Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Creative Process: My Muse

My muse is a bitch. Harsh? You don't know her. (And I'm using the b*word here in the vernacular of the day to mean any girl who isn't sweet like us;) Some days my muse is my BFF, other time she's not to be found and probably at a mani/pedi appointment. But the b* is mine and mostly I love the little scamp.

OK, so here's the situation: I'm writing what's known of my crazy-wonderful family history: it's a book project. Want to get the stories down for future generations. Have a working title, an outline, a prologue, and am into the meat of The Introduction. The Introduction is falling out into three distinct parts: the why and how of the book, the family groups, and a short description of the two grandmother's kitchens. Except, not in that order. There was a fourth section about Frostburg, Maryland which is the theme of the book but that's sitting like a Christmas lump of coal in my writer's stocking so it's getting worked on separately.

The three sections of the intro were written in a sort of stream of consciousness and then edited a bit to clean up the gross stuff. Once that was done I put it on the back burner to simmer. I think it boiled over while my Muse went to Miami Beach for a short time to renew her tan, and now that she's back she's scolding me and saying that the order needs to change, any fool can see. But she went for the mani/pedi before she left a note to say what the best order was. B*! Maybe I can do this without her...? Doubt it. She's be back soon, she always is.

My personal creative process has always been like that, no matter the media. I can make all the schedules I want from here to next year (oh wait, short trip;) and devote myself to "regular hours" but it's all for naught if the Muse isn't ready. For me and the way I work, I have to laugh every time I hear a presenter talking about getting your family history written say, "write for a half-hour a day at a given time". Ha! Not gonna work for me, I've tried.

And the funny thing is that I have learned over the years to give my muse room to roam because when she's gone something is cooking and I need to wait around and be patient for the good stuff to come: something big is on the way. I just leave it be and every once in a bit turn a casual thought to the project to see what's up. I find that she returns on no regular schedule but when she comes back, she has great input.

Ever program yourself to solve a problem while dreaming? You just think on a problem or concept or whatever as you go off to sleep and overnight it's quite possible some very clever ideas will come to you. As we all know, especially if we've tried this, it's important to write down what you dream before the night fairies steal the thoughts from under your pillow:)

I first became aware of my muse while reading a book by Eric Maisel. He's written a whole bunch of stuff about the creative process and you'll find his web site here:
The first one I read was, Fearless Creating. You'll find his page with a write up on that book at: , and of course there's a click through to Amazon and Barnes and Noble if you wish to purchase it. It really helped me at the time I needed it to better understand that I wasn't a crazy or lazy artist! I was just an average run of the mill creative person so no need to beat up on myself for unusual work habits.

As frustrating as it might get every now and again creating a work, I know that the trouble will pass, and eventually with patience all will eventually be well. And the work will be better for the pause taken.That said, everyone has a different and unique-to-them creative process. Hope your muse is a sweetheart ... with a regular schedule. Mine is a wild child.

Photo of the day from the Archive:

Me, about 1951:
Muse in training?
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

How I Wasted Two Perfectly Good Hours

So there I was innocently reading blog posts last week in a spare moment before I got around to the main event of the day, and I forget what that was now. I subscribe by email to more blogs now because it makes them easy to read on my smart phone whenever some time opens up. It's all about time management isn't it? Read that somewhere.

Anyway, was reading Michele Simmons Lewis' lovely blog, Ancestoring's Ask A Genealogist, which you can find here:
It's fresh, easy to read, delivered in small bite-sized pieces, and I always come away with new stuff I didn't know. So thanks a bunch, Michele!

Here's her blog post that got me going, the one about "Resources For Genealogy Books", which you can find at:

I just love knowing about new resources, don't you? So go look at the page and scroll on down. See that link to all the genealogy stuff on eBay? Yeah, that's the rabbit hole I slid down last Thursday morning. I mean I just wanted to take a peak, but then it was the first time I'd visited eBay and seen all the things for auction and Buy It Now. So I had to browse, didn't I?

Two hours later I shook myself out of that online shopping stupor. Oh, golly. Maybe it wasn't a waste because now I know what's there as a resource, I told myself... but was I just kidding me?

I've done this before too. I have "wasted" hour upon hour browsing through records sets, especially on Fold3. Fold3 military records get me every time. I go to look something up and then am easily distracted by some shiny object of a records set.

So there it is: it's proven that I can easily waste time browsing. Or, I ask myself, is it useful because it does help in the learning process? I'm still new to all of this genealogy stuff so am guessing that the more exposure to more different types of records the better as we go along. But two whole hours? Just before Christmas?!!

Photo of the day from the Archive:

Cousin Steve, 1947
On Grandpop Williams' back porch,
Frostburg, Maryland

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday to you!!

