A Mother’s Day Story: The Maven of Minnesota & the Gifts She Passed Down

One of the biggest travesties in discovering a vintage embroidered linen at an antique shop or an estate sale or an auction house is not knowing anything about the sewer who made it. The sewer who so beautifully executed a specific stitch or a scene. The sewer who skillfully transformed a plain piece of fabric into a stunning work of art. Who spent hours or days working towards a piece of self-expression in the same way a painter paints a canvas or a sculptor builds a statue. With the exception of antique samplers and quilts, which often carry the names of the artist who made them, embroidered linens of the past are history’s most uncredited works of art. 

“These small bits of embroidered cloth are often all that remains to testify to the otherwise unrecorded lives of their makers,” wrote Amelia Peck in a 2003 article highlighting the embroidery collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It could be easy to dismiss some old pieces of fabric until you read a statement like that.

Needless to say, Amelia’s remark has stuck with me for a long time. Whenever a new batch of vintage or antique linens comes into the shop, I always think about the woman behind the fabric, the sewer behind the stitchwork, and the circumstances in history that might have surrounded them both. In collecting and curating these items for the shop, I’m not often afforded any real-life stories that can be attached and retold about a specific linen or the life that made it. But today I’m very pleased to introduce you to a woman in Minnesota who has some stories to share about sewing. 

At this point, you might be nonchalant and think how much can I learn from an 8” inch x 8” inch piece of fabric? A napkin is a napkin afterall. But here in the land of the Vintage Kitchen a napkin, as you’ll discover in this post is much more. It’s a gateway… to stories of the past.  

When I first met DeDe, who is in her 70’s, it was over email in the beginning of February. She was looking to rehome her vintage linen collection, and in her initial inquiry as to whether or not I might be interested in it for the shop, she mentioned the fact that her mom had sewn some of the pieces. The slice of vintage life that poured out over the next several months and many emails was so interesting I knew hers was a story destined for the blog. Touching on Italian immigration, women’s history, cooking, Minnesota, entrepreneurism, family heirlooms and her mother’s zesty love of life, this interview turned out to be the perfect heartwarming story for Mother’s Day weekend. So yes, a napkin is a napkin. But it’s also a life, and a family, and a passion. 

Let’s meet DeDe, her mom Teresa, and their family…

Teresa as a baby with her parents Carmina and Salvatore.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your mom’s parents. What brought them to America? Where were they from in Italy and how did they wind up living in Minnesota? Did they assimilate well?

 Dede: My grandparents, Carmina and Salvatore, were both from Boiano, Campobasso, Molise, Italy.

Located in central Italy, the town of Boiano in the province of Campobasso in Molise, Italy was first founded in the 7th century. It is home to the oldest chestnut trees in Italy and most well known for its mozzerella cheese produced using milk from cows that have grazed the surrounding mountainsides.

My grandparents were married in 1906 and in 1909 they came to Minnesota. Grandpa worked in the mines in Chisholm, Calumet, Stevenson and St. Paul. He was employed by the Pickands Mater Co. for over 40 years. There were many different nationalities on the Iron Range and I imagine like all immigrants today they left Italy and were looking for a better life. I never heard of anyone in the family having difficulty assimilating into the community as they were fortunate to have siblings and many Italians in their community. A sister of my Grandmother’s and a cousin and brother of my Grandfather also immigrated to Keewatin.

My mother Mary Teresa Rico was born on February 25, 1911 and was the oldest of six children. She was born in Hibbing, Minnesota and the town they lived in was Keewatin. A population of less than 2,000.

Main Street in Keewatin circa 1921. To learn more history about this midwestern mining town visit here. Photo courtesy of lakesnwoods.com

EDITORIAL NOTE: During her childhood throughout the 1920s, starting at the age of 10, Teresa was involved in 4-H, a youth development program whose mission was (and still is!) “to encourage kids to reach their fullest potential while also creating positive change within their community.” This experience turned out to be a gateway for Teresa – one in which she could showcase her natural talents and abilities. While naturally gifted in a range of extra-curricular activities including basketball, tennis and dramatics, two of Teresa’s most prized talents were baking and sewing. A consistent winner at state and county fairs, between the years 1921 and 1931, Teresa baked more than 1,000 cakes and 2,000 loaves of bread which she sold to local residents in an effort to raise money for her college tuition. Triumphantly, through those entrepreneurial endeavors, Teresa managed to raise $3000.00, which provided enough for her to enroll in the University of Minnesota.

Teresa (age 17) in 1929 – the State Champion at her baking table.

In 1931, at the age of 20, the last year she was eligible to participate in 4-H due to age caps, Teresa won the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, competing against 490,000 other girls. This was an honor awarded by Thomas Lipton (of Lipton Tea fame) that signified overall achievement and was given to the top boy and top girl in 4-H. In addition to a trophy and significant media attention, the award also came with a scholarship, ensuring that Teresa would financially be able to put herself through college, assistance free, all on her own accord.

This local Minnesota newspaper article proudly called Teresa the “Queen of Accomplishment” and reiterated her goal of putting herself through college without any finanncial assistence.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Your mom must have felt really proud of that moment, especially winning out over so many other 4-H’ers (490,000 female candidates!). Also, this happened in 1931, during the Great Depression. The fact that she was able to pay her way through college with her baking is fantastic. That must have been a really big deal. Were her parents really proud of her too? 

Teresa and her fellow prize winner, Charles L. Brown posed for photos with their Lipton trophies in 1931. The Associated Press

DeDe: I am sure that my Grandparents were very proud of her winning the Sir Lipton Cup and also all the other accomplishments in her life, of which I refer to in the following questions. One of the newspaper clippings mentioned winning over 850,000 young women, quite a discrepancy. 

My mother did not really talk about her accomplishments and honestly, I really did not learn about how much she really did until my parents downsized into an apartment. My mother had kept newspaper clippings, pictures, ribbons from the State Fair, etc. But my father did not keep much so he was tossing much of this into the trash barrel. I was able to rescue some of it and put it into a scrapbook for her. After that, we really did start to talk about her accomplishments in detail. 

 

Teresa with her girls explaining all about her State Fair ribbons.

Sadly, as children we are absorbed in our own lives. This is not to say that I was not aware of the bolts of fabric and the sewing she was doing when I was a young child as well as the entertaining and fabulous cooking and baking that she was always doing. When I was in junior high school my mother was no longer sewing for others and instead went to work in retail. She had an incredible style knowledge for clothing and furnishings and an eye for fashion. The perk for me were the wonderful fashionable outfits I owned. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: The Lipton Trophy newspaper article mentions that she was “boss of her household” both in the kitchen and otherwise. Can you tell us a little bit more about her family life growing up?

DeDe: My mother and her siblings all enjoyed sports and her brothers all played football in high school and the girls played whatever sports were offered for them but it sounded like choir and drama were offered to women. At home, my grandparents listened to records which were mostly opera. They all enjoyed dancing and playing cards with friends and family. Neighbors would get together and socialize. Food was always involved. The siblings all enjoyed one another which continued on for them as adults. My uncles loved to play jokes and there was always a lot of laughter and singing. Perhaps they all thought they were Enrico Caruso. 

As far as my mother’s role at home, she shared that she would often make meals for her family and certainly she made all the bread. She was also sewing her own clothes as well as making dresses for her sisters and mother. Often her family pictures indicated that she had sewn the clothing her mother or siblings were wearing. Again, my mother was the oldest and she was a very strong determined woman who knew exactly what she wanted. Not a bad trait to have.

Teresa in the center with her sisters all sporting dresses that Teresa made for a special family celebration.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did her parents speak English?

DeDe: Yes, my Grandparents spoke English very well but when my aunts and uncles would come over to our house on weekends to see Grandma and Grandpa, they all spoke Italian. We had many family Sunday dinners at home as everyone wanted to see Grandma and Grandpa.  It was frustrating to not know what they were saying because I nor my siblings and cousins did not speak any Italian other than a few words.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Were her brothers and sisters equally as industrious?

DeDe: My uncle Pat was a chef and the others all made a decent living but no one was as driven or creative as my mother.  

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your dad. What was he studying at the University of Minnesota? 

DeDe: My father’s heritage was English and Irish not Italian. His grandfather Ward immigrated to America from Ireland as a young boy with his widowed mother and siblings. His mother’s family originated from Colonial New England.  He was a very patient and darling man with a very big heart and a great sense of humor. I always thought he was very handsome and debonair. He grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. As far as my father’s culinary talents he loved to make chili and simple meals. However, he loved his desserts and there were always homemade cookies, pies, and cakes in our home.  He studied engineering at the University of Minnesota. 

Teresa and George

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did your mom study?

DeDe: She studied Home Economics. My mother was not only an accomplished baker and chef, she was also an accomplished seamstress and had her own cottage industry, Teresina. Neighborhood women sewed for my Mother and at that time she was paying them $5.00 an hour. She sewed beautiful women’s clothing, draperies, anything else you could imagine.

As a child we always went to Amluxson’s where I was able to pick out fabric for my first day of school. She made many of my clothes as well for my brother and sister. She reupholstered furniture as well and made men’s clothing too. Her industrial Singer was in our basement and I have beautiful memories of her singing while she sewed. A favorite was the Maurice Chevalier song Louise.

She also  wrote articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune called Sewing is Simple. Over the years my mother was someone who often was featured for her sewing or entertaining. 

Teresa was featured in a magazine ad for Folgers – – It was no surprise to the neighbors of Mrs. George D. Ward of Minneapolis, Minnesota when her Orange Delight Cupcakes won First Prize at the State Fair. She’s famous for’em! Have them for dinner along with another “Famous Flavor” — Mountain Grown Folgers Coffee. Copies of this ad now hang in DeDe’s home as well as the homes of her kids.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your dad encourage and support your mom as she started her Teresina sewing business? 

