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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Monday
    Dec012014

    When Advent Meets Advertising

    Sony Center Advent Wreath

    Once again, Cyber Monday collides with the first week of the Advent Christmas Season reminding many to stop and reflect instead of reaching for the credit card . With only twenty-one shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the onslaught of marketing emails and ads have created a nervous frenzy that has nothing to do with traditional holiday activities like baking, decorating, or packing for a family vacation. Instead, it’s all about the presents.

    Advent is All About ‘The Present'

    Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, churches light the first of four candles to begin the journey toward December 25. Each week a different them helps the congregation focus on one aspect of preparing for Christ’s birth. Although many Protestant denominations today celebrate this Advent ritual, it’s unlikely our Baptist ancestors would have practiced much about this more Roman Catholic tradition. The beginning of Advent also marks the start of a new church year for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Moravians, Presbyterians, and Methodists. I suppose my grandparent’s Nebraska Lutheran church may have celebrated this tradition as well. Another connection to the past.

    The Four Weeks of Advent

    Liturgical colors shift to purple (Catholic) and Blue (Lutheran) as the first purple candle is lit to signify Hope. Each week another candle is lit, so that by Christmas Day all four are burning.

    • first week, violet: hope
    • second week, violet: peace
    • third week, rose: love
    • fourth week, violet: joy

    Some traditions add a white candle in the center, or vary the focus of each week’s prayers and reflections. And like many faith traditions, the Advent wreath with its evergreen circle and candles of light may have roots in older folk rituals to harken the return of spring in the midst of a cold, dark winter.

    Our Family Advent Traditions

    We didn’t celebrate the Advent wreath or candles when I was young, and I didn’t really discover Advent calendars until I learned German and spent a college semester in Heidelberg. My husband’s Catholic family had lived in post-war Germany, and beautiful glitter-decorated Advent calendars were popular gifts to our sons each year. My mother-in-law was famous for her Christmas card collage creations using re-purposed German Advent calendars. 

    As I unpack the felt Advent calendar handmade by my sister-in-law many years ago and unwrap the cellophane from the version hiding chocolates behind each numbered door, I find that I’m not only preparing and anticipating the joy of Christmas, but I’m also celebrating the memories of past seasons. This season of Advent holds it all: Past, Present, and Future.

    Read More about Advent Traditions

    Sacred Space, from the Irish Jesuits, my personal favorite 

    Advent 2014 - Roman Catholic

    Billy Graham’s Advent Devotional

    Photo Credit: oonola, Adventskranz XXL "Brilliant Xmas Season" im Sony Center am Potsdamer PlatzBerlin-Tiergarten, Dezember 2012. On Flickr.

     

    Friday
    Nov212014

    Exclusive Interview with Steve Robinson, Best-Selling Author of the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series


    There's nothing quite like a good book to fill the hours of a long holiday weekend. Make that a good genealogy mystery, and it's even better. Join me for a chat with Amazon author Steve Robinson talking about The Lost Empresshis newest addition to the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series .

    If you've never read about Robinson's family history sleuth, get ready to meet a quirky and interesting character who might remind you of a few genealogists you know. Tayte is a friendly, accomplished, professional American genealogist with a yearning to discover his own past. Blocked by brick walls to his own family history, J.T. unravels the secrets of other people's family stories instead. In The Lost Empress, J.T. returns to England looking for clues to to a survivor from The Empress of Ireland's tragic sinking in 1914. He finds espionage, twisted tales, and family secrets -- all the ingredients for a good book on a long winter evening.

    The Lost Empress cover

    Denise: The Lost Empress includes so much historical detail that it's obvious you spent a good deal of time researching the ship and the aftermath of her tragic sinking. How long did the actual research require to make you feel grounded in the story? And was Alice modeled after any actual passenger?

    Steve: I do spend a lot of time on research. It’s actually a big part of what I love about my writing. I find the historical research particularly fascinating and The Lost Empress was no exception. As I read about the tragic loss of the Empress of Ireland I honestly couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of the ship before – and yet the loss of life is comparable to the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania that same decade. Perhaps it’s for that reason that I felt particularly drawn to my research into the ship and the passengers aboard that fateful journey. I would strongly encourage everyone to find out more about the Empress of Ireland, and to share her story with others so that she might better be remembered.

    I also had to learn about life in post Edwardian times, of course, and I’ve tried to convey a sense of the time as much through the subtle nuances of the language as well as the everyday objects that help to describe the time. I love the idea of a penny lick – eating ice cream from a glass dish. Yum! As my lead character from the past, Alice Stilwell, was an admiral’s daughter, a great deal of naval research was also required, particularly concerning Chatham’s former royal dockyard and the naval warships of the time, which I found fascinating.

