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.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Sunday Singalong - Singalong All


I am writing this while enjoying the annual Roundup of Songmakers, a Southern California group of musicians (of all experience levels) who gather in homes or similar locations to make music together. It was begun back in the 1940s during the McCarthy era when many musicians in the recording and entertainment industries were blacklisted. This became a great organization for those wanting to try out their music but also to have some moral support from others in a similar situation. So, here we are, so many years later, still supporting each other and sharing music together.

Getting together has suffered during the pandemic, but has also been expanded, if that makes sense. No, we can’t all hear each other at the same time when we do our music, but we do get a chance to hear and, after a fashion, even sing along with people of all musical experience from all around the world. I miss getting together with folks in person (yes, many have returned to the in-person gatherings, keeping a certain level of distance between each other, but I tend to avoid most indoor gatherings).

Whether folks are joining together in song circles, hoots, informal & formal gatherings/concerts, campouts for music around the campfire, or just to listen and enjoy a variety of music, these experiences can be considered ways of keeping people connected. So, for today’s singalong, do you have a favorite singalong song? Whether it’s something like “We Shall Overcome,” or something less serious like “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” these musical breaks in everyday life can help to make that life more enjoyable. And it’s OK to sing off key or forget the tune . . . just grab a song and join in!

My selection: Well, here I go, back to my friend Tom Paxton, who has written group songs for over 50 years, many that folks around the world sing together, and in a variety of languages. I think one of my most favorites, and still (and forever?) sending a worthwhile message (more today than ever?): "Peace Will Come." A song written in the early 1970s, also performed in the late 1980s, the mid-1990s, or the mid 2010s . . . the message is the same, but the environment keeps changing. Or does it?

Version with too many ads, poor sound quality, and no audience singing along, but still a good one

This recording is of a live performance . . . Listen all through to get the full feeling of group singing.

Another live recording, but harder to hear audience joining in.

Jean & Tom, Napa, CA, 2015:

Monday, February 20, 2023

Sunday (+1 day) Singalong - Presidents & Others with Holidays


I remember when I was in elementary school; we made decorations for the 12th of February and for the 22nd of February. These, of course, honored the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, respectively. But somewhere along the line, things changed . . . back and forth, sort of.

I am not going to go into a listing of what Presidents are honored on what days or which states recognize which dates as holidays . . . it's just a bit too complicated. Instead, I will give my somewhat slanted perspective of someone who has taught school, worked in "industry," and attempted to keep track of when the garbage goes to the street & mail is, or is not, delivered. But for a more complete rundown of the history of Presidents' Day, check the Wikipedia article found here.

Anyway, in 1971, some order of recognized observances was adopted for many American holidays: Memorial & Columbus Days being the first that pop into my mind (so does Labor Day, but that was already assigned to the 1st Monday in September). Presidents' Day was another one. There is an interesting history, along with the reasoning attached, that can be found here. Obviously, New Year's Day (and related "Eve"), along with the 4th of July, Thanksgiving (4th Thursday), and Christmas are not subject to the adjusted celebratory Monday. When Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was developed, it, too, was assigned an appropriate Monday (3rd in January). Veterans' Day, which had been given a Monday date of the 4th Monday in October, was included in the initial 1971 arrangement, but 7 years later was shifted back to the original November 11th date, honoring the WWI Armistice, in agreement with the calendars of other Nations.

So I am actually writing this on the evening of Presidents Day (possessive is dropped when the phrase makes "Presidents" a modifier instead of a noun; though if written to identify a specific President - i.e., Washington - it becomes singular, possessive - President's . . . confused?). However one wishes to write it, it implies Presidents of the United States, not of some company or a genealogy society. Thinking of the various Presidents we have had over the many, many years, it would stand to reason that most of them should be remembered in song (beyond the expected campaign songs at election time). Can you think of any?

Taken between 1909 & 1919; Library of Congress, from glass negative

Since I've collected Civil War songs over the years, it stands to reason that I have a few that mention Lincoln, but I got to wondering about why there is a song to help me remember the books of the Bible, but no song to remember the names and order of our Presidents. But, wait! There is! How I wish I had known this back in junior high school when we were charged with remembering these gentlemen. If you aren't aware of it, check it out here:

"The American Presidents Song," White House Historical Association. And the lyrics are printed on the screen as they are sung (to the tune of "Yankee Doodle").

Now, who's going to put together a song to cover the Presidents after Coolidge?


