Saturday, December 20, 2008

Simplier Christmases

We’ve all heard the stories about children in the old days who were so happy at Christmastime just to receive an orange, some nuts and candy, a handmade toy or an article of homemade clothing in their stockings. Well, it is true! My aunt Ethel who was born in 1920 in Silver City, Utah remembers…We hung up one of our regular stockings on Christmas eve, and in the morning were excited because Santa had visited. In our stockings, we would discover an orange or a banana, some nuts and candy, and a gift. The girls always got a doll while the boys got games to play like Old Maid cards, Checkers, Dominoes or Parcheesi. (I’m sure their widowed mother carefully saved money all year to be able to provide these gifts for her children.)

Ethel continues her memories of Christmases with her two sisters, two brothers, and a working mom…Sometimes we would each get a dollar to go shopping at Woolworth’s dime store in nearby Eureka to buy gifts for the family. Amazingly, it was possible to buy gifts for the whole family with just one dollar: handkerchiefs, combs, a head scarf, socks, gloves, a woolen cap or some candy could be bought then carefully wrapped and put under the tree to be opened on Christmas day.

The Johnson kids knew they wouldn’t be getting fancy gifts because their widowed mother just couldn’t supply that for them. She was lucky to keep food on the table and wood or coal in the pot belly stove to warm their two bedroom house with no indoor plumbing but their holiday meal was always special because she was an excellent cook. A turkey or chicken with delicious stuffing, whipped mashed potatoes and tasty gravy served with homemade rolls and pies were served and enjoyed by all which sometimes included invited friends and extended family members.

Ethel continues…Our loving Grandma Morby, who lived far away in Coalville, either brought or mailed us special gifts this time of year. One year she sent a small suitcase filled with different kinds of candy. What a treat that was for us kids. (What joy and appreciation they had for anything that was given them.)

May your holidays be blessed and filled with warm memories of your family’s traditional celebrations. Tell your children and grandchildren about your memorable Christmases or better yet write them down to preserve your family’s history.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Go back to the past

My husband who is very quiet asked an interesting question at lunch yesterday. He said, "If you could go back and do an activity that you did in your past, what would it be?" For me-the answer was to be with my father who died when I was five. Just to see his face, hear his voice and feel his love for me. It didn't matter what we did, just to be together. (Photo of my dad and me in 1943.) For my husband-it was to be fishing with his dad. Interesting how both of our activities revolved around our dads.

Then a few minutes later, my son Dan called and his son Nathan wanted to talk to grandma-me. So we talked for a few minutes and then he wanted to talk to grandpa-my husband. So they had a cute conversation about Christmas. Even though my husband is a step grandpa, my grandchildren accept him fully. Seems to me having a dad or grandpa is very important to all our lives. Though they are all different-some more outgoing than others, we do need them.

What would you do if you could go back and do an activity that you did in your past? Leave us a comment.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

St. Lucia Day

Today is my son Jeffrey's birthday #26. Happy Birthday! He was born in Provo on St. Lucia's day in Sweden which is a celebration held every year: December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old 'Julian' Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. (Normally electric candles are used for safety!) The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. Schools normally have their own St. Lucias and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.

A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people's homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out 'Pepparkakor', ginger snap biscuits. In homes often the eldest girl plays St Lucia for her family, bringing them 'Lussekatts', St Lucia's day buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins which are eaten for breakfast.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Family Traditions

As we approach the holidays, take some time to reflect back on what traditions you remember from your childhood days. Let’s look back at earlier times…say your grandparents’ days. How did they celebrate the holiday season? Were gifts opened on Christmas Eve or in the morning? Was attending church together part of their holiday celebration? Where did they gather to eat a special family meal? How was gift giving handled? Was everyone involved in finding and decorating the Christmas tree?

