Showing posts sorted by relevance for query heirloom. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query heirloom. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Family History Month: Bequeath the Story with the Heirloom


During Family History Month, I'm continuing to write down the stories of the family heirlooms that will pass to the next generation.

This is an excerpt from two pages I wrote about my late mother-in-law's artistic ceramic sculptures. Hubby and I have three animal sculptures to bequeath. We want to be sure  descendants know more about Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983) and how she developed her interest and skill in creating these sculptures.

Between checking with family members and researching the teacher's name, I learned a lot about Marian and her artistry. On more than one occasion, she entered her sculptures in the prestigious juried May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art--and her works were accepted for display several times! It only took a few clicks to find the records buried in the museum's digital archives.

Now Marian's grandchildren will not only have these sculptures, they'll know about Marian's artistic talent and take pride in her accomplishments. We're doing the same with other heirlooms so the stories get bequeathed along with the heirlooms for future generations to appreciate, including photos on the write-ups to be sure everyone knows which heirloom is which.

If you're writing down the story of an heirloom, start with what you were told or what you observed. Include details about the heirloom (what, when, where, why) and talk about the person who created it or treasured it. Explain why it's something for the family to keep. Even just a paragraph or two will give the next generation a better understanding of the history of that heirloom and the family.

This is part of the PASS process discussed in my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What Does an Heirloom Look Like? Not Like This!

This is NOT a family heirloom!
Devon Noel Lee of Family History Fanatics was the guest expert for a recent #Genchat, all about downsizing with #FamilyHistory in mind. (You can learn more from her book.)

Devon posed thought-provoking questions about how to decide what to save for future generations. Judging by the relatively few heirlooms that I've inherited, clearly my ancestors did their own downsizing, starting with decisions about the handful of items they brought from Eastern Europe to America. My husband's family has been in America much longer and has had much more storage space, which is why so many interesting items have survived over the years.

It's so hard to say goodbye

During #Genchat, we had a lively discussion about how difficult it can be to let go of inherited items, especially if they provoke strong emotions about people, places, and events from our family's past.

Still, if we downsize thoughtfully and carefully, we can focus the next generation on items of special significance to our family.

Also, there was a lot of conversation about photos. My take-away: I have to get back to scanning, captioning, and dating as many photos as possible now. Otherwise, descendants may never know who's who.

My little red bench

I do have a number of heirlooms to pass to the next generation. That doesn't include the item in the photo at top. It's a wooden bench about 6 inches high and 12 inches long. Originally, the bench was red with some cutesy saying or song on the top.

As toddlers, Sis and I each had one of these benches, which we put next to the sink so we could reach to wash our hands. This bench has been repainted more than a few times during its long life, moving to ten different homes with me over the years. I'm not particularly attached to it. It just takes up little room and is handy to use whenever I need a step up.

However! No matter how many years it's been with me, I definitely don't consider this bench to be a family heirloom. It has no special significance, other than being a useful little bench. After I join my ancestors, someone else can repaint and reuse it or retire it--guilt-free.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Two Bracelets, Two Family Heirlooms

Daisy and Dorothy Schwartz, mid-1920s
Shown here in one of my favorite photos is Mom (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Schwartz, 1919-2001), with matching Buster Brown haircuts and lacy dropped-waist dresses.

Look very carefully at the arm of the smiling twin on the right, and you can see a dainty pearl bracelet dangling from her wrist. No doubt both girls had identical bracelets, but only Mom's survives.

It's a tiny heirloom (see the ruler to see how tiny) that will be shared with Mom's descendants, along with the treasured studio photo of the twins.

Worn by Daisy Schwartz Burk

The second bracelet heirloom is this one from the late 1950s, a piece of Mom's costume jewelry with photos on both sides--photos of her twin daughters (Sis and me).

As with the pearl bracelet, this charm bracelet will be shared with Mom's descendants, along with memories of her and her twin sister, my Auntie Dorothy.

One of my 2020 goals is to finish a booklet about Daisy and Dorothy, with lots of photos to bring them alive for future generations who never had the opportunity to know them.

"Favorite photo" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Artsy-Craftsy Marian Jane McClure Wood

Ceramic sculptures by Marian Jane McClure Wood, 1950s
Aren't these lively little creatures? They were all sculpted by my late mom-in-law, Marian Jane McClure Wood (1909-1983), the beloved only daughter of Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970) and Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure (1878-1948). Marian married my dad-in-law Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) in 1935.

