Friday, June 28, 2013

Setting Down Roots

the four of us & Grandma Crusham
Today is the last day of the BlogHer challenge to write about roots. There were a number of days that the writing prompt did not appeal to me or inspire me, so I simply skipped them. I wanted to end the month on a high note though, and today's prompt is asking whether I still live in the place I was born and if not, why did I move. As I mentioned earlier, I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio where many of my relatives still reside. But when I was only a couple of months old, my dad took a job with a new company in Chicago. He had gone on ahead to find a house, so my mom boarded a train headed for Chicago with my sister, age 11, my brother, age 9, my other brother, age 18 months and me, age 2 months. Can you even imagine? I can't. Poor mom! I know my sister was probably a big help, but still! Dad had found a house in a new subdivision, located on a cul de sac. It was a great place for kids! Unfortunately it was also very near O'Hare, so a quiet place it was not. The house also only had two bedrooms, because my dad decided he could finish off the upstairs of the home by himself. In the meantime the four kids shared one bedroom. Eventually dad finished the upstairs into two additional bedrooms, and the boys had one room while the girls took the other.

We lived in Chicago until I was 5, and then my dad accepted a job in Des Moines. This time dad purchased a three bedroom home with a walkout basement. The house was on a dead end street surrounded by cornfields. It was a great spot for kids as well, and we could play kick the can and four square in the street without worrying about cars, and many a baseball game was held at the end of the road just before the cornfield began.

I loved Des Moines and pictured myself staying there. But college graduation and marriage had other places in store for me. I enjoy making trips back there, whether by car or just in my mind.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Supporting Local Authors

Michael with my niece and me
This afternoon I went to one of our locally owned bookstores, Left Bank Books, for a book reading and signing by St. Louis author Michael Kahn. He is a traditionally published author (which probably explains the wonderful food and drink spread as well as the jazz musician), who just released book number 8 in the Rachel Gold mystery series. The Flinch Factor was the subject of his reading today. I don't believe I have read any of his previous books, but after hearing one chapter of the book today - containing several laugh out loud moments - I decided to purchase The Flinch Factor. I am always looking for new authors to follow, and the fact that several of his books are set in St. Louis adds an additional layer of interest.

Following the reading he addressed questions from the audience. He got the typical ones such as when do you find time to write, how did you find your agent, etc. But a woman asked the question on my mind. How does a male attorney come to write a book with a female attorney as the protagonist? As it ends up, that isn't the way he began the story. But then he experienced several situations in the courtroom where the young female attorneys were treated very disrespectfully by the other attorneys and judges. He decided his protagonist would be a female facing those obstacles. As he explained to us, his wife (a female), his mother (a female), his agent (a female) and his editor (also a female) helped him along the way. He currently has two other books under his belt written under the pen name Michael Baron as he wanted to try his hand at writing a story with a male protagonist.

It is always a good day when you can support a local author and a local business at the same time. You can catch Michael at the St. Louis County Library on June 25th at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is There a Patriot in My Tree?

The next few writing prompts from BlogHer did not inspire me, so I am going to talk about another root I have been tugging on. I have a subscription to, so my family tree is online. When Ancestry thinks they might have a match for someone in your tree, they dangle a shaking leaf off the name on the tree. It is like a Siren's call - I must go click on the leaf to see what waits out in cyberspace. After reviewing the information you can then determine if you think the hint offered is a match. And then you can add the information at your own risk. If it came off of the tree of someone else, then you need to determine if they have any backup for the data provided. If
it came off of a record such as a census and the family names match yours, then it is probably a good hint. Sometimes you will find a tree where the "genealogist" has a child who was born before its mother, or a child born after the mother is dead. So you always need to take these things with a grain of salt.

Through several trees on Ancestry I have identified a man on my father's side of the family tree who was a Patriot, meaning he fought or aided in the Revolutionary War. I know this because a man had filed with the Sons of the Revolutionary War on Jacob Christopher Kern. And this man referenced a filing by his sister on the same Patriot to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Up to this point, nearly every ancestor I have identified came over to the United States in the 1800s. I was struggling to find someone who fought in the Civil War much less the Revolutionary War. This was an exciting discovery! If it is accurate, and that is a big IF.

