Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Christmas Tree

Our house isn't one of those crazy "winning the biggest electric bill" holiday homes. It's pretty low-key. So is our tree. Now that the boys are older, the tree is becoming proportionally smaller. They are less interested in decorating but are secretly happy to see that it is decorated with their handiwork. A smaller tree means very few commercial ornaments. But there is plenty of room for special keepsakes and ornaments with some history.

Here is a sampling of what you'll find on our tree:

French lace, from my brother who worked in France

handcrafted acorn from a Japanese neighbor

We have several old painted glass ornaments that belonged to my 
husband's Danish ancestors who lived in Chicago. 
Some are over 100 years old. I learned from some of the
family that Christmas was a huge celebration in their home.
We are proud to have these.

Nothing brings smiles like the boys' handmade
ornaments from school. I've saved them all!

My happily eclectic tree.

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crazy Cousins

Last week, we were fortunate to be able to share Thanksgiving with my parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews in Wisconsin. It is usually my brother's family that travels in from Wisconsin to Illinois where the rest of us live. Circumstances and good travel weather put this holiday in reverse. My brother and sister-in-law put on a terrific feast, and all we had to do was bring vegetables and drive. Not a bad deal!

Including my two boys, there are six cousins on my side of our family. We do our best to get photos of them all together, because it can be challenging. First there is geography: my brother's family lived in New Hampshire before moving to Wisconsin, and we lived in Colorado and Michigan before moving back to Illinois. Then there are the "activity schedules" of six busy kids (two college freshmen, three high school freshmen and a sixth-grader). When they are all in the same location, we take a picture!

 in 2002, sticking out their tongues was silly

in 2013, grabbing their tech was maybe not silly, but accurate :)

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - Christmas Comes to the Cemetery

Christmas came to one of the rural cemeteries I photographed. Clearly, this family wanted their loved one remembered at Christmas time. I took the photos on a very mild December day a couple of years ago, when Illinois hadn't yet had a taste of winter. I love the contrast between the green grass and trees and the snow-anticipating decorations.

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Piece of My DNA Puzzle

DNA testing has been front and center for me over the past 48 hours.

First, the good news: I finally have a close connection on 23andMe! I tested almost a year ago. I explore the site every month or so, and haven't had much luck in pursuing any particular ancestral line. Last week, a connection considered by 23andMe to be a 2nd-to-3rd cousin appeared. We agreed to connect, and lo and behold, we are indeed second cousins! I didn't know her specifically, but I am familiar with her family line. Welcome to my branch of the family, Linda!

Our fathers are first cousins. Mine was the first grandchild in this line and her father was the second. After speaking with my dad, I enjoyed sharing with Linda that as children, our fathers used to be called "Jackie Joe" and "Jimmy Joe" by the family. They are also happy to have long outgrown those nicknames!

As I wrote in my prior DNA post, I was admittedly uncertain how the whole genetic DNA connections worked. I knew that I only received a way-back-in-time haplogroup assignment for my maternal side.

I am U5a2b - wanna connect?!

I erroneously thought that I only received maternal results. My connection this weekend with Linda disproved all that - to my great relief! Linda and I are paternal cousins. We were both thrilled to learn this was not strictly a maternal-side match. After that realization sunk in, I went to all my potential connections in the list that were expected to be 3rd-to-6th cousins and wrote them all back. Hopefully, I can find more cousins. Sometimes it just takes that one breakthrough to produce a bigger "aha" moment.

But the less-good-news for 23andMe was that it was called on the FDA carpet for not answering inquiries into its marketing of health claims [Wall Street Journal article]. Hopefully, this will be a non-event shortly. I can understand the need for some standards, especially in an infant industry ready to break out into the mainstream. I also could not imagine an internet spit test being the only tool someone would rely on for genetic testing.

The only way I will get any leads on my difficult Irish ancestors will be through my brother and father taking DNA tests. The only (read: financially reasonable) way I can test them is through a 23andMe test - whose sale is now tentatively halted.

Hurry up and resolve this because I have family to find!

Public Domain image

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Monday, November 18, 2013

What's In A Name?

What's in a name?

Shakespeare's famous quote tells us that names can be many things. For those of us genealogy types, a name is pretty much everything. It is the link by which we discover and track our family, generation after generation. But sometimes, those names aren't so rose-like and sweet.

One of my usual databases to keep tabs on is Google Books. I enter many of my "main names" and brick walls every once in a while to see if there are more appearances in the digitized books. I use all the usual search tricks: last name only, within quotes, with a location or collateral name. Most of the time, I see the usual suspects. And that's the problem: it's the usual suspects.

