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, October 16, 2012

I finished the novel. Of course, if you didn't know I was working on a novel, that might come as a complete surprise. I haven't really been mentioning it much because the words "I'm working on a novel" sound rather pompous to me (mostly because I have known folks who have been working on their novels for decades). But now that it's done, I guess it is time to say: "I wrote a novel." (That still sounds pompous.) The folks who have helped by reading it as critics (and much-needed editors) have told me that it is really good, so now I feel OK posting the news.

The story is about my great-great-grandmother who escaped a terrible marriage and her native Germany "under the cover of darkness." Helped by a confidante and family friend, she left her children in the care of her sister and abandoned her husband for the safety of America. I realize that, had she not done this, her abusive husband (my great-great-grandfather) probably would have killed her and I would not be here . . . at least, not in America! Nevertheless, her experience was hard on her, physically and emotionally.

When I first started working on my genealogy (about 1979), my father gave me a box of photos and letters and poetry, etc. (much written by my grandmother, Pauline Elizabeth Miller Wilcox, the granddaughter of Elisabeth in my story). One of the pieces of writing was a six-page manuscript called "Rescued from a Living Death" written about 1935 for publication (which may or may not have occurred). Initially, I thought it was just a short story my grandmother had composed, but, about 20 years later, I discovered that my g-g-grandmother had come to America (I had been led to believe she never left her native Bonn, Germany). By close scrutiny, I learned that the story was actually the history of my ancestor, put down by my grandmother so it would not be forgotten. Hopefully, my novel will ensure that her story, maybe similar to thousands of others, will be forever remembered.

The novel is historical fiction - that is, fiction by the fact that I "put words in the mouths" of my ancestors, created needed relationships with lesser characters, and imagined certain living situations. Historical by the fact that I have researched the various events that likely affected the lives of the people in the areas of New York state and City, Jersey City, and Chicago. The immigration took place during the industrial revolution (she arrived in the U.S. at the end of the Civil War in 1864 and lived until 1895, dying in Chicago in the home of her daughter). This means that she saw the advent of the indoor bathroom, creation of such innovations as "time" payments, and the invention of the telephone, among other things. She also witnessed the rise of women's rights (though she died before women got the vote), the end of slavery, the celebration of the end of the Civil War, the Columbian Exposition, and other events in history that surely touched her life (at least they did in my vision of her life).

But her experiences were also based on clear facts, verified with census records, city directories, military and pension records, legal documents, and family records, among other things. Elisabeth: The Story of a German Immigrant is told in first person from the perspective of someone who learned a new language and a new culture at the same time.

An excerpt from the book can be found on my website where there is also a link for ordering it in eBook format from Lulu.com (click on photo at right for a direct path to my page at Lulu).

For those who have heard my presentation on this person (by the same title as the book), this is the extension of her story. At right is a photo of this presentation done in Orange County in 2008 (photo by Gary Friedman).

My grandmother ended her manuscript with the statement: "I hope my little story will be the means of helping some bewildered soul." Considering that it led me to hundreds of documents - birth, marriage, death, census, military, etc. - and, until that time, I was one very bewildered genealogist, I would venture to say that the little story fulfilled that desire. To that I add that I hope my little novel will be the means of inspiring those who read it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Campaign Songs: A Thing of the Past?

I make a point of being as non-political as possible and prefer to avoid controversial topics that I believe are irrelevant to the mission of this blog, but as most of my readers know, I am very music-oriented, so, at the risk of touching on the current storm of "vote this, vote that!" I am going to mention one issue that seems to be ignored (or at least down-played).

In 1960, I remember when John F. Kennedy was running for office. Frank Sinatra recorded 2 campaign songs for the candidate: "All the Way" and, my favorite, "High Hopes." I bought the 45-rpm (that's a small, vinyl record, to my under 30 readers) of the recording and played it almost to oblivion. ("Everyone wants to back Jack . . . Jack is on the right track . . . Cause he has High Hopes . . ." well, you get the idea). You can hear this here.