I have been enjoying other bloggers' posts remembering Christmas past. It's funny the things you remember and that remain meaningful as the years go by. Stories about That Christmas When..., always entertain with the retelling. So here are two from me. I do hope that you find them fun.

I remember one Christmas when we took our regular Christmas Eve drive around the neighborhood to see the lights on people's homes: Mom, Dad and the three of us kids all piled in the back of the station wagon in those popular 1950s style pajamas with the feet. We of course had to get back home before bedtime because Santa could arrive at any moment but only after we were all tucked in. The excitement was building with every new street we drove down. Finally, as we were starting to make our way home, and I swear this happened, Santa came out of the front door of one of the houses!! We three kids squealed with delight and begged to be taken right home. And so we were and got to bed, if not to sleep within the half-hour.

Another Christmas Eve, Dad stayed up quite late playing Santa's helper trying to assemble some present or other for my younger brother. Maybe a wagon or bicycle. He was a hard working father and after a difficult week at work there he was in his Mr. Rogers style sweater, on the floor with his tools, reading the directions and swearing like the Irishman he was. I was his little assistant because I was older and knew all about how Moms and Dads helped Santa;) Just after midnight, Mom dozing in a chair near the fireplace and me asleep on the sofa, Dad gave out a laugh, signaling that his work was complete, and we all climbed the stairs of the two story bungalow in the suburbs.

The next morning my brother woke up - and he was probably two getting ready to turn three at the time - and woke me up. "Did Santa come??!! he shouted. Oh, sure I replied in a sleepy stupor. "I saw him," I said. That only threw fuel to the Santa anticipation fire in him, and he bounded out of bed running for the door.

I knew that Dad was ready to try out his Super 8 movie camera with the big light bar for indoor action, and this event of us kids coming down the stairs Christmas morning promised to be a dandy. I tried to stall my brother and Mom shot up the stairs trying to keep both of us at bay while Dad got his movie gear ready. I was to try to keep my brother occupied until the signal came.

Brother proved to be a handful, and while I was good at entertaining kids, the promise of Santa's wonders waiting at the bottom of the stairs was too much! Finally I used brute strength and picked up the little squirt and dragged him into Mom and Dad's bedroom and locking the door from the inside. I resolved that the kid wasn't smarter than I, so I looked on Dad's dresser and took the shiniest most kid-attractive item I could find as entertainment fodder: the pen with the click-click action. Bingo: that did it. Brother was entranced!

Finally our Director Dad was ready and signaled "Action!" Down we came. Sort of. I had to carry brother because he was still holding on to that pen and fascinated by it. Dad and Mom both shouted for him to look at the presents and that bike... or wagon, I forget. But he'd have none of it. With a little pout on his face from being thwarted from bounding down the stairs right away and then being told to put down the pen he obviously loved, to look at some wagon or bike was too much. He burst out crying. All captured on Super 8 film and well lit by the big light bar!!

Let's all go make some memories!

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I've been keeping an eye on this genetic genealogy stuff for a while now, trying to understand it all and wrap my mind around the various flavors and especially the reports and what they promise. At first, and like any new technology, the learning curve was steep. "What the heck... do I need this torture in my life?" I thought. But I do need this in my life. And now that some of the basics are clearer and all tortures of the learning curve have passed, I'm ready to select a service, work up a whole lotta spit, and wait by the email box. Oh, yeah, and the money part. I almost forgot about the money part.

There were a couple of recent blog posts that cleared the forest and let me see how DNA testing might help me. I have no allusions about big breakthroughs, no "non-paternal events", no deep dark secrets to be revealed or a lost second cousin to be found and a mystery discovered. I'm no genealogy thrill seeker. (At least not where DNA is concerned.) Not to say that if a surprise showed up I wouldn't be thrilled! I'm open to anything:)

CeCe Moore blogging as Your Genetic Genealogist really cleared the large brush in the forest for me with this post:

This is a very cool practical analysis of her admixture of countries of origin. Because Mom and I pretty much know what our admixture should be going back six, eight or even ten generations, we don't suspect that we'll be too surprised about the results. Although as CeCe posts, if it comes up Mediterranean, we'll suspect the test and not Mom's research!

Thanks so much CeCe... you helped bring Mom and I down to the finish line on our DNA decision making! If you want to know more about DNA testing really check out her page of Resources  at

Judy G. Russell blogging as The Legal Genealogist posted this fascinating report recently that helped define the lines between the major players in the DNA for genealogist field:

So which company are Mom and I choosing? 23andMe. We like the price, but that said, it's not the deciding factor. We like the medical results that are included too. Mom is 94 and not too much worse for wear, with all major systems a "go", so I can't wait to see what the medical reports say about her! Personally I can't wait for the autosomal results and Mom wants to look at the a mitochondrial DNA results. It's a holiday gift we are each giving to ourselves;)

Photo of the day from the Archive:

All the daughters of Samuel Albert House 1832 - 1917 and
Mary Elizabeth Farrell House 1835 - 1919.
Mom's great grandmother, her mother's mother's mother:
just think of all the mitochondrial DNA there!

