Wednesday, December 29, 2010

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy: Thanks for Playing

In late 2008, I wrote a series of topic ideas collectively titled, "Jump Start Your Genealogy Blog: 52 Ideas, 52 Weeks." The intent was to provide something for new genealogy bloggers to write about each week of the year.

At the end of 2009, Thomas MacEntee asked me to write another series to be featured on GeneaBloggers. There were only a few days before the new year and the deadline was tight. My idea was to get genealogists out of their comfort zone and encourage them to look at new sources and places for research. On a tray table of a middle seat of an airplane, I wrote the series that would be "52 Weeks to Better Genealogy." I wasn't sure how it would be received by the genealogy public.

The series' popularity exceeded my expectations. It was so neat to see so many people accept the weekly challenges and try new things. Some tools were loved, some were hated, but they were all tested.

We've hit the 52nd week and there are no more new challenges in the series. I hope you enjoyed it and learned something along the way. I really enjoyed reading everyone's experiences. Thank you to everyone who played along.

To answer the inevitable question that will be asked in the comments, yes, there is another series in the 2011 gate. This new one was written mainly on paper, in the car while waiting in the school pick-up line.

The topic is under wraps until it's debut at GeneaBloggers. Just know that it's entirely different than the last two series and may be new territory for some of you. Are you curious? Good. Then I've done my job.

Happy blogging in 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking at the RootsTech Website

While I was out in California for Christmas, FamilySearch updated the RootsTech website. It looks great!

Included in the new look are details about special events during the conference. On Thursday, February 10, there will be a special night at Clarke Planetarium. On Friday night, the Family History Library will have extended hours.

The lineup of keynote speakers is grand, as is the class schedule. Some of the events are still being developed. Others, like the unconferences, will be ready on the spot. I look forward to seeing how these sessions come to be, depending on the input of the attendees.

Take a look at the web site and all the RootsTech conference has to offer. If you cannot make it, that's ok. I promise to blog all about it.

[Disclosure: I am an Official Blogger for the RootsTech conference. My registration was paid for, but the excitement is entirely my own.]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blogging Buddies and Genealogy Resolutions

On December 23, I had the pleasure of a visit with Denise Levenick who writes The Family Curator. We went out for a little snack and beverage in Pasadena. Naturally, the conversation was mostly about genealogy. I mentioned my frustration with not knowing my 16th great-great grandparent.

Denise challenged me to find that #16. This topic evolved into a fantastic set of goals for 2011. I can’t take credit because Denise came up with the categories, but here’s what we promised each other to do in the coming year:

One research goal
One organizational goal
One writing goal

We each came up with our own reasonable challenges, and in our own buddy system we held each other accountable to do the work.

My research goal is to determine the identification of that 16th great-great grandparent. I have a full maiden name of her daughter, a European village, and not much else. This task is out of my knowledge zone, but I’m up to the challenge. After all, I promised Denise and I don’t want to disappoint.

The organizational goal was easy for me to determine. I’m in the process of scanning all my genealogy documents and bits of paper. I want everything online for my own ease of research, as well as for the ability to retrieve information quickly for any new found cousins. I’ve already begun this scanning process. Several times a week, I make an appointment on my calendar to scan 10 pages. That doesn’t sound like much, but it really adds up! Provided my scanner doesn’t die (it’s making noises) I am disciplined enough to meet this goal.

The writing goal took time to hash out. I think I ate 2 taquitos during our visit before I figured out a writing goal. With Denise's encouragement, I vowed to write an e-book. The challenge in this task will be finding the time. I’ve got that mom job, and that genealogy job. Writing a little e-book is like taking on another job. But you know what? I promised Denise, and I will get it written. Just don’t ask about formatting and publishing…

I’m sharing all this with you in case you may want to issue your own 2011 genealogy research, organization and writing challenge. Thank you, Denise, for the idea and the wonderful company. I’m fortunate to have such a wonderful friend and blogging buddy.

So genealogy friends, are you up to the challenge in 2011? 

Update: Denise has uploaded her own genealogy goals at the Family Curator blog. I agree that this Christmas meetup (our second in 2 years) needs to be an annual thing.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 24

(This is post 24 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 24 - Christmas Eve
How did you, your family or ancestors spend Christmas Eve?

