Uncovering A Historical Treasure


My cousin is coming down my way to collect some of the family heirlooms. There are marriage certificates, genealogy files and a large box of  letters that are over 100 years old that were sent to my Great grandmother. Apparently she was a “pack rat” or was just extremely sentimental for there are letters from relatives, friends, the Civil War, World War 1, and everything in-between. Tales of the mundane, trips cross country on steam trains, fighting in France and the truly bizarre.

I have been working at cataloging these letters for the past two years but had put them aside for a bit. But because my cousin is coming, I have to get them done in three days. So yesterday, I was scanning and putting up these letters on Ancestry.com when I ran across one dated May 1906. It was from one of my Great grandmother’s best friends who had moved across the country in 1898 to the state of California. In it she describes the HUGE 1906 California Earthquake in which much of San Francisco burned to the ground. She was living about 100 miles away but describes how awful the quake felt as the ground shook.

“Well we are alive and well which is something to be thankful for after such a calamity. The earthquake was severe here and there was much damage in Salinas-but old San Francisco…well it truly makes my heart ache.”

Cora goes on to describe trying to contact her daughters who were living in San Francisco at the time.

“The telephone and telegraph were all down…so there was no way to hear from the girls or get to them. On Saturday at about four we got a letter from them mailed at Stockton. They left the city on Thursday morning-went to Oakland. They were burned out. Lost everything. They only had what they had on their backs when the quake hit.They are thankful to get out alive.”

I love that my great grandmother found such great joy and comfort in the letters she wrote and received. I am also thankful that she saved them for future generations. Due to her example she inspired me to give each of my grandchildren their own letter box. I write them about twice a month telling of family activities, talking about the news and letting them know what I value. All those emails…they will be lost… but the letters I write will always be available to them. I hope they treasure them as much as I enjoy writing them and it is my wish that the “packrat gene” of their Great-great-great Grandmother is lurking somewhere within them!




To My Child’s Teacher-The Hurt In Family Tree Assignments

To My Child’s Teacher:

I wanted to make you aware of something you may not have considered in regards to these “Where I Came From/Family Tree” type of assignments. My daughter does not have a birth picture as most international adoptees do not. This can be very painful to some adoptees when class assignments such as this come around. My daughter was born in Korea where children are adopted in a very legal and orderly manner with children being placed with agencies after birth. Yet, part of her past is missing. And some kids from China are left in public places as it is against the law for parents to abandon a child and in that culture the gender of choice is male. Therefore, often girls are abandoned. In addition, due to the one child policy; abandonment happens to females in high numbers. These children often struggle with the fact that they were “left” somewhere.

In addition, having to include a story of their birth is very difficult because many children who are adopted have no clue about the story of their birth. They can’t say things like my mother ate pickles during pregnancy and cried and cried when I was born. They have no idea of the circumstances of their birth except that in many countires it is one of disgrace and shame. Instead of their birth being a happy time many adoptees feel that it is a time of sorrow where they lost their identity and their heritage.

My daughter cannot answer the questions of the hospital where she was born and who came to see her and how her mother felt. We can answer those questions from when we first saw her picture at three months and when she came home at almost 8 months but this seperates her out from the other kids. In addition, we only encourage her to share what she knows of her birth story with people she wants to and frankly it is not appropriate for just anyone to know nor it is not everyone’s business to know the circumstances of her birth.

These kinds of assignments can be hurtful to adoptees or children who come from “different” families other than a two parent mom and dad type of family. Many kids now come from gay families and may not be comfortable sharing that. Many kids now come from single mother with unknown fathers and may not be comfortable sharing that. Many children come from foster families and had abusive first parents who may have told them over and over things like, “I wish you had not been born.” Many times the birth of a child is not a “happy” time in a family and a child may know that. While the jist of these assignments are made with the noblest of intentions, in reality, these types of assignments are often uncomfortable and hurtful for children not just because they single them out but because their past is full of loss and pain.

Just wanted you to consider this from another point of view.

