Thursday, September 30, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday – A Baby’s Hairbrush

These items, nestled together with the note, in a small box, belonged to Myrtle Lair.  The note reads, “The little baby’s hair brush belonged to Myrtle Lair age 1 in 1889.  The photo pin is her at the age of 10 or 12.”
Myrtle was the youngest daughter of Lawson F. and Margaret (Nickeson) Lair.  Her sister, Nettie, was my great great-grandmother.  After the death of her mother, with most of the rest of the surviving children married and/or gone from the area, Myrtle stayed on and cared for her father in his old age.  She never married.   She died in 1941 in Princeville, Illinois, where she had spent her entire life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Four Generations


From upper left, clockwise: Hans Seemann, our immigrant ancestor, 1825 – 1893.  He initially settled on a farm in Clinton co., Iowa, and later in Union County, South Dakota.  He was the husband of Maria Petersen, and father of nine children, including  -
Henry Seeman,  1864 – 1929.  Henry met and married Eva Adams of Stephenson co., Illinois, and put himself through medical school, beginning his practice about 1900 in Iowa, and southeastern South Dakota, before settling in Rockham, South Dakota, where he would spend the remainder of his life.  He was father of five children, the youngest of whom was -
Earl Seeman, 1897 – 1927.  He married Mary Joyce, and farmed in Hand co., South Dakota.  He died just short of his 30th birthday.  They had three sons, the middle one being -
Robert Seeman, 1922 – 1966.  He spent his life in Hand co., South Dakota, and worked at a variety of occupations.  He married Louise Kluthe in 1951.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flabbergasted Friday – How Did Our Ancestors Survive Lunch??

I’m having a ball transcribing the journals of my great grandmother, Elvirta Knutz.  The “current” year is 1956.  They loved to take “day trips”, and pack their own lunches rather than eating at restaurants, in order to economize. 
Each year they would visit the South Dakota State Fair at Huron.  They’d make an incredibly fun day of it.  My Aunt Mabel, the fourth of five children, told of how her mother would spend the whole day beforehand frying chicken and preparing potato salad, and then on the day of the trip, they’d get up early and pack everything they’d need into the trunk of the car, including the food, and drive to Huron.  They’d spend all morning at the livestock barns and seeing all the machinery and other attractions, then take a break and head back to the car, where they’d sit in the hot early September sun, in the treeless parking lot, but oh, how that fried chicken and potato salad tasted so good!
Another time they took a “day trip” to Pierre, South Dakota, to watch the Oahe Dam being built.  From their farm, it was close to a four-hour drive.  After seeing the dam, and touring the general area, they found a lovely riverside park, where they… you guessed it… pulled their lunch from the trunk and ate it.  Afterwards, they toured the Capital building, made several stops on their way home, and once there, pulled the remainder of the lunch from the car and finished it off.
Having my formal education in the field of microbiology, I was appalled, but apparently, this was not an uncommon practice.  The New England Journal of Medicine, in the November 19, 1953 issue, published a report by Dr. K. F. Meyer stating that contamination with E. coli, Clostridium perfringens (the bug you get from improperly canned foods), among other nasty little germs, “has been implicated in food-poisoning outbreaks.”  He goes on to say that “the true etiologic significance of the bacteria incriminated has never been satisfactorily proved.”  Yikes!
Many times, while going through very old death registers, I’ve seen cause of death attributed to diarrhea, or some vague stomach complaint.  I wonder how many of these were caused by the family’s lunch? 

(Image courtesy of

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday – County Farm, Stark co., Illinois


Along a rural roadside in Stark County, Illinois, sits the County Farm cemetery.  Each stone looks like the others.  There are no flowers or decorations, but the cemetery is kept respectfully neat and well-groomed.  Each soul who lies here had one thing in common – a life that ended in poverty. 
Jennie Barto, 1843 – 1930
Charles Bowman, 1851 – 1930
Anna Clifton, died Nov. 3, 1922, aged 84 years
Henry Fisher, died Mar. 15, 1915, aged 45 years
William L. Hartman, 1848 – 1927
Charles E. Headley, 1859 – 1925
C. W. Pate, died May 28, 1911, aged 66 years
Miles Sturms
Ruphas Yates, died May 11, 1923
Of course, these are not all of the deaths that occurred at the County Farm over the years.  Some residents are buried elsewhere, some of the stones here are illegible, and sadly, some are identified only by numbers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wedding Wednesday – 55 years




On March 30, 1910, Will Knutz and Elvirta Graves made a life-long commitment to each other.  They met while Will was working on a threshing crew, and Virta was helping to serve the hungry men.


