Heraldry and We the People, Return from Spring Break

I originally wrote this post several years ago while the “Mom blog” was in its infancy. But after watching a good friend pridefully chose “just the right spot” to display her new, official and authentic family crest– complete with expensive frame and mat–freshly purchased while visiting a Theme-Park-Mega-Land…I thought we could all use a refresher. We Americans just don’t “get” the whole Heraldry and Flying the Family Colors thing. But boy, we sure want to participate! Here’s the real scoop, along with a bit of my own shame showing 😉   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:  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 Demi-Czar, 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.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Julie-Everhart-Fine-Art-and-Photography/161130630622523?__mref=message_bubble
Lord Levi, as rendered by my friend Julie Everhart, of Julie Everhart Fine Art and Photography

Wow, how cool is that?

It’s also as authentic as the “Heraldry” you buy in a glitzy little shop or from one of the online retailers. This is my fabulous furboy, posing as the Lord of a fictitious family who lives out their on-screen lives in a private home rented annually by their production crew.

I’d rather have this photo any day over one printed out with an ink-jet from a tourist trap! If you’d like your baby, or yourself, transformed into Napoleon or Marie Antoinette (before that whole unfortunate beheading thing) get in touch with Julie, you can have royalty “your way” as the great American (Burger) King says 😉

How to Tell A Story that Makes Sense in 10 Steps

How the heck did we get Here?
How the heck did we get Here?

There is storytelling, and then there is telling a story that makes sense (even years into the future and long after it’s written). Sometimes as Family Historians, we find that our tales get twisted up into mazes of confusion and backtracking.

It’s frustrating. I’ve been there, and I understand completely.

At times, even while we’re writing a piece we know that it will “never do.” Unfortunately, this is how so many of us give up before we’ve ever really started. So here’s my 10-step remedy for such situations…presented of course with one of Mom’s little soul-baring stories as a side dish…

10 Steps to Writing a Good Story (that makes sense)

The first time I attended a writing workshop I was full of fire! Inside my leather satchel (yes, it’s been that long ago) I had four typed and double spaced pages of pure storytelling genius. Our samples were collected at the door by a teaching assistant, and then whisked away to the copier room to reproduce one set for each attendee.

Back then, I would guess the photocopying and stapling expense comprised about half of the $25 fee for the series.

Over the next three Thursday evenings, we were immersed in technique discussions and submission sample reviews done in alphabetical order by each author’s last name. Until my “time at the table” I was feeling really good about my little story. Dang good. But when “R” time came in the lineup, my confidence faltered. I deflated, melted, and disintegrated into a thin grimy layer of humiliated dust atop my chair.

The teacher was quite nice about “it” –the killing of my pages that is. She could have been much worse I suppose. As she wrapped up the previous story’s glowing critique and announced my piece, she fanned out the four pages, raised them above her head and proclaimed them “a perfect example of a beginner’s error.”

Oh Murder!

Apparently, in the meager 1000 words I had slavishly typed during lunch breaks on the nice IBM Selectric at work, I had wasted no paper. She briskly lead us through my beloved pages emptying out red pens as she guided us in circling large chunks of my lovely prose.

As it turned out, I had managed to write about five different story fragments in one small essay.

“Yes,” she reiterated to my classmates, “This is a perfect example of the huge mistakes a beginner makes.”

So in an effort to spare you all from making the same classic “beginner’s errors” I offer you my 10 Steps to writing a clean, clearly focused, enduring and easily understood Family History story.

 

