Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Bright New Year



Best Wishes for a
Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year
to you, my readers!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Father's Memory of Childhood Christmases


When I was a child I once asked my father about his childhood Christmases. I wanted to know about Santa and Christmas gifts, about food, and about family activities. Dad nearly never talked about his childhood so I didn't push by asking specific questions.

He told me that when he went to bed on Christmas Eve, there was no tree in the house nor any sign of a tree anywhere. On Christmas morning he awoke to a decorated Christmas tree which seemed to have magically appeared.

The only gifts he received were those in his stocking: an orange, some nuts in their shells, a candy cane, and perhaps a small toy.

His Christmases may have been typical of other farm families of the area at that time. Dad was born in 1913 and grew up on a farm in Stoneboro, Pennsylvania. He lived with his father and step-mother. His childhood Christmases may have been sparse but he provided abundant Christmases for his own children.

Merry Christmas to all of you who stop by to read my blog.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Centenary Celebration for Beulah and Gust Doyle

This is the first centenary celebration of a birth or anniversary that I remember since I began working on my family history nearly six years ago. (And I've almost missed posting this one it on the actual day!)

My grandparents, Beulah Mae Gerner and Gust Doyle, were married a hundred years ago today, December 19th, 1911. Their marriage lasted less than two years, ending with Beulah's death after the birth of my father and his twin sister. I never knew either of these grandparents: Beulah died in 1912, Gust in 1933.

I count it a blessing that my father received two of Beulah's rings, the one above and another with an emerald in the center, both given to her by Gust. When I was a child my mother had them in her jewelry box. I loved this ring best. My mother always called it a ruby ring but I've since learned that it is not a real ruby. You can see that one of the small diamonds, if they are diamonds, is missing. Real ruby or not, three diamonds instead of four, I love it no less. The hands of my grandparents touched this ring.

Happy 100th Anniversary, Beulah and Gust!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Did you know...

...that today, December 16, is National Chocolate Coated Anything Day?! I just learned that bit of information a few minutes ago and I'm sad I didn't know it this morning because I would have celebrated. In November and December this year I've been helping the owner of Colonial Candy Shoppe, a store we discovered in 1979 and immediately loved because they sold Ben Heggy's chocolates. I didn't work today but if I had, I certainly would have (unknowingly) celebrated National Chocolate Coated Anything Day by eating a chocolate coated marshmallow, peanuts, cookie, raisins, mint, malt ball, or some other delicious item(s). Some folks advocate celebrating the day by coating non-food items with chocolate. In my opinion that's a complete waste of chocolate (unless, of course, it's the nearly-non-edible, Palmer imitation chocolate).

This may not seem like a family history post but I can turn chocolate toward nearly any topic and it's especially easy to turn it toward family history. I'll share some chocolate memories. I always thought my mother did not like chocolate. Chocolate was visible in our house only on rare occasions:
  1. if someone brought us a box as a gift
  2. when my aunt brought home Heggy's chocolate from her visits to a friend's house
  3. when my mom made chocolate chip cookies or chocolate cake
  4. when my father walked to the drugstore and brought home a bag of chocolate candy bars (which I can remember happening exactly two times); or
  5. if I bought it myself
When I was a kid M&Ms were probably my favorite candy. They cost 69¢/pound. The small bags near the cash registers cost 5¢. My mother dissuaded me from buying the small bags because they were much more expensive, comparatively, than buying a pound. So I saved my allowance of 25¢/week and bought a pound of M&Ms about once a month. If I earned money babysitting or cleaning my aunt's car I could buy a pound more often. Sometimes I ate them from the bag but it was more fun - because of their beautiful colors - to pour them into an open candy dish and take a handful. I especially liked them when they were just slightly warm. Not melted, just not cold. I still like M&Ms, but there are other chocolates I like more these days.

When my mother and I were older, when she was in her 70s or 80s, I learned that she really did like to eat chocolate and realized that she probably just didn't like her children to eat chocolate. Which makes me wonder if she had a secret stash somewhere during my childhood and ate it while I wasn't around. Hmmmm. My oldest daughter didn't know about chocolate until she was 5 or 6 because I kept my chocolate hidden and ate it surreptitiously.

My grandmother sometimes rewarded my good grades or other successes in school with a 6-pack of Hershey bars. I know I could have eaten them all in one day, even when I was six, but I'm sure my grandmother and mom warned me against such piggish behavior. Strange that I only remember receiving them, not eating them.