When her children were in high school, Marian began studying ceramic art with a world-famous sculptor, Edris Eckhardt, who--like Marian--was born and raised in Cleveland. Edris was in the vanguard of glass sculpture, inventing new processes and making a name with her innovative techniques.

My mom-in-law found joy and satisfaction in learning from Edris how to depict the animal world through careful crafting. She studied proportions and anatomy, trying different sizes, shapes, and colors to create lifelike ceramic animals with a touch of personality.

Marian was so serious about her ceramic art that her husband and father build a kiln in the basement of the Wood family home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. They had to install special wiring to operate the kiln. This enabled Marian to fire pieces at home, at her convenience.

To share the story of these sculptures with descendants, I've written a brief booklet liberally illustrated with photos of Marian's sculptures. Each of Marian's great-grandchildren will inherit one of these sculptures, along with the story, at some future time.

My goal is to write a page or two about every family heirloom, so the next generation understands why these items have been so treasured. This way, they'll inherit the provenance and the backstory along with the heirloom itself.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors prompt of "craft."

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Heirloom Story: My Parents' Bedroom Set

My parents, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) and Harold Burk (1909-1978), married on Thanksgiving weekend in 1946. They had gotten engaged on the last day of 1945, following a whirlwind courtship after being set up by his aunt (Mary Mahler Markell) and her aunt (Rose Farkas Freedman). Harold had returned from more than three years in the Army during WWII and wanted to settle down...Daisy wanted to marry and raise a family. Love blossomed!

Due to the post-war housing shortage, however, they had a long wait to find an apartment in New York City. They began married life in a basement apartment of a private home in Queens, more than an hour's subway ride away from their relatives in the Bronx. Daisy was most unhappy in this dark, cramped apartment, and they continued to look for something larger, something closer to family.

The Farkas Family Tree (my mother's family tree association) minutes from the meeting of May 2, 1948, includes a sentence in which my mother is quoted as saying to the "Good & Welfare Committee" that "for her good and welfare, she must find an apartment."

In the family tree minutes from June 13, 1948, the secretary says my parents "got a telephone but now want an apartment to put it into."

In the family tree minutes from October 10, 1948, my father is listed as having won at a "bazaar--a radio, meat slicer, Mixmaster, and several other things." But still not the apartment they truly wanted. By the end of 1948, no luck: "Daisy and Harry Burk are still looking."

Yippee! By March 6, 1949, my parents were reported to be in their new apartment, according to the Farkas Family Tree meeting minutes. This was on Carpenter Avenue in the northeast Bronx, corner of E. 222d Street. Not coincidentally, it was an apartment building in which my father's sister, brother, and mother were living. Surely that's how they heard of the vacancy of the apartment on the fourth floor of this building one block from a big park.

And the Farkas Family Tree minutes of June 5, 1949 crow: "Daisy & Harry Burk finally ordered furniture!!!" Yes, the exclamation points are in the original. It was now 2 1/2 years after their wedding.

At top, a photo of the high-boy bureau from this original mahogany bedroom set. The set was carefully crafted in the Bronx. I had it refinished in 1990, nearly 41 years after it was made, to restore it to its original beauty. The restorers admired the dovetail corners and the fine wood quality.

The high-boy, along with the vanity dresser and bench, hanging mirror, low bureau, and a night stand are in my bedroom, cherished family heirlooms that I use every day. Some lucky descendant will inherit this heirloom set, along with the story of how long Daisy and Harry fell in love, waited to marry, searched high and low for an apartment, ordered furniture, and then started their family.

PS: It's important to share our ancestors' stories now, before we join our ancestors! For more about safeguarding our family's past, please take a look at my affordable book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback or digital edition.

Friday, February 23, 2018

52 Ancestors #8: Did They Ever Think These Would Be Heirlooms?

Over time, so many of the items left to me or given to me by relatives and ancestors have become treasured heirlooms, valued not for financial value but for emotional and sentimental reasons. This week's #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow is a great opportunity to think about accidental heirlooms, not just those intended to be special.

Above, the silver napkin ring awarded by my mother's Farkas Family Tree association to each newborn child, male or female. For years--seriously, years!--one of my aunts tried to get the tree to give a different gift to baby boys (like her son, my 1st cousin R). She was voted down every time. This napkin ring was an honored gift tradition for decades.
Above, another item that was an heirloom even in its own time. My grandma Hermina Farkas Schwartz kept this cut glass bowl close to her heart because, if I got the story straight, it came with the family from Hungary to America in the early 1900s. My mother inherited it and now I'm the lucky custodian, keeping it safe for the next generation.

