Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Christmas Calendar- Remembering Christmases Past: Christmas Stockings, And Other Things

Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison) 

Today's blogging prompt on genealogist and geneablogger Thomas MacEntee's Advent Christmas Calendar blog, is to share our memories involving the tradition of Christmas Stockings.

"Did you have one? Where did you hang it? What did you get in it?"

I do have a special memory involving Christmas stockings, but it was not from my childhood. I will get to that later. The house I grew up in, in Southern California, did not have a fireplace. Like many of the modest one-level tract homes in the neighborhood where I grew up, we had a kitchen, a big dining room area that doubled as the "family room", a living room, 3 bedrooms, and one bathroom...shared by 5 people. We had no fireplace, no mantel. None of the then-newish homes in our tract had fireplaces. Ours was a working-class neighborhood, and the homes were built with just the necessities. Californians did not need a fireplace back in those days, it was thought. Today most of the newer homes do have them, but they are mostly for ambiance. Thus, back then...I do not remember having stockings as part of our tradition when I was a youngster. That tradition would come later.
Harrison family home in Westminster, CA circa 1960
We put up a brightly decorated tree every year, of course....using many of the same ornaments year after year. I wish that I still had some of those ornaments, which would be family heirlooms today. I still remember the delicate opaque glass bulbs with "Silent Night" etched on them, along with the outlines of a church and steeple covered in snow. We got those at Sears Roebuck. I loved those ornaments then, and would love to have even just one of them now. I was not thinking of preserving family heirlooms back in those days, however. I don't know what happened to them once our parents were gone. Lost in the shuffle.
 Vintage Silent Night Ornament from 1960s era - from Pinterest

Though we didn't have a real fireplace, I do recall that later on, those little portable folding cardboard fake "fireplaces" became popular, along with fake tinsel trees. For a couple of years we did use one of those cardboard fireplaces, which had a single plug-in light bulb that gave off a very phony-looking flickering glow that was supposed to look like a flame. I have noticed that another blogger has shared this same memory, so I guess those little folding "fireplaces" were a popular fad. We used ours until it started falling apart after a couple of seasons, and would no longer stand on it's own. I think we might have taped decorative stockings to it one year, with nothing in them since the thing would not support much weight. 
(Vintage cardboard fireplace circa 1960s era- image from Pinterest)

That was probably the same year we had the shiny aluminum-foil looking fake tinsel tree, which is my child-eyes was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. That tree shimmered with the lights on it like none other. I thought it was just beautiful, then. My brother Dave and I would lay under that tree at night, before Santa had brought any presents to be placed under the tree, and we would gaze up at all the amazing sparkling colors of the lights reflecting off that shiny tinsel tree. Funny how such simple things used to amuse and fascinate kids back in those days, isn't it? That was long before video games, desktop computers, and all the electronic toys and gadgetry of today. Long before Facebook, of course. And it was "only" the late 1950- early 1960's....not THAT long ago....and yet, it seems like light years ago. And it was decades ago. How did that happen? The years seem to have flown by now, looking back.
 (Images of silver tinsel trees similar to those my family had in the 1960s- found on Pinterest)

The Christmas Stockings tradition would start later in our family, when we three kids grew up, married, and started having kids of our own. By then, Californians had discovered that they did indeed "need" fireplaces after all, apparently...because it became pretty common for most houses to be built with them starting in the seventies. Suddenly we all "HAD to" have a fireplace in any home we lived did we ever survive up to that point living in a house with no fireplace? Of course our kids HAD to have Stockings hanging from the mantel every year, and even the family pets get their own stockings now. And so, we instilled the Stockings ritual in our kids that we had missed out on growing up.
Vintage Pet Stockings, image from Pinterest
It really was not until many years later though, that I realized just how much the Stocking Tradition meant to my brother Dave. By the time he had grandchildren, it became his personal tradition to make stocking bags for every person who would be spending Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in his home, which was often quite an assortment of people. He would typically invite assorted relatives, friends, and neighbors over to participate in the Stocking tradition. Frequently, guests receiving a stocking would include any friend or acquaintance who had no place else to go to celebrate the holidays.....all were welcomed, and all received a stocking. These stockings were stuffed with assorted goodies; mostly candy, cookies, nuts, and an assortment of gadgets and trinkets from the Dollar Store. My brother especially liked putting little Dollar Store "toys" like puzzles and spinning tops, jacks and pickup-stix, into the stockings of adults and kids alike. He painstakingly wrapped each and every one of these items by hand, individually, to be placed in every stocking. He wrapped each item so that nobody could "peek" ahead of time, wound tightly with loads of tape and paper. He was reliving his own childhood days, when "peeking" into his own presents was his specialty. He took great glee at the reactions of all of the adults, opening his "stupid little stocking stuffers". These Stockings were usually the hit of every Christmas Eve gathering at his home. We all loved the laughter and giggles that filled the room as people opened their intricately wrapped little surprises in their stockings.

