Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Year in Review

My goal for 2019 was to blog twice a week throughout the year. I committed to Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. My second blog of the week would be Sepia Saturday. The good news is I completed the 52 Ancestors challenge. The bad news is I fell short – 5 months-worth – with Sepia Saturday. I had been a devoted participant since November 2011. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that most of my photos and stories have been used already. While I have been known to repeat a story, I don’t like it, so there were many weeks that I just did not even bother trying to join in the fun. But I miss that connection, and I consider my poor participation as my biggest failure in a long time.

Let’s look back using my favorite categories:

Top 5 Blog Posts
(all are from the 52 Ancestors series)

Top 5 Genealogy-Related Activities
  1. As a volunteer for Find-a-Grave, I receive an alert when someone requests a photo of a tombstone in a nearby cemetery. If the stone is in a family plot or if there are other related stones, I take photos of them to post as well. I created several memorials.
  2. Assisting women with their applications to DAR continues to be important to me. I assist with establishing their lineage to a patriot of the Revolutionary War. Our chapter is happy to welcome 5 new members this year. If I hadn’t had blinders on, we could have had 6, but that member will get her national number in January 2020.
  3. I volunteer for one of the indexing projects for DAR. However, I confess that I did not spend as much time on this project as in years past.
  4. When invited by the District 1 Director to serve as the Volunteer Genealogist, I accepted knowing full well it would not require much of my time. And it hasn’t.
  5. Participating in the A-Z April Challenge has helped me catalog family heirlooms so that my daughters will know the stories and value of the STUFF they will inherit one day.

Top 5 Discoveries
  1. The Mathias family has long wondered why their grandfather Russ Kohne was raised by his grandfather Peter Kohne. What became of Russ’s father Lemuel? Just recently, newspapers coming online told the story: Lemuel murdered his neighbor over a boundary line dispute.
  2. Information provided in a memorial on Find-a-Grave proved that the Sarah Herndon buried in Iowa is NOT the Sarah Herndon married to Ezekiel Herndon, my 3X great-grandparents. The date and place of death appearing on countless trees on Ancestry are WRONG.
  3. On a whim, I searched my name in GenealogyBank and found an article about my VERY brief participation in Little Theater. The article revived a memory long forgotten.
  4. I knew my paternal grandfather had done some moonshining in his younger years but I had no clue as to the extent until I found several articles about the trials and convictions.
  5. Just by accident I discovered a fascinating story about the death of a distant cousin’s husband. The news articles are inconclusive about whether he was forcibly pushed or fell from the train during a robbery. The story of the accused, however, is the stuff movies are made of.

Top 5 Best Money Spent
  1. Ancestry
  2. Fold3
  3. GenealogyBank
  4. Newspaper Archive
  5. DAR dues

As I look ahead to 2020, I have set some goals:
  • Continue the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge
  • Get back on track with Sepia Saturday
  • Energize my enthusiasm for genealogy and blogging by joining Amy Johnson Crow’s Generations CafĂ© Circle
  • Commit to viewing more webinars and Facebook Live with Lisa Lisson
  • Stop talking about going to the Library of Virginia and county courthouses and DO IT

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

52 Ancestors - FUTURE and YOU

NOTE: I have combined the last 2 themes of the year into one. Why not?

Spending so much time researching my ancestors and wondering what they were like has made me wonder what people will remember about me after I’m gone. What will they say?

“Dalla was the best. She always played whatever I wanted to play. Sometimes I would be a Super Hero and she would be a witch with a magic wand.”

“We liked to play hide and seek and ‘Boo’ each other.”

“She had cool toys at her house. If I got tired of something, she’d go buy more. She probably had as many toys as I did.”

“She was so talented. She took an old child’s table and chairs and painted them just for me. I still have them. Maybe one day my kids will play with it.”

“Oh yeah. And she painted our moms’ rocking chairs from when they were little. I still have mine. Do you?”