But other heirlooms were surely not intended or appreciated as such. At right, a velvet banner used by my late father-in-law Edgar James Wood to promote his piano trio during 1950s/60s gigs in Cleveland. Did Ed ever imagine this would be an heirloom in the 21st century? I bet the answer is no.

We can never predict exactly what future generations will consider to be heirlooms. So we need to take good care of all these family items, just in case. And--most important--we need to tell the stories of why these are (or should be) heirlooms, so that information is passed down along with the items themselves.

For more about sharing family history with future generations, please check out my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback and Kindle.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Military Monday: Oh Canada! WWI Military Badges

Heirloom belt from WWI
I saw this wonderful belt for the first time on Saturday, when a family discussion about genealogy reminded the current owner that he had this in his possession. Hubby remembered seeing it in the attic of his childhood home many decades ago.

It was passed down by a Canadian relative--mostly likely Captain John Daniel Slatter of the 48th Highlanders of Toronto. Capt. Jack, as we like to call him, was hubby's great-uncle, one of three military bandmasters in the Slatter family.

Capt. Jack was very close to his sister, Mary Slatter Wood (who married James Edgar Wood in Ohio). We have a couple of photos of him: One, above, shows him at Camp Borden in Canada in 1917, where he trained dozens of military bands and 1,000 buglers.

According to the 48th Highlanders Regimental Museum, Capt. Jack's military record was:

1874-6    Training Ship Royal Harry
1876-81  Royal Fusiliers
1881-6    "A" Battery Royal Canadian Artillery (Quebec City and Northwest Battalion)
1916-9    Officer-in-Charge of Training Bands & Buglers, Military District #2
1896-1946  48th Highlanders of Canada (based in Toronto)

Because he was in charge of training, he would have been able to trade badges with many of the military men he trained.

Above and below are the first closeups of the badges on this incredible heirloom belt. More to come soon, leading up to Canada Day on July 1st.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Bite-sized Project: A Special Place in Family History











I enjoy bite-sized family history projects because I can research and produce them in a short time--and younger relatives (my audience) clearly like the short takes more than the lengthier projects. 

The key is limiting the focus, rather than trying to create a massive project about the entire family tree. Typically, I focus on one ancestor, one couple, one surname/family, or one special photo/occasion/heirloom. But there are other ways to limit the focus for a bite-sized project.

Focus on one special place

When I recorded my new talk about bite-sized projects for the NERGC 2021 Conference* last week, Carolyn (one of the wonderful audience members) asked about focusing on an ancestral hometown. I told her I love that idea and I'm stealing it! Um, I mean adapting it ;) Another genealogy buddy calls this a #Genealogy travelogue!

A bite-sized project about a special place in family history could be about:

  • where an ancestor was born, lived, married, or died
  • where an ancestor operated a business or traveled on business
  • where an ancestor worshipped
  • where an ancestor vacationed or visited
  • where something of importance (good or bad) took place that affected an ancestor's life
A paragraph or two to place my ancestor in context

An example is a bite-sized page I want to write about Uzhhorod, Ukraine. Before the Soviet era, this bustling market center was known as Ungvar, Hungary. It was the home town of my maternal grandfather, Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965).

I've done a bit of research into Ungvar's past, when he was a boy and after he left but family remained behind. Also I have a key Census (including street and house number) from when borders were redrawn and the city was part of Czechoslovakia--a Census that includes five Schwartz family members! I have almost enough content for a couple of paragraphs (or a brief video) that will put my grandpa's home town into context, as an element of family history.

For visual interest, I can include a map like the one at top, from a Creative Commons source. No copyright issues as long as I include attribution (https://mapcarta.com/Uzhhorod). I know how images can catch the eye of the audience. 

*I'll be demonstrating the process in detail during my upcoming talk, "Bring Family History Alive in Bite-Sized Projects," at the all-virtual New England Regional Genealogical Conference in April.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Why I Love Bite-Sized Family History Projects


Bite-sized family history projects are more like a sprint than a marathon--and that's what makes them so practical and doable.