DeDe: Definitely. My father was very supportive of whatever my mother wanted to do. And honestly if my mother wanted to do something nothing would stop her. She was a force to be reckoned with but as generous as could be.

Teresa’s Teresina ribbon labels.

My mother was color blind. Thread as you know used to be on wooden spools. My dad would write the colors of the thread on the spools for her.

In The Vintage Kitchen: We hear so much about gender discrimination regarding women in the 20th century, but it seems like your mom really defied a lot of those stereotypes (working, going to college, having her own business, etc.). Can you tell us a little bit about her motivations and about how her ideas were received within her family and her community? 

DeDe: My mother had a strong desire and a dream to make things happen. She never spoke of any obstacles being in her way that I recall.  She did mention that as a child in school they were not allowed to speak Italian, only English. There were so many nationalities on the range, that it would have been difficult for a teacher to deal with so many languages in a classroom.

Her family appreciated her and at any given time we had a relative living with us. Multigenerational homes were very common. My mother was very generous and shared whatever she had with others. She was also very involved with the Italian Community in Minneapolis. When she had her Teresina company in our home, she employed neighborhood women who she paid quite generously for that time. 

Community-wise, looking at old newspaper clippings my mother was involved with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and one year put on an Italian Feast as a Fund Raiser. There were three children in my family and my mother was involved in all our school activities from PTA and being a Scout Leader or a Den Mother to sewing costumes and lending her living room furniture for high school drama productions. 

DeDe with her brother and sister and her parents, Teresa and George.

One of the greatest tributes to my mother and the impression she made on others became evident at her funeral. When she passed away and her obituary was in the newspaper, I received a call from a young woman who said she would like to come to my home and meet me.  When my mother lived in her Minneapolis apartment building, she befriended this young woman whose parents were divorced. With this young women’s birthday coming up she made her a German Chocolate Birthday Cake and gave her pearl earrings from her days at the U of M. She was truly touched by my mother’s friendship and she wanted to speak at her upcoming funeral. I took a leap of faith and said okay to this request. She did speak that day and it turns out that she was a speaker for Billy Graham and she was incredible. What a gift she gave us. I regret that I did not stay in contact with her and what a treasure that tribute would be too own today. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did she like about sewing?

I am sure it was the creativity of it all and the fact that she could make something beautiful and functional. 

Vintage 1940s/1950s era applique sailboat kitchen linens made by Teresa.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did she gather inspiration from in regards to her sewing projects?

DeDe: My mother had an ability to see how to improve things. It did not matter if it was a food item, a piece of furniture or a piece of fabric. She would have a vision and would make it happen. She loved to repurpose as evident in her Sewing is Simple articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I had mentioned to you in earlier emails that she made clothing, drapes, upholstered furniture and wrote for the newspaper but there is more. My mother also came up with an idea for an adjustable elastic waistband for women’s skirts that she made from fabrics such as drapery material and chintz. She created a patent for it but unfortunately, someone else managed to maneuver it away from her. I have one of the skirts left that I use for a Christmas Tree Skirt.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I was thrilled to welcome Teresa’s vintage linen collection into the shop. These next few questions and accompanying photographs highlight some specific pieces from her carefully curated linen collection amassed throughout her life.

 In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she sew all the linens that you sent? 

DeDe: I do not believe that she sewed all of them. I know the applique ones with boats on them and definitely the items that have lace. Honestly, they have been in a cupboard for years either with my mother or myself and my mother passed away many years ago.

In The Vintage Kitchen: In the package that you sent, there are 4 tablecloths which I think you referred to as bridge cloths. Did your mom sew those? 

DeDe: I always referred to them as bridge table cloths but others might call them a luncheon cloth. No, I believe those were purchased.

In The Vintage Kitchen: One of them, along with several other linens you sent, looks like they are made with antique fabric. Could they have belonged to your grandmother?

DeDe: Probably not. My mother also loved house sales and again had an eye for finding wonderful things to furnish a home. 

A set of colorful vintage tea towels joyfully collected by Teresa. This is just one example of her carefully curated linen collection amassed during the 20th century.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your grandmother, Carmina, a sewer too?

DeDe: Not that I am aware of.  I recall my grandmother having cataracts and her sight was compromised. My mother told me she had taught herself to sew as a young girl. She started off with making clothes for her dolls and as she grew older, she started to sew for herself and her sisters. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: How long did your mother maintain Teresina? 

DeDe: I believe she kept it going through the 1950s. She sewed her entire life. She would make outfits and Halloween costumes for the grandchildren. In the 1970s, she was still sewing some beautiful outfits for me

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did you grow up? 

DeDe: I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota on one of the city lakes. It was an ideal time to live there. 

A view of Minneapolis taken during the 1950s. Photo via pinterest.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your mom expect you to be as industrious as she was during her childhood?

DeDe: My mother accepted us for who we were. Keewatin is a small community and Minneapolis is not, so opportunities for me were vastly different than what was available for her.  I honestly did not feel pressured to be anyone other than myself. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she teach you how to cook and sew?

DeDe: Yes, my mother taught me to bake and cook. It was wonderful to be in her kitchen with all of the wonderful smells and tastes. I love to cook and entertain in our home much as my mother always did. Baking and cooking for others brings me great joy. Sewing is another story. I can sew out of desperation, but I only enjoy small projects and the older I get the less I attempt. I am not a seamstress and sewing stresses me out although I always kept trying. I expected it to be as easy for me as it was for her. Fortunately, I did inherit her love of cooking.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Thank you so much for including your mom’s sauce recipe. Was this a recipe that was handed down to her or did she make it up on her own? 

DeDe: It was probably a recipe that was given to her by Grandma Rico. It is a pretty traditional sauce. I have shared that recipe with so many friends along with my mother’s wisdom of you can always add more herbs so start off with less. Of course, when you add a meat to the sauce it definitely helps to flavor it. I adore my mother’s red sauce and often tried to make it just like hers. The last Christmas she was alive she stayed with us for a few days and we had a blast. We looked at her old slides of her travels to Italy with my dad, baked traditional foods, and just laughed a lot. I had started a red sauce and ran to the store for a few items that I needed. Later when I was stirring the sauce and tasting it, I was overjoyed at how wonderful it was. I exclaimed to my mother that I was thrilled that I could make it like hers. She just smiled and later admitted that while I was gone, she had doctored it

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your mom’s love of sewing and cooking passed down to any of your kids? 

DeDe: Actually, all the kids are very good cooks and will try out new recipes. My oldest niece does fun sewing projects and is very creative and like my mother is great at repurposing. She also enjoys baking and shares recipes with me. My daughter will try new recipes and make lighter fare than I do. I tend to cook more old school than my kids do. My boys love to make pizza with a homemade crust. Sometimes my oldest and his wife will make pasta when time allows. Everything comes down to when time allows. The grandkids are all interested in cooking and baking which I just adore. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where do you draw inspiration from for your own cooking? 

DeDe: A favorite for me is to eat something out and then try to duplicate it at home. I have come up with some interesting dinners that way. I see something that looks tempting in a magazine or the newspaper and I will try it although I will often massage the recipe. My husband loves to tell me that I use them like a road map and then veer off course. I enjoy making Italian dishes for friends and family but I adored Splendid Table when Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosted it. She had a segment of what to make with a few ingredients in your refrigerator. I am a great one to try that method.

If you are unfamiliar with the engaging Lynne or The Splendid Table radio program that she co-created and hosted for 20 years here’s a quick recap. DeDe and I are both BIG fans of Lynne and the show!

Lynne came to our home for a fund-raising dinner and I along with a friend were the ones that were cooking. Cooking for a professional cook and author was very intimidating. It turned out to be a fabulous evening. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Wow, DeDe! That’s amazing that you got to not only meet but also cook for Lynne! I’m a BIG fan of hers! What was that experience like?

DeDe: The dinner was very simple with a simple antipasto tray, roasted chicken, and delicious roasted root vegetables along with a tossed salad. I do not recall if I made homemade bread for this or purchased store-bought. My dessert was a fried Italian pastry that we called curly cues. They are fried in oil and dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with honey. My mother always made these at Christmas and often I will too. I probably served the lemon sherbet with crème de menthe. There were six guests and Lynne that night. One was a surgeon who was kind enough to slice the chicken and arrange it on the platter and another was a woman who owns a cooking school and I believe leads trips to Italy or did back then. I consider myself a decent cook but felt a little out of my league that evening. Unfortunately, we did not take pictures of that fabulous evening but my Lynne Rossetto Kasper cookbook is signed by Lynne. This was years ago.

In 2017, Lynne retired, but thankfully, that was not the end of the program. The Splendid Table continues each week with fresh and dynamic culinary content thanks a new, equally charming host, Francis Lam. If you haven’t listened to the show before I highly recommend it. Visit the link here to learn more.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Do you have any particular favorite chefs or cookbooks that you love?

DeDe: I have many of my mother’s old cookbooks and my comfort food choice of my childhood go-to is the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from the 1950s. Chicken A La King, Meatloaf, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Jelly Roll Cake, and all the basics are there. 

The Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book – First Edition, 1950

With my mom’s recipes, many are from worn cookbooks, notes scribbled inside a cookbook, note cards or from what I recall her making. Many of my recipes are handed down from mom, relatives and friends and have been doctored to suit my tastes. Italian favorites are The Talisman Italian Cookbook by Ada Boni, The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto and Milo Miloradovich and Leone’s Italian Cookbook by Gene Leone. I love Gourmet magazine and cooking shows on PBS but I really do not have a favorite chef.

