I originally wrote this post several years ago while the “Mom blog” was in its infancy. But after watching a good friend pridefully chose “just the right spot” to display her new, official and authentic family crest– complete with expensive frame and mat–freshly purchased while visiting a Theme-Park-Mega-Land…I thought we could all use a refresher. We Americans just don’t “get” the whole Heraldry and Flying the Family Colors thing. But boy, we sure want to participate! Here’s the real scoop, along with a bit of my own shame showing 😉 I’m not sure, but I believe it was PT Barnum who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
What I am sure of is: I am one of those suckers.
The other day I was clearing out a drawer and ran across a family crest certificate that my husband and I had purchased many years ago. Can you hear the Merry-go-Round music yet? It came from a very “proper” looking shop. I believe that it was even spelled “shoppe” ~ a spelling meant to further endorse the authenticity of fake stuff. But we were young and silly and newly married. So we scraped together the $35.00 ( a pretty Royal sum for us 30+ years ago) and bought a “fully researched and authenticated, heirloom quality” piece of paper with our last name slightly misspelled on it.
Wow. How cool is That ?
What I have learned since ( ironically for free via library books) is that we were totally duped. A crest is only “good” for the original “owner.” A father may have a certain design, but it does not pass down verbatim to his children. When important families married, as was generally the plan, their crests were merged to create a new one for the identity of the newlyweds.
Maybe there was an Earl of Momenhousen who bore the crest in my drawer a bazillion years ago. However we, the current-day Momenhousen family, have no claim to it.
Heck at this point, I don’t even know what happened to the receipt ! I do have an excuse though…I am an American. Almost all of us are about one inch away from obsession with “the Old Country.” Additionally, we are also generally convinced there is a Demi-Czar, a Baron or at least a Bergermeister in our family pedigree somewhere.
Therefore, it stands to reason that we (meaning the immediate “us”) must have claim to a heraldic shield, a family crest, or something that verifies we are from a stock above serfdom. Thanks Mr Barnum, you have given a name to this madness~
The real truth is that Heraldic Design is pretty much about Art. If you are Canadian, you may claim a crest for your lineage if you wish to go through a long and arduous process. For better or for worse,if you are looking for something cool to put up on the wall, its time to do some doodling. Although I did some intensive research on the topic and found a few favorite books that I think are very good for being technically correct, I just recommend the use of an artsy relative.
Simply by Googling “Heraldry” or” Heraldic Design”, or” Colors in Heraldry” you can save yourself some time and money. If you are looking for good books on the subject (and you can persevere for a few months to get through one) I would recommend one of these three. And please note, the third one is not an opening chapter, it is the title of the book:
1. A Guide to Heraldry by Ottfried Neubecker
2. Concise Encyclopedia of Heraldry by Guy Cadogan Rothery
3. The Manuel of Heraldry a Concise Description of the Several Terms Used and Containing a Dictionary of Every Designation in the Science with 350 Illustrations by Sir Francis James Grant
If these all sound too scary, have a sit down with your clan and start brainstorming what it means to be a “Dipfenhoffper” or “Smith.” Think up some words,symbols, and colors to use to represent You. Maybe then craft a family logo~for your ” house”. Remember, siblings should be allowed to represent the same ancestry with their own selection of colors, symbolism and mottoes. Consider using a string of words that spell out your last name as a motto like the poems kids are so fond of writing out of their names .
Example (bad one, really bad one):
Bravery In The Hood Masked At Night (Bithman)
In my post titled “Managing the Help(ers)” I talked a little bit about dividing this task up among different factions of the family. It’s a great way to get everyone started with helping without driving you nuts. And, as a bonus, if you can get everyone to create their own crest, then the cover design for their copy of the finished project will already be done.
Wow, how cool is that?
It’s also as authentic as the “Heraldry” you buy in a glitzy little shop or from one of the online retailers. This is my fabulous furboy, posing as the Lord of a fictitious family who lives out their on-screen lives in a private home rented annually by their production crew.
I’d rather have this photo any day over one printed out with an ink-jet from a tourist trap! If you’d like your baby, or yourself, transformed into Napoleon or Marie Antoinette (before that whole unfortunate beheading thing) get in touch with Julie, you can have royalty “your way” as the great American (Burger) King says 😉
My Ancestors, and perhaps many millions more of your own, are actively being held for ransom. Donating to a local Historical Society seems like a kind and generous act when you have finished scanning and scrutinizing photos and papers. BUT. Lately, I’ve been learning a tough lesson about handing over the “goods” to a big omnipotent archive.
Well of course I’ll elaborate…thanks for asking!
Remember 10 or 15 years ago when the digital imaging thingy was hotly debated and very new? I clearly recall telling my oldest daughter she couldn’t have a “camera phone” because I was sure they would be quickly outlawed. Copyright and plagiarism issues were the angst du’ jour.
