Throw Back Thursday: Our First Christmas Tree

Our first Christmas Tree.

Our first Christmas Tree.

Here it is our first Christmas tree that my wife and I picked out for our celebration. It was short, squat, crooked, and not well shaped. We knew it was going to be a problem as soon as we got it home. The tree had to be tilted in the tree stand just to give it the illusion of being straight. If you look closely at the picture you can see two wires from the wall tied to the tree to hold it up. The part of the tree against the wall was sparse, which was nice as the tree did not intrude too far into our living room. As I said this was our first Christmas, and this year will mark our 43rd. Every one of them has had that magic spirit, but this is the one that initiated our family’s Christmas traditions.

Does your family know about your past Christmases? If not or if a happy retelling is in order, what better time to do it? While I still believe in Santa Clause, I also believe genealogy starts with family stories.

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Mildred’s Family Has Been Found

This is Mildred. The picture was taken about 1936.

This is Mildred. The picture was taken about 1936.

The picture you see above had been stored in a box for well over 50 years. It is from the collection of pictures and other items my wife, and I found when we cleaned out her parents home well over ten years ago. I have been slowly placing names and histories to these items. Each one is a challenge but brings its rewards when the mystery is solved.

This picture was a little easier as it had a name very lightly written on the back. It was not a family name, and no one seemed to know her. I took a guess that it was a picture taken for a school graduation. My wife’s mother had graduated from Plattsburgh State Normal School in the year 1939. I found a website that had copies of the “Cardinal” yearbooks, from the Plattsburgh State Normal School. I found Mildred in the 1936 edition. I was now certain how and why my mother-in-law had her picture.

This is the year book page I found on-line.

This is the year book page I found on-line.

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My next step was to search my favorite on-line digital newspaper sites. After several days of looking I finally found Mildred. The news articles traced a life in print. Marriage, births and in the end deaths. By reading these articles, I got to know Mildred and her family. I also discovered that she died just this year at the age of 100. I learned that she put her teaching degree to good use teaching until she retired in 1977. Then she volunteered for Literacy Volunteers for many years after. Her husband died in 1975. They had one daughter and at the time of Mildred’s death three grandchildren.

I was able to contact the daughter, and she seemed very happy to be able to get the photograph. All in all, it took me a few hours research spread out over a month to be able to do this. I get a great feeling when I can restore these items to their families. So I have done my genealogy good deed, and I encourage you to try and do the same.

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Something To Look For.

Daryl (my cousin and a Dakin family expert)  on the left and me to the right. We are at the monument for those lost at sea.

Daryl (my cousin and a Dakin family expert) on the left and me to the right. We are at the monument for those lost at sea.

Many people who take up genealogy know about the many records that we can explore. We can look up anything from birth and death records to church records, marriage records, military records, and the list can go on and on. However one item that has escaped me until this summer were records that are on public display in almost any town you can think of. They are in government buildings, in public parks, in churches, and most any place that people will gather. They are there for you to see and use at will. I am talking about memorials that list names for many reasons. When visiting the towns where your ancestors lived it would be prudent to keep an eye out for these memorial records.

This summer I traveled to Digby, Nova Scotia, the home of many of my ancestors. By the waterfront, I noticed a memorial to the many people that had been lost at sea. They had many as Digby is well known for it’s fishing fleets. I found many names from my family being honored.

The memorial to the men lost at sea.

The memorial to the men lost at sea.

Part of the long list of men lost at sea. People from my family are listed.

Part of the long list of men lost at sea. People from my family are listed.

I also found the same in a local church. Seeing the names somehow made the place less unknown and a feeling that I belonged in some small way.

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World War One memorial in the Trinity Anglican Church in Digby, N.S.. Founded in 1788.

World War One memorial in the Trinity Anglican Church in Digby, N.S.. Founded in 1788.

Downtown Digby also had a memorial to it’s soldiers of World War Two. Here also were familiar names.

World War Two memorial. This is in the center of town.

World War Two memorial. This is in the center of town.

In Haverhill Ma. I also found memorials with names on them. Here is a Korean War Memorial. Seeing one’s ancestors name here could be a major find for someone.

Korean War Memorial in Haverhill, Ma. Names of donors and veterans are on each brick.

Korean War Memorial in Haverhill, Ma. Names of donors and veterans are on each brick.

Those who did not make it back.

Those who did not make it back.

Even in my hometown of Plattsburgh, N.Y. I found names all around one our monuments.

From the steps of city hall you can see the Macdonough Monument. It has a giant Eagle with it's wings spread on top. This commemorates the American Victory in  the Battle of Plattsburgh. Fought during the War of 1812

From the steps of city hall you can see the Macdonough Monument. It has a giant Eagle with it’s wings spread on top. This commemorates the American Victory in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Fought during the War of 1812

These stones are all around the monument. What a find they might be for someone.

These stones are all around the monument. What a find they might be for someone.

