Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolutions for 2010

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: New Year's Resolutions! This year is almost over and a new decade is knocking on the door. This is the perfect time to make your New Year resolutions, goals, aims, declarations, intentions, aspirations, objectives, plans, targets, schemes, wishes, or whatever you want to call them! Figure out how you're going to approach your family history research next year, write it up, and share it with us in the COG. The deadline for submissions is January 1, 2010.

I didn't make any resolutions last year... in fact, I don't recall ever making any serious ones.  But I did achieve some things I'd had in the back of my mind for awhile.  First, I joined a genealogy society and come January 1st, I'll be joining one or two more.  I also made some progress in my genealogy research, though I don't recall any major brick walls coming down this year.  I also used a microfilm reader for the first time this year and went on my first genea-vacation/genealogy research trip.  I also ordered a record from NARA, something I have been itching to do for a few years.  On the non-genealogy front I lost 25 lbs., and gave up white sugar and soda (my 6 month anniversary of that is coming up soon) and I am working on eliminating hydrogenated oils and corn syrup from my diet (they put that stuff in everything so it is really difficult to get away from I am finding!).  Blogging wise, I stuck with it which is an accomplishment in itself and I recently participated in my first carnivals.  I'm also happy to say that once I started blogging in February, I never dipped below 10 posts a month (my minimum per month).

I did want to organize my research more than I did this year.  I started off strong but by February the boxes and bags I'd meant to work on were sitting idle again and still are.  I also came to a realization early in the year when I finally came to terms with the fact that binders and folders of genealogy just doesn't work for me.  I wanted to be good and have a paper back-up to my digital files but honestly, I just can't be bothered.  I never look at my paper research and indeed, the only time I ever add any papers to my research is when I get a new family picture, article, obituary or story.  Otherwise, I keep all my research and family trees (yes, I have more than one) online or on flash drives.  There are a few things that I'd like to do in 2010 but I wouldn't call them resolutions because I have no resolve or intention of achieving them in just one year, they are really just things I want to keep in mind more:

1.  Be better at e-mail.  I get tons of e-mail every day (not just genealogy related) and it takes a bit to get through it all so once I have, the last thing I want to do is start writing replies.  So, I put them off and put them off until it dawns on me that I am now buried under a pile of them and then I feel overwhelmed and just walk away from it.  I apologize to those who have e-mailed me and haven't gotten a response or a timely one, please don't take it personal. 

2. Spend more time on my poor genealogy website.  I had so many dreams and ideas for that site which is now sadly neglected. Hopefully 2010 will be the year when I start paying more attention to it.

3. Concentrate more on my paternal lines.  I spend most of my research time on my maternal lines because they are generally really easy to research and because they all lived in California so it isn't as though I have to go out of state for the information.  The challenge is my paternal lines who all came to the US fairly recently and never went further west than Ohio.  I have a whole block of ancestors in the Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania area which I know nothing about.

4.  Start work on my UELAC membership.  This will be much easier than establishing the necessary links for a DAR membership because I have at least three definite Loyalist lines I can pursue while I have just two possible ancestors for DAR. 

None of these are set in stone and I know full well that with genealogy, once you find an interesting tidbit it is easy to go off and running researching that to the exclusion of everything else.  While I'd like to accomplish the things on my list in 2010, I fully plan on following the genealogy white rabbit wherever he takes me and if that means I get nothing on this list completed then so be it... there's always 2011!

(This post was written for the 87th Carnival of Genealogy)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent Calendar 22 Dec: Christmas and Deceased Relatives

Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas? How did your family honor deceased family members at Christmas?
We never went to a cemetery on Christmas, in fact, this prompt is the first I have ever heard of doing such a thing.  We would go to the Woodbridge Masonic Cemetery which is near Lodi from time to time (and still do) because my grandfather and various other relatives are buried there but that is the only cemetery we visit with regularity and it is only open by appointment or on an occasional Saturday (constant vandalism have forced an end to the open door policy the cemetery once had).  I think it is a nice tradition to visit deceased relatives on Christmas but it is something we don't currently do in my family. 
We don't really do much of anything to honor deceased family members at Christmas.  I always spend the day thinking about my great-grandmother and I'm sure other family members (past and present) are on the minds of other people in my family but we don't have any traditions of honoring the deceased at Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

(Belated) Advent Calendar 18 Dec: Christmas Stockings

Did you have one? Where did you hang it? What did you get in it? Do you have any Christmas stockings used by your ancestors?

