Decoration Day – Full of Memories

I was a lucky kid, in that I got to spend lots of time with my grandparents and have lots of memories of them. One memory that is still vivid as an adult years later is the Decoration Day ritual.

I remember big black ants climbing all over my Grandma’s peonies. She planted lots of flowers and had what I would call a cutting garden, but I only remember peonies being ready for Decoration Day. The arrival of the ants was a sign that she would soon be cutting the flowers and our family would make the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery for Decoration Day.

As an adult I don’t remember whose graves we took flowers too. On that side of my family there were not many who served in the arm forces so suspect we just put flowers on assorted family member’s graves irrespective of if they passed away in service.

Grandma would create flower arrangements that were put in jars that had been saved for just that purpose from the goods we bought at the grocery. We would pile in to Grandpa’s oversized car, Grandpa, Grandma and whoever in the family had come for the day. I don’t remember much about the trip, if it was long or short. I could not tell you if we stopped at more than one cemetery, but I can clearly remember the jars filled with water and full of flowers to be delivered to honor loved ones. I can see the sloshing of the water and the rearranging of the flowers that my Grandma had so carefully selected with each bump and turn in the road. It was a moment of honoring those who were not there any longer. It was time for family. It was a passing of another season.

Thanks to Photo by marek kizer on Unsplash

I still think of the day as Decoration Day, even though in 1971 Memorial Day became a federal holiday. I remember the rituals that allowed me to spend time with my Grandparents. I think of all the servicemen and women who gave their lives for this wonderful broken country. I honor and thank them and their families for their sacrifice. I hope we do them justice in how we live our lives.

“On this day, take time to remember those who have fallen. But on every day after, do more; put the freedoms they died for to greater and nobler uses.” –Richelle E. Goodrich

Is Your Hobby Genealogy or Family History?

With all the new technology people are taking DNA tests to find out about their genetic make up. As a person who has worked on my family history since the miniseries “Roots” I would say DNA is a third line of family research tied a little into both genealogy and family history.

Thousands of people are suddenly interested in where they came from. They want to know more about their family. I am all for it. I believe it is important that we preserve our family stories. They are being lost as generations ahead of us pass on. As the keeper of the story in my family I find that there are members from the next generation starting to asking me questions about who we were and what we did in history. I think that important when sometimes what I am repeating is nothing more than family legend.

Family legends are one of my favorite things because it is an oral history. It is what our family tells about themselves to the next generation. Sometimes, but seldom is it wholly based on the truth. Details have been left out because they are forgotten or someone sanitized our story. Embellishments have been added because someone wishes the tale was a little more like the story they tell. In spite of the fact that I have found oral history to be only somewhat factual, I always record them as they are told and reference them as a family legend. I think that name bestows on them the honor they deserve. Recording it as it is told will also provide clues to actually trace the story. Almost every family legend is based on some fact. That brings me to family history.

Family history is the story the facts tell about our family. Everything recorded as family history has something to prove that what we said is based on fact. Not all facts are equal. Firsthand facts are from the folks who participated in the event or had direct knowledge. Second or third hand facts are from others who probably know, but were not there at the time of the fact. A birth certificate is usually a firsthand fact of a birth date because the doctor was there. I have often found that the birth date on a death certificate is wrong. That is because it is from a child who assumes they know Dad’s birthday, but he lied when he joined the army in WW2 and he has stuck with the story since then . My favorite family history is when you find some one in your family changed their occupation or moved, because census records have shed an unknown fact. It is when I discover this, that I start looking for more information. I am looking for what made them move, why did the take up a new occupation in a era when people did not change jobs as often as we do today. Family history is more than just birth, marriage and death dates if you let it be so.

