Favorite Photo

A picture is worth a thousand words . . .

Sometimes a photo just catches our eye or our imagination. The one below did both for me. The woman laughing was my mom’s Aunt Annie, married to her father’s brother, Edward George Meintzer. I don’t have everyone identified, and I don’t know what the occation was, or the date. IF I knew who the kids were, it might help narrow the date, but I don’t.

The best I can say is that it was before Annie’s death, 23 July 1936.1 Annie was three months shy of 49, with her youngest child not yet 8 years old. My mom was 14 at the time, so her memory of Annie was pretty good. I like this photo because Annie looks like a fun person to be around. I don’t know whether or not that was true, but she was obviously tickled about something as the photo was snapped.

Kneeling: unknown, Annie DesLauries Meintzer, unknown, Alma Meier Moore, Minnie Moeller Meintzer
Standing: Unknown, Minnie Pfingsten, Lena Moeller Mueller, Alma Holstrum Moeller. Unidentified children and cat.

I initially thought this other photo was taken at the same time. Many of the same people were in both, with some (my grandmother, Minnie Meintzer, and Annie, herself) wearing the same clothes. Upon closer inspection, I noticed Annie wore a high collared lace blouse or dickey in the first photo, but was not wearing it in the one below. The younger child below might be my mom’s cousin, Toots (Edelyn Mueller Morrissey), standing with her mom. If so, she looks about 3, tentatively placing that photo in the 1915 to 1916 window.

Top row: unknown, Minnie Moeller Meintzer, Alma Meier Moore, Minnie Pfingsten.
Bottom row: Lena Moeller Mueller, Dark dress unknown, Annie DesLauries Meintzer. Not sure who the kids are. Or the cat.

Some other differences between the photos? The top one was taken in the front yard (sidewalk behind the ladies), while the bottom one was in a side yard, aimed toward the back yard.

I don’t know why these pictures were taken, but it may have had something to do with my grandmother’s best friend, Alma Meier Moore. She moved with her husband to Virginia after getting married, but she returned to Shermerville/Northbrook regularly, to visit her mother. It seems reasonable her old friends would have gotten together at some point during her time there.

So what about Annie? She was born Marion Ann DesLauries. Or Deloris. Or Delores. Or one of several other variations. Her parents were listed as French Canadian on census records, and I imagine the pronunciation of the French surname messed up the spelling repeatedly. Annie was born 17 October 1887, in Chicago, Illinois, in the middle of twelve children in the family.1 Ten survived to adulthood.

While her death certificate listed her as Marion Meintzer, as did several census records, most other records used Anna or Annie, and that seemed to be the name she used every day. With an older sister, Mary, and a younger sister, Marie (both surviving to adulthood), using a variation of Ann probably made family get-togethers less confusing!

According to one of her father’s obituaries, her parents moved the family to the Shermerville [Northbrook] area in 1893, when her father found work in one of the brickyards.

Annie met my granduncle, Edward George Meintzer, at some point. With Annie’s family being Catholic, and Ed’s being Lutheran, they certainly didn’t meet at church! But Shermerville was a fairly small community, so mostly everyone knew everyone else. The two married 30 June 1909, in St. Norbert’s Church.2 It would seem that Ed converted, as all their children were raised Catholic. Annie and Ed were buried in Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, in Northbrook.

Their seven children arrived between 1910 and 1928, with a set of twins right in the middle. As far as I know, Annie didn’t work outside the home. A combination of the era, and having that many children, would have made outside employment difficult.

The beginning of 1924 was difficult for Annie, because the family was quarantined for six weeks due to scarlet fever. In addition to that, Annie was expecting Jeanne (child 6) shortly! The family weathered through the scarlet fever, but soon afterwards four-year-old Bernard, one of the twins, caught a cold. That turned to croup, and then diphtheria—which caused his death.

Annie and Ed lived in rented houses on Shermer Avenue from 1910 through 1930. Whether it was the same house or different ones is hard to know, because the town didn’t number houses until shortly before 1930. My mom remembered her cousin, Helen (Annie’s oldest daughter) walking over to babysit her and her brother, so they must have lived near my mom’s family.

Regardless of their specific residence, the other women in the photos also lived near Annie, so certainly would have been her friends, neighbors, and relatives through marriages. Her name was regularly linked with theirs in the news (gossip) column for Shermerville/Northbrook in the newspaper.

Annie’s 1936 death certificate listed the cause of death as cerebral hemorrhage, with chronic hypertension for 2 years as a contributing factor, but her obituary said it was a heart attack. I’m not sure why the discrepancy. Maybe Ed was told it was a heart attack as an “informal” cause, before the doctor filled in his section of the death certificate? Either way, I assume her death came as a surprise to her family. Forty-eight was still fairly young, and I’m sure her father did not expect to outlive her.

Sometimes people get hung up on having pretty, formal photos. I agree those can look very nice, but I find myself drawn to more casual ones. They seem to better capture the spirit of the people. If I knew them in real life, the photo tends to confirm what I knew about them, but if they were someone I never met, it’s often the only opportunity for me to imagine what they were like.


1State of Illinois, Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Statistics, Marion MEINTZER death certificate (25 July 1936). Date conflicts with that in the newspaper funeral service notice. Age 48y 9m 6d.

2“Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1968”, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch Record Search (https://familysearch.org), accessed 22 January 2022, citing Gechney [Techny], Cook, Illinois, reference 511462, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,030,460. Edward MENTZER (22) and Anna DELORIES (22).

Favorite Find

“Intuition is more important to discovery than logic.”—Henri Poincare

It’s no secret I hate loose ends. And people who disappear. To clarify, I don’t hate the people, I hate their disappearing act. And when it’s an entire family, it makes me a little crazy!

That was the case with the older brother of my 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Jost. I found him as a youngster in the 1850 census shortly after the family arrived in Wisconsin.¹

He was still living in Manitowoc County in 1860, even though the surname was misspelled as Jose.² Age 24, he hadn’t married yet, and was working on his father’s farm.

The 1870 census caused confusion, taking me twenty years or so to sort out.3 Part of the problem was further mangling of the surname to Joist, compounded by a multi-generational family and a surprise remarriage, muddling the situation further.

A Mathias Jost had married Gertrude, and had two kids. At that point, I didn’t know he was my Mathias—I hadn’t found a marriage record for mine. A 70-year old Nicholas Jost (same name, consistent age as my Mathias’s father) was also enumerated in the household, but the presumed wife for him was Catherine. His wife had been Elizabeth, but she had died in 1863, and was buried in St. Anne’s Cemetery. This Catherine made no sense to me. For a long time, I thought these were not my Jost family.

It wasn’t until a 2nd cousin once removed sent me copies of records she’d obtained—including a church record from January, 1870, for the marriage of the widowed parents of my 2nd great-grandparents, John M. Bruder and Elizabeth Jost. John’s mother, Catherine Cugel Bruder, married Elizabeth’s (and her brother Mathias’s) father, Nicholas Jost. Suddenly everything in that 1870 census record made sense! Nicholas and his new wife were living in the house with his oldest son, now married.

And no, that marriage record wasn’t the favorite find, though it was a good one!

By 1880, Mathias Jost, his wife, and kids, disappeared from Manitowoc County. His father (Nicholas) was widowed again (Catherine must have died between 1870 and 1880—still looking for her death) and now living with daughter, Elizabeth, and his son-in-law, John Bruder. According to the plat maps, they were living on the former Jost farm—the one passed through several generations.

But where did Mathias, Gertrude, and the kids go? Alien abduction? I really didn’t know, and the number of Mathias Josts in Wisconsin at that time was astounding! I took the easy route and let it go, since they were collateral relatives. But I didn’t like them being “lost.”

Fast forward to June, 2019. Their MIA status still bothered me, so I decided to look again. New databases had been added in the meantime, though that didn’t directly affect the 1880 census. More importantly, Ancestry’s matching algorithm had improved, producing better suggested records. More databases meant more potential data points to connect different records with each other.

1880 census, Marathon County, Wisconsin. Mathias Jost (surname written “Yost”) family: wife and 5 kids, aged 18 to 2. Katie was on the last line.

There they were, 125 miles northwest, in Marathon County, hiding as a Yost.4 Same pronunciation, different spelling. Thank goodness Mathias married a Gertrude! It certainly helped to find them. Three more children (Mary, Augusta, and Katie) were added to the family. That mystery was solved, and I now had an updated location to work from for them. It may not sound like a huge find, but it was very satisfying!

In the last few weeks, as I’ve started to focus a little more on the downward branches of my tree, I focused back on them. I have several DNA matches with a Jost surname, so it would be good to flesh out that family to see exactly where these matches fit. After finding a known record for Mathias (the 1880 census), I looked at the other suggestions.

