16 December 2009

Dad's Last White Christmas

We grew up with the story of Holiday Inn, the 1942 movie starring Dad's two favorite performers, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The legend was that Dad and his friend Wayne, who had been living in California, grew homesick after hearing the song and hitchhiked back to Sioux City in time to celebrate Christmas in the north. "You just knew when you saw his pipe on top of the piano that they were going to get back together."

Whatever that meant. (We found out years later when the magic of cable television brought Holiday Inn right to our living room.)

There's so much more to the story, but that's for another post.

I want to fast-forward to the Dad's last Christmas in 1983. My daughter Libby's third-grade class performed White Christmas for their school Christmas program. They not only sang but also learned sign language for the lyrics. Mom, Dad and I sat there on short chairs in the auditorium.

In honor of fM's holiday carol blog, and in Dad's memory:

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.

There's never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North—

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.

Irving Berlin

09 December 2009

Christmas with the "Good" Santa at Younkers

I'm still trying to figure out what I was wearing.

19 September 2009

A Festival of Postcards

Here's my submission for the Blog Carnival: A Festival of Postcards.

This is one of my favorite post cards. This is a "Happy New Year" card from Denmark. The coins are embossed with gold.

We found this in a trunk in my grandmother, Bessie Mabel Mathena Johnson's, basement when she died 12 Aug 1976. The trunk held the belongings of Alfred Amfield Johnson's first wife, Minnie (Wilhelmina Christina) Rose. Alfred and Minnie were married on 2 Feb 1912 and Minnie died 3 June 1912.

This post card, and the translation from Danish, led me to identify Minnie's family and filled in some of the questions about Minnie. Until we found the trunk, we did not know that Grandpa Johnson had been married before.


It just never came up.

12 September 2009

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun - Trading Card

Randy Seaver posts a weekly Saturday Night Genealogy Fun activity. Here is my effort for tonight ... a genealogy trading card. What a great idea from that oh-so-creative Genie, Sheri Benfort.

I couldn't make up my mind which one I liked better. You pick your favorite.

04 July 2009

July 4th: When Dad Turned to Crime

Independence Day was my dad's favorite holiday. He LOVED his fireworks. We grew up on the stories he'd tell of legendary trips with his best friend, Wayne, to buy fireworks "When $100 would really buy something," back in the late 40's and 50's. His gaze would turn a bit wistful when he related antics with Cherry Bombs and tin cans.

We lived in Sioux City, Iowa, which is located in that little sticky-out part of northwestern Iowa that borders South Dakota and Nebraska. We could jump in the car and drive about 10 minutes into South Dakota, where firework sales were legal. My brother Steve and I would spend time shooting off Black Cats in the field behind the fireworks stand while dad carefully chose the elements for the neighborhood display.

While purchasing fireworks in South Dakota was legal, transporting them across state lines into Iowa definitely was not. The old blanket that lived in the trunk of Dad's car was used to cover the box of contraband, and we always warned that "Dad could get into a lot of trouble if he gets stopped." I think that meant we were not supposed to hold up signs that read "Help we're being kidnapped" if we saw someone in uniform.

We were always closely supervised when it came to the fireworks. We were allowed to play with those awful smelly snakes that left black marks on the sidewalk; they were legal in Iowa. Sparklers became a family activity when the sun went down. We'd get tiny stings when a stray sparkle would hit our arm. We were taught to be careful with the hot metal wire and never, ever, dropped a wire on the ground. Dad would get a variety of sparkle colors--silver, gold, red, green, blue, and it was fun to see how the wire would bend when we would do whoop-de-dos and circles with the sparklers.

The area fireworks show was at Atokad Park, a greyhound racetrack just over the river into South Dakota. Mom's duty would be to pop a paper grocery sack full of popcorn and pack the mosquito repellent. Dad had a favorite spot bordering a cornfield just outside of the park, and that was our vantage point every year. He'd park the car, take the blanket out of the trunk and put it on the hood of the car. We'd take off our shoes and climb up to claim our spot on the blanket, feeling naughty because car-climbing was on the verboten list any other day of the year. We would lean back against the windshield, munch popcorn and wait impatiently for the first big BOOM that marked the start of the fireworks display.