My brother makes delicious peanut clusters around Christmas time. They are a favorite of many, many people and I think he may make them by the 100-pound batch. Or maybe it's just a 25-pound batch. Whichever, I know he used to make a lot. They are delicious.

Those are my spur-of-the-moment chocolate memories to celebrate National Chocolate Coated Anything Day. Did you celebrate National Chocolate Coated Anything Day? Do you love chocolate? Do you have childhood memories of or family history associated with chocolate?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

His Civil War Pension File Arrived!

I ordered Ellis Bickerstaff's Civil War pension file on December 3. I anticipated a wait of at least a month but those employees at the National Archives are speedy: the file arrived today. All 77 pages of it. I perused it this evening but I won't be able to delve into its contents until after Christmas.

Some initial observations:
  • The handwriting of the doctors who examined Ellis is as illegible as the handwriting of most doctors these days.
  • Ellis had to hire an attorney to help him obtain a pension.
  • He filed for a pension many times over a period of 17 years.
  • The papers are not in chronological order and it's hard to tell which papers belong together. It's obvious from some of the copies that they are fronts and backs, but others aren't so obvious.
  • There was red tape in the late 1800s and early 1900s, too.
  • Ellis lived in at least three different places from 1890 to 1907.
I can hardly wait to dig into this file but circumstances prevent me from doing it now. In January!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Christmas Night all Christians Sing

With the lads of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, I'm singing the "Sussex Carol," also known as "On Christmas Night All Christians Sing." This little choir of less than 30 boys sings so beautifully that they drown out my scratchy, out-of-tune notes, my non-melodic singing.

Again this December footnoteMaven has invited us to Blog Carol. Thank you, fM! Last year was the first time I participated. I hadn't thought about what my favorite carol was; I enjoy all the traditional ones and some of the newer ones. This year I realized that my favorite changes from year to year. The one whose tune dances in my mind or whose lyrics twirl in my brain becomes my favorite.

"The Sussex Carol" may have been composed as early as the late 1600s. Several variations of lyrics have been found. The ones below were collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams probably in the early 1900s. Below the lyrics is a video of the 2008 Choir of King's College singing. That presentation is very good but I enjoy the 1994 Choir video even more because the lads look more angelic, the choir director moves with greater enthusiasm, and there are beautiful views of the cathedral. (Embedding was disabled or I would have included it.) Whichever one you watch, I hope you enjoy.

On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?

When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new-born King.

All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
"Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and for evermore, Amen!"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spritz Cookies for Christmas - Family Recipe Friday

I was invited to an online Christmas cookie exchange by Lynn Palermo of The Armchair Genealogist. Thank you, Lynn. I love cookie exchanges.

I'm bringing Spritz Cookies to share. It simply wouldn't be Christmas at our house without these festive and delicious cookies. They are so delicious and so small and so easy to eat that unless we quickly pack them off to the homes of neighbors and friends they disappear (and reappear around our middles).

My mom first made these 50 or more years ago when she found the recipe in a booklet with her new cookie press. It's her recipe that I still use. It makes many dozen and they are easy and quick to make -- 18 or 24 can fit on a cookie sheet. Because they don't spread much you can place them close together. The hardest part is cutting the cherries (if you choose to use cherries). The second hardest part may be (depending on your cookie press and baking sheet) getting the dough to stick to the sheet when pressing them.

You can make these without a cookie press by making tiny balls about 1/4" in diameter and placing 8 of them in a circle with a hollow center on the cookie sheet. They will bake together and form a cookie. I often have to do that with the last of the dough. It's easier to use a cookie press. You can choose the shape that looks like a flower or any of the other shapes. We think this shape works best because some of the other shapes with narrow parts or sharp angles brown too quickly. I often find cookie presses at our local second hand store for a dollar or two. I buy them whenever I see complete sets because I know my daughters will want to make these when they have families of their own.

When I made these with my mom when I was a child we sometimes colored the dough; or used red hots or nuts in the centers; or put sprinkles on top which looked great when we pressed a Christmas tree (using green dough). But by far our favorite was and still is the cherry in the center.

Here's the recipe:

Cream:
1 cup shortening

Gradually add:
3/4 cup sugar

Add:
1 egg or 3 egg yolks, unbeaten. Beat well.