DeDe’s favorite vintage Italian recipe resources!

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your trip to Italy? Did you feel a natural connection to the country?

DeDe: Our oldest son was studying in Florence, Italy for a semester at the same time as his friend so we traveled to see him with his parents in March.  My parents had been to Italy twice to see the sights and my mother’s family. My mother was so excited that our son was traveling there and that we were going to as well. It was our first trip to Europe and it was magical. It was so fun to see people that looked like my mother’s family and to hear all that Italian. So much history and beautiful architecture, museums and people. I soon learned why I appreciate gold, glitz, and all the pizzazz. 

Two trips to Trevi Fountain: Teresa and George (above) in Italy many decades ago and Dede and her husband Tom (below) on a more recent excursion.

Travel is all about the experiences. One such experience for me was to see two over the road drivers enjoying their lunch at a rest stop. They had a beautifully set table complete with linens and glassware. Their food looked scrumptious and I asked if I might take a picture of them. They agreed only if I would be in the picture and share their vino. I treasure that moment and the picture. The one Italian reminded me of my grandfather. 

DeDe with her “over the road drivers” in Italy!

Another story that related to my mother is the time we had to wait for a very long time for a table for our dinner. The uncle who was seating us was very friendly and attentive to our dinner choices. When we finished, he said that he had a treat for us because we had been so patient. When he brought us our dessert it was lemon sherbet drizzled with creme de menthe. Oh, how I laughed as that was a favorite of my mother’s to serve after a heavy dinner along with the traditional Carnevale Italian bow tie cookies. 

My mother passed away that May. She was so excited that we were going on this trip and I believe she stayed alive until we could share our stories with her. 

Filled with light and love and so fitting for this post, this street art was spotted on a Florentine wall. Photo: Nick Fewings

In The Vintage Kitchen: And what was it like visiting some of the places where your grandparents lived?

DeDe: My Grandparents lived in a town outside of Naples and we did not get to Naples but we did see Milan, Rome, Venice, and Florence. I hope to one day get to Naples. 

The sights that inspire DeDe in and around Minneapolis. Clockwise from top left: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes; The Basilica of St. Mary (switchroyale); The Gutherie Theater (Mark Vandeve); The Minneapolis Institute of Art (McGhiever); The Stone Bridge Arch (Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board).

In The Vintage Kitchen: Name five places that inspire you in your city…

DeDe: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and our incredible parks system. The Guthrie Theater that offers classical and contemporary productions. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is an art museum that is home to more than 90,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. The Basilica of St. Mary as It was the first basilica established in the United States. The Stone Arch Bridge is a former railroad bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River.

In The Vintage Kitchen: If there is one thing that you wish could never be forgotten about your heritage, what would it be?

DeDe: The belief in the importance of family and nurturing with food and compassion. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: If you could invite six people (living or dead) to dinner, who would you invite and why?

Clockwise from top left: DeDe’s Parents Teresa & George; Pope Francis; Geraldine Ferraro, Margaret Meade, Eleanor Roosevelt

DeDe: My parents. Since I have been working on Ancestry there are so many unanswered questions that I have. Geraldine A. Ferraro, so I could ask her this question…. Would you have changed how you ran your campaign for Vice President with Walter Mondale? Margaret Meade because I have been fascinated with her since I took my first anthropology class in college. Eleanor Roosevelt because she was the woman behind the man and she is the longest-serving First Lady. Pope Francis, so that I could ask him about what changes he wants to see within the Catholic Church.

In The Vintage Kitchen: And because it’s Mother’s Day, we’ll end with a question about Teresa. What is the greatest lesson your mother taught you?

DeDe: Definitely the love of entertaining, the comfort of food and the sharing of her talents. Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I love you!!

In addition to sharing these lovely stories about Teresa, DeDe also graciously shared her mom’s “red sauce,” the recipe, she referred to her in her interview that was most likely passed down by Teresa’s mother, Carmina. I made two batches of this sauce (one using pork chops, the other using chicken legs). Both were incredible.

Teresa’s Basic Spaghetti Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves

1 small can tomatopaste

3-28oz cans Italian peeled tomatoes

16 oz can tomato sauce

2 cups water

Salt & Freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

6 Fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces (or dried herbs*)

3 fresh oregano sprigs, torn into pieces (or dried herbs*)

1/2 green pepper, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

2 veal chops or pork chops

*If using dried herbs, start off with 1 teaspoon each and amend from there to suit your taste.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Pat the pork/veal dry and put in the pot. Cook turning occasionally for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Transfer the chops to a plate.

Drain off most of the fat from the pot.  Add the garlic and onion, cook until golden brown. Add the green pepper and cook for two minutes until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Chop up the tomatoes and add to the pot, including the liquid. Add tomato sauce, water, sugar, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chops and bring sauce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water.

Remove the meat from the sauce and set aside. The chops are great reheated with a bit of the sauce. Makes about 8 cups.

I keep salt pork and chicken fat in the freezer to use for flavoring if I do not have pork chops on hand. My Mother would also add chicken legs or wings to the sauce if she had that on hand.

Teresa’s Spaghetti Sauce

I couldnt think of a better way to wrap up a Mother’s Day post than with this delicious heritage recipe passed down through the family kitchen of three generations of Italian women. A foundation for all sorts of culinary inspiration from spaghetti to pizza, eggplant parmigiana to stuffed peppers, meatballs to casseroles, this is the recipe you’ll want to keep on hand year after year for merry memory-making in your own kitchen. Just like Teresa would have encouraged!

When we were exchanging emails back and forth, DeDe shared one of her favorite quotes by memoirist Molly Wizenberg… “When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.” Well said, Molly!

Meeting DeDe and learning about her family and their lovely linen collection was such a pleasure. Had I encountered one of Teresa’s exquisite embroidered cloths in an antique shop, I would have admired its beauty but I would have never known about the full and magnanimous life that had been woven into it. I would have never known that behind those linens was a star baker with a go-getter attitude, a color-blind seamstress who clothed her community, a second-generation Italian woman from a family newly immigrated to the US. I would have never known about the husband who loyally and affectionately encouraged his wife, nor about the independent dreamer who raised money for her own education, nor about the delicious tomato sauce passed down by generations of her family. DeDe gave a voice and a spirit and a context to her mom’s linens, and in doing so, made them all the more special, all the more valuable for the love and for the life they represent. So yes, a vintage napkin is a napkin, but it is also so much more.

Cheers and a big thank you to DeDe for sharing this wonderful glimpse of your vivacious mom and all her talents with us. Cheers to vintage linens who light the halls of history one story at a time. And cheers to all the mom’s out there who inspire us each and every day. Happy Mother’s Day!

Find more of Teresa’s linens in the shop here with new additions being added each week..

Discovering the Legendary Family Babka

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Julianna. She was born in Poland in the mid-1800’s but immigrated to upstate New York around 1900. There, she married a man named Marcin, and had a baby named Martha. Occasionally Julianna, Marcin and the baby would travel to Chicago to visit with relatives. It was there in the Windy City, in a busy house, that Julianna met a little boy named Allen.

The first time Allen met Julianna he was scared to death of her. To him Julianna seemed very old and very gruff.  But Julianna, who was well-intentioned at heart, just settled in her old Polish ways, possessed a special skill. A skill so special that it could charm anyone, even a scared little boy named Allen.

Juliana’s special talent was baking and her most charming confection was a twisted bread called babka. Everyone in the busy house in the Windy City loved Julianna’s babka. The best in all the land, boasted her proud husband Marcin, who had a belly as round as Santa’s. Everyone agreed.  Even the little boy named Allen, for as soon as he took his first bite of the cinnamon flavored treat he watched all his fears of this old woman fly right out of his head.  It tastes like Christmas, he proclaimed! From that point forward, Julianna  no longer seemed quite so scary. She returned again and again to visit and quickly became little Allen’s most anticipated house guest. As long as she brought the babka, that is:)

That’s a true story from the family archives. Julianna was the second wife of my great, great grandfather, Marcin who hailed from the pretty pastel city of Poznan, Poland in the 1800’s. The little boy named Allen was my dad who was born in Chicago in the 1940’s.

Dad playing with a batch of kittens circa 1946

This information all came courtesy of a notebook of memories my dad filled out about a decade ago. Somehow this information of the famous babka got overlooked in the curiosity department and I never got the chance to ask my dad more about Julianna, Marcin and the famous yet mysterious family bread. A few days after my dad died, I came across the notebook of memories again and was reintroduced to the story of the babka.

Even though Marcin and Julianna shared 10 kids between them, there is no known recipe that’s been passed down through the family. Marcin’s daughter Jozefa, (my great grandmother) died from burns sustained in a kitchen fire when she was just 37, leaving eight children behind. That terrible family tragedy left little opportunity for conversation about lineage, ancestors and recollections when it came to Marcin and Julianna.  No one wanted to dredge up the sad circumstances surrounding Jozefa’s death in order to understand the family that came before her. So a silence fell on that side of history. For a long, long time distant relatives became just a blur of hazy facts and faces. I’m on a mission now though to learn more about my great great grandparents and about that beautiful pastel city where they came from…

Poznan, Poland

It will be a tricky endeavor since I’m dealing with foreign languages and far-off places, but they deserve the effort and it will be fun to see what gets discovered. In the meantime, this one little snippet of a food remembrance from my dad is a cherished link to knowing more about the lives of family members who lived over a century ago.

I don’t have any pictures of Julianna or Marcin yet but I do have a few photos of Jozefa, like this one taken on her wedding day in 1902. Sixteen years later she would die from the fire.