Ancestry suggested a Find a Grave memorial for a John Mathias “Jacob” Jost in Marathon County. The birth year matched one of the potential dates I had. John threw me a bit, but Johann was not an unusual name to pop up as an extra one, and it could have been Americanized to John. I was puzzled by Jacob, but I have many people with nicknames, and some, I’m sure, had nicknames I never learned about. Interestingly, he had been attached to the memorials for my Nicholas Jost and his 1st wife, Elizabeth. That seemed promising!

Unfortunately, it was Christmas week, so I didn’t have time to look closely. When I revisited it this week, multiple red flags materialized. The forenames already raised some questions, but when I opened up the actual headstone photo from the memorial, the inscription read “Jacob A. Yost.”

Say what?!?!

No “John” or “Mathias” was anywhere on the stone! Not to mention the marker was spelled “Yost.” Yes, I realize the 1880 census spelled (or at least, was indexed) that way, but generally, this family spelled their name with the “J.” It’s hard to imagine Mathias’s family engraving his headstone with a “Y.”

Under his name on the stone was another shocker: Phila. Pa.

Nothing in the history of my Josts suggested any connection to Philadelphia. The parents (Nicholas and Elizabeth) and the two oldest children (Mathias and my 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth) were all born in Germany, the younger kids in Wisconsin. As far as I knew, there was no reason for my Mathias to have Philadelphia inscribed on the headstone.

I’m reasonably sure this is NOT my Mathias. Unfortunately, not only is he attached to my people at Find a Grave, he’s also attached to my people in the FamilySearch Tree.


I can’t, however, simply tell someone I think they have made a wrong connection without first saying what the right connection is. Or at least demonstrating this Jacob A. Yost is a different person. Off I set, looking for his origins.

Unfortunately, I cannot find an image a Wisconsin death certificate for the 10 January 1899 death date on the stone. Using the YOST spelling (since that was what was on the headstone), I searched FamilySearch databases:

  • Wisconsin Deaths and Burials, 1835-1968—yielded nothing
  • Wisconsin Death Index, 1820-1907—nothing, again
  • Wisconsin State Census, 1895—Harry Yost in Wausau, recorded as a lone individual. I’ll come back to him later.

Maybe something local could help? Marathon County Historical Society has a web page. Among their offerings were a number of indexed city directories (no images). Searching them I found:

  • 1893: Nicholas J. Jost at 420 6th Avenue, South Wausau
  • 1895: Nicholas Jost at 202 1st Avenue, Wausau

This was my Mathias’s son, and I can track him forward through the 1900, 1910, and 1930 Federal censuses, as well as the 1905 Wisconsin State Census. Further searching turned up:

  • 1893: J. Harrington Yost at 612 Franklin Street, Wausau
  • 1893: Jacob A. Yost at 612 Franklin Street, Wausau
  • 1895: Jacob Yost at 612 Franklin Street, Wausau
  • 1895: J. Harrington Yost at 415 4th Street, Wausau
  • 1901: Anna Yost at 421 6th Avenue, Wausau
  • 1901: John A. Lemmer at 421 6th Avenue, Wausau
  • 1901: J. Harrington Yost at 612 Franklin Street, Wausau
  • 1903: J. Harrington Yost at 626 Adams Street, Wausau
  • 1910: J. Harry Yost at 626 Adams Street, Wausau

Jacob A. and J. Harrington seem to be related, since they lived at the same address in 1893. I believe Anna was a younger sister to the Nicholas above (even with her surname misspelled), because she lived at the same address as John Lemmer, who was married to a Gertrude by 1900. In the 1900 and 1905 censuses, Anna was listed as his step-daughter.

My current theory is that Mathias Jost died and his wife, Gertrude, remarried. Anna was the last child still unmarried (or at home, at least), so was living with her mom and her new husband.

Unfortunately, I have no active Ancestry subscription, and home access for the Library Edition has stopped. Several marriage records are suggested for John Lemmer, and for Gertrude, but we are traveling, so I can’t check them out right now. Plus, they are only indexes, so may not be as helpful. The Wisconsin marriage databases at FamilySearch do not contain those records. An obituary for Gertrude could be extremely helpful to clarify what happened, so I will look for one when I get the chance.

In the meantime, perhaps searching for the other family will turn up enough information to prove Jacob A. Yost was not my Mathias Jost? I searched for Jacob A. Yost, born 1836 in Ancestry’s [free] 1880 census. The top response was a Jacob A. Yost in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. Cheltenham is not far north of Philadelphia.


Jacob A. Yost was a widowed baby carriage maker, with a 17-year-old daughter, Lizzie B., and a 12-year-old son, Harry. While none of Jacob’s suggested records pointed toward Wisconsin, and there were none for Lizzie, Harry had numerous suggestions in the Federal census, Wisconsin State census, city directories, and marriage records. His name appeared as:

  • Jacob Harrington Yost
  • Harrington Jacob Yost
  • J. Harrington Yost
  • Harrington J. Yost
  • J. H. Yost
  • Jacob H. Yost
  • Harry Yost

It’s worth noting his surname was never recorded as “Jost” As I tracked down the FamilySearch versions of the suggested records, I found:

  • He married Angelia Mathilda Young on 22 June 1898, Marathon County, Wisconsin.
  • The 1900 and 1905 censuses (in Marathon County, Wisconsin) recorded his birthplace as Pennsylvania
  • In 1905, he and his family lived next door to an Elizabeth B. Montgomery, born in Pennsylvania, along with her husband, James, and their 4 kids.

Circling back to the Pine Grove Cemetery in Wausau, where I found John Mathias “Jacob” Jost, the guy who started this whole rabbit hole, I searched for other Yost memorials. I found:

Anyone look familiar? Most notable, though, was that the headstones for Lizzie, Angela, and Jacob were identical, and matched the one for Jacob A. Yost (identified as Jost in his Find a Grave name). Moreover, the memorials for Lizzie and Jacob A. each had a photo of the same decorative urn on the plot.

It seems pretty clear to me that Jacob A. Yost belongs to that family, and should not be connected to my Josts from Manitowoc, and certainly not spelled Jost or have John Mathias added on.

The Katie with the different headstone is another younger sister of the Nicholas from the city directories above, just two years old on that 1880 census record I found. For some reason she used the Yost spelling in her records, even though the others in the family mostly stuck with Jost.

So that favorite find ended up opening a can of worms, that seems to have been mostly resolved.

Now to figure out how to diplomatically request Jacob A. Yost gets detached from my Josts, and attached to the Yosts he actually belongs to . . .


11850 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Manitowoc Rapids; Page 44; dwelling number 207; family number 213; line 20; Nicholas YOST household; accessed 17 June 2019. Marliest YOST, age 16 [that is the indexed name at Ancestry, Only the M and ST are clear]; NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 1002; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

21860 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth; Page 227; dwelling number 1789; family number 1773; line 29; Nicholas JOSE [JOST] household; accessed 23 June 2019. Mathias JOSE [JOST], age 24; NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1418; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

31870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth; Page 13; dwelling number 92; family number 85; line 2; Mathias JOST household; accessed 13 June 2019. Mathias JOIST, age 30; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

41880 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Marathon, Marathon, e.d. 88; Page 11; dwelling number 66; family number 67; line 19; Math. YOST household; accessed 13 June 2019. Math. YOST, age 47 [very faint]; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1433; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).


“Build your empire on the firm foundation of the fundamentals.”—Lou Holtz

10 May 2016, Temple of Concordia, Agrigento, Sicily (Valley of the Temples). Yes, a Greek temple in Italy. It was built c. 440-430 BC. It’s survived reasonably well for 2400+ years, so I’d say it had a good foundation . . .

What forms the foundation of any of our trees?

Is it the connections between people? The basic facts (birth, death, marriage) recorded for them? The “color commentary” (occupation, residence, clubs, hobbies) we acquire as we research? In my mind, no.

While all the above are important, they are the icing, not the foundation.

Think about fancy, tiered wedding cakes. They always look lovely. How many times, though, have you taken one bite of your piece, and left the rest untouched? The foundation the icing attached to (the cake) was bad. All the showiness of the decorating was wasted on something not worth eating.

I believe the foundation for our trees rests on the sources we’ve used to build them. We’ve all heard “genealogy without documentation is mythology.” It may sound trite—even harsh—but it has a ring of truth that’s hard to ignore.

So, have I documented all my information from the get-go? Uh, no. My tree is far from perfect in that respect.

