Family Vacation: Take Two Monday, Jan 6 2014 

My parents had a motor home when their four girls were young.  We went to Disney World numerous times, drove out to Texas to visit family (I even got to see the South Fork Ranch), and went up to New Hampshire to visit family friends.  I loved traveling in the motor home.  It was fun.  Sleeping on the top bunk, turning the dining room table into a bed at night, and watching my sisters argue.  Such fun memories!  Well, for most of us.

Sisterly Love

You guessed it…my parents didn’t find it as enjoyable of an experience as we did.  There was the time my sister rolled off the top bunk while sleeping and nearly fell on my grandmother.  Or, the time my older sister and I walked through the Disney campground and nearly got run over by another motor home driver who wasn’t paying attention.  Close quarters with four high-spirited and unique girls can rile anyone’s nerves so once we got a little older, my mom gave us a choice: get an above-ground pool in the backyard or keep the motor home.  We chose the pool, and I’m sure they got some relief.

That's more like it

Twenty some years later, my mom and I are discussing a family trip to visit some of the places I’ve been researching in my genealogy detective work.  Taking the entire family would be quite interesting and difficult to schedule since two of my sisters are married with families of their own.  I can just picture it – traveling through Czechoslovakia with 4 kids under the age of 10.  Though, it would definitely bring us full circle.  Then again, maybe we’d be better suited to go somewhere kid friendly, instead.

In the meantime, I continue with my research, jotting down the locations of interest and organizing them in order of visiting priority.  Austrian, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Michigan, Trenton…okay, maybe not the last one.

My PopPop: Causing Trouble and Offering Comfort Sunday, Dec 8 2013 

US Coast Guard

US Coast Guard

My paternal grandfather was a bit of a trouble maker, which he passed down to his two sons.  He had a good sense of humor, and after he battled some personal difficulties he showed his loving heart and infectious laughter with his family.  He left this world nearly 25 years ago, but I still remember his playful smile and mischievous tendency.

PopPop was a significant part of my life growing up, living with my parents when they moved into their first home.  The in-law suite worked perfectly so that each could have their privacy yet still be in close proximity.  I recall family dinners when my dad would frequently cause his father to burst out in laughter, which tended to be a choking hazard. My grandfather suffered a stroke before I was born which left him with a significant speech impediment.  When I hear his voice in my memories, I hear him as he was – slurred speech and all.  He was there during the holidays, right there to watch us unwrap our gifts from Santa on Christmas morning.

In addition to our family lineage and stories, a strong spirituality was also passed down through the generations.  My maternal grandmother (MomMom) was my godmother and PopPop, my Confirmation sponsor.  They were such an important part of my life, and when they died it felt like they took a part of me with them.  MomMom’s death was sudden and I too young to understand what had happened.  As such, I never got to say goodbye.  Six years after her death, history repeated itself when my dad’s father died.  I stood with my mother and cried, sad that I wouldn’t get to see him again but more upset that I didn’t get to say goodbye.  To say “Thank You” or tell him I loved him.

That night I said goodbye in my dreams.  I stood in the in-law suite, darkness around me.  Then there he was, with his grey hair and glasses.  I ran to him and he hugged me tight.  I rested my head against his chest and squeezed with all the love I could muster.  I told him goodbye and woke without sadness.  When PopPop died many grieved for his passing, but our family still jokes that wherever he is, he’s causing trouble and doing it with a smile!

Let’s Be Civil Wednesday, Nov 20 2013 

Without reservation, I admit to being proud none of my ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy.

For those of you familiar with my blog posts, you’ll know that I don’t have a firm grasp on history.  I don’t care much about locations, dates, and people involved.  Mostly because it didn’t directly affect me.  Call it closed-minded or self-involved, but learning about dates and facts bored me to tears.  How would knowing what date Columbus “found” America teach me about the journey I was on at the time?

Despite my apathetic concern for historical facts, the Civil War intrigued me more than any other event in American history.  To this day, I love reading books about that time period or watching films that depict the struggles.  Deep down I had immense pride in the fact that my parents’ families originated in the North, the likelihood being my ancestors would have fought on the Union side.  Thankfully, that assumption turned out to be correct.

