Thursday, March 19, 2015

I'm Sailing Away...

Well, not really. Not really sailing, anyway.

The time has come to say farewell to Blogger. It's been real. We've had some laughs. But I'm moving on. If you need me, I'll be just a stone's throw away at The plan is generally the same: food, history, cocktails, family history and other cool stuff I find. 

Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Whiskey Brothers

A good chunk of my waking hours are spent attempting to make genealogy relevant to people. More and more I attempt to steer my clients away from just finding names to fill up their family tree. Instead, I want to help them find the stories behind those names.

Recently, there was an article in Entrepreneur magazine about two brothers who were really putting their family history to work, and I knew I had to share it. The two brothers, Charles and Andrew Nelson, who had recently graduated from college, took a road trip with their dad to Greenbrier, TN, where they began to discuss stories that had been passed down through the generations about a family whiskey business. When they arrived in the town, they asked the local butcher about the Nelson's family distillery and he pointed them in the direction of the large warehouse that was built by Charles Nelson, the brothers' great-great-great grandfather. They spent the day visiting Greenbrier's historical society, and learned more than they could have imagined about their grandpa and his business. The fire was lit, and a plan was hatched to carry on their family's legacy. By 2009, the brothers reopened the family business that had closed 100 years before in 1909. 

So cool. I love, love, showing how family history can inspire what we do today. If you want to learn more, there is a lovely bio on Charles Nelson's life, here, on the company website, along with this kick-ass photo of him.

What do  you think? How well do you know your family history? Do you know what job your great-great-great grandfather had? Or your grandmother, for that matter? 

(Photos courtesy of: Greenbrier Distillery)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 24, 1915: The Eastland Disaster

Leonard Olson, Eastland Disaster (Courtesy of imgur)
The man above is Chicago fireman Leonard E. Olson. In his arms, he holds the body of a young child who drowned in the Eastland Disaster. I had certainly seen this photo before, of a hero firefighter with a look of anguish on his face. We love these old photographs today. Not just the tragic ones, but any that show people in a completely different time, in completely different circumstances, behaving like...people. Just like us. This picture is just one second of Leonard's life. And not a very good second, at that. However, there is a very full life behind this one second snapshot. Here is a timeline of the life that Leonard lived:

Leonard Ernst Olson was born in 1869, in Chicago, Illinois, to Peter Olson and Elizabeth (Fisher) Olson. 
 (Courtesy of Tom O'Connor)
This is Leonard, with his mother, Elizabeth. If you're wondering about the thing on her head, the answer is that it was a common practice around the turn of the century for mothers to hold their children while they were photographed to keep them from fidgeting, but while staying hidden. Check out more photos of this practice at Retronaut.
(Courtesy of Tom O'Connor)
Leonard's mother, Elizabeth, was born in England and was married once and had one son, Leonard's half-brother, Maxwell, before she married Leonard's father Peter. Also an immigrant, Peter was from Norway and he worked in a box factory.
(Courtesy of Tom O'Connor)
On May 7, 1891, Leonard married Catherine Margaret Reardon, from Chicago. Leonard is seated at the bottom of the photo, while Kate is on the right. 

In October of 1892, Leonard and Catherine lost their first child, Edna, at only 5 months and 21 days old. 
(Courtesy of Tom O'Connor)
According to the 1900 US Census, Leonard was living with his wife and children at 488 N Homan Ave. and working as a box maker, the same way his father had. In the photo above, Leonard stands with his son, Frank, in front of a box truck.

According to his grandson, several years years before the Eastland disaster, in 1908, Leonard was awarded the Lambert Tree Medal for bravery by the City of Chicago for stopping a team of runaway horses while employed by the Chicago Fire Department.
(Courtesy of Tom O'Connor)
Leonard is shown above, standing second in line, with his fellow firefighters. 
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)
Then, in the early morning hours of July 24, 1915, the Eastland overturned in the Chicago River. Passengers aboard the ship were on their way to Michigan City, Indiana, for a company picnic. Many, though not all, were Czech immigrants, employed by Western Electric Company, and their families. The boat was filled beyond capacity and, as passengers stood on the upper deck, the boat began to tilt. At one point, several passengers ran to one side of the ship, possibly to wave at those on the River's edge, and the boat tipped completely on its side. Many were thrown into the water, and those who had already gone below deck, were trapped inside the boat. Though there was quick response from both a nearby ship and rescue teams, including Leonard Olson, 844 individuals lost their lives. At some point during the rescue, a photographer snapped the picture of Leonard that you see at the top of the page. 
(Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, 5/1/19717, p. 9)
In 1917, Leonard's daughter Ellen, or "Nelly," was recognized for her war-time efforts. This same patriotic daughter would go on to marry a few years later, lose one daughter at the age of four to an ear infection, lose another daughter at 18 from diabetes, and lose her own life to cervical cancer at the young age of 48. Ellen is shown in the photo below, on the far left. This photo was taken on the front porch of the Olson family home at 1035 N Leamington Street in Chicago, in a house that still exists today.
(Courtesy of Tom O'Connor)
On May 6, 1925, Leonard died at the age of 68. That was not quite 10 years after the Disaster, and one day before his 34th wedding anniversary. He left behind a huge family. He and his wife had 11 children, with 9 of them surviving to adulthood. One of his grandsons, Mr. Tom O'Connor, gave me permission to use his images.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Genea Gadgets: Eva Juliet's Customized Family Trees

