About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday, 30 June 2009

M. Elaine Hill (nee Strauss) was born 13 July 1943, in Illinois to Norma Mayer & James Strazewski (changed to Strauss). She was married to Clark Hill. She died in June 2005 and was interred 27 June 2005 in Arlington Cemetery, DuPage County, Illinois. The burial records have been instrumental in helping me sort out the relationships, complicated because her mother (whose own mother had 2 children by 2 different husbands, both with the surname of Mayer), after divorcing her father, changed her name from Strauss back to Strazewski, making my research skills severely challenged. Elaine was my 2nd cousin, once removed and, while I met her a couple of times, I had no idea how complicated her life was until now, in my attempts to track this part of my family (and I'm kicking myself because I was well emersed in genealogy during her lifetime; why didn't I make an effort to interview her? Lesson learned: interview everyone . . . tombstone Tuesday could come at any time for any one of us!).

Post Script: I have been in contact with a cousin of Elaine's through her father's side and have cleared up some of the relationships in my family tree. This dear woman located me because of Tombstone Tuesday. While I have been posting tombstones and family stories for my own enjoyment and to spread the Geneabloggers Tombstone Tuesday program into yet another blog, I have gaine so much information from this one contact that I cannot begin to express my joy and excitement! And I was able to fill in blanks for her, as well. So, thank you, Joan, for helping me!

Monday, June 29, 2009

SCGS Jamboree 2009, Bloggers, & Networking, oh my!

Having just partially recovered from the experiences of the weekend in Burbank, CA, where I attended the 40th Annual Southern Calif. Gen. Soc. Jamboree, I decided I had better get down a few thoughts before it's old news (if it's not too late). It was an amazing experience. The people I met for the first time (ones I knew only through Internet contact) were as pleasant and friendly as their blogs and Facebook communication has led me to believe. The people I re-connected with (folks I see at Expos and conventions across the country) were enthusiastic about coming to *my* home turf (i.e., So. Cal.) and it was fun to visit and talk about this unique environment (esp. with those who were in the area for the first time - talk of smog, distance driving, "local" places to see, etc. reminded me that I live in a truly *alive* environment). And the people that I see frequently (members of the Corona Gen. Soc., SCCAPG, and other local societies) allowed me a chance to brainstorm about ideas for our local groups. It was a constant feed of creative ideas and sometimes the brain felt distinctly overloaded.

I arrived with my travel companion and roadie, Diane Wright, on Thurs. afternoon and we were ready for whatever might happen on Fri. morning at the Kids Camp. Amazingly adept Mike Melendez was the camp organizer and he had things prepared for about 80 boyscouts who were working on genealogy merit badges. I did some story-telling with the non-scouts and then did a musical program on Songs of the American West. It was fun to see the kids clapping and singing along with songs I learned when I was very young. Some things just may last forever! I signed some CDs in the afternoon and spent much of the day working at the SCCAPG (Southern Calif. Chapter of the Assoc. of Professional Genealogists) table, networking, visiting, and signing up new members.

Fri. night was a real treat as we attended a banquet with the guest speaker Tukufu Zuberi - one of the History Detectives. I met him earlier at the book signing and he is a very pleasant person to visit with. In his banquet speech he shared some genealogy-related experiences from some of the Detective "cases" he had a chance to work on.

On Sat. morning I attended the Blogger Summit program - 2-1/2 hours of blogging advice, discussion, and humor from some of the most knowledgeable bloggers (I am still learning, but they gave me a lot of ideas that, hopefully, will start to be manifested here). More about them can be found on the Geneablogger site. I joined with many of these good people for the Geneabloggers dinner that evening and I had a very interesting revelation. A number of years ago, when I first got involved in Internet chatting (on ICQ), I became acquainted with a number of folks through a particular television show we all admired. Over the years, situations arose where I had chances to meet, in person, people with whom I had "ICQed" and I discovered that a great many of them were quite shy, reserved individuals, while in the ICQ chat environment they were outspoken and, dare I say, boisterous (as much as one can be in a written medium)! I had sort of suspected a similar phenomenon with my fellow bloggers. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong! I have never heard such a cacophony! It was hard to communicate on any level, so some of us took to writing on the table cloths (oh, don't get upset ... the restaurant probably saw us coming & covered the linen cloths with paper - almost like butcher paper - ones). Pat Richley (Dear Myrtle), who is actually my 8th cousin, and I sat next to each other & had a race: who could complete her 4-generation pedigree chart first. I won! (Much to my surprise.) Getting to meet Thomas MacEntee, *the* Geneablogger, as well as others I knew only from thumbnail photographs on their blogs, was a true thrill and I won't even try to list them all here as I know I will forget someone.

