Artistic Spirits – Now and Then Thursday, Oct 19 2017 

I often wonder about why I’m drawn to artistic outlets – music, theatre, and writing to name a few. They live within me, guiding my path and the spiritual heart within.

Was my spirit always an artistic one? Did I spend my time with angels who sang and told me stories? Or did my spirit travel from one physical life to the next creating art in each moment of time? Did the family members who lived before me pass on a love of art and a deep spiritual foundation?

Ten years into my genealogy search and I’ve “met” ancestors whose stories I long to tell and yet there is one whom I feel a strong connection to though a century of time separates us.

LKCY0581

On his 1893 marriage record, Elmer listed his occupation as musician. Did he sing? Play an instrument? How did he earn a living as a musician in the late 1800s – in a rural area no less?  Is that how he met his wife, Mattie? As he took on the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood, his life undoubtedly changed. An artistic profession at that time could have sustained him but it’s highly unlikely that he could continue down that path as the number of dependents grew rapidly.

Nine years later (at the age of 32) he’s killed in a coal mining accident, his occupation title that of Carpenter Boss.  The tragic circumstances of his death, one of two lost that day, hasn’t left me since researching the details many years ago.

 

Elmer Karchner_Sandusky 1902_12_04_0009

Sandusky Daily Star – 4 Dec 1902

 

I wonder about him:

  • What type of environment was he raised in?
  • His father was a Union veteran – did he teach his children to have open hearts and minds?
  • Did he always love music?
  • Did he instill that love into the household?
  • Did he sing lullabies to his children?
  • Did he showcase his artistic side in his personal life as it couldn’t be present in his professional one?

My questions are plentiful,  and while I may  never know the answers, asking inspires the writer within. Pondering about the lives of my ancestors help craft characters worthy of interest and intrigue. One day I’d like to visit the now closed mine to get a deeper appreciation for the life lived and lost far too soon.

I am an artistic spirit – one who wonders if there were many others on my ancestral branches who considered themselves the same.

3 Tips for Genealogy Info Overload Tuesday, May 20 2014 

Overwhelmed with the amount of information in front of you and which branch of your family tree to focus on first? You’re not alone!

Before you stop the search altogether, take a breather and try the following:

  • NARROW YOUR SEARCH: Starting broad can lead to an overload of information.  Pick one branch and keep the search focused on that individual and their immediate relations.  Try alternate spellings of the last name and re-examine the records you already found for them.  You might just find a new connection in a census record that you overlooked the first time through.
  • BE NEIGHBORLY:  When you hit a roadblock in your search for a common surname (talking to you Smiths and Millers), step back and research a neighbor listed on a census record.  They could likely have been an in-law, cousin, or friend.  For example, it turns out the witness on my great-great grandfather’s Naturalization record was a neighbor.  In searching the name of the witness I found new details on my direct ancestor.
  • CHANGE IT UP: Don’t use only one website or genealogy software program.  When you rely too heavily on one, sometimes you can get frustrated at seeing the same records again and again.  Move over to a different site, like one with more specific type records.  For example, search a cemetery records/grave listing website or one that stores a collection of newspapers.  I’ve found this tip very helpful in my own searching.  I found an obituary listing in a 1899 newspaper that contained my ancestor’s address and listed him as a member of a fraternal organization – the former a confirmation and the latter information to me.

In summary, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with information overload.  Instead of getting frustrated, try a different tactic.  You just might create a crack in that roadblock!

 

HAPPY SEARCHING!!

My Brave Immigrant Ancestors Sunday, Mar 9 2014 

Picking up and moving from a place you call “home” to a land filled with wonder and uncertainty had to be both daunting and freeing; scary and exciting; lonely and friendship-building.  Nothing brought that idea to fruition more to me than visiting Ellis Island.

Ellis Island

During my roughly 5 years of ancestry research, I found wondrous records that provided insight into my ancestors’ lives.  How many children did they have?  Where did they live?  What were their occupations?  I started looking at them as more than just names of deceased relatives.  I wondered what sort of experiences they had and how they compared to present day. Sure, the modern word has it’s own share of joys and sorrows but so did 1899.  How did my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Deen(e)y, manage to raise her children after her husband died so young?  Then her five-year-old daughter, Mary, dies only a month after her husband.  The pain, grief, determination that must have swirled within her.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I yearn to know about Elizabeth Burke Deen(e)y.

As I stood in the Great Hall at the Ellis Island museum I gazed in awe at the enormity of the situation.  What entangled web of emotions did the newcomers experience?  Standing amidst a plethora of strangers all with the same hopes of a new life must have been both terrifying and comforting.  “Will they let us all in?  What kind of questions will they ask?  Will I understand what they’re asking me?  Why are they separating members of the same family?”  My heart ached just thinking of the possible scenarios my ancestors, and yours, would’ve likely encountered upon arrival.  That’s not even taking into account the image of leaving home ingrained in your memory and the long passage it took to get them to America.

I have been unsuccessful in locating the Immigration records for my Irish ancestors.  From family stories, I believe Elizabeth Burke came over first and Thomas Deen(e)y followed her, an action that was apparently quite scandalous at the time.  However, I can’t find a marriage record in either Ireland or the State for Thomas and Elizabeth.  My search continues to learn more about their lives in Ireland and when they arrived stateside.  In the meantime, they are not the only immigrants in my family tree.

