Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Like father, Like daughter

Like Father...
Like Daughter...

The lovely giant foot is from the remains of a giant statue of Constantine the Great and resides in the courtyard of the Musei Capitoline, Rome, Italy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Military Monday - Determining Civil War pensions

Last week I wrote about receiving the Civil War pension document for my GGG Grandfather, Joseph Creed. Nancy, of My Ancestors and Me, brought up a good discussion point: Could the date of filing for the pension, 1915, really be right? That led me to wonder what the process was for determining pension benefits for Civil War Soldiers.

According to a history of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, following the Civil War pensions were only authorized to Soldiers that were discharged due to an illness or injury. Then in 1890, The Dependent Pension Act of 1890 broadened the requirements for pension to include a veteran that had served more than 3 months and was unable to conduct manual labor due to their service-related injuries or illnesses. It stated the following:

"That all persons who served ninety days or more in the military or naval service of the United States during the late war of the rebellion and who have been honorably discharged therefrom, and who are now or who may hereafter be suffering from a mental or physical disability of a permanent character, not the result of their own vicious habits, which incapacitates them from the performance of manual labor in such a degree as to render them unable to earn a support, shall, upon making due proof of the fact according to such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Interior may provide, be placed upon the list of invalid pensioners of the United States, and be entitled to receive a pension not exceeding twelve dollars per month, and not less than six dollars per month, proportioned to the degree of inability to earn a support; and such pension shall commence from the date of the filing of the application in the Pension Office after the passage of this act, upon proof that the disability then existed, and shall continue during the existence of the same."

Spouses, dependent children and dependent parents were also allowed to file for the pension. In three years the number of Civil War pensioners rose by 500,000 and the total pay-out amount doubled. The Sherwood Act of 1912 broadened the scope for pensions once again, allowing all Union Soldiers a pension at age 62 regardless of any notable disability. Note that Confederate Soldiers were not authorized a federal pension, but would have instead filed for a pension within the state they lived in. These pensions were often only for indigent or disabled Soldiers.

Glasson, William Henry. History of military pension legislation in the United States, Columbia University, 1900, pg. 114
Confederate Pension Records, The National Archives, December 12, 2007

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and happy new year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Eve

Today I am thinking of a good friend that can't be with her family this Christmas. She is serving her country in Afghanistan, a tour that she volunteered for. Christmas will be just another day at the office this year. Thank you, Wendy, for your service. I'm so glad that I got an opportunity to call you boss and now friend! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Music

As I've mentioned before I love Christmas music. One of my favorite Christmas songs is "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day." Originally a poem written in December 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called Christmas Bells, it is the release of personal tragedy and hard times as only a poet can write.

Longfellow had lost his wife in 1861 after her clothing caught on fire while lighting a candle. The family was in the midst of the Civil War and Longfellow was dealing with the realities of raising a family as a single parent. On top of all this his son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, ran away to enlist in the Union Army in March 1863.
Lieutenant Charles Appleton Longfellow, Co. G, 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment 
Lt. Longfellow was severely injured November 27, 1863 at the battle of New Hope Church, Virginia. His father learned of his wound when a journalist found Lt. Longsfellow and cabled the poet to tell him it was a grievous wound. Longfellow and his son Ernest Wadsworth traveled to Washington, D.C. to find him, spending several days in a search for him not knowing if they would find him alive or dead. After some time they did find Lt. Longsfellow and were able to bring him home to recover. The torment of the loss of his wife, the Civil War and fears for his son come through his poetic words, especially in the sixth stanza.
Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead ; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

The poem was set to music sometime after 1872 by John Baptise Calkin with later versions by Joseph Mainzer and Johnny Marks. The fourth and fifth stanzas, those that speak directly about the Civil War, are no longer heard in popular renditions of the song.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Holiday Shopping at the Small Mall

My very first job was as an elf at the Small Mall in Antioch Center, a mall in Kansas City, Missouri. The mall was north of the river and was only a few blocks from my house. I don't even know if I could drive that first year. I was even surprised to have gotten the job, but perhaps it helped that several of my friends had already secured a spot and put in a good word.

