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!!!!

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!

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.

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