“Adoption—the sentimental value of mementos and heirlooms”

“I had never seen a picture of myself as an infant and knew nothing about the first year of my life until I discovered the identity of my foster family. The box of mementos, photographs and relics they gave me thirty-two years later was priceless. Its contents stimulated memories I didn’t even know I had and helped explain the mysterious circumstances of my birth and adoption. Have you ever assigned sentimental values to objects that commemorate and rekindle old memories?” Judith Land 

Adoption Detective | Judith Land

Souvenirs, mementos, memorabilia, sentimental keepsakes and heirlooms that remind us of others triggers nostalgia and accomplishes the goal of living on in the hearts of others.

Most of us hope that we will live on in the hearts of others. Our life is a collection of stories that we weave together from what we can recall based on fleeting images and pieces of the past. Mementos are artifacts that stimulate our memories and trigger storytelling; they are one of the best ways of being remembered by those left behind. Most of our memories are a matter of love and the sorrows love brings. The more we love someone the stronger the memory of them becomes because our emotions expand when thinking about the past.

There is pleasure in recognizing old things; it is natural to attach a sentimental value to things that connect us to the past. But, for adoptees, the memory of exile, trauma and a sense of loss is an experience of bereavement compounded by the disappearance of family, country, language, culture, time and reference points. The pleasure of remembering is taken from them when there is no longer anyone there to share their memories with. Life is difficult for adoptees and exiles when life’s trajectory has been altered and the past purposefully expunged from the historical record. Their early memories may seem forgotten, but they are often simply filed too deep to be recalled at will, and tend to resurface when least expected. Their recollection of circumstances that have caused suffering and pain motivates them to learn more about the past and drives a yearning to seek sanctuary in a time and place that they once belonged. Life goes by so quickly that we can hardly capture it, but when we do, we cherish the memories and emotions those moments evoke. Photographs capture fleeting moments that are instantly gone forever and impossible to reproduce. They have an enduring value because they remind us of tangible things we can see and touch associated with the event or person that gain special meanings and relevance.

“Mementos” are symbols of a person or experience that has no real significance other than a psychological connection to a past memory that can only be articulated by the owner. A memento is any personal possession that the owner attaches significance to because it has a nostalgic value. “Memorabilia” are valued for a connection to a past event that brings back memories. They are anything kept, or given to be kept, as a token of friendship or affection as a remembrance. They are often stored in display cases to be preserved for posterity. Memorabilia are treasured for its connection to a special event that brings back memories of a bygone era, a person or an event. Trophies, metals, diplomas and autographs recall such events and offer proof of a personal connection to a time, place, person or accomplishment.

“Keepsakes” are gifts that evoke memories of a person or event with which it is associated. They may be considered as reminders, relics, remembrances, emblems, antiques, souvenirs, tokens and prayers. Family bibles, letters, personal artifacts, albums that contain photos, historic documents, and descriptions of persons and significant events make valuable keepsakes because they are sentimental and nostalgic. Baby books that define the story of how a child is welcomed into his or her family makes it easier to tell each child’s unique story. A description of chronological events helps guide them through past happenings by stirring memories and providing a positive sense of self-identity. Life books, locks of hair, metals, badges, pedigrees, musical instruments, paintings, jewelry, relics, handmade items and antiques attached to relatives or someone of importance are popular keepsakes.

“Souvenirs” are remembrances that trigger automatic emotional responses that have a powerful impact on memory. Souvenirs are objects that help us recall a place visited, a special occasion, an event or a person of relevance. Souvenirs associated with weddings, anniversaries, honeymoons, expensive purchases, and vacations often trigger powerful feelings of nostalgia that encourage return visits. An “heirloom” is something, perhaps an antique, jewelry, clock, painting or furniture attached to an inheritance or estate that has been passed down through family members.

A well organized collection of souvenirs, mementos, memorabilia, sentimental keepsakes and family heirlooms preserves the family history, triggers nostalgia, provides clues to self-identity and accomplishes the goal of living on in the hearts of others.

Judith Land



Judith Land Blog | Adoption Quotes | Book

Souvenir, ricordi, cimeli, ricordi sentimentali e cimeli che ricordano gli altri: la nostalgia e compie l’obiettivo di vivere nel cuore degli altri.



