Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Rules and the craft

Isn't this a great tattoo design by RageFish21 on DeviantArt? He has some awesome drawings over there. You should check him out when you get a chance.

I titled this post "Rules and the Craft" because it applies in so many situations. The craft could be genealogy, it could be writing, art, music, knitting or crochet, or your hobby of choice. Every St. Patrick's Day, I think about the Irish (not the least because my grandmother believed she was Irish) not because of drinking crappy beer and dressing in green, but because the Irish are a longstanding symbol of rebellion and spirit in the face of untenable circumstances. 

This year I have been thinking of rebellion more often because it seems like there are rules for everything. Rules for how to write (not grammar, but more like "do this" type things), rules for storytelling, rules for how to knit or crochet, rules for how to use Facebook to not become a depressed maniac, etc.  At a certain point, it seems like we live our life within a set of bars and its disturbing how many people just live with that. 

Listening to my favorite album of late by Sia, her song "Elastic Heart" expresses this feeling rather well. Two selves fight each other within her psyche, going in and out of the cage. 

This article and this article have be going around Facebook lately as well as oodles of "instructional" help for everything from how to do one's makeup to how to write a book. 

Everytime I see the posts about how to write a book, I think about how Ernest Hemingway would have reacted to someone telling HIM how to write. Or that he needs to focus on blog headlines. Did he need to follow a series of prompts to write his work? I don't think so.

That's why I write how I write. It's my decision how to write this blog. When I write patterns, I try to be clear and give as much information as possible. When I'm on my blog, when I'm telling a story, I speak in my voice and tell the most organized story that I can. Part of learning to write is to learn that our voice is okay even if we use too many dashes and commas and use the word AND too often. Worrying about all these "rules" leads to a horrible situation: the tyranny of the blank page, the empty needles, the hook without yarn. 

Do you know what my rules for writing are?
1. Start writing.
2. Do it often.
3. Don't tell other people "you're doing it wrong".

And the same thing applies in just about any other craft. There's some guidelines to live between (grammar, stitch names, spelling, paint types) but we should feel more free to do as we can. When you think about how many human beings that are in the world and the unique talents that each of them has, we can let these "rules" go and start enjoying our given talents rather than beating ourselves up about them. There are so many people I know who like to write but are paralyzed with fear because someone told them they should work on their sentence structure or word choice and all they can think about is the "rules" rather than what they want to tell.

To bring this back to the opening, St. Patrick is a great example. His legend is banishing the snakes from Ireland while on a fast. He wasn't thinking about how to kill them, he wasn't thinking about all the rules of snake management or who should be taking care of the problem. He saw a problem, he rebelled against it, and the Irish gave him love in return. That's what it comes down to: you will get a good response from someone somewhere, so you should give your craft of choice a shot! Be a rebel. Start doing something today!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

52in52: Rachel Sipes Graves (1827-?) and Autoimmune Disorders

Home is actually a difficult topic for me. No, not because anything bad happened. But I'm under 40 years old and I've lived in:
-3 cities in Michigan
-3 cities in Indiana
-4 cities in Illinois
-3 cities in Minnesota
-2 cities in New York

That's 15 different places. Which one do I call "home"? My definition of home has become over the years to be wherever I feel a tie to, so that includes .

So when I saw this week's theme of "close to home", my mind did not immediately go to the location based home, but more so the ancestor that has captivated my heart for the longest time, because I think her story hits a connection to me very close to home.

When I started in genealogy, my purpose was two fold: one, it was because my grandmother gave me a list of her siblings and when they were born just before she passed on, and two, because I was diagnosed with type I diabetes at age 10, and the doctors were knee deep in a study that said type I diabetes was strongly inherited, and my family didn't know anything about how deep or shallow the diabetic connection was on either side of the family.

I researched quite a bit on each side of the family but found that the Graves family had a link to many, many autoimmune disorders that were carried down throughout the family. I just kept working back and working back, and finally I stumbled upon Rachel Sipes, who married Enoch Graves. Enoch is a hoot to research on his own (he has three different obituaries under three different names, none of which is Enoch!) but Rachel has really stolen my heart when it comes to research because of this:

1884 Census from the state of Michigan. Enoch and Rachel's family start with line 14. Click it and it will go full page.

"Line 15, Rachel, 56, female, white, wife, married, no, Canada, New York, Canada, House wife, ulcers on legs, no other infirmity, did not attend school within year, can not read or write, 12 years in Michigan"

Did you catch that part about "ulcers on legs"? Her son Hezekiah has the same infirmity. Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, untreated diabetics often died very young, and found their risk of loss of limb, ulcers, gangrene, stroke, heart attack and death were much, much higher than the normal population. I believe this is where the genetic mutations that have started the progression of diabetics, celiacs, sarcoidosis, LCMH, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis, thyroid disorders, and severe psoriasis started. Not having listed these sorts of symptoms on previous records, my conclusion would be that she and her son Hezekiah/Heisikiah had one of these autoimmune conditions that were triggered as she got older.

I've had a lot of experience tracking this woman down. At first, we thought her last name was Shanks. A few hundred documents later, we've pretty much confirmed her name was Sipes. Due to a curious family document, Rachel Shanks was listed with two daughters, Susan and Mary Jane, who were adopted into the family. I had originally thought that she was the Rachael Sipes that married Peter Buckendale the Younger, one of the founding settlers of York, Ontario because she had two daughters listed on the document as . However, that Rachel died young, and the settlers pretty firmly believe that was what happened (though they did admit when I visited that it was possible she just disappeared, never to be found by Peter again).