50 years later, they celebrated a milestone anniversary.  Their marriage would last nearly 56 years, until Will passed away in 1966. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Needle in the Haystack – Finding Elsie in the Census

Just last night, burning a little “midnight oil,” I finally came upon the document that has knocked down half of my Christensen brick wall: the 1920 census of Omaha, Nebraska.
I’ve been looking for the family of my great-grandfather, Peter Christensen of Denmark, for some time.  I’ve looked for them in the census before, but when you’re working with “heresay” information, and names as common as Christensen and Ericksen, in an area thick with Danish immigrants, it gets overwhelming quickly.  I knew the first names of his brothers and sisters, knew his mother’s name was Elsie, and many of the men in his family were bakers.  I had heard his father died in Denmark, and Elsie remarried a Mr. Erickson/Ericksen/Eriksen/Erikson etc., and probably lived in Omaha or Council Bluffs, Iowa, or Onawa, Iowa.
It started with an address for “Aunt Agnes” in my grandmother’s old 1930s address book, and clue by clue, I ended up with my great-great grandmother in the 1920 census.   New information gained from this document:
1) A definitive place for them – Omaha.  Plus, I got a street address!
2) “Mr. Ericksen” now has a name – Gents Ericksen.
3) Gents was 11 years younger than his wife – probably not a terribly important piece of news, but kind of interesting nonetheless.  I may never find out, but I’d love to know their story.
4) I have a location and birth years for Elsie’s children Soren and Martin.  Another thing I discovered on the path to the 1920 census was a married name for Elsie’s daughter Mary, an address in Omaha, a date of death, and a relocation to California.
PetesMom Elsie and Gents Ericksen
Now it’s really time to get busy – I have an obituary for son Soren coming, and will get one for daughter Mary; I need to find a date of death for son Martin, as well as Elsie and Gents, and try to get obituaries for them as well in hopes of going back another generation.  Now that I know Gents’ name, and their birth years, I can attack the censuses once again, and differentiate them from all of the other Ericksens. Gents and Elsie, as well as Soren, are listed in the census as being naturalized – I need to get those papers.  Soren and Martin were bakers, and I’d like to go through the city directories and get more information on where, specifically, they worked.  Did they own their own bakery, as their brother Pete (my great-grandfather) did in South Dakota?  If so, what was the name, and where was it located?    I feel a trip to Omaha coming on!
One very important piece of information has eluded me so far – I’d like to know the name of Elsie’s first husband, my great-great grandfather.  I am hoping it will show up in one of the obituaries.  If so, I’ll be learning how to do Danish research – a task I thought I’d never need to know.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the crumbling of a brick wall, and it sounds wonderful!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Everything New is Old Again – Producing “Vintage” Fabric

One of my ongoing projects is trying to finish a quilt started by my grandmother in the 1940s.  After her death her oldest daughter took the unfinished quilt home with her, intending to complete it herself.  She attached a bright gold border, matching the gold inset between the blocks, and set it aside.  Years and years later, she gave it to me to finish, and I’ve had it about 10 years.  It’s a very humbling situation I find myself in – having the honor of working on a three-generation quilt spanning some 70 years, while at the same time, stretching my meager quilting abilities to their limits.

I was finally able to locate some 1940s reproduction fabric locally.  The problem is, it looks new.  I decided to tea-dye the fabric to give it a more “vintage” look, and hope that it will help the fabric, with its different patterns, blend in better with what’s already there.  I was a little leery of using tea to color the fabric, as the tannins in the tea will shorten the life of the fabric, but all things considered, I felt it would give me a better effect than using regular fabric dye.  I did a little research on the internet, got a general idea of what I needed to do, took a deep breath, and got busy.

For anyone considering doing something similar, I learned a few things this morning:

1) When brewing the tea, most of the “recipes” on the internet assume you want dramatic results.  If you want something more subtle, dilute your brew.  I used 16 bags of tea to 8 cups of water.   Still, it took only one minute of exposure to the tea to get obvious results.
2) Use a BIG container if you have one-yard pieces.  Don’t try to do it in a stockpot on the stove top.  Use something that will allow the fabric easy movement.  And get the fabric wet before putting it in the tea.
3) Test a small piece of fabric before doing the whole thing.  The first little swatch I tossed in the tea came out way darker than I wanted after 3 minutes. 
4) The wet fabric will look darker than it really is.  Dry before you make any adjustments to your times.
5) Immediately rinse in a sink of cold water, and be sure you rinse it thoroughly.  While most of the sources I consulted on the internet suggested drying and using the fabric after rinsing, I’m going to wash mine first.  I don’t want any unnecessary tannins eating away at my fabric, and I also don’t want any nasty surprises when the finished quilt is washed.