Because I’d never seen, or even heard about babka before it was referenced in the notebook, a new baking adventure was definitely in order. I scoured my vintage cookbooks but found absolutely no mention of it. Luckily, a great recipe was discovered online and the babka came into being in October. Two weeks ago, I posted it on Instagram and shared the story about Julianna.

It turned out to be a really fun and interesting baking project. If you are as unfamiliar with babka as I was, it is one of those cinnamon based desserts that is like a little slice of heaven for the season. Buttery, warm and full of aromatic spice, it tastes like a cross between a cinnamon role and a coffee cake.  Fittingly, (for this story anyway!) the word babka means grandmother in Polish and is a traditional heritage food of both Poland and the Ukraine. Historians suspect that it may date all the way back to the 16th century.

Babka comes in two classic variations – chocolate and cinnamon – and can be augmented with a variety of toppings including streusel, nuts, raisins, spices and dried fruit. Usually it comes in two shapes as well – either round or loaf style.  I chose to make the cinnamon version and baked it both ways – in loaves and rounds. The round version turned out to be a little fancier looking but the loaves are a bit easier to slice, so it comes down to your preference. Either way, it’s a winner of a recipe that tastes great at all times of the day, and is equally enjoyable at breakfast, during a mid-day snack or a late night nibble.

The key to an ultra flavorful babka lies in the freshness of the cinnamon. So if you can, try to find a spice shop in your neck of the woods that offers it freshly ground which would be most ideal. Luckily, as if Julianna was supporting my endeavor, a lovely new spice shop just opened up in my city, so I used Supreme Saigon cinnamon in my recipe. If you don’t have a good spice shop in your area, no worries, you can always order some online or buy a brand new container from your grocery so that you can experience the full bouquet of flavor.

New spice shop in the city!

Making babka from scratch is a three step process, but don’t let that intimidate you, as this is a very easy dessert to make. The only downside to homemade babka is the amount of time (about six hours) it takes to make from start to finish.  That’s because it is a yeast bread and requires time to rise twice. It is well worth the wait though. It also freezes well, so if you were feeling extra ambitious you could double or triple the recipe and stack the babka up in the freezer for homemade goodness all winter long!

Cinnamon Babka

{This recipe was sourced from family-friends-food.com and the Modern Jewish Baker Cookbook by Shannon Sarna}

For the dough:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1/3 cup + 1/2/ teaspoon cane sugar

1/2 cup lukewarm water

4 1/2 cups organic all purpose flour

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup whole milk

3/4 cup butter (melted)

2 eggs

 

For the Sugar Syrup:

2/3 cup water

1 cup cane sugar

1 tsp vanilla

 

For the Filling:

3/4 cup butter, melted

1/1/2 cups cane sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

pinch of salt

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar and the lukewarm water. Stir to combine and then set aside for about 10 minutes so that the yeast can foam.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla, mixing until everything is blended together. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, scald the milk and then remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for 1 minute.
Using a hand mixer, combine the water/yeast mixture, the milk, and the melted butter to the flour mixture and blend to incorporate. Then mix in the eggs, one at a time.
Continue mixing on a low to medium speed for 7 full minutes until the dough is shiny, elastic and smooth.
Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a warm damp towel. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.
While the dough is rising make the simple syrup by combining the water, sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Next make the filling by combining all ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing thoroughly. Set aside.
When the dough has risen, cut it into two equal halves. Roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/4″ inch thick. Try to roll the dough in as rectangular shape as possible.
With a sharp knife trim the rounder edges of the dough so that they form straight lines, which makes the babka braids look more tidy down the road.
Next spread half of the filling evenly all over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch rim around the edge.  Ideal tools for this are a frosting knife, a spatula, the back of a spoon or even your fingers.
Then starting at the bottom edge, tightly roll up the dough (jelly roll style) to the very top edge.
Once your dough is all rolled up and resembles a log shape, trim each end with a sharp knife and then cut the log length-wise down the middle to expose the filling inside.
Now that you have to halves of one log, braid the two halves together, alternating one section on top of the other so that it looks like this…
Place the braid in a greased springform cake pan.
Repeat the above steps with the other half of the dough. And then curl the second braid inside the first braid and smoosh the two braids together lightly (like you are squeezing a basketball between your hands) so that it creates some space between the sides of the pan and the dough.
Finally, drape a moist kitchen towel over the pan and set aside to rise for 30 more minutes.
While the dough is rising again , preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the babka in the oven for 40 minutes, then take it out and brush the top of the bread with two light layers of the sugar syrup. Return it to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.
When it is ready, the babka will be a golden brown on top and the internal temperature will be 185 degrees. Place the pan on a cooling rack and brush the top with three more light layers of the sugar syrup. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes before removing the babka from the pan. The sides will be be rippled with ribbons of dough…
Slice and serve either warm or at room temperature. The babka pairs really well with a cup of strong coffee, tea or espresso.

Thanks to its bountiful size and rich texture, it makes an ideal holiday food since it can serve a lot of people, transports well and can be frozen for months ahead of time.
When I first posted the babka story on Instagram, several people sent messages requesting the recipe, so I’m pleased to be sharing it here on the blog today. I loved this bread so much that it is now going to be a new annual holiday baking tradition in my house. And I hope it becomes one of yours too. When my dad first met Julianna, she was in her 90’s. I love that she was still baking for her family at that age and still possessed the ability and desire to convince a small little boy that sweetness can be found even behind a sometimes gruff exterior.
Cheers to Julianna, Jozefa and my dad for providing glimpses into past family lives, to Helen and Shannon for providing the recipe and to Savory Spice for opening up shop just in time for this cinnamon-filled baking adventure. Hope you guys will be just as smitten with babka as I am.

 

Mabel In the Market: The Search for the 1920’s Doughnut Shop {Part 2}

I’ve never played hide and seek with a city or a ghost before. But that’s exactly what I did with Mabel in Seattle. I was on a mission to find my great-grandmother’s doughnut shop, which according to family lore, was located in Pike Place Market sometime between the years of 1922 and 1940.

Mabel in 1907; Pike Place Market sign in 2017

If this were a movie, I’d find her by doughnut crumb trail.  I’d hop off the plane with weeks of research in hand, pop over to the market and seek out the very spot where Mabel,  my school teacher-trained, Iowa native, Seattle transplant great-grandmother would have rolled out daily stacks of doughnuts during the early 20th century.

I’d scurry through market hallways and stallways…

Pike Place Market Stairs

passing sign after sign…

until I reached my moment of satisfaction. The final destination…

… actual proof, at long-last,  that my Mabel’s place of productivity was here and that her baking legacy survived in these doughnuts still being prepared and displayed in the same way she would have made them 100 years ago…

But this is not a movie and the trail of this baking mystery did not roll out so smoothly. I did go to Seattle and I did go to the market. And I did discover Mabel. Just not exactly the way I thought I would.

As it turns out Mabel just might be the biggest fan of hide and seek I’ve ever known.  She popped in and out of this whole adventure playing her game of come find me in the most superlative of ways.

Before I left for Seattle I had trouble locating any supporting documents that would pin Mabel down in the market. I searched for weeks, trying all sorts of different avenues leading from Seattle to Iowa and back to Seattle again, hoping for a picture, a newspaper article, a copy of a market receipt, a letter home to her family… any small detail that would mention a doughnut or a day stall.   I came up empty handed on all fronts except for a picture I found of her sister Katie with whom Mabel was close…

Hello to Katie!

Taken around 1900, this was a great new addition to the family photo collection. We don’t have any pictures of Mabel’s seven sisters taken while they were young. Katie has no connection to Seattle or to the market that I know of yet but it was encouraging, a good luck sign, perhaps to see the sisterly face of someone who was so important and so close to Mabel.

Back to the market mission,  I was hoping that research helpers at pikeplacemarket.org would be more successful combing their city directories and market archives. They too tried all possible avenues on their end. Had there been a shop name or a specific date things would have been, could have been easier.  Working on it up until the eleventh hour we were communicating back and forth about potential scenarios and information but valid, concrete documentation would elude us both in the end. Mentions of Mabel in the market were nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t all disappointment at this stage though. Mabel came through in another way. A better way actually then documents and even doughnuts. She came to me in the form of dishes…

Dating to early 1900, this is Mabel’s antique flow blue china made by W.H. Grindley in the Portman pattern which had been stacked away, unbeknownst to me, in my sister’s house for years.  How exciting! Dishes that Mabel actually touched in her daily life and that survived her 1,800 mile journey from Iowa to Washington. I could just imagine one of her lovely little doughnuts sitting on this plate. Like her sister’s portrait this was a more delicate and intimate side of Mabel then I ever hoped for. A tangible piece of history and a part of her that I could carry with me back home.

Even though there was no factual info to be had about Mabel’s market days my sisters and I  headed to Pike Place anyway to see if some visual clues might strike us.

We saw fish and flowers, pigs and produce, wall murals and a great busker band. We even saw a real-life Hobart, an invention we blogged about back in May. ( I think I was the only one standing in line at this vendor that was more excited about seeing the mixer then the menu offerings).

But there were no signs of Mabel.  We commiserated over grilled cheese sandwiches and doughnuts on the wharf and talked over the possibility that perhaps Mabel just worked at a doughnut shop instead of owned one. Maybe the family story got muddled and misdirected over time. Maybe Mabel was a cog in the wheel instead of the actual wheel.

We left the farmers market feeling satisfied with food but not with family history. The search continued. Questions were still unanswered.

Further investigations led us out to the suburbs where Mabel popped up again. This time in the form of a house with a big garden yard – the place where she lived for a time in the 1950’s.  And we saw her again in two churches that were built by her only child Philip, just outside of Seattle…

Those three places didn’t provide any new clues but they did suggest a new possibility. What if Mabel made so many doughnuts at the market and on such a large scale that she never wanted to look or think or talk about another doughnut again? What if, when she moved out to the suburbs in 1940, she was done with doughnuts completely? What if that is the reason the family stories never stretched farther than the market mention?