For close to 30 years now, Christmas Eve has always been at my aunt & uncle's house. It's very casual, with no set dinner table. People mingle as they please. The kids are always bouncing off the walls because it's the night before Christmas. At some point, the dog will steal some food off a plate or the kitchen counter. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I married into a family that celebrates Christmas Eve in a more official manner. They open presents on the 24th and sit down for a meal. For the last 13 years, this has been how I have spent 3/4 of December 24th.

After said meal, my little family of three heads out to visit family friends. Then we make the hour drive to go to my aunt's house for a brief visit with folks & family we only get to see once a year.

My Christmas Eve has a lot of driving and visiting. We're so busy trying to make sure we see everyone that sometimes the message gets lost.

(Originally published December 24, 2009)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 23

(This is post 23 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December - Christmas Sweetheart Memories
Do you have a special memory of a first Christmas present from a sweetheart? How did you spend your first Christmas together? Any Christmas engagements or weddings among your ancestors?

My parents got engaged in December 24, 1965.

I got engaged on December 24, 1995.

That's 30 years later for the math-challenged.

My now husband gave me a robe and put the ring in the pocket. I was too stupid to check the pocket. We're perfect for each other.

Post engagement 1995.
I'm not short, I'm vertically challenged.

(Originally published December 23, 2009)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 22

(This is post 22 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 22 - Christmas and Deceased Relatives.
Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas? How did your family honor deceased family members at Christmas?

We did not visit the cemetery at Christmas, simply for the reason that there was no one to visit. My immediate family is quite small. I didn't lose a relative until I was 19. That person was cremated. Come to think of it, since then they've all chosen cremation. The nearest ancestors in a cemetery are great-grandparents I never knew.

Because of this situation, we really don't honor anyone, either. It's more of a year-round memory thing, since there are no cemetery plots to maintain.

I can't be the only one in this situation, can I?

(Originally published December 22, 2009)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Christmas Birthday Edition

The subject of today's Tombstone Tuesday is my great-grandfather:

Grave marker for Dr. Sam H. Williamson
25 December 1879* - 14 September 1943
Buried in Duncan Cemetery, Duncan, Oklahoma

Photo of Sam Williamson, abt 1907

* Sam's birth year is in dispute. The stone says 1879, but other documents says 1878. See Sam's Find-a-Grave profile here.

Advent Calendar: December 21

(This is post 21 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 21 - Christmas Music
What songs did your family listen to during Christmas? Did you ever go caroling? Did you have a favorite song?

Back in the day, my dad had a reel-to-reel player that had Christmas songs. I don't remember the exact songs. My favorite one was probably the entire score for the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.

My parents have a jukebox of 45s at their house now. A large portion of the box is Christmas music. My son loves to pick the songs and we have some happy memories from that.

No caroling in this family. We're vocally challenged, best when seen and not heard.

(Originally published December 21, 2009)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 20

(This is post 20 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 20 - Religious Services
Did your family attend religious services during the Christmas season? What were the customs and traditions involved?

Remember when I said there are some questions for which I have no answer? This is one of those. We did not attend church, so there weren't any customs or traditions involved. Sorry for the lack of interesting content. My performance on this post = dud.

(Originally published December 24, 2009)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 19

(This is post 19 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 19 - Christmas Shopping
How did your family handle Christmas shopping? Did anyone finish early or did anyone start on Christmas Eve?

My mom did the shopping. At one point, she did most of the shopping in one day. Now it's a combo of mall shopping and catalogs.

Since my family once owned a Western Home & Auto, I'm sure some of our toys came from there.

Now given the distance some have to travel, online purchases and gift cards are key.

That's all I have to say on the subject. This won't go down as one of the best posts ever.

(Originally published December 19, 2009)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fun With Search Terms

It's time for another round of "Fun with Search Terms!" Hard to believe it's the last one for 2010.

What is "Fun with Search Terms" you ask? People type certain words or phrases into search engines. If the combination is right, my blog shows up in the search results. Sometimes the searches are funny. Sometimes I can provide more information to users, if only they'd comment on my blog. Either way, I enjoy the process. Please note, these searches are anonymous so I don't know who is stumbling on my blog. I just comment in the hope that they find it again.