    On the whole I’d say that my research takes about a quarter, or perhaps even a third, of the time that it takes me to write a book. Alice is entirely fictional, although some of the incidents and actions aboard the ship in her last moments are drawn from real events and characters.

    About Alice...

    Denise:  The story is set at the eve of the Great War, when women's roles were still mostly defined by the men in their lives -- fathers, brothers, husbands. Alice Stillwell is aptly drawn, but was it difficult to put yourself into a mindset so different from 21st century sensibilities? Her character is very different from the strong female roles in your previous books.

    Steve:  Male dominance in Britain was very much on my mind when I imagined the life of Alice Stilwell. Women had no right to vote back then of course, and their place was seen as strictly in the home. It’s hard to imagine nowadays that this was only a hundred years ago. Equipped with that mindset, I wouldn’t say it was too difficult to portray Alice as a typical, if somewhat privileged, woman of her time.  I felt that her strength should come from within, rather than being overt, so I’ve not drawn her as such a strong character on the outside, perhaps. But what she goes through demands great strength of character nonetheless and it is through her resolve to protect the people closest to her that drives her on to the story’s conclusion.

    Denise: Alice was well balanced by the other female lead, JT's new British genealogy lady friend.  And I loved the genealogical clues you put right out there in front of our nose! Do you think you are becoming more of a genealogist as you work in this genre with JT?

    Steve: I hope so, and I do believe that I am. I put as much research into the genealogical aspect of my stories as I do for the historical sections. Essentially I have to set JT brick wall after brick wall, and then I have to help him to break them down, even though I rarely know the solution when that wall goes up. Working through the genealogy myself, and making sure it all stacks up, can take a lot of time and I learn a great deal each and every time I tackle something new. I really love old newspapers, which can help as much with my historical research as they can for the genealogy. Bringing crime fiction to genealogy means that my genealogical research isn’t always so much about family relationships either, but the family members lives, and very often the crimes they are either perpetrating, or are otherwise caught up in. The thing that strikes me most about genealogy is that it’s so diverse. All past documents are records or clues to our ancestors lives. It’s no wonder that the puzzle is often so difficult to piece together.

    Is DNA in J.T.'s Future?

    Denise: Your website mentions the next mystery in the series. Can you say what form of genealogical research might be involved? Will JT be working with DNA next?

    Steve: I’m sure DNA will feature in the series at some point, and there might well be a place for it in book 5. JT’s next mystery will largely focus on finding someone in a foreign land. That’s very cryptic, I know, but I find it difficult to talk about a new book without giving things away, and I do like to keep things close to my chest, at least until the first draft is written. I will say that I’m having quite a time translating records written in languages foreign to my own at the moment, which is an a entirely new challenge for me. Perhaps you could ask me again closer to the release date and I’ll tell you how I got on.

    The Lost Empress back

    In the Blood, Steve's first book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series earned widespread praise as an author-published title, and was selected by Amazon UK as one of the 'Best Books of 2011.' From Kindle editions, each book has gone on to be published in paperback and audio editions. The Lost Empress was released last month in all formats.
     
    Steve's been known to drop by The Family Curator, so feel free to leave any questions or comments for him here, or visit his website Steve Robinson.
    If you like to read series books in order (like I do), here's the chronology of mystery series:
     

             

     
     
     
    Friday
    Nov142014

    How to Host a Turkey Shoot (Camera Required)

     

    Our family has never been big on after-turkey day flag flag football. Instead, we've been known to drag out a jigsaw puzzle, mix up a spirited holiday eggnog, or round up a posse for the sorta-annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot. No firearms required. All you need is your smartphone, your car keys and a few willing turkeys. . . ummm relatives.

    Turkey Shoot Rules & Regulations

    Rule #1: Each team shall consist of a minimum of 3 turkeys (contestants), one automobile, and one Polaroid camera.

    The first time we tried this was 1998 when my sister and family lived in Silverado Canyon, an isolated canyon in the Orange County hills of Southern California. As I remember, the crowd that year included kids of all ages, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, and bewildered guests. My sister worked out the "Destinations" using local landmarks and the teams were pretty evenly filled with at least one "local" in each group.

    Smartphone cameras would work as a good substitute for the Polaroids, or you could use the fun new Instax Instant Film  cameras. Everyone likes to see their picture actually printed, so it might be worth borrowing a few instant-print cameras if possible.

    Rule #2: The objective of the competition is to navigate your team between suggested destinations and return with photographic proof of your adventures.

    This Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot is a riff on an old fashioned scavenger hunt.  The Regulation Handbook needs to list the Rules (VERY important to family harmony) and destinations with points.

