Heraldry and We the People

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   1219121525aI’m not sure, but I believe it was PT Barnum who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

What I am sure of is that I am one of those suckers.

  The other day I was clearing out a drawer and ran across a family crest certificate that my husband and I had purchased many years ago.  Can you hear the Merry-go-Round music yet?  It came from a very “proper” looking shop.  I believe that it was even spelled “shoppe” ~ a spelling meant  to further endorse the authenticity of fake stuff.  But we were young and silly and newly married.  So we scraped together the $35.00 ( a pretty Royal sum for us 30+ years ago) and bought a “fully researched and authenticated, heirloom quality” piece of paper with our last name slightly misspelled on it.

Wow.  How cool is That ?

What I have learned since ( ironically for free via library books) is that we were totally duped.  A crest is only “good” for the original “owner.”  A father may have a certain design, but it does not pass down verbatim to his children.  When important families married, as was generally the plan, their crests were merged to create a new one for the identity of the newlyweds.  Maybe there was an Earl of Momenhousen who bore the crest in my drawer a bazillion years ago.  However we, the current-day Momenhousen family, have no claim to it.

  Heck at this point, I don’t even know what happened to the receipt !   I do have an excuse though…I am an American.  Almost all of us are about one inch away from obsession with “the Old Country.”  Additionally, we are also generally convinced  there is a Duke, a Baron or at least a Bergermeister in our family pedigree somewhere.  Therefore, it stands to reason that we (meaning the immediate “us”) must have claim to a heraldic shield, a family crest, or something that verifies we are from a stock above serfdom.  Thanks Mr Barnum, you have given a name to this madness~

Sucker.

The real truth is that Heraldic Design is pretty much about Art.  If you are Canadian, you may claim a crest for your lineage if you wish to go through a long and arduous process. For better or for worse,if you are looking for something cool to put up on the wall, its time to do some doodling.  Although I did some intensive research on the topic and found a few favorite books that I think are very good for being technically correct, I just recommend the use of an artsy relative.  Simply by Googling “Heraldry” or” Heraldic Design”, or” Colors in Heraldry” you can save yourself some time and money. If you are looking for good books on the subject (and you can persevere for a few months to get through one) I would recommend one of these three.  And please note, the third one is not an opening chapter, it is the title of the book:

1.  A Guide to Heraldry by Ottfried Neubecker

2.  Concise Encyclopedia  of Heraldry by Guy Cadogan Rothery

3.  The Manuel of Heraldry a Concise Description of the Several Terms Used and Containing a Dictionary of Every Designation in the Science with 350 Illustrations  by Sir Francis James Grant

If these all sound too scary, have a sit down with your clan and start brainstorming what it means to be a “Dipfenhoffper” or “Smith.”  Think up some words,symbols, and colors to use to represent You.  Maybe then craft a family logo~for your ” house”.  Remember, siblings should be allowed to represent the same ancestry with their own selection of colors, symbolism and mottoes.  Consider using a string of words that spell out your last name as a motto like the poems kids are so fond of writing out of their names .

Example (bad one, really bad one):

Bravery In The Hood Masked At Night (Bithman)

In my post titled “Managing the Help(ers)” I talked a little bit about dividing this task up among different factions of the family.  It’s a great way to get everyone started with helping without driving you nuts.  And, as a bonus, if you can get everyone to create their own crest, then the cover design for their copy of the finished project will already be done.

Wow, how cool is that?

Not Playing with a Full Deck

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imageThis is by far one of my favorite tricks to get organized. 

Inspired by the hall trays in Victorian homes for calling cards, I came up with Character Cards.  Whenever I “add” a new relative to a family branch, I make up my own little version of a collectible edition trading card.  I call them my Character Cards.

Each family has their own ever-expanding “Deck.”  The Decks only get larger, because unlike real live families, no one gets discarded (buried).  In most cases, I have figuratively dug them up :).

