Miscellaneous

Barksdale family heirloom

It’s almost a year ago that I found in a box an old button hook that belonged to my grandmother Elizabeth Sargent Trewin’s sister-in-law Sarah Bowley Sargent. I put a poll up asking how folks would handle an item like that—one that was more distantly related to them. Most respondents were happy to put the item back in the box and hand it down. I chuckled when I saw that.

Poll.JPG

I was confronted with a similar situation again recently when I  came across a small prayer book dated 1849; on the cover appear the initials “A. M. Barksdale” and the street address “2204 Monument Avenue” is written inside. The opposite side of that page contains a line from Dante’s Divine Comedy in Italian and English: “Down through the world of infinite bitterness.”

Clueless as to whom the book once belonged, I must admit that discarding it crossed my mind. But, I was too curious and ended up putting my detective hat on.

I won’t bore you with the zigs and zags of my small bit of research. Suffice it to say that I am quite certain the book belonged to Agnes Morton Barksdale (1834-1908) and that the address is that of the home of “Francis D. Barksdale”, a cousin (once removed) who lived at that street address in Richmond, Virginia. The house, built in 1909, still stands.

I don’t think Agnes ever married or had children. She was the daughter of Dr. Claiborne Williams Barksdale (b. 1802) and his second wife Sallie Norment Whitlock. The family lived in Halifax Co., Virginia. Their children were:

  • Claiborne Whitlock Barksdale (1833 – 1902)
  • Agnes Morton Barksdale (1834 – 1908)
  • Judith Beverly Barksdale (1836 – 1891)
  • Mary Barksdale (1838 – 1854)
  • Sallie Claiborne Barksdale (1840 – 1916)
  • Achilles Whitlock Barksdale (1842 – 1916)
  • Thomas White Barksdale (1844 – 1902)
  • Howard Barksdale (1846 – 1907)


How did we end up with the book? That was the biggest question of all, and it took a while to figure it out.

In a nutshell, one of my grandmother’s sisters married a descendant of one of Agnes’s sisters, Sallie Claiborne Barksdale. That descendant died not long after they married, and my grandmother’s sister remarried and moved to California. Somehow this book remained behind in New Jersey with my grandmother.

I must say, my initial inclination was to dispose of it somehow, but I am glad I took the time to connect the dots and find the story behind this object. It was obviously used quite a bit by Agnes given the wear in the leather. I’ve sent a few emails to some folks I’ve found who appear to be bona fide descendants of Agnes’s siblings but have not yet heard back. I’ll have to wait and see where this little book’s fate takes it from here…

UPDATE 4/3/2017: I am pleased to report that this little prayer book is en route to a new home with a bona fide descendant of Dr. Claiborne Barksdale and his wife Sallie N. Whitlock.


Categories: Barksdale, Heirlooms, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The special trees in our American landscape

In the Berkshires, 1850 – By George Inness – Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza en depósito en el Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21148368

A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you. There seemed to be green everywhere yesterday, and speaking of green, today I have trees on my mind, not all trees, just a certain kind of tree…

Have you ever looked out on fields and seen a tree that was just massive? You can tell it has been there for a very long time. Was it standing alone like a lone sentry or providing vast swathes of shade to a centuries-old farmhouse? If the answer is yes, you may well have come upon what is known as a “first-growth tree,” a tree that is described so beautifully in Our Vanishing Landscape, a 1955 book by Eric Sloane.

Such trees provide first-growth timber, the strongest and best timber of all, timber that our American ancestors were blessed with in abundance as they took to settling the land and harnessing its natural resources. Per Sloan, this was “wood grown from untouched earth with the humus and peat and the natural rot of age-old forests.” He describes how, today, seemingly dilapidated centuries-old barns made of chestnut may actually still be in exceptionally good shape, the wood in even better condition than any new wood that could ever be found to replace it.