Part of the reason I have difficulty, and then frustration, finding names is simply the names themselves. I haven't blogged very frequently about my pre-Revolution families, mostly because I haven't had the time and means to search in depth. I can find them on censuses and plat maps and sometimes old county histories. But darn, if their names don't hang me up! Here are some of them:

My big brick wall is Asa Spencer. So far so good. He'd be easy enough to find, if he weren't an alien, dropped into 1810's Vermont.

Asa had a son, and probably a brother, called Waterman Spencer. There are way more results for "Spencer Waterman" than there are for Waterman Spencer.

Asa's second son is my ancestor Wright Spencer. Way more results for "Spencer Wright," right? Right.

There is another Vermont Wright Spencer - not mine - who had a son Demon Spencer. What would possess one to use that name? Never mind.

My Wright Spencer had a son called Washington Spencer. Imagine all the results having "Washington" in a search. The head spins. He was actually Washington Irving Spencer, like the author. Sigh.

Wright Spencer's grandson, my great-grandfather Edward, married into the Frederick family. Try searching for William Frederick and his father Richard Frederick. The databases love to give me "Frederick Williams" and "Frederick Richards."

I have a William Thomas with a son George. You can do the flipping.

Then there's Jacob Countryman. Who knew how popular "countryman" is as an adjective? Me!

I won't even start with the 12 - yes, 12! - tree members called Thomas Allen. Every family for three generations in my tree had a Thomas Allen.

C'mon ancestors! 

I'm sure you named children after a wife's family or a revered ancestor or a geographic location. But didn't you know that 200 years later I wouldn't be able to find you!

I'm just thankful for not having many Smiths.

Have any fun/frustrating names? Or good search tips? Or a connection? Let me know!

Public Domain Image

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - Wrought Iron Remains

Every November we make an annual trek from suburban Chicago to the mecca of Illinois high school running: the state cross country meet in Peoria. We take the same route every year. It is a little off the major highways, but a somewhat direct route, as Peoria is bounded by the Illinois River and there are few places to cross.

On our trip I have noticed a small pioneer-like cemetery as we head into the town of Lacon. And before we approach that one, I kept noticing what appeared (hoped!) to be a tiny cemetery in the middle of a farm field. The space had the tell-tale rectangular shape with several old trees inside the wrought iron border. Yesterday we stopped. I wasn't passing this one without investigating for yet another year!


Apparently, there are eight known burials. I didn't enter the gates, and only saw one remaining stone: that of Lemuel (1806-1892) and Sarah Russell (1809-1890). It is sad to see it so overgrown, but I'm glad it remains and that I finally investigated it, at least by camera.

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

Thank you to all who have served.

My grandfather, Dallas Spencer, was a Naval Reserve officer. He was educated at Michigan State University, then Michigan State College of Agriculture, where he received his engineering degree. Initially, he worked in the bridge division of the Michigan State Highway Department.

He was a Lieutenant Commander in the 116th Naval Construction Battalion Civil Engineer Corps, working as a "seabee" during World War II. He served in Sasebo, Japan and Gulfport, Mississippi during the war. In 1946, he received his honorary discharge and returned to civilian life.

Dallas Spencer (1914-2000)

To date, my only known Civil War ancestor was Louis Blanchette a/k/a Blanchard, of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Louis, a native of Baie-du-Febvre, Quebec, Canada, settled in Wisconsin in the 1860's. He was a sawyer, or lumberman, by trade. During the Civil War, he was a Private and served in Company H, 4th Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry from 1863-64. Company H was organized in Racine, Wisconsin.

Louis' company was dispatched by ship to Louisiana, where they drove lumber down the Mississippi River, and also saw action in regional skirmishes. Undoubtedly, Louis' French-speaking background came in handy. He filed for a pension at least 3 times, stating he received a debilitating hernia after a horse fell on him. He received a small pension and his children received a $50 death benefit payment in 1923.

Louis Blanchard (1840-1923)

In honor of all veterans, on this Veterans Day, 2013

[reprinted from my original blog post on November 11, 2011]

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Disciple of the Pill Bags

While researching information for the subject of a recent Tombstone Tuesday post, I came across this little nugget of humor:

Dr. A. F. Hand was our next disciple of the pill bags.

That's a curious description of a doctor, especially one of the first in town!  It came from the 1882 History of Grundy County, Illinois, available for free at Google Books.

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hands-on North American History

As some of you know, if you are regular blog readers, my sons run. A lot. As supportive parents, we follow their running exploits all over the state of Illinois. This past weekend was no exception: we took the long four-plus hour trip from suburban Chicago to suburban St. Louis. I checked the highway and satellite maps to learn the area we were visiting, to locate both the hotel and the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, where the cross country races were being held. In the back of my mind, I knew that the ancient Cahokia Mounds were also nearby. In fact, they weren't more than 15 minutes from our hotel.


I have an archaeological / anthropological / historical Bucket List in my head. Stonehenge is Number One. But Cahokia Mounds? They definitely make the cut!