I have/had a stocking since my first Christmas and it has been the same one all along.  It was originally my mother's and was given to her as gag one year.  It is red with white trim and is enormous and definitely the biggest stocking I've ever come across.  Because it was my mother's her name is written in glitter on one side and since it is mine now, my name is written in glitter on the other side.  When I was either a newborn or a year old my mother put me in the stocking and took a picture (which I am having trouble finding!).  Although my parents' home has a fireplace and mantle, we always propped our stockings up on the living room couch and would go through them there on Christmas.  I think we chose that because we kind of wanted to keep the stockings and the presents in the same room and also because the fireplace is located in the far corner of the family room and is therefore not very comfortable to gather around. 

Things that are small, awkward to wrap or edible end up in the stocking.  Hair clips, candy, makeup and costume jewelry usually end up in my stocking.  We also like to get exotic foods and put them in each other's stocking.  For instance, this year I got some Shepard's pie mix and hot sauces for my father's stocking.  Because mine is so big I'll also get DVD's (from the discount bin, usually never more than $10 dollars, the more expensive DVDs go under the tree) or cheap paperbacks.  Little jigsaw puzzles are also pretty popular to put in stockings and when I was little, I always liked finding one or two of those in my stocking.  I wish I did have some stockings which belonged to my ancestors but sadly, no one in my family (that I know of) has any like that.

Friday, December 18, 2009

(Belated) Advent Calendar 11 Dec: Other Traditions

Did your family or friends also celebrate other traditions during the holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Did your immigrant ancestors have holiday traditions from their native country which they retained or perhaps abandoned?

We didn't really celebrate any other traditions.  When I was little, we had neighbors who were like grandparents to me and one of them was Jewish (and actually moved to Israel a few years ago).  So she taught me a little about Hanukkah growing up.  When they moved they gave us their menorah candles so I think that was the first time we lit the menorah we had.  My parents used to work in Saudi Arabia and one year they won a menorah in a raffle there.  For some reason this menorah only has seven holders so it isn't very authentic.  A few years ago we got a proper menorah which is displayed in my parents home along with the Buddhist and other religious mementos they have. 

I don't know that my immigrant ancestors had any special traditions though I sure they must have.  Whatever Christmas traditions they brought from the old country, they've been lost now.  I'd especially like to know how my Italian grandmother and her family celebrated Christmas, but I'm not holding my breathe until I find out.  Since Christmas trees are a fairly new invention to hit the mainstream, I'd also like to know how my ancestors celebrated Christmas before trees became cannon.  Probably the only ancestors I wouldn't want to spend Christmas with would be the pilgrims.  Frigid weather and no celebrating aren't my idea of a fun holiday.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

(Belated) Advent Calendar 10 Dec: Christmas Gifts

What were your favorite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors?

I've gotten a lot of really great Christmas/birthday gifts (I count them as one because they all end up under the tree anyway) over the years but my favorite part is the wrapping.  My mother's sense of humor really comes out when it comes to gift wrapping.  One year (I think I was about ten), to my delight, there was an enormous box next to the tree Christmas morning (it was too big to go under the tree) and it had my name on it!  I tore into it only to discover another, smaller box inside.  So I opened that box and wouldn't you know it, there was another, smaller box inside that.  Well, eventually I got down to a box about 1/4 the size of the original and inside was a cookie jar.  While I like the cookie jar, the fun of getting to it and the laughs we had unwrapping it are what I remember most and the reason why it is a favorite Christmas present now.

Another favorite Christmas gift, which I don't remember or still have, was an apple.  That's right, an everyday apple just like the kind you can go to the grocery store and buy.  It was my first Christmas and I was a a few days away from my first birthday so I wasn't into toys yet.  I got lots of gifts that day but I didn't pay any attention to any of them.  Apparently I was so obsessed with an apple the whole time that nothing else in the universe existed that Christmas morning.  My mother quipped "she's easy to Christmas shop for!" but alas, the "apple days" would end soon.  Now, when my mother is buying me the things on my Christmas/birthday list, I'm sure she is wishing she could just go to the store and buy me a bag of apples instead. 