Morning by George Inness – Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11006350

As you can imagine, in many parts of America today, first-growth timber is quite rare. Certainly that’s true in the East. Many of America’s forests and woods were cleared to make way for agriculture. But, says Sloane, America’s first farmers would leave some first-growth trees dotting the landscape to serve as navigational markers, and often they would choose their home sites based on the fact that a first-growth tree stood nearby, for shade, and as a reminder, he says, that “into that tree went the memory of all the forests of great trees that had disappeared around it.”

I grew up in a farmhouse that was built in 1774, and I often think of that place and its beautiful surroundings, and my mind always wanders to a maple tree—a gigantic maple tree—that stood to the rear of the house on the left, alongside a babbling brook. It’s only after reading Sloan’s book that I realized a first-growth tree in the form of that maple had quite possibly been in our midst all those years ago, and perhaps that is why, subconsciously, my mind, without fail, wanders back to that tree… There is something about nature that pulls us, captivates us, calms us, and has the power to make us feel whole. That tree was magnificent. I’ve been searching for a photograph of it, and I’m sure we have one somewhere. The closest I’ve gotten so far, however, is an image with just part of the tree in the background.

Landscape by George Inness, 1878; Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to be in a place where the majority of maples were that size. Unfortunately, history and human circumstances have denied us of the possibility to see such trees en masse in many parts of the country. We have to seek out our sequoias and redwoods and travel to mountain and forest places left largely untouched by human hands and natural disasters. We can dig into historical records to find traces of giant trees, and examine paintings by artists of previous centuries to catch glimpses of past American landscapes. As I look at paintings by 19th-century American artist George Inness (1825-1894), for instance, I see what I think must be at least the occasional first-growth tree dotting his landscapes. Whether they were there in reality or his imagination conjured them up, I don’t know. But, for instance, go back to the top of this post and look at the tree hiding in the background on the right in his painting In the Berkshires. That tree looks absolutely gigantic.

Credit: Flickr user Rocor, Hackensack Meadows, Sunset, 1859, by George Inness. Oil on canvas NY Historical Society. LACMA – Creative Commons non-commercial 2.0 generic license – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Interestingly, Sloane points out that it is documented that trees the size of California’s redwoods once existed in the East. He cites an 1841 record of a walnut tree that once stood in Forestville, New York, a mile above the mouth of a creek, named Walnut Creek after this tree. The giant tree was “36 feet in circumference at its base, gradually tapering 80 feet to the first limb. Its entire height was nearly 200 feet, and was estimated to contain 150 cords of wood, or 50,000 feet of inch boards. The bark was a foot thick. The tree was entirely sound when blown down in 1822…”

When I went on the Fulton History website to look into the existence of other giant trees reported in the press, I discovered an article in The Album of Rochester, New York, dated December 1, 1825: “An Elm in Hatfield, Mass. is supposed the largest tree in New England, It measures in circumference 34 feet at two feet from the ground; at the height of five feet, the smallest place in the trunk, the circumference is 24 feet 6 inches. There is a cut in the tree four feet from the ground, which tradition says was made by the Indians, for the highest rise of water in Connecticut river.”

By George Inness – The AMICA Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20146490

The December 12, 1826, issue of the Franklin Herald and Public Advertiser (Greenfield, Mass.) contained an article on large trees. Some excerpts include: “The Charter Oak in Connecticut — From the best information that we can obtain, says a Hartford paper, this tree is no less than four hundred years old; it is 23 feet in circumference near the ground, and at the height of 7 feet, it is 17 feet in circumference; the height of the tree, is about 70 feet; some of its branches extend 20 feet. […] In May, 1826, there was an Elm blown down in Wells, (Maine,) which measured 27 feet and 4 inches in circumference, making the diameter something over 9 feet; and was 40 feet from the foot to a crotch; from thence it was 20 feet to the first limb, running to the height of 60 feet from bottom before it had any limbs, when it expanded to an immense size. The exact height of the tree could not be accurately obtained, as the top was much broken, but was computed to be upwards of 100 feet. […] The Lexington, Ky. Public Advertiser says, that there now stands on the bank of the Ohio river, in the State of Indiana, opposite the mouth of Salt river, a Sycamore tree, which has stabled fourteen head of horses at one time, with ample room. It takes 75 long paces to go round its trunk, and you may with perfect ease turn a fourteen foot pole in the inside of its cavity.”