Well, that didn’t happen. And now, I cannot imagine doing my job, any of them…without my smartphone. I use it more for photos than I use it for incoming/outgoing calls. It’s cheap. One micro SD card = a bazillion images stored. It’s immediate. The clarity of the photos is startling and WYSIWYG (blog-speak for “What You See Is What You Get) lets me know immediately whether or not the pic is good.
And this brings me to the digital scanners we dedicated family history hounds tow along in our purses and dity-bags. The amount of light these wonders of the modern age expose delicate pieces of documentation to is minimal. They are relatively safe and will not markedly degrade the object. With our memory cards, once again we can store a bazillion images inexpensively. We can then upload the images and SHARE with loved ones. Or use them to head up blog articles (guilty 🙂 )
Meanwhile, back to the real late 90’s and copyright infringement and book-snarfing via blatant acts of plagiarism like photographing each page for free ala a Boris and Natasha…
I went into our local climate controlled, nothing-allowed-in but a #2 pencil and a single sheet of standard notebook paper, air locked and hushed-if you-whispered image archive room. My mission for the day was to find a photo and perhaps some biographical info on my husband’s Granddad who was a big shot in banking. It was a really cool place with little self-serve lockers in the airlock where you could lock away all the stuff you weren’t allowed to bring in. That most certainly would include a camera–phone!
I dutifully used my #2 to request the file box that I wanted to see, and about 20 minutes later, was happily pawing through it elbow deep. Now, it seems the archive had been in possession of this box for about 20 some years. However, they had not gotten around to cataloging the specific contents. I had struck gold by devine intervention during a discerning round of eeny-meeny-miny-mo. I was only allowed one box at a time.
All the goodies were not delicately preserved in acid free sleeves– handled only with the long surgical steel tongs and white gloves I had imagined. Some warehouse guy heaved the box up the basement stairs and plopped the cardboard box on the austere table before me. “Dig in” he gruffly stated as he disappeared back through the “staff only” door to the stairwell.
After an hour or so, I found a couple of trade journal articles talking about BankerBilly with a press photo included. Elated, I filled out another form requesting a photo copy of these items. I forked over $2.25 (after being allowed to go back to my locker to bring back only my check book and driver’s license) and left. You see, there was about a two week turn around on photocopy requests. As guardians of the frail past, the archive had a strict standard for xeroxing anything. Each item was only allowed to be exposed to the copier “X” amount of times. After that, only a copy of a copy would be offered. The two week turn-around was necessary for the staff to research the number of times on record the same items had gone “through the light.” Respectable I thought, prudent of them.
In about 16 days, I had my copies in hand. Happiness.
Now let’s enter the digital age. How exciting. Everything is less adverse to the integrity of images, the work of a scanner is cheap, Memory cards and flash drives are rather universal to most scanners and results are immediate. Life is good.
Except. It’s expensive. Because there’s a ransom to be paid.
My local archive has done a real bang-up job in acquiring mounds of historic and familial documents. Still mostly uncatalogued, these items have been dropped at their feet by the bushel-full from institutions, families, and new owners of old homes with trunks full of goodies found in the attic. I would guess all of the donors felt like they were really doing a good deed. A public service–preserving history. Walking to the dumpster and giving this stuff the “heave-ho” isn’t illegal as far as I know. And although I would find such an act “unthinkable” it sure would be easier than driving the stuff downtown, dodging Hobos, and paying to park.
So several weeks ago, I went tootling down to the archive to order digital copies of several images I need for a book I’m working on. It’s a local history thing. It’s not going to hit the NYT top ten or rival John Grisham. Frankly, I am hoping for robust sales in order to break even on the hours of research etc. I brought new, clean, still in their packages sets of memory cards and a large flash drive. I purchased these thinking it would make the whole transaction less expensive ( I was looking for over 100 images) and one less step for the curating staff.
Imagine my shock to learn the “new” pricing structure. With the upgrade from copy machine to digital imaging, each image I wanted to take home would cost me $15. For that $15, I didn’t even get a lousy sheet of copier paper. Additionally, to publicly use any images in their holdings, a separate fee of $75 was imposed as a “use” fee. In short, those same images of Grandpa BankerBilly whose own last name was the property and birthright of my own children, would have cost me nearly $600 to walk out the door with that day! Back during the copy machine days, I was dinged for around $20 with postage.
Needless to say, I was stunned and a little more than just pissed off!
So before you haul a bunch of stuff to the mother-ship of your Historic Archives, I suggest doing a little bit of research first. What exactly is their policy for sharing and cataloging, and storage. Does it seem like they care? Is there another, smaller institution–even your local, small town library–who would like first dibs on this stuff?
Can it be deposited somewhere where it will be more than warehoused and shared at extortionist prices? Look for these places first. Please!