When I started out in 1975, I did not record sources. I regret that, now. A combination of naïveté, the lack of space, and not really having that much information at the beginning (“How could I possibly forget where I learned that from?”) was the cause.

The original Family Group Sheets I filled in had a box at the bottom for sources. It measured less than 6″ wide by 1 1/8″ tall. Was that supposed to contain the sources for all the information for both parents plus however many children they had? Really??

Family Group sheet for my paternal grandparents. The red box marks the “sources” section. I used the space to record other information that didn’t fit elsewhere on the page, but not for sources. The first item was told to me by my dad, the second came from their marriage register at Sacred Heart Church.

You might have room to document (in broad terms) the sources you consulted—or resulted in information, such as:

  • 1930 census
  • birth certificate
  • death certificate
  • obituary
  • and so on

There certainly wasn’t enough room to construct a proper citation, containing enough detail to locate the record again.

In the mid-2000s, Family Tree Maker (the software I use) finally added source citation entry to their program. I can’t pinpoint which version first added it, but the 2006 version (released in 2005) definitely allowed sources. At that point, I started adding citations to my file.

I felt so proud of myself! I made a concerted effort to document everything new as I entered it, and added citations to older entries as I ran across them. It was not complete, but I made steady progress.

Then I purchased my first copy of Evidence Explained (2nd edition)1. While it was published in 2009, I came late to the party. Finding the time to read it (yes, I read it straight through, even though Elizabeth Shown Mills didn’t recommend that) was a challenge. We had a cruise to Hawaii scheduled late in 2014, so I brought it along. With nine or ten sea days, I knew I’d have free time to tackle the 800+ page book.

It was eye-opening! I learned as much about sources as I did about crafting source citations. Unfortunately, I realized how much my citations missed the mark. I saw they were incomplete, and wouldn’t necessarily lead me (or any researcher retracing my steps) back to the original records. I needed to improve them. For instance, my file had this:

1860 Michigan Census, St. Clair, Wales, Series: M653 Roll: 559 Page: 253. age 5, birthplace Michigan, last name spelled KNOWLAND.

It was better than nothing, but not by much. What I needed to have was this:

1860 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales; Page 253; dwelling number 1902; family number 1819; line 5; John KNOWLAND household; accessed 29 April 2017. Patrick KNOWLAND [NOLAN], age 5; NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 559; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

Yes, both cited the same entry on an 1860 census page. Quite a difference!

In the meantime, Family Tree Maker had continued to improve/redesign their source and citation area, basing it loosely on Evidence Explained models, and providing templates to help maintain consistency.

Aside from beefing up my citations, how was I going to convert them all, plus keep the format consistent across different files? I didn’t want to have to remember in which file I’d cited a particular database, then have to open that file to copy the format. And I certainly didn’t want to “reinvent the wheel” for a citation I’d already tackled.

How could I make the process easy enough that I’d be more likely to do it, than to not do it?

After dozens of webinars and articles suggesting how to build a cheat sheet (word processing document? spreadsheet?) for sources, I finally settled on creating a notebook in Evernote. It allows me to store the formats in the cloud, accessible from anywhere, and doesn’t require me to shuffle through my files to see if I’ve already used that database and created the citation.

For each database, I played around with the Family Tree Maker templates, seeing which one worked best to get me close to an appropriately-worded citation based on Evidence Explained. I tweaked the information in the various fields, checking the final product against examples in the book. When I was satisfied, I created the Evernote record.

The title is always the database name, preceded by a mega-site’s name, so all Ancestry (FamilySearch, Find My Past, etc.) databases stay together when sorted alphabetically. Databases from random websites (or physical records) fit in between. I note the heading and page from Evidence Explained, (now the 3rd edition,2 which I bought shortly after it was released) in case I need to go back to that topic for clarification, and I list the specific template in Family Tree Maker to start from:

Starting point for every source.

Next I list the template fields I actually used, providing specific answers, if appropriate:

Fields I fill in, based on the Family Tree Maker template used for this source.

Last, come the Citation detail and Citation text. These sections can take a while to design, depending on the source and what information is needed. Information I need to fill in from the specific record is indicated by [ ] if I need to explain what goes there, or ____ if it’s more obvious what that information should be:

Template created so my citations remain fairly consistent within a file, or across files.

It may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to craft an original Evernote template for a source. Once that is done, though, it becomes very easy to find the template I need, and create the new source in Family Tree Maker. I can enter the required fields easily, copying and pasting the information when I can, to avoid typos.

How is the source conversion going? Have I developed the habit of always entering a source for new information?

The conversion is still happening. I currently have 316 templates for sources. In 2021, I added 54 new sources. Most of those were due to the 52 Ancestors Challenge! As I researched different lines, I found myself searching in different parts of the country, using new sources. While the early templates took a bit of time to create, I’ve found the more recent ones go faster, partly because I’ve become better at it, and partly because I have other source templates I can use as a starting point.

When I needed to add the California Divorce Index, I duplicated the Nevada Divorce Index, and made the changes necessary based on the information California used. It went much faster! I occasionally use a record type that’s new, so that still might take a little longer, because I’m starting more from scratch.

As far as becoming a habit, Family Tree Maker makes it easy to connect the same source to multiple facts for the same person. That really helps. For documents (like census records) with multiple people, I can easily duplicate the first citation, make the changes for the next person, and proceed to document the information for them. Do I occasionally get in a hurry and bypass attaching sources to new information? Regrettably, yes, once in a while. But it happens much less often! I nag myself really well . . .

A side benefit to this “project” has been attaching document images to the citations. Anything new has the image attached immediately. As I work on older citations, I check to see if I already have a digital image for it. If so, I use that, otherwise I return to the database to download one from there. My digital folders are getting organized and cleared of duplicates, as well as my paper files. Original paper documents I’ll keep, also documents not available online.

Print copies of census records? I don’t need those. Recycle.

Blog research has been a huge help with this process. Sometimes I decide to just clean up the person I’m working on. Other times, I’m using a particular source and see a bunch of the old-style citations. I may work on cleaning up all (or at least some) of those weak citations. It’s the genealogical equivalent of straightening out the kitchen junk drawer when you’re looking for something in it. With half the things already out, you may as well straighten and toss unneeded items, so it’s easier next time!

So, am I all caught up with updating my sources? Not yet. But I keep plodding along, adding missing sources, upgrading the slackers, attaching document images, and trying really hard to maintain the habit of not entering new data without a source.

My foundation is becoming more and more stable, one source at a time.


1Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained. 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 2009

2Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained. 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 2017.


“The future depends on what we do in the present”—Mahatma Gandhi

Week 52 for 2021 . . . and yes, it’s 2022. I’m “late” again. Sigh. It’s happened more times this year than I care to admit. As much as I’d like to do nothing but genealogy, LIFE happens:

  • travel
  • grandkids
  • major landscaping projects
  • computers dying
  • different genealogy projects

That’s just the “fun” stuff. The last item was the culprit this time. Ancestry offered free access to Birth, Marriage, and Death records through New Year’s Eve. I used every spare moment searching for Mike’s Carmodys, trying to bring their tree branches forward. With the recent DNA contact from that branch, I decided to prioritize that research.

I made good headway on that front, but it was at the expense of the blog getting done.

That begs the question of whether I should drop participation in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, and instead focus on other genealogy projects, and write about those. It’s a valid question, and maybe a tempting thought.

Mike periodically asks if I “am running out of people?” With our combined tree of 6800+ people, probably not. Even ignoring the living people, and some of the “married-ins,” (parents of the spouse of the 2nd cousin twice removed . . .) there are still plenty of people to keep me busy for a while. So that’s not really a concern.

Over the last four years of writing about Mike’s and my families, I feel I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve organized some of my research, filled in gaps, and looked at some lines and family groups I’d been neglecting. It was time well spent.

Sometimes it’s frustrating, though, because a prompt will give me an idea, but then I remember I’ve already written that story, or researched that problem. Removing the “pressure” of having to fit my topic to the weekly prompt might make writing easier. I could simply write about whatever I wanted.

I hear some of you thinking, “But you already do that!”

Well, yeah, kind of. I’ve stretched more than one prompt almost to the breaking point, but they always tie into genealogy/family history eventually. The weekly prompts provided a structure—and, yes, a deadline . . . even when I missed it—that kept me moving forward. I’ve yet to blow off any prompt or week entirely.

Without a weekly prompt staring me in the face, would I be as diligent about producing a blog post each week?

Maybe. Maybe not? Life still happens, interrupting my plans. The wee bit of accountability from the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge may be the nudge to keep me from telling myself, “This week is too busy. I’ll write two posts next week.”

Yeah, right! Next week will be busy, too . . .