“Remember how Mom would pluck our head with her finger when we didn’t behave?

“Yeah, and remember that time we were fighting and she banged our heads together?”

“Oh, and remember when we went to Italy, she made us go see all those museums? I don’t remember a thing that I saw.”

“I wonder how many times she watched ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and the Jesse Stone movies. And those stupid Hallmark Christmas movies.”

"The Christmas Eve dinner parties - now those were great. She always made them fun with a different theme every year. Remember when we all had to wear Christmas pajamas? And how about the Grinch year and the 1960s theme. Good times."

“I remember whenever I called her and asked what she was doing, she would say, ‘Oh just working on a little genealogy.’ Did she ever finish?”

“Or she’d say she’s working on a blog. Did you ever read her blog?”

“Well, I do like the family genealogy books she made. Maybe one day I’ll get around to reading them.”

“Oh no! Who will be our Registrar now?”
“Oh no! Who is going to do the newsletter now?”


Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 13, 2019

52 Ancestors - TRADITION: Coming and Going

Someone once said that traditions are the stories that families write together. I have been thinking about traditions a lot lately, maybe because of this week’s theme in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. But also I can feel our family changing which means the traditions we have enjoyed so much over the years must change as well.

When I was a child, I could not wait for Christmas day. I was a good child – surely Santa would reward me with lots of toys. And he did – he never failed. Yet I hardly had a chance to enjoy my new dolls and board games because we had to get to my grandparents’ house for lunch and open presents there. Then we were off to visit my parents’ friends and my cousins. More presents. More food wherever we went. It was exhausting. It took years to get out of that tradition.

When my mother took over preparing the Christmas feast, she decided it made more sense to gather on Christmas Eve. Indeed, Christmas day was much more relaxing not just for her but for all of us. When she passed the baton to me in 1997, I continued the tradition of gathering the family on Christmas Eve for a big dinner.

In 2003, the idea of a Christmas pajama party popped into my head, and thus started a tradition that has continued with lots of enthusiasm. Each year, I present a different theme. Sometimes we get all dolled up for parties like the Black & White Party, Las Vegas Night and the Red Carpet. 

Guests walked the Red Carpet
and answered, "WHO are you wearing?"

Other times we have had fun dressing crazy for Ugly Sweater, Red Neck Shindig, Christmas in Whoville, and the 1960s.

Table decorations help carry out the theme as does a signature cocktail.
Grinch Christmas trees, Grinch cookie favors,
and the Grinch color scheme 
Tie-Dye Shooters
perfect pairing with the 1960s theme
Can't have a redneck party without antlers and burlap!

It is a lot of work, but I enjoy it. However, I cannot see my daughters continuing this tradition when it’s their turn.

In fact, they are creating a new tradition. They have outgrown the need to exchange gifts with cousins. Instead, they do a bottle swap. Each person brings a bottle of wine or a craft beer for a “Chinese Gift Exchange.” I love that they enjoy each other’s company enough to find a new tradition that works for them.
Beer or wine, which will it be?

Jordan reading a clue
One tradition that has been the hallmark of our immediate family is attaching clues to our presents to one another instead of signing our names. It started years ago with my mother, weary from signing “Love Momma and Daddy” on countless gift tags. A red, white, and blue skirt and sweater set was signed “From the Patriots.” We thought it was hilarious, and we wanted to do it again. And again. Eventually the clues became more sophisticated. A box of underwear was signed “From Chapmans Seat Covers Company.”  Get it? 

Wendy reading a clue
As everyone quickly caught on to those “obvious” clues, the next level of difficulty required recipients to make logical connections. Consider a gift signed “FBI.” Hmm. FBI--> Undercover agents--> Ah ha – UNDERWEAR!

Oh, but even that is WAY too simple by our standards today. Can you guess what was in the box from these clues?  I’ll start you off with some easy ones:
  1. From Helen speaks
  2. From the Nazis
  3. From the quotable Judy Carne
  4. From Sitting out a year
 I’ll give you a minute to think.