Sunday, February 12, 2023

Sunday Singalong - The heart and other body parts

With Valentine's day a mere 2 days hence, one cannot help but notice hearts all over the place! On the windows of stores, restaurants, service offices, . . .  everyone seems to love everyone. Well, until we turn on the news, or look on social media. I am dumbstruck by the amount of negativity in the world - smash & grab robberies (a new genre for the crooks), home invasion robberies, carjackings, . . .  it seems a lot of people are not even loving themselves. And then the various world events .  . .  Turkey's disaster is unfathomable, except that it's in front of us on the Internet or TV. In 1906, when San Francisco was rocked and much destroyed by a monumental earthquake, it was not visible to those out of the area. No TV. No Internet. Only when photos were printed in newspapers did folks in other areas realize just what had happened and to what degree the city and its citizens suffered. And still, over 100 years later, it's still hard to imagine, now that the city has rebuilt. And, we are to believe, better prepared for the next one. But in Turkey, the devastation was much worse; the buildings that should have been able to withstand at least some of the destruction, toppled. And so much loss of life. In San Francisco, there were fires all over the city . . . I haven't seen that in what we've been shown of Turkey, but instead, they are contending with horrible cold (something that is not really visible to the cameras' eyes). Some of those who died no doubt succumbed to freezing temperatures before they could be rescued.

Yet, amidst all of this, I have seen the positive side of humanity in the first responders . . . not just those who were from the region, but people from all over the world are going to help. No rewards. No overtime pay. Just helping their fellow human beings. Maybe I should not be quite so despondent about the inhumanity that also takes a front seat in news stories. And maybe those hearts that are displayed for folks to see are a reflection of the inner compassion of today's human beings. 

So, where is this going? Thinking of care and love, I guess . . . We need to have heart in order to proceed with relationships if they are to mean much. Of course, here I am referring to "heart" in a figurative sense, and the song that pops in my mind is from Damn Yankees. Last night, when I was listening to my favorite radio program - "The Midnight Special," on WFMT, Chicago - I heard a parody of that song by Alan Sherman. It made me smile (something that should happen more often with many of us), because of its very accurate message: "You Gotta have Skin"  The largest organ of the human body seems to be affected by the elements much quicker than the other organs. Sort of.

So, looking for a little smiling, a little love, a little appreciation for our various organs and recognition of how important they are, especially when they are working well together. So, I'm curious, what songs come to mind when you think of the human body, its fragility, yet its resilience as well? Any organ songs out there (or songs you can play on an organ? Well, that's going a bit too far afield)?

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Sunday Singalong - February Follies

For the first 21 or so years of my life, I dealt with weather in Illinois (northern suburb of Chicago, right by the lake - well, about a mile away - where we had a certain shelter from some of the worst of Midwest weather experiences . . . The "Lake Effect"). Still, moving west and living in California for the last almost 50 years has meant I haven't needed any lake effects to protect me from the snow. Winds are another matter I won't address here. Anyway, that said, it's no wonder that I have accepted the first 2 months of a new year with some annoyance . . . even in California, the weather can get a bit, well, annoying. (I don't mention the last month or so of a year because all the excitement of the holidays does have a way of tempering the temperatures.)

For about 13 years (from 1998-2011) I hosted a video watching party at my home over groundhog day weekend. People would come from a large number of places (yup, even had some visitors from the UK a time or two); we'd spread out the sleeping bags, and laugh throughout much of the nights. While enduring some of the worst of the California weather, I had some of the best times. There's nothing like friends to get one out of the doldrums. I miss those days, but also know that, as I'm getting older, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor has less and less appeal. But good times can never be downplayed. I may not have "February Follies" as in times past, but the memories bring back laughter and provide a different type of warmth. Do any follies (not necessarily connected to February) come to mind?

So, I'm afraid that, when I think of "follies," I am also reminded of times, which some people I know have had, as a result of a little bit too much imbibing. Now, I'll never admit to that being me, though there was a time when it might have been (not sure I remember those times, though). And that automatically triggers thought of the performances of my friend, Tom Paxton, and his composition "Wasn't that a Party?" Sadly, I could not find a YouTube video of him performing this live, but I did locate an authorized copy of the song in that format. In fact, the entire album on which it was first recorded by Tom, is featured, so I am linking that here. All the songs on that recording are fun to listen to (the first time, or hundred-and-first time): 

"Wasn't that a Party" from

New Songs for Old Friends

Your turn: any follies you can think of, with the songs that express them?