Here's why I love bite-sized family history projects:

  • They don't drag on and on forever. Researching and writing an entire family history can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Rather than spending many months or even years on one big project, I ease my way into family history by planning, researching, and creating each bite-sized story in a matter of weeks. 
  • My enthusiasm remains high when I limit my focus. Focusing on only one or two ancestors, one event (like a wedding,) or one heirloom motivates me to stay engaged for the limited time needed to complete the project.
  • Focusing sets the direction and scope. I have a clearer idea of what I'm looking for when conducting genealogical research on just one ancestor or a couple. I also know the time-frame when exploring background issues to put their lives into context for my audience, the next generation (and beyond).
  • Smaller projects allow for flexibility and creativity. Do I want to tell the story through a colorful illustrated booklet? A slick photo book? A video featuring family photos and narration by an older cousin? Whatever the final result is, bite-sized projects can be assembled into larger blocks later on.
  • The audience will have something now. It's never too soon to get relatives interested in the family's past. A bite-sized project eases them into learning about ancestors little by little, just as it eases me into telling the stories little by little. 

My newest bite-sized family history project is approaching the finish line: A photo-studded booklet about my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Schwartz, 1919-2001). 

The excerpt at top shows part of a page telling about my Auntie Dorothy's experiences in the Women's Army Corps during World War II. She was on board the RMS Aquitania as the oceanliner-turned-troop ship made its way from New York City to Scotland, with the constant fear of German submarine attack anywhere in the Atlantic. Now that's a story the next generation doesn't know and will be astonished to hear!

"Newest" is the #52Ancestors prompt for week 41. Only 11 more weekly prompts in 2020. This is one of my Genealogy Blog Party links for December, 2020!

NOTE: My newest presentation, "Bring Family History Alive in Bite-Sized Projects," will debut at the all-virtual New England Regional Genealogical Conference in April. More event details available soon!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Mid-Year Review and Preview in Pandemic Year One

Presenting a genealogy webinar from home!
Now that we're nearly halfway through the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, it's time for a mid-year review. I'm reviewing what I've accomplished in family history so far in 2020 and also previewing what I hope to accomplish before year-end.

How Did Life Change? Let Me Count the Ways...


The second quarter of this year was incredibly different from anything that came before the spread of COVID-19. Many of you, dear readers, have been having similar experiences, so you know first-hand about how life has changed.

Eat, sleep, genealogy, repeat!
Wearing a mask outside. Keeping six feet away from others. No in-person family visits and, alas, no in-person family graduations (all virtual only). No in-person genealogy club meetings or presentations (all virtual only). By now, I'm proficient enough to make presentations via GoToWebinar, WebEx, and Zoom (wearing my colorful headset).

I am sincerely grateful that my loved ones, friends, and neighbors remain healthy and that we can help each other through these trying times, one day at a time.


Genealogy Activities, January-June 2020

Staying close to home since mid-March has given me time to learn new tools, follow and post new cousin bait, concentrate on genealogical questions of long standing, and dig deeper into records that are becoming available online. 
  • Cousin connections. Cousins from around the world have found me (and my hubby) through DNA matches, through this blog, and through my family trees. It's wonderful to be in touch with cousins, sharing info and photos to flesh out the lives of our ancestors. Family stories often have at least a kernel of truth that can suggest new research possibilities and ultimately contribute to a better understanding of lives and relationships.
  • Discoveries in photos and letters. I've been going through my old photos and sharing with cousins. Just this month, we confirmed ancestor relationships with photos we pooled and I enhanced. My paternal first cousin has been kind enough to share newly-found letters and photos between our UK cousins and our paternal grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk, sparking fascinating talks about memories and more.
  • Military service. This spring, I dug deeper into ancestors' military service (especially WWI, WWII, and the Union Army). I've been commemorating them on war memorial sites, in cemetery records, on my blog, on family trees, and in written family histories.
  • 1950 and 2020 Census. After studying the enumerator instructions and questionnaire for the 1950 Census, I wrote extensively about the details we'll see when this census is released in April, 2022. Also, I blogged about the "Census doodle" I wrote on the printed 2020 Census. With luck, descendants in 2092 will see my message ;)
  • Documenting heirlooms. I'm photographing heirlooms and writing their stories so future generations will know what has been passed down and why these items are significant. Not every item is an heirloom, but items I want to be remembered are getting this special treatment.
  • Czechoslovakian census. Thanks to Lara Diamond's post, I found my maternal Schwartz great-grandparents in Ungvar, enumerated in the Czechoslovakian Census of 1921! Living in their household were daughters Paula, Lenka, and Etelka, plus relatives of great-grandpa and more. The census has birth month/year, birthplace, and more. I'll be blogging about this exciting discovery very shortly. 
  • Presentations and Twitter chats. From February to June, I made seven genealogy presentations (three in person, four via webinar). I was honored to be the guest expert for two #Genchats in February about "apres vous"--what happens to your family history after you join your ancestors.
 Genealogy Plans, July-December 2020