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Friday, December 21, 2012


The term archival is a relative one. (No pun genealogical intended.) For a very long time I was an artist dealing in works on canvas as well as paper. Archival is a term that means, basically, this is gonna last a real long time but not forever. Maybe a couple hundred years if we're lucky and the work on paper is taken care of. But it's not parchment or vellum, which are animal products, or a work on stone... so don't expect a miracle.

I am prompted to write this and address the issue by Dick Eastman's excellent blog, which I enjoy immensely, and recent post at
Unless you have the paid version you won't be able to read the whole thing... and I don't subscribe as my budget for this stuff only takes me so far, more's the pity. But many thanks to Dick for prompting me to access the deep recesses of my brain and share what I do know about the world of papers and such.

For works on paper, the most important thing is, well, the quality of the paper. "Acid free" is the way to go. You want to print your work on acid free paper, no two ways about it. But it's not that hard: just walk into Staples, go to the area where they have a way too large selection of paper and ask the nice kid (woops, sorry, "team associate") for some acid free paper. Look for 100% rag content or cotton rag content which will have the closest pH to neutral. It will be there in the stationary section in a lovely box and cost an arm and leg as compared to copy paper.

There are handy portable test devices for checking pH but don't bother with that. Just look for packs of paper marked pH neutral or acid free.

Alternately you can go to the art supply store and purchase paper there. Almost all art paper, except for that awful construction paper, is acid free and says so on the cover of the pad. Buy a thick pad of one that you like and have it cut to 8 and a half by 11 inches. Just feel it to see if you like it. And look at the color too. Do you like real white paper or one with a slightly creamy tone. You'll find a nice selection in the art store.

Regular copy paper will probably turn yellow in too short a time. The acid in the lingen fibers that make up the paper are plentiful and nasty. Ever find an old paperback novel and notice that the pages were really yellow? That's the acid at work. Same with old newspapers. They're the worst! Yellow and brittle too. We don't want that.

Now for your printer. Dick Eastman mentions those laser printers. Actually, I've had some experts tell me that the documents laser printers produce are going to last a long time, and are practically "archival" meaning that the image won't fade. When the text and images fade, they call that being "fugitive". But personally I don't care for the way laser printer output looks. I prefer ink jet, so let's talk about that.

Now you need to know that there are two major types of ink jet ink: pigment and dye. Dye ink will fade much faster than pigment ink. But that too depends on the porousness of the paper and how much ink is laid down. If you are using a soft "open" paper, then the little jet of ink which is basicly water based, will make its way into the paper fibers. There's stuff called size that they sometimes spray on paper, but let's not get into that unless you're a paper freak... and then go google it. Just remember that dyes fade and pigment lasts. Then select your printer accordingly: ask what type of ink the printer uses before you buy.

I really like and use Epson pigment based printers because they take such care with the product and do tons of testing. Here's a link to a tech document:
And here's another report about lightfast ratings:

The most salient factor aside from the acid in the paper is the ambient conditions in which the document is stored. Mild and dry is what you want. Humidity is death to paper. Ever find an old newspaper in a wet basement with a bunch of brown spots on it? You get it now:) So once your lovely document is finished, give it the very best chance of lasting by storing it in a wrapper of acid free tissue paper in an acid free box. Everyone on down the line for a couple of hundred years will be so glad you did!

Today's photo from the Archive:

Me and Santa, about 1954.

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Monday, December 17, 2012


The 1940 US Census just lied! Well, actually, it simply didn't speak the whole truth. As a newbie I need to remember that any document, even a trusted one -- and I'm not so sure how trusted any document is -- can mislead because the people providing the information were not able to render an absolute version of the truth. So I am reminded that I need to keep asking myself: How truthful is this document likely to be?

Here's the case in point. Was looking at the 1940 US Census for Frostburg Maryland and wanted to see where Mom and Dad were living at that time, just after their marriage. I found Mom right away. There she was living with her parents on Bowery Street in their family home. And here's the shocker... it said that she was single!

So I called Mom. "It says that you were single!" I urged. Oh my! The reply on the other end of the phone was a tad flustered. And yes maybe I had put Mom on the spot;) Was there a mystery to be had? Not so much.