Cahokia was the most sophisticated native settlement north of Mexico, lasting from about 700AD - 1400AD. At its height at about 1000AD, up to 20,000 people may have lived here. Cahokia Mounds are what remains of this Mississipian civilization. Many of the mounds, in all different sizes, have been excavated, studied, and cataloged over the years. Today, visitors are able to make a climb to the top of the main feature, Monk's Mound, by modern staircase. Monk's Mound is over 100' tall. From the top, you can see for miles across the Mississippi River and to St. Louis.

After the decline of the Cahokia civilization, the area was home to early French explorers and Trappist Monks. Today, Cahokia is enveloped into the town of Collinsville, though the main features are preserved. There is a world-class interpretive center filled with artifacts, dioramas, photographs, and information about the peoples and the site. There are exceptional maps, and it is free to visit. The Mounds are both an Illinois State Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you find yourself in the St. Louis area, take part of a day to visit Cahokia Mounds. For now, here is the link to their terrific website and my photos of our visit. Enjoy!

Monk's Mound

some history of Cahokia

mounds as viewed from atop Monk's Mound

signage describing the astrological Woodhenge

a henge! in real life!

henge center post looking east to Monk's Mound

The Birdman Tablet

Birdman display

small sample of the many artifacts found at Cahokia

Me! and St. Louis in the background
© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - White Bronze Hand

Here is another excellent example of a cast zinc or "white bronze" gravestone. This one is a little more ornate than the one I previously posted. This stone memorializes Dr. Augustus F. Hand and his family of Morris, Grundy, Illinois.

Born Shoreham, VT
July 11, 1816
Ill. College 1845
Settled in Morris 1847
where he practiced
his profession
more than 40 years
Died June 15, 1890
73 Y'rs 11 Mo's 4 D'ys

Notice the interesting wear patterns on the metal

His loyal companion on the base

photographed at Evergreen Cemetery, Morris, Grundy County, Illinois

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Monday, October 21, 2013

October is "That Month"

October. The leaves start to fall and the weather cools.

October for our family is one of the sadder months. Do you have a month like that, when sad memories creep into the calendar?

In the year 2000, my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother passed away within two weeks of each other. One was expected. One was not.

Let's back up a little bit, and preface this post with the fact that I am fortunate to have a family of long-livers. Three of my great-grandparents lived until I was in my teens. I didn't attend a family funeral until my 30's when my paternal grandfather died. I admit it was both a blessing and a curse. I was fortunate to have my grandparents in my life for a very long time, but finally attending a funeral as an adult was very difficult and emotional.

My maternal grandfather, Dallas Frederick Spencer, was born on 6 October 1914 on the Spencer family farm in Locke Township, Ingham County, Michigan. His parents, of New England stock, were Edward Spencer and Lulu Gertrude Frederick. He was the eldest of four children, and lost his mother to pneumonia when he was only 11 years old. By then, the family had moved into Lansing, Michigan and lived with various other family members including his grandmother. Grandpa eventually attended and graduated from what is now Michigan State University with a degree in civil engineering. He worked for the road and bridge division of the Michigan State Highway Department. He served in the Naval Reserve as a SeaBee during World War II. Later, he was hired by Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago where he worked as a building construction contractor. Grandpa lived a nice long life, succumbing to the various ravages of old age. He died in the early morning hours on his 86th birthday.

My paternal grandmother, Bernice Mary Riley McBride, was born 20 October 1912 in Chicago, Cook, Illinois. Her parents, John Patrick Riley, son of Irish immigrants, and Clara Regina Blanchard, daughter of French Canadians, originally lived in Lockport, Will, Illinois. Grandma's family lived in Chicago for several years while her father worked as a construction laborer building some of Chicago's early skyscrapers. Grandma spent most of her life in Joliet, Will, Illinois raising my dad and aunt while my grandfather was a laborer in various local industries. Grandma was a long-time breast cancer survivor, and died unexpectedly from a blood clot, just two days after her 88th birthday.

I loved them both very much, and for a couple of weeks each October, I am a little forlorn.

Leaf image in the public domain

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - White Bronze

This is a nice example of a cast zinc or "white bronze" cemetery marker. They were called white bronze strictly as a marketing ploy. Their "bluish" color usually stands out in a cemetery among more traditional stones. This stone for the Murphy and Carpenter family stands atop a concrete base.

The corner of the stone clearly reads:

American White Bronze Co.
Chicago, Ill

photographed at Evergreen Cemetery, Morris, Grundy, Illinois

More next time...

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - Simplicity

I love wandering through cemeteries, and the older, the better. We don't get too many really old stones here in the Midwest, but I do look for them. I am always drawn to the oldest part of a cemetery. No offense to those with large, amazingly carved markers, but I'll take a simple elegant stone any day.