Susan Buckendale's marriage certificate to James Innis. Is this Rachel my Rachel? 

Rachel captures my heart because of her tie to diabetes in the family, but she's also lived through multiple moves between different cities in Oxford County, Ontario, and Sanilac County, Michigan. And yet she's still a woman of mystery. We can't find a death for her. She's not recorded as being buried next to her daughter Rebecca or her husband in Mt. Zion Cemetery, though there's a disturbing amount of unmarked space around Rebecca's grave.

And then there's this:
"18 November 1846, page 79, Gore District marriage records of Rev. Robert Lindsay, Presbyterian Church: Thomas GRAVES, Waterloo, to Rachel SIPES, Blenheim. Wit: Thomas Linton, M. McRay."
There's two possibilities here: 1. Enoch uses a different name again, just like his obituary and it is their marriage. 2. Thomas is someone else, perhaps a cousin? He dies quickly, and Enoch marries his widow.

In either case, Rachel and Enoch had a prolific marriage that tied them to generations of family in Sanilac County, Michigan, parts of which are still there today.

Rachel and Enoch's children:
Mary Jane Buckendale Graves 1843 –
Susannah Buckendale Graves  1846 –
John Hazelton Graves  1851 – 1927
Hezekiah Graves  1851 – 1898
Marshall Graves  1855 – 1915
Sheldon Hall Graves  1857 – 1930
Daniel James Graves  1858 – 1916
William Graves  1862 –
Douglas Alexander Graves  1863 – 1919
Burley Graves  1864 –
Enoch Graves  1865 – 1935
Rebecca Graves  1866 – 1881
Charles Henry Graves  1871 – 1945

I know its probably a strange view of "close to home" for an ancestor that is still a bit of a mystery and for which I don't have a full picture. Yet she is always "close to home" because she is that ancestor whom I do have a interesting tie and she never fails to lead me to something interesting in my research no matter how many times that I pick her case up and put her back down. I've always got an ear out to see what I can learn about her and her situation in life.

If you want to learn more about the discovery of insulin, I highly recommend Janice Yuwiler's book:
Yuwiler, Janice M. Insulin. Detroit: Lucent Books, 2005. Print. Great Medical Discoveries. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

52in52: John Seals / John Soales / Jan Celes and his daughter Phoebe

Birds Eye  View of Trinity Church from the public domain

Good deeds can be taken several different ways. Great land deeds, heroic feats, or people who do good things. Well, I'm going to take it a different way: a scoundrel's line gets redemption through his deed. I'm sure this story has been told a hundred times before, but it was new to my family. My father's grandmother had no idea that she had Dutch ancestors on her mother's line.

John Seals was born in 1594 in Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, England. Some say Lavenham, Suffolk, England, but its not entirely clear either way which town is correct. I suspect John would enjoy that fact that we cannot find a confirmed place of birth for him! In fact, most of John's early days in Little Waldingfield are unproven, though the family generally accepts that John married Phillip or Phillippa Soales in 1625, and little Phoebe was born first in 1626. They had a second daughter, Sarah, of which it is debated whether or not she died young or was left with a relative in England to live. 

They immigrated to the US in 1630 as a part of the Winthrop fleet, sailing with 1,000 other immigrants (they are listed on the Winthrop Society website as a recognized settler), immigrating to Charlestown in 1630.

This all sounds pretty normal, right? It sounds like a normal family immigrating to a new life of religious freedom. However, John's behavior starts to get him into trouble in Charlestown almost immediately. In 1632, the town records indicate “...the first known thief that was notoriously observed in the country, his name was John Sales who having stolen corn from many people in this scarce time was convicted thereof before the court and openly punished [whipped] and all he had by law condemned and sold to make restitution." Oops...embarrassed (hopefully) John picks up and moves to Boston with Phoebe in 1633.

Except his bad habits get him in trouble again. From the Boston records:

 ”John Sayles (Sales) being convicted of feloniously taking away corn and fish from diverse persons the last year and this, as also clapboards, etc., is censured by the court after this manner: That all his estate shall be forfeited, out of which double restitution shall be made to those whom he hath wronged, shall be whipped, and bound as servant with any that will retain him for 3 years, and after to be disposed of by the Court as they shall think meet. John Sayle is bound with Mr. Coxeshall for 3 years, for which he is to give him 4 pounds per annum; his daughter is also bound with him for 14 years [until she was 21].”

This time he brings Phoebe down with him. He tries to run away in 1634, and is severely whipped, then in 1637, he succeeds in getting away from the Puritans and surfaces in 1638 in New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island with Phoebe. He "Dutchifies" his name to Jan Celes and continues to stir up trouble in New Amsterdam, ranging from wounding the livestock of the neighbors to ordering farm supplies and not paying for them. In 1645, " “who, being wounded and lying sick abed”, Jan Celes writes his will and testament and passes on to the next life. From reading about him, I can only imagine that he must have had some sort of mental illness, illness, or addiction issues to do something like "cut the cow of little Manuel with a chopping knife", for example (from the records of New Amsterdam).

Phoebe, I'm guessing, was irritated by her father and his behavior reflecting on her. In 1637, she is released from her bond to Mr. Coxeshal (from the Boston records):

"In regard Phebe Seales was, by order of Court, put apprentice to John Coggesall, of Boston, merchant, who at this instant request of the Courte, accepted same and for that the said girle hath proved over burthesome to him, the Court, as formerly, so nowe, have thought it is just to ease him of it; and whereas the said girle was put by the said John Cossesall to one John Levins, of Roxbury, to be kept at a certeine [ ], it is now ordered, that M. Debutie, calling to him M Brenton and Will; Parks, chosen by the said 2 parties shall have power to end the difference between the said parties; and disposeing of the said Phebe, as they shall think equall. "

Just two years after coming to New Amsterdam (1640), she marries Teunnis Nyssen and is forever known as "Femmetje Jans", "Phaeba Faelix" (Daughter of Jan and Phebe Seals in the Dutch translation).