Giving gifts to my mother are the ones I remember most because hilarity would always ensue the next day when we were putting our hauls away.  You see, when I was little I got pretty simplistic gifts for people, like coin purses, tree ornaments, magnets, etc.  So when my mother would put away the gifts she always thought the ones I had given her were actually mine and they'd end up in my room.  I don't remember ever getting angry with her about it but I'll jokingly bring it up once in awhile and we'll laugh about it now.

We don't have any special gift-giving traditions.  Sometimes under "from" we'll put down the dog's or cat's name but that is about it.  My grandmother is notoriously slow at opening gifts and insists on seeing what everyone else has gotten so every year on Christmas Eve, we'll open the gifts that we don't want to have to explain to her (usually the technology gifts) on Christmas day when we get together.  I like this arrangement because it means I won't have to wait another day to open the Wii "Santa" is bringing my family this year.

(Belated) Advent Calendar 14 Dec: Fruitcake

Did you like fruitcake? Did your family receive fruitcakes? Have you ever re-gifted fruitcake? Have you ever devised creative uses for fruitcake?

I've never cared for fruitcake and neither has my mother or grandmother (my mother's mother).  My father claims he likes it  "loves" it but I'm not sold that he does.  We've gotten him them over the years and he always eats a piece or two and then it sits until it has to be thrown out - now does that sound like someone who "loves" fruitcake?!  There was always the joke in my family that the only good thing you could do with a fruitcake is use it as a doorstop and I think my grandmother did that once for laughs. 

I recently tried the German equivalent to a fruitcake, stollen and while I wanted to like it, it really isn't much better than fruitcake.  The stollen I had was less dense and filled with "things" as American fruitcake so I liked that but not enough to recommend either fruitcake or stollen.  I think it is the "things" they put in fruitcake that I dislike the most.  I've also had the ice cream version of fruitcake, tutti frutti and it is actually worse than fruitcake if you can believe it. Italian fruitcake, panettone, is a little better... but not much.  I think fruitcake may be good if it didn't have the fruit or candy or nuts (or whatever it is they put in it) and if I ever make fruitcake, I'm leaving the "things" out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Calendar 16 Dec: Christmas at School

What did you or your ancestors do to celebrate Christmas at school? Were you ever in a Christmas Pageant?

We would have "holiday parties" at school (usually a potluck lunch thing) but never Christmas events and we never had the traditional pageant either.  Honestly, when I was little I was so wrapped up in my birthday, Christmas and going on vacation from school to really pay attention to any holiday activities that were going on (I went to a non-traditional school until high school so participating in most of the events and goings-on was optional and therefore, easy to ignore).  We did do "gingerbread parties" at school where we would make gingerbread houses.  I remember one year I made a candy "security camera" for my gingerbread house and a reporter from the local paper was there and thought it was so cute that I got a mention in my local paper.  I think I was about five or six and it was my first time "in print."  I still have the article somewhere...  I don't know that my parents or ancestors did much for Christmas at school, if they did I've never heard about it (yet).

Blog Caroling... In Italian!

I like most holiday music and Christmas carols are no exception.  For this activity from footnoteMaven, I wanted to get a little creative though while also being true to my genealogy.  So I went looking for some carols in Italian (il canto di Natale).  When the winter Olympics were in Torino a few years ago and the Italian national anthem was playing all the time I fell in love with it and it led to me to a love for a lot of traditional Italian songs but for some reason I had never looked into carols or holiday music until now. 

One of my favorite finds is Tu Scendi dalle Stelle ("You Came Down From the Stars").  You can view the score here and hear Pavarotti sing it here:

Here is another:

Mille Cherubini in Coro (" A Thousand Cherub Chorus") sung by Andrea Bocelli.  My mother is a fan of his and I'm told he recently had a PBS Christmas special on TV so if you are a fan of his and Christmas music, it might be worth looking for.

I'm a big fan of White Christmas and if you are too, I suggest checking it out in its Italian version ("Bianco Natale"):

It isn't Bing, but I like it!  Buon Natale everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Calendar 15 Dec: Other Holiday Happenings

Often times December to mid-January birthdays and anniversaries get over shadowed by the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. So we're going to shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors this time around. Select one or more December to mid-January birthdays and/or anniversaries on your family tree. Write a short tribute to or memory of those birthday guys and gals and write a toast to the anniversary couples.