Time’s up.  Here are the answers:
  1. Wawa gift card (reference to Helen Keller’s first spoken words when she finally associated water with fingerspelling – you had to see the movie “The Miracle Worker” to appreciate this clue.)
  2. Brown shirt (reference to the uniforms worn by the paramilitary organization)
  3. Socks (are you old enough to remember “Sock it to me – Sock it to me”?)
  4. Red shirt
This tradition did not make it into one daughter’s family. Why? One practical reason is that she married a man with daughters from a previous marriage. There is no need to impose our tradition on them. Another reason is lack of time.

My husband remarked the other day that when we were dating, what surprised him most about my family’s Christmas was how organized we were. On Christmas morning at his house, wrapping paper just flew as all 8 children madly unwrapped their gifts at the same time. My family took turns. Starting with the youngest and progressing to the oldest, each person got the spotlight while opening gifts. Plus we all enjoyed trying to guess what was in the box based on the clever clues.

Our younger daughter switched it up one Christmas starting a new tradition. She inventoried the packages under the tree and wrote everyone’s name on as many slips of paper as there were gifts for that person. The person who opened a gift drew the name of the next to open. Her reasoning was that way, it wasn’t obvious who got the most gifts. I suspect she always felt sorry for her dad who always received the fewest gifts.

See the shopping bag?
Cocktail shaker was one of many little gifts.
When my sister and I became adults and were on our own, our mother continued being Santa. Our little Christmas stockings were replaced with a big shopping bag. Shopping bag gifts were not necessarily small nor necessarily cheap. The bag would be filled with any variety of goodies from hand lotion to earrings to slippers to kitchen gadgets to underwear to frying pans. Many years we got underwear AND a frying pan.

After our parents passed away, my sister and I decided to continue the Shopping Bag tradition because that was truly our most anticipated gift to open on Christmas morning. What would be in that bag? Some flavored coffee? New gardening gloves? Vintage pillow cases? A bell jar? Maybe underwear and a frying pan.

Changes in our family mean we must adjust our traditions. We can’t all be together in the same room at the same time anymore. A firefighter in the family sometimes works on the holidays. A new wife has a family she wants to see on Christmas morning too. My grandbaboo needs to be at HER house with HER new toys, not hopping from house to house collecting gifts.

This year my sister and I are cutting back on exchanging gifts with husbands and each other’s children. But following the family dinner on Christmas Eve she and I will be exchanging shopping bags filled with odds and ends colorfully wrapped, each with a clue guaranteed to send us into fits of laughter.

Surely we will be reminded of other Christmases with our parents, of the year we sat around talking with a Boston accent, of the year we learned so much about Hitler and the Nazis thanks to the clues, of the year we all bowed to the master of clue-writing and clue-solving, and so many other memories that together are our family’s story.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

52 Ancestors - CRAFT: Retro Candles

The creativity gene is strong on my mother’s side of the family. When it came to sewing, no one was more skilled than my mother. There was not a broken-down piece of furniture that could defeat her effort to restore it.

Suffice it to say that she excelled at the BIG projects that most people will not tackle. LITTLE craft projects were not her thing, but she did produce a few seasonal crafts. In the 1960s, she was a genius when she thought to make Easter egg candles using a real egg shell.
1960s Papier mache rabbit - ooh that bow
Easter Egg candles nested in foil and Easter grass
One Christmas ice candles were all the rage. Using a quart-size milk carton, she filled it with crushed ice and then poured in some melted red wax. When it hardened, she poured off the melted ice and peeled away the carton. Voila – beautiful candle ready for display on a slab of green Styrofoam with a sprig of holly.
Christmas 1964 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Christmas 1964
My favorite photo of me and my sister
That was a humdinger of creativity in the 1960s, but hardly Pinterest-worthy today.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.