The majority of ancestors on my maternal branch emigrated from Europe, Eastern Europe to be more specific.  Some came from Germany but another lineage called Austria/Hungary/Czechoslovakia home. Helen (Helena/Ella/Ellie) was born in Sasova, Czechoslovakia in 1858.  She married and had  her first child by age twenty, remarried my great-great grandfather in 1882, and immigrated to the States around 1890 with her husband and daughter from 2nd marriage. According to the 1900 census, Ellie had 10 children but only 6 were living, five of those 6 were living with her.  While I do not have records proving or disproving that Ellie came through Ellis Island, my thinking is that regardless or where she arrived, the trepidation and motivation would have been quite similar.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

Elizabeth and Thomas settled in Philadelphia while Ellie and John made Luzerne County, PA their new residence.  The struggles they encountered in the states (i.e. discrimination) I can only speculate about.  Despite any hurdles in the new country, were they glad they made the brave choices they did?  And, did they ever look across the Atlantic towards the land they once called home?

In contemplating the life-changing choices my immigrant ancestors made, I wonder about my own.  Would I have had the courage at such a young age to pick up and move away from a place I considered to be home?  Even if poverty, political oppression, or starvation plagued the region, would I have been brave enough to seek out a better life for myself and my loved ones?  And, if they can do it then why do so many people today agonize over moving from one state to the next given the ease of transportation and online career networking available?  I’m not claiming it would be easy in today’s time, but by standing in the Great Hall I gained some much-needed perspective.

Click here for more information on Ellis Island.

Hazleton, Pennsylvania: My Second Home Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 

I was not born nor raised in the Hazleton area, but I spent so much time there during my childhood that I consider it a home away from home.

It was the place my mother grew up, and her parents and grandparents before her.  In fact, generations of her family called the Hazleton area (or West Hazleton, Sugarloaf, and Conyngham to be specific) home.  Most of my ancestral relatives on this branch of my family tree were coal miners or truck drivers.  They made an honest living out of grueling work that kept them away from their wives and children for long periods of time.  Not only was it time-consuming but dangerous.

My 2nd great-grandfather, Elmer Karchner, died in a coal mining accident at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous young children.  This was a man who seven years prior listed his occupation as Musician on his marriage license.  What heartbreak!  How many of those young men and boys lost their lives not only on the job but developed illnesses as a result of their treacherous working conditions?  The very notion of such tragedy leaves an imprint on my spirit to know so many suffered so much.

My maternal grandfather died when my mother was just fifteen years of age.  Ten years prior, he suffered an accident on the job.  While fixing an issue on his tractor-trailer, the rear wheels rolled over both of his legs.  As a result, my grandmother went to work to help support the family and a hospital bed placed in the family’s dining room.  My mom tells the story of how a tree was planted in the empty lot near the house, allowing my grandfather to watch from the window as the tree grew. My grandfather eventually regained use of his legs and returned to work, albeit not every day.  He eventually died of a ruptured colon, likely caused by the accident a decade earlier.

Though the employment options were not the safest, it was home.  There were open spaces.  Relatives lived near one another.  You walked down the main street and knew the local shop owners.  One of my great-grand uncle’s even ran a furniture store, employing some of his brothers. Though my parents moved down to Bucks County once married, we frequently returned to Hazleton to visit my grandmother and other relatives in the area.  I recall those times as some of the most vivid and memorable of my childhood.  Here are just some of the memories that have stuck with  me:

  • MOM-MOM’S HOUSE:  My grandmother’s house in Hazleton would not be considered large by standards of the time or now, but it was the perfect size.  This was a home that welcomed family and friends.  She had 3 bedrooms upstairs, ideal for her young grandchildren to spend the night. Downstairs you’d find the living room that melted into the dining area, a place filled with guests during the holidays or celebrations.  The kitchen was small yet adequate.  The backyard included room for a garden and had a sandbox for the kids to play.  I have so many vivid memories of staying at MomMom’s house.  I can visualize my uncle lifting us up to hang on the push-up bar in the kitchen entryway.  I remember playing with my grandmother’s shoes and costume jewelry in her bedroom.  I recall extended family seated around the dining room table during a Thanksgiving meal.  I loved my grandmother, and I adored the house she called home.

My dad loved his mother-in-law's cooking!

  • FAMILY AND FRIENDS:  My mom had the luxury of growing up near so many cousins.  They  were her playmates, her confidantes and friends.  When we went to Hazleton, many of her cousins still remained in town.  As such, their children became our playmates.  I think of them not as my second cousins or first cousins once removed but I simply call them my cousins.  Now that we’ve all grown, I am so very thankful to have had them as part of my childhood.
  • AUNTS AND UNCLES:  Once my grandmother passed, we continued to visit family members in the Hazleton area.  My Uncle Lenny and Aunt Betty had the BEST house I’d ever seen: hidden passageways (storage area), an indoor pool (watch out for the sliding glass door), and a split-level.  My uncle would take us for drive around the yard and quiet street in his golf cart.  I have so many fond memories of not only the house but my time with my aunt, uncle and cousins.Scan-140128-0003

Though times have changed and residents found new places to call home, the Hazleton area will always hold a very special place in the hearts of many!!

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!!!!

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