Abhorred may be the more succinct description. How dare you hold my Grandpa-in-law hostage in a box in the basement on a warehouse shelf…unopened, ignored.
Maybe someone should write that down…
Mom recently had a birthday. I don’t think I am ready to admit which one, but let’s say that I’ve done enough of them to hope I still have a certain percentage left! I am also old enough to recall getting greeting cards in the mailbox from a generation or two older than my own grandparents. I wish I still had some of these treasures, but I don’t.
Year after year, I recall getting a card from a mystery aunt. I do not recall ever seeing the woman alive. She was the aunt of my great grandmother if you can fathom that! I also don’t think that she ever left her own house at any point during her golden years. Maybe she couldn’t fit through the door? I don’t know. I remember my uncles and dad joking that she’d have to be buried in a piano crate.
Sometimes they would talk about it and laugh and someone would start up a rousing riff of “Fatty Fatty Two by Four” on Gramcracker’s old upright piano. Everyone would sing along. I liked the song. It was naughty…especially the part: “couldn’t fit through the bathroom door–so she pee peed on the floor– poor old Fatty Two by Four!”
I never felt bad about singing along when I was a kid. No one seemed to notice that I joined in on the “bathroom talk.” They were too busy laughing and singing themselves! And I also liked it because they seemed to be crooning happily about this mystery aunt who always sent me empty birthday cards. Never a gift–always a card, with odd old lady sayings on them. “Happy Birthday, and Many Joyous Returns.” No $5. Signed in swirling old lady script (which I have inherited by the way) “With Fondness, Aunt Lolly.”
As a child I was dragged to more than my healthy share of funerals, I’m sure. But since I do not ever recall going to one with a piano case front and center, I’m pretty sure I missed Aunt Lolly’s. Maybe I had tonsillitis or something when she died. I got out of a lot of stuff because of my tonsils. They were pretty much terminally ill.
So, with that off my chest…yes, I’m getting old and I count my unappreciative, non-sympathetic attitude toward Aunt Lolly and her agoraphobia/obesity woes as things to repent for. Let’s move forward with the birthday thing shall we?
I am asking you all to talk about, write down, and reflect on the day and circumstances of your birth.
Wow, did we just step in a little bit of something there? If you are very fortunate, you may now have, or perhaps have had in the past access to an “unfiltered” elder. You know, someone with loose lips and one foot in the grave. I’m telling you now, suck up to these people and then hold on! They are golden if you want the real truth on a whole lot of stuff. Prepare to have your hair curled!
In my own family, my dad has a rather compulsive obsession (see how I skated around that one…I used the words slightly out of their standard order) with calling me or visiting each year specifically on my birthday. He needs to tell me the story of the day I was born. Now, my mom joins in with her part of course, but mostly, this is the territory of my dad. Since they are both past 80 now, when Pop called this year to tell me the story once again, I wrote down the phrases that he uses doggedly year after year to describe that day. Here are some excerpts:
December 11th it started snowing– That morning your mom said she thought she was having some pain– I put the chains on the tires– It was our 57 Chevy–We drove out the old highway–Doc said “get her here”– The snow was “Ass deep to a 10 foot Indian”– You were born 13 minutes before Midnight on the 12th– Mom said she didn’t want any kid born on the 13th.
I’ll fill in the details some day in my Memoir. The point is, I have heard those exact words year after year in the telling and retelling of my birth. I don’t want to forget them, the words. I know the story, but now, the exact words are what I need to get down on paper, for my OCD dad and for me– a chip off the old block–and for my own kids on down to and including Dollbaby.
Of course I have taken to doing the same for my kids now. Boring them each year over their festive dinner and cake…talking about the way they came into the world. One was a late fall baby, two were born in the summer time. I haven’t found colorful words to cling to and repeat…no 10′ Indians or tire chains. But some day, they might be glad that they can tell the stories to their own families. Perhaps they’ll sing naughty piano songs about their crazy grandmother? Who knows.
Maybe someone WILL write that down…
Another Christmas has passed and a fresh new calendar is opened. Now, after the stockings have been sacked, the wrapping is in shreds and all the ribbons lie crumpled in wait for the vacuum’s new belt…life will go back to something a bit like normal. I would be lying if I said I miss the frenzy once it passes.
In the coming days I’m sure tiredness will sink in. Hopefully a dash of self satisfaction for another year of “festivities well hosted” will settle over me too. I’ll be looking for a way to kick off the year with some memory invoking prose. I’ve been experimenting lately with something a little different.
Poetry as Memoir
My poet friend Marjie Gates Giffin does this with aplomb and I really admire the results. Mom’s own journey into this emerging genre, however, has come in fits and starts of childish rhymes and goofy lyricism. But, I do keep trying. And though I won’t “set it free out it into the world” any time soon, I enjoy the fun and challenge. It stretches me creatively and is a beautiful Art Form for something I do as work each day.