I will keep on keeping on, then. So, do I have a plan for the coming year?

This past month has shown me the importance of building my tree down to the present. I need documented descendancy branches leading to more current generations. It’s the only way I will be able to make sense of our DNA matches. Ancestry’s Thrulines, or My Heritage’s Theory of Family Relativity are wonderful tools, suggesting how Mike or I connect to our matches. But both of those rely on other people’s trees.

I won’t dwell on matches with all the people in their tree showing up as “Private.” Why even bother building those trees?

So many of the other matches, though, have no tree, or a tree that goes back only a couple generations. Many DNA test-takers are one—sometimes two—generations younger than we are. In that case, their small tree doesn’t go far enough back to see that we share a surname. With my tree solidly built down towards the present, I’m liable to have enough information to finally make the connection to them.

In other words, I don’t need redwoods; I need banyans.

That doesn’t mean I won’t push back on tree branches. I’m sure I will, when I can. But bringing lines forward may put me in contact with other relatives who know details about the earlier generations. Those people may have stories passed down to them, that did not come down through our families.

Perhaps “two steps forward” will result in “one step back.” Here’s hoping!


photo by Raghu, taken 10 May 2006, released into the public domain by the copyright holder


“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”—Francis Pharcellus Church

Holidays generate a variety of memories. We’ll explore some of them today.

Growing up, we had nice Christmases, though certainly not extravagant. With five kids to buy for, our parents didn’t have the resources for excessive buying. We’d each get a couple of presents, maybe some clothes we needed, and it was fine. Our parents focused more on building toys, board or card games, dolls, books, and sporting equipment. My brothers’ race car set and Foto-Electric Football game were rare exceptions to the not electric/not mechanized criteria they usually relied on.

Foto-Electric Football. Paper “plays” (offensive and defensive) slipped into the top, and were illuminated from a lightbulb inside. There was a line showing the ball carrier’s path, and one for the tackler. Because the play sheets could be shifted left or right (that’s what the white lines along the side assist with), there were infinte play possibilities. A heavy cardboard slider “revealed” the play as you pulled it out. You could call out the play step-by-step, if you wanted. It was an awesome game!

Then Chatty Cathy came along. I was too young when she first hit the market in 1960, but when I was 5, I wanted her. I didn’t get to watch much TV, but I saw enough commercials for her to know she was just awesome!

My mom made her typical non-commital comment of, “Maybe Santa would bring her.” Now, I was not a Santa girl. No letter-writing and certainly no lap-sitting for me! Nevertheless, I had confidence. He was Santa, so he knew what I wanted. No need for me to nag him.

Christmas Eve arrived, and so did Santa (that will be its own post some day). As we opened our presents, there she was! Santa had come through, and I was thrilled. We had a little bit of time before having to go to bed, so of course Chatty Cathy came out of the box for me to play with.

After being reminded to be careful, I pulled the ring. She talked! Unlike many toys on TV commercials, she actually functioned as advertised. I was in heaven, and carefully pulled the ring several more times, to hear some of her other phrases.

And then the string snapped.

I had a doll on my lap and an unattached ring on my finger. I had no idea what had happened. I’d been careful with my pulling, not yanking the string, but it was gone. The winding mechanism had sucked the string into the body, and there was no way to retrieve it. The doll had no screws or other fastners that could provide access to the inside.

I was beside myself. Even at the tender age of five, I knew broken toys did not get replaced in our house. We were expected to be careful and take care of things. When something broke, we lived with it, fixed it, or threw it out. It was simple enough even a 5-year-old could understand.

This situation was complicated by Santa having brought the present. She came from Santa’s workshop, not from Foster’s Toy Store in town, or Sears at the Oakbrook Shopping Center. There was no place to return a defective Santa toy to!

While my parents and siblings tried their best to console me, there wasn’t much to say. It was a pretty dismal Christmas for me. Without her voice, Chatty Cathy was just another doll. She quietly disappeared out of my life.

Time went by and the next Chrismas rolled around. I don’t recall wanting anything in particular that year. Imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a Chatty Cathy from Santa! He knew it hadn’t been my fault the string broke last year! He replaced the doll, but had to wait a year to do it.

How did I know he replaced her, not just fixed her? Repairing her would have taken too long, but more importantly, this string was plain white. The first doll’s string had been a red and white candy cane striped string. I felt so much better.

Chatty Cathy and I spent a long life together. She talked flawlessly until some time in the 1980s. The string was still intact, but her voice didn’t work. Dad and I performed “surgery,” taking her apart to see what was wrong. The plastic socket the record spun on broke, so the record couldn’t spin properly. The plastic was 20+ years old, so that wasn’t surprising!

Careful application of hot glue easily fixed that problem, but created a new one. We didn’t know how the string needed to route. While her voice box had been bouncing around inside her, other parts had jumbled up. Everything we tried put too much stress on the string, so it didn’t pull right.

Chatty Cathy, still not having a good day . . . I think I have all the pieces, though I should check the O-ring for the winding mechanism.

I carefully packed her and her clothes into an empty shoe box, in hopes I’d be able to fix her some day. We’ll come back to her, later.

Meanwhile, three or four years went by, and I grew wiser. I realized my mom’s hiding place of choice for unwrapped gifts was under her bed, the dust ruffle concealing them. Of course, rummaging through them was risky business. It could happen only when no one else would be around. With six other people in the house, opportunities were few.

It was also an inexact process. While I could usually determine presents destined for my brothers, I once got my hopes up about a 101 Crafts to Make From Scrap Materials book I was sure was for me. Unfortunately, it went to Carole, who was pursuing an under graduate degree in elementary education. Mom must have thought Carole could use it in the classroom. Oops! That was a bit of Christmas disappointment.

THEN there was the year I peeked at wrapped gifts under the tree. Family gifts would appear underneath shortly after the tree went up on the 20th. If mom caught anyone rummaging through them, she would shoo them away. But she couldn’t be there all the time! So early one morning I was downstairs, looking at packages labeled for me.

Now, if you’ve never broken into your wrapped presents, you may not realize how difficult it is. The tape has to be removed very carefully, not letting any of the paper design lift up because it stuck to the tape. If/when that happens, the tape has to be replaced even more carefully, so the color and designs line up, with no white underlayers peeking through. Otherwise someone might notice the package had been tampered with. The list of guilty people would be pretty short! More expensive paper with a slicker, glossier finish was usually easier than low-end paper, but any of them could cause problems.

It was, however, a skill I had perfected.

There was an oddly-shaped present from my brother, Bob. I carefully undid the tape—only the pieces absolutely necessary—to see what it was. It turned out to be a vinyl and plastic Troll house. It had buckles on top of the roof, releasing the side wall to fold down and expand the living space. Trolls were a fad at the time, and I had a few. I’d never seen anything like this, and it looked really cool. Curiosity satisfied, I replaced the tape and moved on.

Troll house. What more is there to say?

I next noticed a flat-ish, rectangular box, the kind clothes would come in. I couldn’t imagine what it was, so lifted the tape on one end, carefully sliding the box out. First rule is to remove tape carefully. Second rule is not to remove any more tape than necessary. The less you have to rewrap, the better. Third rule is not to let the corners rip the paper! I peeked in, and saw a dress I’d tried on several weeks earlier.

I remembered that shopping trip. Mom, Carole, and I had gone to Schoen’s, the other dry goods store in town, right next to The Uptown. Mom had me try on this dress, and I really loved it! But she said that she didn’t like it on me as much as she thought she would when she saw it on the hanger, so we didn’t get it.

When I came out of the dressing room, back in my own clothes, she remembered she needed to look at something else, but told Carole and me to head out to the car. It was locked, so we looked in some nearby store windows until she came out in a few minutes.

After I opened that present on Christmas Eve, I would learn that while I was dressing, Mom told the cashier she wanted the dress, but it needed to be a surprise. Carole was in on the secret and had been given the task of keeping me occupied—particularly when Mom came out of the store with the box in a bag—so I didn’t notice her putting something into the trunk. Obviously her plan worked, because I was clueless.

Of course as I was breaking into the wrapping, I didn’t know any of those details. Nevertheless, my 9- or 10-year-old brain suddenly realized I’d really messed up. Now I was going to have to try and look surprised as I opened those two gifts. If you’ve ever tried to fake it for a surprise party you figured out, or was leaked to you, you understand the difficulty. Somehow I got through gift opening that Christmas without anyone catching on, though.

Whatever became of my Chatty Cathy? She’s still in a shoe box in my closet. In the 1990s or so, I searched the internet looking for a schematic to show how the pull string should run. I found a couple people on eBay selling printed directions, but at $25 each, it was more than I felt comfortable spending right then. Repairing her was put on indefinite hold.