Woodmen tombstone
Are you looking for a picture of a specific tombstone? I probably can't help you there without more information. However, if you are looking for Woodmen of the World tombstones, we'll then here's a whole set of them and another whole set of them.

Valerie Craft and blog
I can help you with both: Begin with Craft is a blog by Valerie Craft

my experience at ighr
The Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) is held every year at Samford University. I've never been to IGHR so I don't have any blog posts about my experience. However, Sheri Fenley, aka The Educated Genealogist, has been there and lived to write about it.

Here is her 2008 series, which was featured at Genea-Musings: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Here is her 2009 series, Sheri Goes to Samford, Sophomore Year: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

starting over from scratch in genealogy
Been there, done that. I don't have any detailed advice for you. Just start with your home person (likely yourself) and move back. Making sure all your facts have sources takes time, but it's worth it. Be patient and careful with your citations. If you need help in this area, consider genealogy software that includes source citation templates. Put in the work and your tree will grow and you will have a quality, accurate history of your family.

the mervine kahn building historical facts
Do you mean this Mervine Kahn building?

Or the one next to it?

Or this old photo I found of Mervine Kahn: Dealer in General Merchandise?

If you're interest is in either property in Rayne, Louisiana, you should check in with the archives room at the Acadia Parish Library. Usually there are members of the Acadia Genealogical and Historical Society there and they will be able to help you.

Merry Christmas to my husband
I have no idea why this search term landed someone on my blog. Merry Christmas to your husband, and Merry Christmas to everyone else as well.

That's it for 2010. Be ready for more "Fun with Search Terms" in 2011!

Advent Calendar: December 18

(This is post 18 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 18 - Christmas Stockings
Did you have one? Where did you hang it? What did you get in it? Do you have any Christmas stockings used by your ancestors?

My sister and I did have stockings. My mom made them. Mine is green and my sister's is red. They have our names on them. I am speaking about them in the present tense because my mom still hangs them and we still open gifts in them. The presents are always small and simple: cute socks, mints, puzzle books, etc.

My son has a stocking crocheted by my grandmother. It has his name on it.

These are the closest examples I have to heirloom-type Christmas decorations.

(Originally published December 18, 2009)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Recording of the FamilySearch Bloginar Available

On December 15, 2010, I attended a bloginar hosted by FamilySearch highlighting the RootsTech conference and developments to the new web site. I wrote about it here.

A recording of this event is now available for viewing at the FamilySearch wiki.

Thank you FamilySearch for making this information available to users.

Advent Calendar: December 17

(This is post 17 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 17 - Grab Bag
Author's choice. Please post from a topic that helps you remember Christmases past!

Back in the 1970's/early 80's my grandparents handled Christmas dinner. They would go visit their grandkids in the morning, then head home to get the dinner ready. One year, they returned home to find the fire department in the driveway. It seems my grandmother left a pot on the stove.

The only lingering damage was the stink left from the burning pot. I remember seeing the pot in the driveway when we arrived for dinner.

The incident became a family joke. My grandfather must have thought it was funny, because when he wrote a timeline of his life, he included the burning pot event in 1983.

(Originally published December 17, 2009)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I am an Official RootsTech Blogger

Big news on this little blog. I've been selected as an Official Blogger for the RootsTech conference, February 10-12 in Salt Lake City. This is a new event that combines technology and family history to "define the future of genealogy," according to the website.

Who should attend RootsTech? Technology enthusiasts, developers, and genealogists with an eye on the future of the field. Collaboration and discussion are strongly encouraged.

What will you learn at RootsTech? There will be dozens of scheduled classes and special events over three days. There will also be unconference sessions developed on the spot, exhibits, demonstrations for testing the latest toys and a tech area. A list of the sessions can be found at the Sessions and Accommodations page.

I am very grateful for the opportunity FamilySearch has given me to be an Official Blogger at this ground-breaking event. My intent is to attend all the sessions I can (including the after-hours events because that's where you get the best info) and blog all about it here.

It would be great if you would join me at the conference but if you can't, I'll bring RootsTech to you. How's that?