Which brings me back to the beginning. Just how did a deed redeem "Old Jan" as he was known? The map above from Early Manhattan History's Tumbler shows the area of the island that John Seals owned. South of number 11 and west of number 9, its not marked on the map, but it was there. John left in his will half his property to Teunis Nyssen and the other half to Maria Roberts. Maria's half was sold when she remarried, but Teunis' property stayed with him until 17 June 1651, when he sold it to Augustyn Heermans. Augustyn then deeded the land to Rutger Jacobsen, who deeded it to Trinity Church. Trinity Church didn't immediately use the land, leasing some to Abraham Mortimer. (from The Iconography of Manhattan Island)

So with one deed, the scoundrel John Seals unwittingly started a chain to one of the oldest and proudest monuments of virtue, piety, and good behavior in the USA, Trinity Church.

For further reading:
-Elder, Barnett, and Related Genealogies: Citations and Will of John Seals (#4614).
-History in the Headlines by the History Channel - contains a lovely 1660 map of New Netherland.

Monday, February 9, 2015

52in52: Sylvanus T Snell and Susan Tunison

This sort of makes me think of genealogy and love at the same time. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

I had to think long and hard about this weeks' theme: LOVE. I thought about writing about my grandfather, who loved love enough to marry ... a lot. I thought about writing about my grandmother, who died when I was a child and I loved dearly. I thought about writing about my grandparents on my dad's side, because they were together through thick and thin. But I came back to this couple, because I've always thought that they were an example of the endurance of love through harsh journeys, separations, and the growth of love through the proliferation of the family and their family legacy.

Sylvanus T (possible Traverse or Travis) Snell was born in 1801 in New York or New Jersey. His son's biography says that he was born in New Jersey, but there was a much larger group of Snell family members in New York, so I would tend to think that his records that say New York are probably more correct. Sylvanus married Susan Tunison sometime between 1820 and 1830, likely in Herkimer or Steuben County, New York. She was born in 1806 in New Jersey, but grew up in upstate New York. My guess is that they were married close to 1830, because their first son, Jacob, was born in 1831 and children came regularly after that - John, in 1833, Sylvanus Jr. in 1835, Elizabeth Ann in 1836, Abigail in 1840, and George A Snell in 1844.

While that paints a picture of a loving family, there's a bit more to the story. Upstate New York was fairly bought up in the 1830s. There wasn't much room for opportunity for a person to become a large landholder and wealthy as per the definition at the time. So in 1836, Sylvanus ventured to Michigan and found a wild and free area of western Michigan and bought 320 acres of land from speculators in the set up Easton Township, Ionia County, Michigan. He then came back to New York, realized their family was in no state to move, and stayed in New York, moving from Herkimer County in 1820 to Steuben County in 1840. Having done daycare myself, I can imagine the horror of trying to visualize moving three children under the age of 5 in 1836 as well as my wife and household!

1840 US Federal Census from Bradford, Steuben Co, New York.

We know that Sylvanus and Susan were still in New York since we have the censuses, but we also know little John Snell passed away in New York, a death unmarked by vital records and gravestones. Yet he remains in the family memory.

By 1849, the couple and their five children moved to Easton, finding the property as wild as when Sylvanus had first seen it in 1836. It was rough and tumble, but Sylvanus made a go of things and he and Susan had a loving home and a family that was well known within the community. Sylvanus and Susan donated land to build Easton Cemetery, forever cementing a legacy. What Sylvanus did NOT count on, however, was that he would pass away just two years after moving his family to Ionia County. On 22 June 1851, Sylvanus died in Easton, Ionia, Michigan. How we know this is through his tombstone in the cemetery on his land donated to the city, because this is before the advent of vital records in Michigan and is therefore not kept in such records as Seeking Michigan, GENDIS, or by Ionia County.

I can only imagine how heartbroken Susan was, a widow at merely 44 years old, already having lost one child, and now left alone with four children to finish raising before sending them off into their own. Jacob Snell, my ancestor, had already moved onto a part of the property gifted to him by his father's estate with his wife Almira Kellogg. Susan kept on, keeping George Snell in school until age 16. Each son received large donations of cash or land from the estate, allowing the family to keep independent in Easton for many years to come.

This 1875 map of Easton Township shows the lands owned by Sylvanus T Snell, Jr., George A Snell, and Jacob Snell as well as Easton Cemetery, all on the original 320 acres purchased by Sylvanus and Susan.

Susan never remarried, moving in as a beloved grandmother and caretaker with her sons (Sylvanus in 1870, and George A in 1880) before passing away in 1884, laid to rest next to Sylvanus in Easton Cemetery:

 Detailed photos of the Snell tombstone by David Alan Snell. I've got similar photos, but his are much easier to read.

Unlike most of my mom's family, this family stayed in one place. Their love shows in their connection to the land. Even though the city of Easton seems to have largely forgotten the legacy of the Snell family (there's not even a record of them at the Ionia County library's genealogy files), the family land is part of a centennial farm in Easton, descended from Sylvanus to Jacob, from Jacob to his son Orson Traverse Snell, and from Orson to his youngest daughter Sylvia Snell Rasmussen, half sister to my 2nd great grandmother, Edna Mae Snell Webber. In 2013, I had the pleasure of visiting the property and you could just feel the love radiating throughout. Over 150 years in the same family. Sylvanus and Susan could not have made a better legacy for the Snell family. I doubt they could have predicted what would happen to them along their marriage, but it made it through, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, and that's why they are the example of love I chose to tell this week.


