Tag Archives: family history

Cooking Up Some Family History!

This article first appeared in Discovering Family History Magazine, July/August 2008. No copying without the author’s permission is permitted.

Campton, KY church dinnerLinking Food to Memories

Scientists say that smell is the sense most tied to memory, and , of course, taste is linked. Think of your strongest childhood memories. Pancakes at Grandma’s? A hotdog at a baseball game? The smell of popcorn at a movie theater? The grape Popsicle you had after the doctor gave you stitches? We have such powerful memories tied to what we eat and drink, so it’s logical that our ancestors did also. Many people preserved their recipes and handed them down. Food, like many other factors of everyday life, helps to define people. Discovering family recipes is one way to find out who our ancestors were both economically and socially.

If You Don’t Have the Family Cookbook

If you don’t have a cookbook lovingly handed down to you, there are still ways to learn about what your ancestors ate. Once you find the recipes, you might even want to recreate some of them for a full sensory experience. At the Family Web Cafe, at http://www.familywebcafe.com, you can try some ethnic recipes.

Examples of Ethnic Foods to Try

Irish? Try shepherd’s pie with ground beef, mashed potatoes and cheese. Greek? Souvlaki might satisfy with its marinated meat, Greek olives and feta cheese. Those with Italian ancestry might like to try their hand at making stromboli. Can’t you just smell those amazing dishes right now?

Finding Historical Cookbooks

Early settlers to North America may have brought ingredients and recipes with them, but these were soon adapted to the food supply at hand. Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. at http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/, is one source for finding these recipes. The project, run by Michigan State University, is an online collection of cookbooks dating from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. The advanced search allows you to find regional and ethnic recipes. Click on “Browse the Collection”, then “By Interest”. Chances are, if your ancestors lived in the same region where these recipes came from, they ate similar things.

What Food Can Tell You

You can learn about the manners, customs and domestic arts of a group of people just by reading a few of these books. For instance, in Mary At the Farm and Book of Recipes Complied During Her Visit Among the “Pennsylvania Germans’, by Edith M. Thomas, you can learn how to preserve yellow ground cherries, make shoo-fly pie, brod knodel and other culinary delights. The book is written in narrative form and gives good insight into the everyday life of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In The Great Western Cook Book, or Table Receipts, Adapted to Western Housewifery by Angelina Maria Collins you can learn how to make veal in “western fashion” and apple pie in a pot.

But these cookbooks offer more than just recipes. There is a discussion in Mary At the Farm about women’s suffrage, both from an older woman’s view who saw no need for women to vote, and from a younger woman’s view who thought it was essential. In Estelle Woods Wilcox’s Buckeye Cookery, And Practical Housekeeping: Complied From Original Recipes, you can learn how to soften well water for washing clothes by using ashes. You never know what you’ll find in these “cookbooks”!

A search in your local library may turn up some interesting cookbooks, both regionally and nationally distributed. Sometimes the old cookbooks are reprinted and historical matter is inserted. Often cookbooks are compiled as fundraisers for churches and other groups.

Preserving Your Own Family Recipes

family cookbook

My mom’s self-produced family cookbook

While you’re digging around for recipes from past generations, don’t forget to preserve those you already have. Here is a great resource to help you with cookbook publishing: [Link from the article is broken. Perhaps you’d like to share one?]

With the popularity of microwave dinners and fast food, some of these family recipes, and the great memories that accompany them, might be lost if you don’t record them. Chances are the smell and taste of bite-sized pizzas will not be memorable enough to evoke emotions the way Christmas plum pudding or fresh baked Johnny Cakes can.

C’mon People Now, Smile on Your Brother

In light of being called a bigot for writing about the Scots Irish, I decided to reflect on the attitude held by some of those whose ancestors never left the homeland toward those of us living in the immigrant melting pot called America.