I may have to get a coat for this one. February in Salt Lake City is a whole different ball game than it is in Houston.

Advent Calendar: December 16

(This is post 16 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 16 - Christmas at School
What did you or your ancestors do to celebrate Christmas at school? We you ever in a Christmas pageant?

I have no idea what my ancestors did at school. My own school (of the basic suburban public variety) had Christmas programs each year. We were divided by class and grade. We stood on the steps of the stage in the multi-purpose room/cafeteria. We sang standard songs.

There wasn't much special about these programs, which is why they make for weak blog fodder.

My son's elementary school had a program each year for third graders. It's a musical play. Each person has a line and there is lots of singing. The year he did it, there was a western theme with some villains and a plot about saving the holidays. It was fun. This year he is in band and he toured two elementary schools. He also had a Christmas concert.

(Originally published December 16, 2009)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Details from the FamilySearch Bloginar

Today FamilySearch had a blogger webinar, and I was fortunate to be able to attend.

The audience was invited to share information with other users, so I'm doing just that.

The first topic discussed was the RootsTech conference, being held for the first time February 10-12 in Salt Lake City. This event is different from traditional genealogy conferences in that its main goal is to foster innovation and collaboration between tech developers and users in the family history field. Keynote speakers will include notable names in technology and genealogy. 

Other nifty events that will happen at RootsTech:

  • Unconferences - There will be opportunities to create sessions on the spot, based on user interest. If you want to discuss a topic, you'll be given the opportunity to schedule a time and invite others to join the discussion. I love the unconference concept and have been waiting for the genealogy field to give it a shot. 

  • Some sessions will have "dynamic class interaction," such as the use of clickers where speakers can survey the audience and get immediate feedback.

  • There will be a "community zone" within the exhibit hall to give attendees a hands-on opportunity to test products and concepts. I'm curious to see how this is laid out. You can be sure I will report back to you.

  • Also, six RootsTech sessions will be available online for free. When I find out which ones, I"ll let you know.

  • Lastly (on this subject), the official RootsTech hashtag is #RootsTech.

Next in the bloginar, FamilySearch talked about the big update of The new site replaces the old site, as well as Family Search Pilot, though both as still available for now.

Under the hood, there is a new search engine with enhanced search options. The goal is to give users a single places to search. In going through the collections and new features, I noticed lots of places to learn more. In fact, in collections, look for "Learn More." It will take you to the appropriate spot in the Family Search Wiki and provide more information on the collection.

DearMyrtle asked a great question about citations being included on documents users print out or save. This is on the FamilySearch radar, but not currently being developed. Once the search engine is refined, look for citations to make their way up the priority ladder.

We also were given a look at the Library Catalog. This, too, has a single search form. Users will be able to use filters and search-exactness controls to refine results. Play with these new tools and get to know them. There is so much to see, you really just need to explore.

The bloginar was informal and easy to access. We were given a URL and phone number to join. We could see who else was in the discussion. There was a small chat window in the corner for comments and questions during the presentation. FamilySearch will probably do more of these in the future and open them up to bigger audiences. Is this something in which you would like to participate? Let me know in the comments and I'll be happy to relay the feedback to FamilySearch.

Advent Calendar: December 15

(This is post 15 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 15 - The Holiday Happenings!
Often times December to mid-January birthdays get overshadowed by the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. So we're going to shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors this time around. Select one or more December to mid-January birthdays and/or anniversaries in your family tree. Write a short tribute to or memory of those birthday guys or gals and write a toast to the anniversary couples.

My mom has a birthday after Christmas. Usually it's celebrated separately and it's pretty low key.

I have a great-grandfather who was born on Christmas Day. Sam Williamson was born on December 25, 1878 in Russellville, Pope County, Arkansas. He also died on the date of my wedding anniversary, but that's a fact for another time.

My great-great grandfather with the checkered past was also born on Christmas Day. Noel Thibodeaux was born in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana in 1857. He didn't have too may Christmases, though, because his wandering eye got him shot.

I also had a great-grandmother who died on Christmas Eve. She had surgery for an intestinal blockage and died from complications on December 24, 1935. I did not know this fact until my grandfather (her son) had already passed. Christmas must have been difficult for him, but he never said anything.