Hopefully the scariest part of this process is over.  The next challenge will be coming up with a design that “works” with what is there already, and with the fabric I have (yes, I bought fabric without having a plan).  Having a long, narrow quilt to work with, and no pattern, does present some obstacles.  I’m hoping my grandma and my aunt can give me a little loving “coaching” from above.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday – Collars from Long Ago

This note, written by my great-grandmother, Elvirta Knutz Graves, explains the significance of these collars she had tucked away.  The lace collar belonged to her mother, Nettie Lair Graves (1861 – 1935), and the fabric collar belong to Nettie’s grandmother, Margaret Coble Nickeson (ca 1803 – 1854).
Margaret Coble Nickeson, owner of the fabric collar, married her husband, Joseph Nickeson, in Franklin county, Ohio in 1819, and in the 1840s they relocated to Peoria county, Illinois with their children.  She died in 1854 at the age of 56 in Princeville.  Her daughter Margaret Nickeson married Lawson Lair in 1858.  They spent the rest of their lives in Princeville, Margaret passing away in 1900 at the age of 59.  Their second child was Nettie Lair, owner of the lace collar.  Nettie married Tom Graves in 1883 in Princeville, and they remained in that area until 1906, when they moved to Esmond, South Dakota.  Their daughter Elivrta married Will Knutz in 1910, in Huron, South Dakota.  The collars were eventually given to Virta’s daughter Mabel, who passed away last year.  I would like to thank my cousins for sending me these, and other, remarkable treasures that their mother had so carefully saved.  I am truly blessed and honored to have them.

Open Thread Thursday – Free or Fee?

Whoever said There’s No Free Lunch wasn’t kidding.  Someone had to go “kill it and drag it home” (to borrow the words of Dave Ramsey), cook it, and serve it up.  It cost someone something to provide that lunch.  If they’re willing to give it away to us, great.  If not, they are as entitled to compensation - as I feel I am after a long day at work.
Such is the case with Ancestry vs. FamilySearch.  I personally think it’s wonderful that volunteers at FamilySearch are willing to digitize family history records and make them available at no charge to researchers.  But, and I say this with no firm data to back me up, Ancestry, using a paid staff, is able to provide a larger quantity of information.  And for me, right now, it’s more about quantity of information than whether or not I have to pay for access.
If documents are in the public domain, and Ancestry digitizes and sells access, more power to them.  Objectors are always free to go get the document themselves, the old fashioned way.  Ancestry, as far as I’m concerned, isn’t selling me access as much as they are selling me EASY access.  I’m quite willing to pay to have a document I want delivered to my desktop, while I sit here drinking coffee and listening to a ballgame, as opposed to having to drive somewhere (probably at some distance, as most of my research is not local) and go fetch it myself, particularly if I don’t have enough research to do in that area to justify a trip.  
Free indexes are fabulous - even if access to the original document is on a pay-basis.  For those who aren’t willing to pay, knowing exactly where to look for the document, and knowing that the document DOES exist, saves a lot of time, leg-work, and money.  A great example is provided by the Olmsted County History Center.  Their indexes are online.  If you don’t want to pay for an item, go get it yourself.  At least you know exactly where to look for it. 
The down side of all this is that the online resources are going to close down many local genealogy societies, unless the societies can re-invent themselves to fit with how genealogy is done today.   They need to offer something that the fee-based companies, or the free sites, can’t.  And most of all, LOCAL SOCIETIES NEED A STRONG ONLINE PRESENCE.  As a consumer, I have been more than willing to send a society $3 in return for an obituary.  I’d be willing to pay for a scan of an ancestral photo as well, or a newspaper article.   Online subscriptions aren’t cheap, but spending a few dollars here and there through a local society is much more affordable.
As people get busier, more and more will be using online resources to help with their family histories.  Many of these researchers will be willing to pay to get online access to the documents they need, either via memberships/subscriptions or doing business with local societies, but I believe what researchers will want more and more is quick and easy access to what they need.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday – The Secret Summer

diaryThe diary my Grandmother kept as a young woman