I actually just wrote about this for the 86th COG.  While my birthday is on the 28th of this month and is probably the birthday closest to Christmas (and New Years for that matter) in my family, there are a few more birthdays that qualify too.  I wrote about Heman Doyle in my COG post so now I'll write about my great-great-great-grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Hudson Wellons.  Sarah was born on January 3rd 1816 in Kentucky (probably Pulaski Co.) to Daniel Hudson and Mary Polly Lester/Louster/Luster (I'm fairly confident of these are her parents but what like a little more proof).  On 12 Aug 1831 in Pulaski Co. Sarah married John Chappel Wellons (also of Kentucky).  They had ten children in Kentucky before they moved to Indiana around 1850.  They had another two children in Indiana before moving to Warren Co., Iowa in the mid-1850s.  While in Iowa they had another two children bringing their total to fourteen (all of whom lived to adulthood).  Sarah died in Iowa five days after her 45th birthday on January 8th 1861, her youngest child was two months shy of four and her eldest was twenty-nine.  I wish I knew more about Sarah though I am thankful that I got a picture of her (maybe two, the other one is unconfirmed) so at least I can put a face to a name.  She died when my great-great-grandfather was about twelve and I'm sure it affected him and his siblings quite a bit.  Her husband, John Chappel Wellons, remarried a few years later and some of Sarah's children were less than happy with their new step-mother (of course, step-mother had some problems of her own...).

Monday, December 14, 2009

(Belated) Advent Calendar 2 Dec: Holiday Foods

Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?
There were some dishes that I equate with Christmas but none that I particularly liked.  When I was little Christmas dinner was always a crock pot of roast beef and potatoes, carrots, etc.  Even before I became a vegetarian I was never a fan of the taste of beef and done in the crock pot is even worse.  I never looked forward to Christmas dinner because of this.  When my mother and I became vegetarians the crock pot roast beef was thankfully retired.  Now, I'll usually make a pork loin roast for the carnivores and sides for my mom and I (the sides change every year).  The most unusual dish I ever had was a fig sauce I made one year for the pork loin.  It wasn't bad but it wasn't anything I plan to (or have been asked to) make again.  One dish that we never had which seems to be popular for Christmas is turkey.  I've never understood why turkey is so popular at Christmas because in my mind, Thanksgiving wasn't that long ago.  But my mother wants a tofukey so I might make one of those this year (I'm still a little wary of those things).  Thanksgiving is really when the traditional family favorites come out, Christmas dinner has always been more about experimentation.  The only constants for every Christmas dinner is the protein (like a pork loin), at least two sides (one is usually stuffing), cranberry sauce and a desert (usually a pie or cookies).  The desert doesn't usually get eaten because we'd have already pigged out on the sweets that were in our stockings. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dear Genea-Santa, COG Pt. 2

(This article was written for the second part of the 86th Carnival of Genealogy.  Part 1 can be found here)

Dear Genea-Santa,
I'm afraid I have a lot to ask for but I think I've been a pretty good little geneaholic this year.  I would be very thankful if I could have:
  • Some information on where my Clements and Allen ancestors came from.  They were in Pennsylvania in 1850 and were supposedly from Ireland but I can't find any new information on them and don't really know where to look anymore.
  • Some information on my early Kentucky ancestors.  Where they Melungeon like I suspect?  Where did they come from and why do some of them just seem to spring up out of thin air and can't decide where they or their parents were born?
  • Some proof that the Williamson and Montgomery family I have found in Ontario are the same as the Williamson and Montgomery families in my tree.  I'm 95% sure that they are one and the same but some proof would be nice.
  • Some vitals!  Actually, I have a long list of vitals but what I'd really like are the death records for some of my early California ancestors like Katherine Nielsen Healey (d. 1918) and her mother, Engeline Petersen Nielsen (d. 1932).  I know they are out there, I even have the certificate numbers for some of them.
  • Time!  As it is, there aren't enough hours in a day so if you could add more I'd appreciate it.  Maybe then I could be a better geneablogger and geneaholic.... 
As for stocking stuffers, I could always use more pictures of my ancestors and some more flash drives would always be welcome.  If I could have just one thing on my list above, I'd be a mighty happy camper Genea-Santa.  I know you're probably busy with the new FamilySearch so I'll understand if you aren't able to grant my genea-wishes until 2010 or even later, I just thought it couldn't hurt to ask.  Hugs and kisses,


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Birthdays, 86 COG Pt. 1

Prompt: The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: The Other Holiday Happenings! Often times December to mid-January birthdays and anniversaries get over shadowed by the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. So we're going to shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors this time around. Select one or more December to mid-January birthdays and/or anniversaries on your family tree. Write a short tribute to or memory of those birthday guys and gals and write a toast to the anniversary couples. Share it in the COG!