On the last day of my trip, after I made peace with the fact that I would not discover any new information about this family story for the immediate time being,  Mabel sent out a consolation prize.  While doing a little antique shopping, my sister found an old cookbook from 1902 with a woman who looked a little like Mabel on the cover…

Flipping through it look what recipe I found on page 256…

Iowa doughnuts! A recipe from Mabel’s home state nestled in with a whopping 13 other recipes for the willing doughnut maker.  What are the chances of finding such a time appropriate cookbook with such a specific and applicable recipe?  To make this find even more Mabel-fied the inside cover of the cookbook was stamped with the name and address of the previous owner. And guess, dear readers, where that previous owner lived?

The small town where Mabel had her big garden yard and where her son built two churches!

What, really, are the chances of that? Seattle is a big city and the suburbs are dense and bubbling places. The antique shop where we found the cookbook was far from the town where Mabel lived and where her son built the churches. Not every state in the cookbook got its own doughnut recipe (only Iowa and Nebraska). And after almost fifteen years of antique collecting I’ve never come across this specific cookbook before. All signs pointed to Mabel and the magically meant to be.

So even though I didn’t exactly find out all the information I was looking for heading into this trip, I feel like I got to know Mabel so much more than just being able to reiterate some facts and dates. I touched (and took home!) dishes that she herself touched.  I saw the first-time face of her sister.  I saw the house of her senior years and I stood before two big buildings that her son built. And the icing on the doughnut is the found cookbook; owned by a person who lived in the same town as her; and that contains an obscure recipe from her home state for a sweet treat that eventually bore her business. That’s a tidy little package.

The hunt for her market days info is far from over and this story doesn’t yet come full circle but it does come full-spirit. When we eventually solve this mystery of Mabel in the market there might just be a movie style ending. Stay tuned for new updates as the research continues. In the meantime if you missed Part One of this post catch up here.

Cheers to all the “spirited” storytellers out there.

The Connection Between Kelly Clarkson and Ms. Jeannie

This past Tuesday marked the return of one of Ms. Jeannie’s most favorite shows…

Who Do You Think You Are on Tuesday nights at on TLC
Who Do You Think You Are on Tuesday nights on TLC

Now in its fourth season, Who Do You Think You Are is the pet project of actress Lisa Kudrow (from Friends fame) that follows celebrities as they trace and discover their own roots. Ms. Jeannie loves this show because everyone can learn from it – regardless if you are famous or not, everybody follows the same format.  You have to look back in order to look forward.

Lots of different types of celebrities from film stars (Susan Sarandon), to sports figures (Emmit Smith) to singers (Lional Ritchie) to comedians (Chris Rock) to models (Brooke Shields) have been featured on past episodes.

This week it was singer Kelly Clarkson, who Ms. Jeannie realized she actually had a few things in common with.  This is the trailer for Kelly’s episode…

http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are/videos/kelly-clarkson-video.htm

Kelly’s great, great, great grandfather, Isiah,  was a Civil War soldier from Ohio who fought for the Union side. Ms. Jeannie’s great, great grandfather was also a Civil War soldier from Ohio who fought for the Union side…

Ms. Jeannie's great great grandfather Albert
Ms. Jeannie’s great, great grandfather Albert (1840-1921)

Kelly’s ancestor fought in the war for four years. He was captured and taken prisoner by the Confederate soldiers and sent to a prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia.  Ms. Jeannie’s great, great grandfather also served for four years and fought in battles all over the Southeast – his last one was very close to Andersonville, GA and it was there that he suffered trauma to his eyes.

The prison camp at Andersonville was awful – holding over 40,000 soldiers in a barracked field open to the elements and left to their own devices for toiletry, food and shelter.

Camp configuration at Andersonville. Photo courtesy of mihp.org
Camp configuration at Andersonville. Photo courtesy of mihp.org

Andersonville Prison. Photo courtesy of old-picture.com
Andersonville tents. Photo courtesy of old-picture.com

Union soldier held at Andersonville Prison.
Union soldier held at Andersonville Prison.

Men were walking skeletons from mal-nourishment and disease, they were angry from being confined, and they were exhausted from fighting the war and then fighting to survive in a prison camp. Andersonville is the United States version of Holocaust camps in Germany. There was no regard for human dignity or for human life. Men were thrown together en masse and left to fend for themselves.  Over 13,000 soldiers died in camp at Andersonville during the Civil Wa,r and now the park serves as a memorial to the bravery of lost victims.  Thankfully Kelly’s great, great, great grandfather escaped the prison confines and re-introduced himself to civilian society. He carried on with strength and determination to lead a long and fruitful life.

Ms. Jeannie’s great, great  grandfather mustered out of the Civil War cavalry after his eye trauma in 1865. He went home to Ohio to collect his sweetheart, Martha, who lived in a neighboring county in Indiana…

Albert's wife, Martha. Ms. Jeannie's great, great grandmother.
Albert’s wife, Martha. Ms. Jeannie’s great, great grandmother.

A month and a half later, in the summer of 1865, they married at Martha’s parents home in Johnson County, Indiana, and the very next day, they embarked via covered wagon on a journey to Iowa. Martha’s parents accompanied them.  Ms. Jeannie can only imagine what kind of “honeymoon” this was!  During the month and a half-long  trip, Martha made this quilt, which you might recall from a previous post…

Martha's churn dash style quilt, which Ms. Jeannie now keeps.
Martha’s churn dash style quilt, which Ms. Jeannie now keeps.

Martha made this quilt so that she would have a bed covering once they reached their new home in Iowa. It would be a reminder of their journey across country and also a symbolic token for the beginning of their marriage.  By the time this blanket was created, Albert, 24,  had seen all sorts of horrendous acts at war, he had defended his country, he had fought for his beliefs. Martha was a young bride, 18, leaving the only life she had ever known in Indiana to travel thousands of miles across country to begin anew. Neither knew Iowa nor what lay ahead for them.  They simply set out and hoped for the best.  Like Kelly Clarkson said in this past episode ” These are brave choices, made at this time – all these men and women.”

Kelly’s great, great, great grandfather went on eventually to serve a seat in the House Senate. Ms. Jeannie’s great, great grandfather also went on to a career in the public arena.  When he and Martha reached Iowa, they staked their claim in Vinton where they became farmers and eventually, Albert,  became the town clerk and justice of the peace, a position he held for 25 years. He and Martha became parents to 11 children – 9 of whom lived to see their adult years…

Martha and Albert, center, at their 50th wedding anniversary with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren by their sides.
Martha and Albert, center, at their 50th wedding anniversary with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren by their sides.

Albert died in 1921 at the age of 80. Martha died in 1929 at the age of 82. Ms. Jeannie is so thrilled that there are two pieces in her family to remember them by.  The quilt from Martha and this civil war ink well from Albert…

Albert's inkwell that he carried with him throughout the Civil War.
Albert’s inkwell that he carried with him throughout the Civil War.

Both items are warm and hopeful pieces and Ms. Jeannie just loves that. Martha’s quilt kept the two of them warm for years. Albert’s inkwell may have aided in letters home while he was away at war. There is no documentation in Ms. Jeannie’s family of anything written using ink from this inkwell, but Ms. Jeannie thinks something special must have come from this font in order for it to have been passed down through the family for all these years. It could have been something as simple as an “I Love You” from Albert’s hand to his parents, James and Nancy in Ohio or a sweet “wait for me – I’m coming soon” sentiment to Martha in Indiana. Either way it was a valued vessel.

Kelly ends the episode by returning to Nashville and reporting to her mom all that she uncovered on her genealogy adventure. “Now we know…” she said to her mom. ” This is in our blood.”  This is what makes this show, and genealogy in turn,  so great. It is in your face history that has directly affected your life.   Had there never been Isiah there would never be Kelly and had there never been Albert there never would be Ms. Jeannie. And while we can’t sit down and have a face to face conversation with these past generations, we still know them, because we are them.

We are all, a lot more related then we realize!

Who Do You Think You Are airs every Tuesday night at 9:00pm (eastern) on TLC. Next week, it’s the actress Christina Applegate. If you are a fan of the show, please comment below, Ms. Jeannie would love to hear your thoughts.

Storytime (and a Challenge!) with Ms. Jeannie: How Old Photographs Can Spark The Imagination!

When Ms. Jeannie first started doing her genealogy research, the holy grail of success for her was finding the faces of her ancestors. She worked close to a year before she uncovered any. Ironically, that first photo that opened up the pictorial floodgates, was right under her nose… in an album Ms. Jeannie’s mom had forgotten about in the back of a closet!

The day Ms. Jeannie looked at the face of her great great grandmother Martha, for the first time, she was so overcome with emotion, she cried!

The first picture of great great grandmother Martha
The first picture of great great grandmother Martha (on right)

Silly but true. Ms. Jeannie is not really the weepy kind, after all. Anyway, she just got caught up in the moment.  All those months of researching Martha’s  life  – her 11 kids, her journey in covered wagon from Indiana to Ohio to Iowa, her husband’s military service in the Civil War, her farm life in Iowa… all those details rolling around Ms. Jeannie’s head for all that time. And then suddenly – there was Martha!  There was the shape of her face, the evidence of glasses, the style of her hair.

