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!

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…

My Irish Ancestors are Stubborn Wednesday, Aug 15 2012 

A shocking statement, I know!  But no less true.  Stubbornness is often attributed to the Irish culture though why one group of people would get that label over others I never really understood.

As a rather stubborn individual myself I used to joke that I was both a Taurus and Irish which meant I was doubly stubborn!  But in all my family history research I’ve started to re-examine my perspective on many fronts.  The Irish people have very good reason to be stubborn and the after-effects still linger in many ways.  I don’t presume to know what it was like to live there during “the troubles” or the famine.  But I can ascertain that the pain, sorrow, anger and frustration could very well still linger if not addressed within each individual.

My great, great-grandfather (Thomas Deeny) emigrated from Ireland to the United States in the late 1800s and spent the last years of his young life in Philadelphia.  Try as I have to find out exactly what port he arrived in I’ve been unsuccessful.  I did find his naturalization records but that didn’t tell me whether he came in through Boston, New York or Philadelphia.  The assumption would be Philly, since that’s where he last resided.  But…the stories passed down from my grandfather and his siblings told of the Deenys (our immediate branch) coming in through Boston.

That could very well be the case but I have not found him in any of the immigration records I’ve searched through.  Nor have I found his wife, Elizabeth.  Thomas and Elizabeth’s first child, my great-grandfather, was born in 1886 and they were already in Philadelphia by that point.  So, were they married before they left Ireland or after?  Because I haven’t found marriage records from either country yet.  Plus, to make matters even more challenging, I had no clue what Elizabeth’s maiden name was for the first two years of my research.

I had found the cemetery listing for Elizabeth, Thomas, and some of their children about a year ago.  That was my first cemetery finding and I was ec…stat…ic!  I drove to Philadelphia, found the area on the cemetery map and lo and behold, no gravestones!  Ugh.  I literally sank to my knees, cried a little then started laughing.  I made a promise right then and there that one of the first things I’d do once I published my novel would be to buy them grave markers.  There’s at least 5 people in that one plot and not one has a headstone.  As I sat on the ground looking up to the branches that swayed above me I asked Elizabeth for help.  And eventually she came thru!

I now know her maiden name was Burke and I found her parents information based off of Elizabeth’s sister’s birth record. But trying to find an Elizabeth Burke is almost just as challenging as trying to find a Deeny!

I’m still looking for birth and marriage records for Thomas, Elizabeth and their children.  Some research days are more frustrating than others but finding their history, paths and stories is a goal I highly intend on fulfilling.

I leave you with an excerpt from a letter that Elizabeth Deen(e)y wrote to tell her mother-in-law of Thomas’ death in 1899.

It is with a sad heart that I have to let you know of the death of your son.  He died on the 8th of this month and was buried on the 13th Nov.  As you were aware he has been sick this long time but we all thought he would get over it if doctors & the best of care could do anything for him.  We did not think he would die so soon but at last had to realize that it was only a matter of time…We done all that lay in our power for him but to no avail as we were told that he had cancer of the stomach and there is no cure in this world for that.

If it’s not one thing… Monday, Aug 6 2012 

Last week I discussed the challenges I have been dealing with in researching my father’s side of the family.  It’s Mom’s turn this week and finding her relatives has been much easier; for the most part.

Growing up I spent a lot of time in my mother’s hometown.  Hazleton, Pennsylvania became my home away from home.  A place that I loved to spend my summers.  My grandmother had been one of the most important relationships in my young life and she’s remained a big part of my life ever since.  When my maternal grandmother died in 1984 I was only 7 but the impact of that loss was significant.  By that time, my mother had lost her father, her step-father and then her mother.  All before her 32nd birthday.  I can’t imagine what she had to deal with. She had four daughters left to raise without her mother to offer support, guidance and advice.  Sometimes, I think that’s part of the reason she’s such a pivotal part of her grandchildren’s life. 

