Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sadness & Loss

The past two months I have attended too many funerals to count. The ages of the deceased spanned from 97 to 57 years of age. Today I attended the funeral of a friend’s husband. It was sad. He lived a beautiful 57 years leaving behind a loving wife, two daughters, a son-in-law and a multitude of adoring friends.

I wander cemeteries looking for ancestors. Their gravestones give me data to begin or confirm my research. What I have not thought about is the sorrow each death brought to their family. Today has been a day to reflect on how loss spans generations.  How did each family handle the loss? What were the customs of the time?

What I do know is that each of us is given life for a defined period of time. We don’t know when our time will end just as our ancestors didn’t know. I am not looking forward to that period of life but hopefully I will handle it with grace. I am thankful for my religious faith for it brings me peace. I trust my ancestors most likely felt the same.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Rich commented on my last post by saying, “It was nice to hear the story again even if it is from a secondary source.”  

It was nice to tell the story again but I mistakenly called Cousin Robbin a secondary source. I just reviewed my genealogy manual and  realized that the information reported to me was secondary information! I need to review my genealogical terms. Oops!

The definition of Secondary Information:
“Statements made by individuals who were not actual participants in an event or did not actually witness an occurrence are classed as secondary information. This category embraces family tradition and local lore…”

Elizabeth Shown Mills, Professional Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001), p 234.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Primary and Secondary Information

Life returns to normal and I return to my genealogy world with time to breathe, think and write!

My last post of December 16, 2011, focused on my Uncle Robert Meyer. I am always struck by coincidences. December 16  marked my uncle’s birth date, the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge and his participation in that battle. December 16 was most certainly a significant date of his life!

Family lore can be very interesting. My uncle was present during the Battle of the Bulge and was a credible witness to the event. He told his story to the males of our family. In turn, I heard the stories from my father, my brother and my husband. Unfortunately, my uncle passed away and I lost my primary informant.

This presented a problem. Initially, I wrote the post by telling the story I had heard from my father, brother and husband. It was a good story! Just prior to posting I gave my cousin, Robbin, a call asking him for details of his father’s war experience.

Robbin became my secondary informant. While he was not present during his father’s war experiences, he did hear the war stories from his father. My secondary informant supplied me with details of his father’s battalion, battles he fought in and the story of the birthday cake. He told the personal side of his father’s war experiences.

Here is the story I heard from my father, my brother and my husband.

On December 16, 1944 my uncle slept on the second floor of a German farmhouse located in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. There was a knock on the farmhouse door. The sleeping soldiers knew Germans were at the door as no American would ever knock. They immediately rose, grabbed their gear and jumped out the second floor window. They ran for their truck, and sped away throwing grenades at the Germans. The Germans had come in the front door as my uncle jumped out the window!

Uncle Bob’s battalion was missing in action. At the end of the war, my uncle was in Austria busy cleaning up pocket of resistance. He continued fighting until someone informed him that the war was over. There was no need to fight any longer.

With his whereabouts unknown my grandmother began writing letters to newspapers and Congressmen asking for help in locating her son. He eventually returned home due to her letter writing campaign!

Please compare this story with my December 16 post. Genealogical research strives to find accurate information from informants who were as close to the event as possible. My cousin, Robbin, provided greater detail of his father’s war experience.

Robbin does not know exactly where his father was sleeping that morning of December 16. While possible, he could not confirm that he slept in a German farmhouse.  The Ardennes Forest is a thick forest and this suggests that he most likely slept in trenches.

My version comes from stories told by my uncle to my father. My father told my brothers and my husband. I heard them but did not pay close attention. With each retelling and my poor listening skills, details may have changed.

My grandmother most likely wrote letters looking for her son’s safe return though I doubt her letters were the sole reason for his return. To my knowledge no letters exist.  Most likely a combination of events occurred both here and in Europe.

