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# Monday, December 24, 2007
Christmas Traditions Around the World
Posted by Diane

Well, my stocking is hung by the chimney with care, and there better not be a mouse stirring anywhere.

The stocking tradition probably started in Europe, where kids hung their everyday socks from nails for St. Nick to fill. Here are some other holiday traditions our ancestors from around the world have celebrated:

In France, kids put shoes by the door or fireplace, waiting for the Christ child to fill them with presents during the night.

Dutch children put hay and sugar in a shoe outside the house on the night before St. Nick’s Day. After his horse has a snack, St. Nick (Sinterklaas)  leaves goodies in each shoe.

Dec. 13 in Sweden is St. Lucia's Day, celebrating the patron saint of light. Traditionally, a family’s first daughter would wear a long white dress and crown of leaves, then serve coffee and treats to the family. (Somehow I can’t see my sister ever doing this.)

A sprite-like child with angelic wings called the Christkind ("Christ Child") is delivers presents in areas including parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Legand has it Martin Luther invented the Christkind to discourage the figure of St. Nicholas.

Christmas in the Philippines starts Dec. 16 with dawn masses called Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) or Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) On Christmas Eve, families go to midnight mass and then eat a traditional feast.

Between Christmas and New Years Day, Norwegians go Julebukking. People wearing masks and costumes knock on neighbors’ doors, and the inhabitants try to guess the julebukkers’ identities.

Inspired by the sound of a burning log, a London confectioner named Tom Smith invented Christmas crackers in 1847. The colorful wrapped tubes that snap and reveal a trinket when people pull on the ends are universally popular in England and other Commonwealth countries. Australians call them bon-bons.

Mexican children leave notes in their shoes on Jan. 6, when tradition holds the Three Wise Men arrived with gifts for baby Jesus.

In the UK and Canada, Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas (or the next week day, if Dec. 26 falls on a weekend). There are many theories behind its origins. Nowadays, it’s known for great sales.


Celebrating your heritage | Genealogy fun | Social History
Monday, December 24, 2007 2:48:33 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, December 21, 2007
Make the Most of Holiday Communiques
Posted by Grace

From Family Tree Magazine contributor Tara Beecham, tips for using family newsletters to aid in your ancestral quest:

Whether you think it's naughty or nice, many family history researchers use holiday communiqués to gather information for their family trees. Determining how to make this request politely requires both focus and brevity.

"I always think it's best to ask as a direct a question as you can," says Sara Skotzke, a professional genealogist based in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who has included family history questions on past holiday notes. "You're more likely to get a response." Try asking for something specific that can be verified, she said, such as where a person was born, died or was buried.

Sending a genealogy-themed card such as the "Christmas Wish List" ones for sale here ($5.50 for a set of 12) is a way to humorously request the maiden name of Great-Aunt Anna.

Holiday communiqués are also a good platform for soliciting photos from your relatives. When Skotzke asks for pictures of an ancestor, she explains that she will mail the photo back to its owner as well as e-mail a digital copy. "I'll give them incentive to trust me. I will send them a CD of all of the pictures I have of the family—something they get on the other end for doing something nice."

You also could try sharing information about your own family history in the form of a family newsletter to spark dialogue with distant relatives. If you're unsure where to start, word processing programs such as Microsoft Word usually include newsletter templates that you can fill in and print out or e-mail to your family.

As excited as you may be to make headway on your family tree, don't blindside relatives with questions, cautions Doug Collier, a professional genealogist based in Nashville, Tenn. When he writes to say that he's researching the family line, he asks if he can call. "I've always found straight-up verbal conversations, to an extent, to be most-effective," he says, especially when requesting information from older relatives. "Older people have a wealth of knowledge. Every bit of information, regardless of how trivial it may appear, can and does have meaning."


Family Reunions | Research Tips
Friday, December 21, 2007 5:10:31 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, December 20, 2007
The Perils of Paid Obits
Posted by Grace

Paid obituaries have the strange distinction of being considered matter of record even when the newspaper's editors have absolutely no power over their content. Editor & Publisher put up a humorous description of the errors that can be found when families write death notices. For example:

"One descendant's obit claimed his ancestry could be traced back to the Vikings (an honest mistake; I got suckered by that Web site too). Another claimed to be a descendant of George Washington—not good news to Martha, as she and George had no children."