By George Inness – ArtDaily.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49327263

The New Jersey Fredonian on April 11, 1827, reported that a giant poplar in perfect health had [very sadly] been felled by a Mr. Moser on his land in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It was 117 feet high with a circumference at the base of 20 feet 7 inches. The first limb appeared at 64 feet off the ground. It was estimated to be at least 300 years old by those who examined it’s circles. The article’s author, lamenting the poplar’s demise, referred to it as the “largest solid tree” ever seen or heard of, and a “giant of the forest.”

Painting by George Inness; image uploaded by Noroton at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3051470

The Onondaga Register of Onondaga Hollow, New York, on 28 July 1827 included an article originally reported by the Allegany [sic.] Democrat of a massive sycamore tree that had provided a winter residence to a family of seven: “There is now on the farm of Mr. Andrew Beggs (painter) of Pittsburgh, a sycamore tree, in which a family of seven persons, resided all winter, having been detained by the freezing over of the river while ascending it. In this tree they found a comfortable asylum from the storms of a severe winter, with room for all the necessary furniture and cooking utensils, having a fire in the centre Indian style), the smoke of which ascended through a whole in the trunk occasioned by the breaking off of a large limb from the tree. This giant of the forest is about fourteen miles below Pittsburgh, and directly on the Ohio River.”

Then I came across this 1842 article (page 72 of the Farmer’s Monthly Visitor, Vol. 3-4) describing a gigantic maple, a tree very dear to my heart, as you know ;-). Perhaps, best of all, at the end it contains a list of the largest trees known to exist in the US at the time. (Bear in mind that at this point in history, the United States had only 26 states.) Scroll down for an image of what was probably the giant sycamore in Ohio with the 60-foot circumference, and an article that may refer to the New York sycamore.

One thing is for sure: if you see a BIG tree, it always leaves a BIG impression. And it’s clear that big trees made a big impression on our ancestors too!

So as you go about your travels, keep an eye out for any first-growth trees—elm, maple, sycamore, poplar, chestnut, oak, hickory, pine, etc.—you see (or think you see) in your neck of the woods. Feel free to report back here in the Comments box. Better yet, email me a photo, and I’ll post it here for others to enjoy and try to imagine the glorious age-old forests that greeted our early American ancestors. And/Or consider posting your find on the Monumental Trees website so that even more people can learn of your discovery. Let us treasure those giant trees in our midst and do everything we can to assure their survival.

Some amazing and memorable trees I’ve seen down here in the south:
The Big Oak, Thomasville, GA – 329 years old
The Angel Oak Tree, Charleston, SC – 400-500+ years old

The New York Herald, November 17, 1901 (Credit: FultonHistory dot com)

The Bolivar Breeze, December 21, 1922 (Credit: FultonHistory dot com)

Categories: Miscellaneous, Nature, Trees, United States | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Of mice, men, and me…well, actually, it’s all about the cat

tigerlily

Tiger Lily

Well, my friends, spending the first half of December in the grips of a never-ending cold was definitely not on my radar. I’d planned to get at least 3-4 posts off the ground before the end of the year, and now it looks like I will be lucky to eke out 1-2. And, of course, there’s always so much else to do at Christmas time: cookies to bake, shopping to do, gifts to wrap, carols to sing, etc. But so far, I’m not getting to any of that! Instead, I’ve turned into little more than our adolescent cat’s playmate… Little Miss Tiger Lily loves to play a never-ending game of fetch; to ensure that she always has at least one mouse that can be found at any given time, we invested $2 in a 12-pack of faux Mus musculus. She brings one to me no matter where I am, and plunks it down beside me. Yes, you can play fetch with a cat from a supine, bed-ridden position. As long as your wrist can move, they’re happy. I’m starting to think Tiger Lily may have engineered all this—holding me captive in bed just so I can play endless games of fetch with her. But if she did, she is keeping it to herself. 😉

sick

mice

Let the games begin!