  1. Start writing. Don’t worry about any of the above. Just think about a person or branch of the family or an event you would like to tell a story about and begin.
  2. Keep writing. Write everything you know via family lore, genealogical and historical research.
  3. Gather together all the media (photos, ephemera, source books etc) and check to see if you’ve left anything out. If you find something, add it in to this piece.
  4. Write a bit more about how you came to discover/know/guess on the details of the subject: “Old Daniel always wore striped overalls, he saved the solid denim set for Sunday Church”–per photos and stories told to me by Aunts Aida and Lily Poindexter and Uncle Les.
  5. When you simply cannot write any more about this seemingly narrow subject, get out your red pen.
  6. Begin circling small or large blocks of text that could be made bigger. Who are the other people (neighbors, the mail carrier, a teacher, the Poindexter Aunts and Uncle Les) mentioned in the story? Do they matter? Is the setting of the tale of interest on its own? Did these events take place at a newly built home or on a farm passed through generations, on a steamship or clipper crossing the Atlantic in August? Is there back-story here that needs to be added in so that years from now–when “everyone” doesn’t possess what we currently think of as common knowledge people will “get it?” Would a future reader need to do research to understand or find explanations in order for this tale to hold their attention? Perhaps the small town your relatives “traded in” no longer exists. Can you map it– if no, why not? Was it wiped out in the TVA project? What was the TVA? Was the town on the main road, and suddenly the railroad came through about a mile to the east…killing all the businesses and leaving the area rather abandoned? Is that small town now swallowed up by a larger city and only referred to on maps as a neighborhood? Was your family’s first home on American soil razed to build Slugger Stadium in Louisville (mine was!)?
  7. Don’t be intimidated. This really is the fun part. This is when you discover that you have a much larger story to tell when you may have thought otherwise. The “trick” is to dissect it in this way so that it doesn’t all get convoluted and become a “perfect example of huge mistakes that beginners make.”
  8. Now take your time. Go back to each circle of red ink. Relax. Simply tell your reader the story of that solitary snippet. Make it into a stand alone piece. Give it all the care and attention that you’ve given it’s “parent” essay.Try out steps 1-7 on this new work. Worry about weaving together the bigger story later.
  9. As a luxurious bonus, if you have a kind friend who knows little to nothing about your subject matter, ask them if you may read a completed story to them. Have them stop you anytime they have a question or have no point of reference for what or whom you are storytelling about. This info is gold…it’s just like having a reader from the future sit with you over coffee and ask you questions about the story you are telling.
  10. Since this method will work equally well with pieces you’ve already written…put them through this exercise and see if anything cries out for the red pen treatment! You may find an additional batch of stories to write adding to the richness of the work you’re doing.

Above all, enjoy your writing and storytelling. Go ahead and tell as many stories as you’d like. But make the events clear, interesting and well thought-out so your readers will stay engaged and keep turning pages and wanting more.

Maybe even throw in a photo of yourself at work on the laptop you used to write it with…imagine what a hoot that’ll be to your great grandchildren seeing dinosaurs of all types!

dino-land with Uncle Harv
dino-land with Uncle Harv

What to Wear to a Writers’ Conference?

My Lucky Mary Poppins Boots
My Lucky Mary Poppins Boots

This one has been eating away at me, figuratively of course. In reality I am no smaller, seeming any slimmer, more willowy looking nor am I blissfully dropping sizes rapidly. In fact, whilst wringing my hands in worry, I have knocked back more than one box of each variety of Girl Scout Cookies–I HAD to buy them–Dollbaby was selling them.

Although there is no chance this quandary of “what to wear” will send me over the edge (let’s not digress), I just can’t believe that no one else frets about this! I have Google-searched my brains out and the things that pop immediately are things I consider no-brainers.

Q. What to wear to a Prom?  A. Formal

Q. What to wear to a friends’ wedding?  A. Don’t wear white or black and never look better than the bride

Q. What to wear to a funeral?  A. Black, black always works except for weddings

Q. What to wear to a murder?  A. Gloves and a Mustache–DUH!

Now of course, there are a few bloggers out there who have graciously tried to offer up helpful advice on the matter. Probably the biggest and most commonly proclaimed one is the selection and rather forcibly encouraged wearing of suitable footwear. Lots of walking and standing at these things they bark…except that doesn’t hold true at this one. Of course.

Besides, I am not walking in with my resume chock full of Catholic-related “works published” in sensible shoes. They’ll think I’m a Nun–until I open my mouth of course while having the misfortune of stubbing my toe as I fall into the classroom. 

Yes~ I can make a hell of an entrance!

This conference is a little different. It’s a one-day intensive for the Midwest Writer’s Workshop with only a handful of very specific, day-long offerings. These are held separately from the Mother-ship conference in late July so that anyone wanting to do the “intensives” can still participate in breakout sessions during the biggy later in the summer. Genius.

So why does it matter what I wear? Because I’ve signed up for the heart breaker…the Manuscript Review.

eek.

The workshop is indeed intense, and very limited (only 20 writers allowed in that one room to participate). We start at 9, end at 3 and eat our sack lunches at our desks. Shoes are not an issue. I’ve heard nothing of bathroom breaks.

All submissions (a full-page synopsis “Once Upon a Time” all the way through to “The End”) along with the polished and perfected double-spaced, Times New Roman 12pt first nine pages were due to the presenters weeks ago. They’ve had plenty of time to nit-pick, shred, gut and throw back their heads in a deep voiced jackal-laugh over each tiny misstep.