I have a specific list of info that I want to chase for each Character.  These are the same old things one puts on an ancestry chart : dates and places of major life events, occupations, spouses, a parentage note etc.  I also include on my hunting and collecting list an “image.”  I really like having pictures.  So, in some cases where none is (yet) available, I will opt for some other image to represent the person and their statistics.  It can be anything I can connect to the real person.  For one uncle I have a scan of a lock of hair found wrapped in tissue paper marked “Tommy’s first hair cut.”  Eventually, I hope to find a photo, but until then he is represented as a little yellow curl.

I do not put original items on my cards.  I only use scanned images and I simply tape them on with cellophane tape.  I can pop a whole collection into my purse and head off to the cemetery, history center, or out to do drive- by house photos.

My family has a big laugh with this…they have always insisted that I don’t quite play with a full deck, and now, well…they have it in writing :)

Managing the “Help”

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PD_0140Once the stories start flowing and your paper ghosts are wriggling with life, you may find yourself with a lot of volunteers. Now is the time to be extra creative. Use all the help that is offered ! Rather than seeing enthusiastic volunteers as “Johnny-Come-Lately-Bandwagon-Jumpers,” consider how their eagerness to help could add to the richness of the ultimate end product.  Collaborating this way will make your work an “of the people, by the people” sort of outcome for your family tree.

Think about a special talent aunt Susan can contribute. She might well be the biggest gossip in 3 counties…so use that!  You can always debunk / confirm later.  But for now, pull up a chair, turn her on and let her rip!  Don’t stop with the volunteers who step forward !   Everyone knows there is an unwritten code of honor among thieves, however that code pales to the closed -community of cooks who hold the family recipes!  When buttered up and coddled. cooks may be moved to show heart and dig out family recipes to share.   They could also be put on the task of beating secret recipes out of others within the inner circle of the kitchen.  Artsy types could be put to work designing a cover for the finished product, or Illuminating  pages.  The scholarly would enjoy collaborating  with each branch to create a representative family crest (see  a later posting for info on this). The hoarders (God bless us everyone!) can be assigned to photo finding, or heirloom display.

Get them all working together as a team . Once your dear hoarder has unearthed Grandmama’s wedding china, perhaps there’s a shutter bug just waiting to document those very heirlooms from every angle. Clearly, there’s no reason to pass over your clan”s computer geek!  They could join forces with the children in a google scavenger hunt of mapping and street viewing ancestral homes.   And, if the Saints are smiling upon you, may you find yourself in the fortunate position of being related to one or more retired couples who just love to travel.  If you can engage their enthusiasm and wunderlust they may become the boots on the ground you’ve always wished for to find and photo far away monuments or records.

The more the merrier… really !  However you scheme (or choose to use)  the willing participants,  don’t hesitate when they offer.  Really pull out all stops to let their experience count !  If several family members  become truly vested in this work (with a very specific task assigned) the hype will be bigger and the end result will have broader appeal.

You and I both know that there has to be an invisible lid on this “doling out of jobs” in order for it to work.  Play your hand a bit close.  Be sure to explain that in order for you to be an effective writer and compiler of your collective story, you will need certain things from all of them.  Timelines, confidentiality, steadfastness of the untiring persuer…and all suggestions in written form and sent to your email or mailbox.  You’ve got to be able to focus on the big task and trust that as the adults they are…they will keep noses to the grindstone and complete their mission!  Independent of you.  Ask your mother. .. don’t bug me to death…  tend to your own knittin’… implied but unsaid :)

It’s always a  fine line when families are called to work together.  Delegating  fairly and effectively without being seen as bossy is a dance on the tightrope.  But if you can stand to let them help, you will be rewarded in the end.  After all, families are like…well you know…everybody has one !

World Blog Tour Here We Come!

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PD_0021If you follow this craziness titled “Maybe someone should write that down…” you will know that today is World Blog Tour day! Which, by the way, I need to thank the dear Old Design Shop web page for providing my “Map” art work for the earlier post. She has dozens of vintage images available to use at no charge see it here: http://olddesignshop.com/gallery

 Whew Hew~ how fancy and exciting is that?