Wow, way to bring down the Christmas vibe, Amy.

Happy birthday to those who came to be in the season. That means you too, Thomas (aka Mr.

(Originally posted December 15, 2009)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Big Changes at

[Below is the note I received this afternoon from These changes have been a long time coming. After all the hard work, it's nice to see they've finally flipped the switch. I haven't had time to fully explore everything, but the news is just too big not to share. --Amy]

Big Changes at
Updated Site Now Available; More Improvements to Come

SALT LAKE CITY–FamilySearch announced several changes today for its family history website, Online patrons will find millions of new records and images, over 40,000 helpful articles, over 100 interactive courses of instruction, and a dynamic forum to ask personal genealogy questions. The changes have been in testing for some time. FamilySearch will continue to implement the new website in phases to ensure all critical elements are functioning as desired. Once complete, the website will be promoted more broadly.

The new site offers the following free benefits to FamilySearch patrons:

        Millions more scanned, historical documents and indexes that are published more frequently.
        An improved search experience that looks through more content and gives more accurate results.
        A thriving online genealogical community where patrons can give and receive help.
        One user name and password for all FamilySearch products and services.
        Responsive, reliable, and scalable hardware and software that will allow the site to grow and improve.

FamilySearch has published a helpful document called “Adjusting to the New Version of” and a video tutorial that summarizes the changes to the new site.  These new guides can be found under the “Changes at” link.

The prior version of the site will still be available through the transition period.

Advent Calendar: December 14

(This is post 14 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 14 - Fruitcake, Friend or Foe?
Did you like fruitcake? Did your family receive fruitcakes? Have you ever re-gifted fruitcake? Have you ever devised creative uses for fruitcake?

I've never had fruitcake. Ever. And it's going to stay that way.

My mother was the fruitcake maker in the family. Apparently, according to fruitcake lovers, it's a pretty good recipe.

When I was younger, we had to go to a special store (Arco?) once a year and buy the supplies. This included little colored fruity candy squares and different nuts including walnuts and pecans.

There wasn't much "cake" in a fruitcake. All the fruity bits and nuts were coated in egg, maybe flour and rum. I do remember those things stinking of rum. No wonder everybody liked them. When you cut a slice of my mom's fruitcake, it was pretty much just nuts and fruit carefully stuck together with rum-based edible glue.

These fruitcakes were made in assembly line fashion. Once done, cooled and out of the pan, they were wrapped in foil. I always thought they looked like silver bricks and would make good doorstops.

But you know what? We never had any leftovers, so I guess that recipe was good. I'll never know though, because I don't *do* fruitcake--even if it's coated in rum.

(Originally posted December 14, 2009)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vote for the Family Tree 40

Family Tree Magazine has opened voting for their 2011 Family Tree 40 Best Genealogy Blogs.

You can see the announcement here. Vote for your favorites on the ballot. You can vote as much as you want through December 20, 2010.

This morning I was surprised to find this blog nominated in the "Everything" category. Thank you to whoever nominated me, I'm really touched. Then I looked at the list of fellow bloggers in this category and I felt really honored to be in such esteemed company. Wow.

Normally, I'd put links here to all the nominees, but we're having a crisis in the Coffin house and I'm pressed for time. Seems the boy can't find his dress shoes, which are needed for tonight's Christmas concert. Looks like someone is going to have to wear tennis shoes with his formal uniform and learn a tough lesson about being prepared.

On that note, I'm going to refer you to DearMYRTLE, who has prepared a sample ballot complete with active links for all the nominated blogs. Go forth and pick your favorites.

If you vote for me, I will lower your taxes promise more photos of copiers with devil horns. Actually, you'll probably get those anyway. No vote is necessary. All I can guarantee is that in the Christmas band picture tonight, my son is the one in the tennis shoes.

I'd make an awful politician.

Now get out there and vote!

[Edited 12/14/10 to add this tidbit: my son fessed up to his band teacher about his missing shoes and got a loaner pair for the evening. A Festivus miracle!]

