Category Archives: Personal Family History/Research

Advent Calendar – Our Christmas Tree

I decided to join in on the Geneablogger Advent Calendar prompts this year. This first post is about the Christmas Trees we had when I was growing up.

Christmas was a very special time of year for our family. My Mom would always start baking cookies and decorating the house shortly after Thanksgiving. But not the Christmas tree. Santa always brought our Christmas tree. I think this made Christmas morning all the more special. The three of us kids would wake up and as we walked down the stairs we would see the tree, as well as all the beautifully wrapped presents, for the first time! Talk about excited!

When I was really young we always had a “real” tree. I’m really not sure how my parents managed to pull this off. I don’t think that they waited until Christmas Eve to buy the tree, but we never saw it sitting outside the house. I suspect they bought it a couple of days in advance and that my Aunt and Uncle would bring it to our house Christmas Eve after we children were put to bed. Much later I learned that my Aunt and Uncle would come over to our house each year to help decorate the tree.

My Brother and I one Christmas Day - you can just barely see the tree! Credits: scrapbook kit is Holiday Sugar Cookie by Bubbly Kori with Bling element by DeliciousScraps

I was the oldest of the three children in our family and about the time I stopped believing in Santa and was allow to stay up and join the tree decorating party, we got an artificial tree. This was the type of tree where each branch had to be added individually. Branches of different sizes had different color paint dabs on the wire to match the paint dabs on the holes in the “tree trunk.”  We would “build” the tree starting at the top and continuing down to the bottom, inserting each branch into the trunk.

Then there was the decorating. Lights always were first. We had the type with big, multi-colored bulbs. We had to test each strand and locate and replace any “bad” bulbs. Once that was done, the lights were wrapped around the tree. Then the decorations. We had some store bought balls, but mostly we had hand-made ornaments. Tinsel was always added last — like the icing on a cake!

Once my sister, who was the youngest, stopped believing in Santa, we no longer waited until Christmas Eve to set up the tree. On the positive side, we got to enjoy having the tree up longer and Christmas Eve was much less hectic. But some of the magic of Christmas morning was gone too.

When my husband and I got married, it was several years before we decided to have children. With just the two of us, it didn’t make sense to set up the tree Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, once we had kids we kept with our new tradition of setting up the tree a couple of weeks before Christmas. We didn’t have the extra sets of hands like my parents did – and it was a lot easier to set it up in advance. A part of me regrets that my children didn’t get to experience the same type of thrill Christmas morning that I did, but instead they will have the memories of walking through the Christmas tree farm and selecting the tree and cutting it down. I think each generation needs to find what works best for them!

Our Visit to Laurel Hill Cemetery

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelaphia PA (1)

A View of the Cemetery

One of the items that had been on my genealogy to-do list for quite some time was to visit the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. I had been through their online records and knew that quite a few people with the surnames I research were buried there. Many of them were in my database as either proven or possible cousins. I not only wanted to get some tombstone photos for my personal records and find-a-grave, but also to find the additional information that might be on the tombstones. (The online cemetery records only show the section/plot and the date of burial.)

One of the reasons I had not been there before was that I was trying to convince The Spouse to accompany me on this trip — actually I wanted him to drive. It’s not that it is that far — less than an hour if the traffic isn’t bad. The problem is that while my car (SUV, actually) is great for transporting multiple kids and their gear, it’s not so great navigating narrow, unfamiliar city streets. At least not with me driving it – LOL! So I was really excited and somewhat surprised when he agreed to go there with me Sunday afternoon. Our somewhat reluctant 13 year-old came with us as well. Actually, it’s quite telling how upset The Spouse is with the way his beloved Eagles are playing that he agreed to the cemetery trip on Eagles game day! But I digress….

In preparation for the trip, I created a spreadsheet based on the information gathered from my online search of the Laurel Hill Cemetery records. The format was pretty simple – I had columns for Surname, First Name, Section, Plot and Burial Date. I had about 80 people in the spreadsheet but only about 24 unique plots. I also printed out the cemetery map – which indicated each section.  My plan was that once we reached the cemetery, we would proceed through the list, section by section, find the relevant plot(s), take the photos and mark off the names on the spreadsheet. Quick, simple, efficient. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, everything did NOT go according to the plan!