About Judith Land

Judith Land lives in Colorado and Arizona with husband and coauthor Martin Land. Judith is a former nurse, retail shop owner, college instructor and avid outdoor person. Her book "Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child" is a true story detailing the journey of Judith Romano, foster child and adoptee, as she discovers fragments of her background, and then sets out to solve the mystery as an adult. She has reached readers in 192 countries. "Mothers and fathers everywhere in the world need to understand that children are forever and always." --Judith Land
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11 Responses to “Adoption—the sentimental value of mementos and heirlooms”

  1. Great post! I am doing academic research on the history of tokens of identity. The topic is near and dear to me as an original mother that left journals and audio diaries for my son at the adoption agency, so he would know who he was and I would recognize him. I know that I was not the only mother that tokens or memontos, do you know of other adopted persons that have received them, too?

    • Judith Land says:

      The idea of presenting meaningful gifts to a child is a topic that surfaces most often during adoption reunions. I have heard of birth mothers leaving keepsake gifts from the heart with their child in the hope of evoking positive thoughts, stimulating curiosity, and encouraging understanding and forgiveness, although one can never be certain how the adoptive parents will react. Photographs, heart shaped engraved lockets, pendants, jewelry, quilts and other handmade items are often viewed as treasured mementos and keepsakes that trigger nostalgia and provide positive links and clues to the past. An audio tape would have an extremely high value to me—to actually hear someone’s voice from the past would leave a powerful message and a lasting impression. I do like the idea of leaving mementos as bread crumbs in the hope that they will encourage adoptees to think positively about the past and willingly seek the truth by retracing their steps in the sands of time. I think what you did is a good thing and a positive step toward future reconciliation.

  2. Linda Hoye says:

    This post reminds me of my two special mementos: gold lockets, almost identical, one that belonged to my birth mom and the other to my adoptive mom. It was serendipitous how I came to posess the one that had belonged to my birth mom. I wrote about it in my memoir Two Hearts: An Adoptees Journey Through Grief To Gratitude.

    • Judith Land says:

      Thanks Linda. I appreciate your comments. I love serendipitous experiences. I can relate to the joy you must have felt when discovering the two gold lockets. Your book “Two Hearts” sounds very compelling. Judging from your readers comments, it is an inspiration to all who read it. I will add it to my list. Judith

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  5. Hi Judith, I enjoyed this entry a lot. Some might see my house as “cluttered” with nick-nacks and photos. To me it’s part of who I am now and who I’ve been in the past, especially my old photographs of both adoptive and birth family. Pictures inspire my writing.

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  8. As an adoptee and admitted collector of many little trinkets, I’d like to offer a thank you due to the ‘aha’ moment experienced while reading this post.
    To sum up, the dearest memories I have are at our family farm, (built in 1868) inherited by my mother through the passing of an uncle. Not long after, it was placed on the market due to my mother’s ill health. The sale needn’t have occurred because I pleaded relentlessly for the opportunity to purchase that farm but was unfortunately overruled.
    Growing up, the farm was a central figure in my life. More of a person than just a place, it was a refuge to this lost child, who was for the most part ignored by those parents due to an older brother, (also adopted) with too many issues to list here, all of which demanded our parent’s attention.
    Back to the farm, it was my favourite place in the world, and I see now that it represented my own conscious history, and how it felt like it was needlessly being snatched away. It also represented a loss to my future and that of my son’s because even though I still had my memories, I did lose the ability to share that special place with him. Years later this still weighs heavily on my mind.
    So that disappointment, still so vivid in my mind came flooding back, however that’s not entirely a bad thing as it offers me a clearer understanding of why those feelings were, (and still are) so intense, and why I’m still not ready to let them go. Thank you.

    • Judith Land says:

      Wallflower: I know exactly how you feel. Paradise is a term for a place of timeless harmony laden with pastoral imagery. A landscape where there is only peace, prosperity, and happiness; a place of contentment, a land of luxury and fulfillment often thought of as heavenly and described as a holy place. Landscapes with unique scenery, topography, terrain, vistas and perspectives influence our outlook on life and how we connect with nature and local culture. Many of us become emotionally attached to landscapes, family farms, and special places, especially when they stimulate us to think about the past, to think about parents and family members, others we know or have known, and those who came before us. Contact with nature, with its great diversity and unique forms, promotes human health and reduces psychological and philosophical stress. Spending time close to nature helps us better concentrate and restore our focus, since during that experience we are attracted by an involuntary attention and fascination with geographically embedded perceptions of a place and cultural elements associated with it. To feel attached to a piece of land that was once a family farm creates nostalgia that triggers reminiscence, remembrance, recollection, wistfulness, regret, sentimentality and homesickness. Special landscapes and natural places that we feel a connection with heighten our emotions that trigger recollections and sentimental thoughts of simpler times gone by, and makes us think of situations and relationships that were, or could have been. Judith

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