Anyway, between the 2 blogging events I presented a class on "Clue to Clue: Tracking a Family Across Time and Miles." It was a full room (at least 100 people) with SRO (and a number of folks lined up along the walls). I have small cards that folks can fill out & drop in a "doggie bowl" (I stole from my puppy when he got a new one ... I washed it first) to be added to my mailing list and I ran out of them! I have so many names to add to the list now that I will be busy for quite a few days doing that transcription! We had a lot of laughs during the presentation and it was a rewarding experience. From there I had a chance to sign more CDs and then work the SCCAPG table more, followed by a short SCCAPG meeting for our general membership and guests. We had more guests than members attend, signed up some more for the group, and had a good time getting to know each other while also taking care of organization business.

Sun. was anything but a day of rest! I had to present my class on "Deduction vs. Induction: Applying Logic Theory to Genealogical Research." I was amazed at how many people had managed to pull themselves out of bed at that early hour (8am) to learn about *logic*! But they did and we had some fun looking at fallacies and how people can argue for almost anything to be true without looking at the facts of the events. Unfortunately, I had plugged my laptop into a "dead" power strip so, unbeknownst to me, I was powering my computer on its own, very inadequate battery. About 4 slides from the end, when I reached the fallacy of "Hasty Conclusion," we had one: my laptop turned itself off & refused to consider returning to operating mode, even after I got it into a live outlet. Well, we had a big laugh over my "hasty conclusion," and everyone was a good sport about it.

I spent the rest of the day working at the NGS and SCCAPG booths, meeting a lot of people, and, it appears, making contacts that just might get me some more bookings. What a weekend. And here I want to thank some of the folks who really put together some remarkable events during it: Mike Melendez, Thomas MacEntee, Randy Seaver, Charlotte Bocage, Leo Myer, all the volunteers throughout the hotel and conference center, and the many I don't have space or memory to include here. Above all, I think Paula Hinkel, who coordinated the entire event, deserves kudos for a well-advertised, well-constructed weekend of education, entertainment, and opportunity. Thanks, Paula!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stephen Collins Foster, American Composer and Icon

"I come from Alabama with my _______ on my knee,
I'm goin' to Lou'siana, my _____ ______ for to see.
It rained all _______ the day I left, the weather it was _____,
The sun so hot I ______ to death, Susanna, don't you cry."

Can you fill in the blanks? I'll bet you can! And you've been able to for most of your life. Stephen Foster songs are part of our heritage, uniquely American and reliable as sing-a-longs at family gatherings, around campfires, or in the car on the family vacation.

Foster's melodies have also carried a number of songs, written by various groups. The Mormon pioneers loved to adapt his melodies: the "Mormon Doo-dah" song, also known as "Johnston's Army" - taken from "Camptown Races" - and "Brighter Days in Store" - taken from "Hard Times Come Again no More" - are perfect examples; others include "Zack, the Mormon Engineer" and "The Missionaries Handcart Song," both using the melody for "Oh! Susanna," above. The gold seekers in California also created a version of "Oh! Susanna," calling it "The 49ers' Oh Susanna" and sang of having "gone to California with my washpan (the pan used to wash dirt from the gold, not clothes) on my knee."

Stephen Foster's appeal was particularly evident during the last years of his life (he died in January 1864) when the Civil War was raging. People, inundated with songs of the war, were weary of it all by those last years and Stephen Foster songs told of gentler times and peaceful living (though he did pen a couple of war-based ballads, they never made it to "the charts" of the day). So, for many, Foster's songs provided an escape from the harsh realities of the War and families torn apart (literally and figuratively).

Today we continue to use Foster's songs to lighten our spirits and join in song. I'll bet most of your ancestors (if raised in the United States) sang those same songs. Think of that the next time you join in on "Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)," "Old Black Joe," "My Old Kentucky Home," or (my least favorite) "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair": you are probably singing something that your grandmother sang (or, perhaps, it was she who taught it to you!). Another way to connect to our forebears.

For more information on Stephen Foster, his songs and his life, check out Doo-dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, by Ken Emerson (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997, ISBN 0-684-81010-7) or one of the many websites such as The Music of Stephen Foster (where you can download MP3 files of his many, many songs) or The PBS program on his life (where you can learn about his influence on American Culture) or just Google "Stephen Foster" and see what pops up!

Stephen Collins Foster
b: 4 July 1826
d: 13 January 1864

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday, 23 June 2009

We arrived at Spring Hill Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee, at almost 5pm on Memorial Day, 2005, looking for the grave of my great-grandfather's brother (my great-granduncle), Clarence P. Wilcox. I knew the location and discovered that the plot was shared with the Smiths, but the stone was knocked off the base (Wilcox side down, of course). Our dog, Buddy, found the grave and laid down on the stone to await our realization that this was, in fact, the stone we were searching. But what to do? We had no crowbar in our camper (and doubt we would have attacked a tombstone with it if we had!), and the stone was securely wedged into the ground. I got the information about the Smiths (Clarence's second wife's brother and his wife), but wanted the information hidden from view.

