Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cookies

It's hard to describe how big a deal Christmas cookies were in our house.  Beyond a REALLY BIG DEAL, they were a production.

First:  They were always homemade from scratch in multiple batches.

Second:  They were always made, at least in part, with our neighbor, Joan.

Third:  They were always decorated not just by quickly swooshing some homemade icing over the top, but meticulously.  Make that m-e-t-i-c-u-l-o-u-s-l-y.  Decorating required frosting in glorious colors.  It required icing details applied by toothpicks.  It required the equally careful application of dragees or raisins or cinnamon candies or sprinkles.  It required patience that would have taught Job something new.

Fourth:  Once the decorations were sufficiently set, every cookie was cradled individually in its own plastic-wrap envelope and received a hanger made of ribbon.

Only then were they ready to display, oh so carefully, on the little cookie tree.  Kids from the preschool that Mom taught, neighbor kids, friends' kids, and parents - everyone took their time selecting just the right cookie every time they visited.

TRAEA's Grandma remembers growing up with sugar cookies, gingerbread families and pecan sandies on our cookie trees.  When our children were young their little cookie trees also featured a few additional recipes.  The 21st century version of the cookie tree was an equally huge hit with grandkids and their parents when Christmas was last at our house two years ago.

The grandkids may not remember that visit, but what do you want to make a bet that they, and their parents, will have as much fun choosing cookies from the tree this year as TRAEA's Grandma had those many years ago.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cards Aren't What They Used to Be

It used to be the best spot to display Christmas cards.
Remember when the snows were deeper, the winters colder and Christmas cards flooded your home every year?  (Those were the same years we walked five miles to school every day, uphill both ways.)

No, really, there more Christmas cards back then.  In fact the mail carrier, he really was a mailman, trudged through the snow twice a day during the weeks before Christmas.  And it was so much fun to see what every delivery brought.  Not that many of those cards were addressed to us kids.  But there was always such a variety to look through.

In our house these cards were displayed variously.  At least one year they were on the fireplace - which was brick all the way to the ceiling.  Hint - taping to unpainted brick doesn't work, regardless of your tape choice.  For several years they were displayed on the opaque fiberglass divider between our dining room and front hall.  But then all we could do was admire them from a distance, or climb around the potted plants to read them again.

The best spot for card display was around the built-in dining room shelving.  Everyone passed them going to and from the kitchen.  And we could read at least some of them repeatedly, except maybe those that were way up near the ceiling.

TRAEA's Grandma and Grandpa later tried to replicate some of that same festive look in our home.  For years we faithfully taped cards around the archway between our living and dining rooms.  Then we repainted over the tape residue, this grandma became lazy, the price of postage convinced more people that Christmas cards weren't worth the effort and the annual Christmas letter became as much a point of humor as the fruitcake.

We still send a few cards - including a genealogy-based update to family, some of whom actually care.  And our the mail carrier, a lady, still delivers a smattering of cards, usually also from family.  But we don't tape cards up for display, instead collecting them in a decorative basket, where anyone who wants can read through them - although most people don't.

Christmas cards may just be going the way of that walk to school that was uphill in both directions.  Sigh.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Calendar - Of Course it was Magic

TRAEA's Grandma sits in awe of the magic.
Our Christmas tree was nothing less than magic - every year.  Oddly, TRAEA's Grandma doesn't remember any of the always-live trees being brought into the house, or the decorating process - except for tying them to a nail on the window frame just in case someone carelessly bumped this temporary guest.

The tree just happened every year.  And it was gorgeous!

Although memories see tall pines, pictures of Christmases past don't quite match those recollected towering heights.

But one magical memory remains secure.  The tree had been decorated, providing the only light in the room, and TRAEA's Grandma was ready for bed.  I lay under the tree - waaay underneath, not around the fringes - and looked up through the branches.

Multi-colored lights, bubble lights, a yellow light behind the plastic star way on the top, a red bird ornament with its soft-bristle tail, an ornate glass tea pot, a miniature water mill dusted with artificial snow, large and small round glass balls, silver and red blown-glass pine cones, metal bells that really rang, colored tinsel roping, tinsel strands dutifully placed one at a time.

The moment was completely captivating.  And today that memory roars back in full Technicolor every time TRAEA's Grandma unwraps many of those same ornaments to hang on the family tree.  I can hardly wait to point them out to our grandchildren this Christmas.  Maybe one of them will lay under the tree and look up . . . . .

TRAEA's Great Uncle sits with his sister after the presents were opened.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

In the midst of a gajillion things to be thankful for, I've decided that one of my deepest thanks this year is for all of my ancestors.