I’m not sure who, when or where this particular phenomena started, but like a sort of friendly chain letter, it has landed here in Mom’s lap. I must admit that when my ol’ blogging buddy Sue Bahr asked to add me to her list, I sort of cheated a little and decided to spread it over a couple of different posts.  I did it this way to sort of cushion the shyness-panges of “outing” myself with a name and a profile that is a bit more mortal than “Mom.”  If you missed out on that you can review by looking at Good Company and Good Examples. Or maybe visit Sue, the “Writer in Training” at http://SueBahr.wordpress.com.

To participate in the World Blog Tour, I am asked to consider and respond to four different questions about my blog, my writing, my methods etc.  Then, in turn, I will list a few of my favorite blogs–both old and new–which I am rather in love with.  Those listed may or may not choose to pass forward the cache of the World Tour.  But whether they do or not, I still like them quite a bit and look forward to reading their posts.

So here’s my Q and A.  If you find this a bore~ scroll to the bottom and go directly to the links!

So, let’s start with question #1  What am I currently working on? Well… In addition to my day-time gigs ( the Column writing, Book reviewing, blog writing, workshop leader-ing, critique group member-in good-standing and all around tattle-tale) I have been working on a novel length book written from the memoir-y side of the Creative Non Fiction genre.  The story follows the weird and often serendipitous experiences of my life from about the age of self-awareness up to the point of early adulthood.  It will be a crazy”ride.”

Query #2 How does my work differ from others working in this genre?  Well, simply put–All my stories are true, they are rather self-telling and they have a big dose of what is easily seen as point of view from many of the characters (not just me).  And, whether the story I’m writing is centered around the very common topics like childhood bullying or family recipes, I still write fully in my rather unusual voice.  It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s odd and it somehow makes sense of the senseless and mundane stories.

Ask #3 Why do I write what I write?  I write what I like to read and talk about.  The things that are near my heart.  I really enjoy stories, good, timeless stories.  Everyone has one.  I think the only loss in life is to ignore that we all live out a story, and that as lonely as we can often feel…we are not ever without providence or precedence.  We’re living our lives in a time that is too far along in the history of humanity to do much of anything that hasn’t been done before. If you didn’t know that someone else has had the same or similar experience, it’s probably because it wasn’t mentioned much after it was “done and over with.”  We are all connected because whether we realize it or not, we all can relate in so many ways.  I find that truth fascinating.

The big #4 How does your writing process work? Now there’s a dangerous one!  I am a “pantser.”  That means that I tend to write off the cuff or “by the seat of my pants.”  I usually just relax, let my mind wander, and then when some inspiration starts to bug me, whether it’s a word or phrase or photo…then I just write like hell.  I consider the process to be a lot like my method for entering the Interstate from the on-ramp.  When I was a young driver, my nervous Grandfather gave me that advice for driving every time he saw me…get on that ramp and just go like hell, just go like hell! I’ve been driving now for over 40 years, and as of this writing, Grandpa’s advice for getting on the highway here in the “Crossroads of America” where we have a sizable portion of our infrastructure nicknamed the “Spaghetti Bowl” I haven’t had an accident or incident yet!  Thanks Grandpa, point made, advice taken, and I’ve gladly passed it on to my own young drivers!  Now this doesn’t mean that I never get lost.  After my fits of “go like hell” I often find myself going backward, trying to retrace my steps and make everything fit in the car or in with the general principals of story-lines and plot continuum.  Not the easiest way to do this job, but it keeps me challenged and out of the ditch!

Now here’s my new and old list of favorites, and a quick description of why you might want to poke around on their link :)

Old friends with great blogs~

Donna Catterick is a busy writer and talented photographer.  I always love her stories and her photos  http://alwaysbackroads.wordpress.com or http://thisileave.wordpress.com

If you want to read really compelling stories about the “Great Conflict” as it played out in the Pacific Theater, I recommend GP Cox’s blog, it’s like candy for war history buffs http://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com

If you like stories with detail and written with emotion (or weird old recipes!) visit Brandy Heineman at http://brandyheineman.wordpress.com

Some New Discoveries I’ve made since my return to the blogisphere~

For Scholarly resources and some excellent links (with a particular interest in the Holocaust) Linda Shay is writing the very new http://savinghistory.org

Raja comes up with LOTS of straight forward, makes sense, to the point writing tips on http://creativetalentsunleashed.wordpress.com

Out of the Well’s author shares a plethora of prompts and then bares her creative soul by sharing her own responses…brave and inspiring, she’s been writing her blog for a long time, but I’ve missed her work up until recently http://awrestlingwriter.wordpress.com

Good Company and Good Examples

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OldDesignShop_MapCentralEurope-300x217 Today on the Mom-blog we’re running in a bit different direction. Let me explain myself~

 How about a World Blog Tour kids?