Genealogy is about tracing your linage. It is about “who am I related to?” My family legend said we were direct descendants of the Morris men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I spent time tracing the Morris men to see if we had a connection. It was completely false. I kept the legend but added a foot note at the end letting folks know it was no more than wishful thinking. No one talked about anyone in my family having served in the Revolutionary War, and yet that was a connection I made accidently after many years of research. It was fun to order up my ancestor’s military pension records and learn much more about his family and service. Some people just want to trace births, marriages and deaths. They want to make those linage lines and connections. It is another different way to study your family. Genealogy can also be used to help support and document your family history.

The latest family research type is DNA. DNA is interesting because we all imagine we are something…Irish…German…Native American. Yet for the most part it is mostly legend. DNA allows us to see if there was ever that Irish ancestor in our family. DNA allowed me to unexpectedly prove that the family legend was not true and what my facts told me was the truth as correct. The legend told me that my Grandad from Oklahoma was significantly Native American. His looks and facial features supported that. There was a family legend that a Great Uncle caught his mother with a man other than his father at a young age. There were no facts to support this nasty tale. So DNA provided me with the opportunity to look at this in a differently light. The DNA results showed neither my brother nor I had any Native American genetic markers. So it is another family legend disproved and the DNA results boosted my factual research.

Winter coming on strong and fast. I can’t imagine that my cautionary behavior is going to change any time soon. So like previous winters I plan on spending time dusting off my shelf of family history and revisit my brick walls, holes in my history, and documenting where I came from. I am also hoping that I can connect to others who may be keeper of a story I have yet to hear.

Living by Honor

vetdayToday is Veteran’s Day.  In writing this I  reflect on all the members of my family who were served this country.    As the family historian and researcher I have learned about  those in my family who have served in wars and conflicts since the beginning of this country.   My history is dotted with multiple great grandfathers who fought in the Revolutionary War; the War of 1812; the Mexican -American War;  the Civil War both sides, Union and Confederate; and World War I and II.   My father was a career man serving in both the Army and Air Force.   My brother was the only one who served in the Navy.  They were all enlisted men, regular US citizens who helped to make the country what it is today.

I don’t think I ever said thank you to any of them who I knew.  Except for my brother they are all gone now.    I hope I do them proud, and in spite of what JFK said I think I will call my brother today and tell him how proud I am of him and that I appreciate all he gave for me.

Ice Cream Memories.

Growing up I have lots of ice cream memories.   I had two  different grandparents who liked to make home-made ice cream.   Their recipes and methods were dramatically different.  Unfortunately neither recipe has survived another generation and are lost forever.

My Grandma T lived in the same town as I grew up in.  Each Saturday she would make ice cream and bring us a container full of her ice cream along with biscuits. Grandma had this amazing contraption shown at the top of this blog.  It was an electric ice cream maker that you put in your refrigerator freezer.   I remember years of visiting on Saturdays and see the cord coming out of the refrigerator freezer and plugged in to the light socket.      I have yet to find a recipe that makes up like hers.   It had lots of sugar, I am sure because my favorite part was a thick almost syrupy concoction that formed at the bottom of the container.

My other ice-cream-making grandparent was my Gomper.  He lived across the state and we only visited for major holidays and an extended stay in the summer.   It was during the summer vacations that Gomper would make ice cream.  He cooked his ice cream fix’ins on the stove.  I am almost guessing it was more like a frozen custard.  His ice cream would go into the bucket with ice and rock salt.   It would sit out on the patio churning away.   It had a power turner, so the most involvement was poking in the drain hole so water would rush out.  As a small child it was something I could stand by and do the whole time it turned.   It was always vanilla like Grandma T’s, but his was so smooth; no sugar settled on the bottom of his.