As an example, this is the marker of Catherine Donohoe. I love it.

in the memory of
who died
July 28, 1859
Aged 75 years
by her Daughter Catherine

photographed at Mount Carmel Cemetery, Morris, Grundy, Illinois

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Have A #FOMO

If you have been around social media for any length of time, you may have come across the hashtag, or term, FOMO. FOMO is defined by the Urban Dictionary as the "fear of missing out." This seems to apply more to the fear of missing a social event, and I am well above the partying age.

What does this have to do with genealogy? I subscribe to (so) many feeds that supply me with a genealogy and records fix: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, email, and the internet in general. The internet, as you all well know, is almost exploding with more databases, more researchers, more groups and societies and museums, more experts, more amateurs, more of everything everyday. I think it applies to every field, not just genealogy. But what will happen if I don't read about the newest "it" thing? What will I miss??

I am self-diagnosing myself with FOMO. My name is Sally and I am addicted to social media. You can even take a quiz. Here are my results:

I have to admit to myself that I just cannot keep up this pace! I crave knowledge and therefore will always have a FOMO.

My own life consists of a near-full time job that I enjoy, and a home and family with two busy kids and their running exploits. I even signed up for two online college courses. I am possibly probably deranged. But I can't help it. You know the saying that young children's brains are like sponges and they keep absorbing information? That's me, except a 40-something version.

Back to genealogy. I need to really harness my abilities and focus. We recently took a personality management inventory at work, and not surprisingly, I am "analytical" and a "coordinator." These are the traits that enabled my genealogy drive in the first place, so many moons ago. I am really good at honing in from the big picture to find the important data. The genealogy hunches? Mine are always spot-on. This is what I need to get back to and stop worrying about what I may or may not be missing. I can always search later...right?

I will be around. I may not post as frequently, but I will post. The blog will always be the cousin bait. The website will always house the family tree. I will always be on social media. My FOMO won't disappear that fast!

Some ideas:

  • update website more regularly
  • be active, rather then passive when searching for cousins
  • revisit message boards and re-post
  • research..again!

Wish me luck!

Public domain image credit

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back to School

School has begun and that has brought lots of changes in my household. Fall is in the air. Actually that part is not true, as we are pushing 100 degrees in Chicagoland this week. That is my excuse to explain not blogging much lately - too busy and too hot!

circa I'm not telling :)

Yep, that's me and my old neighborhood gang, on the first day of school. It was my first day of kindergarten! I'm on the left in the blue dress, rocking the pigtails and saddle shoes.

Now I have my own children that both started new schools this year. My youngest is a freshman in high school. Our grade and middle school district feeds into a larger high school district, so my son is not only getting used to classes, but to meeting lots of new kids. He is also on the cross country team, so now has some long days!

My oldest son I can hardly believe it. He earned scholarships to a private area university and is staying on campus. Part of his scholarship is running on the cross country team. He moved into his room with a high school teammate back in mid-August to start training camp. He intends on earning a History degree with a teaching certification. At least that's the current plan! And this weekend, the team has it's first out-of-state meet in Michigan. We have always attended every possible cross country meet the boys have run, but I think Michigan will be too far :)  

I have also decided to go back to school, in a manner of speaking. I have enrolled in two Coursera courses that start soon. Coursera is a consortium of universities from around the world that offer college courses free to anyone in the world that wants to sign up. I am taking "History of the World since 1300" from Princeton University, and "Understanding Media by Understanding Google" from Northwestern University. I am really excited about this new challenge. I always said to myself that if college were free, I would keep going. Now it is!

I will definitely be blogging, but perhaps not on a regular schedule through the fall. I know those old ancestors (and hopefully my fellow bloggers) will still be waiting for me!

© 2013 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - The Mysterious Mr. Burns

While recently visiting a new-to-me cemetery in Grundy County, Illinois, I photographed some rather large gravestones. In this case, I think monument is more the proper term. These two huge monuments, I came to learn, belong to the same man. The data is the same on each, but they are in completely different sections of this rural, primarily Irish Catholic cemetery. The first:

parents Michael and Bridget on reverse

Reel in-laws

Then in the front of the cemetery, slightly more traditional but equally as imposing, is this monument:

"Their Life Was Pain
To Die Was Gain"

Now I know nothing of Mr. Burns or his family (Ellen is his sister). By chance I happened to photograph both of these monuments during my wanderings. Even more interesting is the story I found on his FindAGrave page: that Mr. Burns decided to spend all of his wealth on gravestones so that nothing would be passed on to his family. He may also have more monuments in more cemeteries and no one knows where he truly lies, if the legend is true.

It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Burns, wherever you are.

Photographed at Mount Carmel Cemetery, Morris, Grundy, Illinois

© 2013 Sally Knudsen