Regardless of the uniform color, these were young men and boys taking up arms against one another.  They had mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, and children that loved them.  Their loved ones wept at their funerals, cried tears of joy at their safe return, and felt pride at their bravery.  Passing swift judgement against another is counter-intuitive to who I am and what I strive to achieve.  I’ve struggled within the past few years to be more understanding and open-minded in regards to the Confederate soldiers.

I allowed myself to admit that the Confederacy wasn’t necessarily fighting in support of slavery so much as wanting to have the CHOICE to decide for themselves.  I understand wanting control over your life and circumstances.  To feel threatened when others make decisions for you.  You feel voiceless, powerless and filled with anger and resentment.  However, the governing officials and landowners were not the only ones dealing with those issues – so too were those who fed them, cleaned house, and helped raised their children.

All of that said, I’d be saddened and disappointed if I found out one of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy.  I acknowledge it and accept it.  For as much as I can understand and sympathize with the desire to fight against what restrictions are placed on you, I’m more concerned with righting injustices.  The freedom of men, women, and children matters more to me than pride.  I would not want to live in a nation where others were deemed subservient, inferior, or devalued due to their skin color or gender.

Did every Union soldier believe wholeheartedly in civil rights?  Probably not.  Can I assume all Confederacy soldiers opposed the abolishment of slavery?  No.  But knowing that my third great-grandfather fought in support of his oppressed brothers and sisters…that makes me proud to be an American.

Foor-Score and Many Years Ago Monday, Oct 28 2013 

While I knew my paternal relatives lived in Philadelphia and her suburbs, I thought only my mother’s side of the family had roots in upstate PA.  Turns out, my paternal third great-grandfather was born in Bedford County, PA.  Who knew? Not me!

Apparently, the Foor’s have a rich history in Bedford – and many still call it home.  Noah Foor was no exception.  Sometime between 1860 and 1870, Noah’s family moved from Bedford County, Pennsylvania to Lenawee County, Michigan and that’s where my lineage knowledge strengthens.  Michigan became home for Noah’s daughter, Nina, her daughter, Margaret and ultimately my grandmother.  Then off to Bucks County, PA my grandmother went, returning to her hometown at different points throughout her life.

Noah R. Foor was never a name I heard growing up, but it’s one that greatly intrigues me now.  I still don’t have much information on Noah, other than residence and census data.  I know the name of his wife, Estella Emma Craft/Kraft, and his children.  I know that he was a farmer as of 1900 then a teamster in 1910 and 1920 and only a hint of what industry he specialized in.  The 1920 census record lists Noah as head of household and 8 lodgers living in his home, all laborers for a cement company.  That detail leads me to assume that Noah worked in the cement industry or involved in the railroad system, but I’ve learned not to assume anything when researching my lineage.

What happened between 1900 and 1910 that took Noah from being a farmer to skilled labor?  Why did he move his family?  Was it a positive achievement or could he no longer afford to sustain a livelihood on the farm?  So many questions that I don’t know will/can ever be truly answered.  However, that doesn’t hinder my desire to ask.  If anything, my interest is piqued all the more!

History-Itis Tuesday, Oct 15 2013 

A severe case of “history-itis” – that’s what I have! Never really caring much about learning dates of pertinent events or what states are where on the US map, my level of “Social Studies” knowledge is quite low. Reading the textbooks and learning about moments that since passed was always done from one perspective. As such, it was merely a story…and most times, one not told very well.

However, give me a great Victorian novel, and my mind opened to understand the plights of others. When Charles Dickens described the deplorable surroundings and class structures, he did so through story. By creating characters that you cared about and situations that led you on an adventure. He didn’t just lay out a series of dates and facts. Instead, the brilliant author used the inspirational power of art to connect.

All these years later, my severe lack of history knowledge makes for minor hiccups in my genealogy search. It would be most helpful to understand why my great-great grandmother’s origin of birth varies by decade. If I knew the history of how her homeland changed owners and names then I’d have a clearer picture of where she came from. Now, I rely on Internet research to learn about Hungary/Austria/Czechoslovakia history.

