The Long and Short Hand of It Saturday, Apr 5 2014 

Even though I drafted this blog entry on a keyboard, I much prefer writing with pencil and paper.  There’s a certain energy that exists when my writing implement flows across the page.  Sometimes it’s frantic, other times my hand moves with ease.  I find solace, motivation, and meaning when I write long-hand.  While my handwriting leaves much to be desired, I love knowing that generations to come can stumble upon one of my notebooks and discover a story.


As much as we’ve become attached to our electronic devices, there are moments when a handwritten document delights us more than a miniature-sized screen ever could. Do you remember how it felt to receive a letter in the mail from a distant friend or relative?  I grew up in the middle stages of the typewriter and electronic boom.  My friends and I wrote notes back and forth, leaving them in each other’s locker.  When my friends went away to college, I yearned for a letter to find out how they were doing.  Sure, you can do that now with social media and email, but once it’s on the internet it’s out there for public consumption.  If you send me a letter, I’m going to read it privately, fold it up, and store it until I stumble upon it while Spring cleaning years later.


A desire for continuous convenience and improvement led us to reading books electronically.  As a writer, the very idea that my novel wouldn’t actually be read in a paper format makes me cringe.  There are benefits to a digital format, absolutely, but nothing quite compares to holding a book in your hands.  I want my readers to have that sensation.  To feel the energy that went in to its creation.  To see the words typed on the page and have them come alive.


Doing genealogy research only amplified my love of handwritten communication.  Discovering a letter written by my ancestor in 1899, a funeral home receipt from the early 1900’s, and correspondence between my great-aunt and her Irish cousins, is nothing short of priceless.  Every now and again I like to unfold them (delicately) and re-read them, gaining a newfound appreciation for the care that went into each chosen word.  I frequently find myself saying, “People don’t write so eloquently anymore, with such grace.”  In today’s time, it’s all about brevity.  How many letters can you cut out of a word and still get your meaning across?  “I love you” is too important to be abbreviated.


I’m glad to know that I am not alone in the excitement of discovering old documents.  For instance, when I watch TV shows about ancestry research, I’m elated to see that the researcher moved, in awe, and excited when handling precious documents.  They have value, meaning, and beauty in a society that equates our handwriting ability with what font type we like best.  The art of writing by hand has fallen to the wayside and that’s a shame for not only this generation but for all those that are to come.

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  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!

Hollywood Ancestry Sunday, Apr 7 2013 

My ancestors grew up in Hollywood.  No, not that one!  The one in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  Never heard of it? Neither had I until I delved into my family history.

A lack of information exists about the small PA village known as Hollywood.  From what I’ve learned, Hollywood was a coal mining town (shocking for that area, I know) and according to family members who grew up near there or still reside in the neighboring Hazleton, Hollywood consisted of a small patch of houses off of Route 309.

My mom can recall that Hollywood was at the top of Hazleton Mountain and Angela Park was located at the bottom.  She distinctly remembers school field trips to the park; an amusement park of sorts that had games, rides and even a mini train.  The park has since closed down but it’s got me intrigued to write more about it in a future post.

If you’ve happened by my entertainment blog then you  know that I have a deep appreciation for all things film, television and theatre related.  So, you can imagine my delight upon learning I have relatives that called Hollywood home.  Okay, maybe it’s not THAT entertainment mecca but it made me smile nonetheless.

I’m on a mission to know more about this town.  What it looked like in 1894 when my 2nd great-grandparents married there or thirty years later when their daughter married my great-grandfather.  I have marriage records for both of the aforementioned parties, showing Hollywood, PA as their residence – so I know it existed and that they lived in that particular location.  I just need to see for myself what the environment looked like.  There will be visit in the near future so that I can see for myself what it looks like now.

I don’t expect it to be a vision of beauty or elegance like its namesake.  It’s likely it was given such a  name out of a witty sense of humor or a “this is real life” statement.  The reasoning behind the name choice interests me as does having a visual representation of the homes and locations that my ancestors spent their lives.