Lesson learned: Take obituaries with a grain of salt. Click here to read the story.


Genealogy fun
Thursday, December 20, 2007 4:14:27 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
FHL and 13 FHCs Get Ancestry.com Back
Posted by Diane

After losing their free Ancestry.com access last spring, researchers at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library (FHL) and 13 largest Family History Centers (FHCs) will once again be able to search the subscription site's genealogy databases for free.

FamilySearch and The Generations Network (parent company of Ancestry.com) have reached an agreement that provides free on-site Ancestry.com access at the FHL in Salt Lake City and its regional FHCs in

•    Mesa, Ariz.
•    Los Angeles
•    Oakland, Calif.
•    Orange, Calif.
•    Sacramento, Calif.
•    San Diego
•    Idaho Falls, Idaho
•    Pocatello, Idaho
•    Las Vegas
•    Logan, Utah
•    Ogden, Utah
•    St. George, Utah
•    Hyde Park, London, England

The agreement takes effect immediately.

Providing access at these centers was a financial decision, says FamilySearch spokesperson Paul Nauta. "The money would be best spent right now focusing on those 13 centers that accommodate a significant amount of patron traffic. We do desire to provide expanded access to all of our centers in the future."

If your FHC isn't on the list, see if a public library near you offers Ancestry Library Edition, a version of Ancestry.com databases library patrons can use free at subscribing institutions.

Until April 1, the FHL and almost all FHCs had enjoyed free, unlicensed Ancestry.com access since 2000. When it was unable to negotiate a formal arrangement with the LDS Church, The Generations Network discontinued the service (except a few databases for which contracts did exist and which are still available at all FHCs). See the March 29 E-mail Update newsletter for more details.


FamilySearch | Genealogy Industry | Libraries and Archives
Thursday, December 20, 2007 8:43:05 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Just What Is Figgy Pudding, Anyway?
Posted by Diane

In the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” a crew of carolers demands to be served figgy pudding before they’ll leave—causing generations to wonder: What exactly is figgy pudding?

So I checked around. It’s a British-style pudding, actually resembling more of a cake, which reached its popularity peak as a Christmas dessert in the 1800s.

You can bake, steam or boil figgy pudding. It’s got figs, of course, plus apples, nuts, cinnamon, cloves, butter, sugar, bread crumbs, milk and eggs. Oh, yes—the recipe I found also calls for three strips of finely crushed bacon. Just what I love in a dessert.

The ancestor of figgy pudding (and plum pudding) is a medieval spiced porridge known as Frumenty.

Here’s a nontraditional figgy pudding with persimmons. Bon appetit!


Celebrating your heritage | Genealogy fun | Social History
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 9:08:23 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Attention, Genealogical Librarians
Posted by Diane

…and friends of genealogical librarians. Family Tree Magazine editors are working on an article that will honor libraries across the United States with outstanding genealogical collections—and we need your help!

To learn more about libraries' resources and collections, we want to survey as many genealogical libraries as we can. Any type of genealogical library is eligible to participate: public or private, large or small, etc.—as long as it has a genealogical collection the public can use (for free or by paying an admission fee).

Librarians can get more details and download our questionnaire (as a Word document) from www.familytreemagazine.com/librarysurvey. Questions cover the types of materials, collection scope and size, online information, that type of thing.

We’ll need completed surveys e-mailed to us by Jan. 14, 2008. If you have questions about the survey, please post a comment here or e-mail our editorial staff.


Family Tree Magazine articles | Libraries and Archives
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 4:54:50 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
Enter Your Odd Holiday Tradition in Our All in the Family Challenge
Posted by Diane

Amidst the holiday shopping, baking and get-togethering rush, does your family make time to send around a fruitcake that’s been aging since 1976? Wrap a lump of coal for Uncle Jim? Set an elaborate trap in the hearth for Santa?

We want to know about the unusual traditions that make your family’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or New Year’s celebration complete.

Besides just being fun to hear, readers' off-the-wall holiday rituals are the topic for our January 2008 All in the Family Challenge. You have until Jan. 1 to e-mail your tradition to us.