With the desire to provide accurate information, I rewrote my post.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Intersections of Life


Robert Helmuth Meyer
December 16, 1920 - October 30, 2011

Today I honor my Uncle Robert Meyer.  He was the third of five sons born to Olga and George Meyer. They were a happy family who weathered the Depression then found themselves facing World War II as many Americans did. Four of the five sons served during World War II.

The Meyer Home
Uncle Bob was a radioman in the 535th AAA Battalion. His battalion was attached to the 99th Infantry Division;  which was a companion to the 101st  Airborne. Wherever the 101st  was, my uncle was not far away.

AAA stands for anti-aircraft and automatic weapons. Uncle Bob’s battalion protected bridges and airfields. He helped defend the famed Remagen Bridge. During the Normandy Invasion, he landed in the first wave on Utah Beach with the job protecting the battleships in the channel.

Intersections of Life: He continued to fight throughout Europe occasionally crossing paths with his brothers. One time my Dad was traveling in a truck when he saw his brother, Bob, sitting in a tree beside the road. Dad quickly jumped out the truck and the lucky brothers were reunited.

Intersections of Life: His path also intersected with older brother, Al. Al drove a tank named “The Destroyer.” One day Uncle Al was sitting in his tank when a guy came up to him and asked him if he had a brother, Bob. Bob and Al were just one mile apart! Al was granted permission to see his brother. Backtracking a mile Uncle Al and Uncle Bob were reunited. I can only imagine how happy they were to see each other.

Intersections of Life: In December 1944 Uncle Bob found himself in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. His birthday was December 16th and had received a birthday cake baked by his mother. There was no time to enjoy if for The Battle of the Bulge had begun. There are stories of Germans using captured jeeps and uniforms to imitate American soldiers. So when the battle began, his first responsibility was to destroy his radio and all papers and abandon that birthday cake.

Uncle Bob was on the front line and stationed in Krinklet, Belgium when the German Panzers rolled over the 99th Infantry. The battalions scattered and the 535th was listed as lost in action for a very long time.

Americans created deep trenches in this heavily wooded forest by bombing the ground. The large holes were cleaned up and topped with tree. A final layer of pine boughs were added creating warm, safe trenches. The Germans bombarded American forces by firing high above the Ardennes Forest. Bombs exploded in the air, tops of trees were blown off and shrapnel rained down on American soldiers. My uncle feared thunderstorms throughout the rest of his life. The rolling of thunder sent him back to the Ardennes Forest.

Back to the birthday cake…. It is said that a high-ranking German official inspected the vacated trenches and found a birthday cake. There are reports that he knew the war was lost. Germans had trouble getting necessary fuel, but an American could receive a birthday cake? I have read comments that the cake came from Iowa or New York. I wonder if that German official came upon my uncle’s cake from Illinois? You never know.

Uncle Bob continued to serve his country now as a MP. He made his way to Austria and then to Paris. World War II officially ended 2 September 1945 and men were beginning to return home. Uncle Bob’s battalion was not rotated home for they were still considered lost in battle. His Captain angrily asked,
“Why aren’t my men going home?” Eventually Uncle Bob returned home. His service to our nation began in October 1942 and ended 6 December 1945 just in time his twenty-fifth birthday!

One Christmas season, Uncle Bob sent his Christmas card making note the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. My husband belongs to an organization that spans the globe and sent my uncle’s Battle of the Bulge story out to membership of the organization. Several members had British roots and responded in thanks for the “Yanks” who bravely defended them. I sent those responses on for Uncle Bob to enjoy. I regret not saving a copy of them for my growing genealogy collection.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Happenings

Christmas 1985 is my most memorable Christmas. My Christmas gift weighed in at 8 pounds, 9 ounces. He was due on December 26th but my gift arrived nine days early on December 16th! We were home from the hospital in plenty of time to celebrate his first Christmas.

His sister took this Polaroid photograph to nursery school and introduced her class to her newest brother. She called him our brown baby.

