Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas One And All

Christmas Day is winding down and time for reflection. Family is a good thing. Family offers support and love. No strings attached; just pure unconditional love.

I presented my first genealogy book as a gift this Christmas. My family was kind. They were quiet and contemplative. I think they were surprised. I hope they enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed its creation. I know, for sure, it has been read by at least one person!

Dick Dollen: The Memoir of an Unknown Uncle.
My brother, Dick, reading about his namesake.

Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Christmas Guest

Christmas is a magical time. So why not wish for a special Christmas guest. If I could invite one ancestor to Christmas dinner, this year I would choose my 3rd great grandmother, Elizabeth Paul, of Curry Mallet, England.

Elizabeth or Betsey was born in 1807 to John Paul and Sarah Mead in Curry Mallet. She married Henry Strong of Saint Decuman’s Parish on 9 May 1829 in Beercrocrombe.

Elizabeth and Henry Strong had three daughters: Sarah Caroline, Emma and Fanny. Following the 1840 death of her husband, Henry, Betsey supported her family by working as a rag sorter. 

At 45 years of age, Elizabeth led her three daughters and mother, Sarah Paul, age 76 to Bristol, England. Together the five women boarded the Shannon and set sail for New York along with 106 other passengers and 12 infants. Elizabeth, Sarah Caroline, Emma and Fanny were officially received into the United States on 12 June 1849. Elizabeth’s mother died aboard ship. What motivated such an adventuresome trip?

The women settled in Skaneateles, New York where Elizabeth married John Willmont.  She lived in Skaneateles for eleven years. Elizabeth Paul Strong Willmont died 23 April 1860. My cousin and I visited her grave at the Lakeview Cemetery in downtown Skaneateles.  I doubt Elizabeth ever considered the idea of great, great, great granddaughters searching for her or visiting her grave. Would she be pleased?

I would love to have Elizabeth sit at my dining table surrounded by seven of her great, great, great granddaughters and serve her Christmas dinner. Conversation would be peppered with unending questions from curious granddaughters. I would particularly watch her reaction when dessert was served. Would she recognize the plum pudding?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Keep on Looking!

My book, Dick Dollen: The Memoir of An Unknown Uncle,  has been sent to the printer and I expect to receive the published books within the next few weeks. I am looking forward to seeing the finished product; the fruit of my labors.

This sleepy Sunday morning began with a cup of coffee and a little computer fun. I quickly went to the Chicago Tribunes archive website and began entering ancestors names. I entered Dick Dollen.

Just when I thought I had found EVERYTHING about my uncle something new popped up and I ask myself, "Why didn't I visit the Tribune archives earlier?" Simply because I didn't know about the Chicago Tribune's free website.

This newest find blew my mind for two big reasons.
1. I just learned something new about my unknown uncle.
2. My book about him is at the printers. There is nothing more I can add to Dick's story.

It appears Dick was going to college! I never knew that bit of Dollen trivia. I sure wish Dick had followed "The Plan." What made Dick change his mind? I suspect Dick's sudden change of heart was due to the death of his father who died seven days after this article appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Tribune Archives,
27 April 1950

Just goes to show you, genealogy research is never finished!


Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Moments That Make A Life

I write from the heart. I write about what I love. My subject must have meaning otherwise why would I bother. Having never written a "genealogy book" I selected a subject that mattered. I chose to write about my mother's brother.

Mom's brother, Dick, died tragically causing immense sorrow for my Mom and Grandmother. Their grief was so strong that Mom and Grandma never spoke about Dick. All I knew was that Dick was in Navy, that he fell from his ship while in dry dock, and died. His death defined his life.

As I researched Dick's life, I began to get an idea of who my uncle was. I came to love him and with that love came grief. It was the first time I really understood my Mom's sorrow.

Mom was a faithful mourner. She mourned every anniversary. One day, years ago, as I spoke with her on the phone, I sensed a sadness. Something was bothering Mom, so I asked her to dinner. We were seated at one of her favorite local restaurants. It was late; about 7:30 when dinner arrived. Mom picked up her fork, about to take her first bite of dinner, when her arm dropped to the table. Her body slumped, she heaved a sigh and said, "My brother died just about now." Tears followed. I now know that the day was 2 October 2007. Mom had received the phone call informing her of her only brother's death. She earnestly mourned him for 57 years and missed him terribly.

Now that is an emotional story and that emotion is exactly what I was including in story! Over and over I wrote emotionally never really liking how the story progressed. I tore up my words countless times.

I finally realized that it was up to my reader to find his or her own emotion. The idea of just telling his story took hold. Nothing more was needed. I began to share, in word, what I had learned through years of study. I began to share the moments that made his life.

Happy Writing!


Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Beginning of My Storytelling Journey

As I talk to my family about our shared history, I must be careful. Too much detail or too long a story causes their eyes to glaze over. Blank looks on my siblings' beautiful faces tells me that I have lost my audience. 

This blog was born out of the desire to tell life stories of my ancestors. The blog is a quick read. My hope was to entice family with snippets that take but a moment out of their busy lives. It worked to a degree.

My latest endeavor was to write a family history. After spending three years researching my uncle's life, I was ready to write and I did. I had something to share.

Writing a family history has been a journey. Originally, I planned to write a proof summary complete with footnotes. This attempt at scholarly writing ended quickly as it was a dry read. If it was dry for me to read, I can only imagine my family's reactions. I quickly threw that idea into the circular file.

Knowing that my audience was my family, I took a turn and began writing a narrative. I wrote, ripped up my story and began again. This happened over and over. Would I ever find a way to tell my story?

I am fortunate to belong to a genealogical society that encourages writing and am a member of one of three writer's groups. I found my voice at one writer's group meeting thanks to Nancy Stein. The way she told a story resonated with me.  I had listened to Nancy and others tell their stories for years and I finally had my "Ah Ha" moment! 

The story I wished to tell was a sad story filled with emotion. I removed my emotion. I removed the desire to elaborate on my step by step research journey. Interesting to me, but not so much to others. I learned to simply tell the story of a life. Once I knew how I wanted to tell my story, it was easy! I began to write in earnest.

My storytelling journey had begun!