Sadly, my brother passed away a year ago this December. At his memorial service last year, one of the guests got up and spoke of how he had been touched to receive one of those special Stockings from my brother one year. That was the year that this friend had separated from his wife, and felt like he had no place to go to spend Christmas. My brother welcomed him with open arms, and presented him with a Stocking stuffed with these little goodies, much to the friend's surprise. It was such a small thing, and yet it meant so much to the friend. At the memorial, the friend spoke of how much that small act of kindness had touched him, and how he had cherished the memory of that simple gesture of friendship and tradition all the following years. He said he still had one of the little stocking-stuffer spinning tops, all those years later, that he kept in his desk drawer; and that it would be a lasting momento and reminder for him not only of his friend, my brother...but of the true spirit of Christmas, the sharing of friendship and a simple act of kindness.

Now, whenever I see Christmas stockings, I always remember with a smile and a chuckle those Stockings filled by my brother with lots of stupid little stocking stuffers, the love that they were presented with, and how much joy he got from sharing this tradtion with others.

Monday, October 11, 2010

NOT SO NEWBIE ANY MORE- DNA "Newbie": A New Genealogy Research Tool For An Old Researcher

Copyright 2015, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

**Updated comments as of 2015:  Since this post was originally published ln 2010, I have done Autosomal and MtDNA testing with all 3 of the major DNA for genealogy testing companies; which is Family Tree DNA, 23AndMe DNA, and Ancestry DNA.  I have also found distant YDNA cousins in my paternal direct line who have taken the test for our mutual Harrison lineage. The testing and results have enabled me to find and network with new DNA cousins who share family history with me within 5 generations, and farther back, on both the materanl and paternal sides of my tree. We have exchanged family tree info. It has not yet been able to provide the clues needed to break down a proverbial "Brick Wall" in my Harrison paternal line 5 generations back, but the YDNA results and participation is the Harrison YDNA Patriarchs project did indicate which other tested lines we are not related to, by comparing our results to the other tested lines. This has proved very useful, as it does eliminate "barking up the wrong tree" and spending time researching lines that we are not actually genetically related to. **

Below is the original post, from when I was truly a "newbie" to genetic genealogy 5 years ago:

Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

Today I received my Ancestry Family-Finder Autosomal DNA test results and report via email, along with my MtDNA (maternal) results and report. The reports arrived several weeks earlier than anticipated. I checked email this morning, thinking I would spend 15 minutes reading and deleting messages, replying to a couple, and move on to other business. Instead, I have spent the better part of a day, and now well into the evening, trying to decipher my DNA reports. This occasion is momentous enough to warrant this Blog entry. I haven't written in my genealogy Blog in a few weeks, sidetracked as I often am with "life" happening in the here and now. Today is different.

This DNA for genealogy thing is an exciting new world to me. New doors are already opened to explore. Already, I have heard from one of my DNA "matches" via email, before I even had a chance to contact her as intended later tonight. She is inquiring about a mutual ancestral surname that we share: Burgess. She is excited to find a new HVR2 match in me, as am I to find her. We are 3rd cousins; so the reports tell us. We hope to exchange useful family tree information with each other. Now, I just need to learn the significance of what all those HVR2 and HVR1 matches mean. I need to learn about Cambridge Reference Sequence mutations, Halpogroups and sub-groups, and all kinds of scientific stuff. I need to learn to identity myself by my DNA segments and HVR1 and HVR2 mutations when I sign onto the DNA message boards, to hook up with potential "cousins" for shared research. I made a little joke to myself today that it sounds like they are talking about various strains of flu viruses, not their own personal DNA makeup and markers. Soon though, I will have my DNA mutations (sequence of letters and numbers) memorized so that I can rattle it off the top of my head without thinking, like I do my name or social security number. Something tells me this is the wave of the future; and that all of us "genealogy geeks" are the forerunners of a whole new method of identity proof that will become commonplace for everyone in the not so distant future. Our grandchildren will no doubt carry around a wallet card as adults that identifies their DNA markers, right along with their drivers license and social security cards...or maybe their DNA information will be imbeded in a halogram on their driver's license. The new fingerprint: DNA . Already people are worried about security issues with their DNA. (How can someone steal my DNA and pass it off as their own? It seems ridiculous that they might even want to. I don't even worry about it).

