old autograph books

Remember autograph books?

Back in the day (when people actually wrote by hand), autograph books were popular, especially for girls not yet old enough to fill a high school yearbook with signatures of family and friends. I recently found two from my own childhood and an antique book I picked up at a garage sale.

The greetings are fun and interesting, like the ones pictured above.

I love this one from my dad: “My weird daughter. I love her. Daddy.”

My grandmother Ruth counters with an ego-boosting entry that only a grandmother can write: “God’s blessings and the best of everything to a beautiful and talented granddaughter. Love, Grandma Larson.”

My books are also signed in cute, little rhymes, such as this one from my childhood friend Sandy: “When you get married and have a set of twins, I’ll be your friend and buy safety pins” (foretelling of the children I would someday have).

But even more interesting are the verses and signatures in my antique book. Belonging to a Miss Helena R. Schuler, who’s unknown to me but obviously beloved by many back then, the book is filled with poetic prose written in a flowing script unlike anything we see today.

“Life is like an April day, Clouds and sunshine all the way;
Let the lower clouds depart, and the sunshine fill thy heart.”

—Your cousin, Ella Pale, Oct. 27, 1884

“Lena is your name, single is your station;
Happy be the little man, who makes the alteration.”

—Your funny cousin, Lizzie, Nov. 18, 1884

“I drop my pen into the ink, And grasp your album tight,
But for my life I cannot think, One single word to write.”

—Your niece, Annie Rex, Nov.27, 1884

“Cheer, fond wife, the husband’s struggle,
Lighten his gloomy hours with your tender smiles,
And gladden his home with your love.”

—David, Aug, 1885

“Dear Mother,
Do your best always,
And leave the future to God.”

—Your Son, Charlie Tisch, June 18, 1903

Did you have an autograph book back in the day? Anything interesting?


Doris Lee painting, Barbara Kingsolver book and BHG cookbooks

I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver. She writes both fiction and non-fiction, and she always finds an entertaining way to inform readers of social and environmental issues. I’m currently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, her nonfiction piece on homegrown food.

While Barbara motivates me to the days of food prepared outside a chemist’s lab, she also makes me think of my grandmother, Ruth. It’s not like Ruth was some health-foodie-before-her time. In fact, the recipes we’ve posted from her collection include some highly-processed ingredients.

But Barbara’s words are poetic and certain quotes put me back in my grandmother’s dining room above the store where we ate Sunday dinners. Or my mother’s kitchen, where I listened to the gathering of grandmothers as they helped prepare the meal.

Quotes like this one:

“I’m discussing dinnertime, the cornerstone of our family’s mental health…A survey of National Merit Scholars—exceptionally successful eighteen-year-olds crossing all lines of ethnicity, gender, geography and class—turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table.”

—Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Or this quote, which goes well with the Doris Lee print shown above:

“Kitchen-based family gatherings are process-oriented, cooperative, and in the best of worlds, nourishing and soulful. A lot of calories get used up before anyone sits down to consume. But more importantly, a lot of talk happens first, news exchanged, secrets revealed across generations, paths cleared with a touch on the arm.”

—Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

And lastly, a quote that’s so very true in each of our lives:

“It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.”

—Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

When my husband was thirteen, his mother telephoned the township chairman about the poor state of affairs in the Union Cemetery. Her concern was for a small, country plot of land up the road from their farm that had long served as a historical record of the surrounding neighborhood.

As a result, that summer my father-in-law became sexton for the Union Cemetery of Jefferson Co., Wis. (a poetically old-fashioned name befitting the caretaker of gravestones dating back to the 1850s).

For his work he received an ever-so-slight compensation, which he passed on to his 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter for diligently pushing their lawnmowers up to the cemetery, mowing and trimming, and then pushing them back home again.

Little did my mother-in-law know this would become a perpetual position. In fact, here it is forty years later—my father-in-law still serves as sexton and three generations of our family have taken turns at mowing, general maintenance, a periodic grave fill by hand and the annual Memorial Day cemetery board meeting.

I know, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Ruth? Or beaded bells?

Well, in a paradoxical way, maybe it does.

This weekend, as we celebrate Memorial Day, we’ll head up to the cemetery for that annual board meeting. With the exception of my husband and me (because we, of course, never age:-), its a gathering of ever-aging members whose loved ones are buried there under the trees. They come with the pretense of discussing cemetery business, however, in truth I know they come to reflect. They walk through the rows examining gravestones. They tell stories and connect the family names. They bring reverence to this hilly sanctuary of lives worth remembering.