Jacob Kern

Saturday the Olde Towne Fenton branch of the DAR held an informational meeting, which I attended.  They walked us through the process of applying for membership in the DAR, as well as the documentation that is required. In essence, you must prove the birth, marriage and death of each generation (husband and wife) all the way back to your Patriot. (Or until you can tie yourself into the application of someone else who has researched the same Patriot.) A review of applications for Jacob Kern revealed that some people applied through his son Joseph, while a couple applied through his daughter Magdalena. I would be applying through his son Peter. So essentially the other applications will not help me. Story of my life with genealogy and house history research.

Obviously birth, death and marriage records only go back so far in the different states. Then you have to get your hands on other records such as church baptisms and marriages, obituaries, census records, etc. I can see that this process will not be easy or cheap. And I may be barking up the wrong family tree. But I won't know until I try.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Give Them Wings So They Can Fly

The BlogHer writing prompt today is about roots and wings. Here is what is says: "The original quote about giving children roots and wings referred to the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. Does that change your understanding of the quote?" It would be interesting to find out where BlogHer came up with the information about the quote, which reads "There are two things we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings." A Google search resulted in the quote being attributed to Hodding Carter, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist from Louisiana, though a Wikipedia site states that the quote was borrowed from Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. I didn't find anything to substantiate this online. But whoever first said it, the words are good ones to parent by.

I have always interpreted the saying to mean that we must first create an environment in which our children  feel loved and accepted in order for them to become self-assured and independent. Those roots help them build a firm foundation on which to build the rest of their lives - a foundation that will support them even when they take off to pursue their own dreams. My husband and I like to joke that we were either really crappy parents, because our son moved to the East coast following college graduation and our daughter moved to the West coast when she graduated, or we were successful in raising two kids who are confident enough to live so far from home, allowing their own new roots to grow. I hope that it is the latter!

Below is a poem I came across in my Internet search this morning. It did not cite an author, but here is a link to the page where I found it.

Roots & Wings
If I could give you many things,
I'd give you gold and silver rings
Of knowledge that I've gained with years
The gift of smiling through the tears
Confidence, courage, determination,
Laughter and spirit and love of creation,
Wrapped up in a box with a bow, I'd give
To you these gifts to keep for as long as you live. 
"If I could give you just two things,
One would be Roots, the other, Wings."
Roots, not to tie you to the ground,
But to guide you to where your fulfillment is found
The nourishing start, the firm foundation,
The source of your inner determination.
Wings to soar over obstacles, wings to fly free,
Wings to glide to the heights of the best you can be.
And when obstacles loom, from your Roots grows a hand
Providing a strong, sturdy,safe place to land.
I'd choose these two things for the gifts that are best,
For with Roots and with Wings, you'll find all the rest!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Time Traveler

Yesterday's BlogHer prompt about my thoughts on the importance of roots I felt had already come through loud and clear on my other posts, so I did not write about them again. Today's question is regarding whether my ancestors had moved over time, and if so have I traveled to the place they lived. I have already talked about my visits to Ireland and my upcoming trip to Germany, so today I will share something closer to home.

Most of my extended family lives in Cincinnati, where the majority of my ancestors settled in the 1800s. My sister and I travel back there a couple of times a year for visits. Since our parents are deceased, it has become increasingly important to both of us to be able to see my mom's remaining siblings. They don't mind me picking their brains about family memories. The last time we were in Cincinnati they arranged for two of their cousins to meet with me so that I could interview them about their childhood. These elderly cousins lived with the first Michael Crusham to come over from Ireland. I captured it all on videotape so that I didn't need to concentrate on writing furiously. Normally when I am in town I also try to make time to drive by the homes where my ancestors lived and to visit cemeteries in search of their graves.

Recently I found a tiny root in my family tree that may tie us to very early settlers in Virginia. By early, I mean the 1600s around the time that Virginia became the first colony. If I can verify that this root leads to one of my branches, a road trip to Virginia is definitely in order as there are homesteads and monuments commemorating this family.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Getting Back to My Roots

Today's BlogHer prompt asks, "What does getting back to your roots look like to you?" I have been involved in tracing my family tree, including its roots while trying to avoid the weeds, since 1989. For me genealogy is not just about the names and dates on a page (or in the cloud). It is about the people and their stories. I like being able to travel to the towns of my ancestors, whether here in the U.S. or abroad. It is such a thrill to be able to walk where they walked, or to be able to look at the view they gazed upon every morning.