Each display would be propelled into the night sky. Ooohs and Ahhhs would bubble forth at all the appropriate times. After 20 or 25 minutes, the big finale of multiple displays would fill the sky overhead and a volley of booms would mark the end of the legal fireworks display.

The neighborhood fireworks display was another matter. We lived on a corner that saw very little traffic, so the intersection became Fireworks Central. Beer-wielding adults would pull up lawn chairs to watch the spectacle and thereby became co-conspirators in the crime. Fortunately, we had a friendly group of neighbors and there was little risk of some grouch calling the police.

The bottle rockets, firecrackers, Roman candles, aerial displays would be planned in detail. Spinners were nailed to the telephone pole and showered sparks in the darkness.

The display didn't last long, because in the Sixties, $100 didn't go as far as it used to. Plus Dad wanted to move quickly just in case the police drove by.

Dad's neighborhood fireworks display was something he gave to his friends and family every year but I think he enjoyed it even more than we did. It's a cherished part of growing up and I'll be thinking of him tonight when I hear the first BOOM to mark the 2009 fireworks display.

17 June 2009

Father's Day

I had long suspected that Father’s Day was something of an afterthought, created in response to Mother’s Day. A quick check of Wikipedia supports that. Sonora Smart Dodd, a young mother from Washington, formed the idea for the celebration in 1909 while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon at the Central Methodist Church in Spokane. She felt her father, a widower, deserved recognition for the sacrifices he had made in raising the family of six following her mother’s death.

The idea did not gain instant approval. Whereas Mother’s Day was easily adopted, it took several years – over two decades - for Father’s Day to gain wide acceptance as a celebration. Articles ridiculed and satirized the idea of commemorating Father’s Day. After all, fathers didn’t need flowers, and they certainly didn’t need mushy greeting cards.

Spurred on by support from retailers, the idea eventually caught on and grew to be celebrated in countries around the world. Many countries observe Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June, while others celebrate on other days of the year.

As a native Iowan, I have always been partial to the Kevin Costner movie, “A Field of Dreams.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer by marriage who hears a voice murmuring through the darkness among the corn stalks, urging “If you build it, he will come.” He bulldozes his corn field to make a baseball diamond where old-time ballplayer ghosts appear to relive their past glory. Final moments reveal that one of the baseball players is Ray Kinsella’s father. Ray, who was estranged from his father, has the opportunity to meet his father as just another man. That part always makes me cry.

My father passed away in 1985. I’d like to have an opportunity to sit down with my dad and talk to him as just another person. It’s one of the recurring themes as I work on my family history and discover those things that just never came up. I learned too late that due to his 4-F draft status, my father spent World War II as a dance instructor. (Tough job but someone had to do it.) I never danced with him. And when I think of that, it always makes me cry, too.

As I learn more about the influences on the lives of my parents and grandparents, I have gained insight into the motives and reasons behind the actions they took, the beliefs they held, and the things they said.

Talk to your father this weekend. If you are lucky enough to be able to sit with him in the same room, or listen to his words over the telephone, celebrate and rejoice in that. If you can’t reach out and touch him, or can’t hear his words, you can still feel him in your heart.

Happy Father’s Day


The photo? Taken at my wedding in 1972.

Just Like the Christmas Diary...

...every year I would start with the best of intentions, to faithfully record my most innermost thoughts and dreams on the pages of a carefully selected diary. The pages were white and crisp, smooth, creaseless, unsmudged. I couldn't wait to carefully date the first page and always started with "What I Got for Christmas."

And every year, beginning about January 5, the entries would start to dwindle, getting shorter, less insightful, less neatly written.

And eventually the pages on the diary remained pristine, untouched by pen or pencil.

So goes this blog.

I will do better.

So I promise, my faithful followers.

12 April 2009

The Famous Easter Bunny Cake

It was an annual tradition with Grandma and Grandpa Johnson (Alfred Armfield Johnson and Bessie Mabel Mathena)-- the Easter bunny cake. White 7-minute frosting sprinkled with coconut. Under the frosting was one layer of a white cake, cut in half and stood up on the cut side. Jelly bean eggs scattered around the tin-foil-covered-cardboard-box base. Face made out of more jelly beans and ears cut from some heavy paper and painted white with pink in the middle.

Here's a picture, taken in 1961 in front of our house at 1913 George Street in Sioux City, Iowa. The dress was one of my favorites. It had different shades of orange and red-orange and orange sherbet.

