About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 25 times over and a great-grandmother of 19. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega with Genealogy Journeys where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that can be found at http://genaandjean.blogspot.com and more about my own business projects is on my Circlemending website.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: Before there were video games

Ignatz Trapschuh (see blogs of last 2 days) was a cabinet-maker. He was an artisan and his skill was amazing; he was able to provide for his large family by making furniture and selling it to his fellow Milwaukee residents. But, when work was scarce, he and his wife, Maria Theresa Knoetgen, went from door to door, carrying a glue pot and repairing the furniture of their neighbors for the small cost of 5 or 10 cents. Another side-line job was to take horsehair mattresses, remove the hair from the ticking, and wash and air it; then Maria would restuff and sew up the mattresses; a nasty job, but necessary and one which helped the family make ends meet.

Some of Ignatz's handiwork (a dresser and a bedstead) had been part of my family's household until the 1960s when things were sold. Ignatz, my g-g-grandfather, made a "Skittles" (AKA, in our house, "Devil among the Tailors") game with a huge playing box. The original box is gone now (it was very heavy and impossible to keep; the bottom got warped and it could no longer be used for the game, so we have replaced it with a lighter playing box). But the pieces Ignatz carved are still part of my treasures. A few years before it was given to me, my mother had tried to sell the entire set (I learned this just recently when reading about it in her diaries - no one wanted to buy it, so it was relegated back to our attic and then, in the 1970s, offered to me). I cherish these pieces, knowing that my great-great-grandfather made them by hand. I also imagine that the family played with the game during their many gatherings for fun and music. Of course the string on the top has been replaced (a number of times); the set hangs on our wall, but we have taken it down and let the grandchildren play with it over the years . . . carrying on a tradition.

(To see what this game, the precursor to the pinball machine, looks like, check Masters Traditional Games where it is called Toptafel. To learn about the English history of this game, check this site on Traditional games.)


  1. How wonderful to read this post!!! When I was a child my German grandfather, who was also a skilled cabinet maker [as was his father and grandfather] had one of these games! He called it "The Tailor's Pins". After he moved from the country into town, the game was never seen again. We suspect he must have given it to one of the other grandchildren. But I had never seen anything like it until now!
    What a treasure!!! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  2. Oh yeah, the grandchildren love this game!!

  3. Hello Jean, is very interesting your post. In my country we have a diferents tipical games, is important that we don't forget our traditions. In this moment the child plays only internet and video games...Greetings and take care...Sorry for my english...

    Ana..Santiago, Chile