After my self imposed extended hiatus, I’ve been spending time tinkering around on “Maybe someone should write that down…” rearranging and updating stuff and trying to make it easier for readers to find the topics they want to read about.  I have to admit that it’s fun to be back at it!  Two or Three years ago when I started blogging about writing family stories I bumped into another blogger Sue Bahr who was doing nearly the same thing. You may remember her writing on Letters to Rosa.  We became cyber-buddies and wrote up a family-stories storm. Then, without consulting one and another, we both went sneaking out of the blogisphere to pursue other projects.  Now, here we are again, back at it after a good long sabbatical…banging on the keyboards again! Slipping back in at about the same time.  It’s kind of a parallel-universe-sci-fi-crazy-coincidental-set-of-circumstances type of deal.

Sue has been busily writing in the genre of Young Adult Fiction and is back blogging about writing how-to on her new site http://SueBahr.wordpress.com which goes by the name of “Author-in-Training.”  Her style is very easy going and her writing samples and advice are clear, instructional and actually fun.  Click on the link above to tour the new “Sue” blog!  As for me, “Mom”, I’ve been off on a bit of a “walk-about” as well.  Navel gazing and discovering myself and what-not.  Well, I guess that’s not completely true, but follow along over the coming weeks and I’ll slowly let the cat out of the bag.

As I mentioned, I’ve been fine tuning and retooling this site and coming out from behind the curtain a bit.  At the top of the page you’ll see a new tab to click on “About the Author.”

wpid-IMG_20130326_125025.jpg  That’s me.

The me behind “Mom.”

And that is the “point” of this World Blog Tour thing! We aim to introduce our readers to some of the bloggers who we find to be rather outstanding at what they do, and to introduce ourselves a bit more to you, our readers.   And let’s face facts, if you are reading blogs you are likely searching for something.  Maybe you want to learn a skill, or value a writer’s opinion, or have an interest in learning about a particular topic.  If you follow this blog, you probably have an avalanche of family stories squeezing for room in your sinus cavity and would really like to get them all written down in a manner that someone else would care to read.  So, I have been working to be a little more organized, and a little more forward in how I do what I do… with that in mind~ per the “rules” of the World Blog Tour, I will be answering the four questions most commonly asked of writers, and then I will share a couple of other blogs that I look to for inspiration or advice.  After all, it’s not really very nice to just hog some of these finely written pages for my own use without sharing :).  So in a couple of days I’ll be answering the big 4 questions and pointing you toward some other good, helpful resources.  That’s what a World Blog Tour is all about.

and don’t forget to visit the new tab up there “About the Author” there could be a test on that material later

…Because Maybe someone should write that down…

Why Bother ?

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REALLY?

About three years ago when I sat down to start blogging, I positioned myself before an ailing desk-top computer while balancing a hefty copy of “Blogging for Dummies” on my knee.  This is what I ended up writing after hours of tinkering~

I’ve spent years chasing my ancestors through wet cemeteries, musty boxes and up family trees.  I’ve dug around libraries, attics, and read books and webpages galore.  What I have learned from all this is simple…

no one else gives a hoot if they can’t somehow “relate” to those old names and numbers

Truth is, all that detective and scholarly work is really boring on paper.  My family used to roll their eyes when they saw me coming with yet another binder of “genealogy stuff.”

What to do ~what to do?  Let me tell ya…

We’re all connected with our families, not by pedigree or heirlooms, but through our common stories.  Names and dates have no real pull on our heartstrings.  But the joys and struggles of everyday life in another time can fascinate us like a flickering campfire.

Oh and a little tattle-tailing or a dash of dishing-dirt doesn’t hurt either! 