I have been meaning to participate in the COG ever since I first learned about it, nearly a year ago, but I always either didn't have something to post or I let the deadline get away from me.  But this time the moment I read the prompt, I knew I had to participate in this one.  The prompt is something near and dear to my heart because you see, I'm a Christmas baby.  In fact, there are a good number of people in my tree (past and present) with birthdays or anniversaries around Christmas and New Years.

I know many people with birthdays around Christmas and New Years hate that they have to share "their day" with arguably the biggest holidays of the year.  Personally, I love that my birthday is December 28, it is exactly three days after Christmas and exactly three days before New Years and I wouldn't have it any other way.  When I was little I always had to have my party either the week before my birthday or a week after because none of my friends were in town on my actual birthday.  I also got my fair share of birthday presents wrapped in Santa Claus paper and Christmas/Birthday cards but that never really bothered me.  I love that I can put my birthday presents under my Christmas tree, that I never had to spend my birthday at school, that I almost always know what I'm getting for my birthday (it is always the one item on my Christmas list that didn't turn up Christmas day) and that there is always tons of yummy leftover foods and treats to snack on.  It does make for one hectic week starting with Christmas Eve (which is almost as big a deal in my house as Christmas) and ending with New Years, but it is also the most enjoyable week of the year because it is filled with presents and parties and friends and family and celebrating.  I wouldn't have my birthday any other time of the year and I've never understood people who hated their December or early January birthdays.

Which brings me to my grandmother and the million other people in my family tree who were born on December 8th.  I have no idea why that is such a popular birthday in my tree but it has gotten to the point where you could literally not know when someone in my family was born and guess December 8th and you'd be right.  Seriously.  And in addition to all the birthdays on that day there are another hundred anniversaries that also happen to be then too.  What is it about December 8th?!  Now, I don't really consider that close to Christmas but if you ask anyone in my family who was either born or married then they'd tell you it was so I'll bow to their good opinion and say that it is close enough to Christmas to count in this instance.  The odd part is that my grandmother has never liked her birthday.  She told me a story once about how when she was a little girl she was reading a magazine that advertised birthstone rings.  Her favorite was the Sapphire so she lied and said her birthday was in September when she sent away for it.  Now, being the daughter of a minister, this lying was a pretty big deal to her.  I don't know that there were any consequences for it but she certainly felt guilty even though she got the ring she wanted.

Some of my other ancestors who qualify would be Sarah Elizabeth Hudson Wellons (3 Jan 1816) and Heman Doyle (31 Dec 1809/1811) who are both brick walls for me, oddly enough.  I know a bit more about Heman so I'll write about him. He was born in Vermont to a mother from Connecticut and a father from Ireland (1880 census) and (this is just speculation on my part) they probably moved to Rochester, New York at some point.  Heman married Alzina Jackman (a Monroe Co., NY native) and they lived in Rochester where Heman was a lawyer.  I don't know much about these early years and he is hard to find on census records (his name is always misspelled) but thanks to I know he was living in the Pittsford, New York (which is in the Rochester area) in 1839.  Alzina and Heman had three daughters, Mariah Adelaide, Rhoda Melissa and Frances P.  I think Rhoda Melissa died young because she only shows up on family documents and no census records.  When news of gold in California hit the east coast in 1849 Heman and his future son-in-law came west.  Heman became a farmer but also continued to practice law and served as a probate judge, justice of the peace and first district attorney in Carson Valley, Nevada.  He and later Alzina lived in Nevada as well as San Joaquin, Calaveras and El Dorado Co., California.  He died of typhoid on 11 Sept 1881 and is burid at the Woodbridge Masonic Cemetery in Woodbridge, CA.  Below is the only picture I have of him:

If anyone knows anything about Freemason attire, I'd love to know what rank he was.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

(Belated) Advent Calendar 8 Dec: Christmas Cookies

Did your family or ancestors make Christmas Cookies? How did you help? Did you have a favorite cookie?

There are several cookies which I equate with Christmas but none more so than persimmon cookies. 