Categories: Cats, Miscellaneous, Pets | 12 Comments

A Florida Friday: Enjoying our painted buntings’ return and treasuring Mom’s childhood Christmas decorations

Well, I have been laid low with a nasty cold this past week and haven’t had the energy to do much of anything. So this will be a quick post. First, I’m happy to say that “our” painted buntings have returned from the Carolinas to winter with us. They are elusive little critters, but I catch them pretty regularly coming to the feeder. They always wait for all the other birds to disappear before making their dash to the seeds. Sometimes they try to compete with the cardinals but the latter usually swat them away.  Below is a little video of one of the males. And, second, I’m posting some photos of Mom’s surviving childhood Christmas decorations. They must be from the 1920s and 1930s. Her father used to build a little village out of them every Christmas that went up a ‘mountainside’ to the family Christmas tree in the house’s big bay window. Too bad no photos exist of that scene, but at lease some of the decorations have survived. Mom is enjoying seeing them on display again all these years later. Have a great weekend, all!

xmas1

xmas2

xmas3

xmas4

Categories: Christmas, Miscellaneous, Nature | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

New York Times, 15 August 1881: “The true purpose of cats revealed” — lightening rods?!

tigetlilytigetlily2

Our new little charge, Tiger Lily, is growing up fast; her name has proved to be very apt—at times she’s a ‘tiger’ and at times, she’s a “lily” (it’s that “Jekyll and Hyde” thing cats have going on). Fortunately for us she is mostly a “lily,” and when she is in “tiger mode,” she can be extremely entertaining. Had she been around in 1881, it sounds like she would have been one of MANY alley cats festooning the fence tops of backyards throughout the land. Read on for a curious cat-related start to your Monday (courtesy of a free New York Times archives article dated August 15, 1881).
cats-lighteningcats-lightening2_nyt_08151881

Has anyone ever seen a cat(s) on roof tops or fence tops during a lightening storm?!!! Perhaps, 19th-century cats were made of tougher stuff.

Categories: Cats, Miscellaneous, Science and technology | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Image circa late 1890s – Elizabeth, NJ – One Coleman, several unknowns

Here is an image of a few unknowns. I love the photographer! I’m quite certain that’s C. Clarence Coleman on the right. He was born in 1877 and he looks to be about 20 here, maybe younger. I’m not very good with ages. The young fellow to his left looks very familiar but I can’t place him. For some reason this photo was mixed in with some Brodhead family photos which initially struck me as odd given young Coleman is in the photo, but my Grandmother Brodhead was a Woodruff and her older sister Jennie ended up as Clarence’s bride in 1904, so perhaps those connections were all in the process of being established or in place when this photo was taken. Everything would be clearer if I knew who these other folks were. If anyone can identify them, please let me know. The woman on the left looks a bit like Clarence—perhaps, a sister?
Have a great day, All!
PS: The fence is the exact same type my dad built around our swimming pool in the early 1970s. I wonder if the inspiration came from this very spot, provided the fence here lasted another 30-40 years!
Unknown_image_photographer

Categories: Angus, Coleman, Elizabeth, Union Co., Miscellaneous, Woodruff | Tags: , | 7 Comments

Family heirlooms — What would you do?

"Royal Street Antique Shop", 1918 French Quarter of New Orleans, by Harry A. Nolan. (Wikimedia Commons - no copyright restrictions in US - This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. )

Royal Street Antique Shop, 1918 French Quarter of New Orleans, by Harry A. Nolan. (Wikimedia Commons – this work is in the public domain in the US and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less)

Every day people are faced with the challenge of eliminating clutter, downsizing, and figuring out what to do with old items, some of which may have been in their family for generations. Some may consider having so much stuff a blessing, others a curse. Some may find themselves in the position of having to clear out the family home fast; in their haste, items can get taken to a thrift/antique store, destroyed, tossed out, etc.