Without stories our family tree efforts are just tidy (for some) stacks of paper with footnotes and a few photos sprinkled in.  I invite you to take the next step with me and you will soon be writing an account of your family’s history to be read , re-read  and actually cherished for many years!

When I originally wrote that about three years ago, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.  All of the wonderful people we have lost (and gained!) in the short life of this blog is both sad and miraculous.  I’m speaking of blogs abandoned or begun as well as losses and gains within my own family.

Telling family stories and even writing our own as “memoir” has become quite a “thing.”  I am seeing this form of writing honored and applauded more and more.  Only a handful of years ago, a Memoir was one of the trappings (or curses) of celebrity or notoriety.  Now, regular people, in common circumstances are writing prolifically about themselves and their “inner circle.”  To this I say–HooRay!

 I would like to add a very important “beware” to those of us who are writing stories to be read years from now.

I’m not talking about identity thieves and computer hacks or natural disasters and copyright laws.  I want to advise you to look over all of your writing in a different way.  You need to read over the pages you have enjoyed and slaved over in order to preserve them as readable and understandable documents…later.

Here’s the important point of this:

 Have people of many generations read over the words you have written.

Have them work separately. Ask them to mark or note any words, phrases or sayings that are not immediately clear to them (ie: is there anything you have questions about/ don’t understand?).

 Take these comments and figure out how to make them clear to “other” generations.  As an example, genealogists are accustomed to seeing the word “nee.” Someone who is looking at a family story for the first time may not know the meaning of that funny word.  Yes, they could look it up (as we all probably had to) but wouldn’t you rather have them enjoy the tale that is spun on the page? Well of course you would!  Other things that some would take as common knowledge are in danger of being lost to time. Like Ration Books and what they were, when, and why they were out there.  How about “no swimming in summer?” 

Now, decide how to work the definitions and explanations into your work.  Below are methods that I have used or seen used to good effect.  Remember you want to tell stories more than to give history tutorials.  Likely, you also want to preserve these people beyond their vital statistics for lots of generations to come!

A mix of these will probably work in your own writing~

1.  Use all the antiquated, colloquial, unusual, foreign, confusing word in italics.  Then use a method similar to footnotes at the bottom of the same page to explain it.  So perhaps you would write a sentence and italicize nee. Then, appearing at the bottom of the same page a note would appear as such:

nee~woman’s surname before marriage.

2.  Work the words into the story and thus describe it (or the phrase etc) as a part of the tale.  An example would be to describe an old, rarely used phrase or slang or other term as such:

Jane grew up in the roaring 20’s when women wore long straight dresses, without bras, and were thus called “flappers” and things        that were new and exciting were referred to as “the bee’s knees.”

3.    Perhaps a bit more complicated sounding (but when working with several family members a work-saver) is the “overview page.”  This is a prelude, preamble or forward to the material you are about to present.  It isn’t uncommon to find your family stories falling into neat categories related to universal events. Listen to conversation around a holiday table and you will likely hear talk of “the war years,” or “during the depression,” or “on White Avenue.”  So, describing that place and time as an overview for all of the stories under the heading will set the tone for everyone’s notable adventure during that family “era.”  You could even combine method 1 and method 2 together italicizing the funky words and noting them, and describing events of the time and the vernacular of speech.  This is a great way to get around a re-write for several finished pieces. It’s sort of backtracking, but getting the work done without overdoing. This one works best when each story is written as a separate event like my post “Honest Abe and Too Many Jimmys” ( click here to see it http://wp.me/p2pmvZ-72 )      perhaps under a heading such as “Myths and Mysteries.”  When the story is a synopsis of someone’s whole life, like my post “Uncle Joe” (see it here http://wp.me/p2pmvZ-bb   ) using only the first or second method would be best.

So what tips and tricks do you have up your sleeve tricky writer?  Share your secret weapons with all of us in the comment box! Then~ Maybe someone should write that down…

 

The Case for Place in Your Storytelling

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PD_0095there are places I remember…all my life Though some have changed.  Some forever not for better. Some have gone and some remain.

So aptly crooned by John, Paul, George and Ringo.

 Yes, It’s been stuck in my head for days.

You’re welcome.

 It can haunt you for a while now. Are you humming?