My brother received her freezer when my Grandma passed on and he in turn gave it to me. I got it out and made up some ice cream for the hot summer weather we have been having. I pulled out the cookbook that came with Grandma’s freezer, looking for possibly her recipe.   The one I picked definitely turned out not to be it.   It was richer than the recipe that either of my grandparents made.    I put it all together and put it in my freezer.   Just like Grandma T,  I slipped the cord out of my freezer and plugged the big black cord into the wall.   It took much longer than the instructions said to freeze up.    I am not sure if that is because my modern freezer isn’t as cold as they used to be or it was something else.  I plan to make some more and try some frozen yogurt, sherbet and sorbet.   I looked online, where we all look for our answers today, hoping to find some insights on how to best use my simple but effective machine.   I found nothing like my trusty freezer.   I best take good care of it because it is one of  limited few that have survived.

Who Do You Think You Are?

Friday night the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” returned. I am torn about the show. I enjoy it because I love to see folks find their family history. I hate it because it all looks so simple; it isn’t.

This week’s show was fascinating because the featured person, Martin Sheen, was drawn in by the stories of not his direct descendants but Uncles. Many of us who research family history find ourselves often in the same place. An Aunt or Uncle has a hugely fascinating history and the search sucks us in. We can not find enough about their story. The holes make us wonder even more.

One of my personal favorites is Dr. Edna Timms. She was a pioneer in women’s health, at a time when women physicians were rare. Edna was concern about women’s health, the concerns of working women, children’s welfare, when such things were scoffed at. I wrote about her on my other blog focused on family history (  Hope you will stop by and check out my written journey in to my family history.

A Race Against Time

One of the three orignal Land Patents

Now that my great grand-uncle Sherman has passed away we are in a race against time. We are looking from someone in our family who might keep the Timms place in the family.   It is hard because we are scattered to the winds across the US; times are tough economically; if you buy it then what.

This land was first homestead by James Timms, my 4th great-grandfather July 1, 1845.  There were two land patents filed each for 80 acres.  James Timms was the first person of record to own this land.   There were others before him who hunted, fished, and camped in the area, but he was the first name on a deed.
This land was at that time on the edge of the great wilderness, and the prior residents were not so glad to see white settlers come to live amongst them.  It was considered by many to be a Blackhawk battleground location. I can not imagine what this fertile area must have looked like before man tamed the wilderness and took up farming in this corner of NW Illinois.  I have a hard time imagining why you would leave your safe, civilized world to head out into the new wilderness, but our family did it.
James would die at the age of 61 and the family farm would then belong to his son James who had worked with his father developing this prime land. James B the son had already purchased 40 acres next to the home place in 1853.  With the land from his father, his farm was now 200 acres.  He would purchase additional acreage in the area.
James B was the one in our family who helped to establish the Blackhawk War Monument that sits today next to the home place.    It is one of those memorials to the history and settlement of the US that resides in rural area largely unacknowledged and has depended on our family to be caretakers of this piece of history.  They have been good caretakers.
The next member of the family to own the family place was Abe Keeler, who married Olive Timms, daughter of James B.    I am not sure why it did not go to  any of the sons, or daughters who were older.   It is as of yet an unsolved mystery.
Abe and Olive had only two children both daughters.  The youngest of them would be struck down as a 17-year-old young woman in the Great Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918. The other daughter Wilna was my great-grandmother would be the next owner of this property.   She and her husband David Virtue had started farming the home place, while Abe and Olive left the farm to make their living in other ways than off the land.
It is here that my grandfather Don, and four other children would be born.   My Great Uncle Sherm would eventually come to  own the family place.  Uncle Sherm lived in Sterling and raised his family and built a business in Sterling, Illinois.   Yet in retirement go to live on the family place in rural NW Illinois.    He was the 6th generation if you are keeping track.  Now he is gone.   The rush is on, can we find someone in our family who could and would own the family place.  There is something about a legacy that 166 years of your family always living someplace that is hard to let go.
BIG CORRECTION: We have a “Map Guy” in the family and he has laid this original homestead on top of maps and discovered that this land is not the same land that the home that Uncle Sherm lived on.   The original homestead was south and west of the “farm” as we all affectionately call it is.   Thanks to cousin Steve, the “Map Guy,” I am now accurately reporting history.