My thinking is a bit like Rick's in the 1942 film Casablanca: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. . . . ."  Except even more so, and perhaps without the gin joints.
  • Of all the countries and all the cities in all the world, my ancestors moved across oceans, states, and cities to set up housekeeping.
  • Of all the people in all the world, each pair of my direct ancestors fell in love (I assume), married (another assumption) and in any case produced children who in turn also became ancestors.
  • Of the roughly 30,000 genes  and 3164.7 million nucleotide bases in my genome (a complete set of DNA), the genomes of each ancestor combined in such a way, throughout every generation, that I turned out to be who I am today.
Whatever your beliefs, or nonbeliefs, in a higher power, the chances are indeed pretty small that we have become who we are.  Reasons indeed to give thanks!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prospecting for a Church

A search by TRAEA's Grandma for the Prospect Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Gloucester, MA, began with a yellowed clipping found in Alice May GODITT Hills' Bible.  Although the clipping was undated, it probably appeared between the family's move to Gloucester from Ipswich in 1913 and their retirement to New Hampshire in 1929.

Having a chance to zip through Gloucester a decade ago, this grandma included the Prospect Street Methodist Episcopal Church on an abridged list of stops.  By then the church was closed and its demolition appeared imminent.  How sad.

Several years after that trip, however, a postcard of the same church appeared for sale on line.  Its postmark of August 25, 1909, precedes Alice's birthday party.  Perhaps, however, the church bears a solid resemblance to the Prospect Street Methodist Episcopal Church that Alice May Hills called home.

Tree links:
Alice May Goditt was the granddaughter of Mark Godett and Monique (Minnie) Doucette.
She was the wife of Eugene Herbert Hills.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Look Both Ways at the Tracks

All Mary Betterly Carpenter French wanted to do was cross the railroad tracks.  Instead, she became a legal notable.

It was the early 1870s and 67-year old Mary and her preteen grandson, Everett C. Pierce, were traveling by carriage, approaching tracks of the Taunton (MA) Branch Railroad that passed near their Bristol County home in Berkley.  (There's not too much creative license here - Berkley is, shall we say, compact.)  Since they had seen a train just moments before, they proceeded across the tracks without stopping first.

However, unbeknownst to them, one car of the train had been decoupled so that it could make a running switch farther down the line.  As these Hackett relations crossed the tracks, that single rail car hit them, causing significant injuries.

Mary described, "The next I knew I was lying in the road, with blood on my face, and severe pain in my head.  I was holding the reins."

Everett said, "I found myself on the (railroad) car, a flat car loaded with scrap-iron; the car stopped; I saw my grandmother on the end of he car. . . . . "

While admitting that neither she nor Everett had looked before crossing the tracks, Mary nonetheless sued the railroad for personal injuries and for injury to her 10-year-old horse.  Amazingly, she won, although TRAEA's Grandma has not yet found out the exact settlement.  Winning was particularly noteworthy because similar suits against what were then the all-powerful railroads were routinely dismissed if it could be shown that the plaintiff bore the slightest degree of fault.

As a landmark case, Mary's suit has since been cited more than 70 times.

Not nearly as interesting as the case itself, but worth noting are the gyration's that TRAEA's Grandma went through to get the story.
  • Googled Mary's complete name, rather than any shortened version.  This generated a tantalizing synopsis in the 1884 publication by Houghton, Mifflin and Company and The Riverside Press, Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts / March-September 1874.  
  • Visited the Bristol Superior Court in Taunton, MA, because it wasn't clear to this non-legal mind whether Mary or the railroad prevailed.  The lady there was delightfully nice, kept assuring me that the case has been cited "more than 70 times," copied the Westlaw version of the case and never answered my question directly.
  • Called our family attorney to ask for a definitive answer.
He was astonished that Mary won.  He explained that during this time period if a plaintiff contributed in any way to their injuries they probably lost based on "contributory negligence."  Between the time Mary prevailed over the Taunton Branch Railroad and today, however, many states have instituted "comparative negligence" or "comparative fault" as a judicial standard so that a plaintiff who was perhaps a bit at fault may still receive compensation.

Did Mary play a part in that change?  This grandma would like to think so.

Tree links:
Mary Betterly / Bitterly Carpenter French, the widow of Ephraim French, may have been a child of Andrew and Mary Betteley
Everett C. Pierce was a grandson of Ephraim French

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight

Why do we sometimes make research so doggone difficult?  Brick walls are one thing, but answers sometimes can found so easily that we glide right by them.  Here are two of my embarrassing examples.

The first concerns the marriage of Francis F. Hackett and Evelyn Mae Thompson.  He was from Taunton, MA, while she grew up in Nova Scotia.  Francis had been married previously for about a year and a half to Mary E. Jennings, until her death on 15 Nov 1882.  Francis and Evelyn, along with at least one of Evelyn's brothers, ended up in Taunton.  But where and when were the couple married?