First, we took the “scenic” route there and so the trip took longer than expected – meaning we would have less time to spend at the cemetery since gates close at 4:00. Then there is the cemetery itself – it’s huge and the roads are very narrow with limited space to pull off and park. Armed with my cemetery map and spreadsheet, I had a false sense of confidence in our ability to quickly find the grave sites of interest, thus thinking that a stop in the cemetery office was unnecessary. We drove rather aimlessly at first, just trying to find a spot where we could pull over and park. We finally found a spot near section Y.

At first I was thinking that this was good. I had a Bechtel family plot on my list in section Y that we would be able to start with. Unfortunately it’s a little difficult for a first-time visitor to figure out the boundaries of each section since they just sort of all flow together. The three of us searched for about 30 minutes before finding the Bechtels – only later realizing that most of that time we spent searching we had drifted into the adjacent sections.  Then, when we finally find the plot, there are only 4 tombstones instead of the expected 7 and one of those was completely worn and unreadable. Ugh!

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia PA (photo 2)

View from Section Y (or is it W at this point??)

At this point, I was feeling a little discouraged and thinking we needed to come up with a plan B. The Spouse and the Reluctant Teenager, not really being into genealogy in the first place, wholeheartedly concurred. So our next stop was the cemetery office. We were hoping someone there would be able to pinpoint where the plots were located within each section. At this point my high hopes of locating all 23 of the remaining plots on my list in one afternoon were dashed. (Actually, I knew this after about the first 10 minutes, when we were having problems finding the Bechtel plot.) So I chose 4 plots, which the man working at the office helped me locate on the large master plot map they have on display. I then marked the approximate locations on the printed map that I had brought from home. Surprisingly, before we left the office, The Spouse had struck up a conversation with the helpful cemetery worker about the various military generals and other famous people buried in the cemetery. Who knew!

I am happy to report that we found all four of the plots that the cemetery worker helped us pinpoint on the map – and in searching for those, we also found a few others that were on my list. The cemetery sits high on a hill above the Schuylkill River adjacent to Fairmont Park, so we also saw some absolutely stunning views! All told, I took about 50 photographs – including tombstones for people on my list, tombstones of people in adjacent plots (in case they are related), tombstones of people with familiar surnames that we stumbled upon while searching, and a few that were simply of the amazing views.

Yesterday I cropped and processed the photos and added memorials to find-a-grave [link]. A few of the people whose tombstones I photographed already had memorials, so I just added the photos. I’ve also added some of the photos to this posting. All in all, I think even The Spouse and The Reluctant Teenager had an enjoyable afternoon. Ever hopeful, I am looking forward to our next road trip to Laurel Hill Cemetery and finding the remaining plots and tombstones on my list!!

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia PA (photo 3)

View of the Schuylkill River and Kelly Drive

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – The Garner Family, 1929

I recently made this scrapbook page of my grandmother and three of her older children – Larry, Jeanne and Kenneth. It was taken the in the late fall or early winter of 1929 since my Grandmother is quite obviously pregnant with her next child who was born in January of 1930. The photo was taken in the backyard of my grandparents home on Queen Street in Pottstown, PA.

Garner Family, Pottstown, PA 1929

Credits: family photograph; Scrap kit is Just for Fun (one of my own)

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – Cape May, NJ Vacation

Once again it’s been a while, but jumping in today with another (Almost) Wordless Wednesday post. These are more unlabeled, undated photos in the collection given to me by my Mom. In the background of one (cropped out of the layout) there is a sign on the building that says Cape May Yacht Club. I believe the darker haired woman is my great Aunt Elizabeth Garner Freed, but I am not completely certain about that.

Vintage Cape May, NJ

Credits: scrapkit is one of my own

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – Charles M. James

So, I haven’t posted for a few weeks. What can I say — it’s summer and I’ve been taking a little break from the blog. I decided to try to start easing back in with a Wordless Wednesday post. I always enjoy doing these because I get to make a 4×6 scrapbook page and go through my ancestor/vintage photos! This week’s post features one of my great-great grandfathers – Charles Morgan James. I think this photo may date from the 1870s, but I’m not certain about that.

Charles M. James, Chester Co., Pennsylvania

Credits: family photo that I have inherited; scrap kit is one of my own.