Campaign songs are hardly new. In fact, they provided a way to promote one's favorite candidate and/or discredit the opposition (something that is also not a new innovation . . . just more obvious in today's world of immediate communication). Check out some of the the sheet music for candidates of the past - remembered and long forgotten: Presidential Campaign Songs. Want more? Check some of the more recent selections from Gizmodo.

So far, I've heard that one music group asked Mitt Romney to discontinue using their song in his campaign promotion. Obama has not settled on a single piece but seems to have a repertoire of songs.

I think this could be a good gig for a song-writer: creating original pieces (with very catchy tunes, of course) for the preferred candidate. Why rework something that's already there (as seems to have been the common practice)? Unique is the word for this election; it should also be the word for the music. Or, if choosing a tune already in the nation's heads, select something that is in the public domain so as not to offend a composer or, big no-no, plagiarize or use something without proper permission (with use fees paid). There's lots to consider: "The Old Gray Mare," for instance (hmm, maybe not); or "Camptown Races" (I can hear it now: "Political Races, sing this song . . ." but I hesitate to suggest a substitute for "Doo-dah"). OK, how about "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain" (substitute "He" for "She" and "White House" for "Mountain"). Let's see, maybe "Skip to My Lou" ("Choose your candidate, skip to the poles" . . . maybe not).

Well, obviously this is not the gig for me, but someone should get these candidates some songs of their own or we will be forced to rely on Social Media for all the campaign propaganda. One with the catchiest song wins? And I think the rule should be only promotion of said candidate; no bad-mouthing the opposition (neither of Kennedy's songs said anything more harmful than that he could beat his opponent; no specific negative statements about the other party's choice).

That's as political as I get and I ask, if you decide to leave a comment, please leave off the political rhetoric (comments bad-mouthing or overly promoting either side will be deleted). Go to Facebook for that (though I have been unfriending those who have gone overboard in that area . . . Counting down to November when we can go back to saying positive things to each other in that arena).

Join in on the chorus, everybody sing along: "La-la-la-la-vote-la-la!"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I can tell that I haven't been doing much on the blog lately . . . the format for editing is completely different and I now have to take posting time to learn how to use the latest bells and whistles.

Summer has gotten in the way of some serious blogging but, I confess, I have been tied up in another project as well: I am writing a novel and it is taking much of my time. It is based on the program I do titled "Elisabeth: The Story of a German Immigrant" and the story that inspired that program (the story was written by my grandmother, Pauline Elizabeth Miller Wilcox). Writing a historical novel involves a huge amount of research so I am often halted in my work to take a few hours to research an event, person, or place. Now, here's a great benefit: For years I have been perplexed by the Burroughs of New York and confused where one ends and another begins. Because much of this story is centered in that area, I have had to study the locale in order to effectively write about it. So, finally, after years of confusion, I actually have a working knowledge of the place (that is not an invitation for you to contact me for clarification on things New York as I am focusing my learning on the things needed for this project).

I have also been cajoling a friend to give me a most fascinating story on his acquisition of a violin. He has provided me with all the parts I need as well as photos and permission to blog about his story, but that will have to wait just a bit until I can give it the attention it deserves.

So, for those who thought I had just dropped off the earth: not a chance! I am just incredibly busy with too many projects. But life is good and I'm willing to run with it all!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Connecting Past to Present via Music

In 1966, singer Pete Seeger began plans to literally launched a project to clean up the Hudson River in New York. He and a group of supporters and workers put together a period sloop - named the Clearwater - which would sail up and down the Hudson, bringing music and a message to the folks along the waterway. The message: "Let's return the river to its former, clean, state." They funded the project through donations and sales of sails - people could (and still can) join in the fun by taking a sail up the river. And meanwhile, the whole thing inspired folks to create cleaner waterways. Getting a first-hand look at the need to keep the environment protected has made a great impact and the Hudson is looking great! The Sloop Clearwater, launched in 1969, provides an educational, enjoyable, and exciting experience that continues to inspire into the latest generations. The sloop is fashioned after those that brought goods up and down the river in the 1860s and earlier years.