Colgan land in County Mayo, Ireland
I was able to travel to Ireland in 1997 with my husband and then again in 2005 with my sister. We visited some ancestral towns and villages while we were there, viewing the old homesteads, looking through cemeteries, and even worshipping at one of the churches. (And I have to say there is nothing more delightful than hearing Mass said and sung with an Irish brogue!) Those who live in Ireland seem to not quite get why we are looking for a piece of our distant past. They are living it every day so it is not a big deal to them.

In the fall I will be traveling to the Rhineland area of Germany, and perhaps down to Switzerland, with Family Tree Tours. This is a genealogy tour, with some sight-seeing thrown in of course, but the purpose is to help us connect with our families who emigrated from that area. I have provided the names of my ancestors and all the other pertinent information I have come across so far to the tour organizer. With the help of a man in Germany, the goal is to find someone from my town of Insheim who would be willing to meet with me and share information about the town and hopefully my ancestors. Since I do not speak German, this is truly an opportunity to do some research there and not have to worry about the language barrier. I am eager to see how far down my roots are entrenched in this part of the world.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is Your Culture Part of Your Everyday Life?

my St. Patrick's Day quilt
Another challenging writing prompt from BlogHer today came in the form of the question "How much does your culture come into play in your day-to-day life?" Since I am a fourth-generation American, I would have to truthfully answer that it does not play a large role in my life. I don't cook the recipes of my mom and dad, we never celebrated any holidays that were not also celebrated by most Americans, none of us spoke a different language, and we did not belong to any cultural institutions.

I guess I most strongly identified with the Irish in my family tree though. My great-grandfather Michael J. Crusham came over to the United States from Ireland by himself when he was in his early 20s. I understand that he was quite the dancer and won many trophies for his Irish Jig. How I would have loved to have met him! Sometimes I can still get my aunts to sing a few of the Irish songs they learned when they were little, and it is such a treat.

I like to think that the work ethic of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents has been passed along to me and my children. My husband and I both studied hard and sacrificed to attend graduate school, and then worked for a long time for companies that allowed us to absorb the essence of what it takes to be successful in business. This enabled us to become entreprenuers and have some control over our own destinies.

I'll close with one of my favorite Irish blessings.

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you
In the palm of his hand.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Family Traditions

Today I am back on track with the BlogHer June NaBloPoMo, and today's writing prompt is to discuss a family tradition that has been passed down. I can't hear the word tradition without my mind breaking into the song "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof. But since I am not Jewish and this is no musical, I will have to strike out on my own for this one. I have to admit that nothing immediately came to my mind, so I turned to the dictionary thinking that a definition of the word might strike a chord with me.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines tradition as follows:

a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
: cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
: characteristic manner, method, or style tradition
Looking at the definitions and thinking back on my own childhood, I guess what strikes me is how we celebrated the holidays, in particular Christmas. My dad loved to decorate the house for Christmas, and we were often the house on the block with the most lights. Nothing to the extreme of Christmas Vacation of course, but all the lights on the gutters and around the windows along with the two large plastic candles definitely made our house glow in the darkness. Santa Claus always arrived at our house on Christmas Eve, usually when my brother and I were taking a bath or had run to the store with one of our parents. (The sneaky, jolly fellow.) We then opened our presents on Christmas Eve. My mom and dad would make a punch to drink, and the gift opening was a free for all.
Christmas decorations
After my husband and I were married we began our own collection of Christmas decorations, making a new set of ornaments together each year. We have lots of decorations now, including some of the ones from my mom and dad. When our children were young Santa came after they went to bed, and the gifts were opened on Christmas morning. After they got older, we returned to opening presents on Christmas Eve. One thing that we incorporated in our family was my in-laws far more civilized method of going person to person when opening gifts. Each person gets to savor the moment of unwrapping a present before the next person begins opening one. It definitely extends the whole process, but you get to truly see what each person receives and their reaction to the present. 
Cranberry Cosmopolitan
The last couple of years I have been experimenting with pretty cocktails at our house to drink as we exchange gifts. Ours are shaken, not stirred, and they are yummy! 
As I finish this post, I wonder what my children would write about if they were to tackle this writing prompt? 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Family Stories

Catherine Colgan's Birth Certificate
This was actually the BlogHer writing prompt for yesterday, but due to the fact that we were having 35 of my husband's associates and family members at our house for dinner last night, I was too busy to write on Friday.