There were no artificial trees in my grandma’s day so it was a wonderful family time to bundle up and go out looking in the mountains for that perfect tree. My aunt Ethel who lived in Silver City, Utah with her widowed mother and four siblings remembers… We did enjoy going out in the nearby mountains to find a Christmas tree. My older brothers would chop down a pinyon or cedar tree, then bring it home and place it in the living room next to the wood stove. They made a tree stand out of four small pieces of wood then it was time to decorate the tree. We threaded popcorn on long strings with a needle, and made red and green paper chains to drape on the tree limbs. Either candles with clips or later fancy colored electric lights were wrapped around the tree.

The top of the tree always had some special ornament representing the Christmas star or an angel, either store bought or homemade. The tree wasn’t complete until the star was placed on top to watch over us in our celebrating. We had some colored glass ornaments that were very easy to break but fun to put on the tree. The last decoration to go on the tree were icicles made out of narrow aluminum foil strips that you hung carefully on each branch to look like real icicles hanging down. They had to be placed on each branch one by one to get the right effect-no throwing them on in clumps. When the tree was undecorated after the holidays, the icicles were carefully saved to be used next year.

What holiday traditions have you preserved or are you starting new ones? Christmastime unfortunately can become too hectic for us as we loose sight of why we celebrate and the feelings of love and closeness that can be developed as we continue our family’s unique traditions.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Family Names

Ever ask your parents how you were named? In their day, there were fewer unusual or unique names as most children were named after a family member probably a grandparent or parent to honor them. Usually the first son was named after his father then called by some nickname like Junior or Sonny. One of the daughters would be named after the mom. It took the birth of almost six children, three male and three female, before the parents could finally select a new name of their own choice. Then there were their brother’s and sister’s names to consider.

It made for lots of confusion when everyone got together or signed legal documents with many relatives sharing the same name but born in different generations. Middle names were added to distinguish individuals with the same first name. Often maiden names were used for middle names that otherwise would be lost in family genealogical records. Thus, my ancestor John McGuckin Malin was named after his mother Sarah McGuckin.

Another common tradition was to name your child after a prominent person in local or national history. In my family I have several examples: Christopher Columbus Johnson, John Quincy Adams Johnson, Benjamin Franklin Johnson, and George Washington Johnson are just a few. Popular names taken from biblical characters were used for some of my male ancestors: Elijah Malin and Noah Smith. Biblical names for girls popular were: Patience, Charity, Faith or Chastity. Try naming a child today one of those names.

After all the work of naming a child, then parents sometimes used a nickname. First names were shortened: William became Bill, Richard––Dick, Robert––Bob, and James––Jimmy. Girl’s nicknames were more interesting as Elizabeth became Beth or Liz or Eliza or Betsy, Susanna became Sue or Susie, and Virginia––Jenny. Amelia became Amy, Margaret––Meg, Faith––Fay, and Katherine was called Katie. Henrietta became Etta, Sarah––Sally, Mary––Molly or Polly or just May. Or the nickname could have nothing to do with the given name like: Butch, Buddy or Red.

How do you feel about your name or nickname? Have you told your family how you were named or how you choose their names? What unusual family names do you have? Utahans are known to give their children strange two syllable names like LaPrell, RaNae, LaGene or DuWayne to name just a few. I’ll bet your grandkids have unusual first names and unique spellings.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Indian Life

Now that we've discovered two grandmothers from the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes in my husband's ancestry, it makes the Native American culture part of our family. Wondering about how they survived living in primitive shelters and met the constant demands for food, shelter, clothing and security is intriguing to consider. (Click on photos to make them larger and read the signs below.)

On the way home from Texas, we stopped 30 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona at the Wapatki National Monument's ruins that have been preserved. Walking through their adobe dwellings, we talked about how they stayed warm in the cold winters at that elevation. What did they sleep on, just the cold rocks or did they make mats of weeds and use animal skins to cover themselves? Lots of unanswered questions, but they did survive...barely. Water was very scarce..