Photographs of the Snell-Rasmussen family farm and Easton Cemetery are by Concetta Phillipps. Make sure to click to see the larger, more readable versions!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Translating a Crochet Pattern when you're not a translator

Isn't she adorable? I love Hello Kitty and so do many fans throughout the world. I think there's a small army of folks putting out amigurumi, sweaters, granny squares and other such things into the world.

Unfortunately, sometimes they're in a language that we don't speak, read, or understand. This causes many crocheters and knitters to fall into the temper tantrum phase "Why isn't it in English? Why can't everyone write in English?" is a common refrain in online forums and stitching groups. Warning: this may get a little long but its got lots of pictures! :-)

At this point, you have two options:

1. Get a translator. Pay someone, barter with a friend, write to the designer and hope they know someone.
2. Try to translate it yourself. You don't have to do it alone! Let's try to do some together before sending you off on your own.

We're going to use a pattern called "La Petite Sirène Kitty" by Tiamat Creations. You can find the PDF at her website here.

Starting at the beginning, make sure to load up Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/). Make sure the language is set to "Detect Language". If its not, clicking it will activate it. Also make sure the end language is English.) Tiamat's patterns are a good place to start to teach you two things:

1. Google Translate doesn't directly translate PDFs.
2. Google Translate doesn't translate pictures.

Start by typing in the name of the pattern, "La Petite Sirène Kitty". We find out that this is "The Little Mermaid Kitty". Cute!

Now a lot of you have probably said "Great! What's this "fournitures" section?" and went ahead and typed it in exactly as it is on screen.

This is what came out (a portion) when I typed it into Google Translate exactly as it is (with 2 intentional errors). Many people give up at this point and figure that Google Translate just doesn't know what it's talking about. Here's the thing: you need to know a little about how to computer thinks in order to make this work. The translation software looks at the words that are typed into it. So something like a dash could make all the difference. The second is, this is NOT spell check. It's not going to tell you if there's a problem. It *might* tell you if you missed an accent, but more than likely its not going to tell you anything.

When I put a space after each dash and correct my spelling error in aiguille, it magically becomes:

Success! We now have a supply list for what we need for the project (I've not copied everything here, but you can easily type this short list into Translate. You don't even need to worry about the accents.

Wait...but what if you want to do the accents? If you know your alt key codes, go for it! If not, I generally recommend copying and pasting the letters at this website for use in Google Translate.

 So now we're at the part of the pattern that is actually the pattern. The first couple sentences translate easily.
Corps (Body)
faire une boucle, en jaune (do/use the boucle, in yellow)

Go ahead and type into Google translate what the first two lines say. What pops out in English is this:

Kudos to you if you remember what I said earlier about Google Translate reading exactly what words you type into it. That's the problem above - it can't find a word combined with numbers. So I'm going to clean that up and we get this:

Alright, this is looking better! It's starting to resemble crochet instructions. But what does "put your score" mean? And what's "aug"? And why do all the rows end with a number and "m"?

If you're an experienced crocheter, you might have guessed what the "rg 1" "rg 2" "(12 m)" and "(18 m)" mean. Sometimes experience has its benefits! Here we stumble again upon the limits of automatic translation: it doesn't do abbreviations. It has no way of figuring out what the meaning of an abbreviation is.

At this point, you have to find a way to find out what the abbreviation is. Sometimes a pattern will have a key (especially if its from a major publisher). Many independent patterns like this, however, do NOT have a key. So we have to make an assumption that the designer is using a standard language that they know everyone French knows already. We can use this assumption to our advantage and use one of the many published term glossaries that are out there. My favorite is from Garnstudio because I can play with many different ways of listing the translated terms. For example, here's the English to French dictionary. But this is only from UK English to French. If I want to get US English to French, I need to do a little work.


See the en and fr in the link above? If I change en to us I get US English to French. But that's kind of annoying, because I need a French term to go to English. If I tweak the link one more time, I can get a list of French terms in alphabetical order translated into US English:


Isn't that cool? It's very useful for doing patterns in many languages. It will work for any language they offer, including:

So we can scroll down the list and find "aug" means "augmenter" which is "increase" in English. You can then run through the list and fill in the other terms in the Google Translate box. To save us time I'm going to go ahead and write out the lines:

This then gets you, in English:

As you can see now, we've got a perfectly readable pattern, albeit with some stylistic differences from how we normally see it. BUT there's a trick here! In both line 1 and line 3 we have the abbreviation "MS" which means "maille serree". Yet in one line, it is SC and in the other line it is DC. Here's where we find the last fault of Google Translate: it is not going to tell you what's correct, it will only tell you what the most people do. In the US, we would use SC, and in the UK, they would use DC ... FOR THE SAME STITCH. So Google Translate tries to be helpful and tell you both ways that you can translate it.

A savvy stitcher needs to be watchful for these types of "friendly" errors! In this case, Tiamat graciously provides a chart so we can double check and see that with the X symbol on the chart for single crochet, she means do single crochets throughout the pattern.

If you use Google translate to do the rest of the pattern, you can both change this option AND help your fellow stitchers.