The second half of 2020 will be as busy as the first. If I'm lucky, there will be BSOs (bright shiny objects) that pop up as a fun genealogical diversion. My plan is to work on the following:
  • "Daisy and Dorothy" booklet. My mother was Daisy Schwartz Burk (1909-1981) and her twin sister was Dorothy Schwartz (1909-2001). It's not easy writing about people that Sis and I knew so well for so long, and this project has dragged on for a LONG time as I add photos and notes to write about their lives. The goal is to give descendants insights and tell stories to bring the Schwartz twins alive as people.
  • DNA and cousin bait. I'm color-coding my known DNA matches according to common ancestor (Farkas matches would be one color, Schwartz matches another color, etc.) This will help me analyze unknown DNA matches and see how we might be related. Also, I'm continuing to post photos of ancestors on multiple genealogy sites as cousin bait, and contacting people who posted photos I've never seen of my ancestors and their extended families.
  • Captioning old photos. Relatives have been kind enough to help with identification and context of many old photos. For instance, my 2d cousin recognized the people standing next to our great aunt Nellie Block in a photo, and the home where they were photographed. Because of who was in the picture and who was missing, she said the photo had to be taken during World War II. Now, with better enhancement to sharpen faces and remove scratches, I expect to identify more people and places in the near future!
  • Improve sources. Some ancestors in my trees have only limited sources attached, because dates and places were "known to the family." Where possible, I want to attach and improve sources, giving my trees added credibility.
  • New presentations. I'm planning a new presentation, "Family Tree Secrets: Reveal or Conceal?" about dealing with unexpected genealogy discoveries within the framework of privacy, ethics, and family attitudes. Also new for 2021: "Get Ready for the 1950 Census Release!" (lots of great info is in our future as of April, 2022, when this release is scheduled--but you need to know how to search and what clues to look for). One more new presentation, for NERGC2021: "Bring Family History Alive in Bite-Sized Projects."
--

Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors prompt for week 26 is "middle."

Sunday, April 26, 2020

His and Her Heirlooms from When We Were Born

With the Covid-19 pandemic keeping us inside since mid-March, I've been documenting family history by writing about heirlooms that will be passed to the next generation.
Wally's baby book and silver porringer

Today is a look at keepsakes from when my husband and I were born.

His: Baby Book and Silver Porringer

My late mother-in-law (Marian Jane McClure
Wood) was given a small baby book to record milestones in the life of her first-born child, my wonderful hubby.

Shown here is the baby book alongside a silver porringer, engraved with baby's initials (WEW). Although the book contains the names of several dozen well-wishers who gave baby gifts, this silver porringer isn't listed. Nor is it listed as a gift for "baby's first Christmas." Although we don't know who presented it to my husband, it's still a treasured heirloom.

The baby book turned out to be a bonanza for my family-history research. In it are the names of many people identified by family relationship, such as "Aunt Nellie Kirby" and "Grandparents McClure." Over the years, as I've fleshed out the family tree, I've recognized other gift-givers as great aunts/uncles and cousins.

By correlating the book with other sources (such as Census records and the diaries of my late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood), I've confirmed who's who in the family's inner circle, and also narrowed down dates for the death of people who don't appear.

Hers: Silver Napkin Ring
Marian's silver napkin ring from the Farkas Family Tree

In my mother's Farkas Family Tree association, the traditional baby gift was a silver napkin ring.

On one side was engraved the baby's initials (mine is shown here).

The other side was engraved with the birth date and "Farkas Family Tree."

No matter whether a baby was a boy or a girl, the Farkas Family Tree bestowed this napkin ring, personalized for each child.

Because I have the Farkas Family Tree meeting minutes from 1933-1964, I know that controversy erupted when the mother of a baby boy asked whether the gift might be something other than a napkin ring. After heated discussion during a family meeting, the mother was out-voted.

According to the minutes, this aunt asked for reconsideration several times at meetings over the years, only to be voted down every time.

Tradition won out, and all babies in the family continued to receive silver napkin rings. That's part of the legacy I'm sharing with my heirs along with this keepsake.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Recap of "Apres Vous" #Genchat Discussion Q2

#Genchat discussion "Apres Vous" question #2

"Apres Vous" - What Happens to Your Family History Materials?

Lots of activity on Twitter during this recent #Genchat two-day conversation about what happens to our family history after we join our ancestors!