This photo was taken in front of our house at 2127 West Fifth Street in Sioux City, Iowa. Judging by the brown "corral" fence in front of the house on which my brother Steve is perched, I am guessing that this was somewhere around 1963, give or take a year. That's Grandma and Grandpa Johnson (Bessie and A.A. Johnson).

We had bunny cakes every year. I wonder where photos for the other 16 or so years are?

05 April 2009

Saturday Blogger Fun ... My Genealogy Space

Randy Seaver came up with another good Saturday Night Genealogy idea. He inspired me to do something I've meant to do for a while: to take photos of my office, where I do my genealogy work.

Here's my work area. Desk and mobile file cabinet from Ikea. Six-foot table from Office Depot. The shelf unit and printer stands are left over from a desk that I used for over 20 years.

The plastic drawyer units hold the genealogy filing that I need to do. I'll have more time to devote to that these days. There are two clocks on the wall -- Eastern time and Pacific time, from the days when I worked for a company in back east. Zack is perched on the table and Mr. Peavey is stationed on the floor, close to the towel that he snuggles when he sleeps.

The top drawer of the horizontal file cabinet holds my tax and personal files, and the bottom drawer is devoted to family genealogy files.

Here's the other part of my genealogy world. It's a 9-foot, double-sided library bookcase that I picked up in an auction in the mid 90's. It is one of my favorite pieces of furniture. The other side of the shelf holds our DVDs, software packages, and some of our fiction collection. I have several city directories in extra-tall shelves out in the living room.

The genealogy books are on the shelves in the rightmost section. My family notebooks and magazines are in the middle section. Pieter's stuff is in the left hand section.

In the background you'll see some of my '60's rock poster collection, including both original Woodstock posters and a few of my 9 Crosby, Stills and Nash posters.

And yes, that is a monkey wearing a tiara from New Year 2000, sitting on the rocking chair that I sat on when I was a little girl.

21 March 2009

How Many Ways to Spell Fruechtenicht?

John Frederick Fruechtenicht is my father's father's mother's father.

- John Frederick Fruechtenicht
- Mary Louise Fruechtenicht / Wesley Armfield
- Alfred Armfield Johnson
- Lester Johnson
- me

John Frederick was born 10 Feb 1831 in Esens, Ostfriesland, what is now the north coast of Germany. He died 18 Feb 1916 in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa. He married Almuth Maria Juergens, who was born 13 Oct 1833 in Thunum, Oldenburg and died 28 Dec 1903 in LeMars, Plymouth County, Iowa. I have a marriage year of 1858 in Cleveland, Ohio but haven't yet located the documentation on that.

Family lore states that John Frederick was a member of the King's Guard in Hanover and had to flee for his life when his side was defeated in war. The same story says John Frederick had several brothers, all of whom also fled. Family lore says these brothers did not come to America but settled instead in the Dutch East Indies. (I'll be tackling to prove or disprove this family lore as soon as I get a break from planning the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree.)

John Frederick and Almuth were not married when they arrived on 6 Oct 1857 aboard the Clio, which sailed from Bremen to New York. They had adjoining cabins and were the only passengers listed on the ship's manifest. Both were listed using their middle names. Hiding perhaps?

Here is his obituary:

LeMars Sentinel, 22 February 1916. P1 Col 1

John F. Fruechtenicht Succumbs to Long Illness
Lived here Thirty-Five Years

Decedent was a Native of Hanover and Came to America When a Young Man and Lived in Dixon, Illinois Before Coming Here

John F. Fruechtenicht, a pioneer citizen and a well known resident of LeMars for the past thirty-five years, died at St. Vincent's hospital in Sioux City on Friday night. His death was due to cancer, from which he had suffered for the past three years. While getting shaved in a barber shop a barber cut his lip, engendering a small sore, which developed cancer. Mr. Fruechtenicht suffered greatly in his long illness and death came as a relief. The body was brought here Saturday evening.

John Frederick Fruechtenicht was born on February 10, 1831, at Esens, East Friesland, Hanover, Germany, where he spent his boyhood and grew to manhood. In 1857 he came to America and located in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1858 he was united in marriage with Almuth Marie Jurgens, with whom he lived a long and happy wedded life until her death on December 26, 1903.