If you click on the words, you can see alternate translations for the term that you're selecting. You can then make the correction. If you're like me and a stickler for wording, you can then clean up the English by clicking the "wrong" button and submitting the cleaned up version to the Google Translate database. When you do this, your translation will turn blue, like this:

Now you can continue translating the rest of the pattern. After awhile, you'll get used to what the repeated abbreviations mean and be able to write it out without translating first.

Eventually, you're going to come upon terms that don't translate at all, or terms that aren't in the DROPS dictionary, or a phrase that you don't understand. At that point, you have some options:

1. Try a different term dictionary. Not every dictionary is perfectly, 100% complete. There are always local variations, too, like between Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, or Caribbean French and Canadian French and regular French, etc. Try the String or Nothing dictionary, its quite useful.  Or the Proz site.

2. Try a different online translator. Babelfish translates differently than Google Translate so I use it often to double check troublesome phrases. Sometimes Babelfish can make sense of it due to the way its programmed versus the Google Translate programming.

3. Go for help! The folks at "Excuse Me?" on Ravelry can help with troublesome phrases (just don't ask for the whole pattern to be translated without permission - we're not going to violate anyone's copyright!), networking native speakers with the people who need translation help. Try your Facebook friends. Or sites like Yahoo Answers can network you with people who can help you translate those troublesome phrases.

At this point, you should be ready to crochet. My last piece of advice to you is to have patience! Trying something like this for the first time (and for the tenth time, and the hundredth time...) can reduce your usual stitching confidence level. Errors might happen, typos happen, and design changes can happen along the way as you get used to how the pattern is written and how you liked to stitch. Hopefully you end up with a beautiful mermaid Kitty just like this one by Fredsy.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

52in52: Mary "Polly" Ferguson Graves, b. 1798-1799 Vermont, m. Daniel Graves, d. ???

I was chatting on Facebook with a distant cousin the other day, and I realized I had never fully shared the story of Mary "Polly" Ferguson on this blog or anywhere else. Week 3's theme for 52 ancestors in 52 weeks was "Tough Woman" and I think Polly is the epitome of "tough".

Years and years of family lore and documents from the children of Daniel Graves have listed Mary Ferguson of Vermont as being the wife of Daniel Graves. When I was at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I found the below in their early newspapers collection, from the Bennington, Vermont Bennington News Letter on 6 July 1813. Polly is a common nickname for Mary, so it fit like a glove.

Problem solved, right? WRONG! ;-) This newspaper publishing is the only mention of this marriage. There is no record of it in the town clerk's records, nor in the town's church records, nor in the state of Vermont's vital records.

So I did the logical thing - I hired the local researcher from the museum at Bennington to help me figure out what the heck is going on. Unfortunately, this only added to the mystery:

"Then there an official record of the marriage of Polly Graves and Sebastian Wager on Nov. 18, 1834, signed by the town clerk of Bennington. So, what do you suppose happened to Daniel Graves? There is no death record for him in the Vermont vitals and no burial record in any Bennington cemetery."

I started looking into Polly Graves and Sebastian Wager/Wagar, and realized that this Polly Graves referred to is someone else, Polly Thomas Graves:

(Vermont, Vital Records, 1760-1954," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V894-VFJ ), Polly Wagar, 27 Apr 1866, Death; State Capitol Building, Montpelier; FHL microfilm 27,716.)

So Polly Thomas married a Graves (researchers are currently unsure of who, as of 2012), and then married Sebastian Wagar. So that's a dead end as well.

About this time, I found an 1850 census entry in Gouverneur, St. Lawrence, New York that fit the family well:

(Year: 1850; Census Place: Gouverneur, Saint Lawrence, New York; Roll: M432_589; Page: 192B; Image: 392)
Which clearly show  Polly as alive and well, age 52, born in Vermont with her children John, Justus, Sheldon "Hawley", Hazelton, Lewis, and Betsey (where Enoch, Hezekiah, Rebecca, and Pittman are...well, that's another story).

It was about this same time that I was able to reach Michelle Knoll of Ontario, who has done quite extensive research on the Ferguson family in Vermont. Her research is where I believe we are going to find more information on just who Mary "Polly" Ferguson really is.

As you can see here, Michelle believes that Mary "Polly" Ferguson fits in as the first daughter of Thomas Ferguson and Lydia (possibly Lydia Fraser).

As you can see by the text style, this was some years ago when I contacted Michelle, and I had completely forgotten about her work with this family until I started piecing together Daniel Graves and Mary Ferguson for a week 1 "52 ancestors in 52 weeks" blog. Daniel's going to have to wait, but I think Mary "Polly" Ferguson's story deserves to be told. She's a "tough" woman in that she lived in early Vermont and traveled through Vermont to multiple residences in New York, Ontario, and back again, but also in that what information we have has been pieced together extremely slowly and with a lot of off-line genealogy. This is not an ancestor where you can click twice and have a full ancestral profile!

Mary "Polly" Ferguson's life is not yet complete - we know she was in Bennington, Bennington, Vermont around 1798 through her marriage in 1813, Aurelius, Cayuga, New York in 1820, Auburn, Cayuga, New York in 1830, Lyme, Jefferson, New York in 1840, and Gouverneur, St. Lawrence, New York in 1850. Where she lies today is still a mystery. As I chip away at the years of missing time between when the Graves children leave New York and come to Michigan, I hope to find more about her. For a relative back far in my past with little documentary evidence, she has captured my imagination and I've continued to work on her slowly but surely since I started in genealogy nearly 24 years ago and will continue to work on her as I progress through new records coming online every week.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Buona Epifana e Befana! with regular and gluten free options

La Befana, courtesy of JD Adams

After my last couple columns talking about Christmas, I had an offline conversation with another Italian gal about a curious custom in Italy to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, 12 days after Christmas. As she explained, first La Befana was a witch, just giving children sweet coal if they were naughty and toys and treats if they were good. But then it was taken over by the Christians, and so La Befana, the good witch, became a part of Christ's Epiphany story. 