I first learned about the project shortly after fund-raising began. I was in high school and followed Pete Seeger's career fairly closely (his father, Charles, was the first person I'd heard of with a PhD in folklore and so was my inspiration to get the same, which I did in 2008). For reasons I didn't understand at the time, Pete's desire to clean up that particular river (which I had never, to my recollection, ever seen and which was far away from where I lived in suburban Chicago) really touched me.

I hosted a mini-folk festival in my hometown of Wilmette, Illinois in August of 1968, sponsored by my church. The sloop had yet to make its maiden voyage and I made a plea for the proceeds of our little event to be donated to the project. The church committee turned me down for two reasons: 1) the project might never come to fruition and 2) it was not connected to our community in any way. I reluctantly chose another (local) charity to receive our small profits and sent my own donation to the Clearwater project. I was headed into my last year of high school so I imagine my donation was rather small, but it was heartfelt. (Say, if they could conquer the Hudson, maybe they could turn attention to the Chicago River next . . . or, maybe not.)

Pete had a column ("Johnny Appleseed, Jr.") in the folk music magazine Sing Out! and there he encouraged young singers and songwriters to keep messages and stories flowing in our music. At one point, he featured a number of alternate verses to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Even Woody had many additional verses that never made it into the mainstream singing of his song. I had played around with the song myself and had written a verse inspired by Pete's beloved Hudson River. By that time, the Sloop had launched and I was excited to learn that the first voyages were well-received (hoping some day to have my own opportunity to witness this event). I decided to add my verse to Pete's collection (if I would be so lucky) and sent it on to him at his home in Beacon, NY. He sent me a lovely reply. That was in October 1969.

So now we fast forward to about 1978, when I began to research my family roots. It took me a number of years to trace my German immigrant ancestors to the shores of New York and their trek to a new home . . . on the shore of the Hudson River. That family (surnames: THENEE, MUELLER, WOLBERT) lived in various places in New York and New Jersey, but were rarely far from the shores of the river. Could this be why I felt such a connection to the project begun back in the 1960s? Perhaps it was an ancestral memory and my own forebears whispering to me that it was a worthwhile cause and something that required my attention. And maybe one of those people (perhaps musician, great-grandpa Fritz Mueller) was my muse when I wrote the words that were in my mind's eye, but described something I had never seen for myself. I don't know.

Here are the words:

"As I was sailing, that Hudson River
I saw around me, the tow'ring timber;
I saw beneath me, all New York's litter,
Still this land is made for you and me."

Now, I have to confess here that I had forgotten all about that verse. I have written a lot of "additional verses" to already well-done songs, often fitting a particular theme or event. Pete's little note was a nice acknowledgment, but that was about it. Life moves on.

But in my world in Illinois, I didn't know what was happening in New York. In 1971, Pete wrote an article for The Village Voice in which he details a number of alternate verses, collected over the years, for Woody's immortal song. I do not subscribe to that weekly publication out of New York, nor does anyone I know (or I am sure I would have been contacted with the information that my verse had been immortalized).

In 1973 I moved from Illinois to California and was busy with work, a divorce, a remarriage, a conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, getting myself acclimated to being a step-mother, returning to college to get various degrees, etc.; all encompassing the next decades. Pete Seeger, in 1993, published a book on the history of singalongs from the early years (long before I was born) through the era of the turbulent '60s (my real education in music) and into the next generation and the one after that. The music survives. It's titled Where Have all the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir and is a great overview of the world of (folk) music (available through Amazon, of course). And, on page 144, there are two verses, attributed to Jean Wilcox, Illinois. To set the record straight: only the second verse is mine; I am sorry that the person who wrote the first one was lost to obscurity, probably in Pete's filing system or recording process. I wrote about this back in August of last year, with a slightly different take, so to read that whole discovery process, check my blog from then.

