Tuesday, 23 May 2017

You Can’t Keep Everything

There have been many articles and blog posts about preserving memorabilia. I try to read as many as I can find because I have a great deal of “stuff” I’d like to keep and pass along to others who might be interested in having it.

I wrote a while back about preserving pictures in photo albums for future generations by scanning the books and putting the images online (Digitizing Memories). That way, no matter where family members live they will be able to access them and copy them if they wish.

Like all family historians, I have collected birth, marriage and death certificates, wills, census records and other personal documents. I still have all our children’s report cards and many school artwork projects. The school material has also been scanned and is online where our kids and their kids can read them. Many documents were obtained in digital format and are stored on my computer (and saved in the cloud) rather than in hard copy in binders. Bit by bit I am weeding out the paper copies and discarding them – except for the original records handed down from previous generations.

My goal is to lighten the load for future generations by keeping only physical memorabilia – like the cream can and pitch fork that belonged to my grandfather – and official records that were actually owned and used by family members. My children may not have the room (or the interest) to store the material, so I will likely contact an archives office to see if they might be interested in having the documents, antiques and other memorabilia.

I read a recent blog post by Melissa Barker on Geneabloggers of interest (The Archive Lade: Preserving Old Negatives). She described how to preserve the original films. Many of us have these, either in envelopes attached to photo albums or in protective archival sleeves. I still have hundreds of negatives and slides that go back to my school days.
Some of my old negatives
I also have a box of negatives and several loose ones in photo storage sheets for pictures my parents took as far back as the 1920s. My Dad developed most of his own photos, so many of the negatives were still in rolls, tucked away together in boxes.
Some of my Dad's old negatives
The problem, as I found out when I went to have some of them printed again, is that there is no place left that does photofinishing using negatives. They have all gone to digital reproduction. What they will do is scan the negatives and then make prints or give you digital images for you to store. That sounds ok until they give you the price which can be several dollars per picture. For most of us that is totally unrealistic and means the negatives will continue to languish in the boxes they have been in for decades.

I keep all this stuff because, “You never know when you or someone else might want them!” They are still around mostly because they are part of our memories and history and I have a hard time throwing things away.

As much as it pains me, though, negatives and slides are not much good any more unless they can be digitally preserved. And then they really wouldn’t be the actual originals anyway. If the prints from those negatives are properly mounted in albums for people to look at the pages could then be scanned. Then at least you have and can see the documentation of those memories.

My wife keeps telling me, “You can’t keep everything.” That is true but it will likely be someone else who gets rid of it after I’m gone.

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Mothers' Day and Mother's Birthday

This is a special week for our family, with both Mother’s Day and our Mother’s birthday being remembered. In honour of these occasions I am presenting a piece written by my sister that so wonderfully illustrates our feelings about our late Mom.

Mom’s Cook Book
by Janice Ellen Jensen

On May 18, 2017 my mother would have been 100 years old. If we, her family, were to have the good fortune of still having her with us, we would no doubt be planning a celebration to honour such a milestone birthday. But even without the cake and the balloons I will still commemorate the day simply by remembering her and what she meant to me. I don’t really need a landmark occasion to remember her because I think of my Mom often, if not every day.

Today I am looking through her cook book – the Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book. The book was published in 1942 and I can’t help but wonder how she acquired it. Was it a gift from a friend or a family member or did she treat herself and purchase it? The book purports to have “useful information” on everything from table-settings to preserving and indeed it does. It was Mom’s go-to recipe book for most of her baking and family meals. The copy I have is well thumbed and stained from decades of use, but it is not just the recipes in the book that are memorable. It is all the recipes and notes tucked between the pages and written in the margins.
The cover of Mom's Woman's Home Companion Cook Book
There is her expired library card, certainly used to mark a page – most likely for “Hazel’s Pastry” which was written on a blank page. There were two significant Hazels in her life and I wonder which Hazel gave her this great recipe for pie dough.
Hazel's Pastry recipe with Mom's library card used as a page marker
The library card reminds me of the Saturday mornings we went to the Centre Street Library together and how she gave me my love of reading. It was there that she introduced me to Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables and A Girl of the Limberlost, to mention a few notable books. Some of these books remain on my bookshelf today. Over the years we continued to share our love of books and frequently exchanged our latest read.