If you would like to try this shorter, more distilled type of family story telling, I encourage you to take a look at Marion Roach Smith‘s lovely post about doing just this. She is the author of The Memoir Project, another must-read for those who write these crazy stories with love!
Meanwhile, here is a selection from Marjie. I dare you to read it and then NOT see the quivering tower of fluffy green deliciousness she describes! I love this poem because…
1. It’s really good
2. I am not aware that it’s poetry while I’m reading it (no brain-pain involved)
3. The picture fits smoothly into my head with comfort and ease. I understand it and see the scene and hover near it as the quick story unfolds.
When I was small,
Grandma’s Christmas salad
looked green and spongy
and, when dipped by finger,
tasted tangy sweet.
It posed like a centerpiece
in a big crystal bowl
bedecked on top
with red maraschino cherries
and sprigs of holly.
Little delights were hidden
under its soft, lime folds:
tart bits of pineapple,
clumps of cottage cheese,
and best of all,
rich swirls of whipping cream.
Simply dubbed Green Salad,
the smooth and frothy Jello stuff
was as much decoration
as it was holiday treat.
With her flair for the dramatic,
Grandma bestowed it upon us
year after year after year.
With none of the flourish,
but mindful of my role,
I, too, bring forth Green Salad
for my own festive
Some of my family disdain it;
others dish more than their share.
But without it –
without Green Salad on my table,
I couldn’t have Grandma –
And delicious memories – there.
Marjie G. Giffin is a delightful poet and author of several local Indiana history books. Ripe with info and insights for Genealogy and Family History writers with stories steeped in the Old Guard and lowly working class neighborhoods of Indianapolis they are a prize for your bookshelf. Check out her listings on my own Bookshelf page.
Tradition passing down the generational stair-steps is the lovely theme here. Perhaps yours will be lovely too! And that, as always, means “Maybe someone should write that down…”
This was originally posted on my other blog around Thanksgiving in 2012 as my son’s team was getting ready to head for the State Championship Football Game (which…spoiler alert….They Won!).
I am still Nano-ing my brain into a mush-state. I think I now officially have the “corporal tunnels” all the way up through my elbows, and on searing deeply into my shoulders. I believe the pains will eventually converge at the center point of my poorly postured, hunched over the lap-top back :). Next week will be (still November) and surprisingly also posts about food…..
But we all seem to be on a bit of a hungry kick, and I did owe a family story this week…so here goes
I am officially elbow deep in Thanksgiving Food Prep. Yes, of course everyone comes to our house for the big Dinner Wing Ding. This honor falls upon Mom because I am directly descended from two “Large Food” women. Both of my Great Grandmothers were production cookers in their own right. Grandma Fern cooked up huge batches of all sorts of stuff, put it on a wagon with the big harvest table, hitched the mules and drove it out to the fields for the “help” each day at “dinner.”
Diminutive Granny Kate (seen above) was a tiny women who was said to be so tough that she could “whip her weight in wild cats.” I would have never questioned that. She ran both a restaurant with a full serve tavern, and a huge traveling food concession on the summer fair and carnival circuit. Grandpa couldn’t help much, he was busy running his Monkey Circus and other side show attractions.
As I slog my way thru a couple gallons of pumpkin pie filling, a mountain of potatoes to get peeled and a stupid Turkey that still isn’t thawed, I thought it would only be right to share a favorite recipe of mine. It’s called Finger Pie (or Sugar Cream pie as it is known formally as the one and only Official Pie of Indiana). Everyone loves this stuff. It’s an easy, yet archaic recipe that you seldom see home made these days. Why? Because it will make you famous if you can eat more than one slice in a sitting and not trigger a cardiac event of some sort.
Being named after the wild cat fighter, I like it because it always kicks the @#$ of all the fancy desserts the in-laws bring over. I’ve even taught my granddaughter so she can wear my food mantel some day.
Here’s finger pie (pay attention Darlene’s daughter-in-law!)
Add and gently fluff together to stir (with your fingers…derrr!) 3 Tablespoons of all purpose flour.
Now for the fun. Add a cup and a half of heavy cream. Yep, I said it… the real stuff! Slowly WITH YOUR FINGERS stir the cream and the sugar/flour mixture until the sugar no longer feels gritty. You really do have to do it with your fingers. Too much stirring will cause the cream to “whip”….word of the day… and your pie will be awful. Also, don’t get in a hurry and make a mess, it’ll look bad.
Sprinkle a little Nutmeg over the top and carefully put into the oven (350…you knew that). Bake the pie for about an hour. It looks like a science experiment. The pie actually bubbles and gurgles while you bake it. Carefully remove it from the oven. At this point it will still be pretty “sloshy” and hotter than you know what. The top should have some caramely- brown color evenly across it. Cool completely before cutting.