Was there a stigma for their later descendants to marrying a non-Native American? Did they ever see their Native families again after marrying and moving away? Many unanswered questions as their genealogy was oral and not written down. It is lost to us for now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Found an ancestor!

My husband has a great grandmother who we were told was part Indian. She lived in Texas and was able to get allotment checks during her later years from the tribe she belonged to in Oklahoma. Searching for her records for years we weren't all that sure what her name was or which tribe she belonged to. We had looked for her under the wrong name but we discovered her real name after talking to my husband's uncle Bill at Thanksgiving dinner.

This uncle Bill remembered hearing about his great grandmother and told us her name. Born in Missouri, her name was Catherine Bryant. She married John Knox Polk Weaver and they moved to Texas from Oklahoma. We still don't know if she was adopted or which of her parents or grandparents were Indian-usually the mother. We did discover her name in the Dawes Commission Index which was a registry of Indian people trying to reclaim their citizenship in their tribe to receive allotments from the government for their tribal land and mineral resources. She belonged to the Cherokee tribe according to this list. Now we will try to get more records and try to put her life story together. (Photo above is of Catherine's grand daughter Gladys Floyd-my husband's grandmother. With her is an Indian uncle named Walter Winfield who is definitely Indian and probably from the Cochtow tribe. So now we'll look for his parents.)

Genealogy is fascinating and habit forming. I've always loved jigsaw puzzles as a child and perhaps that explains my interest in tracing my ancestors.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gatesville, Texas

This is my husband's hometown, where he was born and raised-his roots. Interesting to watch his enthusiasm as he tells me he caught crawdads in that pond or went to scouts in that building, etc. It helps me get to know him better. Then going with him to visit the graves of his parents and grandparents on back makes me feel closer to them even though I never met them. Their names are familiar from the genealogy I have done in their behalf over the past 15 years since I married into the family.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Traditions

Unable to return to home after our deer hunting trips in October, we gathered our family to celebrate Thanksgiving in sunny California. Our thoughts were focused on our grandmother now unable to travel, and family in Utah. Using her recipes, we tried to duplicate Grandma’s Thanksgiving dishes. Doing our best, we recreated the traditions that we’d enjoyed when younger. Grandma would start baking days before the actual holiday as homemade pumpkin and raisin pies were made in advance to have room in the oven for the huge turkey needed to feed extended family-aunts, uncles and cousins who came from miles around. Plenty of food was prepared in order to have leftovers to enjoy for days on end without any more cooking.

Grocery stores did a big business that time of year. Many ingredients could only be bought in cans and weren’t available fresh in rural Utah. Canned yams, corn, and pumpkin for pies as well as jellied or whole cranberries completed our traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Desserts included Grandma’s homemade pies, and fruit salad with whipped cream made from fruit cocktail, fresh apples, bananas, and sprinkled with chopped walnuts.

Each family has its own special traditions for Thanksgiving dinners. My husband is from Texas and his holiday meal wasn’t complete without cornbread stuffing with celery, onion, lots of sage and chicken broth for moisture and a green bean casserole. Enjoyed by all families everywhere were gobs of whipped mashed potatoes and succulent turkey gravy, tasty hot rolls with real butter, and a relish dish of homemade pickles. Yams sweetened with brown sugar and topped with melted marshmallows rounded out the feast. There was hardly room on your plate for the different kinds of food.

If the guests gathered for dinner were many, the children sat at separate card tables in the living room. Before prayer, the tradition was for each person to express what he or she was most grateful for. Family, health, food, church or America were blessings always named, and are probably the same answers we’d give today. We ate until we were stuffed, then the men folk retired to the couches or recliners to sleep while the women assembled together in the kitchen to visit, store leftovers and tackle the heaping mound of dirty dishes. I’m sure Grandma was most thankful when the dishes were done. She could take off her apron and finally relax till the Christmas feast.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On the road again

My husband took a photo of me below by a hogan that traditional Navahos lived in, made of mud and pine lumber, the door always faces the rising sun in the east and there is an stove pipe opening on the roof for the smoke to escape from the wood stove inside for cooking and heating. What a life our early native Americans lived.