Good things come to those who wait, right? When I searched recently for Chatty Cathy voice box repair, lo and behold, several YouTube videos are available, demonstrating the process. Now it’s merely a matter of finding making the time to put her in working order.

As for my life of gift wrapping crime, it ended that Christmas. There were no more under-the-bed raids, or trying to snoop in wrapped packages. I suddenly saw it from the other side, recognizing my mom’s effort to surprise me with something I really wanted. My curiosity wrecked that—or almost did. I grew up a little bit, realizing Christmas gift-giving was as much for the giver, as it was for the recipient.



King of the Dead: “That line was broken.” Aragorn: “It has been remade.” Return of the King [movie]

Okay, that may have been a little overly dramatic, though perhaps not at much as one might think.

It’s no secret that Mike’s Carmody line drives me to distraction. And drink. And chocolate. The rift that began in the 1940s when his dad (Jerry) was orphaned hasn’t really mended. Mike and his brother don’t know any of those relatives, nor do the Carmody cousins know them. Aside from a reunion his brother went to in the 1980s, there has been no other contact. I presume it was mentioned at that time I was working on genealogy, but no one reached out to catch me up with the current people and their relationships.

As a result, I’ve spent 40+ years piecing this family line together from the little bits of information passed on to me from that reunion, and what I’ve been able to gleen from records online and newspaper articles. All things considered, I feel I’ve done an *okay* job figuring out the basic structure of the family.

I feel confident about the line in Ireland running back to Mike’s great-grandfather, Andrew, but the pedigree comes to a screeching halt with him. Other than his name, and knowing that he held land leases in The Boreen in Ennis, County Clare, I have no other personal details about him. He and his wife, Mary Culleeny (Cullinan?) started having children in 1843, but I’ve found no birth, death, or marriage date for him, no parent names, no siblings. He was dropped in Clare by aliens, it seems.

I’ve worked on building down the descendant trees for John Joseph (Mike’s grandfather) and Michael (John Joseph’s brother), because all their children settled in the USA. They had 19 children between them! That’s a lot of descendant lines, so it’s slow going, especially when there’s no one with whom I can confirm those findings.

John Joseph’s and Michael’s sisters (Mike’s grand aunts) may have married, but where? Ireland? United States? Other than birth records I’ve found for them, I know knothing else, like married surnames, so I’m stymied there.

A third brother, Patrick, remained in Ireland. I have found his family (I think?) in the 1901 and 1911 census records. There were several Patrick Carmodys nearby, around the right age, but only one family had an Andrew—and I know the Patrick I needed had an Andy. I’m cautious in assuming that is the right family until I can confirm it better. The War of Independence scuttled the 1921 census, and I’ve had no luck finding newspaper articles to identify anyone well enough to solidly link them to our Carmodys.

I even researched the other Carmodys living in a different section of Ennis, trying to connect them to Mike’s. I had some success connecting them to each other, but did not find a connection to Andrew or his descendants. Not yet, at least.

DNA would be the solution, right? Uh-huh. While Mike has 2-3 times as many matches as I do, undoubtedly due to his three Irish ancestral lines, none of them have a Carmody surname. Or a name I recognize as being a Carmody descendant. We have no identified Carmody DNA matches to help sort out all the unidentified ones. Until now, maybe.

What happened? December 4th I got the email we all love to see: “New message from Ancestry member ________.” Unfortunately, it arrived while we were on a Caribbean cruise, with internet access only while in port, and only on my phone. While my laptop was with me, using it on deck, where my phone could pick up internet was not a good plan. Too hot and too humid. It would be ten days before I’d no longer be traveling, and not having to rely on a 5.75″ x 2.5″ screen!

Still, not wanting to be one of those people—ones who don’t answer Ancestry messages—I sent off a reply, explaining the situation. I included a Cliff Notes version of Mike’s Carmodys—based on what I could remember off the top of my head. Risky, I know, but it was a basic overview, and I hoped maybe something I wrote would make sense on “Joe’s” end (not his real name, as you may have guessed!).

So, how did Joe connect? Why did he contact me? Mike shares only 23 cMs with Joe (25 cMs with Joe’s sister), but Joe’s 2nd great-grandmother was a Catherine Carmody, purportedly from County Clare, with a father, James. Mike and Joe didn’t share a lot of DNA, but that amount could make sense for distant relatives. Or it could just be really common Irish DNA that everybody has. With the shared surname and location it deserved at least some investigation.

At the end of my first reply, I explained the phone was too small to try and do heavy-duty genealogy, and that the cell phone provider internet was slow. I really wouldn’t be able to seriously look into it until I was home, ten days later.

I lied. Well, not really. I meant it when I typed it, and it was true: serious research and analysis on the phone was tedious at best. But Joe had opened up a bag of M&Ms and set it down next to me. How could I ignore it for that long?

I remembered the working tree I’d started building, trying to sort out and connect together the various Carmodys in County Clare. It was still a work in progress, but how many Catherine Carmodys did I have? I pulled it up on the phone from my Ancestry account. Eleven Catherines, including an older sister of John Joseph and Michael. How many James Carmodys? Sixteen! All the Catherines were too young to be Joe’s 2nd great-grandmother (she married in 1848), and either I had no birth date for the assorted Jameses, or they were also born too late.

Nevertheless, the next time we were in port, I emailed Joe a list of the Catherines and Jameses. I didn’t know if he might have any of them in his tree as collateral relatives. Meanwhile, he shared his DNA match list with me.

So much for my not doing anything until I got home! We didn’t reach any conclusions, but bits of evidence started to accumulate over the next ten days, suggesting we might be on the right track.

Finally home, I looked more closely at the matches, and the shared matches. The 23 cMs (and 25 for the sister) were all in one segment, rather than being broken up into several smaller ones. That seemed more likely to indicate inherited DNA, rather than coincidental, “common,” Irish DNA. I noticed some Needhams on his tree, though. Was it possible Joe was connected through Mike’s mom’s Needham line? We needed to be careful, and not jump to a conclusion we wanted in lieu of the right conclusion!

None of the shared matches were people I knew, and not many had trees. Then I noticed Mary, who also shared 23 cMs with Joe. Except she share 161 cMs of DNA with Mike. That was huge! It put her in his 2nd cousin (or half 2nd cousin) range.

When I looked at her unlinked tree of 10 people, I almost fell over. I knew exactly how she fit in, and all the names in her tree were in mine. She was the great-granddaughter of Mike’s granduncle, Michael Carmody (John Joseph’s brother). Her grandmother, Margaret Carmody, married into the Alloway family, and settled in Port Huron, Michigan. That made Mary a 2nd cousin, once removed to Mike, and all Mike’s shared matches with her should be Carmodys.

It basically eliminted Needhams as a possibility. Whew! That simplified things.

So Joe was in Liverpool while I was here, and we were both looking at shared matches, trees, whatever we could find. I discovered a couple more descendants of Margaret in the shared list; Joe saw that Mike kept matching identified cousins on his line (descendants of his 2nd great grandmother, Catherine). Yes, the numbers were still low, but it was too consistent to be random chance.

Today Joe emailed with a new lead: a great grandson of Margaret’s (an Alloway) matched both of them. Granted, it was only a 9+ cM match, but his tree linked up to mine. Along with the other matches we found, we feel confident Catherine (Joe’s 2nd great-grandmother) must be related to Mike’s great-grandfather, Andrew.

Do we know how? No. She could be a sister. Maybe a cousin? Or a niece? We aren’t exactly sure.

So, are we done? Definitely not! Now the work begins of adding descendants to the other descendant lines of Andrew. We need documented paths to the newly-identified Carmody matches.

It’s possible we may never be able to identify how Catherine connects. The church records are scarcer as we go back that far. It’s part of the reason I don’t have details about Andrew’s birth. But maybe I wasn’t looking in the right location. Perhaps he originated from a different area of County Clare? Joe’s ancestors have strong ties to Kilrush, so it needs to be considered.

I need to go back to the Irish records and continue building out the “working tree” I started for County Clare, making sure I include records from Kilrush that I may have skipped over before. Kilrush is fairly far away from Ennis, so I probably didn’t include people and records from there.

It would be tempting to claim DNA solved this puzzle, but in reality, the family lines—old-fashioned genealogy—gave us the answer. All DNA did was help us ask better questions, and give us a little nudge.

And, of course, leave us with new questions . . .



Stitched with love . . .

Many things can be homemade. Sometimes it’s food, like bread. Sometimes it’s rather utilitarian tables like my paternal grandfather, Edward Matthias Haws constructed. Or the wool quilts (also utilitarian) his wife, Victoria Barbara Schweiger, sewed to keep her family warm.