The fact that sites like eBay and Etsy are awash with provenance-less vintage items, old photos (often unlabeled), antiques, and other family heirlooms attests to the fact that folks are either in a hurry to part with things and make money or feel they have no alternative; nobody wants these things in their families, so they have to let them go. Or perhaps they’ve been left with provenance-less items and feel there’s no point in keeping them. Maybe they’re unsentimental and don’t really care. Or maybe they simply don’t have time to care—they are busy living in the present and just trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Who knows, our ancestors may be looking down from above with amazement, wondering why we’ve held onto their stuff for so long. Are they saying, “Go! Forget this obsession with the minutiae of family history! Preserve the basics, but go live your life! Forget about my old ______!”?

Pixabay free image

Antique boot (Pixabay free image)

I guess you may be wondering what’s prompted this post. Well, the other day I finally chanced upon the previously missing button hook used by my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law Sarah Jane Bowley Sargent who had no children and died in 1904 (see earlier post).

Sarah Jane Bowley Sargent's button hook

Sarah Jane Bowley Sargent’s very well-worn button hook

When I occasionally come across items like this button hook, I am torn about what to do with them. I mean I look around at my own “stuff”—I honestly can’t imagine anyone 100+ years from now holding onto something that once belonged to me (let alone blogging about it.) Would Sarah have ever expected someone in the family to hold onto her button hook 112 years after her death? No, I don’t think so. My grandmother is the one who felt it worth keeping since she had a personal connection with her aunt Sarah. And because of that, I’m not planning to part with it, but I can’t expect the grand kids in our family to feel the same way when they’re left to sift through family items somewhere down the road.

Anyway, just for the heck of it, this week I’m posting a poll. I’m curious to know what others might do with an item like this button hook, an item that belonged to someone in the family tree several or more generations ago who was not a direct ancestor and had no children to pass anything down to. Imagine this little, seemingly inconsequential button hook was in your possession. What would you do? (By the way, currently 560 antique button hooks are listed on eBay–most much nicer than this one, but this one has provenance!)

Categories: Miscellaneous, Sargent | Tags: | 22 Comments

For 2016 (and beyond): It’s all in the ankles

Actress and singer Gaby Deslys (1881-1920), circa 1913 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Actress and singer Gaby Deslys (1881-1920), circa 1913 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Before you read this post, try to balance yourself on one foot. Focus on doing 60 seconds on each leg. How did it go? Did you make it to the end?

Ankles. To a great extent, our longevity depends on them. Strong ankles = good balance, and good balance is a key ingredient to keeping people mobile and fall-free as they age. Obviously, at this point most of us are not going to train to become ballerinas or danseurs, but no matter how old we are we need to strive to achieve our best balance, best range of motion, and best levels of strength and endurance, if we want to stick around and be independent for as long as possible.

So what’s all that got to do with a family history blog? Well, I care about all my readers for one thing. For another, when we look back in our family trees of all those who have since passed on, we see two dates against each name. As the pastor said one Sunday (his misuse of grammar intentional): “Ain’t none of us gettin’ outta here alive.” Why not do everything we can on our part to ensure that when our time comes, those two dates are as far apart as possible?

Time is not kind to ankles. If left to their own devices, the ankles of both men and women slowly weaken and lose their ability to move in all those different directions to the extent that was previously possible. In fact, women in their 80s can experience up to an 85% decrease in ankle range of motion. Yes, ladies, it’s true. Hearing that a few years ago was a wake-up call for me. Maybe it will sound some alarm bells for you, too.