Sift and add:
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (or almond extract)

Fill a cookie press and press onto ungreased cookie sheet (unless a greased cookie sheet holds them better). [I have no idea why but sometimes it works better one way and not the other.]

Cut maraschino cherries in halves or thirds and place in the center of each cookie.

Bake in 400-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until set but not brown. They'll brown quickly so once you figure out the time to bake them, take them out immediately. In the photo above, the two in the center are about perfect. The ones at the top of the photo are just a tad overdone. Those ones will taste okay but not as good as the ones that aren't brown at the edges.

Enjoy!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Grandfather's Journal: Turning Hearts - a FamilySearch Video


He said, "There's something about the voices down through the ages...." Oh, to have an ancestor's journal to hold in my hands, to read, to meet my ancestor through the pages and "hear" his or her voice!

Do you keep a journal? Your descendants will love you for it if you do!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ordering a Civil War Pension File

I assumed Ellis Bickerstaff, my great-great-grandfather, did not file for a Civil War pension. But after receiving and posting his Civil War Compiled Military Service Records, another blogger encouraged me to check.

I went to FamilySearch's Civil War site which offers various records including Civil War Pension Index Cards. Clicking on the link took me directly to "United States, Civil War and Later Pension Files, 1861-1917" where I was able to type in my great-great-grandfather's name.

I learned that Ellis does, indeed, have a Civil War pension file, or at least he filed an application for a pension. I decided to order the file.

I went to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) site for pre-World War II Veterans' Service Records and moved down to the section "Military Pension/Bounty Land Warrant Applications." I learned that I could order online or download a form and order by mail.

There are several categories of files available. The two that pertained to Ellis were either
1) A complete Civil War and later pension application file (up to 100 pages), based on Federal (not State or Confederate) military service during the Civil War or later (includes the Pension Documents Packet.) NARA calls this file NATF 85D.
or
2) A pension document packet that contains reproductions of eight documents containing genealogical information about the pension applicant, to the extent those documents are present in the file. NARA calls this file NATF 85B.

Which did I want? If I were solely interested in the genealogical information I would probably have chosen the Pension Documents Packet. But since I'm also interested in learning about Ellis' experiences in the war -- and I understand that experiences and injuries are sometimes described in the letters the veteran and his family wrote when filing for a pension -- I decided to order a complete pension application file.

If you are interested in viewing the files available to order along with descriptions, you can find those here. From that site I chose the file I wanted to order, clicked on the link and was taken to a screen that looks like the one at right. (That screen offered the option to view sample images of several kinds of files, including a pension file.)

From there I chose whether to order a paper copy or a CD. It tells me that the order will ship in 42 to 120 days. When I clicked the "Add to Cart" button, I was taken to the User Login Screen. If you've ordered from NARA before, you'll already have a User name and ID; if not, you can create one.

The next screen asked for the information I found at FamilySearch on Ellis' pension index card and some other vital information. NARA has fields for more information than is required. The required information fields are:
» Veteran's First Name
» Veteran's Last Name
» Branch of Service in Which he Served
» Kind of Service (Not Sure, Volunteer, Regular)
» War in Which He Served
» State from Which he Served

If you find that you don't have all the required information when you get to this screen you will be able to save the request and return later to continue the process without having to start from the beginning.

With all the boxes completed it was easy to click and pay (though not easy on my pocketbook!). And now the waiting begins. December's too busy a month for me to count the days but by the middle of January I'll start anticipating the arrival of Ellis Bickerstaff's Civil War pension file. I hope it will be a large file with plenty of information.

I happened upon this NARA video that describes the process of finding, copying, and mailing requests for military records. Considering how many records The National Archives has I will be patient while waiting for Ellis's pension file.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time to Say Thank You

Finding details about my ancestor's service in the Civil War is a new area of research for me. A month or so ago I ordered my great-grandfather Ellis Bickerstaff's C.W. Compiled Military Service Records. After they arrived I posted images of the pages along with some questions.

I wish to thank several helpful bloggers who responded to that post. They left comments with sources and links to sites where I could find information about the 157th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Those very helpful bloggers are
I'm on my way to discovering more about Ellis. I may have eventually happened onto these resources but having them suggested and having links given in the comments has made it so much easier. I'm grateful to fellow bloggers and family historians/genealogists who so willingly offer help and suggestions. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Leah, Heather, Shelley, and Dee.
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