Since then, through help from online forums like ancestry.com and genealogy.com and the kindness of sharers, Ms, Jeannie has found handfuls of family photos. Her family.  Spread out over many trees, many lines and many countries. These are some of the more recent finds…

Great Grand Aunt Anna's house in Iowa
Great Grand Aunt Anna’s house in Iowa

Great Great Grandfather Albert
Great Great Grandfather Albert

Fourth Great Grandparents Maria & Garret
Fourth Great Grandparents Maria & Garret

Great Grand Uncle J. William
Great Grand Uncle J. William

Grand Aunt Leona
Grand Aunt Leona

Great Grandmother Juna and her sister Hannah
Great Grandmother Juna and her sister Hannah

Had she never done the research, Ms. Jeannie would never have known what any of these people looked like. With the exception of great grandmother Juna, these were all brand-new faces of family.

Ms. Jeannie likes to look at these pictures and think about the context in which they were taken. What was great Aunt Leona thinking about? Why were Juna and Hannah wearing paper dresses? What was the pin on the lapel of J. William? Noticing small details like this paints a vivid picture for the imagination!

In the same vain, whenever Ms. Jeannie comes across old photographs for sale, she can’t help but do the  same exact thing – she thinks about the back story surrounding each image.  She has several examples of this in her Etsy shop… let’s take a look…(click on any of the pictures for more information about each photograph)

On first glance, you might just see a picture of a girl on a bench…

Ms. Jeannie named her Nina!
Ms. Jeannie named her Nina!

nina2

But crawl inside Ms. Jeannie’s head and she’ll tell you this story…

“Nina waited patiently for Spring. Well, technically, she was waiting for summer – but you had to get through spring in order to get to summer, so she had to dream in order. This summer, she’d be done. Done with high school. Done with wearing plaid skirt uniforms and done, done, done with all that homework, thank goodness. Sure, she was going onto college in the Fall, but that would be different. There would be boys, and classes she wanted to take and parents that she only had to see on breaks. At college, her preferences for life would bloom and Nina couldn’t wait for that. She’d study literature and she’d become a writer and her very first piece would be about the suffocation of long skirts and loafers.”

Here, you see two bathing beauties…

1940s Swim Photographs

swim2

swim3

And Ms. Jeannie sees Rose and Evelyn…

“Rose and Evelyn stayed in their swimsuits the whole entire vacation. And who could blame them? With that ocean stretching out behind them and the infinity pool disappearing in front – it was all they needed. This was the vacation where Evelyn perfected her dive, and where Rose realized that she was now technically old enough to flirt with boys without looking ridiculous. It was an ego-booster for both of them, this vacation.”

This one is a school scene from the 1920’s…

microscope

school1

Sometimes, Ms. Jeannie sees many stories in one scene. Such is the case, with this one! Here is all she imagined…

“There’s the obvious one, of course, about how smiling Dorothy is in love with Gilbert and absolutely thrilled that her crush of the past two years is now sharing elbow space with her. 

There’s the story about lively Pauline (in the forefront) and how she talked her way into getting the traveling photographer to stop by her Biology 101 class. “You’ll want to document the budding scientific genius occurring in room 9, sir. I guarantee you that.” 

There’s the story of Mr. Whipple, first year science teacher, who doggedly fought the school board for months over the right to buy 37 microscopes so that each student in his class (not just the boys) would have use of their own scientific study instruments. 

Then there is the story of three friends, who spent all summer in the science lab researching why the bullfrogs in Tillman Pond were genetically bigger then the bullfrogs in every other pond in town. 

And let’s not forget about humble Pauline who was the first girl, in the state of Texas, to win first place in the national science fair, which yielded not only a cash prize for her, but new textbooks and supplies for her school. 

Oh, Ms. Jeannie could practically write a novel with all the situations going on here! Now it’s your turn to look close and see what stories you see…”

This one is a miniature portrait…

marion

marion2

Ms. Jeannie called her Marion and wrote about her neighbor, Arnie (short for Arnold)…

“Marion’s got a suitor in her neighbor, Arnie, across the street. Well, technically he’s not really her suitor yet – but one of these days she’s going to fall head over heels for him. He just knows it. In the meantime, he does his best, on a daily basis, to try to impress her – nothing’s really gone gangbusters so far. Most of the time she stands there, with her arms crossed and that same as ever are you kidding me expression. But Arnie’s of a hopeful mindset…one day, she’ll see it.”

Ms. Jeannie got a little help from the inscription on this photo postcard…

bobbie

cheer2

This is what she thought was going on inside Bobbie’s world…

“Oh that Bobbie – she’s quite a clever kidder, calling her beau a schnook like that. She hopes this subtle Merry Christmas postcard tactic is all that she will need to make handsome Dean realize that she is quite over the moon for him. It’s only taken her the whole semester to get her nerve up – but what the heck does she have to lose now? It’s Christmastime and she’s feeling hopeful. She’ll just slide it under Dean’s dorm room door before she heads home for the holiday. Let him stew on that during winter break!”

Of course, all these photographs are open to interpretation,. You may see something totally different in the bathing beauties or in Bobbie’s cheering stance,  but that is sort of the fun of these old photographs. Don’t you think?

Following this train of thought, Ms. Jeannie came up with a fun little challenge for all of you dear readers!

Here it is..

What is this scene all about?
What is this scene all about?

Now it is your turn to come up with the back story about this picture above!  Write your own quick little story snippet about this photograph and email it to msjeannieology[at]yahoo.com

It doesn’t have to be long… just a few sentences is great.  The most creative entry, as determined by Mr. Jeannie Ology (for fairness, of course) will win the picture! The challenge will be open for one week so be sure to get your entries in by midnight on Tuesday, February 26th. Winner will be announced via blog post, and also email, on Wednesday, February 27th.

Lucky for you – there’s a little extra help with this challenge! On the back of the photo, written in pencil, it says…

“Grace & Me. I have on Grace’s hat and she has mine on.” 

Here’s a few more close-up views of the photograph. In case you want to know the size – it measures 2.5″ inches x 3.5″ inches.

hat2

hat3

hat4

hat5

Good luck and happy imagining!!!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A lesson from Grandma
A lesson from Grandma

Happy Valentine’s Day dear readers!

On this special day of love Ms. Jeannie was thinking of her grandmother, Dorothy Ruth, who hand crocheted the tablecloth above that Ms. Jeannie used as a backdrop for her valentine message. Dorothy loved to sew, embroider and crochet. She wasn’t a professional seamstress, although she made a lot of clothes for herself and her family, including wedding dresses for all three of her girls and clothes for her grandchildren.

dorothy
Dorothy with Ms. Jeannie’s mom as a baby.

She would never dream of calling herself an artist or a designer, even though she had so many artistic tendencies and talents.  She just loved the act of sewing.

Dorothy’s husband, Philip, loved to build things, and in his spare time, he would make furniture. When Philip built a table for their living room, Dorothy loved it so much, she didn’t want to get a scratch on it. So she made this very tablecloth to protect the finish.

tablecloth2

Now when Ms. Jeannie looks at this tablecloth she sees great reminders. She sees how one stitch leads to a circle, which leads to a flower, which leads to a pattern, which leads to a piece, which eventually leads to an entire tablecloth.

She sees how doing things that you love, however small they may seem, can lead to big things.  She sees how true happiness can offer protection against the marks and scratches of life.

Protect what you make with love.

Protect what you love with what you make.

Make what you love.

That was Dorothy’s way. And in keeping, Ms. Jeannie’s special valentine message for you… May all that you love to do today, inspire and protect all whom will love it tomorrow.

Happy Holiday!!!

A Family of Firemen and the Women They Loved

Last week found Ms. Jeannie, unexpectedly, in sunny Florida, helping her father who had fallen and hit his head. It was a scary week involving the Intensive Care Unit, doctors and specialists, prescriptions and timetables and making what felt like a million pots of soup.

In the midst of all the bad, Ms. Jeannie searched for the good. Happily, she found it staring right in front of  her on the walls of her dad’s house….

Ms. Jeannie’s grandfather, Herbert (second from left) and his pals

Family photos she had yet to record in her family history information!

Herbert (pictured above – with the curly hair)  is Ms. Jeannie’s grandfather. He was a firemen in Chicago for over 40 years. His father Joseph, was also a fireman in Chicago, as well as Joseph’s father,  Jacob, who immigrated from Germany.

Herbert and his dad, Joesph

Joseph first became a fireman in the mid-1910’s.  He was an engineer with Engine Number 24 in Chicago.  Here’s a picture of Joseph, in his uniform alongside his wife, Mary. Mary was also from Chicago – not too much is known about her yet (more research to do!).

Mary and Joseph in Chicago

Joseph with his engine company in Chicago. Joseph is in the top row – second from the right. You can just make out the fire truck behind them.

Mary and Joseph had two boys: Herbert & Charles, but Charles died when he was a baby. Joseph eventually found his way to the Army Air Force base in Sarasota in the early 1940’s where he was fire chief.  This is a picture of him with Ms. Jeannie’s dad. She just loves this photo!

Joseph in Sarasota, FL with his grandson.

Tragically, Joseph died after being run over by a cement truck. He was 67 years old. Mary died 20 years later. It must have been hard.

Joseph’s son, Herbert married Cecylia Lucille, whom everyone called Lucy. They were married in 1933 in Chicago.

Herbert and Lucy on their wedding day in 1933

Lucy was born in Buffalo, New York  to parents, Jozef and Jozefa,  who immigrated from the province of Posen in Germany.

Jozef and Jozefa on their wedding day in 1902 in Buffalo.

Jozef was a tailor in Buffalo throughout his life. Together, he and Jozefa had eight children. Four years after the last one was born, Jozefa died from burns sustained when her clothes caught on fire in the kitchen. Jozef wrapped her in a blanket to extinguish the flames but the burns covered over 80% of her body.