I don't really know which came first, the persimmon tree in my front yard growing up or my great-grandmother's recipe but I'm betting it was the recipe.  When people found out that my parents bought a house with a persimmon tree in their yard they somehow felt the need to pass along every persimmon related recipe and really, when you have a persimmon tree there isn't much else you can do with the fruit but make deserts out of it (I've always thought of persimmons like lemons, not a fruit you would bite directly into but one you would put in things as an ingredient).  The tree we had was of the Japanese variety and not the firmer, smaller regular persimmon type so I have no idea if the persimmon cookie recipe below would work for any persimmons other than the Japanese type.  I would try and get the Japanese variety if you wanted to make something with persimmons if only because I think the Japanese persimmons have much more flavor and natural sweetness to them.  The only recollection I have of eating persimmons is in sweets and it was always around Christmas time when they were ripe (I think they have a summer season too, but we never bothered to pick them in the summer).  My father usually made these around Christmas, but my mother would too occasionally and I suppose (since the recipe comes from her) my great-grandmother did too.  They are hard to describe and, I think, they are one of the more unique cookies out there.  They have a definite persimmon taste but even if you don't care for persimmons (like me) you'll like the cookie.  Here is the traditional recipe in my family, but there are a lot more out there including this one from Good Day Sacramento which I recently came across and plan to try:

Grandma Shinn's Persimmon Cookies
1 c. pulp of persimmon (approx. 2 very ripe persimmons)
1 tsp. (baking) soda mixed in pulp
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg
1 c. walnuts (no one in my family likes nuts in our deserts so we usually leave these out)
1 c. raisins
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut flour and shortening together well and add sugars.  Mix well and then add the egg (beaten), chopped walnuts and raisins (mashed if desired).  Then add the spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt) and mix together.  Mix the persimmon pulp and soda and let set for a short time so they jell but not too much.  Then add the persimmon pulp and soda to the rest of the ingredients and blend with an electric mixer well.  Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

(Belated) Advent Calendar 1 Dec: Christmas Tree

Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

I don't think we ever had an artificial tree growing up and I think my mother would have found it totally unacceptable.  We HAD to have a real tree because to my mother the smell was the most important thing, it could be a scraggily little bush but if it had that wonderful pine smell it was okay in my mother's book.  My criteria of a good tree was always one that was big, really, really big, and anything under five foot was unacceptable   My father just wanted the lights to look good on the tree so his criteria was that the tree be fairly full.  When I was little we'd always go to a farm and cut our own tree, usually a Monterey or Scotch Pine.  My parents quickly grew disenchanted with the whole idea of cutting down a tree so for the last ten years or more they always get a pre-cut tree, usually a Noble Fir.  Getting the tree is half the fun because every year we all go to Silveyville in Solano Co.  Free popcorn, cider and coffee are just a few of the perks, there are also sleight rides and a neat gift store (if you are ever there, they make the best red onion jelly on the planet) and you can even bring your dog!  This was the first year that my mother thought of getting an artificial tree but the thought of Silveyville was too much so we went.  I would only get a tree if I didn't spend Christmas with my parents and I think it would be an artificial one (which I would spritz with Pine Sol).

Once we got the tree, usually about two weeks before Christmas, my mother is usually the one who decorates the tree only because no one else wants to.  My father always puts the lights on it and then we leave the tree bare with just lights for a couple days, sometimes a week, before ornaments are added.  As much as I like ornaments, I think I like the tree with just lights on it just as much. Ornaments and stockings are kept in an old trunk in my parents hall closet and getting that thing out is always a nightmare that we put off.  Then the trunk is put in the middle of the living for people to trip over until they are so sick of it being in the way that they trim the tree and put the trunk away (usually my mother gets fed up with the trunk first so she is the one who decorates the tree).

