Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Writing the family stories… I’ll probably be writing for the rest of my life. My mother is 98 years old; hopefully, that means I will be privileged to write many stories.

This winter I’m digging into a story that will eventually be published in the Iowa Genealogical Society’s Hawkeye Heritage. Genealogists know it is when you start writing you realize what research you still need to do. I tend to start writing with some completed research to get some “words on paper,” then I continue writing as I research. Contrary to what many writers advise, I spend considerable time on a section: writing, editing, rewriting, then, when I’m temporarily satisfied, I move on to the next section. With my current project, the story is complicated by the fact that I’m suspicious of the main character’s integrity: can I believe everything he said? His 318-page Civil War pension file has formed the core of the story… No doubt there is a reason for this many pages. As I search for answers, the time for completing this project is extending and the scope is expanding. Fortunately, no set deadline.

As a proofreader for the National Genealogical Society’s NGS Magazine I have the advantage of reading each issue literally cover-to-cover a few months before the general membership receives their copy. The October-December 2015 issue has an article, “Scrivener: An Organizational Tool for Genealogical Writers,” by Melissa A. Johnson. When I read the article I was immediately enthralled! I researched the software, tried it out for a few days, watched some YouTube videos, and was sold! The more I work with Scrivener, the more I appreciate its capabilities! Oh, how I wish I had known about this product when I was writing the “Guide for Iowa Research” for the National Genealogical Society’s Quarterly!

For now: challenging subject and exciting new software! Love it!


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Hurrah! My latest writing project, 2-plus years in the making, is finished!

On 11 April 2012 I received an email from Dr. Tom Jones, co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), asking if I would be interested in writing a guide for Iowa research, a strictly volunteer project. Deadline for submitting the article would be March 2014, for possible publication prior to the May 2015 NGS Conference in Saint Louis. I thought briefly about it, then replied that I was interested.

I had several things to complete prior to delving into this project: 1) retire from my day job (check–December 2012); 2) finish my mother’s memoirs (check–April 2013); 3) provide summer day care for 2 grandchildren (June thru August 2013); and 4) take a vacation with my husband (early September 2013).

While the project brewed in my mind during the intervening months, the serious work began in September 2013. Since I was retired, most weeks I worked 40+ hours on it and this continued for nearly 6 months. I traveled to as many repositories as I could: sometimes traveling by myself, sometimes taking genealogy friends, and toward the end, after my husband retired, we took several overnight trips to destinations further away. I wanted to know as much as possible about the many unique holdings in the various libraries and archives. Along the way, I met knowledgeable people directing me to still more resources.

Writing for the NGSQ is not like writing for a commercial genealogy publication, such as Family Tree Magazine. The NGSQ is a scholarly journal and the writing style is different: the intent is to impart factual information in a structured, tight format.

A genealogy friend offered to proofread my article before I submitted it to the NGSQ editorial staff. I am grateful to her: she advised cutting it considerably and gave me excellent suggestions for doing so. I chopped and rewrote, submitting the guide to NGSQ on 30 March 2014.

Two peer reviewers provided excellent suggestions which I incorporated into the next version. Then, after the article was accepted for publication, Dr. Jones performed his editing magic.

I am pleased with the final product. Iowa has many resources for genealogists; I feel this article presents many of the possibilities.

“Genealogical Research in Iowa,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (December 2014): 263-306.

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Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008. 735 pages with acknowledgements, sources, etc.

A novel! Me read a novel? This is almost unheard of. I generally read biographies and histories.

A friend recommended it and our daughter-in-law had recently read and loved it… The friend said I might appreciate the way the author handled old letters and diaries found in an attic. Well, that certainly caught my attention! Daughter-in-law agreed. Okay, I’ll give it a try.

Wally Lamb had done thorough research. Then he told his story through imagery, flashback, graphic detail, language, sympathy, anger, and other writing techniques: far-out connections and unlikely happenings, sex and family secrets. While I’ve known of some strange “soap-opera” real-life scenarios, I kept thinking no one could/would ever live this kind of life, but the author kept me going anyway. Even the fictionalized biography that was pieced together from the old diaries and letters seemed far-fetched, yet I kept reading.

This book would appeal to a variety of people, including educators, women’s rights advocates, mental health specialists, historians, clergy, and, yes, even genealogists. Particularly significant are the issues dealing with people suffering from trauma and other psychological issues: those caught in situations beyond their control and surviving. Topics include the Columbine shootings, Hurricane Katrina, prison life for women, troubled teens, divorce and love, income struggles, and coming to grips with family history. Even though the setting is very 21st Century, the author even weaves in Civil War medical treatment, Samuel Clemens and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Through all of this, readers come to understand the complex maze of life. The author accomplished his goal.

I read the entire book, in a very short time. Lamb captured my attention and I devoured.

As a family historian, I especially appreciated Lamb’s underground river “too deep for chaos to reach” allowing for ancestral connections. And, with all of the house cleaning I’ve been doing, I appreciated his ability to “unyoke” himself of family property and move on.

I’m glad I read this novel.

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Making Fudge

A couple weeks ago our 12-year-old granddaughter was talking about another grandmother making fudge, but our granddaughter had never seen how this is done. Well….

I told her that the next Wednesday when she rides the school bus to our house on early-out day, we’d make fudge. She also was talking about caramels, so I told her we’d make caramels, too!

It has been a couple years since I’ve made any candy, since we don’t need to eat this calorie-laden stuff anymore, but I know how, and since I had an eager learner around, I knew we had to do this. After all, this is family tradition!