    Rule #3: Depending upon the degree of difficulty, each potential destination has been awarded a point value.

    More points awarded for a photo of a live turkey than a pogo of a bale of hay.

    Rule #4: Teams which demonstrate ingenuity by devising a means to have a stranger operate their camera, (so that all team members appear in the photo) will be awarded 10 bonus points per destination.

    And, THIS, is where family harmony can begin to break down. The rules state that "a stranger" must operate the camera -- because Polaroid camera's didn't work with a remote shutter release, duh -- but what if you "know" the "stranger." Does the team still earn the points? 

    Rule #5: No team is allowed to leave the canyon.

    It's a good idea to establish geographic boundaries or you may lose your contestants.

    Rule #6: Desitnations may be visited in any sequence.

    Another good rule that helps to spread out the teams in your area. Watch out for neighbors who may help or hinder teams that follow the first one. Folks seem to get into the spirit of the event. It might be good to heat up more cider for the after-party.

    Rule #7: Return to the host's home at the designated time.

    Our teams dragged home in a most untimely fashion. Penalize tardiness with a point loss to get the turkeys home before dark.

    Rule #8: The team with the highest total point score will be honored at the Gala Awards Ceremoney and be exempt from dishwashing duties.

    Prizes are always welcome! Recycle old trophies, or make your own with chocolate turkeys!

    Turkey Shoot Destinations

    (Customize for your neighborhood. Don't make 'em too easy.)

    Turkey Class - 35 points each

    With a live turkey

    With something that embodies the spirit of Thanksiving

    In front of a "Kids at Play" sign

    In front of an Eiffel tower (!)

    Sitting on a hammock

    Stuffing Class - 30 points each

    On top of a castle

    In front of a roaring fire

    In front of a "Road Ends" sign

    With two dogs owned by a stranger

    On a boat

    Cranberry Class - 25 points each

    With a horse

    Standing next to a fire truck

    On a walking bridge

    In front of a "Happy Thanksgiving" sign

    Sitting on a bale of hay

    You won't want to miss a photo of all the teams, maybe holding up their winning photos.

    Turkey Shoot Handbook

    Turkey Shoot Variations 

    City Version

    My sister reminded me that the original version of this game included city destinations such as: Have your photo taken with a Starbucks Barista (you could add a Pumpkin Latte!). 

    Newspaper Edition

    The Newspaper in Education website includes a Thanksgiving Newspaper Scavenger Hunt that's a good option if the weather isn't cooperating with an outdoor driving shoot.

    Monday
    Nov102014

    Armistice Day Parade 1921 in Lincoln, Nebraska

    My grandparents, Edna and Walter May, were great amateur photographers and filled several black paper photo albums with snapshots, all duly captioned and dated (thank you, Gma!). This photo was taken on Wednesday, November 11, 1921 in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. My grandfather Walter G. served in the Army 314th Supply Train during World War I.

    May 1922 photo album064

    In Washington, D.C., Armistice Day was marked by the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the body of an American soldier fallen on the battlefield in France was buried in Arlington Cemetery. This was also the first year that November 11 was commemorated as a legal Federal holiday throughout the United States of America.

    Tuesday
    Nov042014

    Photo Hightlights from NARA in New York City

     from my Scrapbook. . .

    A few weeks ago I met up with Allison Dolan and Diane Haddad from Family Tree Magazine at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City for The Genealogy Event, a three-day genealogy and DNA conference. It was a great chance to meet other genealogists and tour the historic Custom House building located at Battery Park. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots from the weekend -- 

    Oct travel 23

    Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House on Bowling Green, built in 1906-07
    near the site of the original Fort Amsterdam settlement. Now home of 
    The National Archives of New York City and the National Museum of the
    American Indian. 

    Oct travel 22

    Family Tree Magazine Editor Diane Haddad and Publisher Allison Dolan
    at the Custom House. Sculpture by Daniel Chester French
    representing the four continents of international commerce.

    Oct travel 25

    Oct travel 26

    The Rotunda features a series of murals by Reginald Marsh depicting the shipping
    activities he observed on New York's shores.
    The panels are colorful and full of life. 

    Oct travel 27

    One of my favorite panels. I love Lady Liberty viewing the City and harbor.

    Oct travel 28

    View from the second floor (location of the NARA research rooms)
    of the colorful ceiling and beautiful lighting below. 

    Oct travel 29

    NARA exhibit of the early log book showing the first custom payments 
    made at the building.

    Oct travel 30

    This map is made up of tiny thumbnail images of documents and photos held at
    National Archives repositories throughout the nation. Very cool!

    Oct travel 21

    My walk through Battery Park included a view of the Statue of Liberty and
    the tourist boat waiting to depart. 

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