I don't really know what types of trees my ancestors had.  My great-grandmother always got a real tree and it seemed massive to me when I was little but thinking back on it, the ceiling in her living room isn't more than eight foot and there was always a star or angel topper so the tree couldn't have been more than seven foot.  My grandmother has an artificial tree that she always puts out.  It is tiny and scrawny and has been on its last leg for as long as I can remember but we all love that ugly thing so it hangs around.  I think my mother always had a real tree growing up so the artificial one my grandmother has probably came about once she lived alone in the late 1980s.  I have no idea what kind of a tree my father or paternal ancestors had in Michigan but since my dad ate a lot of SPAM and "economy meals" growing up I doubt his mother had the money for a real tree every year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Calendar 7 Dec: Christmas Parties

Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

When I first read the prompt I was a bit stumped and couldn't really recall that many Christmas parties.  My parents go to a Christmas party every year put on by the hospital where my mother works, but me?  There were a few school-related "holiday parties" over the year, I think we also did something similar in 4-H every year too.  Occasionally one of our neighbors on the street where I grew up would host a holiday block party and those were always fun but not terribly memorable.  But then I remembered the Christmas parties my great-grandmother would host every year until she went into a nursing home in the mid-1990s (and even then, I think we did a party once or twice). 

My great-grandmother lived in a large home which had been in the family for years so it made sense to have it there.  We would have the party near Christmas, usually on Christmas Eve and it would be a potluck affair with everyone bringing their "signature dish" (to this day I equate certain relatives with certain dishes).  After eating all the adults would go sit around the living room in a semi-circle of sorts facing the tree in the corner with great-grandma in the middle, while we kids sat on the floor and tore through presents.  Since there were so many great-grandchildren (thirty in all) each of us all got the same thing but for some reason we always thought we'd get something different from the cousin next to us.  I remember one year all the girl great-grandchildren got Snow White Barbie dolls and all the boys got Hardy Boys books (I wanted the Hardy Boys books, that's why I remember).  I wasn't really interested in what the grandchildren, like my mom, got but I think they were all kind of the same thing too, usually throw blankets or home decor type things.  Another year, I think the last year that we had those parties, all of us girls got sterling silver tea services (child sized of course).  I loved that tea service, in fact, I loved it so much I took it outside to play with it and you can guess what happened next.  I still have it even though it is terribly rusty in places.  I've tried restoring it but have had no luck and I really doubt that a professional would be able to do much with it.  I always remembered the tree at those family get togethers as being huge and awe inspiring but I was in the home recently and the ceiling can't be more than 8ft. tall and there was always a large star or angel topper so the tree couldn't have been more than six feet.  Oh well, I guess when you're seven everything looks a lot bigger...

At the time I didn't really have an opinion one way or the other on those parties but in retrospect I miss them.  We still have family gatherings (and some in that same home too) but they aren't the same and we rarely get together around the holidays.  My great-grandmother died in 1998 four days before Christmas so now when I think of the holiday it is full of mixed emotions.  I'm happy I have all those memories of my great-grandmother and those Christmas parties, but sad now when Christmas comes around because I have the added memories of her passing and the Christmas of 1998 when everyone in the family came together not for a party but a goodbye and where the warmth and happiness we all felt was replaced by grieving and, I think, feelings of being a little lost.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent Calendar 6 Dec: Santa Claus

I haven't had the time to participate in the ongoing Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories over at Geneabloggers but I'm hoping to catch-up in the next couple days.  For now, I'll start with the current prompt, Santa Claus. 

Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list?” Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

No, I never sent a letter to Santa mainly because we didn't do the Santa Claus thing in my house.  Santa was a fun Christmas "game" to play but he was never taken to be a real person.  Because Santa was a fun "game" I was always taught not to spoil the fun and ruin the game for the other kids and I don't believe I ever did.  I think I was near ten, when my peers were learning the truth, that I realized some people actually believed that there was such a person.  I honestly always thought it was just a fun game people played but that they were like me and didn't think he was actually real.  I did have my picture taken with Santa for several years, if only because it was the requsite Christmas picture we sent out.  I did lists too and so did everyone else in my family.  We'd write out what we wanted and then exchange the lists with each other. 

I've always been grateful to my parents for not doing the Santa Claus thing and it is actually a tradition I plan to pass on.  They wanted to be more honest with me and I think that was the root of why we didn't celebrate Santa Claus as a person.  He was more a figurehead for Christmas than anything else in my home so there were Santas all around.  My father even has a collection of Santa ornaments which he puts out every year and occasionally adds to.  The reason I'm grateful to my parents for not doing the Santa Claus thing is because it made me more appreciative of my relatives and I think, gave me a greater understanding of the value of money.  I was always taught to write thank yous, especially at Christmas.  Since we always opened gifts around each other, I was also taught to acknowledge the thought and effort that went into the gifts given to me.  And, because I had to spend my money on gifts for others since about age five, I had a really good understanding of the value of money from an early age.  I don't know that I would have had that if we had celebrated Santa Claus in the traditional way but it is still fun to play the Santa game and celebrate him as an integral character of Christmas.