I found no success looking for Francis and Evelyn's marriage record in Taunton or anywhere else in Massachusetts, so I finally noodled around the Nova Scotia marriage records.  Bingo!  Francis and Evelyn were married 3 Aug 1886 at Pugwash River, NS.

Why hadn't I thought of looking in Canadian records years ago?  Dunno.  Of course, because genealogists are always asking questions,
  • What drew him to Nova Scotia?
  • How did they meet?
  • How did he convince her to return to Taunton?
Ralph Leslie Hackett, son of George Leslie Hackett and Elsie Evelyn Jones (and a grandson of Francis and Evelyn) "hid" in the second example.  Family mumblings had mentioned a child who died young after drinking tainted water.  But I had never heard anything definitive about him.

Part of the answer came from taking the time to study the other nine offspring of George and Elsie.  Beginning in 1910, a new child was born about every year or two.  EXCEPT - there was a gap between 1912 and 1916.  This was before I realized so many records were available online; instead, I contacted the Taunton City Clerk's office, sent the appropriate money and asked them to look for a child born between the birth of a daughter in March 1912 and another daughter in January 1916.  There he was, born 23 Jun 1913.  The certified copy of his birth record is shown below.

Then, not having a clue as to when this baby died, I went back to thinking - for a few years.  This summer I (finally) looked in FamilySearch and there he was.  Poor little guy was just two and a half months old when he died from enteritis 7 Sep 1913.  He was buried in Oakland Cemetery, in western Taunton, not far from the Tremont Street home where he had lived.  When TRAEA's Grandma visited the cemetery most recently she found no obvious marker to commemorate this all-too-brief life.

Ralph's birth and death records are available on under Massachusetts Births, 1841 - 1915 and Massachusetts Deaths, 1841 - 1915.

When closing my mom's house after her death, I decided that sometimes "it's the dumb stuff" that can hold the most meaning for us.  There is a corollary - sometimes "it's the simple answer."  Memo to self:  start with the simple answer.

Tree links:
Francis Hackett is the son of William Hackett and Maria Wilbur
George Leslie Hackett is the grandson of William Hackett and Maria Wilbur
Ralph Leslie Hackett is the great grandson of William Hackett and Maria Wilbur
Evelyn Thompson is the 2nd great granddaughter of John Thompson and Mary Sunley
Elsie Jones may be the 2nd great granddaughter of Jonathan Jones and Abigail Paul

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Grandpumpkins for Grandkids

TRAEA's grandpa and grandma hosted three of the grandkids recently, and given the time of year, pumpkin decorating seemed to be a logical art project.  The challenge was to find something they had never tried and could accomplish with relatively little mess.

Although this idea, or a variation, has shown up on several web sites, the following was our approach.  You will need:
  • Newspapers
  • 1 pumpkin per child, plus a couple for yourself
  • Cans of acrylic spray paint - we used black and champagne
  • Container of flat-backed clear acrylic crystals - we bought 1 lb. and had bunches left over
  • Additional small holiday decorations (optional) - ours were felt-like decorations precut in Halloween shapes
  • Glue dots, about half-inch size, unless your crystals and decor come with adhesive
  • Rolls of ribbon
Wash the pumpkins before the kids arrive.

Lay out plenty of newspaper in an area where accidental overspray won't be a problem.  Help young hands spray each pumpkin with short, gentle spurts to avoid runs.  Let the paint dry - ours was ready in a short 15 minutes.

Spread out all the decor options on a table.  Let the participants of all ages go wild with design, attaching each piece to a glue dot before adhering it to the pumpkin.  Tie ribbon around the stem as a final flourish.

CAUTION:  If they are touched, some crystals may fall off, taking the underlying paint with them.  Prepare your young artists in advance for this possibility, but just use another glue dot to readhere.

Note that our youngest artist took a different route - stickers.  They worked great!

Now that we've played with descendants, we'll be back to ancestors with the next post!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

(Almost) Instant Pinning

Yes, yes, yes—even this sometimes computer-challenged grandma can post to Historypin.  I couldn't get a perfect fit because of the angle where the photo of Alice May GODITT Hills and Eugene Hills was taken, compared to the street view by Google Maps.

But the Historypin people could not have made it easier, what with their quick video tutorial and step-by-step instructions.  Time to drag those photos out of the closet and off the shelves.  Happy pinning!

The vintage photo was snapped sometime in the 1920s at Whitcomb Summit, along the Mohawk Trail in Western Massachusetts.