My mother has always told the story that on the Sunday before Christmas her father (my grandfather) always wanted his wife (my grandmother) to make fudge. That was the only candy he ever wanted, a batch of fudge on the Sunday before Christmas. This isn’t just any fudge, this is stir fudge. You cook the mixture to just the right temperature (without stirring), then add butter and let it cool to just the right temperature, then you stir it, just until it “turns.” You only know when it has turned when you are experienced at making it! If you stir it too much, the candy turns sugary. If you think it is done too soon and pour it out into the pan, the fudge will never set up. You stir it until it is just right! (Sound like a certain fairy tale?)

My sister and I learned how to make stir fudge from our Mom and Dad. Mom cooked the mixture and Dad stirred. My husband and I follow the same tradition.

So, this last Wednesday, we were all set to make stir fudge. By the way, the barometric pressure also has to be just right–it can’t be going down!

I discussed all of the ingredients with our granddaughter. I explained the difference between unsweetened chocolate and the other kinds of chocolate. I explained how we only use “cane” sugar. So many variables! We got all of the ingredients assembled and cooked to the 232 degrees. Then we added the butter and set the pan outside to cool (it was below freezing outside). She kept tabs on the temperature while we made the caramels (a traditional recipe from my husband’s mother). Fortunately, the caramels were poured into the pan to cool at about the same time the fudge was 110 degrees, the temperature for stirring.

My husband started the stirring, but let our granddaughter have a couple turns, and I took a turn as well. Then, all of a sudden, the mixture turned, but something just wasn’t quite right. We poured it into the pan, anyway and the mixture set up, but it just didn’t act right. Then when we scraped the pan with our tasting spoons, it just didn’t quite taste right, either.

I reviewed all of the ingredients and I hadn’t forgotten anything. I started reviewing any possible variables. It was then I realized the last time I made fudge was probably before I switched to using unsalted butter in our home. I researched the Internet and sure enough fudge needs salt to give it structure. Who would have known? Obviously, I didn’t. Now I do!

The fudge melts in our mouths and tastes ok, but it just isn’t quite right. I’m not making another batch of this sinful treat this year, but I’ll bet I buy salted butter the next time I make it!

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We’ve watched the bride-to-be grow up; we are good friends with her parents. Now I have met the mother of the groom and my genealogy reputation had preceded me.

Beth lives in Michigan where a few people are board certified genealogists and many people are members of APG (Association of Professional Genealogists). I’d love to live close to so many active, professional-level genealogists! I could learn so much from them.

I invited her to see my genealogy room; I don’t do that often. I learned a couple significant things during her visit.

1) It is obvious that we can not write a book about each one of our ancestors. Beth told me that she attended a presentation where the speaker explained how to handle this dilemma… pick one of the people in a family group to write about, then pull the others in as you tell the story.

2) She asked if I had made an inventory of my family keepsakes. She said that somewhere she heard that we should all do that. For me the problem is two fold: I have so much and it is strewn all over the house. I understand what she is saying: how will our children know what is a genuine family heirloom. I need to work on this!

Beth saw my rows of overflowing bookshelves and the stacks of books and papers on my countertops. She did not see inside the cupboards. I showed Beth the storeroom next to my genealogy room, the room with 7 four-drawer filing cabinets and bunches of tubs and boxes. However, she did not see my other storeroom, which also has numerous file storage boxes.

Beth explained that she has scanned or saved electronically much of her research. Most of mine is paper. Much of mine was collected either before or early in the electronic era. I’ve inherited so much from so many people; much is duplicated, but needs to be sorted and organized. If I scan everything, will my family look at it? I suspect the only thing they will keep are finished books. IF that is the case, I shouldn’t waste a lot of time scanning everything; I need to focus on writing those books.

In our conversation we agreed on the importance of determining what will happen to our research, so we don’t leave our precious work to the whim of our children. My situation is overwhelming for me; what would it be like for our children?

Beth, I look forward to corresponding with you and seeing you again! What else will I learn from you?

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I’m back! Sorry about my lengthy absence!

When I first dropped out of sight, I was working nearly 24×7 on a big writing project that had a March deadline. Then on March 2, as things happen, only four hours after I emailed the project to a proofreader, I tripped, fell, and broke my right arm at the base of the ball into the shoulder joint. A couple days later I had surgery to repair the break with a plate and ten screws! I wore an immobilizer (sling w/ soft cast) for 6 weeks, now I’m in week 3 of 16 weeks of physical therapy. Since I am right-handed, this has put a serious crimp in my lifestyle.

The proofreader was very prompt and got the project back to me while I was still in the hospital. Once home, I ordered a split keyboard which helped with typing, but my endurance was nil and I have struggled with focusing on most anything. I got the project forwarded on to the editors before the end of March, but I’m not back to full speed with researching and writing.

I cannot fully explain how glad I am that both Dave and I are retired. I can’t imagine going through this ordeal with either one of us still employed. Family and friends have helped with prayers, kind words and food, but Dave’s assistance and support have been invaluable.

My grandmother would feel so bad that my accident happened as I fell into the round oak dining table that she and Grandpa started housekeeping with in 1917. She always thought that table was one of the best pre-nuptial housekeeping selections she made. Grandma, I still love you!

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Earlier I wrote about making Raspberry Jam .

Well, it is raspberry season. We grow both black raspberries and red raspberries on our lot. However we also know where to find wild black raspberries, so we’ve been “on the hunt.”

Sometimes, however, this is a perilous venture… our oldest son got a case of poison ivy this year. Dave always wears long sleeve shirts and long pants, but those who don’t take this precaution end up with many scratches and possibly insect bites.

Bowls of Raspberries

Raspberry Pie

Our favorite is black raspberry pie, but we have several good recipes for using these delectable berries.

Weight control is difficult during raspberry season!

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