Nine measly pages. I can barely say hello to my dentist in 9 pages!

Here’s the kicker…I’m taking my baby…my NaNoWriMo project. You know, the one that consumed my life and brain for day upon day during last November! And the manuscript reviews are blind. Blind, in that, no one knows whose work is being shown and mauled and critiqued on the Smart-board. So no one has a spotlight shining over their head while they are beaten to a pulp alongside their masterpiece. Humane.

Except, my main character and me–well– we look an awful lot alike in the real world. It’s not a memoir, but parts of it are perhaps too true. And even though most of it is the stuff of complete and utter fiction, people who know me and have read excerpts swear that some of the most outlandish parts are the true parts!

So, should I be myself and sit comfortably with all my normal attire (and risk outing myself as the inspiration for the wildly unstable character up there on the class board)–or should I try to pick something neither my Protagonist nor I would ever choose? I have a feeling the latter would make me conspicuously squirmy and itchy!

I have a feeling it’s coming down to eeny-meeny-miny-mo in the morning…and my Mary Poppins boots 🙂 . So I’ll keep ya posted–if I survive that is

#MWW15Saturday

Take Care What You Donate and to Whom

Ancestors, locked away and held for ransom!
Ancestors, locked away and held for ransom!

My Ancestors, and perhaps many millions more of your own, are actively being held for ransom. Donating to a local Historical Society seems like a kind and generous act when you have finished scanning and scrutinizing photos and papers. BUT. Lately, I’ve been learning a tough lesson about handing over the “goods” to a big omnipotent archive.

Well of course I’ll elaborate…thanks for asking!

Remember 10 or 15 years ago when the digital imaging thingy was hotly debated and very new? I clearly recall telling my oldest daughter she couldn’t have a “camera phone” because I was sure they would be quickly outlawed. Copyright and plagiarism issues were the angst du’ jour.

Well, that didn’t happen. And now, I cannot imagine doing my job, any of them…without my smartphone. I use it more for photos than I use it for incoming/outgoing calls. It’s cheap. One micro SD card = a bazillion images stored. It’s immediate. The clarity of the photos is startling and WYSIWYG (blog-speak for “What You See Is What You Get) lets me know immediately whether or not the pic is good.

And this brings me to the digital scanners we dedicated family history hounds tow along in our purses and dity-bags.  The amount of light these wonders of the modern age expose delicate pieces of documentation to is minimal. They are relatively safe and will not markedly degrade the object. With our memory cards, once again we can store a bazillion images inexpensively. We can then upload the images and SHARE with loved ones. Or use them to head up blog articles (guilty 🙂 )

Meanwhile, back to the real late 90’s and copyright infringement and book-snarfing via blatant acts of plagiarism like photographing each page for free ala a Boris and Natasha…

I went into our local climate controlled, nothing-allowed-in but a #2 pencil and a single sheet of standard notebook paper, air locked and hushed-if you-whispered image archive room. My mission for the day was to find a photo and perhaps some biographical info on my husband’s Granddad who was a big shot in banking. It was a really cool place with little self-serve lockers in the airlock where you could lock away all the stuff you weren’t allowed to bring in. That most certainly would include a camera–phone!

I dutifully used my #2 to request the file box that I wanted to see, and about 20 minutes later, was happily pawing through it elbow deep. Now, it seems the archive had been in possession of this box for about 20 some years. However, they had not gotten around to cataloging the specific contents. I had struck gold by devine intervention during a discerning round of eeny-meeny-miny-mo. I was only allowed one box at a time.

All the goodies were not delicately preserved in acid free sleeves– handled only with the long surgical steel tongs and white gloves I had imagined. Some warehouse guy heaved the box up the basement stairs and plopped the cardboard box on the austere table before me. “Dig in” he gruffly stated as he disappeared back through the “staff only” door to the stairwell.

After an hour or so, I found a couple of trade journal articles talking about BankerBilly with a press photo included. Elated, I filled out another form requesting a photo copy of these items. I forked over $2.25 (after being allowed to go back to my locker to bring back only my check book and driver’s license) and left. You see, there was about a two week turn around on photocopy requests. As guardians of the frail past, the archive had a strict standard for xeroxing anything. Each item was only allowed to be exposed to the copier “X” amount of times. After that, only a copy of a copy would be offered. The two week turn-around was necessary for the staff to research the number of times on record the same items had gone “through the light.” Respectable I thought, prudent of them.