A Visit with John Williamson (1764-1829)

John Williamson (1764-1829) is my fifth great-grandfather. I haven't talked about him much here because I've been so focused on his descendants. His son John was the one who moved his Williamson crew from Tennessee to Arkansas about 1830. They stayed there a long time and had a bunch of kids who had a bunch of kids, so I've spent all my time researching Williamsons in Pope County, Arkansas.

This weekend, I happened to locate the marker for John Williamson at I don't own the picture, so I won't publish it, but interested family and readers can find it here: John Williamson. He was also a Revolutionary War patriot, the second one I know of in my own ancestral lines.

An impromptu web search for John Williamson also turned up this little biography. Ironically, the web site that provided this bit of local history seems to be for a residential community that is built where the Williamsons once lived, and where some are still buried. Guess that's progress for you.

There's still plenty of research to be done on the Williamsons of Pope County, Arkansas. However, a change of scenery might be nice. Maybe it's time to move back a generation and study the Williamsons of Wilson County, Tennessee.

This whole post was drafted for my family, who may or may not know of their ancestors in 1700's Tennessee. Before then, they came from Virginia, but it will be a while before I have enough information and time to research that era. For now, just take the time to get to know John Williamson and get used to your Tennessee roots.

Advent Calendar: December 13

(This is post 13 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 13 - Holiday Travel
Did you or your ancestors travel anywhere for Christmas? How did you travel and who traveled with you? Do you remember any special trips?

I come from a small family. Even when you add "extended" it's still pretty tiny. Most everyone lived in the same city, so our trips were pretty short.

For almost 30 years, my aunt and uncle have had Christmas Eve. It usually involves ham and cheesy potatoes. I still get an invitation.

Christmas morning was always at our house. My parents did the Christmas breakfast and my grandparents would come over. They always had to make the rounds and visit all the grandkids. After a while they'd leave to prepare for dinner.

Christmas dinner was at my grandparents house. How we all fit in there I'll never know, but we did. Grandma made a good turkey.

Now my parents have taken over Christmas dinner. They are the grandparents and there's new grandchildren running around. We still have turkey. It's still good. I still sit at the kids' table.

(Originally posted December 13, 2009)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Press Release: WikiTree Widgets are Here!

Below is a press release from Elyse Doerflinger, official WikiTree evangelist. Please direct all questions to chris at wikitree dot com.

- - -

WikiTree is announcing the new release of participation widgets that can be used on any website or blog. The WikiTree Widgets can be used to display a live update of your latest contributions, uploads, and edits to the worldwide wiki family tree.

The widgets were developed in collaboration with Thomas MacEntee and the GeneaBloggers community. A half dozen designs were selected to represent the community’s choices for content, layout, dimensions, and colors.

You can view the WikiTree Widgets, see live examples, view privacy details, and get directions for installing them on your blog or website at

About WikiTree: WikiTree's mission is to create a rich worldwide family tree resource by striking the perfect balance between collaboration and privacy. It gives families a free and easy way to privately share information and organize their facts, memories, and photos. At the same time, it enables distant relatives and strangers to grow a worldwide family tree and create a valuable resource for future historians. WikiTree was started in
2008 by Chris Whitten, the creator of WikiAnswers - one of the top 50 websites in the US. Content
on WikiTree is owned and edited by its contributors. Join the free community at

Advent Calendar: December 12

(This is post 12 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 12 - Charitable / Volunteer Work
Did your family ever volunteer with a charity such as a soup kitchen, homeless or battered women's shelter during the holidays? Or perhaps were your ancestors involved with church groups that assisted others during the holiday?

My short answer is no to the above, but...

My dad was involved in the Lions Club for many years. Each Christmas, they had a breakfast with Santa. When  was young, I got to attend with the other kids. It was swell. We had breakfast, we made crafts, Santa came. One year, the back of me was even in the paper. Story of my life.

When I got older, I got to be a helper at those breakfasts. That was fun, too, because I felt grown up.

Come to think of it, my parents still have some of my Lions Club crafts still hanging on the tree.

(Originally published December 12, 2009)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 11

(This is post 11 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 11 - Other traditions
Did your family or friends also celebrate other traditions during the holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Did your immigrant ancestors have holiday traditions from their native country which they retained or perhaps abandoned?