There are many recipes from Ellen Smith written in the margins of the book – or even on the backs of envelopes – and stored between the pages. Ellen was a close friend of Mom and loved to cook. Mom chose Ellen as my middle name as she was the first to send flowers when I was born. I still have the locket Ellen gave to me when I was born. No doubt Mom made all of Ellen’s recipes at one time or another and tutted that she “just couldn’t make it as well as Ellen.” Along with Ellen’s Buns, Ellen’s Carrot Cake and Ellen’s Light Fruit Cake are recipes from Ada and Dot and Hilda. All were members of the “bridge club.”
Recipe for Ellen's Buns handwritten on the inside cover of Mom's Cook Book
My Mom loved to socialize. The bridge club met every two weeks, at a different member’s home each time; I loved it when they met at our house. Special treats were prepared: finger sandwiches, squares and cookies. Out came the good china and the pretty pickle trays. I was allowed to stay up until all the ladies had arrived. The club was more than a get-together to play cards; it was an evening of special companionship between good friends, filled with laughter and support for each other. I can still remember these ladies and how they each touched my life in some small ways. It was also how I learned from my mother about the value of friendship.

Recipes are not the only things tucked between the pages of this special book; it also has other items that are reminders of my Mom and her life. There is the to-do list of everything she needed to get ready for my trousseau tea and my wedding: what she had to pick up, who to call and what the “schedule” was to get all of these things done. There is a list of friends she could count on to help her get through her tasks – Kay and Elsie and Mrs. Olafson – the mothers of my bridesmaids. Mrs. Pollard was bringing the coffee (4 pounds), the cream (4 pints) and the sugar (5 pounds) and Mom was picking up the flour (92 cents), the nutmeg (23 cents) and the cloves (49 cents). Who knows why she had the prices on the list?

A picture of my Grandma Miller (Mom’s Mom) with a big smile on her face is in the book. According to the note on the back of the picture, it was given to Mom by John Oberg who married Minnie McDaniel who was the daughter of Ike McDaniel. Ike was one of Grandma’s brothers. The picture is dated July 1955 and was likely taken when John and Minnie visited Calgary. (Just a bit of family history information that I found in the cook book!)

There is also a grainy picture of Mom and Dad standing on our front porch ready for winter in their overcoats. Mom’s was green with a Persian lamb collar – I remember it well. It was her “good” coat for many years and most likely purchased at Bay Day – a sale she went to twice a year to take advantage of the bargains. She once bought me a quilted housecoat with matching slippers at one of the sales. It was one of the few ready-made articles of clothing I had as a child and I was thrilled.
Left - Grandma Miller in front of her Calgary home (1955); Right - Mom and Dad in front of their home (about 1957)
Mom was a seamstress; she also knitted, crocheted, tatted and smocked. From her I learned to sew, something which I still love to do today. Often we tag-teamed sewing a dress for a special event – one of us would run the sewing machine, the other would press open the seams and together we could put something together in an afternoon. More important than the garment was the time we spent together.

Aside from the lists, the recipes and the pictures used to mark special recipes in the cookbook (not to mention the recipes cut from newspapers and magazines), there are also a few mystery items. One is an invitation to receive the Research Summary from Faulkner Dawkins and Sullivan, Members of the New York Stock Exchange, Inc. Mom and the stock exchange? That’s hard to imagine. Also a brochure on how to buy a fridge – which seems a little strange since my Dad was an appliance repairman and would have been the more likely expert on the subject.

My copy of the Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book is a treasure itself, not only for its recipes, cooking and hosting tips but because it has survived for 75 years. There is still apparently a demand for used copies in good condition which can be had for from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. Some new copies of the original edition are advertised on Amazon.com for up to US$1,445! Like many of its contemporaries this book was an essential addition to any kitchen in its day. Several editions were published during the 40s and 50s. Mom’s copy is special to me because it contains so many memories of her. There are the recipes for family meals that I recall – the ones where a pound of hamburger could be stretched to feed a family of six, as well as the ones for “special occasions.”

There were many lean years in the 50s and 60s when dollars had to be stretched as far as they could go. Mom was a master economist when it came to putting good food on the table for a minimal amount of cost. She was never afraid to do what needed to be done. Unlike many of my friends’ stay-at-home mothers, Mom went to work when she needed to. There were years when she had a part-time or full-time job, four kids to look after and one or two boarders. She made bagged lunches for everyone; she even made the bread until she discovered she could buy 10 loaves of day-old bread at McGavins for $1. On laundry day, the kitchen was always full of freshly-ironed clothes – no such thing as perma-press in the 50s. Still she made time to bake, sew and take care of her family. She never complained and was always cheerful.

In the few years I spent with her as an adult, I came to appreciate that there had been many tough times she had to go through. We had some heart-to-heart talks about how she coped. She was truly a woman of her times that believed you didn’t burden others with your problems. She “cried her tears into the wash bucket while she scrubbed the floor” – an expression that I think she might actually have meant literally.