The Small Mall was a special shopping area built in the middle of the mall's main aisle, made to look like Santa's workshop. Children were allowed to go shopping in the Small Mall, without their parents, to buy small gifts for family members. They entered on one end with a money and a list (made with the help of mom and dad) of who they needed to shop for. As an elf, it was my job to help them determine what they could afford and ensure they got something for everyone on their list. The gifts were all inexpensive, usually plastic animals, picture frames, etc. But the children loved being "grown-up" and doing shopping by themselves. I distinctly remember trying to convince one young shopper that all her recipients would not enjoy small plastic rats, to no avail. After they made their purchases, each one was wrapped in brown lunch bags and they met their parents on the other side.

At the time, I don't think I realized how cool the concept was. Now that I'm a parent I really wish something like my Small Mall still existed. What a great way to teach a child about giving...even if it is just a rat.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Grab bag - Advent Calendars

My family has always used advent calendars to count down the days to Christmas. As I have mentioned before, my mother worked at Hallmark Cards for many years and our first advent calendars came from there. The early ones were simple paper calendars like this lovely number (which can be bought on eBay I might add):
Some years school fundraisers would offer the advent calendars with chocolate, but I always thought the chocolate tasted a little sketchy, so I wasn't a big fan of those.

When we moved to Germany in 2005 the tradition of the chocolate advent calendar came back around, but with sketchy chocolate removed...somehow their chocolate tasted better.
This is an advent calendar that we bought in Germany and carried with us from there to Kansas City for the holidays. We couldn't miss any days of chocolate!

Now we have added our children in the spirit. Here is our current advent calendar, which is even more sweet as you can put chocolate or small toys in each door. The first thing my son asks me every morning is if he can "do the train."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas at School

In my family, Christmas at school meant music. Choir and orchestra filled our days throughout our school years. If I wasn't going to my own concerts, I was heading to my brother's.

My favorite school Christmas memories come from show choir. The Harmonaires, a show choir at North Kansas City High School in North Kansas City, Missouri, sang Christmas music the entire month of December. Not only did the choir sing at the annual Christmas concert, but small groups also sang Christmas carols for local Christmas parties as a fund raiser. There is something about Christmas carols in four-part harmony that makes the season even brighter.
I vividly remember the fear I felt when at one such fundraising carol-singing session, my director, Jerry Carpenter, made me sing a solo. It was one of the only times I have ever sung on my own (I was born to be a back-up singer). I can't remember the song now...but it was one with an interesting Alto part, because I sang it as an Alto. My junior year I missed all of the caroling sessions because I had the chicken pox. Sweet.

Christmas choir concerts were so much fun. There were always some traditional Christmas classics and then some wacky songs as well.
Harmonaires singing Fruitcake in 1992 (I think).
How many choir geeks have awful photos like this, I ask. Regardless, this is a photo of the Harmonaires singing the song Fruitcake, arranged by Philip Hagemann & Penny Leka. It's a song about the different ingredients of a fruitcake, but with the proper inflections here and's a riot!
This song has a long tradition at our school. I'm not sure when it started, but my brother sang it in the late 80s, I sang it 1993 or 1994 and they are still singing it today. Luckily Unfortunately, I don't have any video proof my year singing the song, but here is a taste of a more current year (2010).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What has happened to German culture in America?

I must first apologize for the following rant, bear with me...

As I flipped through channels on my TV tonight, I came across a show on The Cooking Channel regarding Italian Christmas traditions across America: An Italian Christmas with Mario and Giada, featuring chefs Mario Batali and Giada De Laurentiis. I enjoy shows about cultural heritage and even though I have no Italian roots, this show gave me some insights to my husband's Italian family. I couldn't help but wonder when the German version of such a show would air. But then reality struck and I realized it wouldn't happen. There are no German cooking shows. There are no German heritage shows.