Epiphany: 5 traditional Italian sweets recipes for la befana coal
(Sweet coal from Flagranta delicia, a unique Epihany treat for the naughty. Gluten free naturally, here's her recipe.)

As such things go, there became a whole event around the introduction of La Befana to the story. She was supposed to be part of the 3 wise men group. She was too busy doing her housework to go, so she told them she would catch them later with the new infant Christ and steered them in the direction to go. Only they went back another way, and they missed her. D'oh! So she spreads her gifts and sweets around to good children (and sweet coal to the bad), hoping to find the Christ child she missed seeing the first time. What I love about this story is that it embodies what the world thought the Italian woman was like. Hardworking. Bossy in a way only a Nonna could be. Generous to a fault. And spreading around tons and tons of sweets! 

Invariably at this point when I start talking about this people at the table go off about one of three things:
1. "You hate Christians, don't you?" No, I just happen to be honest about my family's religious choice. In fact, I rather think the early church leaders were models of efficiency - why not take advantage of already planned festivities and use them to further the goals of the religion?
2. "Why the heck do we need another holiday?" and 3. "Isn't Christmas enough? I don't understand".Well, actually, there's really a smart reasoning to the pair of holidays...

What the problem is that with recycling holidays and adding local legends into them is that invariably, some parts of the tale get mish moshed around. Where most nativity sets include the three wise men, the actuality was that the three wise men didn't arrive until the twelfth night, where Christ was proclaimed him as the son of God. So you can see where people get confused - there really is two separate holidays, one the birth of Christ and the second his proclamation, called the Epiphany. Whether you choose to celebrate them or not, I think they are actually quite effective as a pair, and here's why: 

(a very close relative to Pinza Veneta, from Wikipedia)

In Italy, as I've mentioned, there's the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas, with lots of Christmas sweets. Nougat. Candied fruits. Pandoro. Panettone. Etc. Etc. Etc. It can quite frankly be overwhelming and there can be oodles of food leftover. In the spirit of La Befana, the efficient cleaning housewitch, Epiphany is the time to reuse those leftovers and make them into something new. Pinza Veneta is a good example of that. Old bread lying around? Extra candied fruit? Ground too much corn meal for polenta? Throw that puppy together and make it a sweet new dessert so the kiddos don't get tired of eating it. You can make it with regular bread and flour and even throw some grappa in there for good measure (here's the recipe, scroll down for the English version) but you can also just as easily make this a gluten free delicacy. Alessia Piva's gluten free version is in Italian but if you can't read in the Italian, it translates very well with Google Translate (surprisingly!). So you see - you can overindulge in baking at Christmas, and have a neat holiday with which one can clean up the larder. And the cool part about Epiphany? People go from house to house, helping you clean up your leftovers! It's like an impromptu progressive dinner, without all the organizational pains.

Now, my family lived hundreds of miles away from my Italian grandfather, so I don't know for sure if they ever celebrated this or not (I really need to talk to my aunts and father about that!). But I like to think that my grandfather would totally approve of this holiday, because he was a "waste not, want not" kind of guy. Extra pie filling? Make fruit pancakes the next day. Random mechanical gadget? Weld it to a base and we have a rotating Christmas tree stand. My grandparents' garage was a garden of interesting mechanical and wooden things that my brother and I would sneak into during the summer to find interesting things to play with (and some things that we probably shouldn't have, like Jarts, but we survived, all limbs intact). My sort-of-Irish grandmother loved Christmas and kept it up until mid-January, so they just as easily could have had a nice dinner with the nativity sets and Christmas lights. 

Isn't that a great picture? That's my grandparents from 26 December 1984, in the Lake Orion Review. You can read the full article on page 24 of the edition in iDigOrion, which is like, the best thing ever for Lake Orion researchers! In fact, their Christmas display got even larger after that, with dozens of people visiting and my grandfather starting to put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Desserts for Italians (with gluten free options)

Pandoro cut 01.jpg  

My family is not one that's big on desserts. For whatever reason, we never extended the Christmas traditions beyond pies, and I think birthday cake was as fancy as it got when I was younger. If you were *really* good, you got the German chocolate cake with real coconut in the frosting for your birthday. My mum made a fruitcake for my English grandfather every year, I just don't think we're a "sweet" driven kind of family - there was always more fruit in the house than anything else, and my mum would do wondrous things with vegetables, so I always wanted those first. 

But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good dessert now and then. My husband's ice cream comes first to the list (especially the lemon/vanilla one he did a few years ago). After that, all the desserts I explored with him as we learned about my northern Italian heritage, so I hope you all don't mind indulging me in a roundup of the things I learned about Italian desserts during the holiday season.

When I started dating my husband, we started exploring the Twin Cities and found Cossetta's Restaurant in St. Paul, which became a highlight of some of my most cherished memories of that time period (and some very entertaining ones, too!). Cossetta's introduced me to tiramisu, the first wonderful and remarkably Italian dessert I had ever had, full of rich mascarpone cheese and crunchy ladyfingers. When we walked downstairs into the deli portion of the restaurant, along with the many different kinds of antipasti, pizza doughs, and pastas, we found a new product that I had never seen before, panettone. I bought a small one (I was on a high school's paycheck after all) and tried it at home with my dad. I was hooked! Light, softly flavored sweetness and bits of dried fruit for fun, the panettone was the best version of fruitcake I had ever tasted. When I discovered my celiac disease, well, I had to find a recipe for it that tasted just like I remembered that first time. Nichole from Gluten Free on A Shoestring really delivered (though I changed her fruits to more traditional ones). 