In about 16 days, I had my copies in hand. Happiness.

Now let’s enter the digital age. How exciting. Everything is less adverse to the integrity of images, the work of a scanner is cheap, Memory cards and flash drives are rather universal to most scanners and results are immediate. Life is good.

Except. It’s expensive. Because there’s a ransom to be paid.

My local archive has done a real bang-up job in acquiring mounds of historic and familial documents. Still mostly uncatalogued, these items have been dropped at their feet by the bushel-full from institutions, families, and new owners of old homes with trunks full of goodies found in the attic. I would guess all of the donors felt like they were really doing a good deed. A public service–preserving history. Walking to the dumpster and giving this stuff the “heave-ho” isn’t illegal as far as I know. And although I would find such an act “unthinkable” it sure would be easier than driving the stuff downtown, dodging Hobos, and paying to park.

So several weeks ago, I went tootling down to the archive to order digital copies of several images I need for a book I’m working on. It’s a local history thing. It’s not going to hit the NYT top ten or rival John Grisham. Frankly, I am hoping for robust sales in order to break even on the hours of research etc. I brought new, clean, still in their packages sets of memory cards and a large flash drive. I purchased these thinking it would make the whole transaction less expensive ( I was looking for over 100 images) and one less step for the curating staff.

Imagine my shock to learn the “new” pricing structure. With the upgrade from copy machine to digital imaging, each image I wanted to take home would cost me $15. For that $15, I didn’t even get a lousy sheet of copier paper. Additionally, to publicly use any images in their holdings, a separate fee of $75 was imposed as a “use” fee. In short, those same images of Grandpa BankerBilly whose own last name was the property and birthright of my own children, would have cost me nearly $600 to walk out the door with that day! Back during the copy machine days, I was dinged for around $20 with postage.

Needless to say, I was stunned and a little more than just pissed off!

So before you haul a bunch of stuff to the mother-ship of your Historic Archives, I suggest doing a little bit of research first. What exactly is their policy for sharing and cataloging, and storage. Does it seem like they care? Is there another, smaller institution–even your local, small town library–who would like first dibs on this stuff?

Can it be deposited somewhere where it will be more than warehoused and shared at extortionist prices? Look for these places first. Please!

Bitter? Yes

Abhorred may be the more succinct description. How dare you hold my Grandpa-in-law hostage in a box in the basement on a warehouse shelf…unopened, ignored.

Maybe someone should write that down…

 

 

Ahh, Family Pets–conversation starters–kill chickens

The Mom Pooch in all his  Viking-Dog Glory
The Mom Pooch in all his Viking-Dog Glory

Pets may not sound like a big deal when it comes to writing a good family history, but just try asking about an animal in a photo and see where the path unfurls!

Ponies, chickens, hound dogs, cats, and even prized hogs and rabid coons have all been a part of many of my stories. Sometimes just hearing the animal’s name and then asking where the inspiration came from opens a stream of new conversation. I recall Ellie, Mr Pooch, the triplets Red, White and Blue, Purp, Mable, Bunny, Chopper and Johnny to name a few. My Great Grandpa loved to talk about his best milk cow, Soupy, who he named after comedian Soupy Sales.

Take a look at the photo below, not exactly of a family pet, but viewing it and asking about it’s origin actually turned into a long chat about the whole family going to the Cincinnati Zoo one weekend. This then led into the stories told about the building of I-74 which you may now take to get to the zoo from Indianapolis!

Mom petting a lion cub at the Cincinnati Zoo c 1964
Mom petting a lion cub at the Cincinnati Zoo c 1964

  Sometimes an expression you have heard a million times will only make since once you can finally connect the dots.

My dad has always referred to the movie “Fatal Attraction” as the “Kill Chickens” movie.

Now, I thought he was just using some weird code to indicate that it was time to change the channel if the grand kids were around and it happened to come on TV.  But one day, I was listening to him tell a story about his grandfather during the war years when food and everyday items were under rationing restrictions.

Just keep “Fatal Attraction” = “Kill Chickens Movie” in mind

My dad had a pet Rooster (a chicken to city folks) named Elmer.  He won him on a little traveling midway fair and square and had raised Elmer from chick-hood.  One day when Little-Kid-Dad came home from school, Elmer was no where to be found. He found it odd that Elmer was not pecking around in his pen. That night, with his own Grandfather visiting from out of town as an honored guest, chicken and noodles were served for dinner!

Kill Chickens. 