I consider myself an family has been here too long to actually claim any one heritage. But when it all comes down to it my maiden name is German and that, along with Irish, is the heritage I claim. That being said, I insist on cooking German foods and we always celebrate Oktoberfest in our own way. In the 1860s, an estimated 1.3 million native born Germans lived in the United States and there were more than 200 German language publications across the country. In the 1880s, the largest period of German immigration, nearly 1.5 million Germans immigrated to America. In 1894 German language publications reached 800 in number. By the turn of the 20th century, however, the German culture began to fade bit by bit. German-language publications started to decline.* Of course World War I and World War II served to only further the decline of German culture in America.
A map of distribution of German ancestry based on data from the 1890 census. Published 1898 in Statistical Atlas of the United States.
Across the United States some 43 million people claim at least some German heritage. But where is that shown today? Of course we have the beer: Budweiser, Miller, Pabst. There is Heinz ketchup, Mercedes Benz, even Volkswagen (of which we own two!) And some towns still honor their German roots such as Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The Milwaukee Brewers even held a German Heritage Day this past August. Despite these things, I can't help but wonder where the German restaurants are, the German bakeries, German cookbooks, German bier halls? Where is German culture in America? German culture is about more than beer and sauerkraut...but how would an average American know that?

After living in Germany for three years I am especially sensitive to missing German culture. You see, I tasted the honey and now I want more. Our family has driven hours just to attend various Oktoberfests across America, only to be disappointed. Special note to Oktoberfest planners: deep-fried oreos and Italian sausage are NOT German. Would it kill you to make some schnitzel or bratwurst? In all honesty, it is not the fault of the planners or organizers, there just aren't vendors to support such a festival. I also suppose that any recognition of the German culture, however inaccurate, is better than no recognition at all.

One of our favorite aspects of Germany was the holiday season. We loved the Christmas markets, outdoor markets with vendor and craft booths, food and my favorite: Gluhwein, or warm spiced wine. Fantastic fun! How many crepes mit Nutella have I eaten, I ask you? Americans would eat this concept up. Walk through an outdoor market, with a chill in the air, finding unique Christmas presents in one spot...and have wine, hot chocolate or beer? It is a no brainer. Chicago has a very nice Christmas market that is just like a real German market. It is a must visit. A quick Google search finds similar Christmas markets across the country.
A Christmas Market in Koln, Germany
Alas, I don't think there is an easy answer. But I do know that it is up to passionate German-Americans to maintain and continue that culture. So I'll continue to make schnitzel and to polish up my German and hopefully, one day, my dream of owning a traveling schnitzel cart will be realized. Until then...tschuss!

Here are some links I found about German-American culture:

- German Originality
- Goethe Institut, U.S. page
- German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA
- German-American Heritage Museum
- A list of German Clubs across America

*Information taken from Chronology: The Germans in America, European Reading Room, The Library of Congress.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Civil War Pension File...Is it worth it? - Military Monday

Last week I received the full military pension file (NATF 85D) for Joseph M. Creed that I first mentioned here. The file came in less then a month. I received two CDs with PDF files and amazingly, there were still additional documents so I had to send another $16 to the NARA for the last of the copies. All told the file cost me $91. Was it worth it?

The long and the short is no, with a caveat. I must first point out that I have completed quite a bit of research on this particular ancestor over the years. I have been to the county where he lived the last half of his life, I have visited his grave. I have spoken to the local historian there, I have ordered land documents, I have every file available on Fold3 for Joseph Creed. I have even located photos through a distant cousin. So what was I hoping to learn from a pension file? I suppose I was hoping to learn a little more about his service. I know the units he was assigned to, but I was hoping that I would glean just a little more about his actual experience.

Alas, that was not to be. In fact, I must admit that I learned very little that I didn't already know. I now know that he had the measles during the war which he claimed caused the health problems he faced at the end of his life. I now know his brother-in-law's wife's maiden name. Obscure, but nice to know anyway.

So, is a full pension file the right option for you? It depends. Don't get me wrong, I'm always glad to add another piece of evidence to my pile so I'm happy I ordered the pension file. But I don't know that I would do it again, at least not for an ancestor I had few brick walls on. In my case, the pension file served to round out my information on this individual and add another source to my list. However, if you have a civil war ancestor that you know very little about the pension file is worth your money. The NARA does offer a Pension Documents Packet for $25 which provides the most genealogical rich documents of a Pension Application file. This is a more cost-efficient option, but would leave out quite a bit of the "meat" that may be found interesting. Here are just some of the genealogical items contained in the file (Note: File contents will vary).
  • Soldier's birth date and location
  • Soldier's physical description
  • Wife's maiden name
  • Affidavits indicating marriage date, place and names of individuals present
  • Affidavits of service-related injuries (in my case this included statements from the neighbors that noticed his frostbite!)
  • A full list of children with names and birth dates
  • Physical description
  • Military unit and time served
  • Places lived since military service
A list of Joseph M. Creed's children and their birth dates.
Overall the full pension file is full of fascinating information and is a must have for someone very interested in their ancestor's military history. If you are just looking for names and dates I recommend the Pensions Document Packet (NATF 85B).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Traditions - White Christmas