As a child, I was blissfully unaware of how hard she worked and how often times must have been difficult for her. She made being a Mom look effortless. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t there for me as a parent, a mentor and a friend. I asked her once how she got through some of the bad times and she told me that she held the belief that “everything would always turn out all right” and most often it did. I believe that was her version of “everything happens for a reason.”

My Mom taught me a lot of things. From her I learned to cook, to sew, to economize and to share. She also taught me to be a strong woman, to cope with adversity, to “accept the good with the bad” and to be accountable for what takes place in my own life. “You reap what you sow!” Most importantly, she taught me how to be a Mom which in my mind is my, and her greatest accomplishment.

"Mom" - Norma Mabel (Miller) Shepheard (1917-1974)

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Missing Parents and Missing Records

As an Online Parish Clerk (OPC) I get a number of requests each year for information about people who lived in one of the parishes I look after. Because I have a large database of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, burials, censuses that span centuries, I can generally put together a reasonable answer about the families in question. It helps to know what documents are available and what are missing; it is also valuable to be able to look at the relationships of family members over several generations.
One recent query involved the birth/baptism of a girl in 1871, in Cornwood parish, Devon. The researcher wanted to know who the mother was for a Clara Jane Greep who he thought was illegitimate and baptized in Cornwood.
1871 baptism record for Clara Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon (Note: all images used courtesy of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)
Little Clara Jane was indeed baptized in Cornwood, on 6 October 1871. She was a base child of Eliza Jane Greep. Nothing else is on the entry that would tell anything about Eliza Jane: how old she was, where she lived or originated, who her parents were or what she did for a living. I looked further into the records and found an Eliza Jane Greep baptized in 1846, in Cornwood, to parents John and Charlotte (Crispin) Greep. Eliza's age in 1871 made it likely she was the mother of Clara Jane. (Just as an aside, Charlotte was my 3rd great-grandaunt making Eliza Jane a 1st cousin, 4X removed and Clara Jane a 2nd cousin, 3X removed. It’s a small world!)
1846 baptism record for Eliza Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon
Now the story gets interesting. Eliza Jane’s family can be found on censuses in 1851 and 1861, living in Cornwood parish. But there was nothing from 1871. What I found out as the OPC, in reviewing and transcribing the census records for the parish was that there were two pages of that census that had not been preserved. And wouldn’t you know, the Greep family was likely recorded on one of those pages.
Skipping along in time, we find John and Charlotte Greep on the 1881 census, living in the same little village of Lutton where they had been since they had married and where their families had also lived. With these two 70-year olds was a nine-year old girl name Clara J. – but no Eliza! Clara was shown as the granddaughter of John and Charlotte.
So what had happened? Had Eliza gone off to work or get married, leaving her child behind with her parents? That was possible and not uncommon for the time.
Eliza was not found on any census past 1861, at least with the name of Greep. There were a few marriage entries for an Eliza Greep and Eliza Jane Greep on FindMyPast – none in or near Cornwood – but they did not seem to fit the right time frame. I looked further in the Cornwood records and found a burial for Eliza Jane Greep, age 26, on 28 August 1872. So, in fact she had died, which explained why I could not find her on the censuses.
1872 burial record for Eliza Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon
Clara Greep was recorded on the 1891 census, working as a domestic servant in Ugborough, a nearby parish. By that time, Charlotte had died and John was still in Lutton, by then a pauper. He died there a few years later.
In 1893, 21-year old Clara Jane Greep married 25-year old Eli Lethbridge in Ivybridge parish, which is next door to Cornwood. Her father is shown as John Greep, labourer. A George Greep was a witness to the ceremony, undoubtedly her uncle.
1893 marriage record for Clara Jane Greep and Eli Lethbridge in Ivybridge parish, Devon
While some information could be found in databases such as FindMyPast, the whole family story would not have become readily clear except for someone like an OPC, who had BMD data covering several generations and in a form that could be reviewed easily and quickly.
Without having the detailed background information of the Cornwood parish records, over several decades, one might miss the connections and not know the proper relationships between all of the Greep family members. In just looking at the marriage record for Clara, we would not have learned that John Greep was by then 83 years old. From that document, but without her baptism and the census records, we might have assumed she really was John’s daughter. We might not have realized that the witness to the marriage, George Greep, was probably her uncle. We might have missed the fact that Clara was orphaned and raised by her grandparents.
Clara and her husband went on to have seven daughters, all born in Ugborough parish. The name Greep lived on as the second name of one of them, although, interestingly, none had the forenames of either her mother or grandmother. She died in 1935.

In this case my knowledge of and immediate access to the records available concerning families in Cornwood over decades helped to find details about Clara Jane.

Have a problem like this? Consult an OPC. If there is not one in the area you are searching, consider becoming one.

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.