My mother grew up in a house that her grandfather had built.  She’d tell me stories about the winding staircase, the fireplace and the family get-togethers.  We found pictures a few months ago that showed the ornate fireplace, the cherubed ceilings and the french doors.  There were so many photos of family members; especially my mother, uncle and their cousins. 

Family played a significant role in my mother’s life.  She grew up with so many cousins, on both sides of her family, and they spent a lot of time together.  (There’s a part of me that wished I had the same; but times change and families live where economics and employment determine they go.)  Even after my grandmother died we’d go back to Hazleton frequently.  My mother still had aunts, uncles and cousins in the area and there was even a family reunion every August.

I knew more about my mother’s side of the family then my father’s.  We joked that my mom was a coal miner’s daughter but it was only a few generations of difference.  In putting together my family tree I realized how happy I was that her side of the family had unique names, both first names and surnames.  Thank heavens for the Elmers, Ellsworths and Martins! I found generations of coal miners, farmers and truck drivers.  I realized that the strong family bonds were necessary because early death was not only likely but frequent.  My mother’s great-grandfather died in a coal mining accident in 1902 at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous children.  How did his family put food on the table, clothes on their backs and smiles on their faces?  My great, great-grandmother remarried a few years later and the half-siblings went on to hold that joint family reunion.

My mother’s father died at the age of 40.  A truck driver by occupation, he was injured in a fluke trucking accident; causing him to no longer be able to work.  My grandmother had to work to provide for the family.  Eventually, he became sick and died at an age that was much too young.  My grandmother remarried and I grew up knowing my mom’s brother, step-brother and step-sister as equal members of my family. 

In researching my maternal ancestors I’ve come to the conclusion that family isn’t always determined by blood.  Love guided my mother’s relations and she passed that down to her children.  For that, I will be eternally grateful!

I Think I’m Native American, but I know I’m Irish! Monday, Jul 30 2012 

Do you have an ancestor named John Smith?  Well, I do! And trying to find him has been nothing short of a challenge.

There are stories told down the generations that shift and form with every telling. One family history story engrained on my father’s side was of a Native American lineage.  I never knew what tribe we were connected to or asked what kind of documentation he had.

I knew that my paternal grandfather had Irish roots and my grandmother Native American.  That was enough info to run with.  I had no problem identifying myself with either nationality.  In fact, I quite embraced both cultures.

Two years ago, when I started my foray into genealogy, I struggled with my dad’s ancestors.  The Irish spelled the surname multiple ways, even a generation after immigrating, and typically went by their middle names.  There are 3 generations of Michael Francis’ who all went by Frank.  So, was Frank Sr.’s father’s name actually Thomas or would his birth certificate show otherwise.  It definitely makes for  a challenging search.

However, trying to find a Jonathon Smith in the 1800s has me stumped.  I know that the Smith side of my family lived, and some still do, in Michigan but according to records John was born in NY or CT.  So I focused my attention on the women instead.  In doing so, I may very well have found the strongest connection to Native American confirmation.

I know that we come from the Potawatomi tribe and apparently my 2nd great-grandfather, a Smith, married a woman with the last name of McKenzie.  I’ve traced her family to Scotland then they moved to Canada where the Potawatomi tribe may have strong connections.

I never would’ve thought that’s where I’d find what I was looking for.  But that’s normally what happens!

NEXT WEEK:  Coal mining and trucking: Maternal side

Moving FORE-Word Thursday, Jul 19 2012 

Moving forward sometimes requires looking back!  In doing genealogy research I’ve come to appreciate how similar our lives were.  Not in circumstance but in all else that matters.

I didn’t grow up in the Depression, immigrate to another country or work in a coal mine.  But my ancestors did.  I wonder what their experiences were.  How scared they must’ve been.  How they found the strength to get up each day and start again.

The ones who came before me are more than mere names, dates of births or cemetery records.  They have stories to tell.  And I’m here to make sure they’re remembered.

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