I firmly believe that when visiting old hometowns and places that our ancestors lived and died, it would do well to keep a look out for these memorials. They could give you a clue that is needed to get more information. They may not be as good as a death certificate. They will not give you all the answers you need. But they just might be the key you need to open that door to getting to know your ancestors a little better.

Here is one more picture I took a few years ago. It is of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. Engraved into the wall is the name of my cousin.

My cousin's name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

My cousin’s name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

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Throw Back Thursday; A Boy And His Tractor

My Aunt Verna in the back and my Mother Veronica in front. What a pair!

My Aunt Verna in the back and my Mother Veronica in front. What a pair!

I had been working on organizing some old family photographs when I came across these photographs. They were taken in 1955 at Macomb Park, Schuyler Falls, N.Y.. Great care was taken in writing the date and place these pictures were taken. Because of this I know this was the eighth wedding anniversary for my parents and my Uncle Lawrence and Aunt Verna. They were married in a double ceremony. No names were noted, and I will take care of that detail.

My mother and her sister Verna were very close. They could argue with the best of them, but don’t ever come between them. I use to stay at my aunt and uncle’s place for about a week each summer. I always had a good time and looked forward to the visit each summer. One summer my aunt introduced me to the great taste of tuna fish sandwiches. My mother who could not stand the smell of any fish claimed my aunt did that to get at her. When I made a tuna fish sandwich at home, I had to very carefully rinse out the can and clean all the dishes used. I could not leave a trace of tuna anywhere.

I seem to be deep in thought on my toy tractor. Perhaps I was wondering when the food was going to be ready.

I seem to be deep in thought on my toy tractor. Perhaps I was wondering when the food was going to be ready.

Aunt Verna showing how the tractor should be ridden.

Aunt Verna showing how the tractor should be ridden.

Our family had many such picnics as pictured here. The were great times, and I am happy to say I have many pictures of them.

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Just One Of 8000

Baby sister between her two older brothers. She is not yet a full month old at her first Christmas. I have always said she was my rose between the two thorns.

Baby sister between her two older brothers. She is not yet a full month old at her first Christmas. I have always said she was my rose between the two thorns.

Telling family stories is a fun pastime for most people. I have recently used this blog to show how it can be done. We can tell stories through family heirlooms, by visiting an old hometown, or even where past ancestors have lived. When we research our ancestors, we must keep in mind that they did not live in a vacuum. They were part of the community and had dealings with many people. They may have known or been friends with community leaders and famous people of their times. This type of interaction could make for a great family story.

I was reminded of a family story that my wife is fond of telling each year around my daughter’s birthday. The reminder, unfortunately, came with the news of the death of a good man. Dr. Richard Aubry age 81 died in an automobile accident last week. Dr. Aubry was among other things a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y.. Dr. Aubry also wore another hat. He was a founder of the Regional Perinatal Center and attended over 8000 births. She was sent there for a fairly new procedure at the time called an Amniocentesis. This procedure is a medical procedure in which a small amount of amniotic fluid is removed from the sac that surrounds the fetus. This is done with a needle that is inserted through the abdomen into the uterus. Our doctor at the time wanted this test done because our second son was born with Spina Bifida, and my wife’s oldest brother was born with Down Syndrome.

However, if this wasn’t stressful enough our doctor informed my wife that if the test came back positive for any of these conditions, an abortion must be done. This was a concern for us as an abortion was out of the question. When my wife tried to explain this to the doctor, he flatly told her not to come back if the test were positive and she was not going to have an abortion. We had many a conversation while waiting for the test date. To say we were concerned would be an understatement. Back in the 1970s services for people and families with disabilities were not readily available, (I still do not think they are even today) and we did not live near any family that could help.

Finally, the time for the test came and then the wait for the results. When it came time to go for the results, my wife went alone. I do not know why I did not go. I should have. Perhaps I had to work or had to stay home with our two sons. Once there she was ushered into a room and given the results of her Amniocentesis test. Everything came back normal. All the signs were for a normal pregnancy and healthy baby. Dr Aubry told my wife that she was now to go back to her doctor for the duration of the pregnancy. At this time, my wife spoke up that she wanted to be looked after by him at the Perinatal Center. He started to explain that they were there for high-risk pregnancies and that she could not be followed by them. According to my wife, that was when she lost it. Through tears, she told him about the abortion ultimatum and that she could not see returning to them for medical care. But what could Dr. Aubry do? He was bound by ethics and procedures. The clinic was not for normal pregnancies and was run by rules and regulations. Dr. Aubry placed his hand on my wife’s shoulders and said “of course you can be seen here.”

My daughter was born during a snow storm in early December. Ten fingers and ten toes. Each and every of my daughter’s birthdays my wife tells of the kindness of Dr. Aubry. My daughter is just one of the 8000 births he attended. I can only guess at what the other 7999 stories are.

Our family on Christmas 2013. It should be noted that four grandchildren were also in the room at the time this picture was taken.

Our family on Christmas 2013. It should be noted that four grandchildren were also in the room at the time this picture was taken.