That information matters to me now precisely because I’ve put a face to the place, so to speak (write). I want to know what her home was like as a child. What sort of environment did she live in? Was it a hostile time? Were the people struggling for food, money and shelter? Why did she choose to leave home and move to America? What did she think about the change of name/ownership of the land in which she was raised? Did her loyalty to her homeland remain firm?

All of the above leads to thoughts of “How difficult was it for her to acclimate to her new home? Did she ever want to learn English? What did she miss most about her former country? Were there fellow immigrants nearby that she befriended?” I wonder about her life and the choices she made. I care about her history because her path led to mine.

I’m making it a personal goal to study both American and European history. To familiarize myself with not only facts and statistics but to understand and appreciate the environment in which my ancestors lived.

Talking to Dead People Tuesday, Oct 8 2013 

…or, Ghost Whispering – that’s what I call ancestry research.  I don’t ACTUALLY see ghosts, but I do have a strong connection to that which I deem “spiritual”.  This is not a story about spirits with a veiled mist around them or mystical figures cloaked in black robes.  Instead, I ask you to open your mind to the possibility that our ancestors are communicating with us, even if we’re not listening.  And they do so in very creative ways!

A view of Ellis Island

A view of Ellis Island

For instance, very recently I had a rather interesting writing experience.  As I sat with my pencil pressed against a beautifully designed journal, I struggled for words.  I’d been thinking a great deal about my genealogy stalemate and that could have very well prompted what followed.  I wrote about a young girl walking down a path, one which led her to a coal mine.  She was searching for her ancestor, the one who died there as a young man.  Then she asked him questions, and he responded.  The words flowed through my mind, and my pencil floated across the page.  The young girl in my story proceeded along her journey, conversing with her paternal grandmother at a Native American camp and the 5-year old version of her Irish great-great-grandmother.

When I wrote the section about my grandmother, I instantly imagined her sitting next to me.  Smiling and supporting me to keep writing.  There was even some humor intermixed in the conversation.  We didn’t communicate much while she lived, but I feel her presence more so now since her spirit vacated her body almost five years ago.  As I struggle to trace her Native American lineage, I can really use her guidance and assistance.  I may just be using my creative imagination to help me along the path.  That’s a-okay by me – if the journey is filled with intriguing paths and interesting people.

Artistry and creativity are my connection to the spiritual world, as a reminder that my goal in this life is to learn and grow.  To not remain stagnant or stuck.  The creative outlets that I consistently gravitated to these past three decades provided me solace, inspiration, and motivation.  I have no doubt the same is true now.

When I finished that writing exercise, I smiled broadly with tears in my eyes goosebumps on my arms.  I felt a comforting blend of peaceful existence and exhilaration.

I’ll keep writing my ancestor’s stories – I can only hope they keep talking!!!!

The Cost of Ancestry Research Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

I consider myself a family history detective, finding enjoyment and excitement by piecing together the puzzles in my genealogy.  Sometimes it’s highly frustrating hitting a roadblock but most times I’m challenged to keep digging.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the cost of ancestry research.

MONEY:  There is absolutely a financial cost associated with genealogy research.  There are plenty of helpful family history sites online that do not charge you to search their collection of records.  One I find extremely beneficial is http://www.familysearch.org.  The range of records available includes marriage, birth, and census documents.  I have found a great many marriage records that helped connect the branches of my tree, especially when those records include the mother and father’s names.  I found half-siblings of my great-father that I never knew about and was able to verify the connection through other sources, on other ancestry search sites.  The other sites I primarily use in my search charge a fee.  However, the value outweighs the cut to my budget.

TIME:  I spend A LOT of time researching my family tree, more than I anticipated I would when I started.  It’s so easy to sit down at the computer and find one hint that leads you to another and another…before you know it, 3 hours have gone by and you’re so close to putting the piece in place!  As much fulfillment as I get from genealogy research, I  have a twinge of guilt when I think about the other projects I have in the works – my Young Adult fantasy novel, for instance.  Why am I not spending all of my free time to get my book done and published?!  That’s where my focus should be.  Shouldn’t it?  Do I spend a few hours learning about those who lived before me or use that time to write about an entirely fictional character?