Jimmy has never felt neglected or short changed with his birthday being so close to Christmas. In fact, he loves it even today! As a child, Jimmy’s excitement level rose dramatically each December. The anticipation of his birthday and Christmas coming within nine days of each other caused our already busy boy to go into hyper speed. Each year I would warn his teachers that educating him might prove challenging during his favorite month of the year.

Christmas would not be present in our home until after his birthday was celebrated. Eventually his disappointment grew and Christmas appeared earlier but always focusing on his special day.

Tomorrow we are celebrating his birthday! We will gather around the dinner table, feast and tell Jimmy stories! I love all my children, but Jimmy will always be my Christmas Gift.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fruitcake: Friend or Foe

I say Foe!

Fruitcake touched my lips once as a child.  Visions of those sticky fruit chunks give me nightmares! Oh how I remember how I had to force myself to finish that one bite. Forty plus years have passed and fruitcake has yet to touch my lips again.

My grandmother was a friend of fruitcake. She would bring the blue tin over each Christmas and relish every bite! I cannot understand why.

I just spent a moment reviewing my fellow bloggers’ opinions of fruitcake and discovered several people who enjoy fruitcake. There appears to be a strong preference for homemade fruitcake and I believe this is where the difference lies.  Prince William and Kate Middleton chose fruitcake for their wedding cake! I am sure their pastry chef created a fruitcake far superior to our blue tin of fruitcake.

Today’s posts have opened my eyes to the possibility of someday giving fruitcake a second chance.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Du Page County Genealogical Society

On Saturday, February 25. 2012, the Du Page County Genealogical Society will host their 37th annual conference at the Hilton Garden Inn, 4070 East Main Street, St. Charles, Illinois. This one-day conference has a tradition of providing excellent educational opportunities for genealogists. Conference information can be found at their web site:

I attended this conference two years ago and had the opportunity to hear Elissa Powell and Philip Colletta, Ph.D. lecture. They are top-notch genealogists! This year’s conference once again is filled with quality speakers: Maureen Brady, Tony Burroughs, Jennifer Holik, Paul Milner, Juliana Smith and Loretto (Lou) Szucs.

I am particularly excited to hear Paul Milner’s lectures. This native of England has an impressive biography. It reports that he is a past president of BIGWILL and currently serves as product review editor of the society’s newsletter; which is of particular interest to me. BIGWILL is an acronym for British Interest Group of Wisconsin and Illinois. It just so happens that I have a Membership Application for BIGWILL sitting on my desk!

My British interests lie in the County of Somerset and am confused with the British jurisdictions. I have learned of the Civil Parish of St. Decumann, The Hundred: Williton and Freemanners, The County of Somerset and the Country of England. Additionally there is a registration district and a sub-registration district both being Williton.
Paul Milner will be speaking about the English Parish Chest. An English Parish can be both ecclesiastical and civil jurisdictions. Records were kept in what is called a Parish Chest. I plan on spending most of the day listening to this gentleman and learning about this Parish Chest and British jurisdictions.

I have heard Tony Burroughs speak on the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He offers insight into finding those surviving records in an interesting and entertaining manner.  

I would love some company at this year’s conference. Please visit the web site and review the program schedule. You might find something of interest. Let me know if you do!


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

 Today’s Advent prompt is Charitable and Volunteer Work. This is an appropriate thought for the day as I prepare to volunteer tutor this afternoon.

I volunteer tutor in an after school reading program that provides one-to-one reading instruction targeted to the specific needs of at risk children in third and fourth grade. The lessons are designed for each individual child by reading specialists. The volunteer tutors attend annual workshops to improve tutoring skills with the hope of shrinking the literary gap for forty at risk children. Our program has been in existence for thirty three years!

First and second grade children attend Tuesdays and Thursdays.Third and fourth grade children attend Monday and Wednesdays. We do not help with homework or work on math skills. The program focuses on the specific reading needs of each child.