What are your family stories? Write them down so in the passage of time they don’t get lost. It is the human interest stories the generations to come will want to know. Isn’t that what we really want to know about our ancestors?

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Sixth Grade; Throw Back Thursday

That's me, back row 2nd child from the left. The only boy with glasses.

That’s me, back row 2nd child from the left. The only boy with glasses.

This picture is my Sixth grade class at Broad Street School. I thought I would put this on since I have been blogging about the school and Plattsburgh. The man on the right side of the picture is Gilbert Duken. Not only did he have to teach a class of 35 students he also was the principal. He also found time to take on a student teacher (standing on the other side) for part of the year. Also, he was an alderman for the city. I think about him when I hear teachers complain today.

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A Special Place

This is the Saranac River, that cuts right through Plattsburgh. This Picture was taken at the end of the street I grew up on. Many hours were spent fishing here.

This is the Saranac River, that cuts right through Plattsburgh. This Picture was taken at the end of the street I grew up on. Many hours were spent fishing here.


“This is my most special place in all the world. Once a place touches you like that, the wind never blows so cold again”
From the film Field of Dreams spoken by Dr. Archibald Graham played by Burt Lancaster.

The lucky ones among us have a place that fits the description of the above quote. It is a place that defines us, shaped us in our growing years, and gave us the unique outlook we have on the world at large. I have such a place. It is found in northern New York in the Champlain Valley. A place called Plattsburgh.

From the steps of city hall you can see the Macdonough Monument. It has a giant Eagle with it's wings spread on top. This commemorates the American Victory in  the Battle of Plattsburgh. Fought during the War of 1812

From the steps of city hall you can see the Macdonough Monument. It has a giant Eagle with it’s wings spread on top. This commemorates the American Victory in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Fought during the War of 1812

This is looking back toward city hall, from the monument.

This is looking back toward city hall, from the monument.

Many of our ancestors that we research had a special place also. Perhaps they were among the first settlers that brought a location to life and formed a town. Perhaps generations of your family lived in one place leaving their mark upon it, and in turn being influenced and cradled by that very place. The fact is they are the place, and the place is them.

I just recently returned from a place called Digby, in Nova Scotia. My ancestors helped settled the area over 200 years ago. To be able to go there and walk on their land, see the buildings they built, the monuments erected in their honor, walk in the churches they worshiped in, and find their graves, helped me understand them a little better. To have that type of understanding makes all the difference in your family history. Suddenly they are more than names and dates. They start to breathe and come to life. We even begin to understand them a little more.

Front door at St. John The Baptist Church. I must have gone through these doors countless times.

Front door at St. John The Baptist Church. I must have gone through these doors countless times.


The front altar at St. John The Baptist Church.

The front altar at St. John The Baptist Church.

This is looking back from the front altar.  Sitting in these pews is where a large part of my moral code was formed.

This is looking back from the front altar. Sitting in these pews is where a large part of my moral code was formed.


This week I just came back from an all too brief visit to my hometown, Plattsburgh, N.Y.. I have not lived there since the early 70s. However, even today when someone inquires where I am from, Plattsburgh, is my first thought. In the years past I have brought my children and grandchildren to my hometown. They all have received the “tour” more than once. I recounted stories and showed them the special places of my youth.

When I went to school here it was known only as Broad Street School. It was built right next door to the old wooden Broad Street School. We watched the new one being built. I was in 2nd grade when it opened up.

When I went to school here it was known only as Broad Street School. It was built right next door to the old wooden Broad Street School. We watched the new one being built. I was in 2nd grade when it opened up.

This restaurant was and still is a favorite place for my wife and I. Great food at low prices. We would come here after a movie or a dance. Many laughs and meals were shared with good friends.

This restaurant was and still is a favorite place for my wife and I. Great food at low prices. We would come here after a movie or a dance. Many laughs and meals were shared with good friends.

When you have an ancestor that you are trying to learn more about, spend some time learning about where they lived. Did they live on a farm or in town? Where did they worship? Did they go to a small school or a large city school? What type of work did they do? Who were the family and friends they had in the area? You can find answers in town histories, old newspapers, photographs, vital records, old postcards of the area, and searching on the internet. Construct a time line of your ancestor and their home town. This will put events in order for you. Contact a local historical society, they most likely will have much information just waiting for you.

Clare & Carl's  serve great Michigans. If you do not know what they are, that because you never lived in Plattsburgh, N.Y. A simple description would be a hot dog with a meat sauce on top. No, they are not chili dogs.

Clare & Carl’s serve great Michigans. If you do not know what they are, that because you never lived in Plattsburgh, N.Y. A simple description would be a hot dog with a meat sauce on top. No, they are not chili dogs.

They come right out to your cars and serve the food. My mother use to go here well before I was born.

They come right out to your cars and serve the food. My mother use to go here well before I was born.

I would have taken a picture of a Michigan but they were eaten too fast.

I would have taken a picture of a Michigan but they were eaten too fast.

When you learn about a place, you will learn about the people from that place. So get to know your ancestors a little better by getting to know where and how they lived.

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