Today I have discovered half a dozen "new" potential 3rd cousins who appear to share a significant portion of matching DNA with me; along with a couple of dozen potential 4th cousins and a few potential 5th cousins. We all share varying degrees of matching DNA in various segments. It is hoped this will be a useful tool for breaking down brick walls in my paternal lineage 5 generations back, as well as to help support and prove my maternal lineage several generations back.

I am an experienced genealogist and researcher with about 20 years of "old school" research under my belt. However, I am a complete novice at using DNA as a genealogy tool. I hardly know where to begin. I have narrowed the list of "matches" from the initial report, and will contact a few of them and see where it leads. I hope this puts me on the brink of new discoveries, and proving some theories or disproving some other theories. It does require collaboration and the exchange of information. I am happy to share my DNA results info with other genealogists.

Maybe some of you following my Blog who are proficient genealogy DNA researchers can provide me with some helpful hints. I will record some of my discoveries and blunders in this Blog as I find my path in the DNA world. I think I will need to keep lots of coffee and chocolates handy for the next few weeks as I delve into this new world.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Divorce Wars" In The Early 1800's

Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

There was a Hollywood movie a few years back called "The War Of The Roses", a comedy-tragedy depicting a divorcing couple who continued to live in the same house together while battling it out via their divorce lawyers. Accusations and threats ran rampant. They each wanted sole ownership of the house and property, even the family pets. Neither would budge an inch, each trying to one-up the other and "win".  Their battles continued on the homefront, with mudslinging and trickery, and with ultimately tragic results. Everybody loses. 

Divorces were not so different for our ancestors, it seems. In reviewing some divorce records published in an old issue of my collection of the North Carolina Genealogical Society's Journal, I came across some rather interesting and humorous transcripts of divorce cases in North Carolina in 1805. Though the named parties are not ancestors of mine, I thought I would share one amusing account anyway. It seems that reasons for divorce have not changed a whole lot over the years; though we learn that back in the early 1800's a married woman had few if any legal rights to her own property and money, even if her husband had been missing for many years, unless she was able to secure a legal divorce. The frontier version of community property meant in essence that everything belonged to the husband solely, even property the wife had inherited from her own family, unless she obtained a divorce order giving her rights to her own property and possessions. Some of us may wish that "tar and feathering" by the neighbors was still a common practice in dealing with wayward husbands!

The following transcript appeared in the NCGS Journal in May 1993, on page 101. Original Source: "Divorce & Separations from Petitions to the North Carolina General Assembly from 1779- 1805. "

"Eisenhaur, Mary (Meyers) and Nicholas Eisenhauer. Petition of Mary Eisenhauer of Cabarrus Co., NC, 12 Nov 1805, states that her rude, lazy and misanthropic husband, Nicholas Eisenhauer, drove her from home about 20 years ago without the slightest subsistence. He "made away with all we had" and abandoned your petitioner "for good and all", except once when he returned and tried to convince her to sell 200 acres of land that her father, Michael Meyers, bestowed upon her. 'He left me again under hundreds of bitter and cruel curses, and I truly suffered many since many times, although by the help of my children and God's blessings, I acquired a little again'. The petitioner reflects upon the 'nasty character' of the said Nicholas by including the following about him: "He got an intimate understanding with a licentious widow. Some neighbors, mistrusting him, watched and catched them in fornication; took him out of the house, tarred and feathered him and exposed him in that figure to public execration'. Your petitioner prays for assistance to secure herself all such small acquisitions she has saved since her husband left her and what she may acquire hereafter. Signed fifteen subscribers, most of them signing in German script. Bill to secure to persons named such property as they may acquire hereafter......and is passed 18-19 Dec, 1805. "

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Only The Men Had Babies"

 Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

One of our challenges when searching for our female ancestors, especially in the American frontier days and prior, is that we often find the records appear only under her married name as an adult, and under her father's household name in census records as a child. She was often considered a mere extension of her father and then her husband, with no identity of her own...treated in the records more like property to be enumerated along with household/ farm belongings, than as a unique individual who was a mother and matriarch of a family line. Unless she kept a journal which still survives today and we are lucky enough to find it, we are apt to learn little about her daily life and the events that affected her. One of my focuses in working on updating my own family tree, is to strive to include more biographical information on the women in my tree, especially my direct female ancestors. It is through researching my female ancestors and their family histories, that I have discovered my eligibility to join various descendants' patriotic organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), and Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War; as well as a society for descendants of outlaws, pirates, and privateers. These women, and their ancestry, are what makes my family tree as colorful as it is.

