mother’s or grandmother’s that are not to my personal taste but that I may keep just because they take me back to childhood times.

For me, heirlooms invoke thoughts of expensive items bequeathed from generation to generation. At first thought I have few of these but perhaps I do even though they don’t have great financial value. The reality is, the further back we go to our immigrant ancestors, the fewer items we’re likely to have. Most came in on government assistance schemes, had little money, and brought little with them. While they died they may have left something to their families, but where those items ended up may be anyone’s guess.

Keep all special thoughts and memories for lifetimes to come. Share these keepsakes with others to inspire hope and build from the past, which can bridge to the future. Mattie Stepanek, author.


I have quite a few keepsakes from my paternal grandparents – one of the advantages of being the only child of an only child, I guess. Most have very little financial value but still I remember them from when they were in my grandparents’ house.

My grandmother’s silver mirror was among the silver items I used to polish for her regularly for a bit of pocket money. In due course it may become an heirloom as I’ve bequeathed it to my only granddaughter and talked to her about the history.


Spoons embossed with my great-grandmother’s initials; passed down to her daughter and then to me, and will ulitmately go to my daughters and grandchildren.

Perhaps more in the heirloom category, though not in value, are the silver spoons which came from my great grandmother. I assume they were part of her trousseau as they are engraved with the initials of her maiden name. I should really put out my small book on silver hallmarks and work out the date of manufacture.

I have little keepsakes from my maternal great-aunt Emily, who used to give me teacups for my birthday or Christmas or Easter. They remind me that she was like a grandmother to me when mum’s mother died young.


Tiny teacups from Aunty Emily.

Some things you touch, or even just see, and they take you back years to a time and place with a particular person.

Mr Cassmob also has some keepsakes from his grandparents eg an ivory cribbage board and some glass bowls.

cribbage board

I wonder which of our belongings and nick knacks, will be touchstones of memory for our own children.  


Among the emotional “treasures” I have are my paternal grandfather’s medals from World War I and the fob watch, very simple, which is engraved with his father’s date of death, Christmas Day 1901. I’d love to know whether it had been a gift on that day, or if he had it engraved himself in memory of his dad. Had I never researched the family history I’d have had no idea of the significance.

One of the heirlooms I’ve now got it my grandparents’ gramophone which holds so many memories of happy times listening to old music with them. Or my grandfather’s blanket box which I’m told he used for his belongings when being moved around by the railways. In my dreams it has a more distant history as it looks very like the trunks that the immigrants brought with them but that’s all it is, a dream.

Grandmas bible

This bible seems to have been a gift to my grandmother at the time of her departure from Scotland

And what of books with inscriptions from when grandparents may have won a school prize. What “value” do they have?

As I said before, items with little intrinsic value can be of significant emotional value just because of who they belonged to, and their relationship to you. I reflected on this some years ago with this post.
With the Marie Kondo movement to declutter your home and the reluctance of the “younger generation” to take on the work intensive silver and crystal, how do we prioritise what to keep or even whether we keep it at all?

I found this book, Downsizing with Family History in Mind by Devon Noel Lee and Andrew Lee, helpful in clarifying my thoughts on the keeping of keepsakes or heirlooms.

How do you handle your family’s “treasures” and decide what to keep?

Tuesday Memories: the wicker chair

Somehow Monday passed me by in a flurry of Irish research…I really need to pre-program some Monday Memories posts. Today I’m just going to share with you some photos of a family heirloom which is now with my eldest daughter. Among her photos is also one of my granddaughter taken in the same chair. I really think that I have one of DD1 in it as well…but where?

Dad as a small boy in the chair with his parents Dinny & Kit.

Dennis, Catherine & Norman Kunkel crop

This photo of Dad and his cousin Belle may have been taken on the same day. I have the little wicker rocker, which I played with as a child.

Norman & cousin Belle

Dad as a young man in the chair with his mum, in the late 1930s/early 40s.

norman and kit in chair

Yours truly as an infant in the chair with my Mum.

Pauleen & Joan Jan-Feb 1949

No chance that the chair would cope with someone sitting on the arms now, but it has survived 90+ years so it’s doing well.

All these photos were taken at my grandparents’ house, which was next door to ours, and was my second home. You can read my story about it here.




Running Writing Heirlooms

We all know the thrill of seeing an ancestor’s signature for the first time. Somehow it makes them seem that much closer to us.

P1190433In her Heirlooms podcast Maria (from Genies Down Under) suggests leaving a sample of your handwriting for descendants, perhaps even some of your family history. Quite honestly this would be a challenge beyond palaeography with some of my notes <smile>. In fact future readers may wonder if it was encrypted.

There’s increasing discussion that we are losing our familiarity with “running writing”, both reading and writing it, that we always type and never write. Is that true for you? Yes I certainly prefer to type stories or family history, not just for legibility but also so it can be stored digitally. Also because these days I think through my fingers, if that makes sense, and my writing can’t keep up. Perhaps we should also be storing a digital copy of something we’ve handwritten. And while we’re at it, why not save a voice recording?

Maybe it’s my career in administration but I have no problem recognising who wrote what annotation on a file (provided I’ve seen their writing before). I can almost always tell who a letter or card comes from without cheating and looking at the back, or opening it first.

How about you? Do you still send snail mail letters, cards or notes? Do you recognise your friends’ or family’s writing? If the answers are a resounding “no” perhaps it’s a resolution for 2013 to occasionally revert to the old ways and use non-digital social media. After all one day someone may think that card is an heirloom. What do you think?

By the way I’ve started another blog (yes, mad I know!) called Bewitched by Books. It’s not rocket science to figure out its content so if you’re interested why not pop over and have a look. Today’s post is a bit of 1950s fun which will be of interest to those with an interest in the more recent “olden days”, and life in our youth, well mine anyway.

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: the heirloom that got away

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 6’s topic is Family Heirlooms. For which family heirloom are you most thankful? How did you acquire this treasure and what does it mean to you and your family? 

As a child I lived next door to my paternal grandparents so it was rather like having two homes. I knew where “everything” was and largely had free rein. Through all those years my grandmother kept one drawer in her kitchen dresser for her family news clippings. Into it went all the notices for births, deaths and marriages that occurred in her family, and probably her friendship circle, though I must admit I never knew her to have a friend other than family. Of course she was quite elderly when I was growing up (hmm thinking on it, when I was a child she was probably a similar age to me right now). She’d also emigrated with her mother and siblings when she was in her twenties so I guess that made them even more tight-knit.

I’ve spoken to different members of my grandmother’s family over the years and we all hold the memory of her BDM drawer. As a teenager I could so easily have talked to my grandmother about the family stories represented in that drawer and built a family tree from them, but I was a typically self-obsessed teenager, focused on school and uni. My love then was science not history so this great opportunity for family knowledge was wasted on me.

So what happened to this family heirloom collection?

My grandmother died near Christmas one year when I was down from Papua New Guinea on holidays but her effects weren’t sorted for some time. My best guess is that in the cleaning-up process this “scrap” paper went into the bin. A couple were salvaged, including those relating to her brother’s violent death in a road accident, but most have long gone. It would be nice to think that if I’d been around I might have boxed all those clippings up, but if I’m honest I may well have taken no interest – in those days I was preoccupied with our young baby. I’d also have lost the opportunity to understand their significance as my father was never big on family stories. I do have other heirlooms that have family significance though none has any financial value. I also have furniture from my grandparents’ house. I treasure them and will hand them down to my children and grandchildren but somehow the “one that got away” is the one that haunts my “might-have-beens”.