Students at Ellis IslandLabeling our Ancestry

If your ancestors have lived in a country or region for hundreds of years, you might feel a sense of pride in your heritage. You might resent others who claim that heritage but who were never born in your country, but if you do, you are surely short-sighted, or at least, uninformed. America was populated for the most part by people who came from other countries. Some recently, but many from the 18th century to the massive immigration period of the 19th century. That means we have a short past on the North American continent and are likely to identify with the countries from which our ancestors came. Immigrants

Some like to call themselves Irish, English, Italian, or whatever, but what they really mean is they have roots in those countries. If they themselves were born in America, they are American. They might say they are Irish-American, African-American, or Chinese-American, but if they do, they are only referring to the land where their ancestors were born. This is not meant to defame any native born people. I wish people would not take offense. (Personally, I only say I’m American or sometimes American with Irish roots, or Scots-Irish roots, or Welsh roots, because I can positively trace my ancestors to those countries.)

What This Labeling Really Means

Irish famine immigrantsIt means we appreciate the sacrifices those ancestors made. It means we respect their decision and we understand how much they missed the land of their birth. But perhaps even more important, it means we recognize there was family left behind. Sometimes we long to reconnect what our ancestor was forced to sever, even if we can only do it in a small way.

This sums that up so well: Letter to My Irish Ancestor

What the Labeling Does NOT Mean

Flag of the 89th OVI Civil WarIt does not mean we aren’t proud to be Americans. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that. Ever. We live in the land of the home and the brave, the land so many people come to to seek freedom, the country so many people today depend upon to protect democracy or to bring humanitarian relief all over the world.

American Flag

Lee Coursey

We ARE Americans, first and foremost. But to ignore where our ancestors came from would be to ignore part of ourselves. Some do, of course. They are not interested in genealogy. But many, many others care very much.

We Are Family

Truly the entire human race is connected somewhere along the way. Who can truly say he/she is native? People have moved about since the beginning of time. Can anyone truly hold on to his/her ancestry and say it only belongs to those currently living in a particular country? I don’t think so. And if you think so, I say let’s compare DNA. Let’s start living as though we are all long-lost cousins, because in fact, we are.81fa7-congregationpast350

That’s my view.

Getting Out There to Learn About the Scots-Irish

Part Two from Finding Help With Your Scots-Irish Line originally appearing in Tracing Your Irish Roots, Moorshead Magazines Ltd., 2012 ©Cindy Thomson.

 How Ireland Can Help Researchers

Family Tree. Tracing your Scots-Irish roots.Tracing a family line back as far as the 17th century might seem daunting, but records do exist. And where better to get help and learn about this group’s culture than a society established for that purpose?

A special school for genealogists researching Northern Ireland roots is offered in conjunction with several Northern Ireland agencies, such as the Ulster Historical Foundation; the University of Ulster; Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, County Tyrone; and local historical societies. Past participants came from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, The Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland, to enjoy a holiday researching with the help of local experts. Billed as “An Activity Holiday with a Difference”, the program stretches over a week and involves local history lectures, research visits to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and visits to historical sites. It is these visits to important sites within the homeland of our ancestors that help make this school intriguing to many, but the value of having access to local historians and genealogists should not be underestimated.

Previous students have enjoyed touring Belfast City Hall and Parliament Buildings. They

Tracing Your Scots-Irish Roots, Cindy Thomson

Ulster American Folk Park

also visited historical locations in the countryside, such as Sentry Hill House, and the Ulster American Folk Park and Centre for Migration Studies at Omagh. The Duke of Abercorn gave a personal tour of his home at Barons Court.

[Since this article appeared, I’m not sure the school is still running. But for research assistance options, check this site.]

One benefit is that because this effort is being supported by the University of Ulster, registrants will have access to that university’s library and electronic resources for genealogy research.

Short of making the trip, there are some materials available that can aid your research. Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors by William Roulston, published by the Ulster Historical Foundation, 2005, is said to be the first comprehensive guide for family historians searching for ancestors in 17th and 18th century Ulster.Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors

The society also offers two pocket histories/fold out maps entitled “The Scots in Ulster Surname Map and Pocket History” and “The Plantation of Ulster: The story of the Scots, 1610-1630.” You can order these for only the cost of postage and handling through these links: Surname Map    Plantation of Ulster

An online resource worth plugging your surname into is the Scots in Ulster. I found several hits for Thomson in this database, which could provide some clues for own research.

Closer to Home

In America, researchers should not overlook local organizations where help may be found, such as The Ulster-Scots Society of America, whose stated purpose reads: “The Ulster-Scots Society of America is primarily an educational and social organization committed to the promotion of the Ulster-Scots history and heritage, especially as it pertains to the nearly quarter of a million immigrants who left the north of Ireland (Ulster) during the 18th century and settled in America (often referred to as: The Great Migration).”