I came across this poem recently. It was published in the Phelps County (MO) Genealogical Society's Quarterly magazine dated April 1993.

"by Dr. Dorothy Branson"

"My ancestor William had children.
All named, with birth and places,
But his wife is not even mentioned;
Of her, there are not even traces.

Surely she must have existed,
Was born, was a child, and had dreams,
Grew up and learned how to keep house,
Was a PERSON- but nameless, it seems.

She had parents, and someplace, a home,
Her brothers are listed, no doubt.
But she was only a girl,
So not really worth telling about.

She was half of my ancestor's heritage;
Without her he wouldn't have life.
His genes are half of hers, but I find
She was only his father's wife.

Once a girl was first 'dau', then was 'wife'.
She belonged to her father till married,
And then She belonged to her husband,
And beside him, unnamed, she was buried.

How awful to think MY descendants
Might search for a name for me,
Be unable to find my identity,
And wonder just who I might be."

"Note: Recorded in PCGS Quarterly April 2003 by Barbara Smith Pugh, previously appeared in publications of the Champaign County Genealogical Society (Fall 1991), and the Henry County Genealogical Society, as well as the Dawson County (Mont.) Historical and Genealogical Society. "

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The FRISCO : St Louis-San Francisco Railway, A Look Back In Time

 Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

The following is a great source for photos and information on the FRISCO Railway, from which my grandfather John P Harrison retired in 1935 at age 70, after 45 years of service, as a lineman and engineer based out of St. Louis.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Alexander Clarke- Immigrant Ancestor: Highlanders in North Carolina

Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

The following article is about the early Clarke families of North Carolina, and my maternal 5th-great-grandfather Alexander Clarke.

Source: Excerpts from "The Settlement of the Scotch on The River Cape Fear; Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical Illustrative of a Portion of Her Early Settlers", Foote, William Henry, originally published 1846, New York, R. Carter. Information Source:

"The time of the settlement of the first Scotch families upon the River Cape Fear is not known with exactness. There were some at the time of the separation of the provence into North and South Carolina, in the year 1729. In consequence of disabilities in their native land (Scotland), the enterprising Scotch followed the example of their relations in Ireland, and sough refuge and abundance in America. From records in the possession of descendants of Alexander Clarke, it appears that he came over and took his residence upon the River Cape Fear in 1736, and that a ship load of emigrants came with him. It also appears that he found a good many Scotch settled in Cumberland at the time of his arrival. "

" Alexander Clark(e) came from Jura (Scotland), one of the Hebrides. His ancestors, particulary his grandfather, had suffered much in the wars that had desolated Scotland, and fell heaviest on the Presbyterians. Being constrained to flee for his life, his grandfather took two of his sons and went to Ireland, and saw many trials and suffering, which were brought to a close by the Battle of Boyne, that decided the fate of the British Dominions. Returning to Scotland after the peace, he sought his family; leaving the vessel, he ascended a hill that overlooked his residence, and gazed in sadness over the desolation that met his eye; to use his own words, "but three smokes in all of Jura could be seen". Not a member of his family could be found to tell the fate of the rest. They had all perished in the persecutions. He returned to Ireland to find his cup of bitterness , overflowing as it was, made still bitter by the death of one of his two sons. After some time he returned, and spent the remainder of his days in Jura, having for his second wife one whose sufferings had been equal to his own. Her infant had been taken from her arms, its' head severed from its' body in her presence, and used by a ruffian twisting his hand in its' hair, to beat the mother on the breast till she was left for dead. Gilbert, the only surviving child of his first wife, returned with his father to Jura, and there lived and reared a family. One of his (Gilbert's) sons, Alexander, married Flora McLean, and reared four sons and four daughters. When his eldest son was sixteen years of age, he (Alexander) removed to America, and settled in Cumberland County, (North Carolina), on the Cape Fear. Some of the descendants of Kenneth Clarke, half brother to Gilbert (also) came to America. From this stock arose numerous families in the south and west".