There was a man and a truck in a nearby section (he was one of only 2 other visitors to the cemetery at that hour, on a holiday) and I bugged my husband Butch (in the dark blue shirt, below) until he agreed to go talk to the man to see if he might have a tool to help us. Well, it turns out the man was a tombstone carver! And his truck was equipped with a full stone-lifting rig! What are the chances? He maneuvered the truck into place by "our" grave and enlisted my husband's help.

With the dog's encouragement (and me, taking pictures throughout the experience), they lifted that stone to reveal Clarence, who died 30 June 1939, 70 years ago this coming week, had been buried with his first wife.

The stone was positioned next to the base so others can find this man, born in 1869, who was caregiver to his parents during their last years. R.I.P. Uncle Clarence.

Clarence P. WILCOX
(son of Nathan W. WILCOX and Irene FREEMAN)
b: 11 April 1869, Winchester, Franklin, Tennessee
m1: 11 February 1894, Maggie M. W____ (b: 19 October 1866; d: 12 January 1912, Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee), Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee
m2: 21 September 1919, Jennie R. SMITH, Nasvhille, Davidson, Tennessee
d: 30 June 1939, Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's Your Song?

No, I did not mis-type "what's your sign." I asked, "what's your song?"

I met my husband following a square dance (he was learning to be a caller) and soon we were going to square dances every weekend (modern Western square dancing continues to be quite the activity, though our joints no longer allow us to partake). One of the "calls" he learned early on & became our favorite was based on the Country Western Song "Something about You Baby I Like." Without any fanfare, that became "our song." While that first line ("Maybe it's the way you wear your blue jeans so tight") no longer applies as it once did, when we hear that song, we still smile at each other!

Having "a song" is quite common. Often, at weddings, the couple or the DJ will announce the next tune as "their song." Do you have "a song"? Or, more to the point for this blog, did your ancestors? As I mentioned in a previous post, many of our ancestors played musical instruments, but I wonder if they also had "a song." And I wonder how we could figure out what it was! Maybe your ancestors favored "Bringing Nellie Home"; "When You and I were Young, Maggie"; "You are my Sunshine"; "Long, Long Ago"; "Because, Just Because"; or some other song that was popular in "their day." I would love to know what special melody my great-grandparents danced to or what significant song my granduncle sang to my grandaunt. I don't know how we could determine those things, unless it was written in a diary or letter, but if you know the songs that were favored by your family members, be sure to include that in the notes or biographies for those people ... and share that information with me, too. I'd like to know!

Meanwhile: what's your song?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday

In keeping with the Tombstone Tuesday theme of the Geneabloggers, I checked up to find someone who died about this time of year: great-great-great-grandfather Peter Wilcox, b: 20 Mar 1800, presumably Montpelier, Washington, Vermont; d: 12 June 1852, Decatur, Van Buren, Michigan. Buried in Riverside Cemetery, Three Rivers, St. Joseph, Michigan. His wife, buried next to him, was Mary Youker Wilcox, b: 20 April 1801, Canajoharie, Montgomery, New York; d: 29 September 1883, Decatur, Van Buren, Michigan. They were married 2 September 1827 in Herkimer County, New York.

Friday, June 12, 2009

From the Colorado Family History Expo: What Instrument Did Your Ancestor Play?

We made it to Colorado! And the Expo is great! Holly Hansen and Kimberly Savage have been working nearly round the clock to make this genealogy extravaganza particularly eventful . . . there is even a twitter cafe (whatever that is).

And our booth is set up in a back corner, where we can make music with making as little disturbance as possible. We are doing short, 5-minute "sets" of live music to interest people in the banquet presentation tonight. The question keeps coming up: What does music have to do with genealogy? Well, in my family, they played their own music when they wanted entertainment (this being pre-MP3 player). Besides, if the courting couple was playing music in the parlor, their hands were being properly occupied . . . it was when the music stopped that mother came in to see just what they were up to.

So, what instruments did your ancestor play? Mine played mandolin, violin, banjo, piano (called a piano-forte back in those days; literal meaning: "soft-loud"), and harpeleik. I still have all those instruments in my collection (we did not bring the piano on this trip, however).

If you are here in Colorado, come by booth #316 and say "hello" and answer the question: what instrument(s) did your ancestor(s) play? (If you aren't in Colorado at the Expo, just respond here at this blog and let's see how many instruments we can come up with!)