The Things That We Keep


I lift a battered and worn cigar box out from beneath a massive box of family photos, 150 year-old letters and diaries. It and all the treasures it contains belonged to my G-Grandmother, Eva, born at home in 1873, somewhere in the woods of Ohio. I marvel as I hold in my hands a small remnant of a piece of pink and blue calico cloth; a dried flower; several old cards with cherubs on them; calling cards of long forgotten friends; and a poem written in script so precise that I can actually imagine the school teacher standing over an eight-year-old Eva making sure that each swirl is aligned correctly with the next.

All these precious things still remain while Eva has been gone for almost 75 years. It makes me wonder more about the type of person that Eva was. It makes me question why these cigar box momentos were so special to her? It makes me ask why don’t we tag these love affairs of the heart so the next generation understands what was important and meaningful to us? And it makes me ponder why it is we hold onto the things that we do?

Therapy this week has been tough full of the good and not-so-good. It has left me questioning myself about why I hold onto the things that I do. Why do I take a piece of this from my past and carry it with me while leaving behind a piece of that? Why do I continue to hold onto anger that helped me survive as a 15-year-old runaway but is no longer useful to me today? Why do I choose to stay rather than leave? The answers to some of these questions remain elusive and hidden in the Place of Mysteries that is nestled in my own mind. Yet, I know this much to be true…that the things we hold onto say more about us than our words and that sometimes we need to examine why we hold onto the things we do. Fear, neediness, love….just what is it that drives us to keep things in sacred spaces and at what point are we free to let them go? Are “things” and emotions meant to be forever or do they have expiration dates? Or are these precious items, thoughts and feelings best left to remain in a small battered cigar box for the next generation to find and wonder…why?



Relatives Unknown

Alexander McMullen copy

As a genealogist I find it interesting how we are a snippet of this and a snippet of that from so many of our past relatives. Having taken my DNA and put it on a database (let’s not go there about possible medical consequences…its a blind base) I am constantly finding new people who are in some way related to me. Today another distant cousin narrowed our shared ancestor down to a shared 7th G Grandfather who served in the Revolutionary War. And we each have a small part of him on chromosome 20.

My ancient DNA also surprises me…Siberia for example. And several other well-known ancients.

Recently, I put my children’s DNA into the data base. Because they are adopted they wanted to see if they could locate family and we have. While we will never know how they are related to the matches in the database we do now know of 4th cousins and such even though we will not know what side they come from. For those people who are adopted DNA genealogy is finally a way for them to connect with those who up to know would have been lost to them.

One of my adopted children who was born in Korea found out that he is also 2% Native American and 1% Polynesian. Where does this come from we wonder?  We can only assume it is ancient DNA carried by ancient people as they crossed over now extinct land bridges.

This holiday weekend was spent with my cousin. She brought another big box of family treasures with  her and I am once again scanning all these pictures unto Ancestry.com. A huge find was a tin-type picture of my GG Alexander McMullen. For me it is an amazing find as I had never seen a picture of him before and at this point our tree ends with him.That is him pictured above. He is said to be Scotch-Irish but where the Scotch comes in it seems like I will never know.

That is the beauty of genealogy. It’s a puzzle. And with the addition of one piece it can change the way the entire puzzle is viewed. It mirrors our lives both in looks and in how we perceive things and it is changing every day. That is why I love looking to the past because it influences the future of not only myself but my family as well.


Letter From The Civil War


I have had the honor of transcribing some letters between my GG grandmother and her cousin who was serving in the Civil War. I love this bit of family history and appreciate that I have been entrusted with it. There are mis-spellings and I left them that was intentionally. Cousin Mac who wrote this letter did not survive the war. He died of Typhoid Fever at a hospital in the South. He was a Union solider.

Loudon Tenn

Sunday eve

May 22, 1864

Dear Cousin:

I happen to have nothing else to do this evening so I guess I will write to you, though I think I wrote since I had one from you.