We drove to Canyon de Chelly near Chinle Arizona to see the cliff dwellings but they were far below us in a deep canyon built on ledges. (The last photo below shows some of their dwellings on a dark ledge, look on the middle right side of the photo.) We only saw them from up above, to walk through to them you either have to hike down then hike back up or hire a guide to drive you in the river bottom where it's closer to hike to them.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Visiting Old Cemeteries

I love walking through old cemeteries but not at night or on Halloween eve. Being an avid genealogist, I have searched through many graveyards looking for a family name carefully chiseled on a headstone. This past summer found my husband and I returning from a vacation trip to Northern Idaho. We normally travel on the I-15 freeway but we detoured to an obscure country road because I had an ancestor who died in Idaho near the Utah border.

Driving through the town of Oxford didn’t take much time as it is small but still populated by farmers, former residents who have returned to spend their last years in peace and quiet, and a few hardy commuters who live there and travel to nearby towns to work. There are no sidewalks just irrigation ditches, old abandoned farmhouses and barns. One prominent building, the LDS church meeting house, still stands in the center of town. We were able to walk inside and imagine what it was like when the locals attended activities and worshipped here.

My 2nd great grandmother, Ada Winchell Clements, had come from Springville, Utah to visit her married daughter in Oxford, and died here. I had never seen her headstone. No burial grounds were in sight. They are usually hidden on hillsides outside of town surrounded by large trees or bushes. By asking a local resident, we were able to find one on the road south of town. With no sexton to direct us, we started searching in the oldest part of the cemetery. Walking up and down each row of headstones, looking for a familiar name took awhile. My husband searched a different section. He soon located an old headstone with my family’s surname.

Close by a four sided monument had names and dates carefully chiseled and a little verse of remembrance on each side. My 2nd great grandmother’s name was barely visible, erased by constant weathering year after year. Doing a pencil rubbing on a piece of paper placed on the face of her headstone allowed us to discern her name and dates. I already knew quite a bit about her life and sacrifices to come to Utah from New York, suffering through all the Mormon persecutions in Ohio, Missouri and Nauvoo. Somehow now, standing next to her found headstone in that lonely old cemetery so far from my home, I felt a renewed sense of family.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Living With Rattlesnakes

Growing up in Utah’s sagebrush mountains with its rocky cliffs, it’s inevitable I’d see a rattlesnake. My mother warned me to be careful where I walked or played as a child. My dad was more adventurous; he took me out hunting for rattlesnakes when we were on picnics in the mountains of central Utah. Carrying a big stick, he used it to deftly hit a rattler on its head killing it instantly. Seeing no need for snakes in the world, he hunted them and collected their rattles.

Working on the railroad, my dad’s family had lived in many out of the way places at train stops that no longer exist. When the children were old enough for school, they moved back into town where they attended classes. Grandpa still worked daily out on the railroad, then returned home for the weekends. During the summers when the kids were out of school, the family lived together in one of the small company homes located along the tracks in rural Utah. Living in the boonies without electricity or a nearby grocery store was an adventure. Many mornings my grandmother chased the rattlesnakes out of her house with a broom. (Photo on left is my dad proudly showing his dead? rattlesnake.)

The boys in the family became very skilled at hunting rattlers. As far as I know none of our family was ever bitten, even grandpa who had been a sheepherder, outdoorsman and hunter all his life. He respected snakes and stayed out of their way unless he was specifically hunting for them. I know some of the workers on his railroad work gang actually ate snakes for their scanty mealtimes. I guess that’s putting the reptiles to a good use.