Discovering the branches of your family tree can be such a beautiful experience. But, as I have mentioned before, you don't want to let all of that hard work sit on a shelf somewhere, where it can't easily be shared. Well, I recently saw these customized family trees mentioned on Creature Comforts, from designer Eva Juliet.
How beautiful are they?! An adorable, customized family tree is such a wonderful way to show off all that hard work. Not to mention, it's a great conversation starter. The one above would fit nicely in a kitchen or dining room.
P.S. Wouldn't this be amazing in a child's room? They'd be learning their family history and they wouldn't even know it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Barn Reborn

For all of Alex’s city credentials, he is only a few generations removed from farm life. His family still has a farmhouse in Skagit County, Washington, and the farmhouse still has a big red barn. And the big red barn has been reborn.
A few years ago it looked like this.
Alex’s uncle made it his project to restore the structure over the last few years. We both can’t wait to see the new barn in person! (By the way, Alex says he learned to drive in the Cadillac on the right—that lucky son of a gun!)

Here it is just before it got a brand new concrete floor (do I hear dance floor!?) where the black tarp is. Although you can't tell from this view, the local Historic Barns registry notes that the posts holding up the roof are tree trunks, and you can still see where the branches were.
For many years, the barn was a dairy, although Alex’s mom says, “It wasn’t known for its milk.” Apparently most of what was made there became powdered milk.
Here is Alex's great-great grandmother (I think) planting a poplar tree. 
Here's the same tree many years later.
This is the barn, by the way, that hosted the weekend flower workshop put on by Amy Merrick and Erin Benzakein last August. I expect that it will play host to a few more events like that, now that it looks even better.
Alex has promised to take me soon. But, to shore up his city credentials, he also says that all barns look the same to him, so maybe we’ll never find it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Serving Time, Indexing Records

Happy Friday! Alex and I are heading out of town this weekend, but I just saw a genealogy article that I had to write about. Prisoners doing genealogy research? Wha...?? Enjoy!
A recent Huffington Post article discusses how prisoners in Salt Lake City, Utah, have been indexing records and doing family history research on behalf of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
The first family research center was opened by the LDS Church at the Utah State Prison more than 20 years ago. Last year alone, inmates indexed more than 2 million records (which go online and can now be used by genealogists like myself!). In addition to indexing, the program allows inmate volunteers to spend up to three hours at a time at the center, doing research on behalf of others, and even doing their own genealogy, which one of the correctional officers says spurs a "remarkable change" in the prisoners. I always knew genealogy was good for you!
If you didn't already know, the LDS Church is famous for its use of and support for genealogical resources. The Church has opened family research centers all over the world, and even the headquarters for is located in Utah, the epicenter of LDS. The Mormons' interest in genealogy stems from their belief in proxy baptism, or baptism for the dead. They believe that being baptized in the Mormon church is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God. Therefore, many families research their genealogy for ancestors who may not have had the chance to choose a Mormon baptism. Once the baptism has been done, the belief is that the dead may decide whether or not they accept it.

(Article: Huffington Post)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Rollie Zeider and Hometown Connections

Years ago, when Alex and I were just buds, and after finding out he was a big White Sox fan, I sent him information on a former White Sox (and Cubs, and New York Yankee) player named Rollie Zeider. Zeider had been born in the town next to the one I grew up in and, after the big leagues, he moved back to Garrett, Indiana, to open a restaurant called "Polly's," Polly being his childhood nickname. A friend on Facebook recently posted a link to Zeider's Wikipedia page. I clicked on over and soon realized a little family connection. Zeider's second wife Margaret's maiden name was Pilgrim, a name I recognized from my own family tree. With about five minutes of research, I found the Rollie Zeider link! 

I mean, we're practically cousins!

Above, you will see the Pilgrim/Billings crew. Mom and dad, otherwise known as Daniel and Frances. And, I can't say for sure, but I believe the fellow in the top-left corner, is my great-great-great grandpa, Edward, which would mean the young man at the top-right would be Margaret's dad (Rollie's father-in-law!), James. 

Rollie in his heyday. 

By the way, if you happen to be hunting around Garrett for Rollie's restaurant, as one would, it was located at 104 Peters St. Happy hunting.