One multigenerational tradition for us is Christmas stockings. I’m not sure whether hanging up stockings came from Dad’s Haws side, Mom’s Meintzer side, or both. If either of them hung stockings as kids, it must have been their actual socks, because the only stockings for them I ever saw were cheap, flimsy ones after we kids left the house. There were never any hung for Mom and Dad when we were growing up.

At some point after their third child was born, Mom decided the kids needed stockings. The basement of The Uptown (one of the two dry goods stores in town) had a sewing and crafts section. They sold stocking kits. Apparently there was only one style, so she bought 3 identical kits, for $1 each, I believe.

The stockings were made of felt, and absurdly simple, by today’s standards. The only difference between the three was their names on the cuff. In addition to that cuff, they had an appliqued teddy bear, a tree with a few sequins sewn on for ornaments, a snowman, a train, and an alphabet block. All the figures were flat, with just a few sequins added for eyes, buttons, or ornaments. The front was sewn to the back with green yarn, using a buttonhole stitch. A plastic ring was sewn to the corner for hanging.

When child four arrived several years later, Mom trekked to The Uptown once again and bought another, still identical, kit. So the four older kids all matched. I went in search of photos.

The stockings for two brothers were victims of untimely loss. I scrolled through the 3000+ scans of Mom’s photos, but found none of our fireplace at Christmas. I was surprised to see a Christmas card from one their friends. It had a photo of their sons, Johnny and Jimmy Handke, with their stockings—clones of my siblings’! It must have been a very popular kit.

Close-up of Johnny Handke’s stocking, identical to the ones my siblings had.

Scrolling further, I found half of my sister’s, peeking around a shoulder. It was the best I could scare up:

Zoomed in to see Carole’s stocking in the background. We can see the tree, the snowman and train, and a bit of the light blue alphabet block to the left, between the tree and snowman. There was some debate about whether the name was glitter & glue, or stitched, but we’ve decided it was stitched.

When I showed up six years after the fourth clone, it caused problems. I hear some of you thinking, “Yeah, no surprise, there!”

Returning to The Uptown, Mom discovered the kit had been discontinued! The new kit’s stocking was longer than the others. It caused me no end of grief growing up, with the other four “complaining” that Santa put more in my stocking than in theirs. In reality, theirs were usually stuffed (with overflow set on the hearth below), while mine had lots of air space.

By now, that’s all water under the bridge . . . I hope . . .

In the 1970s, Mom sewed stockings for two of her grandkids (my sister, Carole, couldn’t see well enough to do that kind of sewing). Mom ran into a problem similar to mine, but in reverse.

She picked out a stocking design she thought was cute, but didn’t pay attention to the stocking’s size. It was 28″ long, or something absurd like that. It was horrible for Santa to fill it! The next stocking was a more “normal” size, but again, the size disparity created a little tension in the family. The difference is obvious on the photo below:

The two stockings in question are at the far right and left. ‘Nuf said.

After getting married, I discovered families existed that did not have stockings. Seriously? This was not disclosed during dating. Nevertheless, I sewed a stocking for Mike the first Christmas we were married. It was a duplicate of mine, achieved by tracing my stocking and its appliques. My stocking had a tree, a reindeer, a sleigh, and a Santa head. Like my siblings’, my appliqued designs were all flat, with a few sequins for accent.

When we started having kids, I discovered for myself it was a whole new ballgame in the world of stocking kits. Gone were the days of appliqued silhouettes. ALL the kits were scenes, and they were starting to develop a sculpted look, with some pieces stuffed with fiberfill, raising them off the background material.

Despite the instructions telling me to embroider the names on the cuff, I cut out block letters from scrap felt for the names, mimicking mine. Since our names were in red, I made the kids’ names green. Apparently I didn’t want Santa confused about which stockings belonged to adults and which belonged to kids . . .

Child stocking #1. Thankfully, the cute little tools above Santa’s head were flat! The doll dangling above the toe still stresses me out, but she has survived, and not pulled off!
Child stocking #2. Ignore the little stocking that wormed its way into the photo. I think that belonged to a Pound Puppy. Yes, dolls and stuffed animals sometimes had stockings at our house. Note the 3-D arms and mittens and the poofy hat. And lots of sequins!

I did make sure all my kids’ stockings were the same size, however! (Only 2 shown)

When grandchildren started to arrive, I told the parents to pick out a stocking kit they liked, and show it to me. I would buy it and stitch it up. Since they were going to see it for the next couple decades, it seemed reasonable for them to choose. And I did comment about the size issue.

In the seventeen years since the last stocking I’d sewn, designs had gotten more intricate. More sequins, more pieces, more layers, more stuffing, and yes, even lights! Each stocking—even ones that seemed less complicated—brought its own challenge. But I never asked them to choose differently. Like wizards’ wands, the stocking chose the child, albeit through its parents.

For the grandchildren born early in the year, starting the stocking could wait until after their arrival. For the end-of-the-year babies, well, theirs needed to start before they were born—after their baby blanket was knitted, though.

Even then, sometimes it was cutting close to the wire. Stocking #1 wasn’t actually finished for Christmas Eve, though it was functional! About mid-December I realized there was absolutely no way I could finish it on time. It had far too many “cookies” and other 3-D pieces to make, each one with multiple steps.

Stocking #1. So. Many. Pieces. Five SIX paintbrushes, 4 small pieces for each, plus satin stitch. Six gingerbread men. Four candy canes (including the tiny one tucked in Santa’s pocket!). Why are there always candy canes? Plus three star cookies. With sprinkles.

I noticed that if I left off all the attachments (3 gingerbread men, 2 star cookies, 2 candy canes) along the top edge, the rest of the stocking would look “finished,” and I could easily tack those on after the stocking front and back were joined. So I focused on the rest of the stocking: Santa, the brushes and icing pots, and the random cookies at the bottom. With all that finished, I sewed it up. The stamped markings for the missing cookies were a little visible, but it wasn’t bad. Santa filled it Christmas Eve and it was quickly returned to me so I could actually finish it.

Stocking #2. This one is a little shorter (16″) than the others, but I’m sure Santa keeps things equitable. This one has loose arms, flying scarves with fringe (even on the red bird!), and 3-dimensional feet and snowballs. But no candy canes!
Stocking #3. When this was chosen, I thought, “Oh, this will be easier!” It seemed like there were fewer pieces. Maybe there were. Regardless, I was wrong. I can’t recall what was so time-consuming about it (probably a good thing!); it just was. Maybe it was the string of small triangles at the top? Or all the stitching?
Stocking #4. Lights! (Not turned on, here—the starbursts are just sequins and embroidery.) The tree ornaments, stars, and candy canes (again!) are all 3-dimensional, and tacked on. Then there was the challenge of figuring out how to poke the 10 or 12 LED lights through to the front and secure the wires and the battery pack on the back (inside) so neither Santa nor child snagged them and ripped them out. This one also had a small felt ornament that looked like the tree on the stocking.
Stocking #5. This is still a work in progress, with the name tag still to sew. It will be completed in time for this Christmas! Besides the name tag, I need to look it over, picking off the stamped markings beneath the tacked-on figures. Since those figures aren’t sewn tightly to the felt below (covering them up), the markings are visible from certain angles. Not cool.

Were there easier ways to acquire stockings? No doubt. Stores, craft fairs, and eBay stock plenty of them. Hopefully the kids (and grown-up kids) each know the stocking was made specifically for him or her, and is just as unique.

How long did each stocking take? I have no idea, and couldn’t even venture a guess. I’m not sure I’d even want to think about it! There were a lot of 10- or 15-minute mini-sessions, along with longer blocks of time sewing pieces together—sometimes unsewing them. It wasn’t about the time, it was about the child. Whatever it took, it didn’t matter.

Some of the grandkid stockings (many? all?) came along on fall cruises, because those provided long blocks of time without housework or yardwork limiting my sewing time. Those stockings have ocean breezes stitched into them, but hopefully no salt spray. That would not be good for the felt.

Today our mantle has only two stockings. I remember talking with someone who kept their adult children’s stockings to hang in their own home. I was speechless, which was probably a good thing. Their kids all had homes of their own! How could they do that?!? Our kids’ stockings did not belong to us, and I could never keep them after they moved out.

If our kids spend the night over at Christmas, they are reminded to bring their stockings to hang. If we have other houseguests at Christmas who do not have stockings, I have a couple spare, generic stockings available for them. Santa will find them, even when traveling. No one’s stocking was ever empty.

Just as our own stories need to be remembered along with our ancestors’, so do the homemade items we make.