To their union eight children were born, one of whom, a boy, died in infancy. The children who mourn their father's death are: Mrs. Eliza Lucia of Lyndon, Illinois; Mrs. Len Fritz, Estherville, Iowa; Mrs. Maria Hart, White Lake, South Dakota; Mrs. Emma Schauer, Herndon Kansas; Mrs. Tillie Duerig, Long Pine Nebraska; Will Fruechtenicht, of St. Joseph, Mo., and Otto Fruechtenicht, of Sioux City.

Following their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Fruechtenicht moved to Dixon, Illinois, going there in 1864, where they lived until 1881 when they came to LeMars, which has been the home of the family ever since. Mr. Fruechtenicht was a carpenter by trade and was a skilled mechanic. While in Dixon he became a member of the Masonic fraternity and also the order of Odd Fellows. He was a member of the United Evangelical Church and a regular attendant at services until his health failed.

Mr. Fruechtenicht was well known in a large circle especially among the older residents. He was a good citizen and neighbor and was respected by many.

The funeral services were held yesterday afternoon at the Bosley undertaking parlors, Rev. O. Halsebus, of the Emanuel United Evangelical church officiating; and the remains were laid to rest beside those of his wife in the city cemetery. The sons and daughters came to attend the funeral.

He is buried in LeMars City Cemetery, LeMars, Plymouth County, Iowa. The cemetery headstone has an incorrect spelling of the surname.

I was bored one Labor Day weekend and emailed every Fruechtenicht I could find on the Internet, and I managed to find the genealogist with the Fruechtenict surname study. He was an invaluable connection and was able to provide a wealth of information from Ostfriesland. If you're ever bored and have a unique name, try it out.

Oh, in answer to the question how many ways to spell Fruechtenticht?
...so far...

15 March 2009

Paula's Wordle

This week's Genealogy Fun from Randy Seaver at Genea-musings was to create a Wordle:

Here's your assignment if you want to play:

1) Go to http://www.wordle.net/ and create a Wordle with your surnames in it. As many as you want.

2) Post it on your blog or web page, and/or print it out and hang it on your wall. Show off your prowess!

3) Tell us what you've done - either in Comments to this post or in your own blog. Brag about your creation! If you want me to post it here, send a JPG file to me at rjseaver@cox.net.

4) Can you make something else really creative or pretty? If so, show us.

10 March 2009

Tombstone Tuesday

This is my first Tombstone Tuesday post. I know that most people post headstones of their relatives. I don't know if that's a rule; if it is, I'll conform and do that next week. I hope that I can post some of the memorable headstones that I've found during my cemetery escapades every once in a while.

This is the memorial to Lillian Leitzel (January 2, 1892 – February 15, 1931), a circus performer who worked high atop on the rings. She was famous for one-armed swings. Her husband was Alfredo Cordoba, of the trapeze family. Lillian died in Copenhagen, Denmark, when a ring broke and she fell. This monument in Inglewood Park in Los Angeles County was erected by Alfredo in memory to his wife. Other members of the Cordoba family are buried in this plot, and plaques mark their resting places.

It is thought that the angel was created in Alfredo's likeness. Alfredo eventually retired and worked in the film industry on Tarzan films, among others. He remarried and tragically murdered his soon-to-be-ex-wife in her lawyer's office before turning the gun on himself.

Notice the detail of the broken ring?

09 March 2009

Smile for the Camera - Brother and Sister

This photo of my brother, Steve, and me was taken somewhere around 1960. Steve and I fought constantly and even broke a couple of doors when we were older. The good news is that we both grew up to be buds.

I was certainly expressing my older sisterly disdain at the moment the photographer snapped this shot. What I can't figure out is why Mom and Dad chose this pose to have printed.

This may have been my first recorded eyeroll.

08 March 2009

Randy Seaver's True Confessions Challenge

As part of Randy Seaver’s usual Saturday Night Fun feature at Genea-Musings, this week he is asking fellow geneabloggers to unload and confess in True Confessions of a Genealogy Junkie

Randy challenged us to answer the following questions:

1. When did you start doing genealogy research?

I still have my Girl Scout sash, displaying the badge for genealogy that I probably earned in the early '60s. I remember my grandmother's handwritten notes that I used to put the family history together. I wish I still had those notes. I always intended to get back to it researching my family someday. I came close in 1995 when I asked my cousin "Is there anything else I should know?" (For the record, this is a question that you want to ask only if you are ready to deal with the response.) But I took the big leap on Monday, May 6, 2002 at about 11:00 a.m.