Unprepared to raise 8 children on his own and overcome with grief, Jozef had to place his children in the Catholic orphanage in Buffalo. Family members eventually collected all the children again, but most of the 8 grew up at the orphanage – Lucy included. She was 18 when she left there.

This is a picture of Lucy’s first Holy Communion, which must have been taken just about a year before her mother’s death.

Lucy photographed on her First Holy Communion.

Although Herbert was not yet a fireman, when he and Lucy married, Ms. Jeannie thinks it must have been reassuring for Lucy in some way when he became one.  For all the sadness that surrounded Lucy’s childhood, happiness in her adult life with Herbert really made up for it. They were great loves and had a lot of fun together.

Herbert and Lucy

Herbert in his fire uniform.

Lucy was always a very stylish dresser. Ms. Jeannie wishes she inherited her lovely wavy hair. Herbert’s curly genes seemed to be more prevalent though!

Herbert at the the firehouse – Engine 33 in Chicago. Herbert is in the top row, second from right.

In addition to being a fireman, Herbert was also the firehouse cook. Boy could he make a mean bowl of chili! He was great at making big pots of things – but Ms. Jeannie guesses after 40 years of cooking for a company full of firemen, it must be hard to scale down!

Lucy and Herbert

Lucy died when Ms. Jeannie was just a baby so she she doesn’t really remember her, but Grandpa Herbert remains strong and lovable in her memory. He was a marvelous grandfather, full of fun and kindness. He was forever bringing little treats and presents to Ms. Jeannie and her sister. And he told wonderful, exciting stories about life at the firehouse.

He also loved to sing and tell jokes, believed in playing the lottery every week, had a fondness for doughnuts with coffee, and a cigar in the afternoon. He loved crossword puzzles and baseball games. He loved all types of affection and he loved to dance. He taught Ms. Jeannie how to be a card shark when it came to poker, how to love unconditionally and how being pleasant, good-natured and grateful was far nicer then being opinionated and troublesome. Everything about him was just lovely.

Herbert died in his mid 80’s of cancer, having never been sick in his entire life. In his final months,  he gave many of his old family photos to one of the nurses aides that watched over him, simply because she expressed an interest in antique photographs. That was his way, always giving, so we can’t fault him for his generosity,  although this has left Ms. Jeannie with quite a challenging genealogy project on her hands. She thinks one day, that the photos Herbert gave away, will eventually find their way back to the family.  “When the time is right,” as Herbert would’ve said.

In the meantime, Ms. Jeannie likes to keep her eye out for firehouse-related antiques. Etsy has quite a few amazing finds like the ones listed below… maybe one day she’ll find something from Herbert’s or Joseph’s fire companies. Wouldn’t that be spectacular?! (click on each image for more info) 

Antique Fire Hose from 86home

Antique Fire Station Bell Control Box Top from OhioPicker

Antique Brass Fire Extinguisher

Antique Waterbury Fire Department Buttons from stbthreadworks

Antique Booklet – The Great Chicago Fire from MsHuggerNeck

Vintage NY Fire Dept. Collapsible Bucket from LathandPlaster

Antique Fire Chief Insignia

Vintage Fire Hose Nozzle from CopperandTin

Antique Fire Prints from SurrenderDorothy

Antique Icebox from the Willimatic Fire Co. from wearesellingit

Antique Brass Fireman’s Tool from 40thStVarietyStore

Vintage Emergency Telephone Call Box from MoonMayfairVintage

Antique Tintype of Two Firemen from diabolus

Pair of Firemen’s Hooks from 21GristMillLane

Vintage Fire Alarm from LunchLadyVintage

Antique Toy Fire Truck from ChompMonster

Churn Dash – The Pattern of the Pioneer Woman

More family heirlooms arrived in the mail yesterday!

This time the package included two family quilts. One a small pink and white baby quilt handmade by Mable Edwards in the early 1940’s…

Handmade baby quilt circa 1942

After doing some research Ms. Jeannie discovered that this type of pattern is called a Dahlia design.  It is one of the most complex and challenging quilt patterns, because the skill comes in making the flowers look three dimensional.  Mable must have been an excellent sewer! Here are some close up shots…

Pretty scalloped edges!

Look at all that stitchery!

The second quilt is believed to have been sewn by Mable’s mother Martha Jane Brewer, who was born in Greenwood, Indiana in 1846.  Martha married Albert Edwards in the 1865 and the day after their wedding they set out in covered wagon for Iowa. Imagine that for your honeymoon! Martha was a trooper though. Her and Albert set up a life for themselves in Iowa on a farm, she had 11 babies and lived to be 82.

Here’s a picture of the Martha and Albert and all their kids, grand-kids and great grand-kids. This photograph was taken in August 1915 when Martha & Albert were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Martha and Albert are seated in the center of the group.

Portrait of the Edwards Family of Vinton, Iowa. Taken on August 24th, 1915.

With all that activity it is hard to imagine that Martha even had time to sew! This is a picture of Martha’s quilt…

Martha’s handmade quilt circa late 1800’s

The quilt design is called Churn Dash named after the butter churn. Ms. Jeannie isn’t sure what kind of butter churn Martha used but you can see how the pattern developed from the these two churn styles found on Etsy. Check out the paddles of each…

Antique Butter Churn Pottery from TomLaurus

Vintage French Butter Churn from RueDesLouves

Ms. Jeannie couldn’t find any similar versions of a double churn dash style like the one Martha used, so perhaps this is a bit unusual.

Double churn dash design

The blue and white color combo was the most popular color combination used in quilts because it matched almost everything. Martha’s quilt as you can see is faded in some spots, but otherwise it is in great condition. It is large enough to cover a contemporary standard queen size bed.

According to research there are over 21 different variations of the churn dash style. It also is known as the Monkey Wrench and the Hole in the Barn Door (fun name!).  Ms. Jeannie is impressed with all the tiny squares and the thousands of stiches that make up just one square. She wonders how long it took Martha to make this.

Tiny squares. Tiny stitches.

The churn dash pattern originated between 1800 and 1849 and represents the pioneer woman’s lifestyle which was centered around home and hearth. Certainly Martha churned a few pats of butter in her day – both literally from farm fresh milk and figuratively from her needle and thread.

Ms. Jeannie is still trying to date the quilt to a specific decade. It could have been made as early at the 1860’s for use just after her wedding as she & Albert traveled West. Or it could have been made as late as the 1920’s when Martha’s children were grown and she had more time to devote to needlework.

Ms. Jeannie found this really pretty contemporary version of a churn dash quilt on Etsy. She loves the colors and that they spelled out churn dash on the fabric. Very fun!

Churn Dash Revisted by OsageRiverQuilts

Here’s another view of it hanging on a wall. Love the off-center layout!

Ms. Jeannie would like to try to make her own quilt one day. She likes the patterns of the wedding ring designs with those big interlocking circles…

Antique Double Wedding Ring Quilt from SwankyTexasVintage

But she doesn’t own a sewing machine and would like the challenge (she thinks!) of making a quilt by hand. Perhaps she’ll undertake this project in the Fall. Maybe Mable and Martha will send her some inspiration!

In the meantime, Ms. Jeannie now realizes what effort when into the patchwork teddy bear listed in her shop…

Vintage Patchwork Teddy Bear from MsJeannieOlogy

Ms. Jeannie couldn’t imagine shaping all those patches into a recognizable bear shape!

Vintage Patchwork Teddy Bear from MsJeannieOlogy

The patches just give him so much personality!

Vintage Patchwork Teddy Bear

Maybe once Ms. Jeannie tackles the flat panels of a quilt, she can work on something more complicated like this charmer for a fun baby gift! We’ll see how the quilt goes first…keep posted!

Family Portraits: What Clothing Can Tell You

Ms. Jeannie’s great grandmother, Mable,  arrived by post yesterday. It had been quite a few years since Ms. Jeannie had spent any time with her, so as you can imagine, it was very exciting to see her lovely face again.  It’s not often (in Ms. Jeannie’s case anyway!) that she gets a visit from an ancestor;)  She couldn’t wait to get her all situated.

Tin portrait of Ms. Jeannie’s great grandmother, Mable Jeanette Edwards

Mable is one of the most photographed women of Ms. Jeannie’s family. She’s actually the only family member born before 1900 that has been photographed at all stages of her life from childhood to senior citizen. It’s nice to see the transition…

Mabel Jeanette Edwards circa 1890’s.

She was born in Benton County, Iowa in 1887 , the daughter of an Ohio civil war soldier, who suffered eye damage in the war.  Her parents traveled by covered wagon from Indiana, the day after they were married, (some honeymoon!) to Iowa where they rented a farm and started a family.   Mable had 10 brothers and sisters, but only eight of them lived to see their adult years. Mable carved out her own little place in the family’s heart.  As the very last baby, she was the most spoiled, the most doted on, the most played with.  Imagine all the attention from all those brothers and sisters!

Ms. Jeannie guesses that  Mable is about 5 or 6 in this picture. She was such the Victorian poster child here, portraying all that was trendy and stylish just as the century as drawing to a close. As you can see,  her hair is quite long and fringed, as was popular with any young miss at that time, and she is wearing quite a bit of jewelry ( two rings and a necklace pendant) which tells you that her family was doing well enough to be able to afford pretty non-necessities for their littlest member. She’s also wearing a detachable crocheted collar, possibly made my Mable’s mom or sisters. Everybody crocheted in the the late 1800’s. Doilies, tableclothes, blankets, collars – if it could be sewn it could be crocheted!  Crocheted collars, in particular, were favorite accessories of both the Victorian and Edwardian eras because they could be mixed and matched with a bevy of different outfits. They also lent a bit of bright to the preferred somber colors of the time.