The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America is another group to check into. From their website: “The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America was founded to promote and preserve Scotch-Irish history and culture of America’s Scotch-Irish heritage and to keep alive the esprit de corps of the Scotch-Irish people. Membership in the Society is available to United States citizens, and to legal permanent residents of the United States, who are of Scotch-Irish descent.” The Center publishes issues of the Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies.

[I had more links in the article, but since links are hard to keep up to date, I won’t repeat them all here. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments. And by the way, did anyone else find it amusing that the Scotch-Irish Society used French to describe themselves, or is it just me?]

Tom&Cindy Thomson, Ireland 2010

Our 2010 trip to Ireland, taken at Inch Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland.

These are just some of the resources available, but by consulting those who have gathered together to promote research and understanding of the Scots-Irish people, you will find like-minded people who can help you along your research journey.

Stepping Into the Past

Deadman's Curve NYC, www.cindyswriting.comHow to Go Back in Time

How many of us have remarked that we wished for a time machine. We have to see and experience things ourselves to truly understand them. But since that’s not possible, we can do the next best thing (something I always try to do when writing historical fiction) and read the words and thoughts of those who lived before us. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Read Their Words

ThomsonFamilyBook

Thomson Family Book

There is nothing like a diary or journal to get into the mindset of the people of the past. Did you know John Adams kept a diary? Here is a fascinating list of online historical diaries. There are slave narratives (audio believe it or not) on the National Archives web site.

You can find more at local historical societies and libraries. Sometimes they are hard to read but worth the effort. My husband found a hand-written genealogy written in 1888 by one of his relatives. It’s not just a genealogy, though. It has memories and stories that relatives told as well, including one man who was a chaplain in the Union army and accompanied the troops on Sherman’s march to the sea. It has remembrances about how one man’s mother was distressed when he joined a different church until a pastor set the mother straight, and even one interesting story about a trip to a fortune teller.

Live in Their Society

Nothing beats contemporary newspapers for learning about the world our ancestors lived in. Of course you can look for names and dates, but to get a feel for how they lived their lives and what events influenced them, read newspapers and magazines. The magazines often contained serial fiction that later was put into books that you’ve probably heard of. In my novel Annie’s Stories I talk about Harper’s doing this, and you can even read some issues online here. For historical newspapers look here.

Russian Immigrants at Ellis Island, www.cindyswriting.comLook at Photographs

There are many sites where you can find old photographs, and just doing a Google search will bring up many. If you’ve ever seen photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island, you’ve probably seen Augustus Sherman’s photographs. He makes a cameo appearance in my novel Grace’s Pictures. I love to study the expressions, but you can also learn a lot from the clothing (were they rich or poor?) and even from the setting (in a studio, at home, outside?) Those Ellis Island photographs often depict people in their native garb, something they may have quickly discarded once they stepped foot in Battery Park when relatives met them with more American clothing (so they wouldn’t stand out.)

Dutch Immigrant at Ellis Island

These are just a few things that help me go back in time. What other ideas do you have?

The Civil War Trail of my Ancestor, A Case Study

The Story of A Civil War Solider

So many letters exist detailing the experiences of Civil War soldiers. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find any written by Edward B. Myrick, the Civil War ancestor I’ve been trailing. But that didn’t stop me from trying to find out more about him. He was born in Clermont County, Ohio, in July of 1845. He mustered in with the Ohio 89th Volunteer Infantry, Company F, at Camp Dennison in Ohio near Cincinnati. He was 18, 5′ 6″, light complexion, gray eyes, light hair, born in Clermont County, and was a farmer. This I found in his Civil War Pension File from the National Archives.

The Company History

Camp Dennison where author Cindy Thomson's ancestor mustered in.

Camp Dennison depicted in Harper’s Weekly

I was able to find out what the company Edward was attached to was doing when. This became valuable information when I was trying to patch together his own experience, because for nearly two years he was not with his company. He hadn’t gone AWOL, even though the rolls often listed him as absent.