My most interesting story involves my great-grandmother Catherine Colgan, who married Michael J. Crusham pictured in a previous post. One of my cousins had obtained Catherine's birth certificate which indicated that she had been born to Edward and Bridget Colgan on 27 December 1864 and listed the Place of Birth as Prison. The birth was registered in the District of Balla in the County of Mayo in Ireland. There was much speculation in the family as to why she might have been born in prison. Both Edward and Bridget were school teachers in Ireland before emigrating to the United States in 1867. Her father was rumored to have been a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, so perhaps he and his wife were thrown in prison because of that?

Catherine Colgan in the hat circa 1942
In 1987 my husband and I traveled to the Republic of Ireland, so one of my missions was to find out what I could about the prison birth. At the Family Research Center in County Mayo I showed the genealogist Catherine's birth certificate. I said that while I was pretty sure the prison was no longer standing, I was wondering if they had any records available so that I could see why the Colgans were in prison when they had their baby. He looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face, and then told me that Prison is a village! We laughed about the misunderstanding, and I told him that he had ruined our favorite family story as we had thought Catherine was born in a prison. He said, "Oh and to be sure she was, just not the kind with bars on the windows!"

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What's in a Name?

Well, I was a bit stumped by today's writing prompt, which asks if I was named after anyone in my family tree. As it so happens, I was not. But I am fascinated by the naming patterns I have come across while researching my family history. My mom's maiden name was Crusham, and her father was named Michael. His father was also named Michael as was his grandfather and great-grandfather. I have only been able to research Michael Crusham back to 1811 in Ireland so there may be more Michaels that I don't know about. My mom also had a brother named Michael, but he broke the chain and did not name either of his sons Michael. One of his siblings named a son Michael and there are others named Michael Crusham in the tree, but not in the direct line of father to son. Still, having five generations of Michael Crushams is pretty impressive, I think. Looking at naming patterns can sometimes help when you hit a brick wall in your family research.

Michael J Crusham

Michael A Crusham

Michael J Crusham

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Family Tree

Today's writing prompt from BlogHer asks if I am interested in genealogy (YES!) and if I have a family tree constructed (YES!). As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I first got involved in genealogy back in 1989. My mom and dad had stopped by our house on their drive from Cincinnati to Boulder to see my brother. My mom handed me a hand-written family tree on her side of the family, put together by one of my cousins. We talked briefly about the tree, and I set it to the side. On their way back from Colorado my folks were involved in a horrific car accident in the middle of Kansas. My mom was killed instantly and my dad was taken to a hospital in Hays, Kansas in critical condition. My mom was only 69 years old at the time. I was 32, and thought I would have much more time with my beloved mother.

Months later I pulled out the family tree and I recognized for perhaps the first time that my older family members would not be around forever. So I began asking questions about my grandparents and their siblings, finally enjoying the stories being told instead of rolling my eyes as I had done when I was younger. As my tree began to grow, so did the pile of notes and papers I was collecting. I needed a better way to organize my research.

At the time I had a Macintosh computer, and the only family tree software available for a Mac was Personal Ancestral File (PAF). This was a program developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was first released for the Macintosh in 1987. It wasn't a very intuitive program, and since there were not too many people using Macs at that time I did not have other people I could talk to about using the program. But I muddled through and was able to get my family information from numerous pieces of paper into a database. The most blessed part of genealogy programs is that you can export your information in what is called a GEDCOM format, which simply stated means that you can take it from one type of software and import it into another. Even if that means going from a Mac to a PC, which is what I eventually did.

The limitations of PAF forced me into looking at other genealogy software programs in the late 1990s. By then I was predominantly using a PC and most genealogists I knew were using PC-based software programs. After looking at my options I went with Family Tree Maker as it seemed to have many features that I would utilize. And the current version of the software neatly integrates with online tree I have been adding to through my subscription to Any changes I make on either my desktop tree or my online tree will synchronize at the push of a button. This was a huge selling point in getting me to upgrade my Family Tree software in 2012. Before if I made a change in one location I always had to remember to go and make the change in the other. I currently have over 2,400 people in my tree (which does include my husband's family as well, I should point out), so keeping track of all the names on paper alone would be a nightmare.

Becoming interested in genealogy began through a tragic event in my family. But it has ended in a love and appreciation of family history, and an enjoyable hobby to boot.