"When Alexander Clarke emigrated to America, he paid the passage of many poor emigrants, and gave them employment until till the price was repaid. Many companies of Scotsmen came to America in a similar way, some person of property paying their passage, and giving them employ upon their lands until they were able to set up for themselves. "

"North Carolina was long a favorite field for Highlander emigration, most of them exiles from Scotland consequant on the troubles that that followed the downfall of the Stuarts, some of them MacDonalds who had been fugitives from the massacre of Glencoe. The persecution to which the Highlanders were subjected after the scattering of the clans made them eager to escape from Scotland. They were followed by many of their kilth and kin to the plantations of America, till the vast plains and forest lands in the heart of North CArolina were sprinkled with a Gaelic speaking population. "

Alexander Clarke appears to have arrived on Cape Fear, Chatham County, North Carolina circa 1736-1739 according to various published sources; his name is listed on Passenger & Immigration lists for arrival in 1739. He appears in North Carolina census records as early as 1755, and in the Register of Deeds of Chatham County 1780-1783. His will appears in North Carolina Abstract of Wills for Cumberland County in 1794.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Remembering John David Harrison, Dec 13, 1947- Dec 3, 2009

Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

Following are some of the memories of my brother, John David Harrison, that I shared at his memorial service in December 2009:

My brother, John David Harrison, was many things to many people. To me, he was simply my big brother, “Dave”. You see, for the first half of his life, he went by his middle name. I grew up knowing him as Dave, and he will always be Dave to me. But whether you knew him as Dave, Uncle Dave, John, Dad, Brother, Grandpa, or simply as friend…..he meant something special to all of us here today.

My brother was a unique individual. He was a mere human, full of human faults and frailties. He was a true Harrison……fiesty, opinionated, sometimes stubborn, often quick-tempered, fierce in his political beliefs; but equally as fierce in his support of family and friends when the chips were down. He was a generous soul who would give you the shirt off his back if he felt you really needed it. He was a steadfast friend in times of need, when you felt like you had no other friend to turn to. To some of his friends and family, he was their rock to lean on. To me, he was there for me during some of the darkest hours of my life when there was truly no on else there for me. I will always be grateful for what he contributed to my life, and to the lives of my daughters, his nieces.

My brother and I often faught like cats and dogs growing up. We were a about 4 years apart in age….just enough for him to resent the pesty little sister hanging around and nosing into his business. Then, by the time we were in high school, the age difference mattered less, and he was dating some of my friends. He graduated and went off to be a soldier in Viet Nam. He sent letters and photos home documenting his adventures, not realizing at first the true magnitude of the danger he was in. Then, he saw some of his friends perish in the war. He came home a changed person, as all the Viet Nam veterans did…a little more somber, a little more serious, and with a broken heart because his girlfriend had deserted him. Eventually, he fell in love again and married one of my former school friends, and had two beautiful daughters with her. Though they eventually parted ways, they remained friends to the very end. My brother and I weren’t as close as we could have been over the last few years, especially since I had moved to Arizona. Time and distance had seen our lives take separate paths, and is often the case with siblings. But, I always knew he would have my back if I ever really needed him to. Now, he is gone, and I miss him already.

My brother loved to sing karaoke. Many of his best friends in his last years were friends he met while enjoying karaoke. Those friends got him through some of the darkest hours of his life. I shared a few karaoke moments with my brother myself. I will always have a fond vision of my brother, Dave/John, costumed as “The King”, Elvis Presley, in full regalia; singing Elvis songs as one of the featured guest performers on a cruise ship. It was a real hoot, and he did a pretty good job. I missed the time he performed as Garth Brooks on a cruise and brought the house down. I would have loved to have been there for that one.

Hydia Hollins summed it up well when she wrote:

What is a Brother?
Someone who is there when you are hurting
He picks you up and dusts you off again

What is a brother?
Someone who sees you are without a smile
And he gives you one of his
And gives you a hug too,
Just especially for you

What is a brother?
Someone who stands by your side
And holds your hand
When things don’t go well
He helps you to understand

What is a brother?
A cherished friend for life
A brother by blood
A cousin, or a friend
But always by Love

In closing, I will share these few lines written by Helen Steiner Rice:

After the clouds, the sunshine
After the winter, the spring
After the shower, the rainbow
For life is a changeable thing.
After the night, the morning
Bidding all darkness cease
After life’s cares and sorrows,
The comfort and sweetness of peace.

Sleep well, my dear brother. I will always miss you.