             Glen Close. 

                      Pet Bunny.

                                Boiling Pot.

Oh Dear Lord!  

 So ask around, if you dare, about the animals you see in the background of photos. Or learn a little something about how GG Grandpa raised his prize winning Blue Tick Hounds (cover your ears for the “runts” fate). Was there a famous comic cow in your family barn? We had a crawdad the size of a small lobster named Alfred…but he really smelled up my brother’s room. Somehow he escaped from his tank and was never seen again. Hmmm…

Maybe someone should write that down…

And Many Joyous Returns

20141128_114608
Aunt Lolly wrote on the back of her own photo the date it was taken and “Aint I a sight”

 Mom recently had a birthday. I don’t think I am ready to admit which one, but let’s say that I’ve done enough of them to hope I still have a certain percentage left! I am also old enough to recall getting greeting cards in the mailbox from a generation or two older than my own grandparents. I wish I still had some of these treasures, but I don’t.

Year after year, I recall getting a card from a mystery aunt. I do not recall ever seeing the woman alive. She was the aunt of my great grandmother if you can fathom that! I also don’t think that she ever left her own house at any point during her golden years. Maybe she couldn’t fit through the door? I don’t know. I remember my uncles and dad joking that she’d have to be buried in a piano crate.

Sometimes they would talk about it and laugh and someone would start up a rousing riff of “Fatty Fatty Two by Four” on Gramcracker’s old upright piano. Everyone would sing along. I liked the song. It was naughty…especially the part: “couldn’t fit through the bathroom door–so she pee peed on the floor– poor old Fatty Two by Four!”

I never felt bad about singing along when I was a kid. No one seemed to notice that I joined in on the “bathroom talk.” They were too busy laughing and singing themselves! And I also liked it because they seemed to be crooning happily about this mystery aunt who always sent me empty birthday cards. Never a gift–always a card, with odd old lady sayings on them. “Happy Birthday, and Many Joyous Returns.” No $5. Signed in swirling old lady script (which I have inherited by the way) “With Fondness, Aunt Lolly.”

As a child I was dragged to more than my healthy share of funerals, I’m sure. But since I do not ever recall going to one with a piano case front and center, I’m pretty sure I missed Aunt Lolly’s. Maybe I had tonsillitis or something when she died. I got out of a lot of stuff because of my tonsils. They were pretty much terminally ill.

So, with that off my chest…yes, I’m getting old and I count my unappreciative, non-sympathetic attitude toward Aunt Lolly and her agoraphobia/obesity woes as things to repent for. Let’s move forward with the birthday thing shall we?

I am asking you all to talk about, write down, and reflect on the day and circumstances of your birth.

Wow, did we just step in a little bit of something there? If you are very fortunate, you may now have, or perhaps have had in the past access to an “unfiltered” elder. You know, someone with loose lips and one foot in the grave. I’m telling you now, suck up to these people and then hold on! They are golden if you want the real truth on a whole lot of stuff. Prepare to have your hair curled!

In my own family, my dad has a rather compulsive obsession (see how I skated around that one…I used the words slightly out of their standard order) with calling me or visiting each year specifically on my birthday. He needs to tell me the story of the day I was born. Now, my mom joins in with her part of course, but mostly, this is the territory of my dad. Since they are both past 80 now, when Pop called this year to tell me the story once again, I wrote down the phrases that he uses doggedly year after year to describe that day. Here are some excerpts:

December 11th it started snowing– That morning your mom said she thought she was having some pain– I put the chains on the tires– It was our 57 Chevy–We drove out the old highway–Doc said “get her here”– The snow was “Ass deep to a 10 foot Indian”– You were born 13 minutes before Midnight on the 12th– Mom said she didn’t want any kid born on the 13th.

I’ll fill in the details some day in my Memoir. The point is, I have heard those exact words year after year in the telling and retelling of my birth. I don’t want to forget them, the words. I know the story, but now, the exact words are what I need to get down on paper, for my OCD dad and for me– a chip off the old block–and for my own kids on down to and including Dollbaby.

Of course I have taken to doing the same for my kids now. Boring them each year over their festive dinner and cake…talking about the way they came into the world. One was a late fall baby, two were born in the summer time. I haven’t found colorful words to cling to and repeat…no 10′ Indians or tire chains. But some day, they might be glad that they can tell the stories to their own families. Perhaps they’ll sing naughty piano songs about their crazy grandmother? Who knows.

Maybe someone WILL write that down…