The first time I read these questions, my initial answer was, "I don't know." So...I called my grandparents and asked them.

My grandfather's parents were born to French speakers in Cajun Louisiana. He says they had turkey and mince meat pie. He can't remember anything else, but says he always loved desserts. He was one of many in a large Catholic family but says he always got a present.

My grandmother's parents were German immigrants. My grandmother's mother passed away very young, so my grandmother only knows Christmas memories with her father and her siblings. She says they always had a tree, which is interesting given the extreme poverty in which they lived in 1930's Los Angeles. Her brother would get a tree for fifty cents (or sometimes free) on Christmas Eve, after the price was reduced for quick sale. When she woke on Christmas morning the tree would always be decorated. I suspect much of my grandmother's childhood Christmas memories were created by her older brother who saw to it the holiday was celebrated, while their father worked to keep food on the table. The Christmas meal was a roasted chicken. My grandmother said that when her mother was alive, she liked to bake and would make streudel.

My grandmother told me a funny story. One Christmas Eve, she got out of bed and went into the living room. The presents were under the tree and there was a (used) bicycle for her! The bike had the type of kickstand that would elevate the back wheel so you could pedal in place. My grandma got on the bike and pedaled and pedaled and pedaled, all while her family was asleep--her brother was sleeping on the couch! The next morning, she got up and pretended to be surprised about the bicycle.

It was fun answering this question for the Advent Calendar series, because it resulted in a great phone conversation with my grandparents.

(Originally published December 11, 2009)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 10

(This is post 10 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 10 - Christmas Gifts
What were your favorite gifts both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors?

The only real tradition within my immediate family I can think of is the giving of Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve. Every year on the 24th, my sister and I would put on our new holiday-themed jammies. Then, my mom would read our awesome pop-up version of The Night Before Christmas.

On Christmas Day, we'd go to our grandparents house. For a few years, we had a pinata. Why, I do not know because this is not of our heritage. Anyway, the grandkids (of which I was one) enjoyed the privilege of blindly swinging a big stick in the vicinity of our relatives. At some point, the candy would fall and so would an envelope. What was it? It was plane tickets for my grandmother to go see her only living brother. And once she realized that, she'd cry. But she's never really cry. She's just tear up and be speechless. It was cute.

One of the best gifts I ever received? My answer is an odd one, but it requires a back story. I did not like my husband when I first met him. I thought he was annoying, but he was in my orbit because we had the same friends. At one point, we split a 5-game package of hockey tickets. With each game he got less annoying, so you could say that the Los Angeles Kings brought us together.

On the way to those games, we'd always pass a store with a sign that said "Honey Bean Pies." I joked that it sounded like a term of endearment. At some point, the name and the joke was shortened to Bean and I haven't been Amy in this house since.

The years rolled on and we moved from an NHL town, to a no hockey town to an AHL town. In Houston, we enjoy the Aeros games where you get twice the fights at half the price. The fans wear great jerseys, too. Once I commented on how cool the Milwaukee Admirals jersey was. It was odd. It was funky. It was me.

So that Christmas, I received that very jersey from my husband:

Customized with my name and the year we were married:

I got an engagement ring one Christmas Eve. I even got a car once. But this jersey is one of my favorite gifts ever. I don't expect anyone to understand why, but the person who gave it to me will.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calendar: December 9

(This is post 9 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 9 - Grab Bag
Author's Choice. Please post from a topic that helps you remember Christmas past!

Technically, my post isn't about the past, because my family is still using this idea started by my mom. A few years back, my mom gathered all the Christmas family photos through the years, as well as all the photo holiday cards that have been sent to their house. The whole stack of pictures now rests in a basket that comes out every Christmas. She sets the basket in a high-traffic area, on the counter between the kitchen and the family room. Guests love to look at those pictures. Heck, I've seen them 1,000 times and I still look at them, too.

So my "grab bag" post is to share my mom's picture basket idea with readers. Does your family share past holiday pictures in a creative way? Do tell!

(Originally posted December 9, 2009)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pocket Tree Product Review

When I do genealogy research on-site, I’m very mobile. I move between book shelves and machines, study tables and film readers. It’s not practical for me to bring all my research on a laptop, because I’d continually be packing up the laptop so I could move around the building. However, it’s difficult to genealogy research without key information in front of you.