The answers to question #2, summarized and listed below, are starting points to keep in mind as you approach your own decisions about keeping family history safe "apres vous."

Q2: How can you organize your family history collection now, with future generations in mind? Participants suggested:
  • Have information in one place, make it easy to understand (don't use your own shorthand and expect heirs to understand it).
  • Consider putting documents into binders, organized and with tables of contents, to keep things together and safe. 
  • Another idea is to use archival boxes, organized and with contents pages as a "finding aid" for the collection.
  • Use a consistent organization system for paper and digital information.
  • Weed out unimportant "junk" so collection is not a burden to heirs. This may help keep entire collection out of the trash later on.
  • Consider whether your organizational system is "self-explanatory" to next generation.
  • Label everything, identify people in photos, and indicate which side of the family tree your photos belong to.
  • Put photos and originals into archival sleeves. Label all!
  • Write about each heirloom, describe it, whose it was, the context, why it is treasured, how it came into the family and into your possession.
  • Create a "treasure map" so heirs know what is where.
  • Inform family of what other heirlooms/photos are in the hands of other relatives and/or institutions.
  • Write the year in four digits, 3/2/2020 instead of 3/2/20, for clarity.
Many thanks to Christine McCloud (@geneapleau) and Liam "Sir Leprachaun Rabbit" (@leprchaunrabbit) for hosting lively #genchat conversations every other Friday. It was a privilege to be involved in the "Apres Vous" discussion!

You can drop in and follow the conversation or add your thoughts during #genchat every other Friday. See the schedule and more information here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Edgar Wood's Untraditional Fake Book

Edgar J. Wood's untraditional fake book--created from scratch!
My late dad-in-law Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) played piano to pay for his college education at Tufts.

He also played piano with college jazz bands to pay for summer trips to/from Europe during the Roaring Twenties.

Impressing Gershwin

After leaving college one course short of graduation, Ed tried to break through as a professional musician in New York City.

However, he felt like a little fish in a big musical pond, he told his son 50 years later. So he returned home to Cleveland, Ohio, with the hope of being a bigger fish in a smaller musical pond.

In 1934, Ed won a prestigious songwriting contest judged by George Gershwin. The newspaper headline read: "Gershwin Winner Plays for Meals." Even though he was talented, Ed simply couldn't make a living playing piano during the Depression.

Fortunately, Ed landed a job as an insurance adjustor, and stayed with the same company for 30 years. During that time, he married, had a family, and still got to play piano professionally on weekends and holidays. He liked the extra income--and he really loved to play.

An Untraditional Fake Book

Performing with bands at dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other social events, Ed needed a wide-ranging repertoire. That's where his untraditional fake book comes in. ("Fake" because even if the musicians didn't know the song very well, they could fake it by following the basic melody--and fake because the real composers didn't get royalties on these non-officially-published versions.)
Edgar J. Wood (1903-1986) playing Christmas
carols on his Steinway Baby Grand Piano

Fifty years ago, Ed wrote out the musical notes by hand and typed in lyrics for dozens of old-time standards like The Sidewalks of New York, Deep in My Heart, and Silent Night. 

Today, commercial fake books are widely available--but back then, Ed chose the unconventional route of creating his own from scratch. He assembled all the songs he wanted into a loose-leaf binder to take when playing for an audience.

Flipping through the fake book, Ed could quickly read the notes and chords (and cue the guitarist or bassist) for nearly any song the band planned to play or was asked to play. Each song was on one side of the page, for his convenience, with chord changes noted here and there.

Sharing the Story Along with the Heirloom

The fake book has been in the family for a long time, but now it's about to have a new home. The original is being gifted to one of his grandchildren, along with a booklet telling the story of Ed's musical career (with photos, of course). I've scanned every page and created a replica fake book for other descendants to save, complete with the story of Ed's musical training and career.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors prompt of "Tradition." Only two more prompts left in this year's challenge!

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Power of Hands-On Family History Experiences

At a family holiday luncheon, my husband and I tried something new: We passed around an unopened MRE ("meal ready to eat") from 1986.

We slit it open to reveal individually wrapped packages of turkey, hash brown potatoes, giant cookie, crackers, hot cocoa mix, instant coffee, sugar, salt, matches, even chewing gum. Then we opened a couple of the individual food packages and tasted a bite of cookie...a bite of cracker...and lived to tell the tale! The youngest relatives were especially captivated by handling and tasting packs of food that are way, way, way older than they are.