So, as Earth Day approaches, it occurs to me that taking out some of those old songs and verses, dusting them off, and singing to/for the environment is not a bad idea. And, if the muse hits, I may just pen another lyric or two to bring things up to date. Oh, and one more thing: next time I am in upstate New York, I will see that sloop, which is still going strong!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April showers . . . well, we have Rain here

It's hard to believe that we are into the second quarter of 2012. I am glad I didn't put up Christmas decorations in 2011 or I would just now be taking them down. It has been a crazy 3+ months since we flipped the calendar page. Much has been good, some has been great, and some has been the sort of stuff we just need to do (and not all of that has been accomplished!). Much has also been neglected in the maelstrom of "stuff." This blog has been one of those things. I am a firm believer in "if you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything," but I will take that a step further: "If I don't have anything to say, I'll also keep my mouth shut." With the unveiling of the 1940 census, I have been kept busy with so many projects that other "stuff" has been shoved into a corner. Well, that corner is now overflowing and pushing into the room, so I will let you know the biggest news around here, then will enter a new blog post on an old (and favorite) subject: me. No . . . music!

January found me in Salt Lake for the Salt Lake Institute for Genealogical Studies. I learned a lot - most importantly that my Lee ancestry is likely to be fraudulent. I mean, the family existed and my family was connected to them, but I discovered that there is no familial link. I am grateful to the Lees of Decherd, Franklin County, Tennessee (later of Dallas, Texas) for taking in my great-grandmother and, later, my great-grandfather, but I find no proof of a Lee line in my tree. I'm OK with it; just have to go back to the drawing board (and make some adjustments in my RootsMagic file!).

February found me again in Utah - this time in St. George for the Family History Expo. Great people there; lots of fun, networking, and helping at the Ask the Experts table. I do love those events and, not having a table that I was responsible for, I got to sort of kick back instead of run from place to place. Yay!

March found me on the road again - to the Glendale Folk & Heritage Festival in Arizona. I love that event, too. The day before the festival I gave a mini-seminar in Mesa and we had a nice crowd. The dogs were along for that trip and enjoyed all the activities of the weekend.

Of course, April 2 was the unveiling of the 1940 census and I was busy throughout March giving presentations on what to do with it once it was released. I've been hearing great reports from folks and am thrilled to see the indexing progress by so many groups. We need to keep up the momentum.

But I have noticed, especially since January 3 (the first anniversary of the passing of my beloved dog, Buddy) that I really missed having a 4-legged companion to wander cemeteries and be my genealogy helper. Don't get me wrong - I love my little Alaskan Klee Kais (miniature huskies), but they don't have much interest in cemeteries and are really not as "into" the whole "stay still while mama talks about dead people" (or dead dogs, for that matter). So I think that "funk" I was in was just needing a little boost from a pup. Last week, while my husband was clicking on some links he was sent on Facebook, he went from one site to another until he was staring at a rescue dog, in need of a home, that was the spitting image of our Buddy. She was ready to be adopted the next day from a shelter only a 40-minute drive away (but not one we had ever heard of so we would never have looked there on our own). We went out to meet her and, two days later (with her minus a few female things) she walked into our home. The shelter had named her "Rain." At first we just planned to rename her, but she seems to personify Rain, in all the good ways - she has rained down an amazing spirit in our home. She is like a rainbow the way she smiles and bounces around the house. So we have named her after the Civil War song "Lorena" and nicknamed her "Rain." She sits and listens to me talk about my ancestors and doesn't move a muscle. She gets along well with the "Klees" and they all travel around the house as a pack, but she has claimed me as her property. We have yet to visit a cemetery, but I plan to arrange for that ASAP. Did Buddy or one of my ancestors send her to me? I don't know. I believe that there are things at work beyond the realities we are aware of in this world and I think that things happen for a reason. I'm just going along for the ride!