“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”–Julia Child

Wonder Bread. The primary colored dots on the wrapper were a staple for Baby Boomers. Everyone knew “Wonder builds strong bodies twelve ways.” Television commercials drilled it into our heads, and they wouldn’t lie!

As the years went by, Wonder started to build strong bodies in only 10 ways. Then 8. By now, maybe it’s only 6. I’m not sure exactly what happened. Did some of the vitamins end up being not healthy? Was it due to downsizing, like we’ve experienced with cans of tuna, starting at 7 ounces, then 6, and currently 5? Or was it the result of mergers, like the “Big 8” accounting firms whittling down to the “Big 4?” Whatever the cause, apparently Wonder Bread isn’t as healthy now as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

My oldest brother, Bob, in his misguided youth, once chastised our mother for not serving Wonder Bread. Clearly she had no regard for their good health. Nevermind that she baked all the bread for the family at that time.

Granted, it was white bread (whole wheat bread hadn’t become a thing, yet), but there were no preservatives in it, and it had far more flavor and better texture than the slices of white sponge. It was purely an economic decision for her; it cost her less to bake her own, than to buy it. With 3 4 5 kids to feed, even small savings mattered.

As family finances improved, Mom baked bread less often, but opted for Pepperidge Farm, Upside-Down Bread, and later, Brownberry Natural Wheat (when white bread fell out of favor). Not Wonder. Even with less bread making, Mom still made sure I learned how to make bread, and homemade bread and rolls still showed up on the table.

I’m always a little puzzled when someone says they don’t like working with yeast. They talk about it being scary, because it’s difficult and complicated. Compared to cakes, which rely on more complicated chemical reactions, needing precise measurements (to keep the proportions correct), bread is downright simple. As long as you don’t kill the yeast, or add too much salt, it’s really hard to mess it up.

Kneading provides its own brand of therapy. If you are angry or frustrated with someone or something, bread dough is a perfect release. Punch it down, slap it around, lean hard into it with the heels of your hands. It can take the abuse you cannot inflict on someone else without landing in jail. My sister, Carole, always said her bread or rolls turned out the best when she was angry about something. She kneaded harder and longer, stretching the gluten more.

Bread seems to be built into my DNA. While I don’t know anything about bread and my great-grandmothers, my go-to cloverleaf roll recipe came from my parental grandmother, Victoria Barbara Schweiger.

When my mom moved to an apartment, we unearthed a large bread bowl I had never seen, much less see her use. It was stored in a closet shelf in the basement of the *new* house. In our old house it must have been downstairs on a pantry shelf, or squirreled away at the back of one of the lower cabinets. I have no recollection of it.

Mom said she thought the bowl was her mother’s (Minnie Moeller Meintzer). It looked like the right style for that era: thick ceramic, sort of a cream color. The finish has some issues, suggesting a piece likely to be that old.

Bread bowl likely to have belonged to Minnie Moeller Meintzer. It’s about 10″ tall, maybe a bit more, and about 12″ across, with thick ceramic/pottery or whatever it’s made of. The sides slope down to a fairly narrow base. Mom thought it was her mother’s (Minnie), though it’s possible it belonged to Minnie’s mother, Elfrieda Jonas Moeller.

When Mom’s antiques landed at my house, I needed to decide what to do with it. Even though it’s not much to look at, it now lives on the kitchen counter. Sometimes I put fresh fruit in it, but when I need a bowl for bread, it’s easily within reach. Put into a cabinet, I might grab something else. If I’m going to store it, is rather it was used.

Mom’s bowl of choice was her big yellow Pyrex bowl. Everyone in the 1950s and 1960s had the set of 4 different-colored nested bowls, with the yellow one being the largest (4 quart). Ours made potato salad, pie dough, and of course, bread dough. It was also a featured player in family recipes:

Turkey Stuffing–“fill the yellow bowl with dried bread cubes.” That’s the only measurement I’ve ever used.

The infamous yellow bowl. This is my daughter’s, who graciously photographed it for me to use. Yes it’s a garage sale find.

If the recipe started out, “In a large bowl,” this was the one you grabbed. Mom collected yellow bowls the way other women collected stray cats. While everyone had a set, they were glass, and subject to breakage. As the smaller bowls broke in other kitchens, the yellow ones appeared in garage sales, where Mom picked them up for a pittance. She gave one to Carole, and had one for me long before I ever thought about marriage. Eventually I ended up with 2 (giving one to my daughter). Plus I picked up my mother-in-law’s complete set of four.

Occasionally Mom needed to replace her own bowl. One Thanksgiving was almost a disaster when a sliver was discovered to be missing along the top edge. The dough for the rolls was rising in bowl. We didn’t see the sliver laying on top of the dough, but she also didn’t know when it chipped off. If it was while Mom mixed the dough, ground glass could have been kneaded all through the dough. The bowl, dough and all, went into the trash.

Fortunately, Mom had made a trip to the Pepperidge Farm Outlet store a couple weeks earlier, and randomly picked up some rolls she’d put in the freezer. They weren’t intended for Thanksgiving, they must have just been cheap. She also bought 2 frozen pumpkin pies to make Thanksgiving morning a little easier. Unfortunately, she must have missed a bag and left them at the store, became there were no pie boxes in the freezer!

We went from homemade rolls and frozen pies to store bought rolls and homemade pies that year. It was a frantic race to make and roll pie crusts and bake the pies. So much for saving time . . . That is the only holiday I can think of when we didn’t have homemade rolls on the table.

When I was in my bread making with small children phase, I battled with how to get whole wheat bread to rise, and not be a brick. After a fair amount of trial and error, I hit upon including a combination of:

  • Crisco-like fat, melted
  • A ratio of 6 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup bread flour. Whole wheat flour has less gluten, due to all the wheat germy parts. Bread flour has more gluten than all-purpose flour, so helps make up for that. So no, it was not 100% whole wheat–only 85.7%.
  • I saved potato cooking water (glass jar, refrigerated) to use for the liquid. Apparently yeast loves to feed on the starches that have cooked out, so they reproduce like crazy!

Eventually, like Mom, my schedule became busier, so baking our daily bread fell to the wayside. Unlike her, I rarely sprang for the pricier breads. Or Wonder Bread. I look for cheap bread. Is it as good as mine? No, but it’s fine for what it costs.

All our kids can cope with yeast. Our oldest son brought the rolls for Thanksgiving, and they were really good! Not one of my recipes, so I need to snag that one from him.

When our daughter was taking French in highschool, the teacher planned a “feast” for Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”–the day before Ash Wednesday). The teacher provided traditional French recipes, and each student was to pick one and bring it the next day.

Our daughter picked a brioche braid. It’s a rich egg bread with diced cheese kneaded in. Gotta use up all those rich foods (eggs, butter, cheese) before Lent started. So I asked her why she’d chosen that one. Her reply? Swear to God:

“It was bread, so I knew it would be easy.”

I laughed. That apple didn’t fall too far from this tree. I told you it was in the DNA . . .



“If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.”—John Wooden

Unlike my husband, whose mantra is, “When in doubt, throw it out,” my mom kept a lot of stuff. I’ve spent years going through it. Some of it was while she was alive, so I could ask her questions, but other items I didn’t encounter until after she died. Much of it I can deal with on my own, but I regularly run into documents or ephemera that raise more questions than they answer. Of course, the biggest question is why she never showed me some of those things in the 40+ years of doing genealogy!

I am certainly thankful for the extra bits and pieces Mom seemed to have tucked away in drawers, boxes, and file folders, like:

  • the mortgage payment book from their 1st house
  • tax returns from the 1950s
  • photos from their honeymoon bus trip and the “shack” they lived in afterwards
  • funeral cards
  • high school newspapers

They provide colorful details to the lives of the people connected to them, adding to the bare-bones facts of names, dates, and places.

I’m less thankful for the mountains of useless, often redundant, lists she created, though I could usually deal with (aka: recycle) them pretty easily.

One collection I’m not thankful to be missing was the letters Mom & Dad wrote to each other while Dad was overseas from early 1943 to late 1944. That included the letter where Dad proposed. He was scheduled to come home for a one-month leave, and was then being assigned stateside, and could bring along a wife. If they were going to get married, it would have to be quick, once he got back home.

How do I know those letters were missing? Mom told me. After they were married, Dad made her dispose of them all. Why? He said he didn’t want her pulling out those letters somewhere down the road and asking why he hadn’t “made good” on this or that promise. He told her young men in love make lots of promises, and while he fully intended to keep them, he couldn’t guarantee the time line. He didn’t want grief over not achieving them fast enough.