The best Christmas movie of all time is Irving Berlin's White Christmas. In our family, this is a never-missed movie. We watch it every year, often on Christmas Eve and usually with yummy, fattening snacks. Every time we watch it my mom cries. I never understood why, but now that I'm older I think I understand. Every time we watch it Dad says the same comment during the same scene. At first it was annoying, but now it just isn't Christmas without it! During "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," a song and dance scene with Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen, my father always says, "I love how men used to match their shoes to their suits." Ah, so endearing! It is hard to pinpoint a favorite scene, but I think it would have to be a scene in World War II, when Bing Crosby is singing White Christmas to the troops and you can just sense the longing for home on the Soldiers faces. A wonderful movie with a phenomenal soundtrack!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas memories - Christmas Gifts

My father is the best at finding just the right Christmas present. I can only think of a few bombs in the 30-some-odd-years he has been shopping for me. I'm actually very jealous of his skills. One of my most memorable gifts was a Lionel train that was set up under the tree. And one year I received a beautiful set of white furniture with gold accents. It included a canopy bed that made me feel just like a princess, which is odd because I was not very girly. I loved that furniture, and later in life I would use the canopy bars to play stuffed-animal baseball, but that is a story for another time.
Myself, my brother and our dog Sandy. Note the sweet white bed in the background. You can also just see a GI Joe box for my brother.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Grab bag - Christmas playlist

Christmas music is one of my favorite genres. In fact, my playlist of Christmas songs is longer than any other on my iPod. But I digress. Here is my list of all time favorite Christmas songs (I stopped at 16, but it could be much, much longer)...
1. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
2. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
4. Hard Candy Christmas - Dolly Parton
5. Twelve Days of Christmas - John Denver and the Muppets
6. Happy Xmas (War is Over) - John Lennon
7. Christmas Time is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
8. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
9. Hallelujah Chorus, Handel's Messiah - Morman Tabernacle Choir
10. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland
11. I'll Be Home For Christmas - Frank Sinatra
12. Jingle Bells - Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters
13. Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt and Henri Rene
14. Baby, It's Cold Outside - Dean Martin
15. Oh Holy Night - Perry Como and The Ray Charles Singers
16. Ave Maria - Leontyne Price, Choir of Men and Boys of St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Friday Funny - Scared out of a year's growth

Main street in Hardin, Missouri. NOT taken on the day of mayhem.
The following is a story told in Hardin, Missouri. A Centennial History 1870-1970.

This incident happened about 60 years ago. It just proves that a mule can be stubborn and also dangerous. John Adams, a farmer living 3 miles north of Hardin came to town Monday and drove his team behind Stratton and Chase's and alighted. The team became frightened and ran down the alley. Turning east they ran across the sidewalk just north of Porte Walker's harness shop and broke several boards. They headed north and a stampede among people who happened along the street ensued. Some got away--Lord knows how, and the team made for the Bank of Hardin. They struck the posts which supports the porch in front of the bank and fell. One of the mules rolled over and struck the bank front, breaking the glass in the door, also over the transom and big plate glass. Pandemonium reigned. Several people were in the bank and made for the back door. Will Mayfield was standing in the bank and was badly cut on the hand by flying glass. How others got away we know not, but the first we saw of Vern Wall he was making tracks across Geo. Alcorn's potato patch. An inventory of the wreck showed that a sidewalk had been torn up, a wagon demolished, the bank front looked like a cyclone had struck it, one mule dead, one man badly cut about the hands, a dozen or more scared out of year's growth and still missing. The glass in the door of Marrs and Marrs barber shop, which was next to the bank, was shattered presumably by one of the artists, who was standing in the doorway when the team started his way. The team was on of the largest in the county and would average 1500 lbs. It was one of the costliest runaways that ever took place in Hardin.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Cookies

What is it about the month of December that just makes cookies taste better? I must admit that I prefer savory foods to sweet, but I very much love Christmas cookies. When I was young, holiday baking and cooking were a big part of our Christmas traditions. There were many recipes we had to make every year:
  • Divinity
  • Caramel fudge (some people call this penuche)
  • Marshmallow fudge
  • Popcorn balls
  • Sugar cookies
  • Lemon drop cookies
Yes, we usually made all of the above every year. Clearly we leaned a bit more to the candy side than the cookie. My mother was the sugar cookie fan and she always made some to take to our annual Christmas celebration at my grandmother's house. We didn't get all Martha Stewart fancy in our decorating. Just two to three colors of powdered sugar icing and we were done.