The company was ordered to Covington, KY, shortly after being organized in August of 1862. They participated in the defense of Cincinnati against threatened attack. When I visited the Roebling wall murals in Covington, KY, with friends this summer, I had no idea one of the mural represented something my ancestor did.

Roebling mural depicting ancestor of author Cindy Thomson

Civil War Soldiers crossing over the Ohio River.

From there they went to Point Pleasant, WV, on October 5, and attached to several other units. They advanced to Falls of the Kanawha, VA, October 10-November 3 and then moved on to Fayetteville Court House until January, 1863. From there they went to Nashville, TN; Carthage, TN; Murfreesboro, TN; and the Tullahoma Campaign June 23-July 7. They were part of the Occupation of Middle Tennessee until August. In late July Edward fell sick. This is where the rolls contained at the National Archives helped me out. (Although in one place it says he was sick in June.) He was in “Convalescent Camp Gallatin, TN.” There was a lot of fighting going on in August in and around Gallatin. You can read about it here.

There were 108 beds at this hospital. He first shows up in Hospital Muster Rolls of the Cumberland USA General Hospital in Nashville, TN, July & Aug 1863, and is listed “sick.” There are 900 beds here. He remains listed there as sick through Feb. 1865. Back in Gallatin the muster rolls listed “1st Battalion of Convalescents.” The Nashville rolls don’t list this. I had to look that up.

What Injured and Sick Soldiers Did While Waiting to Rejoin Their Units

This book: The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine By Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein, has some interesting information. Look it up if you want more in depth information, but basically soldiers in these hospitals could be called upon for defense if needed, and were often given nursing duties. They could be furloughed if their recovery was expected to take more than 30 days, but there is no evidence Edward ever went home during this time. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what he was doing during this time or how sick he really was.

The Ohio 89th’s History

In the meantime Edward’s Company moved on to Georgia and participated in many campaigns, including the Siege of Atlanta and of Savannah. When they began the Campaign of the Carolinas, which came after Sherman’s march to the sea, Edward rejoined them, probably in March of 1865. He participated in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C., on May 24, and his company was mustered out and paid at Camp Dennison in June. A regiment is normally 1000 men. A company has about 100. Edward’s regiment lost three officers and 47 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded. They lost five officers and 245 men by disease. A total of 300. I’m not a Civil War expert, but I think they fared better than most. Disease was the biggest killer of men during the Civil War. I have another ancestor who died from disease having not fought at all.

 

Great great grandfather of author Cindy Thomson

My great great grandfather Edward B. Myrick

That’s what I have on Edward so far, except to say that right after the war he moved to Indiana, got married, had children, and died in 1907.

If you have any research that crosses any of this, please let me know!

 

There is a really interesting web site dedicated to the Ohio 89th here. Also I’ve contributed Edward’s complete pension file records on this site. You can find it under “Other Information.”

Old Family Bibles Seek Reunions

Old family Bible in a post by www.cindyswriting.com

From Flickr: Chuck Coker

You Mean We Have a Family Bible?

That’s what Billie Jean King said on an episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots. I have a family Bible our church gave us as a wedding present, but no ancient family Bible that I know of. However, Bibles were used by our ancestors to record births, deaths, and marriages–just the kinds of details family historians are looking for. So chances are you have a family Bible. You just don’t know about it.

ourBiblepage

Where to Find Old Family Bibles

Ebay. It’s incredible how many old Bibles are out there. Another option is to keep your eyes open when you’re at antique and second-hand shops. But truly the chances of finding your family Bible are slim this way. Fortunately there are web sites and message boards seeking to reunite families with their Bibles. I admit I’ve never been lucky enough to find mine. I recently found a listing for a Myrick family Bible, but alas I could not make any connections with the names in the Bible or the location. But if you’d like to try, here’s the message board: http://www.usgennet.org/usa/topic/ancestors/b-found.html

I haven’t tried this. It requires a membership but will alert you when something shows up with your surname: http://www.justajoy.com Anyone tried it?

Here is a collection of Family Bible web sites: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~familybibles/

Did your family attend a church? Check to see if a Bible was donated there. Chances are they’d be happy to give it to you.

Genealogy centers or historical societies often have surname files that contain photocopies of information from family Bibles.