When some of my grandparents’ ancestors arrived in the Utah territory, they lived in dugouts (see photo on right) before being able to build themselves proper homes. Finding an available hillside, a small room was dug out. Walls of adobe or wood, and a roof of tree limbs covered with sod made for temporary living quarters. A stove or fireplace inside provided heat and light. Usually the opening for a door was covered with a blanket. I can just imagine the number and variety of living creatures including snakes that looked upon this newly constructed abode as inviting. When it rained, the roof invariably leaked and had to be patched. Living in dugouts with rattlesnakes doesn’t sound fun to me but it was all they had.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How well do you know your ROOTS?

Just a few questions to stimulate your interest in genealogy which is now called family history because no one could spell it correctly. Tell me about your:

1. Parents: Dad died in 1945, was a dispatcher on the railroad, loved photography, ham radio operating, fishing, hunting, flying and new adventures. My mom was a widow at age 28, worked as a telephone operator, loved traveling, dancing, playing the organ and her family.

2. Father's parents or your paternal grandparents: Grandpa Vernon was a railroad worker all his life, loved to hunt, fish, garden, read and have family visit. Auntie was my Grandma Vernon who felt too young to be called grandma when I came along-she was probably 40 or so, was a very hard worker, meticulous house keeper, excellent cook, loved to watch TV and do handwork. She became my babysitter after my Dad was killed in an airplane crash when I was five. We had many happy hours putting together puzzles. (My Vernon grandparents are standing by me in the photo below.)

3. Mother's parents or your maternal grandparents: My Grandpa Johnson died when my mom was 4 years old, he was a miner and died of stomach cancer-don't know much about him. My Grandmother Johnson babysat me after we moved in with her a year or so after my dad died. GMJ was fun to be with, happy, great cook, always had time to listen and play with me. (She's sitting in the photo on the right.)

4. Do you remember any of your great grandparents? Tell us about them. I knew two of my paternal great grandpas. One was a farmer Joseph Vernon and lived in rural Utah, he was a widower. The other was also a widower George Stevens and lived in Los Angeles. He had remarried and was very wealthy working in real estate. I only saw them a couple of times but have written about them in my family history webpage.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Voices from the Past

I've had these old homemade records that my mom had preserved carefully packed in a box since 1943. She tried to play them for me once decades ago on an old record player but they were very scratchy and difficult to hear. They are homemade recordings that my uncle Les made in Venice California during WWII. But what made them most interesting for me is that Les interviews my dad who died in 1945, my mom gone since 2006 and my self as a little blond girl about 3 years old.

Always curious to what my dad's voice sounded like, I took them to a company in Salt Lake City that restores and digitizes old recordings, films and videos. Now I am in the processing of transcribing them and improving the sound quality to make CDs for my family members who knew and still miss these family members. Les also interviews his wife Esther, daughter JoAnn and two of her little friends, his bro-in-law Norman, his wife Gladys and their child Ruth. Most of these people are no longer with us but waiting in the heavens for the great family reunion we'll have one day.

As I'm doing this transcribing, I realize how important it is for each of us to preserve our voice for our progenitors whether on tape, video tape or just written down. There will be those of our grandchildren or extended family who will treasure our words and remember the contribution we made to their lives. So let me encourage you again to write your biography or experiences from your life, whether by blogging or emails or in a printed record to leave for your family and friends. We do make an impression on others during our sojourn here on earth.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Navaho Reservation

Click on view all images for the complete photo show.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pioneer Day Parade

Busy day-left early about 8 am to travel to New Harmony-a small town nearby where we used to live for the annual Pioneer Day's parade. Had a fun time visiting old friends and riding in the DUP-Daughters of Utah Pioneers' float-see above photo. I started this group six years ago when we moved to New Harmony as they didn't have one. We had a wonderful camp of about 24 women who participated in keeping alive the memories of their pioneer ancestry through different activities such as-lessons, field trips, service projects and social events. A fun group of women and it was good to see them again. The actual parade took about 45 minutes to get organized then it was over about 15 minutes later. Seems there were more in the parade than spectators. Then the church had a BBQ with hamburgers and a program. Fun day.