But, by far the cookie that we loved then and still do today was my grandmother Burnett's lemon drop cookies. It is a very simple recipe, but yummy. And without these cookies it just isn't Christmas!
Lemon Drop Cookie recipe in my mother's handwriting. Note all the "love" splotches...a much used recipe mainstay!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Santa Claus

Santa was a big piece to our Christmast celebrations. In fact, his arrival was the beginning of our Christmas season. Every Thanksgiving day we watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, sitting in the living room eating Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Santa is the last float in the parade and at our house, once we saw him on television the Christmast season began!
Santa Claus in the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Image by tweber1 as found on Wikimedia Commons.
I have always had a love/fear relationship with Santa. I love the idea of Santa and I have always believed in him. But I don't really need to see him in person. Perhaps he is too similar to the clowns that I am deathly afraid of. Perhaps it stems from my childhood shyness. Either way, there are no childhood photographs (that I can find) of me with Santa Claus. I don't even remember visits to Santa Claus when I was little. If there were photos I imagine they were similar to some of my husband's:
There is one photograph of me with Santa...Santa dad!
Me with Santa Dad in 1993 or 1994
I do remember writing letters to Santa Claus. I believe that my Mom or Dad posted them for me. I still write letters to Santa Claus! How else would Santa know what I want?
Ruth Butler Burnett, Lois Burnett Kuhn and Warren Kuhn reading a letter from Santa in 1951.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Follow Friday - Saving Private Sheridan

The 90th Infantry Division has a long and distinguished history that started in 1917. The unit participated in WWI and WWII and its descendant units have provided Soldiers for all of our most recent wars. I recently came across a great website that delves into the history of the 90th Infantry Division in World War II, through the eyes of the Soldiers descendants. Saving Private Sheridan shares the stories of 7 different serviceman and their experiences through the war. The site includes interesting photos and some history of the 90th Infantry Division. An interesting read for any military enthusiast, especially those with an interest in WWII.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - The Tree

My family is very particular about traditions which is most evident in our celebration of the Christmas season. I love this time of year and love carrying on our traditions. This series of posts will relive those wonderful Christmas memories.

The Tree

The Christmas tree in our house was ALWAYS a live tree. No exceptions. Although there is the drama of sap and the joy of finding needles months later, there is nothing like the smell of a real Christmas tree to get one into the Christmas spirit. As a family we would travel to any of the myriad of Christmas tree farms in the area to get our tree. We would hunt and peck through the selection for hours until we found just the right one. Then my father, usually with my brother's help, would cut down the tree. Our tree was set up in my parents room for many years because my mother and father loved to look at the tree while they fell asleep. Later we moved it to the living room.

My mother worked for Hallmark Cards for 34 years and is an avid ornament collector so our Christmas tree was always covered in the special ornaments she collected from that year. Her collection made our tree was different every year. The exception were three special Hallmark ornaments that we used every year (and still do). They are made of pewter and were always the last ornaments to be hung on the tree. My brother hung the drummer boy, I hung the angel and my parents hung the snowflake.
Our tree, 1996
When I was very young I remember my father hanging a special ornament that he said came from his childhood: a white reindeer with a red nose. I believe it came from Montgomery Ward.
My father and I with our dog, Sandy. The package was a dog bed! You can just see the Rudolph ornament to the upper left of my dad's head.
One of my favorite Christmas tree memories is from my first Christmas living in my own apartment. I was too busy to get a real Christmas tree so my plan was just to put up a small fake one. One day when I came home from work I found a Christmas tree on the porch of my apartment! My parents had gotten two during their annual trip to ensure that I didn't break tradition. Wonderful! Here is how that tree turned out:

 I know, crazy classy. But I really did love PBR!