As I watch and listen to the board members, I’m reminded of Ruth. I think of all the family names connected to her, none of who rest in the Union Cemetery. Instead they’re in Chicago’s Bethania and Oak Woods Cemeteries. Or Oak Hill Cemetery in Owosso, Mich. Or a country cemetery outside Imlay City, Mich.

I hope someone is taking care of those grounds as well as my husband’s family has taken care of these.

George and Ruth Larson’s stone in Oak Hill Cemetery, Owosso, Mich.

The state of Wisconsin has an ongoing genealogy project called the U.S. GenWeb Archives Project. Volunteers have photographed thousands of tombstones and submitted them for an online database. Does your state have anything like this?

And lastly, the end of May brings an end to the heavy duty family tree stuff. By now, I’m sure you’re thoroughly confused. If so, but you still want a basic record, I’m including two charts here, taken from ancestry.com. They’re somewhat abbreviated so I eventually hope to add pages with full names and such.

Click below and enjoy now. Check back again later for updates.

The Hooge Family Tree

The Larson Family Tree

The Great Census Debate

March 18, 2010

So, our census arrived this week. As we answered the ten simple questions, I couldn’t help noting how, compared to past censuses, the Census of 2010 is going to reveal very little of who we are today.

For example, look at the censuses from the 1880-1900. According to the IPUMS USA, the Census of 1880 had 26 questions, including matters regarding occupation, health, education, and place of birth (even parents’ place of birth). The Census of 1900 eliminated the glaring health questions—like are you insane, idiotic or deaf and dumb?— but added four more in areas of citizenship and home ownership. The Census of 1890 is unavailable because most of it was destroyed in 1921 during a fire in the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.

Because of these informative censuses, I know my grandmother’s mother Emma was one of twelve children born to Charles and Wilhelmine Sophia Carolina (Behrendt) Hornburg, both originally from Germany. Emma was born in Chicago in 1884, smack in the middle of Charles, Albert, Wilhem, Ella, Edward, Wilhelmine, Frank, George, Porter, Frieda and Bertha. These names vary in spelling from census to census because historically censuses were handwritten by enumerators who came door to door. In fact, the Census of 1900 lists the family name as Hornbusy.

I also know Emma’s father worked as a laborer, and at the age of 49 had lived in the U.S. for 41 years and rented, rather than owned, his home. Before marrying and while still living at home, Emma and her sisters worked as laundresses and housekeepers.

Interesting, yes? I think so.

So bear with me as I direct this from historical to slightly political. Because I thrill with the hunt of genealogy, I can’t help wondering what can possibly be the cause of the great debate of Census 2010?

My knowledge of government, politics and anything too brain-consuming is limited. But I love research (obviously), so I started digging.

According to Wikipedia, the U.S. has been taking censuses since 1790 and uses the dicennial count to “allocate Congressional seats (congressional apportionment), electoral votes and government program funding.”

The Census of 2010 has become a bipartisan hotbed that started already a year ago when Obama took office. According to Amy Sullivan in her Time magazine article, February 2009, the argument lies in how people are counted, which results in who gets counted.

“The battle over how to count people only makes sense when you look at what is at stake,” writes Sullivan. “The redistricting of local districts and reapportionment of congressional seats is based on census counts — a state could gain or lose seats based on its population, and shifts within a state determine plans for redrawing political boundaries.”

She also writes:

“Democrats have long charged that the undercounting of minorities and poor Americans prevents federal funding from reaching strapped communities. Meanwhile, Republicans argue that Democrats seek to boost numbers in order to create extra congressional districts in urban areas and to bring in more federal money for their constituencies.”

And then there are those who worry about privacy. Privacy from what, I wonder?

I personally don’t know anyone who’s been harmed by the government knowing how many people live at their house and how much they earn (as if the government doesn’t know this already…uh, federal income taxes?). With GPS, web tracking, business, bank, credit and medical records; not to mention those geeky teenage techies; do we really think we can hide anything from anyone wanting to “spy” on us?

Ah, the fun of politics. What’s your thought on this? Have you filled out your census? All of it?

How much will your descendants learn about you from the Census of 2010?