Tree links:  Alice May Goditt is the granddaughter of Mark Goditt and Monique (Minnie) DOUCETTE
                   Eugene Hills is the 5th great grandson of Joseph Hills and Hanna (SMITH) Mellows

Monday, October 24, 2011

Historypin Your Photos

Heard a short feature yesterday on NPR that sounds like the perfect project for genealogists - as if we need another side project.  Historypin is a website where individuals can upload photos taken decades ago and "pin" them, that is electronically superimpose them, on the same location today.  The result is like looking simultaneously at a single location - both then and now.  Check it out.

As I understand it, pinners can post a single photo or a series, add to the number of existing photos at one location or create an entirely new series.  It's particularly handy if the target location is on a streetview of Google Maps, but it isn't absolutely necessary.

When the story aired, there were about 55,000 photos pinned to the Historypin world map.  Within a day that grew to more than 60,000.  Genealogists could multiply that number exponentially.  Have fun with Historypin - a brand new way to share family pictures.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Emerson!

For TRAEA's Grandma, Emerson Herbert Hills, born October 6, 1924, represents the questions, challenges and rewards of genealogy.  In the first place, he was someone who should have been more well known, but for a convergence of unfortunate circumstances.
  • He was an only child; his father was an only child.
  • His parents divorced about the time he graduated from high school.
  • Records of his World War II service in the Army incinerated during the 1973 National Archives building fire in St. Louis.
  • His father never mentioned him in front of a subsequent family.
  • His high school transcript, snippets of Army records and the newspaper report of his death contain most of the written information that apparently exists about him today.
Graduating in June 1943, Emerson enlisted at Fort Devens, the Framingham, MA, reception center for New England draftees.  Initially, he was part of the Army Specialized Training Project at Northeastern University.  He was ultimately assigned as a combat engineer with the 101st Infantry Regiment (26th Infantry Division), the highly esteemed Yankee Division, at Fort Jackson, SC.

In 2007, the Yankee Division Veterans Association reprinted The History of the 26th Yankee Division, 1917 - 1919, 1941 - 1945.  And it is from this detailed account that we follow Emerson to Camp Shanks and to nearby the docks in New York City.  Troop ships assembled there made up "the largest armada ever floated by man," 101 vessels of all varieties.  Leaving New York on August 24, 1944, the ships arrived in northern France about two weeks later on September 7.  In keeping with the questions surrounding this soldier, Transport & Ships for Yankee Division has these ships leaving August 27.  The latter site lists the 101st Infantry Regiment on the Saturnia, a "borrowed" Italian cruise liner.

Once disembarked Yankee Division plunged immediately into the war—booby traps, mines, supply transports, mud, dead comrades, brutal combat—as they made their way through France.

Emerson was killed in action November 9, 1944, just two months after arriving in France.  But in his death lies another question.  The US Army records his death as being in Aachen, Germany.  According to its History, however, the 26th Infantry Division was in combat roughly 100 miles south, near Metz and Nancy.

Emerson's burial site was officially Lorraine, France, today the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial.  About 10 years ago TRAEA's grandma went looking for this soldier's burial site, now under the auspices of the American Battle Monuments Commission.  But Emerson wasn't there.  Today I would go to the US Department of Veterans Affairs gravesite locator.  But then, after months of frustration, I made a phone call — it took just about two minutes before I heard, "We have him here at Arlington."  Now we know that his mother repatriated his remains in 1948 so that today, Emerson Herbert Hills lies near a large tree, surrounded by comrades, with a beautiful view of the Washington Monument.

Emerson's photo arrived by way of Bob, Holly and Margaret.

Tree link: 7th great grandson of Joseph Hills

Sunday, October 2, 2011

And Here We Are

Genealogy in the Hills/Hackett tree grew from an occasional interest to what my family has come to see as an addiction.  Not that I'm an expert, by any means.  But genealogy is a source of enormous pleasure.

Early in this journey, my mom, a Hackett, gently waved a gauntlet by saying, " You won't find anything about your father - he was an only child.  And nobody in my family knows anything." (The emphases were hers.)  More than a decade after her death, countless tidbits of information, a collection of stories and dozens of family names are stashed away in binders, files, books and stray pieces of paper.  She would be astonished and, despite her general aversion to history, fascinated.

This blog is not an attempt to catalogue everyone on the tree.  Besides - some of what I think I know is probably wrong.  Pardon me, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for adapting your quote, but every genealogist understands there are ancestors we know we know, there are ancestors we know we don't know and there are ancestors we don't know that we don't know.

I'll be sharing notes about the people I know that I know, hoping to hear from others about people I know that I don't know and learning about people I never suspected are attached to the Hills/Hackett Tree.  And so, here we are!

Tree links:  7th great granddaughter of Joseph Hills, 2nd great granddaughter of William Hackett