Friday, June 5, 2009

History Immortalized in Song

I am going to go out a limb here and state that most, if not every, major event in World History has been immortalized in song. Now, some of those songs might not survive much beyond the event, but many are retained in the annals of folklore for centuries. Almost before the dust had settled (will it ever settle?), 9/11 was the subject of a number of ballads, most providing some sort of solace or therapeutic means of dealing with the horrific event. At least 2, that I know of, are still being performed. Singing about an event helps people remember the lessons learned, the feelings felt, and the specifics of the situation. In years past, school teachers used songs to teach the details of history to their pupils. I remember making up songs about historic events to remember the dates and names (then would sing them in my head while taking a test . . . unfortunately, I have always had a bad memory for lyrics and such an action did not guarantee me a good grade in history by any stretch of the imagination).

Next weekend (12-13 June), Family History Expos will have another one of their amazing seminar events (maybe I should write a song about them?); this time in Loveland, Colorado. I am honored to be their banquet presenter and, with my saw-playing husband Butch, we will do a musical "walk through history," highlighting events that formed our country and then were made more memorable as ballads. Not all songs will be traditional (created at the time of the event by people now nameless); some just remind us of the historic account. So, if you are coming to Colorado or are already in Colorado, come to the banquet and hear songs about our country's beginnings, wars, sad times, triumphant times, and more! Check this out at and, even if you aren't able to attend the banquet, stop by booth #316 and say hello!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ancestral Music, Stereotypes, and Prejudice

Called, alternately, "Last Winter was a Hard One," "When McGuiness Gets a Job," and "Mrs. Reilly," the Irish song of the immigrants who often were greeted with "No Irish Need Apply" as their answer when job seeking clearly communicates the plight of the Irish wife, whose children needed food and clothing. As she prayed for her husband to find a job, any job, she could find solace in the friendship she had with others in the same situation. The singer of this song, talking to Mrs. Reilly, about her own husband, McGuiness, whose job-seeking was made positive only by the hope that spring and better times would bring work in construction, extoles his virtues as well as his shortcomings.

McGuiness's ability to "handle the old three-corner box" (the hod in which he would haul bricks and mortar up into the building project) would be enough to land him employment (once the winter was past and construction jobs were available). But their constant concern was the competition for the few jobs available and this particular song brings out prejudices that existed between the subcultures in the big cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc. We can see from this song how stereotypes would arise from the perceptions of one culture (in this case, the Irish) about another (in this case, the Italians). As the singer bemoans the competition for jobs, she remarks that the primary group vying for the same positions - the Italians - had "one thing in their favor . . . [they] never get lushed." She is of a belief that they "take no dinner wine," something that was definitely not the case with her husband and that of her friend, Mrs. Reilly (whose husbands, apparently, spent more than a few hours at the local pub).

What makes this song of interest to genealogists, in my opinion, is that the perceptions of other cultures most likely created animosities among neighbors, not unlike some areas in big cities today. While we may like to think that all immigrants arrived in America with a desire to live together in harmony with shared values of freedom and opportunity, it is more likely that the differences (in language, value systems, religion, skills, etc.) resulted in more divisions than unions.

I first heard this song by folklorist Joe Hickerson and it is available on his CD set, "Drive Dull Cares Away." I have also recorded it on my "Songs of Irish Immigrants" CD (available on my website under "CDs"). To listen to the song, there is an MP3 of it on that same website: and to read a version of the lyrics, check out Mudcat Cafe (a great source for lyrics and discussions of folk music):

We can learn a lot about the social structures, as well as entertainment, of our ancestors by studying the songs of the time periods and cultures in which they lived. This one is a perfect example of a lot of information squeezed into a short song that is actually fun to sing at the same time. Enjoy.

A purpose! I finally found the purpose!

I'm not a blogger ... I'm a blagger ... that's a quasi-blogger who is lagging behind. Way behind. But I have figured out why, and that is a real accomplishment: I just don't know what it is I should be blogging about. There are so many blogs out there, what would make mine different and worth following? Well, I got my answer at 4 this morning, when the puppy needed a little outdoor visit (he's recovering from patella surgery and is getting whatever he wants whenever he wants it). I couldn't get back to sleep, wondering about this whole blogging thing (don't ask about the connection between a puppy nature call and blogging ... at 4am, anything can be connected).

As many know, I am a folklorist. I have been collecting and studying folk music and folklore since I was about 8 (and you can imagine how well that went over with my peer group ... everyone thought I was very strange ... and I guess they weren't too far off). It occurs to me that my genealogist friends, colleagues, and acquaintances may not be aware of the many folk songs that have connection to their ancestors. So I have decided that it should be my mission to correct this. I already do this in my musical presentations where I combine music, stories, and history, but I could expand on some of the songs (many that don't make it into presentations) as well as their history and relevance to family historians. And I can also guide people to additional resources in books, recordings, or on the Internet.

And so, with this introduction to my newly discovered purpose (why did it take me so long?), I hope that you will spread the word that those who are looking for a little more social history to add to their family history may find it (as far as the music of our ancestors is concerned) at this blogspot.