Last year, my beautiful student began the year reading at a second grade level. Her reading level dramatically improved and she finished the year at a fifth grade level! This year my student comes from Burma! She is a quick learner and I have big hopes for her success!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Christmas Advent Calendar and Holiday Parties

Sometimes I feel a bit like Scrooge. My tired, worn-out self is usually fighting a cold this time of year. A nap on the sofa and a date with the Hallmark Channel seems much more inviting than a holiday party. I really like the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. They are wholesome movies that always have a happy ending! 

My favorite holiday parties occurred a number of years ago. We used to gather with our dear friends, The Hammans, on Christmas Eve Eve. The Hammans and the Dooleys have a long history. Somehow both our families share the same names: Dave, Linda, Jim, Charlie, variations of the name Chris and Will!

We would celebrate our families’ friendship on Christmas Eve Eve with a dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings. It was not a fancy party, just good food to nourish our bodies and our friendship. That tradition has passed on, but I fondly remember those days!

Merry Christmas,


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Sixth Day of Advent means It Must Be Santa!

 Christmas Wishes circa 1927

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Fifth Day of Advent = Outdoor Lights

Chevy Chase’s antics in the movie Christmas Vacation makes me chuckle every Christmas season! My Dad was our family’s “exterior illumination specialist.” He always did a great job lighting the outside of our home minus Chevy’s antics.

Dad decorated our home with strings of beautiful red, green, yellow and blue colored bulbs. They were the big, old fashioned bulbs not the tiny ones of today. Dad pulled out his trusty ladder and decorated our home in all kinds of weather transforming our little home into something magical. Oh, how we waited in anticipation as he worked away.

As we grew older, kids in the neighborhood changed. They started spoiling Dad’s fun by cutting the strings of lights. Out he marched wondering what on earth happened only to learn the truth. Never fear, out came another string of lights to replace the damaged ones. No one would stop our lamplighter from brightening the Christmas sky!

What better day to pay tribute to my lamplighter, Father! On December 5, 2005, Dad passed quietly away. The Apostle Paul tells us that what we see is temporary and what we don’t see is eternal. God Bless my Father, Marvin Otto Meyer. While I no longer see him in person, his light shines in all whose lives he touched.

With Loving Gratitude,


Friday, December 2, 2011

St. Johannes Cemetery Revisited

My November 7-10, 2011 posts focused on the relocation of St. Johannes Cemetery. Following the November 10, 2011 ceremony of Christian and Millizena Duntemann, I received a phone call from the City of Chicago. They had located another grave. This unmarked grave belonged to Herbert J. Sheldon and I was his closest known relative. Thanks to a plaque on this coffin, his remains could be identified.

Herbert married Eveline Duntemann, granddaughter of Christian and Millizena. Herbert was my great, great uncle. His remains were located in a plot that had belonged to the Franzen Family. This connection seems logical as Eveline’s parents were Frederick Duntemann and Mary Franzen. Today Herbert J. Sheldon was re interred in Eden Memorial Park located at 9851 Irving Park Road, Schiller Park, Illinois. May he rest in peace.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The First Day of Advent = Christmas Trees

Everyone one loves a Christmas tree. I made a quick search of my family photographs and found several Christmas tree photographs. Photos of trees, trees surrounded by gifts and trees surrounded by happy children and gifts seem to cross generations.

I remember my paternal grandmother telling me about Christmas trees of her childhood. Her childhood trees were decorated with homemade ornaments and real candles! The candles would be lit on Christmas morning and her family would enjoy the beautifully lit tree. After a brief look, the candles would then be snuffed out!

My mother remembers Christmas Eve. She and her brother would be tucked snug in their beds. As they slept, her parents would decorate the tree for their Christmas morning surprise!

There are no natural trees in our home. Many years ago, our son had an allergic reaction to our “real” tree. A trip to the pediatrician sold us on the idea of artificial trees.

We enjoy our Christmas tree in much the same manner as parents and grandparents did. Christmas ornaments become treasures handed down from one generation to the next. When my mother passed away, our family gathered and everyone took turns choosing favorite ornaments. We are all happy to have them.

Have a Merry Christmas!