Being able to imagine them in their own habitat, whatever it may have looked like, provides a window into understanding their choices.  What did they struggle with?  What was a typical day like for them?  Did they have a strong desire to leave Hollywood and venture into the big cities of Hazleton or Wilkes-Barre?  When so many left their small towns to move to Hollywood, CA how many dreamed of leaving the one in PA?

My great-grandparents, after marrying, did call Hazleton home as did the generations that followed.  Did my great-grandmother visit her Hollywood family often?  Was there any type of class/social issues that arose between those in Hollywood and family that moved to Hazleton?  These are the types of questions that peak this writer’s interest and I’m itching to know more.

I will follow-up on this post in the coming months, after I make a visit up to Hollywood.  In the meantime, I can simply imagine!

The smallest of movements Saturday, Dec 29 2012 

As is evident by my delay in posting a new entry I’ve lost a little steam on the ancestry train.

When I first got started on this family history journey there was excitement, exhilaration and anticipation.  What would I find?  How far back could I go?  It’s so easy to get lost in the past.  To become overwhelmed with the history of others that I don’t pay as much attention to myself.  It’s easy to sit at the computer for hours at a time, tracing just one ancestor.  What if I look on this site?  What if I change-up the spelling of their last name?  I can search by their children’s names too.  Maybe I’ll search them to find obituaries or marriage records.  Perhaps I’ll find the smallest of new details.

I follow that path until four hours go by.  I look back on the day and wonder how much more productive activities I could have accomplished.  I could’ve been signing up for a night class, making a new necklace or writing a new blog entry.  I spend 40 hours a week writing on a computer.  Given that I’m sedentary for 8 hours a day why do I choose to remain mostly inactive once I get home?  Whether sitting on the couch watching TV or plopped on a chair doing genealogy research I’m still not moving.  Physically, that is.

I whole-heartedly believe that sometimes moving forward requires looking back.  That we can find strength, hope and inspiration in what’s since passed.  That we may gain insight into the choices someone else made and reflect upon our own decisions.  I have found remarkable insight and inspiration in the smallest of family history details that I’ve learned so far.  There are so many stories I yearn to tell that I get overwhelmed at where to start.

I’m sure I am not alone in this quandary and that many other family researchers stumble upon a similar “block” along their ancestry journey.  I’m moving forward, albeit slowly…but at least there’s movement!

The Value of Music: A Timeless Discussion Saturday, Dec 8 2012 

Every time I think about the tragedy of my second great-grandfather’s (Elmer Karchner) death it’s now amplified at the knowledge he once labeled himself as a musician yet died a coal miner.  While the necessity of an occupation change is understandable it only aggravates the frustration I have about my own choices.

As a writer I welcome constructive feedback.  I want to know what my strengths are and what areas need improvement.  If a story leaves you confused or moves you I want to know.  I thrive on honest yet helpful criticism.

As a singer, if you tell me I was off-pitch, lagging behind the accompaniment or just plain okay I’m likely to internalize that criticism into “I am not a singer, no matter how much I may want to be.”  I often wonder why there’s such a drastic shift between writing and music, and how I define myself.

Is there some part of me that is terrified of actually defining myself as a singer?  I call myself a writer without hesitation – without doubt of truth.  Plenty of family and friends commend my writing.  They champion my desire of pursuing writing as a career choice.  But, no one has ever told me, “Why aren’t you singing professionally?”  I’ve been told I have a beautiful voice and people are surprised that such a powerful voice comes out of such a tiny individual.  Yet, those around me aren’t apt to tell me to give up writing and pursue music.

I don’t blame them, after all there’s a part of me that believes it too.  Or else I would’ve found the strength and determination to pursue a career in music if that’s truly what I wanted.  Is it enough just to enjoy singing on a smaller scale?  To see the smiles on my niece and nephews’ faces when I sing to them.  To burst out into song with my car windows rolled down on a perfect Spring day.  To blare a musical theatre soundtrack and sing along with it when the house it empty.