Men are not in the same dire straits, but things can get pretty bad for them as well. And, when your ability to flex, extend, invert and evert your ankles deteriorates, your balance deteriorates and then the body starts trying to compensate for that deterioration in different, unhelpful ways.

So if you have not done so already, I want to encourage you to find your own strategy for working on your balance, posture, and maintaining good muscle strength. And moving (!)—the more the better.  It’s absolutely never to late to make improvements. If you’re not sure how to start, talk to your doctor or drop by to ask a physical therapist what they’d recommend for you. Start slow. Practice standing on one leg at a time every day. One good ankle exercise, with toe pointed and knee extended: spell the alphabet with your big toe each day, one foot at a time. How simple is that? As easy as A-B-C… 😉

Resources:
Fix Your Weak Foundation: Your Ankles by Jeff Kuhland
12 Ways to Build Ankle Strength for Top Performance
Ankle-strengthening exercises
Ankle-foot Range of Motion exercises

Categories: Health Matters, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments

Merry Christmas!

Eastman Johnson's Christmas Time -- The Blodgett Family, 1864, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain - Wikipedia)

Eastman Johnson’s Christmas Time — The Blodgett Family, 1864, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain – Wikipedia).

Well, Christmas is fast approaching—there are cookies that need baking and carols that need singing, so…

Allow me to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support this past year and to wish you and your families a very peaceful Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

May 2016 bring new discoveries that excite, entertain, and educate us about the lives of our ancestors whose traditions & values have been passed down to us and remain woven into the fabric of who we are. I’ll leave you with a couple of quick, easy recipes for any last-minute baking. See you in 2016!

********************************************************************************
Grandma’s Ice Cream Patties

Ingredients:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg well-beaten
1/8 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup walnuts/candied cherries (cut into quarters/eighths)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly. Blend in egg and vanilla. Mix flour and salt together and add to the creamed mixture, blending well. Measure small spoonfuls of batter (1/2 tsp) onto well-greased baking sheets. (If you use parchment paper, they don’t spread out as much and the edges are more widely browned). Place a piece of walnut/candied cherry in middle of each cookie. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned (as early as 6 minutes, especially if you are at a low altitude). Yield: 4-5 dozen patties.

Cranberry-Walnut Pie

Mix together:
• One cup of cranberries
• One cup of walnuts
• One-half cup of sugar
Put mixture in a greased pie pan.

Then, mix together:
• One cup flour
• One cup sugar
• One melted stick of butter
• And two eggs
Dump on top of cranberry mix and spread out.

Bake at 325 degrees F. (163 degrees C.) for 50 minutes. Serve with large dollop of whipped cream.

Categories: Christmas, Miscellaneous | 4 Comments

Brodhead Bible on auction on eBay — ends today!

Gen. Daniel Brodhead Portrait

Gen. Daniel Brodhead Portrait

Attention, Brodhead descendants!

Just a quick post to say I spotted a Bible being auctioned off on eBay. It belonged to Rebecca Justina/e (Heiner) Johnson (1784-1837)—daughter of Casper J. Heiner and Ann Garton Brodhead, and it was presented to her by her grandfather General Daniel Brodhead of Revolutionary War fame. Perhaps it was a gift on the occasion of Rebecca’s marriage to Samuel Johnson, which must have been around 1805/6 as Rebecca’s first child was born on 11 May 1807. (The General died on 15 November 1809).

You may recall that Rebecca was also the recipient of that wonderful miniature portrait of the General upon his death.

The Bible contains a wealth of family history information. It’s surprising to see these items on auction. Only about 12 hrs remain, so if you are a descendant of the General, seize this opportunity to place your bid (bidding is currently at $172.50), and get these items back in the Brodhead family. If you can’t bid, you can catch a glimpse of some of the wonderful images of the handwritten lists and notes within. Here’s the link.

Update: Well, it sold for $355. Sadly it appears that the winning bidder is a collector.

Categories: Brodhead, Family Bible, Miscellaneous | Tags: | 9 Comments

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