Funny how the addition of one thing in the home can change an atmosphere (positively or negatively). The wrong influence in a home can change the attitudes and communication styles of the entire household. The inclusion of a positive influence can make a tense atmosphere calm again. And Rain has been a great influence on my writing, so stay tuned . . . I should be doing a lot more blogging. But don't be surprised if a lot of it includes my little Rain dog (and probably the others, too . . . if they will stand still long enough).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Countdown to the St. George Expo

Because I am writing this away from my own computer and my ability to access the images I have stored there, with no capability to re-capture them, this blog post will be sans cute pictures. So sorry. But the important parts are included: information about the St. George Family History Expo, taking place this coming weekend.

February can be a dreary month. We try to give it some humor with Groundhog Day at the onset, then give it some color and emotion with Valentine's Day in the middle of the month, and finally we attempt to restore its dignity about a week later with Presidents' Day (formerly a combination of the birthdays of Lincoln - before Valentine's - and Washington - after Valentine's; but now celebrated - by some - separately from Lincoln, whose birthday was restored to individual status while Washington's day remains combined with an honor to all Presidents . . . go figure). Anyway, by the end of the month, we're confused. The weather is often still oppressive with clouds, snow, and all manor of stuff from the sky - sometimes it seems as if the universe is confused as well.

But there is hope! Yes, Family History Expos has taken on the task of getting the "yuck" out of February and restoring it to it's proper place as Number 2 month (does that mean it tries harder? - allusion to the old Avis Rental Car commercials - it certainly seems to at times). For genealogists, it is time to poke our heads out of our holes (where many of us went to hide, along with the Groundhog, after the month began with the RootsTech conference - overwhelming many both by its size and wealth of information).

In St. George, Utah, genealogists of all levels of expertise will be converging on the Dixie Center where they will be educated in all things genealogy:
Being a Family History Consultant
The 1940 Census
Beginning Research
Intermediate Research
Advance Research
Specialized Research - by geographic areas, record types, etc.
Using Technology

There is bound to be something for everyone! And if you have an hour with nothing being offered that interests you, check out the exhibit hall and the many genealogy-related products, stop by the Blog House to meet the bloggers that are always keeping us updated on the latest information, or check with the "Ask an Expert" table to get some specialized help.

And if you come to the Expo, please be sure to look for me and say "hi!" - it's always nice to know that someone is reading these things.

Friday and Saturday, February 24 & 25 (see the website for all the details on the schedule, presenters, bloggers, exhibitors, and more).

NARA blog posts being pre-empted due to the 1940 Census

As I presume most of my readers know, besides my long absences between posts, I am a genealogy lecturer and am often asked to present new and updated material regarding topics of interest to the genealogy community. Such has been the case over the past couple of weeks as I prepare for presentations at the St. George Family History Expo, the Corona Genealogical Society, the Corona Family History Center, and other organizations in the area. I have been busy learning about and writing on the 1940 Census. It is coming in a matter of days (41, to be exact) and there is much to learn between now and then.

So I ask you to excuse my delinquency in other postings and know that it is for the greater good. And if you are particularly interested in the 16th Decennial Census, check my website (link on this page) and my presentation schedule to see if I will be giving this information at a location near you; or book me for your society to do so. Also, on the home page of my website, is a link to a handout (downloadable) that lists the websites and blogs dealing with this topic (up to date as of yesterday), along with some hints for making the April 2 release date less intimidating.

Once the Population Schedules have been released (in browsable format) on the various websites that will be carrying it (see the handout), I will be re-writing the presentation to give specific instructions on the procedures, using case studies to demonstrate with the actual Census pages providing clear examples (something the presentation lacks, at this moment). This is an on-going project.

Oh, and if YOU want to help, check out the Indexing instructions at FamilySearch.org - sign up to be a part of this unique and historic event!