4th of July Birthday

My grandfather was born on the 4th of July 96 years ago.  I gave him the name Gomper, which the story goes was my version of Grandpa when I was learning to talk.   My other grandfathers would become Grandpa, but he was always to be Gomper.  Since I was the first grandchild all the others would learn to call him Gomper as well.

Growing up I would spend lots of time with my Gomper, but one of my favorite places to spend time with him was at The Cabin .   The Cabin was on Pike Bay of Cass Lake in Minnesota.  Every year my Granny and Gomper would travel over 600 miles  from Chicago to the Cabin for vacation.  We would get up at the crack of dawn, get in to the fully loaded car and go off on our annual road trip.  My poor grandparents were trapped in a car for nearly 12 hours traveling 2 lane roads with a small child, but they did not mind.

My Granny would spend weeks planning the trip and I had a tartan red plaid bag filled with the goodies for the trip.  These were not like today’s goodies DVD players where you sat in the back seat oblivious to the surroundings.   Not these were wonderful games that my Granny  put together for us all to play.   She would save the cards that stockings came wrapped around and make all sorts of entertainment.   We had the list of 50 states and each of names at top and we would try to find the most different state license plates.   Then there were the alphabet cards, and my grandparents would pick a topic and we needed to find things in the topic for each letter of the alphabet.  My favorite version of these was to find a world that started with each letter of the alphabet on the billboards.   Billboards in those days were locally done and lots of fun, but they were  and also disappearing because of Lady Bird Johnson’s highway beautification project.   Granny was always Gomper’s scribe for those games, but he played along and would sacrifice a plate or two to ensure I was always a winner.

Granny did not drive, so Gomper drove the whole distance.   We would plan lunch at roadside picnic area.  We always had friend chicken and either ice tea or Doctor pepper.   Then after lunch Gomper would nap and I would run off excess energy.  I was to get rid of that energy, but be quiet so Gomper could sleep, that was a hard task for me.

After lunch I would stand in front of the AC vent in the car looking out the window in the distance trying not to get car sick.   I was prone to carsickness in the best of circumstances, getting in the car after lunch I was doomed.   But Gomper he didn’t mind when I said it was time to stop.  He never complained.  Nope he’d pull over, and get out with me and then once I was done throwing up as the pathetic little girl I was on the the 2nd or 3rd go round, Granny would wipe my face with the damp wash rag and back in the car we’d go.   Heading north to the cabin.

Another pastime for us was singing.  My Gomper had this wondrous voice and I can almost hear it.   I on the other hand am forbidden by my husband to have car concerts when traveling by myself; I really can’t carry even a bad tune.   We would sing lots of rounds Granny, Gomper and I each taking a  different starting time on “Row Row Row your Boat” and “Frère Jacques”.   We also sang Sunday School songs,  my favorite was “Found a Peanut”   I can close my eyes and can see me rocking to the song, singing, having no idea I was probably like chalk on their ears.

Once we got to the cabin there are thousands of other wonderful memories, but tonight my I am reminiscing about the  night of 4th of July.   Granny would make a cake in the little oven and after dinner we would head down to the lake.   Granny and Gomper would sit in lawn chairs and I would sit on the end of the dock dipping my toes in the lake with minnows nibbling away.  The cabin sat on the East side of the lake and we would watch the sun set over the town of Cass Lake on the West sided of the lake.   After that there were fireworks.  I sat there at The Cabin, watching fireworks celebrating the nation’s birthday and my Gomper’s birthday.  I was really too young to understand our nation’s history, but birthdays I understood.  The USA was pretty big in not real easy for a small child to grasp, but I sure did understand celebrating Gomper’s birthday and fireworks to celebrate him was just fine with me.

My Gomper has since passed away, but each 4th of July there is a little tug at my heart for all the wonderful memories of my times with him.  Happy Birthday Gomper!