SCANDAL:  Am I being selfish by asking the questions that makes family members uneasy to talk about?  What is the point of pushing for questions when the truth may reveal a path that you never intended to walk down?  Scandal, mysteries, long-buried truths – you’re likely to find any of the above if you go back far enough.  The question is…What do you do with the information once you have it?  Do you stuff it down until the subjects of said scandal have passed on?  Do you approach them with the knowledge and gently ask for their recollection of the events?  What is it that you seek to gain from prodding for the ‘truth’?  I haven’t encountered any jaw-dropping secrets so far in my search; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Perhaps, some of what I found out (like remarriages and half-siblings) were considered significant drama and scandal to those who lived it at the time period.

One of my goals with this ancestry journey is to actually take a journey.  To visit the key places in my lineage and write about them.  Document what it means to me to be present in a place that once held meaning to my ancestors.  For a brief time, to stand where they stood.  Of course, in order to take that trip I need both time and money. Who knows what kind of scandal I might find!

Food for Thought…and Comfort Tuesday, Sep 3 2013 

I came to an interesting conclusion this morning, as I sat drinking my tea.  A great many of the fond memories I have from visiting my mother’s side of the family have to do with food.  Here are just some examples:

  • RECIPES:  My mom’s side of the family passed down some amazing recipes, even halupki (stuffed cabbage).  My maternal side of the family has strong German, Slovak and Polish roots, especially evident in the foods they prepared.  For instance, kielbasa with sauerkraut and hand-made pierogies.  Then there’s the desserts – CMP pie with Chocolate, Marshmallow and Peanuts.  Golf Balls were, and still are, a treasured favorite in our household.  Hand mixed and rolled peanut butter with sugar and graham cracker crumbs, coated with chocolate and left to chill.  A…MAZ…ING!!!!
  • THANKS FOR COMING TO VISIT, NOW EAT!:  This tradition is not exclusive to my German, Polish or Hungarian heritage. But, I always associated it with my mother’s side of the family. When we would go to visit one of her many relatives, they’d always have food for us.  “Are you hungry,” Aunt Eleanor would ask.  “Here, have a sandwich.”  Or, “I just made an apple pie; it’ll go to waste if you don’t have some.”  I’ve noticed over the years that my mother learned from her maternal role models.  She’s a wonderful hostess to guests.  “What do you want to drink?  No, I made plenty…please take some left-overs home.  We won’t eat it all.”  Containers filled with my mom’s cooking – the best party favor EVER!!!!
  • HOLIDAYS, A.K.A. FAMILY GATHERINGS:  I distinctly recall a Thanksgiving at my maternal grandmother’s house when I was a child.  Her dining room melted into her living room, but there was always enough space around the table to fit our family.  It was finding enough space for the food, that was the real challenge!  I always looked forward to holidays at MomMom’s house and now I wonder if my niece and nephews feel the same way about my mom.  My mother’s mother passed away when my mother was only 32 years old.  From then on, my mom became the maternal holiday provider for our immediate family.  All these years later, my mother still does holidays full-out.  Hand makes the pierogies for Christmas Eve, cooks the ham for Christmas Day, roasts the turkey with the handmade stuffing during Thanksgiving….and so on.  As much as I enjoy my mother’s cooking, and I certainly do, it always seems to taste better when surrounded by friends and family.

There’s a pattern in my maternal ancestry where family members worked in the same industry, sometimes the same place of employment.  My great-grandfather, Mike Yanick, worked in the furniture store that his brother owned.  Many of my Karchner ancestors were truck drivers, and coal miners before that.  So, it shouldn’t seem so odd to me that two of my sisters chose teaching as their profession, especially since we cheered on our mom when she pursued the same career.  Plus, my youngest sister picked up my mother’s skill in the kitchen.  Her culinary skill marvels me and matches that of my mother.  When they cook together…well, I keep telling them they need to open a restaurant together!  They don’t want me anywhere near the kitchen, I’ll write the marketing copy instead.

Have you found the American Indian Yet? Monday, Jul 15 2013 

My dad asks me that question about once a week, and my response is always the same – “Not yet.”