Don’t forget to include your mailing address in the message or—so sorry—you won’t be eligible to win the subscription to Footnote’s online historical records database. We'll publish the winning (i.e., funniest) entries in the May 2008 Family Tree Magazine.

You also can mail entries (postmarked before Jan. 1) to All in the Family/January 2008, Family Tree Magazine, 4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236.


Family Tree Magazine articles | Genealogy fun
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:28:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, December 17, 2007
Family Tree Firsts—Part Three
Posted by Grace

When I arrived home from work Friday evening, a large envelope from the Social Security Administration awaited me in my mailbox. My first thought was that it was a notification of my retirement date being pushed back to 2070.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the letter to find photocopies of the Social Security applications I requested less than six weeks ago!

The photocopies have a little information I didn't know before. The place of work at the time of application is good to know, although only one of my great-grandparents was employed at the time he applied. Their addresses, signatures and self-reported birthdates are invaluable.

The part I was most excited about—the names of their parents—is included, but I was saddened to see the names were Anglicized. In the case of my great-grandfather Wasyl, it seems someone else filled out the form for him: The handwriting doesn't match his signature, and the printed name says William instead.

One great-grandparent was born in Ohio, and another lists only "Russia" his birthplace. But one lists "Sushicka, Austria," so I've been fiddling around with ShtetlSeeker to see if there are any close matches for towns in what's been the general area of Austria, Poland and Russia in the last century. In the meantime, I've found the Social Security number of my last great-grandparent on my father's side, so I'll send away for that one knowing the wait won't be too excruciating.

Any suggestions for my next step?

Earlier in Family Tree Firsts:
Part One
Part Two


Family Tree Firsts
Monday, December 17, 2007 2:40:13 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
Footnote Tests Advanced Search
Posted by Diane

If you’re a member of Footnote, the online database of digitized historical and genealogical records, you’re probably anticipating its addition of an advanced search. (The catchall name-place-date-topic search field doesn’t really do it for us, either.)

Your wish in the process of being granted: Footnote webmasters are beta testing an advanced search. It has fields for First Name, Last Name, Place, Year and Keyword, and you can use a pulldown menu to select one records collection or search them all at once.

Then you can narrow matches by name, collection, year or place.

Give the advanced search a whirl and click the feedback link to tell webmasters what you thought. If you’re not a member of Footnote, you can search and get limited information. To view a document image, though, you’ll either need to pay $1.95 per view, or sign on at $59.95 per year or $7.95 per month.

Once you access a record image, the viewing experience is pretty slick, with a “film strip” showing the pages in the file, details about the record on the right side of the screen and links to members’ annotations and comments below that.

See for yourself:


Genealogy Web Sites
Monday, December 17, 2007 11:15:29 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Online exhibit reveals lives left behind
Posted by Grace

Until the 1960s, being institutionalized for psychiatric reasons was often a life sentence. Willard Asylum in Upstate New York, which opened in 1869, housed more than 50,000 patients during its operation, and nearly half of those died there.

After Willard Psychiatric Center, as it was later named, closed in 1995, staffers found hundreds of abandoned suitcases and trunks belonging to former residents. A state museum curator arranged to have the trove of trunks and artifacts moved to a warehouse, where Darby Penney and Peter Stastny encountered them in 1999. Along with a photographer, they selected a few of the suitcase owners to research, and the results became a major New York State Archives exhibit, now available to view online at www.suitcaseexhibit.org.

Using the contents of the trunks, including photographs, immigration papers, newspaper clippings and other ephemera, as starting points, Penney and Stastny were able to create comprehensive biographies of nine suitcase owners, which you can read on the Suitcase Exhibit Web site. The profiles are deeply moving. Many of the stories of how the suitcase owners came to be institutionalized are shocking. One patient was committed because her employers described her as "odd, tactless and domineering."

"The Lives They Left Behind" exhibit is on display through Jan. 31, 2008, at the Science, Industry and Business Library in New York City. Visit the library’s Web site for more information. (The exhibit travels to Auburn, NY, and Flint, Mich., next year. Visit the Suitcase Exhibit Web site for details.) The accompanying book, The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic, is being released in January.

P.S.: If you have an ancestor who was institutionalized, you might find our Now What? Blog post on finding records from state hospitals useful.


Museums | Social History
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 3:24:02 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]