She then told me another chapter in her life, even if a short one and just a footnote to the US Census entry in Family Tree Maker. It seems that Mom and Dad were very much in love and ready to get married and all, but they were just a couple of working kids with not enough money to get set up in married life. So undaunted they forged ahead and got secretly married over in West Virginia where the waiting period and age limits weren't so strict as they were in their home state of Maryland. They went home and kept it all hush-hush for a while.

The census taker must have appeared at Mom's parents' door inquiring, and that put Mom on the 1940 US Census as single. Which she was not. Ha!

Photo of the day from the Archive:

Mom and Dad, about 1942.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Before the Introduction

If you've been following along here you'll know that I'm taking a shot at writing a family history book, a narrative of the major family lines going back as far as I can manage based on the excellent work and research Mom has done. I want to capture on paper what is known at the moment for those who come later, knowing full well that this will be an imperfect work, always in progress.

While getting a running start at the Introduction I felt the need to write a short piece that might set up the overall why and wherefore of the effort in an effort to explain myself. A Prologue was needed. So here it is. If it amuses you, let me know what you think. All feedback is appreciated, not just complements. You can post as a comment or email me at


There was a moment when I understood in a very visceral way the importance of saving family history and felt the great depth of sorrow at the loss of it. On one hand, I’d never missed the heirlooms that might have gone to others in the family after someone passed. I just figured that someone else was more entitled to them than I. My cousins have grandmother’s aprons and that’s great because they love them. I rest easy knowing that my other grandmother’s china in in her glass case is living with other cousins who have the grand kids. Wonderful!

But I just about lost it when I heard that Aunt Edith’s son threw out all of her old photos and papers! My guts tied themselves in a knot, and that felt awful. My sense of loss was deep and anger followed.

I don’t know where I get off being in a twist about Aunt Edith’s son dumping her stuff. He lived with her; he took care of her and was entitled to do as he pleased. And it wasn’t as though Aunt Edith didn’t have control over the disposition of her possessions as she had her wits about her and other children to whom she could bequeath her treasures. I wasn’t even that close to her. Maybe I saw her two or three times in my life. And she’s not my aunt; she’s my Dad’s aunt. So we were not that close. Where do I get off being that upset?

I tell you where. If Aunt Edith hadn’t given my Mother a truly treasured book containing the story of the Myers line back to the Revolutionary War and beyond to a man known simply as Indian Fighter Myers, I’d not know about Nehemiah Newans, my fifth great grandfather. I wouldn’t have known his story and the story of his son and his son’s family and most important, his life’s story from Derbyshire, England, on to the Revolutionary War, and finally all the way to the frontier in upstate New York.

I can’t help but wonder what else might have been thrown out over the centuries, treasures that ended up unceremoniously at the town dump, or burned in a trash fire behind the house. Sometimes on a cold and rainy afternoon I grieve for those lost mementos and feel sad for the ancestors’ faces staring out from old photos whose names are unknown.

I just simply want to do better and capture what can be collected now so as to preserve it for anyone who might care down the line.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Introducing...Well, I'm Not Sure What!

Am working on this book project. See there, I am now able to call it what it is. It's intimidating to be sure and it's taken me this long to be able to call it what it is. Up to now it's been simply "the project."

Frankly, I'm not sure I can do Mom's work and family stories justice! I've stumbled around looking for a proper format for quite a while. The usual descendancy books are not what I'm looking for. I realized that when I had a browse through the book by Samuel Doak Porter, A genealogy of the Porter family of Maryland, West Virginia, Michigan. Upon reading this well researched book it came to me that the most useful aspect was the short biographical sketches of each male family head. Of course no proper mention of the wonderful and fascinating pioneer women! Grrr.

Then I read The Journey Takers, by Leslie Albrecht Huber, which was a wonderful read in narrative form. Very  much liked and enjoyed the way it's organized by family line capturing what she has found out about her ancestors and each generation's time and place. Everyone who mentions this book is enthralled by how the author interweaves her own imaginings about the lives and times of each ancestor, done with love... and tons of solid research.

So what was this book going to be: fish or foul? Am seeing that the Porter book could easily (perhaps more easily) have been an online tree. So that leaves narrative form for me.

Am at present working on the introduction bit by bit. (See previous post, below, Beginning at the Beginning.) It's slow going now and that's to be expected. This funny thing happens: I write a bit and then slow to a halt, then I realize that what I've written wants more or something slightly different. And so it goes. A story here, a thought there, all strung together like - what did someone say - a strand of pearls. Well, that's making too much of it! Right now it's more like a strand of broken macaroni.

Today's photo from the Archive:

Enoch Clise (1843 - 1896)
Civil War Veteran, Mayor of Frostburg, MD twice and
Husband to two of my Great Grand Aunts...
Don't ask;)

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