I get fulfillment from both writing and singing.  The difference is…I earn money with the prior.  Even though Elmer Karchner may have found just as much passion for music it wouldn’t have earned him enough money to support his family.  Not at the turn of the 20th century anyway.  I hope that he shared his love of music with his children.  That they gathered around on a Sunday afternoon in Hazleton and played.  Whether he played an instrument or sang I like to imagine Elmer, Miss Mattie and their children joined in song during the holidays; their family and friends surrounding them with love and appreciation.

Your life ended too short Elmer, but your love of music has not died!



A small world indeed Sunday, Oct 21 2012 

That’s how the world seems to me when researching genealogy information.  With ancestors on both sides who immigrated I often wonder if they viewed the world the same.

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia; an area that most wouldn’t know of unless they’re from this vicinity.  So when telling people where I’m from it’s easiest simply to say “Philadelphia”.  But every time those words cross my lips I feel inclined to clarify.  As though I’m doing a dis-service to not only those who actually reside within Philly but to the town in which I live.

Along that same vein, I grew up proud to be Irish and Polish even though I was born and bred right here – in Bucks County, PA.  I’m not Irish; I’m American.  And I’m proud to have been born here.  But I also have a European connection deep down.  One that I have yet to fully comprehend.

I love to travel and have purposefully made it a goal to visit these places I’ve longed to see.  Yet, I find it rather interesting that I have this longing to one day call Europe my home.  And that doesn’t make me any less proud to be American.  It just means that there’s a very strong part of me that wants to know more about the places my ancestors once called home.

My reasons for wanting to go across the ocean may differ greatly from that of my ancestors.  Whether it was a need to escape oppression, poverty, sickness or a desire to pursue their dreams, they had to make the choice to leave their homeland.  They left all that they knew – and started anew.  Sometimes they found success, other times situations as dire as the ones they left behind.

Though they came to embrace the country in which they now resided did they ever let go of the home they once loved so?  And if they did not, then the same holds true the other way; no matter what part of the world I may reside, I’ll still be proud of the American spirit within me.

What a difference 9 years makes! Tuesday, Sep 25 2012 

I know I am supposed to be alternating between my maternal and paternal heritage but a recent discovery just won’t let me go!

From a very young age I knew music existed within me.  There was no doubt.  As though the rhythm, melodies and lyrics blended into my very spirit.  I don’t know at what age I started singing but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.

As much as I consider myself a writer I am equally a singer.  The passion I have comes from the warmth that radiates in my core, travels up my chest, tingles in my throat and reverberates on my lips.  I feel the music in every single fiber of my being and every cell in my body.  I am a writer.  I am a singer.  I am an artist.  And apparently so was my great, great-grandfather Elmer.

If you haven’t already read my post about Elmer’s coal mining accident in 1902 then a) why not and b) here’s a brief synopsis…he was killed in a tragic accident at the Cranberry mine at the age of 32.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that he was a coal miner.  My mother’s relatives come from upstate Pennsylvania, where coal miners and farmers are a-plenty.  But I was floored up on reading his 1893 marriage record.  His occupation was listed as…just wait…MUSICIAN!

I know!  How amazing is that? I gaped at my computer screen, blinked the clouds from my eyes and felt the chills course through my arms.  As stunned as I was I also started wondering more about his life.  What instrument did he play?  Did he sing?  Did he perform locally with friends or family members?  How did his life change so significantly within a short period of time?  Marriage and children – having to provide for his family was the most reasonable answer I came up with.  Most likely being a musician couldn’t sustain them.  Couldn’t pay bills.  Couldn’t keep food on the table.  What was the inner struggle over giving up a passion?  Were there extenuating circumstances?  An emotional or mental breakdown?  Or was he a pragmatic man who acknowledged the reality of his situation and simply moved forward?

In all my research, I’ve learned about intriguing individuals on both branches of my family tree.  But my connection to Elmer is deeply rooted by more than bloodlines!

to be continued…

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