This hands-on experience sparked a long and fascinating group discussion about Army life in two different periods. The family member who served in the US Army in the mid-1980s had supplied the MRE, and he reminisced about eating the best (and worst) of these meals. He also told anecdotes about Army life, with just enough detail to keep the younger crowd engaged.

My husband had served in the Army three decades earlier, and he described eating C-rations in the field, adding a couple of his own brief anecdotes. The stark contrast between our 2018 holiday meal and the 1950s/1980s Army meals was an important part of the experience.

Everyone around the table listened intently and asked questions. Several eagerly tried their hand at opening a can using a P-38 opener kept after the 1980s Army days. (Hint: You need to literally "get a grip" to get this right.)

I came away with a real appreciation of the power of hands-on family history experiences. From now on, I'll look for additional opportunities to get relatives involved in handling an heirloom or something else key to a family event or an ancestor memory. With luck, the stories will flow as hands touch the object, and family history will be passed down to more descendants! And isn't that the point?

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For more ideas on safeguarding and sharing genealogy, please see my how-to book (in print or digital form), Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Family History Month: Start Writing About Ancestors Now!

Family History Month is a good time to start writing about our ancestors. Genealogy research is never complete, in my humble opinion, but we can make headway on writing about family history if we focus.

This is not about the big picture--it's about sharing one specific aspect of our family's past with relatives and descendants. Not a formal genealogy, but something that conveys both the facts and the human face of our ancestors.

Here are some quick tips to prepare:
  • Choose one of the above to focus on. Maybe you want to write about your maternal grandparents or about a set of siblings in your father's family. Or you have an heirloom, like the ceramic zebras above, created by my late mother-in-law, with a backstory of interest to children and grandchildren.
  • Gather your info (documents, photos, etc.) and your memories.
  • Write bullet points of what you currently know. 
  • Rearrange the bullets into a logical organization (chronological order, for instance).
  • Make notes about each bullet and also jot notes about what you want to double-check or ask other relatives.
  • Create a quick timeline if it will help guide you through the story and help readers understand what happened when. Or use a timeline as the basis for writing about a couple or an event.
Now . . . start anywhere in the story and write. Really, it doesn't matter where you begin to write because you can move sentences and paragraphs around after you get words on paper.

If you like, pick a detail that seems particularly dramatic or interesting, write a few sentences, and then fill in the story around it. Every family had high points, low points, times of happiness and times of sorrow. Try to tell the story to show who these ancestors were, beyond mere facts of birth-marriage-death dates. The important thing is to share what you know now.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Robert Larimer, Born and Died in July

One of the notable July births and deaths in my husband's family is that of Robert Larimer. He was born on July 15, 1792 and died on July 30, 1850, at the age of 58. Robert was the oldest son of hubby's 4th great-grandparents, Isaac Larimer (1771-1823) and Elizabeth Woods Larimer (1773-1851).

Both Robert and his father Isaac, then living in Fairfield county, Ohio, enlisted to fight for the United States in the War of 1812.  According to the History of Ohio, Isaac enlisted in Capt. George Sanderson's Company of Ohio Militia and was captured in Detroit. As a militiaman (not a regular US Army soldier), Isaac was paroled to return home and permitted to keep his sword, which became a treasured heirloom in the Larimer family for generations.

According to a June, 1921 letter to the newspaper written by Robert's nephew, Aaron Work (1837-1924), both Robert and Isaac Larimer were with General Hull's division of the US Army at Detroit. The letter explains that when "the old Tory" (meaning Hull) surrendered to the British, Robert was also paroled but instead of going home, he fought for the US side until the war ended in 1815.


Military service in the War of 1812 entitled Robert to land bounty--which he used to acquire land in Ohio in September, 1834, for his growing family.

By the way, Robert's brother, John Larimer (1794-1843), served in the War of 1812 as a "90-day man," according to his nephew Aaron Work. Both John and his brother Robert are buried in Eldridge Cemetery, Middlebury, Elkhart county, Indiana.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Write Family History Now, Add or Change Later


Thinking about writing your family history? There's no time like the present. Anything you write will be a real gift to your family and to future generations, whether you write about a special family photo or trace the life of a matriarch or patriarch.

If all you have is a photo and the names of some or all of those pictured, you've got enough to make a good start. The goal is to write as much as you know about who, what, when, where, why, and how. Today, you may only know "who" and "when" but tomorrow, when you discover "where" or "when," you can add that to your write-up or make corrections.

Always ask family members for help. Many times, cousins can identify people we've never seen or met. Photos can also trigger recall of a family story that adds color and personality to the family history.