As my husband and I continued to date, got engaged, and eventually married we found other forms of tiramisu that were just as good as Cossetta's, but in different ways. Buca di Beppo's version was delightfully boozy and over the top in flavor. Franchesca's was light and fluffy with a fabulous espresso flavor. I wasn't surprised when Treviso, the province of my grandfather's family in Italy, came out in 2013 and asked for tiramisu to get a Specialità tradizionale garantita status, giving it a heritage dating back to 1970s there. Even in the comments, the ingredients are debated and changed, depending on the family recipe that they were using. So when Udi's Gluten Free winner Bonita came out with a recipe, I didn't hesitate to try it even though it would be different than all of the other tiramisus I remember. Rich and meringue-y, it tastes different than any other version I've had. With my husband no longer drinking, the recipes will morph yet again as we change to a booze-free version of tiramisu. In all honesty, most of the time the booze was not necessary for the dessert - Buca's is really the only one that has done it well. I prefer to think about it as going back to the heritage of the dish, as the story says tiramisu is an after dinner pick-me-up that was invented to help prostitutes get back to work after long Italian meals. 

But when we actually went to Italy for our honeymoon, my world was opened to a whole new set of ideas of what my beloved Italian ancestors would have in their Christmas celebrations. Fresh torrone from the candymaker's stall at the market, stiff and chewy, full of nuts and fruit and all the things that nougat makes better :-) Naturally gluten free, it was one of the first desserts I turned to in order to remember the sweetness of the holiday. Martha Stewart's recipe is pretty decent if you want to try making some of your own, or get some from Cost Plus World Market fresh. It hardens too much if you let it sit too long and then you're liable to crack a tooth on it. 

Pandoro cut 01.jpg

Pandoro was next (the name STILL irritates me as the spelling and grammarian in me wants it to be properly "pan d'oro").Warm, sweet, and bread like, the best part of it in Venice was that they cut squares of it to serve with rich vanilla gelato and sprinkled with spicy cinnamon to create a wonderful sweet and spicy dessert. Pandoro being from Verona I was surprised to see it served there, but true to Venetian style, there was a multitude of desserts from many Italian provinces available. Schar's bread mix makes a wonderful base for this for the gluten free crowd, and their recipe is quite easy to make, Of course, you can't stay mad for long in Venice, because they're already feeding you the next amazing thing. The next item on my dessert list is a uniquely silly and Venetian thing, because only they would think to do something like make a rich creme dessert even richer. I've not found this recipe in the gluten free world yet (though when I have some free time it might be one I develop), but its good for non-gf crowds. Crema fritta all Veneta or Crema fritta alla Venezia. Fried cream. Yep - that's right! Thick curdled cream inside a delightful puff of fried dough and breadcrumbs that you serve with little bowls of more cold cream sweetened with sugar. A ridiculously simple recipe to follow (yes, it is in Italian but its easy to translate) that I'm thinking could be done using King Arthur's gluten free baking flour and any number of breadcrumbs (maybe the Schar variety?). 

panevin treviso bonfires northeast italy

With a little searching in Venice, however, we found the REALLY cool desserts. Pinza Veneta or Pinsa Veneto (depending on who you ask), is traditionally made for the lighting of the Christmas Bonfires around the Venetian province of Veneto, including Vittorio Veneto, where my grandfather's family was from. While not one of the larger fires in the province (the one above is a beautiful one from Arcade, a little over a half hour from Vittorio Veneto), there is still a small one with plenty of pinza and brule (a hot, spicy mulled wine). The panevin, as the fires are known, started out as a pagan tradition on the winter solstice and then later became known as a way to help the three wise men find their way on a cold winter's night to Bethlehem. Grandma Bruna's recipe for pinza is delightful (note: not MY grandma LOL), and Schar comes to my rescue again with a gluten free recipe for pinza (though I would add some cornmeal to it to make it more authentic to what I remember). 

If you are eating la pinza on a plate instead of standing around the panevin, the BEST thing to have with it is a uniquely northern Italian condiment called mostarda. Mostarda comes in a jar that looks like this: 

but its actually better if you make your own, because then it doesn't look like some off colored mustard. Mostarda is a combination of fruits and mustard essence, and its a sweet and spicy condiment that helps clean out the cupboards while making something tasty. This recipe from Food52 makes a lovely version that's simple and requires little work (though a lot of time is involved, most of it is in non-active tasks...). And its naturally gluten free, so of course you can use it on tons of stuff, not just pinza! Pureed up more, its good with a lot of meat dishes, it can be used in the place of cranberry sauce, and its excellent with cheese and crackers. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The battle of the holidays on social media (warning: contains Elf on the Shelf)

(this really cracked me up. I love Grumpy Cat! Photo courtesy of SlapCaption)

With the advent of the season of the holiday, my social media networks across the board explode with people spouting off about the various holidays, presence or lack thereof of religion, and the creepy factor of various holiday traditions. (sorry this gets a wee bit long...)

Case in point: 
Thank you Melissa Hillier for a much cleaner photo of the little Elf than I've seen! 

There's some debate about him. Evil? Not evil? Preparing children for a police state? Creepy? Not creepy? And goodness gracious, the stream of pictures from all the folks that have to move this elf once a day in order to play by the rules of the game as written. (though I do think some of the more adult ones are kind of funny, like this one!)