Overall, I’m pretty sure Dad eventually provided everything he’d promised in those letters. Neverthless, the letters were gone.

So why does that matter? Well, the letters were an important part of their shared history, which is now missing. His letters also included addendums, unbeknownst to him at the time.

All outgoing mail was read by an officer, to make sure it contained nothing that would compromise naval intelligence or movements, if the letter fell into the wrong hands. In Dad’s case, that meant Charlie Altier screened the letters written to Mom. But Charlie went a step further, and added notes to Mom in the margins, confirming the things Dad wrote were true.

Apparently, it was not uncommon for some of the men to be “dating” the local young women while they were stationed overseas. That wasn’t particularly a problem, unless they were two-timing a girlfriend/wife back home. According to what Mom remembered, Charlie Altier’s additional notes assured her that Dad was walking the straight and narrow, and actually behaving as he said he was—and not feeding her a line. I have no idea if he wrote anything on other sailors’ letters.

I also wonder if the officers reading the letters of the other, less angelic, sailors added notes to the letters of those girlfriends/wives that their beau was not all he purported to be? That would have been interesting to know. My guess is that they didn’t rat out those guys, because it would have only started something they would have needed to defend later. On the other hand, giving brownie points to the *good* guys wouldn’t cause any problem.

While I certainly regret the loss of those World War II letters, I’m thankful Mom eventually told me the story of the margin notes added on.

Of course, it turned out the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. After our daughter was born, I remembered the fate of Dad’s letters. I decided I really didn’t want the diary I’d kept in college (the only time I regularly wrote one), or the letters from Mike written during the summers when we were apart, being read by anyone, later on. They all went into the trash. Yes, I know, genealogical sacrilege. Mike still has the ones I wrote to him, but the corresponding ones from him are gone.

Do I now regret that decision? Actually, no, not really. We’ll just leave it at that.



“Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start new.” — Sammy Hagar

We all have one. It is so ingrained in us, I don’t think we consider how often we use it, or how much it identifies us. We need it for:

  • Birth certificate (obviously!)
  • Drivers license
  • Social Security card, which trickles down to
  • Employment records
  • Financial accounts (bank, credit card, brokerage)
  • Tax returns
  • Credit reports
  • Health insurance/medical records
  • School records
  • Some websites (because you have to be at least 13)

I think I even had to show a birth certificate the first time I registered each of our kids in the local soccer league. They wanted to be sure kids were playing in the right age group.

I always thought the increased importance of birthdays was tied to the establishment of Social Security, but apparently hiring practices during WWII also played a part.1 People possessing no official document of their birth suddenly needed one. A search of Ancestry’s card catalog listed 7 databases for delayed births, which didn’t include Iowa and Cook County, Illinois. I know both those locations have delayed births recorded. I’m sure more exist.

One would think nailing down a birthday was a straight-forward task, but of the 6721 people in my tree, only 4378 (2/3) have data in their birth field. Some of those are vague, “about,” “before,” or “after” dates, estimated from information in other records. The people with 0date typically fall into very early ancestors (ones I’m lucky to know their name, much less anything else) or current relatives I’m trying not to creep out, by asking too-personal questions.

As for the 2/3, most of them have multiple date possibilities recorded. Census records suggest only a year, which can be “off” due to how the birth date falls in relation to the census day. Sometimes people fudged their age, claiming to be older to enter military service earlier, or avoid parental consent for a marriage license; or claiming younger, because, well, vanity has been around for a while.

I continually struggle with birth date issues. Some are resolved:

  • Elizabeth Nolan Kukler (Mike’s grandmother)—when I found her birth in the county register, it was different than the one she used all her life.
  • Andrew Joseph and Andrew Michael Carmody, first cousins to each other on Mike’s paternal side—born several months apart, making it hard to keep them properly sorted.
  • Sophia Gaertner Meintzer (my great grandmother)—her birthdate was literally carved in stone, and embossed in gold leaf on her funeral card. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong date.
Sophia Meintzer, 16 September 1842 to 7 September 1913. Mooney Cemetery, Highland Park, Illinois. Personal photo.
Sophia Gaertner Meintzer funeral card. It measures 6.5″ x 4.25″ and is very stiff cardboard. Born 16 September 1842, died 7 September 1913, age 70 years 11 months 21 days. I know the “1913” looks like “1918,” but the embossing was a little sloppy, and the 3 spread out. The shape of the 8 in the line above looks different, and the other death records document 1913.

I had no reason to question Sophia’s birth date. The funeral card matched the headstone. The 1900 census also listed it as September 1842.2 Most likely Sophia provided the census information herself. Her husband, Christian Meintzer, didn’t speak English, and the last two sons living at home (Ed and Christoph) were 13 and 11. It’s unlikely they would have given the answers. They might have needed to translate, but they would have provided whatever answers their parents gave.

When the Bas-Rhin church records became available online, I searched for Sophia’s birth in Lorentzen. First stop was the Tables décennales. That was the quickest way to look for Sophia across a 10-year window, just in case the 1842 year was wrong. Entries were indexed by surname, then chronologically by year.

Sophia was on page 2 of the 1833-1842 index, but the birth date was 17 Aout 1842. That’s August, not September! Maybe that wasn’t her? Maybe the index was wrong? In the 1842 birth register she was entry #20, on the 7th image.3 The date matched the index, so it had been created correctly. The previous entry was a 31 July birth, the next entry was 24 August.

Le Dix Septième jour du mois d’Aout . . . . Sophia Gaertner . . . le Dix Sept Aout mil huit cent quarante-deux . . . fille naturelle de père inconnu et de Catharine Gaertner—The 17th day of the month of August . . . Sophia Gaertner . . . the 17th of August 1842 . . . natural daughter of unknown father and Catharine Gaertner.3 A “natural” child was one born outside of marriage, as opposed to a légitime (legitimate) child born to a married couple.

There was no question about the date, as the registration and birth dates matched. Sophia’s birth was reported to the maire [mayor], Pierre Reeb, the day it happened. No other Sophia Gaertner was born in Lorentzen during that 10-year window, the mother’s name was correct, with no father named. The information was consistent with Sophia’s 1866 marriage record.

However, none of the names—Gaertner, Sophia, and Catharine—were particularly uncommon. Since the index ended in 1842, due diligence required me check for a birth near the beginning of the next 10-year window just in case another Sophia Gaertner was born in Lorentzen. Sure enough, the Tables décennales 1843-1852 listed a Sophie Gaertner born 4 February 1843. Her birth record showed she was the légitime daughter of Charles Gaertner and Sophie Wetterhold. Clearly not my Sophia!

So how did my Sophia’s birthday “move” from August to September? Good question. I have no clue! I have a couple ideas, but no proof for any of them.

Presumably Sophia (and her family) celebrated her birthday. Maybe she didn’t actually know her birthday, and 16 September was the day she was told by her grandparents? Obviously she was using that date by the 1900 census.

Sophia or her family wouldn’t have had access to the Alsatian birth registers, but did she acquire a written copy of her birth before emigrating in 1881? I’ve never seen or heard about such a document existing, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t. While her children grew up speaking German, they did not speak French. In fact, their father would swear in French, because the kids wouldn’t know what he was saying!

The first time I saw Septième, my brain ignored the dix- in front of it, and I thought, “September.” I can see someone else jumping to the same wrong conclusion. Of course, after 1871, when Alsace transferred to Germany, it’s likely a document like that would have been written in German, not French. The register books switched to German in 1872.

The more I think about it, the less likely the 2nd scenario seems. I’m sure Christian and Sophia saw no need to bring anything to document their or their children’s births when leaving Alsace. The one exception might be a family Bible, but I have never heard that one existed for them. Unlike today, if you were asked about your birthday back then, no one expected a document to be presented. You told them, they believed you and wrote it down. End of story.

Maybe I’m luckier than I realized, to have as many birth dates as I do?

Hopefully when I eventually “catch up” to Sophia, she can fill me in on what went on with her birth date. In the meantime, I’ll keep explaining to cousins why her tombstone is wrong . . .


1Blakemore, Erin. “The History Of Birth Certificates Is Shorter Than You Might Think”. HISTORY, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-birth-certificates-is-shorter-than-you-might-think. Accessed 15 November 2021.

21900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Lake, Vernon Township, e.d. 139; Page 9A; dwelling number 182; family number 188; line 31; Christian MEINTZER household; accessed 1 December 2018. Sophia MEINTZER, age 57, September 1842; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 314; digital image, Ancestry.com.

3“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Lorentzen, Registre de naissance (Birth Registers) 1842, p. 7, no. 20, Sophia GAERTNER, 17 Aout 1842; accessed 20 November 2021.