The Christmas Chair

My goal at the start of 2009 was to participate in a carnival before 2010.  Well, the year is almost up and I still haven't done a carnival post - until now!  The prompt for the 19th Smile for the Camera is: "The word prompt for the 19th Edition of Smile For The Camera is "Gift." It is the holiday season and a time for giving. So give Smile readers the gift of sharing, sharing a family photograph. It can be a gift given or received, it can be the gift of talent, it can be the gift of having the photograph itself. The interpretation of gift is yours. Admission is free with every photograph!"

That's me around Christmas in either 1990 or 1991 (I was just about to turn either three or four).  I actually have a vague memory of sitting for the picture.  All I really remember is my mother sitting me down in the chair and her telling me to put my hands in my lap like you see in the picture.  I also seem to recall sitting in the chair, waiting for my mother to get ready to take the picture, and comparing the Christmas trees on my stockings (which I loved) with the real tree next to me.  I believe the picture was taken as a "thank you" to my great-grandmother.  The "gift" of the picture is the chair I'm sitting in.  I don't know if the chair was a Christmas present but this picture was taken around the time I was given the chair.  The baby rocking chair was a gift from my great-grandmother, Gladys Viola Healey Shinn.  My mother told me that when I got it I asked my great-grandmother something along the lines of where she was going to sit since she was giving me 'her' rocker.  I'm pretty sure the chair was new when it was given to me (it definitely wasn't an heirloom) and I haven't been able to find a maker's mark or any details on where it might have come from.  If I had to guess, I'd say my great-grandmother got it at Lakewood Drugs in Lodi (a long-time institution which has sadly since gone out of business).  I've never seen any baby rockers like this one out there, though I'm sure there are.  It really was a beautiful little chair and it always reminds me of my great-grandmother.  Unfortunately, as little children do, I didn't value the chair too much when I was young and took it outside where one winter pretty much ruined it.  The varnish is off it now and the wood split on one side of the seat but I'm hanging on to it in the hopes that it is restorable.  I'd love to be able to pass it on because I feel that passing on that little chair is also passing on a little bit of my great-grandmother and all the warm memories I have of her.

This post was written for the 19th Smile for the Camera Carnival.  Photo is privately held by Leah, [address for private use], California; scanned 5 Dec 2009.  This image is not to be used, manipulated, copied or reproduced for commercial purposes or without the expressed written consent of the holder of the image.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Maternal Stats, Part 1

I was inspired by Herstoryan's post to figure out what the average age of my maternal ancestors were when they joined the club known as motherhood (I don't know enough about my paternal tree to figure out the average for the women on that side).  Here is what it breaks down to:

24.8 years if I go a strictly maternal route (meaning my mother, her mother, her mother's mother, her mother's mother's mother, her mother's mother's mother's mother).  I stopped at my great-great-great-grandmother because that is as far back as I know about that line.  Here are the details:

Priscilla Mason = age 20
Mary Anna Webb = age 16
Georgiana Wellons = age 29
LIVING = age 23
LIVING = age 36
ME = ?

If I take into account all my female direct ancestors on my mother's side of my tree going back to my third great-grandmothers, the average drops to roughly 21 years (my current age!).  And the average size of their (all maternal female ancestors as far back as my third great-grandmothers) broods (including children who did not reach maturity)? Roughly 5 children per family.  The grand prize goes to my great x 3 grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth (Hudson) Wellons who had 14 children in all.  Not surprisingly, the number of children per family went down with the years.  In fact, if I were to only go as far back as my maternal great-grandmothers (who were both married circa 1920), the average number of children in each family is about 2.5.  So that means, of the 77 children born to all my maternal ancestors (my direct line only, excluding collateral lines of descent) as far back as my third great-grandmothers, only ten were born in the last ninety years.  No wonder I'm having a heck of time connecting with other researchers of this side of my family!

On average, my male ancestors on my mother's side of the family (as far back as my second great-grandfathers) were almost 28.5 at the time of their first marriages; their wives on the other hand, were on average 20 years of age at marriage.

In my next post I'm going to look at the average life expectancy for these people among other things.  I'm also going to do an in depth study of some averages for a particular family.