 I am as I type……la la la laaaaa hum hum hummm….

Sometimes the most powerful memories and attachments our families hold on to are of places.  The places are the event hosts, the welcoming port in a storm, the elevator music of our lives.  These certain spots grasp time and happenings in a way that we mortals can never wipe clean. A place is not always a house, it could be another building~ like a church or school or business.  Those are almost a given, but “place” can also be an intersection of two roads, a lake shore, or an event not precisely plot-able on the maps in our head. How about the time you spent the day with cousins at a little carnival and lost all of your hard earned grass cutting money on baseball throws at milk bottles?  Maybe you do remember where the carnival set up, or maybe you just remember the carnival and it’s mesmerizing midway lights as the place.  Which version of “place” is more important to your story?  Which was more important to you while it was happening?

My husband’s Grandfather “Estal” was “something else” a real…how should I put it?…”character.” At family gatherings  and holiday get-togethers he always managed to sneak his way into the nearest liquor cabinet in search of some “Wild Turkey.”  Shortly after bagging his “Turkey” or whatever else he could find, it was not uncommon to find him rummaging through women’s purses looking for unattended cigarettes.  Once he and the scavenged cigarette were both sufficiently “lit” the stories of places would begin.  One of his favorites was about “Little Rock Arkansas.” There were other places he liked to talk about too, all with rather lurid and inappropriate recounts of escapades of the “young Estal.” Mercifully, Grandma Lydia’s ears would usually perk up from two rooms away, and she would come zooming to the rescue and shut him down before he could get too far into the uncomfortably intimate details. Not always, but most of the time.  Ew.

The point being, although these tales were coming from the whiskey inspired lips of an old, half-senile geezer, with little to no social filter, “place” was always the starting point of his dissertation. That is of course if you skip the pre-storytelling preparations of Turkey hunts and cigarette foraging.

In my own family places are christened with names that are verbal shorthand for addresses, or the occupants, or incidents.  They are referred to in ways like “White Avenue, the Old Man’s, The County Line, Perry, 104, the Farm, the Cabin and the New House.  There are also references to places in ways they relate to time like “during the War,in the Flood, and under the Highway.”  Place can be a pretty big deal in our stories.  Often, it is like an extra character because the setting can make an enormous difference as we describe it (or ignore it).

I personally, love using descriptions of places or settings in my own writing.  Sometimes just seeing a photo of a place will elicit the starting point for the telling of a story you’ve never heard before. As relatives reminisce about a picture or event listen to the “place-chat” closely.  And, if you write in a style similar to mine (I try to use the voice of the person I am writing about as much as possible), be careful to also annotate the actual address or name of the place if you can!  “Out at the farm” is a very clear description for my current day readers, but when someone picks this up to read in 20, 50 or 100 years will they have a sense of where you’re writing about? The advent of Google Maps and especially Google Streetview has made this describing and locating from afar thing a whole lot easier!  Don’t hesitate to tuck in a printed out page to help future generations relate to the story you’re writing today!

So try throwing in the location any time you get a chance.  Yes, you may have the info from Ancestory.com that a family was living in Louisville during the Great Depression just by finding their info pop up on a census.  But look closely in the margin on the left and you can find their street name and house number.  Imagine finding the same home today on Zillow or Trulia and seeing photos from the curb, and even the front parlor!  How cool would that be?  And if it’s not too far away, maybe a weekend road trip would be worthwhile  to snap a photo of the fancy entrance gates to the new housing addition that is going up in the middle of Great Grandpa’s cow pasture :).

 Every step we take now to deepen and anchor these stories will bring us and future generations closer together through time.  That’s a pretty cool thing to think about when you’re getting tired of writing… or, when a song is stuck in your head…or you feel like none of it amounts to much…or when your own Estal starts Turkey hunting.

I always feel so glad when a story is told and I hear someone whisper~ 

Maybe someone should write that down

ps…….Here’s a link to an extra cool website that we have here in Indianapolis, hopefully you will be blessed enough to have something similar available for your most researched city or town.  If you don’t, maybe you should take a cue from this one and start your own!  See it at http://historicindianapolis.com/

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