Here's a photo taken at the NYC wedding of my parents, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) and Harold Burk (1909-1978). When I was writing about their courtship and marriage, I asked several cousins to help identify the wedding guests. Unfortunately, we identified only four of my mother's maternal aunts and uncles shown here. Still, I kept moving ahead with my write-up.

A few weeks later, one cousin suddenly remembered the name of the lady seated fourth from the right. Based on this new info, I located the lady's son and ultimately connected his branch to my great-grandma's family tree in Hungary. Because of my cousin's memory, I now have more names, relationships, and stories to add to my family history.

Never give up! Eventually, we identified the last two "unknowns" in this photo as more cousins on my mother's side.

Please, do the "write" thing for the sake of future generations. There's no time like the present for starting on this gift to the descendants of our ancestors.

NOTE: This is part of my series about writing family history:

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Family History Month: Three Belles in the Bronx

Until I wrote this blog post, I didn't know what to call the technique used in this reverse-glass-painted picture that graced the walls of my childhood bedroom for so long.

This appears to be a modern form of tinsel painting, a 19th-century folk art where people or objects are painted in reverse on glass, then embossed foils from cigar boxes or tea packages are placed behind the glass to add dimension and texture.

Sis and I remember that our parents knew the person who painted this mid-20th-century piece, which features three graceful Southern Belles. Her memory is that the guy was a dentist whose hobby was tinsel painting, and many people saved beautiful foil for him.

Maybe the painter didn't know it would be displayed in the bedroom of three little girls growing up in the Bronx, New York?

The photo above doesn't do justice to this heirloom. Each area of the glass has a different embossed foil behind it. The fashion details are painted just as carefully as the delicate facial features. Now these belles are being passed down to the next generation, along with the family story.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sorting Saturday: Daisy's Decoupage

My mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) loved to crochet and embroider, and even did a bit of needlepoint and petit-point in her twenties.

But she never did any decoupage. Nope, even though I remember her showing off this unusual, personalized metal lunch box made into a special purse.

My Sis read my original post (in italics, below) and corrected my faulty memory. It seems back in the early 1970s or so, one of Mom's bosses had this one-of-a-kind decoupage purse made especially for her as a Christmas gift. While Mom admired it, the darn thing was heavy and a bit clunky. Maybe Mom never even used it, Sis says. My guess is she used it a couple of times when going to work, just so the boss could see that she appreciated his thoughtfulness.

My lesson learned: Always ask family before recording the history of a so-called heirloom.

Which brings up a question for Sis: If Mom never made this decoupage piece, why the heck do we still have it in our possession after all these decades?

MY ORIGINAL STORY, now debunked by Sis:

In her late 40s, she (Mom) became interested in the craze for decoupage and decided to create a purse from a black metal lunch box (the kind with a domed lid for a thermos).

Here's the result, featuring magazine pictures she liked, cut out, and added in painstaking layers. Mom would be happy to know how much her descendants treasure these hand-crafted items, now family heirlooms!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful Thursday: Passing My Parents' 70-Year-Old Wedding Album to Heirs

Saving my parents' wedding album by making a photo book for their 3 grandchildren
On November 24, 1946, the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, my parents, Harry Burk (1909-1978) and Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) were married at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City. Today would have been their 70th wedding anniversary!

After so many decades, their wedding album was pretty beat up-looking (see below). So I decided to preserve it and share it with Harry & Daisy's three grandchildren now, along with the story of their courtship and marriage. This is also an easy way to be sure that a single heirloom album can be enjoyed by multiple heirs for many years to come.

Here are the steps I took, little by little, to make a pretty and romantic photobook from the wedding album:

1. Remove each 8 x 10 inch photo from its sleeve in the binder and scan it at high resolution. (I could have scanned without removing the photos, if the album was too deteriorated, but not necessary in this case.)

2. Clean up the images electronically and upload them to a photo book website (I like Shutterfly but others are also excellent).

3. Arrange the photos in sequence, adding the story of courtship and wedding as captions. Also, identify everyone in the photos by full name and relationship (so these details aren't forgotten by future generations--keeping family history alive!).

4. Add a touch of color to each page for visual interest (younger folks may find an all black-and-white book a bit boring).

5. Press the "order" button to buy multiple copies for multiple heirs.

6. The original wedding album will be passed to an heir in the next generation, as designated in my "genealogical will."

On Thanksgiving, I'm feeling thankful for my parents' wedding 70 years ago.