Here she is at the age of 15…

Mable Jeanette Edwards circa 1900

At the time of this picture she would have been almost finished with her schooling. By this age, her clothes have changed from the dark,  heavy Victorian colors to the lighter, brighter colors and fabrics of the Edwardian era. Very Downton Abbey! Also as she is maturing her style is more feminine and delicate. This white eyelet blouse with its high color was also a very popular style in the early 1900’s. It seems Mable was quite trendy when it came  to clothes! And you’ll note, that her hair was pinned up in place at the nape of her neck. This is the transition period between having hair hang down her back as a child, and having it pinned on top of her head as an adult. It s fascinating what you can learn  just by a picture!

Mable Jeanette Edwards c. 1904

This next picture was taken just a couple of years later, after Mable finished school. She became a teacher and taught in a rural one room schoolhouse in Benton County, Iowa.  Her pocket watch was most likely a staple of her school mistress attire.

Now that Mable is an adult – her hair is pinned on top of her head.  Also we can see she is wearing a winter outfit as noted by the dark colors. Her skirt and hat were most likely in the shades of dark brown – considered a very attractive winter color.  And looks what’s on her head…a feather! This brings the Plume Trader blog post full circle!  Ms. Jeannie suspects this might be a rooster tail feather in Mable’s hat.

Her blouse would have been either a moss green color or a lavender grey color to match her hat plume. These color combinations were very popular for the winter wardrobe of the stylish Edwardian lady.

Mable on her wedding day. November 18th, 1909.

In November 1909, Mable married Illinois born William Earle Race at home in Vinton, Iowa. She was 21 years old, Earle 23.  Her wedding dress was made out of brushed silk with detailed hand-embroidered lace.  The collar style of Mable’s dress is called a  high dog collar, which was popular for brides of the era.

William Earle Race, circa 1915

Mable and Earle had one little boy, Phillip Ardath…

Phillip Ardath Race with his neighbor circa 1915

Here, he’s entertaining their neighbor. So cute – both of them. Ms. Jeannie loves Phillip’s romper and the neighbor lady’s dress is gorgeous.  Another Downton Abbey style! The look they are having so much fun!

Mable Edwards Race with her mom, Martha Jane Brewer Edwards

This is Mable and her mom, Martha around the 1930’s. Ms. Jeannie loves the difference in clothing between these two genereations. Martha still favoring the long skirts and long sleeves of the Victorian era. Most likely, Martha was of the thrifty mind-set and wore her clothes until they wore out. Mable on the other hand as we have learned was always keeping up with the trends. Here Mable is showing much more skin then her mom yet is still conservatively dressed.

Mable & Earle Race – circa 1940’s

Here Mable and Earle are pictured on their farm in Washington State.  Taken in the late 1940’s, Ms. Jeannie loves this candid shot. Mable smiling, her hand on her hip, Earle with his thumbs in his pockets.  They look so comfortable around each other. As you can see, Earle was a whole head taller then Mable, almost an entire foot! By this point they have been married over 30 years.

Phillip always said that Mable and Earle were great loves. They traveled the ups and downs of life  with the same  level of fortitude, making the best they could of everything. Through the Depression, through countless jobs, through countless moves, from Iowa to Washington State and back again twice.  Together they were.  Mable was a grower, a writer and a bird lover. Earle a salesman, a logger, and a baker. To their grand-kids they were “Memo” and “Bumpy”.

Earle died in February 1975 and Mable followed six months after. Family lore said she died of a broken heart.

Ms. Jeannie understands. She has a great love too. Ms. Jeannie also has a feeling that if her and Mable were alive together at the same time – they just might have been good friends. Imagine that. Imagine if you could be friends with your ancestors. Who would you pick?

Thanks to the wonderful world of Etsy, you can now recreate Mabel’s fashionable looks from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s. Etsy’s vintage shop sellers have all the garments you will need! Take a look:

For young Mable as a Victorian girl:

Rare Antique Victorian Girl’s Dress from SouthernVintageGa

Civil War Pineapple Crocheted Collar by MadeByHandThings

Mable’s Edwardian teenager look…

Ivory Pintucked Dress from FoxyBritVintage

Vintage 1909 Cotton Dress from WildHoneyPieVintage

Mable in school teacher attire…

Victorian Black Taffeta Blouse – from BlacklistVintageMPLS

Victorian Bodice Skirt Dress from JenniesJunque

Antique Victorian Millinery Supplies Feather from Antiquesofromance

Antique 1907 Pocket Watch from goldandgemsllc

Mable on her wedding day…

1900s Silk Wedding Trousseau from daisyandstella

Mable in the 1950’s…

1940s Betty Barclay Striped Dress from LipStickWhiskey

1940’s Striped Day Dress from MaeVintageInc

Would you like to see more? Click on any above picture to visit that Etsy sellers shop!

Journey of a Norwegian American Family: An Adventure in Research

For a time, when Ms.Jeannie was small, she thought she was Asian.

She recalls a story, her mother was telling at the dining room table one night about her great grandparents, the Wongs. Certainly Ms. Jeannie didn’t look Asian, with her dark blond hair and green eyes, nor did any of her family members look Asian. But Ms. Jeannie had a wonderful imagination as a child and of course, she was a subscriber to National Geographic.

She could picture the Far East with it’s geishas, it’s red paper dragons, it’s rice fields….the silk brocades, the fishing villages, the serene gardens. She could here the gonging of the metal.

As the dinner conversation continued, Ms. Jeannie learned from her mother that in fact the Wong ancestors were not really Asian at all. They were Norwegian actually.  Their named just happened to both look and sound Asian.

Well, from that moment Ms. Jeannie was hooked. She peppered her mother with questions about her Asian sounding now Norwegian ancestors. But Ms. Jeannie’s mother knew very little, so the questions went unanswered, and the spark laid dorment for a time.

Years later, taking matters into her own hands, Ms. Jeannie emabarked on a mision to find out just who these Nordic people were. She started with this information from her mother…which turned out to be the only things that her family knew about the Wongs at that time.

So she knew that Martin & Clara had eight children and she knew there birthdates & the parents death dates. It was a mystery where they were born, where they lived, the last name of mother Clara and what happened to all the kids.

So the research began! Through careful study, the process of eliminaton and millions of census records, the mystery of the Wongs started to unravel.

Ms. Jeannie learned the Wong name was really spelled Wang (and pronounced Vang) so out the door the Asian culture theories flew!  Now that Ms. Jeannie had the correct spelling, her search got much simpler.

She narrowed it down to households containing the name Martin & Clara and all the children.  There were only two families with similiar names, one in North Dakota and on in Wisconsin. Ms. Jeannie’s grandmother was born in Wisconsin, so she started researching that family. Luckily she was on the right track! Through ancestry.com she found a few records for Martin Wang and a picture of he and Clara…

Martin & Clara Wang

Exciting! Through the information provided in the census, Ms. Jeannie learned that Martin & Clara were from Ostre Toten Norway and Hurdal, Norway respectively.   And Clara’s last name was Erickskillet. Martin applied for American citizenship in 1876 as determined by this document:

Martin Wang’s citizenship card

Martin & Clara actually had nine children. J. William Wang died when he was 12 years old. Ms. Jeannie uncovered this picture of the Wang family taken at J. William’s funeral. Everybody looks sad, especially little Edwin (the one holding the frame)…

Ms. Jeannie was on a role now – gathering various bits and pieces of information. Martin had a glass eye. He was a cabinet maker. They lived on a farm.

Martin built a church in Wisconsin:

The church that Martin built

Interior view of the church.

Contemporary picture of the church.. It’s still there!

Ms. Jeannie’s mother found a box with some old unmarked family photos and now they could add names to faces…

Wang Family Portrait

Juna Wang.

Originally everybody thought this was Nora Wang – Juna’s sister. But extra research put the right name with the right face.

Juna and her sisters.

Juna and her sister. Unidentified men -pPossibly her brothers.

Meeting other Wang family relatives on ancestry.com led to the sharing of this picture of Clara Wang in her senior years. She sure looks like a hard worker.

Seeing this picture, Ms. Jeannie’s mother realized she had  this  picture of Clara that was taken with Clara’s granddaughter.:

Clara Wang with grandaughter.

Ms. Jeannie’s mother now recalled stories  of  Clara not being able to  speak any English. The census lists the family as speaking Norwegian in their household. Possibly Martin spoke English and Norwegian, in order to conduct business in America.

Ms. Jeannie has now learned quite a bit about of information about the Wang Family. She has all their birth & death dates and places, information about all the children, who they married, where they lived and died, etc.

It’s exciting to see that Ms. Jeannie started here:

And wound up here:

Custom Ancestry Chart by msjeannieology

If you’d like help tracing your family stories and photographs, send Ms.Jeannie a message! She would love to spark your interest in genealogy!

Want to learn more stories? Watch celebrities trace their roots on  Who Do You Think You Are on NBC every Friday at 8:00pm.  They are already in their third season!

Here’s a clip from one of Ms. Jeannie’s favorite episodes from season 1 featuring Lisa Kudrow:

Who Do You Think You Are

Search for amazing Norwegian antiques on etsy.com. You never know…you might find something that once belonged to your relatives!

Antique Scandinavian Oval Wedding Box from mustnc

Antique Norwegian Baptismal Spoon from davidjp1927

1879 Norwegian Psalm Book from Bill

1927 Map of Norway & Sweden from ImSoVintage

Antique Photo Card – Lady in Norwegian Uniform from christmasangel

Miniature Norwegian Folk Art Chair from BlackRoosterVintage

1920’s Norwegian Christmas Card from BurtsFirstRodeo

1920’s Ivar T. Holt Brooch from ZoesGems