We are once more comfortably located since leaving Knoxville and I think fully as pleasantly possible, at least the boys all think so.  We took possession of some houses left by the 50th Ohio, as they were relieved by us, so we were home at once.

We are near the River-about as far from your house to the bridge. The River is larger here than at Knoxville. It looks about as wide here as the Ohio at Cincinatti, though not near as deep. Our camp is on a kind of neck of land; the River comes in from the south, and then makes a circuit of 7 miles around and comes back within a half mile of where it passes this Camp.  I have a lready had  a couple of rides on it…some of the Plymouth boys had a trout line set- and night before last I helped them take it up. It was a nice night, as the moon shone bright and I tell you we had a good time, we rode some two miles but didn’t get many fish. About all the kind of fish that is caught now is what we call “Sheep Heads”. The “natives” here call them pretty good though.

Of all the homely ill-looking speciments of mankind I ever saw, I beleive Loudon & vicinity can take the lead. If you wanted to see some specimens, you ought  to be here at the Provoost Marshalls Office part of a day. His business is to give passes to loyal citizens, and to soldiers who want to pass the Picket-lines. Anyone can come into town, but all have to get passess to get out again. The Office is generally crowded all day, and you may be sure there are all sizes, kinds, and colors. They are generally ignorant- few can write their names.

Several members of the company came in today, they were left in hospitals in Covington, among them was Isaac Borough & Horace Place. I guess they are the only ones from our town. One of our Lieutents that was in Cincinatti in command of one of the Prisons there, also came with them.

I have heard nothing of our (?) yet. William is still at K, and will take care of it. I presume it has come before this time.

Some way or other I have very poor success in getting letters from home. It has been most three weeks since I had one, and I feel anxious to hear from them.

I send you some verses of a song what has lately come into the company and is very popular just now. I think it is about as good one as I’ve heard for a long time and the tune is so well suited to the words. I wish I could send it just as it sounds when three or four parts are sung and it is so true too. But maybe your know it for I presume some one has it in the town.

Write a soon as you can

Good night

Another Great Love…291 Days To Fix This



One of my absolute favorite ways to pass the time is to steal away into my “time capsule” and visit the lives of my ancestors. I rummage through boxes of old family heirlooms, search on-line for records and read stories concerning the past princes and paupers who were my grandparents as far back as 28 generations ago. Every find is precious to me and every story a best-seller in my mind.

Recently, I have been transcribing letters from my GG Grandmother to her cousin who was serving in the Civil War in 1864. He would write to her and she would reply back and so my family has this treasure trove of correspondence during those very difficult times. In the end, cousin Niles died while serving in the war. Not of a bullet or bayonet but of typhoid fever. Dead at age 24 years. Single. Alone with no wife and no children to mourn his passing. And I would never had known about him if not for these letters. His writings tell much about what kind of person he was and what was of value to him and what got his goat. And as I sift through these letters I have come to realize that things really haven’t changed all that much in the past 151 years. Sure we have electricity, internet and automobiles now but the basics of what we need to sustain our soul are the same.

We all want the basic of better lives for our children. We want food on the table, peace on earth, and someone to enjoy the simple things in life with. We desire to be able to help our neighbor and know there is someone to help us back. We still enjoy a loaf of home-made bread, a good supper of home-grown veggies and a “howdy” from our loved ones so we know they are thinking of us. We still need friends to laugh and cry with, one good listener to tell our troubles to, and some cheap entertainment to make us laugh. Still others look towards something bigger than themselves to help inspire them to do better and offer guidance as to how to life a meaningful life.

Lately, in an effort to put my head in harmony with my soul I have been making many changes. One of the simpler changes I have made in my life is that I am attempting to make the essence of who I am known to my grandchildren. I bought each a fancy box and I am sending genuine hand-written letters to each talking about the day, my hopes and dreams for them and the headlines that fill the airwaves. I want something for them to remember me by. Something personal. Something real. But most of all, I hope they feel my love for them through my words. Because, truly in the end, NOTHING IS REAL BUT LOVE and I want them to have something to show for it, now and in another 151 years.