Why are some things kept for years and passed down through generations while many other items are thrown away? The ‘lockdown clear-out’ was common, and with this in mind, we wanted to see what sort of treasures our participants had been holding on to, and why. Here is a selection of what they shared with us:
This is my very special doll called Mandy. She was made by my best friend who was Auntie Connie. We became friends when she was 65 and I was 5 years old, we wrote to each other every week, she sent me stamps, introduced me to Enid Blyton, and I went to tea at her home every 3 weeks. (...) The doll is very special as she had arthritic fingers and she sewed her by hand - it took her many weeks. We continued our friendship until my twenties, when her dementia was so severe she could no longer communicate with me. I still miss her.
Mum's Memory Box
At the beginning of the lockdown, I finally got around to completing a memory box for my mum Anna Moore who had lived with me for five years before she passed away in 2015. It took me a long time to find the right box that I could see into. This was my cutlery box for cutlery brought out on special occasions. (...) It's got a sparkling top she used to wear to tea dances, her wedding ring and a lock of her lovely white hair I took when we visited her at the undertakers. Give it a go.
This is a photo of grandad from the book "Three Cheers From the Derrys". He was wounded during the battle of the Somme (...) In the book, it describes how a shell landed and a man was buried up to his head and was reciting The Lords Prayer, then his head went limp. It was thought he was dead, so he was left. A letter was sent home to say Granda was dead. When back checking the field they dug granda out and it was discovered he was alive. It is only in recent years we were able to put the pieces together and realise the story in the book was about Grandad (...).
Letters to Tooth Fairy
While looking through my recipe books I came across a letter that the Tooth Fairy wrote to my eldest son when he was 6.
The suitcase is special as it’s like the one came from Jamaica with, and also my dada and grandfather and I’ve been begging for years for one of them but they won’t part with them. I got this one in an auction many years ago in Belfast and I love it. In fact, I am a bit obsessed with old suitcases and have various old leather ones I use to store my clothes instead of drawers. But there is a mystery inside this one...
This is my Granny's recipe for shah biscuits I have been looking for it for years and found it today... yeah! There was a time when my kids gave me the latest celebrity cookbook for Christmas etc. I couldn't count how many I have and could count on 1 hand the number of recipes I have tried so they all add to the burden of stuff I hoard. Now kids just ask to google 'ok google give me a recipe for banana bread' and voila!!
I've got rid of most childhood annuals, but always found it hard to part with these. To be honest, I don't have a lot of things around this house I am overly sentimental about.
I was born in 1969 and all I knew growing up was the 'Troubles' around me. I just wanted a normal life, like children/teenagers in other countries and I escaped a lot into books and comics before I left Northern Ireland for 30 years at the age of 18. My dad would always bring me home a bar of chocolate (the only sweet treat of the week!) and a comic on a Friday and out of all the Jinty, June, Tammy style offerings, Misty was my absolute favourite...spooky stories, and ghostly goings-on. So different from ordinary life - probably set me up for the goth I became in the 80s haha!
Lisa Rea Currie
This is my Granda's guitar. He taught me how to play classical guitar on it. His whole family were really musical and I've found records in newspaper archives of the family band he was in with his Dad, brother and sister in the early 1950s. Apparently Ruby Murray knew them and was in the circuit around the same time and my Great-Granny would help her with her make-up. In the 1920s the family bought instruments with a lump-sum won on the horses (...) My great-grandfather bought a steel Hawaiian guitar and that is what he played in the family band. Just recently my grandfather's cousin found me through ancestry.co.uk, her son plays steel guitar too because of the same legacy from a lucky win in the horses.
Married in Red Club
My wedding shoes! Dyed to March the dress - yep I got married in red! We eloped... Married my first boyfriend - met him again after 30yrs! Now that’s a story for an evening with a few glasses of wine!
Some time ago, my son John scanned all the family photos onto my pc. I never really looked at them then, but with this project I have started and am amazed at how far they go back. I found this one of my parents: my father is wearing the clerical collar and my mother the pendant which I have. The occasion would have been a dining in night … my father was a chaplain in the RAF. The picture poses many questions...
This is a photograph taken on the opening of the factory in 1920 by my grandfather. The official name was Mc Conville Brothers, hemstitches and finishers. In the early days, the main work was stitching linen and cotton handkerchiefs for the flourishing linen industries centred around Lurgan and Portadown. He employed mostly local women. The market for cotton handkerchiefs declined greatly in the 1970s and my father diversified into protective clothing.
I along with my aunt have taken on the role of finding out about our family history on my mum’s side. A lot of my family on my grandfather’s side come from East Belfast, very near to where I live now. Last September we devised a walking tour of the area and the different locations where our ancestors grew up.