To counter this issue, I began making printouts of the family lines or group sheets on which I was focusing on a particular trip. At least these papers I could leave on the study table with little risk of someone stealing them. However, given the amount of research I do, this always leads to a big stack of paper being carted to and from my house.

Back at the 2010 Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, I saw a little product that might help me in my information transport dilemma. It was called Pocket Tree™. Basically, it’s a 9-generation family tree that folds up neatly. You really can put it in your pocket!

As you gradually unfold a Pocket Tree™, there are helpful tips printed on the outside of the top folds that assist you in preserving your family history. The Pocket Tree™ includes ideas for interviewing family members, and even provides 39 thought-provoking questions you can ask your relatives. When completely unfolded, the 9-generation chart is revealed:

You can see all the facets of the Pocket Tree™ at the web site’s Photo Gallery.

Here’s the breakdown “under the hood.” Pocket Tree™ is made of acid-free paper containing 10% post-consumer product. This combo allows for easy erasing with a hi-polymer eraser. The cover is varnish coated, and doesn’t show fingerprints. This is great when you hand Pocket Trees around to your family. Pocket Tree™ travels well.

The space for writing information on the family tree chart is limited. You can use an archival-quality pen, but information on the Pocket Tree™ website recommends a mechanical pencil with a fine lead tip and an eraser suitable for those familiar edits that come with researching one’s family tree. “Grandma lied about her age; she was really 86 when she died.”

Pocket Tree™ is also handy for initiating dialog with your family. If you have a particular relative that doesn’t provide many details, the topics printed on the Pocket Tree™ may get the conversation started. You can also order several Pocket Trees™ and give them to family members to fill out on their own, or provide the details yourself and share your family’s history with the next generation.

This is a handy, convenient tool that assists in furthering your family history research without breaking the bank. My own Pocket Tree™ will be logging many miles as I take it on all my family history research road trips.

Further information about the Pocket Tree™ can be found here.

[Disclosure: I was contacted by Pocket Tree™ and received one to review. I do like the product and will continue to use it in my own research. I am also enrolled in the Pocket Tree™ Affiliate Program. The links in this review are affiliate links.]

Advent Calendar: December 8

(This is post 8 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 8 - Christmas Cookies
Did your family or ancestors make Christmas cookies? How did you help? Did you have a favorite cookie?

My mom made sugar cookies every Christmas in our very 1970's orange kitchen. At my parents' house there is probably photographic evidence of this process. My mom made the dough, but she let us use the cookie cutters. I remember there was a profile Santa with a bag, a star, a bell, a snowman and a gingerbread-shaped cutter.

When the cookies cooled we got to frost them. My mom would make a big batch of white frosting, then divide it into bowls where she would use food coloring to provide many shades. We also had sprinkles, red & green crystals and those metallic edible silver balls.

All the sugar cookies were my favorites. Though I liked to decorate with those silver balls, I never ate the cookies that had them. What the heck were those things anyway?

(This post was originally published December 8, 2009)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Merry Christmas to Me

This year, I made a Christmas list. Then I emailed my husband one of the things on it. He ordered it for me. It already arrived and is sitting unwrapped near the tree. There is no surprise, but I am happy with the gift:

I'm going to open it next week and learn how to use it. The plan is to take it to my parents' house during the holiday break and scan some of our old photos, starting with those that are stuck in those horrendous 1970's photo albums with the sticky backs. 

In time, I figure this will also come in handy when I am visiting with new-found cousins. They can share their pictures and I can scan them right there. 

I'll let you know how it goes...

For more info, see

Advent Calendar: December 7

(This is post 7 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by

Prompt: December 7 - Holiday Parties
Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

My family didn't throw a holiday party for friends, but they did host one for work. Usually it was at a restaurant.

When I was first married, my husband's employer put on extravagant parties. There was a ton of dysfunction in that place, so I loved taking advantage of the free eats/open bar and watch the drama from the sidelines. But those days are over and the current employer doesn't do holiday events.

I miss those parties.

(This post was originally published December 7, 2009)