In an earlier blog entry I wrote about some of the struggles I faced in researching my Native American ancestors.  I mean really, John Smith?  How is that fair?!  Research genealogy is challenging enough without throwing a “John Smith” into the mix.  Oddly enough, I’m not sure that our Native lineage comes from the line of Smiths; because my dear John was born in NY or CT, not Michigan as the family folklore tells our story.

Here’s what I know:

  • The Native American lineage passed down through my paternal grandmother’s side of the family.
  • Her family is strongly rooted in the Grand Rapids, MI area.
  • My dad and his siblings were told that our branch of the family is part of the Potawatomi tribe.
  • There is also a family story that one of our male ancestors was a chief,  but I don’t know what level.

Now comes the uncertain part.  My third great-grandfather, Jonathon Smith, was born in either New York or Connecticut, as I stated above.  His birth location varies according to the census record of the time.  That’s the first clue I had that my dad’s side of the family had any NE connection, other than Philadelphia on his dad’s side.  This new knowledge has made me skeptical that Jonathon Smith is our link to a Native American lineage.

On the other hand, Jonathon Smith’s son, Judson, married Jeannette McKenzie.  Jeannette’s father was Alexander McKenzie. Alex was  born in Scotland, lived in Canada and settled in Grand Haven, MI.  I’ve been busy tracing that line, especially the area of Canada that the McKenzie’s lived in.   They may turn out to be our Native American ancestor connection.

There’s a lot of data to sort through and just when I think I have it all sorted out I find another clue that leads me down a different path.  Regardless, a trip to Michigan and Canada is in the works.  I need to see these locations, get a sense of where my ancestors lived and hopefully, find some clarity.

All the best to you on your own family history search!

Happy Father’s Day, Papa! Sunday, Jun 16 2013 

My father’s not perfect; that’s a lesson that took me a while to learn.  Mainly because I admire him in so many ways.  He’s intelligent, educated, well-spoken, a logical thinker, open-minded and spiritual.  He’s a wise soul that I could always seek counsel from.

Among his four girls, we used to joke that Dad had a lecture ready for every conceivable topic.  We’d start numbering them.  “Here comes lecture #67!”  He was never judgmental, only concerned for us.  Wanted us to be alert and aware of our surroundings and ready to stand our own two feet when the time came.  Since he always provided such thorough and wise counsel, I came to second guess my own decisions.  That was a self-inflicted action but one it took me a while to recognize.

My father made certain to tell us he loved us.  Gave us hugs and kisses.  Comforted us when we were sick.  Scolded us when needed and imparted wisdom even when not.  There are so many examples I could give to provide you with a fuller understanding of how wonderful my dad is, but I’ll start with the following:

  • GROWTH:  We all encounter struggles growing up; no one’s immune.  My father had his own stumbling blocks, including the death of his brother during Vietnam.  At only 16, my dad lost his best friend, comrade and trouble-making partner.  While he could’ve succumbed to a path of despair, misery and hatred, he instead choose to overcome his struggles and learn from them.  He moved forward, ultimately going to college, getting married and starting a family.  His willingness to learn and grow continuously led him to the life he leads today.
  • ECO-FRIENDLY:  My dad studies water pollution and seeks ways to improve the situation.  From the time I was small, I understood what my dad did for a living and was proud to know he was making a difference in the world in which we lived.  I even got to go to a water treatment plant with him for a Take Your Daughter to Work day.  That was so cool!  My dad imparted to us a respect for our environment.  To take care of the land we lived on for it wouldn’t sustain us forever.  Most recently, my father has been dedicated on a project to help make Levittown homes more sustainable.  He’s dedicated to the community he lives in and truly wants to give us the tools we need to make a better life for ourselves.
  • SPIRITUAL:  One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was Spirituality.  Being inquisitive by nature, Dad read up on subjects he found interesting, insightful, or perplexing.  Not only did he read the Bible multiple times, but he familiarized himself with understanding and respecting other religions.  Truthfully, I believe his spiritual base comes from the Native American heritage passed down in our family – a wise soul, indeed!

I am proud of my father.  Of his remarkable work ethic, dedication to his family, and renaissance-man spirit.  He’s someone I admire, look up to and inspire to be like.  I embrace the lessons he’s taught me and look forward to our next involved discussion.

I love you, Papa!

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