This postcard, bought as a souvenir at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam has moved house with me 3 times. (...) I don't remember a huge amount about the museum itself other than it being crammed with people. Amsterdam was a world apart from Belfast, a place where children could have blue hair and the police went around on rollerblades. I have sometimes thought about whether objects like this postcard, mass-produced and easy to replace, would have the same meaning if you did have to replace them. It seems the significance is maybe more in the holding onto it for a long time.
Diaries & Letters
I have no “family heirlooms” as such, but did un-earth lots of hoarded diaries from 1990-1992ish and letters from me aged 16 and 17 to my now-husband from the early 90’s. I have cringed and laughed at the contents but am mostly amazed that I managed to write so much and so intensely! In contrast, I started a Pandemic diary in March and managed a single entry. I also found a few cross-stitched handmade cards from my Mum and a little photo scrapbook she made for us which can be future family heirlooms!
Fireplace & Photos
We sorted out three things - a bag of old framed photos, a fireplace and a jar of pink peppers. (...) These photos are miniatures of family pictures which we normally put up either side of our fireplace. We took them down when we moved back to Ireland ten years ago and haven't put them up since. So it is time to sort them out - Helen got them out and picked which she wanted to go up.
Pieces of Childhood
Rooting through some old family things just now when I came across this. Part of an envelope circa 1963 sent to my mum from her cousin Sue in Canada. There was a lock of my childhood hair in it, but it was the WHO message that grabbed my attention.
Well, were you ever sorry you started something? I decided I would start with the garage (...) There were so many things in there that I had actually forgotten about, but one of the them was a treasured 'famine pot', given to me by my late father in law. I remembered putting it in the garage to keep it safe but then forgot all about it. I'm not sure if it is an actual 'famine pot', but he was convinced it was so that was good enough for me. The pot will always be a reminder of him and it's now sitting in the garden and will stay there. It should have been there all along.
I guess I am the only one spending this global pandemic in a different country than the one I'd call home. So my setting is not that ideal, and it was a bit of a struggle to find something but there we are! My dad has the same camera (Nikon) and when we saw it a few years ago at a flea market in Schalke (DE), he got it for me because the new camera had a different lens and a bag. I like documenting (audio) visual, and the reason behind that is my dad taking photos with different cameras, developing them and sharing the process for years and years. And having evenings where we put on the projector and take a stroll down memory lane.
This is my son's old baby t-shirt that says 'Solidarity'. I keep it in my sock drawer for some reason, so I see it every day. We had another one that said 'Teach Me How To Protest', but that has been lost. I think this t-shirt's first outing was to Belfast Pride, and then an environmental protest, I forget which. Having to home school during lockdown is hard and not usually very productive in our house. But I've really cherished having this added time with the kids to think and ask bigger questions about the world.
My dad, in his 80’s, months before he passed away, brought me out to the golf course to show me how to play golf. He lined up the first stroke, showed me the hand-grip, took a swing, and, Hole-In-One! This was the first one in his life. But something more - Couple of weeks later he took my son out to show him, and, yep, Hole-In-One Again! Those 2 balls sat in this oval dish in my parents house with the dates written on them. Today, going into my mum’s house for the first time since lockdown, only one is now there.
Dağ kekiği (Mountain thyme). This is a type of thyme that grows around the village in Balıkesir (Turkey) where my maternal grandparents live. My grandpa and I went for a walk in May 2019 to collect the thyme so we can dry them for tea. We would visit my grandparents in July/August and I've never got to experience the collective walk to the place full of blooming thyme. Until last year!
Usually, every house has a wee bit of dried thyme hanging in the kitchen, and the one in the picture made it all the way from Turkey to Germany (where we live) to Northern Ireland (where I am currently).
Michael & Mary Wailes
I come from County Durham which was a prominent coal mining part of North East England. Here I have 2 ledgers and a tally book which belonged to my grandfather. Before the nationalisation of The Coal Board, my ancestors owned small coal pits in Southwest County Durham. Mary was given these by my late Auntie Bella in 1982 when she was teaching in Crook and there was a school project being done on Coal Mining.
In my wise wisdom I decided now was the time to sort through my thousands of photos and get them in to albums. To my shock I found a brown paper bag in the middle of the photos and when I opened it there was the cap my Mammy crocheted for my first communion 35 years ago. Cap destroyed as the colour from the bag had dyed it. 48 hours of different treatments and although not perfect I am much happier with how it is. I was completely gutted. Now to order acid free paper and box to store it safely so this never happens again.