Here's the thing. When I was young (which was not that long ago!), I was taught that Santa is a representation of the spirit of generosity. He might not be a real person, but as a spirit of generosity he represents the idea that we all should give to one another. I mean, even the bad kids get coal, which can be used to warm one's house, so life is not all bad! 

It was your job to honor the goodness in the world all year long or you would be put on the coal list. There was nothing in these lessons about religion, about all year long stalking, or even a requirement to call him St. Nick and not Santa Claus / Kris Kringle. So you can be Jewish or Muslim or Atheist and still enjoy festivities and just don't bother with the "Christmas" name for the holiday. 

It wasn't until I was older that I even realized that there was a religious component to Christmas in the name and the motivation behind the holiday. As usual, it is because the Christians tried to borrow from various Pagan celebrations in an attempt to gain more converts. Pieces of the holiday belong to the Romans (Saturnalia and Kalends), Druids (mistletoe sacrifice), Norse Mythology (Balder is killed by a mistletoe poisoned arrow while fighting over a female), the Asheira Cult (Christmas trees), German and Celtic pagans (the cult of Nicholas), Asian culture (Nimrod, the fire god, was nicknamed "Santa"), the Irish (the "Yule Lads" left presents and played tricks on people), and even some work in the holiday belongs to marketers (i.e. Coke's depiction of Santa Claus). This muddled mix of sources thrown together into a holiday makes it easy to pick and choose which pieces of the holiday you choose to observe. Celebrate Santa but not poison or Christ's birthday or a celebration of the slaughter of thousands of Jewish people? Absolutely you can! BUT...you can also celebrate Christ's birthday. And you can also sacrifice a goat to Balder or pagan gods. That's the beauty of living in modern culture - unlike the 4th century CE when the Christian church borrowed Saturnalia to form the basis of Christmas, we have CHOICE. 

So getting me back to this little guy:

The tradition of the elves actually starts a LOT later than Christmas itself. It wasn't until the 1800s that the elves of the world were demoted into only existing to help Santa Claus do his work. Prior to this, elves were a sort of fun little creature that could help you or harm you - in Germanic and Scandinavian literature, elves were guards against evil and bringers of light and magic but if they were mistreated or you were a bad person, the elves would play tricks on you. But again, the sources get mixed. In the Netherlands, Santa travels with a sidekick named Zwarte Pieter (Black Peter), and in France, there's Père Fouettard (Father Whip) for Santa's sidekick, both of which are characters of very mixed good and evil. 

The Elf on a Shelf idea sort of brings back that idea of the "little people" or the "Wee folk" that can be good to you if you're good and bad to you if you are bad. And yes, I've always found that idea creepy. That someone or something is watching me 24/7. No person is ever going to be perfectly good 100% of the time - even sleeping people sometimes kick people in bed! So do I find Elf on a Shelf creepy? Yep. I wasn't even surprised when a Washington Post article proclaimed "The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns"

You've probably all already seen the arguments, so I'll skip to the good part - the comments. They are a lively bunch of folks who have a range of opinions, but the most interesting delve into the WHO is buying these things. You see, there's a strong belief that its mostly young mums out there buying these because they want to validate that they are good mothers just like their friends who are posting their "Elf on a Shelf" pictures on social media. It's all a scheme for validation, and in some cases, they even do it after the children are scared off by the "Elf". 

The thing I think young mums are not remembering is that they have a CHOICE. If you are bullied into using "Elf on a Shelf" and its other overpriced products than you are in the same situation people were in the 4th century CE - being told how to behave and how to validate your celebration as legitimate. There are wonderful young mums out there who don't tolerate this nonsense and have great kids. There are wonderful young mums out there who find the whole thing entertaining and do it for fun without the "rules" and involving their children in the process. 

You always have a choice in what you choose to buy and celebrate (unless you're in a totalitarian country like China or North Korea, then...I apologize). Don't let your social media feed bully you into needing validation just like others or trying to argue for "Putting the Christ back in Christmas" or "Banning Happy Holidays" or any other such nonsense.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The cacophony of the holiday sales begins...

(Poor kitty! From Icanhazcheeseburger.com)

Over the weekend, the holiday sales season officially began. I don't even know if we should call it the holiday season any more. By far and away, the amount of people, places and things crying out OMG PLEASE PAY ME was just ridiculous.

Did I indulge? A bit. Much less than other years. Maybe I'm getting more self control as I get older.

Mostly though, its just tiring. Why the heck does everyone need a new tv this time of year? Or yet another crock pot? Do people throw these things away on a monthly basis? I don't understand. I got a couple of movies, and some surprise packages from Julep (my husband would probably argue I do NOT need more nail polish, but...) and a pair of pants I needed to replace one that broke on vacation (duct tape no longer holds the pockets together). Oh, and some patterns (feeding the addiction, lol).

I think most of all, it really just came across as a sea of people, places, and things trying to stimulate buying, and none of it really had the effect that it would have had five years ago, even a year ago! Black Friday sales numbers were down, and I think its because of that reason - a sea of external stimuli with no way to differentiate it. Even most "deals" sites were saying the deals were bleh this year.

I think back upon Thanksgiving 1900 and wonder...what would they have thought of all this nonsense? I think they would have gone crazy from a sea of crazy around them. They wouldn't have known what to do with so many advertising messages blaring at them.

Sorry for the ramblings today but that's where my thoughts have been over the last couple days . This week to come: updates on projects completed!

If you are at your computer hiding from the madness, enjoy this cute puppy video: