An adoptee finding family.

Tangled Webs

Genealogy can have some pretty tangled cross-relationships. As I continue to research the various trees that are part of my life, I’ve come across some close family members who have inter-married; sisters married to brothers, comes to mind. Mostly, one finds cousins of one degree or another in a small geographical area with a limited gene-pool, who find each other and marry. This is “endogamy”: Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such a basis as being unsuitable for marriage or for other close personal relationships.”

The ruling classes of pert ne’er everywhere have always done this, but, for illustrative purposes, Queen Victoria has to be the poster child of this. She is known as the “Mother (or Grandmother) of Europe” for a reason: her descendants have occupied or now occupy the thrones of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. For the royals, it’a all about consolidating power. In lesser nobles, it’s more about land and money.

But other groups may have more practical and immediate needs.  For colonists, it would be ethnicity as well as class and social mores that drove their choices. Colonial America was a pretty isolated place. In the very early days, you either chose a spouse from whomever came across in one of the first few ships, married from the indigenous people, or went back “home”, an arduous trip at best, and found a spouse. None of these were the best of alternatives within the historical context of the 17th century.  For the Irish, the group in which I am most interested, it would be religious beliefs. But, unlike some groups, the Irish Catholics were persnickety about marrying too close. The Catholic Church banned marrying anyone closer than third cousins. A young couple had to publish, publicly, their intentions to marry three weeks in a row so anyone having any sort of objection could make their objection known, regardless of the mature of this objection: potential bigamy, family connection, or other sort of unsuitability. When the Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland broke away from Rome, they kept the practice. You’ll find these sorts of documents in Parish registers and they can be very helpful when doing research.

Of course, genealogists who work with family trees of Orthodox Jews have long dealt with endogamy as do other families of specific religious and ethnic groups, especially in geographically isolated areas. This can be very interesting research as the DNA ultimately gets tangled in addition to the paper trail. But when pursuing a particular family, it can also aid in pinning them down. For example, there are maps available for Irish surnames that pinpoints them geographically. These aren’t laser-accurate  in that you can’t point to a name and declare, “Grandaddy came from there!”, but it can give you a ballpark when searching in online records; at least, it’s helped me.

In any case, to move from the ridiculous to the sublime, one thing that has stuck in my head as I have slogged through some pretty tangled family webs lately, is an old song that Ray Stevens once did that is relevant to all of this. I just gotta share if, for no other reason, it’s good to giggle in the midst of pulling your hair out:

Many, many years ago when I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be
This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red
My father fell in love with her and soon they too were wed

This made my dad my son-in-law and really changed my life
For now my daughter was my mother, ’cause she was my father’s wife
And to complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy

My little baby then became a brother-in-law to dad
And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad
For if he were my uncle, then that also made him brother
Of the widow’s grownup daughter, who was of course my step-mother

Father’s wife then had a son who kept them on the run
And he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter’s son
My wife is now my mother’s mother and it makes me blue
Because although she is my wife, she’s my grandmother too

Now if my wife is my grandmother, then I’m her grandchild
And every time I think of it, it nearly drives me wild
‘Cause now I have become the strangest ‘case you ever saw
As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa, I’m my own grandpa
It sounds funny, I know but it really is so
I’m my own grandpa

Read more:  Ray Stevens – I’m My Own Grandpa Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Laurie Has Two Mommies, Part 2

Last year, when I began writing this adoptee-finding-family blog, I wrote about how being adopted meant having two Mommies. As I continue digging into my families, all of them, (and they are multiplying exponentially!), I’m not the only one.

If you’ve been reading along, you’ve read about my discovering that my Dad, (adopted Dad, the man who raised me) had two Dads…his biological Dad, and the man who raised him (who, when he married my Dad’s Mom, was marrying for the second time). Funny, but in my rose-coloured, sheltered, idealistic paradigm, people w-a-a-y back then (especially Catholics) didn’t get divorced. Ha! was I wrong. And my genealogical research keeps proving that over and over again. Human nature is ever thus… stuff happens, and family gets complicated. Teasing out the threads of this is part of the journey. Discovering cousins in the mix, is part of the joy in the discovery.

So. Dad had two Dads. My birthMother’s Mom had two Husbands. My birthGrandfather John, whose first Wife, Margaret, died when she was 32 years old, leaving two small children, had two Wives. Then there’s me. My birthFather was married to someone else when I was conceived (in fact, I have a half-brother who is about four months younger then me; do the math). When I look at the lines and dashes, connecting the names and dates, the people and the profiles in just my tree, there are some straight lines, but a lot of criss-crossing match-ups, trying to make sense of complicated relationships bourne out of complicated humanness.

It’s been ever thus.

Where it really gets interesting is when you try to figure out cousin-ship. First cousin, once removed? Second cousin? Fourth cousin, which side? It’s enough to send a strong man to drink. Fortunately, though, Ancestry has a cheat. They’ll tell you, as long as you have the right folk in the right place: “brother-in-law of aunt of second cousin, twice removed”.

Um, yeah.

The upshot of which, trying to keep this stuff in my head is getting a bit complicated. I’m really glad they invented surnames back in medieval times. (For myself, I’ve decided that anyone with the surname “McManus” in Buffalo, New York is related. There. Done).

The second upshot of which, after a generation or two, no one remembers why any two family members stopped talking to one another. No one. No one remembers why they lost touch. Why one person walked out on another. Why the marriage fell apart. Who’s to blame. Who threw the first punch or had the last word. No.One.Cares. Seriously. In 50+ years, no one really cares anymore. So-and-so is a jerk? Get to know them and find that out for yourself, then. Not a jerk? Then So-and-so, um, exaggerated? To say the least. But, in the meantime, reading about it now, it all seems so very petty. For me, I’m just astounded to find a whole hidden cache of family who are connected, in some way, to a person I love and admire and really miss… a lot. And who have pictures.

Funny, about the pictures. The first thing I want to do and the people I find want to do is share pictures… Which reminds me. I need to figure out, again, how to use our scanner.

Anyway, I have two Mommies. Two Daddies. One who had two Daddies. And a Mommy who had a Daddy with two Wives and a Mommy who had two Husbands. Which gave her a bunch of Grandparents and Cousins. Some of whom I am beginning to discover and with whom I am beginning to connect.

All because I spit in a tube.

More Cousins!

Just when I thought I had all my surprises behind me, and I more or less knew from where they were most likely to come, I discovered a biggie over the weekend. And I learnt a couple of valuable lessons:

  1. You are never, ever, ever done.
  2. Take nothing, absolutely nothing, for granted.
  3. Never shy away from exploring even well-trodden paths.

So, having said all of that… I’ve been working on my adopted Dad’s family tree. I’ve always vaguely known he had a biological Dad and his Dad was really his step-Dad (did you catch all that?!?). The interesting thing about his step-Dad, is that his interactions with my Dad and his sister, Ruth, was more along the lines of an adopted Dad…only without the hassle, the cost, and the inconvenience of hiring a lawyer and going to court. This isn’t that unusual. Back in the day, many parents, finding themselves bereft of a spouse, remarried, and whatever children came with them pretty soon meshed together into one more-or-less happy family. Today, we call it “blended family”. Over the last millenia, it was just “family”. In my own research, I’ve found lots and lots of this phenomena. Sometimes, the census records will clue you into the “original” spouse/parent. But, sometimes, not. Surnames got passed to the “new” kids as readily as dinner table space. This can become confusing when you’re looking for “your” line and the 1860 census has them listed as “Britt” when the 1870 census has them as “Kennedy” and it’s all the same names plus two new ones.

But I digress…

Back to my Dad. He was born to Charles Thomas Schwertfeger. But that marriage, for whatever reason (and I honestly don’t know) didn’t last. Dad’s sister was born in 1923, and it seems that around 1926, Dad said he remembered he was around five or six years old, Charles “took off” leaving him, his Mom, and his Sister. His Mom remarried in 1927 to someone, who in Dad’s estimation, was a great guy and took care of them. By the time Dad started school, his name had changed from Schwertfeger to Luner. He added his confirmation name (Catholic thing) around 1931, so that, by the time he was in high school, the name he had been born with, and the name he now was known as, bore almost no resemblance to each other. The upshot of all this being, if you’re looking to build a comprehensive family tree, you’ll actually find both names; but you won’t find the dotted lines that connects them, because there aren’t any. Well, nothing clearly documented since this is all lies within The Family Memory. Mine.

So I’m building out Dad’s trees, and decide to follow up on his biological Dad. Up pops a great family tree with lots of family names, lots of hints and dates, and…my Dad!  Only it’s his original name. No other people are attached to him. It looks like a “brick wall”. I go ahead and contacted the owner of the tree this past Friday, casually asking what they know about this branch of their tree. I hear back on Sunday.

Turns out, that my Dad and she are first cousins, once removed. Her Grandfather and my Dad’s Father were brothers.

Again, I’ve stumbled on a motherlode of family I knew nothing about. This wasn’t a DNA match (because there isn’t any DNA to match). This is all research. We each have differing portions of “the rest of the story” on what happened after Dad’s father left and who, what, where, when, and how on the larger family. Apparently, they’re a pretty private bunch and there isn’t much to know…yet.

But my “new” cousin and I, and she is introducing me to others!, from a side of my Dad’s family that I never much knew existed, are chatting and sharing with each other. We’ve found each other on Facebook (the 21st century first step means of connection, it seems) and she is kind and gracious.  We are hoping to meet each other in future.

More family. More cousins. And, again, in these interesting small-world incidences, we all lived within a 25 mile radius of each other.

I am sooo blessed.

Tracing Their Steps

I’ve decided to rest a bit from working on my birth family tree and started working more on my adopted family tree; specifically, my Dad’s. His tree started off readily enough, and the documentation was right there in the databases (thank you, Cook County!). But my Dad’s family was a bit of a challenge after the initial birth-marriage-death stuff. His father, Leo(pold) had been born in Vienna, Austria during a time of great political upheaval. So…records are full of what looks like conflicting information. Here’s where history and old maps are very helpful.

Leo’s parents, Josef Luner and Anna Ohnnesorg had been born at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). The Empire included what today is Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and the Ukraine. There were two capitals, the main one, Wien/Vienna and a second one, Budapest. Joseph had been born in “Bohemia”, the westernmost region of the Czech Republic nearest to Bavaria, which is now a part of Germany. Bohemia was a duchy of Great Moravia. Later, it was an independent principality and part of the Holy Roman Empire which eventually morphed into the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Austrian Empire. His wife Anna, my Dad’s Grandmother, had been born in Libovice, Czechoslovakia. Presumably, they traveled to Wien/Vienna and my Dad’s Father Leo was born there.

Josef emigrated first, in 1907 from Hamburg, Germany whilst Anna and her children stayed in Zurich, Switzerland. Between Vienna, Austria, and their departure from Rotterdam in 1908, they had traveled by way of Switzerland and my Dad’s Sister, Anna, was born there. I have the ship’s records for all of them as well as the Census for 1910, 1920 and 1930. Joseph arrived with $25.00 cash on him. He was a tailor and did custom work; Anna was a laundress and worked by the day.

The 1910 census records give their particulars as language spoken, Bohemian for the parents, English for Leo and his sister; places of birth Austrian/Moravian for Joseph; Austrian/Bohemian for Anna and the children. But by 1920, Leo and his sister, Anna, had changed:  Leo speaks Magyar and Anna speaks French. Her birthplace was also shown as Switzerland…which it was. Everyone else stayed the same. Interesting… Their names began to change as well.

So what drove Joseph and Anna from the Austrian Empire to Switzerland? As a custom tailor, presumably, he could take his skills and apply them anywhere. So that’s simple enough. He could work anywhere he could set up shop. Ultimately, why America? On Anna’s ship’s manifest, it mentions that she is coming to the States in the care of her Brother, the children, their Uncle…but it’s hard to read his name and address. So her Brother was already here. Was that what drove them across Europe in the early 1900s to Chicago? Another trail to follow. Was it the political climate in Europe? Was it the various revolutions and plethora of grievances that eventually found their expression in World War I?

More research. Which leads to more questions. Which will, inevitably, lead to more family…

I love this stuff.

A New Year

A New Year always inspires me to different things:  changes in diet (less cookies, more veggies); changes in attitude (less impatience, more long-suffering); changes in lifestyle (less couch-potato, more athlete…which is hilarious for those of you who know me). It makes me want to buy a box of new crayons, change my sheets, and rearrange my furniture. Which I actually did. Thank you to my long-suffering Husband for his help and guidance…

Last year, the New Year caught me unprepared and unawares of what, exactly, it had in store for me. Seems to have been a follow-on from 2015. Whilst I had done the work of finding my family, I had yet to figure out a good way to connect with them. Barely six weeks into 2016, and that problem was solved.

So I approach 2017 with cautious anticipation of what may lie around the corner.

I still have family trees I want to work on; mostly, my adopted family and my late Husband’s family. I’ve done some work on that, and filled-in some blanks there. I have some brick-walls in my own family I’d like to get through. And I have family members who have asked for some help with their conundrums…which I love to do, and I am happy to do. Bring it on!!!

There are also some changes I need to navigate around in 2017. Actually, the changes started in the last couple of days of last year, but it’s going to take me the better part of this next year to get through it. Whilst I am looking forward to the improvements this will bring, I am not exactly enjoying the process…so far. But then, I have to remind myself, it’s only been five days. Back to the attitude thing (long-suffering).

I hope to have a few more family members DNA tested this year. Not so much because I need the info, as much as I think this is important to do for future research and for possible DNA matches who may be trying to sort out their own family trees. Given my history, I never know who might match me or others connected to me; and who find themselves on the way to finding someone important to them.

Anyway, 2016, much less any of the last umpteen years I am cognisant of, have ever turned out as I expected. So putting too much stock into what I resolve, what I plan, what I hope, and what I determine (or, for that matter, what I fear) into 2017 seems a fool’s errand. We’ll plan our work, work our plan, and listen as God laughs…then go in the direction of that joyous sound. There truly is only one resolution that makes real sense anyway: be still and know.

Tomorrow, back to “real life”, only with a new furniture arrangement, a different sort of life-challenge, and a new box of crayons.  😉  Happy 2017 to you, too.


As 2016 draws to a close, I’d like to share some thoughts on family trees and DNA and all those cool things now available to those who enjoy researching family history. This is hardly comprehensive; that would take the better part of a decade. Firstly, to keep up with all the information hitting the blogosphere, and secondly, to keep up with all the research being done in the DNA field. But I have some favourites. So I thought I’d share. Perhaps you, too, might find something of value that might encourage you to find that long-lost family member. is not just for adoptees looking for family. It has become a treasure-trove of documentation on how to use DNA to build your family tree. Remember the basic grunt work: birth certificates, death certificates, and the like. Whilst DNA is a powerful tool, again I say, it’s not your only tool, or, sometimes, your best tool.  It’s just one of many. But the folk here really know their stuff, and have developed methodologies to aid in the search. They also offer classes for all folk at all levels. Very worthwhile. They certainly helped me…in spades…so I recommend them highly.

GEDmatch is the single most valuable tool after you’ve had your DNA tested. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s accessible. They have all those tools (like chromosome browsers; Ancestry…are you listening???) that can help you sort your matches into Mom’s side, Dad’s side, and then some. They have instructions for how you go about downloading your raw DNA from the other companies and uploading it to them (again, all free) and there is a Wiki to explain the available tools. Having said that, though, it is a rather steep learning curve…

Which brings me to: Blaine Bettinger’s blog “The Genetic Genealogist”. Blaine was one of the first of the genealogists who a) used DNA in genealogy and 2) started blogging about it. In 2007. He really knows this stuff. His blog is instructive and accessible. You can also read his books. But if you don’t read anything else, read this blog in conjunction with DNA Adoption.

ISOGG. International Society of Genetic Genealogists, whose mission is to “Advocate for and educate about the use of genetics as a tool for genealogical research while promoting a supportive network for genetic genealogists.” An invaluable resource. Then there is their DNA statistic chart, which is a godsend to anyone trying to place an ancestor, or a DNA match (especially those without trees) within a possible relationship. I have this bookmarked on my toolbar, I use it so very often. Which, by-the-by, I used just yesterday. There is a relatively recent, and close, DNA match on one of the trees I manage that I couldn’t place. Ancestry gives you the amount of DNA and I even have a green shaky leaf hint…although the tree is private…which tells me that there is a definite connection. By looking at the proposed relationship (according to Ancestry), the amount of DNA shared, and checking this chart, I was able to verify  the supposed relationship and work out, from there, how it all fit in the tree. It took me about two hours to nail three generations of folk with documentation, and then shoot off a message explaining it all to the DNA relative. Hopefully, we’ll hear back.

I hope these sites will give you some encouragement to journey up, or down, your family tree. Yes, it can be challenging; even heartbreaking. But it’s oh! so exciting!

Have a wonderful weekend, and God willing, we will see you in 2017.

Blessings to you and yours…

Go mbeire muib beo ar an am seo arís.
May we be alive this time next year…

The Importance of Family

We all came from someone, and from somewhere. Even the Bible gives us genealogies; placing folk within the context of their family origin as well as their clan or tribe. Until this information was written down, these long list of begots were memorised and it was the work of the tribal historian to get it right, then pass it down adding the current generation. Nowadays, most of us have the memories of gnats. Just play a game of “telephone”.

For example, in the case of the two genealogies for Jesus, one in St Matthew, and one in St Luke, each of these genealogies has a particular focus:  Luke is wanting to show Jesus’ humanity to his Greek audience whilst Matthew is showing Christ’s divinity to his Jewish audience. Both genealogies are true; both are necessary. Same with us as we build our trees:  Every family has a reason for researching family. For me, it was simply to find them, having been adopted when I was six weeks old. In the beginning, I was only interested in straight-line research: me to my Mother, to her Parents, to their Parents… and so on. As I’ve continued in my research, other families have pretty much done the same thing; it’s this sort of research that has been golden as I’ve branched out looking for my unknown Father’s family. As I’ve been researching out in all directions, looking for every forebear possible, family trees that have been built on peripheral branches (cousins, aunts, uncles to me; fathers, mothers, children to them) in their own, personal straight-line trees finally gave me the information I was seeking. At one point, I had three trees going on my Father’s side, just to accommodate all the different information I was processing. Yet had anyone casually looked at a single one of these trees, I am sure confusion would have ensued!

And I am still researching the family that adopted me. Why? Because they are the family that nurtured me and made me so much of who I am today.

The point of all this is to be careful about dismissing genealogies that look as if they don’t belong. Each tree builder has their own purpose. Are they trying to prove a relationship to a particular person? Are they trying to find a missing branch; break down a brickwall? Are they searching for a family member with whom they have a DNA match? Are they trying to gain an inheritance? a title (or a castle)? a bit of a bragging right?

A birth parent…or two?

Yet, at the same time, there can be a disheartening number of errors in family trees as well.  I’ve found children born after one or both parents have died. Or a person who died in Scotland after they were born in Pennsylvania…in the 1500s. Come again?!? Then there was the Mum in my tree who had four children…in her 80s. So, be cautious about trees like these as well. Common sense and some basic historical knowledge can go a long way in helping to recognise when something makes sense (childbearing years) and when it doesn’t (flitting back and forth across the Atlantic…in the 1500s).

So. Do you know who you are? Are you interested? With DNA testing so relatively cheap and easy, are you sure you know who you are? There have been some significant surprises, these days, with this new technology…bear that in mind if you decide to follow your family’s trail. But, at the end of the day, we all come from someone, who came from somewhere. For me, the story has been incredibly exciting, unnerving, precious, and fun.

And if it’s important enough to take up space in Scripture, it’s important enough to take up space in my life as well.

Of course, your mileage may differ… but what a way to start a new year.

O! ‘Tis the Season!

I spent all day today, and all day Tuesday baking…

Biscotti, for gifting:  orange pecan and almond, chocolate cherry, and ginger apricot
Christmas Pudding
Gingerbread Men
Kolachkes: almond, apricot, cheese, cherry, and raspberry
Mince Pies
Persimmon Pudding
Sugar Cookies, suitable for decorating
Toffee Bar Cookies

I think that’s everything…

I wrapped some gifts, spent an hour on the phone with Apple over a complete meltdown with my “obsolete” iPod (trying not to grieve over this…long story). And wished my long-suffering UPS guy a Merry Christmas as he made on time, with a cheery wave and a hearty “Merry Christmas” back.

I think I remember eating something for lunch; not sure.

And that’s a wrap, everyone.


In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

May you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed 2017.

Building Trees…

…for others.

In figuring out how to use DNA and Ancestry’s databases for my own ancestor search, I’ve had a couple of friends reach out to me to guide them in their ancestor searches. One friend is adopted; the other friend has a parent who is adopted. Both friends have taken Ancestry’s DNA tests (as have other family member) and we’re either 1) waiting for some results to come in or b) trying to make sense of the results we’ve got.

This is the fun part. At least for me.

One of the more interesting aspects of these sorts of searches is, sometimes, the information is in a piece of paperwork you’ve already got in your hot little hand. In my case, I had my adoption papers, but, somewhere along the line, I was pretty much convinced the names given were “legal fictions”; spurious; not to be trusted.

Same with one of my friends. But, aha! turns out we were both wrong in our assumptions. Once we put names in trees, and added DNA to names, things began to fall into place. Of course, there are other, more complicated strategies that we also needed to think through. But rule Number One is, check your assumptions at the door. Keep an open mind. (And don’t believe every family story you’ve ever been told..).

In both our cases, the really important people who had the vital information were deceased. So they were unavailable to answer our questions or provide the necessary physical evidence for DNA testing. That meant we needed to find cousins, close cousins, who were enough removed from the “skeleton-in-the-closet” aspect of our respective family stories, but close enough to not blow us off as family history nerds, looking for a needle in a haystack.

For my other friend, jury is still out as we await the results…

DNA testing is rarely, if ever, straight forward. Even my husband, David, who has a very well-documented tree, going back to the Mayflower, for all intents and purposes, still has a fairly early brickwall in one branch for which DNA will, eventually, help. And he has already been contacted by a couple of fairly close matches who are using his tree to solve mysteries in their own…which is cool in its own way. It’s nice to be the person with the stable family, who can help someone with the NPE.

But we’ve yet to explore his 1000+ DNA matches, since there is so much to do just with the documentation he has. His ancestry focus is the complete opposite of mine, which has its own learning curve. For me, though, this is making both of us more well-rounded amateur genealogists. A good thing, I expect.

In any case, each and every one of us has our own personal family history journey, and no two are alike. That’s what makes this so very interesting for me. I’ve recently been asked by a cousin to help him with his Father’s tree. I can’t wait to get started on that!

I never expected that the search for my birthMother would turn into one of the more interesting hobbies I could ever have. But it has. Finding people, and learning about their historical context has been an awful lot of fun.

You Are What You Eat

Often, the story of family is found in our food traditions. I come from a long line of fabulous bakers and cooks who have saved wonderful family recipes (although some of them have needed deciphering! lol!). Christmas and Hanukkah readily come to mind as food-centered holidays at this time of year; latkes and brisket; roast goose and steamed pudding, all have their place within most families’ culinary memories. What you eat, holiday after holiday, can oftimes point you in the direction of where you family hails from, even if the memory is so far in the past, the treasured dish is all you have left.

My eldest Daughter has a good friend who is Jewish. One year, he came to spend Christmas with us. His Hanukkah intersected with our Christmas, so we developed “Happy Chrismakwanzakkah” as a way to celebrate his cultural memory, her university friends with whom we would be celebrating another event, and our family traditions…all in one huge feast of food and fun. As the eldest Daughter, she was put in charge of our menorah (which we still have) as well as the menu for that first night: we learnt about the importance of fried foods, celebrating the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days and nights until more oil could be had. We enjoyed other traditional kosher foods as well, and ate our way through beef brisket, noodle kugel, and spiced applesauce. Steve taught us how to play dreidel with Hanukkah gelt and we drank lots of red wine.

Earlier in the week, I spent days baking my family’s traditional cookies: my Grandmother’s recipe for Kolachkes (which has been handed down for over 100 years), my Mother’s recipe for Toffee Bars, and some recipes we’ve encountered through the years, (known to us as Local Indigenous Foods, due to all the moving around we’ve done). These may vary from year-to-year, but generally include Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding (England), Gingerbread Cookies and Stollen (Germany), Shortbread (Scotland), M&M Cookies (my Mom), and Persimmon Pudding (Brown County, Indiana). The Persimmon Pudding is made from wild Indiana persimmons that has either been 1) harvested from our own persimmon tree or b) bought locally in Indiana. These are not Japanese persimmons, and the recipe won’t work with them… it is, truly, an LIF.

One year, after my Dad had tried the Kolachkes I baked, he asked if I had ever come across an Austrian recipe for Poppyseed Cake. His heritage includes both Austro-Hungarian and English, and he wondered if I could reproduce a cake he remembered from his early childhood. So I tried. I finally found an old recipe, and I baked it for him. I guess it was successful, because he asked for it every Christmas for the rest of his life…

My Mom is also famed amongst us for her Pork Roast with New Potatoes. So some years, we’ll have that. But, in honour of my Grandmother, the Original Nonny™’s German roots, and a family trip we made to Austria and Germany for the holidays, I’ll make a stuffed pork loin along with spätzle, blaukraut, and other accompaniments. H/T to Mimi Sheraton and her excellent German cookbook. The gravy made from this roast is pure ambrosia, as you thicken it with crushed gingersnaps. I kid you not.

One year, in a nod to nostalgia for the Dickensian Christmases we spent in England…truly a delight in every possible way!…we roasted a big, fat, goose. All I can say is, remove your smoke detectors!!! The fat will cause them to chime all at once, and the local fire department will assume the neighbourhood is burning down. But goose is absolutely delicious. And it was so much fun to sit and eat and remember the three years we spent in England; freezing in Ely Cathedral; caroling in Newmarket; crunching along the High Street, shopping, as Father Christmas greeted us at the corner.

Since I roast turkey at Thanksgiving, I rarely do another one for Christmas. My cousins, who took over Christmas in our later years, often had prime rib. A delicious choice, indeed. And it would be a great choice for Christmas Dinner. But my memories of Christmas prime rib are not the same as pork roast and goose…and, for me and mine, Christmas is all about the memories we find in the food we eat; the people we remember, the good times we had, the places we’ve lived, the friends and family we gather in through our choice of eats. Like the year they closed Grand Forks AFB because it was so amazingly cold…-60F cold. Stunning to think about it now, really, how anyone could possibly live in that climate. But survive we did. And we still baked the cookies! But the traditional lefse and lutefisk failed to make its way into our collective food memories. :cringe:

We truly are what we eat. I think everyone is, to one extent or another. So as you slice and bake Pillsbury Sugar Cookies (which we do as well… and sprinkle them with red and green sugars), are you remembering doing this as a child in the 60s? 70s? 80s? It’s truly wondrous how a simple tube of dough can link generations of folk…child-parent-grandparent in our case, even great-grandparent, as I am with my Mom, again, if only for a moment; helping my Grandsons bake and decorate cookies. It’s become our annual event, much looked forward to…

Too soon, another year passes, and the Real Chex Mix (no bagel chips!) is all gone.

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