It’s Not My Family Bible

The most likely scenario is that you’ll be shopping and come across an old family Bible that is not connected to you. If you feel compelled to reunite it with the proper family, buy it and list it on one of these sites. I have never done this, but I think I would if I could afford it. We have several old family Bibles at our church that were donated over the years. Eventually someone in those families is probably going to want them. I think we need to help each other out and patch those connections back the way they belong, don’t you?

Why Family Bibles are Helpful

I recently connected with a distant cousin online. I told her I had never been able to find when my 4x great grandfather died. He is not her line, but she had a family Bible with the date written in, most likely by his sister. Sometimes these records are the only ones that have the information we are looking for.

Tell me the story of your family Bible.

4 Ways to Preserve Your Family Stories

Stories, Not Just History

Sure you need to keep your family tree charts and group sheets safe, but that’s not what I have on my mind today. I’m thinking about the stories, the things that are so easily lost and not attainable in public records. Have you ever said, “I wish I had asked my grandparents about their lives when they were still here with us?” I’ve heard it many times, and I’ve said it myself. So here are some tips for capturing those stories.

1. Make a Recording

Record the Stories

Grant

Never has it been more convenient to get those stories and tales recorded. Most people have cell phones with video capability. You can also download an app just for recording audio–you know, like those tape recorders we had in the old days! Here is one in iTunes and here are some for Android. I’m not endorsing any, so look around and find the best voice recorder for you.

Hearing the stories about someone’s youth in his/her own voice is a treasure. Be sure to download the file to your computer and back it up. Here’s a don’t-do-what-I-did tip: Make sure you know where your cell phone’s speaker is and don’t cover it up with your thumb. I only got bits of this conversation (pictured below) between my mother and her sister. It was classic. Glad others were recording at the same time!

Cindy Thomson's family reunion May 2013

Remember to record your own stories. Tell everyone at your next family gathering what you plan to do and just have fun. Chances are you’d be talking about these things anyway, so get them recorded. Just make sure everyone’s aware of what you’re doing. You might want to edit too. Sometimes people say things they regret. Remember that Yogi Berra quote: I really didn’t say everything I said! Older people can be a product of the age they grew up in when there wasn’t as much political correctness, if you know what I mean.

2. Don’t Forget to Take Pictures

Cindy Thomson's familyIt’s easy to forget when you’re gathered with folks and caught up in conversations. That’s why my cousin hired a photographer for our family reunion.

Also take pictures of pictures if you have no other way to copy a photo you come across. The more copies out there the more likely a photo will not be lost. Share on Facebook/Pinterest/Tumblr…then the image will be forever, right? Some social media sites like Pinterest allow you to make private boards if you’d rather. And don’t forget to get in the picture yourself. (Isn’t everyone taking selfies these days?) When my sister passed away I was sad to discover that she’d managed to stay out of the way of cameras for most of her life.

3. Go Ahead and Use Paper and Pencil

Cindy Thomson's Family Tree BookTechnology fails often, doesn’t it? Take some notes, put out a guestbook, encourage folks to write things down. Everything that I have in my dad’s handwriting makes me feel connected to him even though he’s been in Heaven for a few years now. We’ve definitely gotten away from letter writing in this society, but often people will write down their thoughts and emotions better than they would in person. Don’t miss that opportunity.

4. Get as Much as Possible on Your Computer

I know that seems to contradict what I’ve been saying, but it doesn’t really. You need both electronic copies and paper copies. What if there’s a fire? What if your computer crashes? Oh, yes, there’s the cloud, so definitely get your family treasures out on the cloud as well. Do it all. Just in case.

Author Kate Kerrigan's computer

Author Kate Kerrigan shares some of her family history using her laptop.

Family genealogists are probably using a program such as Ancestry.com or Family Tree Maker software, and they are wonderful for storing not only names and dates, but also photographs, scanned documents, videos and voice recordings. And sharing with other family members is quick and easy. If genealogy is not your thing, I hope there is a keeper of the records and stories in your family.

Wrapping it Up

I know I’ve just thrown out a couple of ideas. I want everyone to know how easy and convenient it can be to preserve the stories of their ancestors and their own as well because EVERYONE SHOULD KEEP THE STORIES!

How are you keeping your family stories for future generations?