2. Why did you start doing research?

That Monday in May, I literally had nothing else to do (other than laundry, housekeeping, etc. but do those count, really?). It was the day after I finished an all-consuming consulting assignment. I had no other clients lined up but that was okay because I'd stashed away a nice bankroll from the project. I was mentally and physically exhausted after putting in two weeks of 18-hour days. I opened an email from Earthlink.net offering a two-week free trial to Ancestry.com. I signed up.

3. What was your first big success in research?

The first time I signed on to Ancestry.com, I just picked the only person I could think of -- my paternal grandmother. I found her right away (with wrong information listed in Ancestry Family Trees, of course) but it was definitely Bessie Mabel Mathena.

I saw a link to "...father of..." and clicked it.
Howard Jackson James Mathena.
I saw a link to "...father of..." and clicked it.
Lewis James Mathena.
"...father of..."
John Wilson Mathena.
"...father of..."
"...father of..."
And within a half hour I was back to medieval times, chevaliers in France, the keepers of the King's bread, fortunes held and lost.
Of course, none of it was my research and I had no proof.
But I was hooked.

4. What is your biggest genealogy regret?

There are several. I started too late to ask questions of my grandparents. I didn't keep track of my research sources. I let myself get distracted and pursued tangential lines. Fascinating ones, to be sure. I had a great time learning about the distant relative who help open the Oregon Trail and carried flax seeds in her pocket to found the flax crop there. I read, astounded and admittedly uncomfortable, about another distant relative who was one of the most successful slave traders in the 1830's.

5. What are you best known for in the genealogy world?

Probably as one of the chairs of the 40th Annual Genealogy Jamboree, sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society. I LOVE the job of Jamboree co-chair and cherish the friendships and knowledge that it has brought me. If you Google me, you'll also find lots of lookups and over 16,000 gravestone photos posted on FindAGrave.

6. What is your professional status in genealogy?

Meeting planner. Not certified, or accredited, toying with the idea. Since I just lost my day job as a marketing researcher, I am trying to find a business model that will allow me to provide genealogy-related services starting in July after Jamboree is over for the year. I do free lookups for friends and colleagues.

7. What is your biggest genealogy achievement?

Not the biggest maybe, but the most personally rewarding and, coincidentally, one of the things that "Just Never Came Up." It involved my mother's grandfather, German immigrant Valentine Dinkel. A cousin called on February 14 (Valentine's Day of course) and disclosed the family secret that 66-year-old Valentine had fathered a child with his 17-year-old ward, Cynthia Shaw. In 2005, we tracked down the daughter, Dorothy, found her, and got in touch with her. She still carried with her the letter that she received following Valentine's death, describing the last words he uttered just before he died. She described that her birth certificate was printed on different paper stock because she was illigimate. And she thanked us for giving her the family that she had yearned for all her life. She died last August.

8. What is the most FUN you’ve had doing genealogy?

Jamboree, without a doubt. I've also had great fun collaborating with cousins and helping others find their missing relatives. Then there was that time I took a step backwards into mid-air at Forest Lawn and finding myself rolling 20+ feet down the hill. That was fun in a twisted way.

9. What is your favorite genealogy how-to book?

Today, I'm grooving on Dan Lynch's Google Your Family Tree and anxiously awaiting the new edition of George Morgan's How to do Everything with Your Genealogy which will be out in March. I haven't done much research on my family lately due to time constraints, but I'm looking forward to doing that and vow to go back and reconstruct my citations, so Evidence Explained will be my new best friend.

10. What notable genealogist would you like to meet someday?

That's a very hard question. I have been so incredibly lucky meeting the professionals who have passed through Jamboree's doors.

It Just Never Came Up

It Just Never Came Up. It should be our family motto. Someday I'll design a family crest with the words in reverent Latin, artfully sculpted in some fancy font, surrounding a caricature of a "speak no evil" monkey that bears a vague resemblance to Grandpa Johnson. You'll meet Grandpa soon.

But for now, I'll use this as an outlet to record bits of family history and personal blogging notes. I hope you'll stop by once in a while.