Thursday, September 24, 2009

Operation Gratitude Welcomes Traveling Tribute

Vietnam Memorial Wall Exhibit Inaugurates 7th Annual Holiday Drive

Van Nuys, CA - September 14, 2009 – In a memorable and fitting prelude to its annual Holiday Drive, Operation Gratitude is partnering with The American Veterans Traveling Tribute to honor all those who have served, and particularly all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Exhibit will be on display October 14-18 in Van Nuys.

The AVTT Exhibit includes a 9-11 tribute, a Cost of Freedom display of Gold Dog Tags (identifying each service member killed since Vietnam), and the centerpiece of the exhibit: An exact replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall (80% scale), displaying all 58,253 names of the men and women killed in the Vietnam War.

Located on the large lot adjacent to the Van Nuys National Guard Armory at the corner of Victory and Louise, the entire event will be free to the public. All ages are invited and encouraged to attend this first-ever display of The AVTT Exhibit in Southern Calif.

After viewing The Tribute, AVTT Exhibit attendees (ages 12 and older) are invited to participate in Operation Gratitude Care Package Prep activities that will be taking place in the Armory on all days of the Exhibit.

Operation Gratitude will provide letter writing materials allowing children and adults to express their personal thoughts and appreciation to Service Members deployed overseas during the Holidays. Snacks, information and even scarf-making lessons will be offered at the Operation Gratitude tables at The Exhibit site. Donations for the Holiday Drive Care Packages are encouraged.

Suggested items to donate: Beanie Babies, Bags of Candy, Beef Jerky (single-serve packages).

The AVTT event daily schedule is as follows:

1. Wednesday October 14: Motorcade Escort of The Traveling Wall
4:00pm Muster at Airtel Plaza Hotel: 7277 Valjean Avenue, Van Nuys
5:30pm Greetings
6:00pm Motorcade Departs for Exhibit Site led by Grand Marshall Stan Chambers

2. Thursday October 15:
9am-Noon: Set up Exhibit
Noon-5pm: Open viewing
5pm: Opening Ceremony with Candlelighting, laying of wreaths

3. Friday October 16: Open 8am-8pm
9am-3pm: School Visits
3pm-8pm: Open Viewing

4. Saturday October 17: Family Day
8am-8pm: School/Church/Synagogue/Youth Group Performances
1pm: Formal Greeting

5. Sunday October 18: Open 8am-8pm
11am: Memorial Service with Condor Flyover
12 Noon: Parade of Honor Past Wall
6pm-8pm: Breakdown

Location: 17330 Victory Boulevard, Van Nuys, CA 91406 -- Corner of Victory and Louise. Parking next door at the Skate Park and OneGeneration.

For more information about the American Veterans Traveling Tribute:
For more information about Operation Gratitude:
For more information about the Operation Gratitude-AVTT Event: or .

About Operation Gratitude
Operation Gratitude ( is the California- based 501 (c) (3) non-profit, volunteer organization that sends care packages of snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan and on military ships at sea. Its mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member's face and to express to all troops the appreciation and support of the American people. Operation Gratitude receives the names of troops from commanders in the field who see the positive impact of care packages on their troops' morale; the organization sends more than 100,000 care packages every year. Since its inception in March, 2003, Operation Gratitude has shipped more than 460,000 packages to American troops deployed overseas. NOTE: Support of Operation Gratitude was the 2008-09 California C.A.R. State President's Project.

About American Veterans Traveling Tribute ("AVTT")

AVTT ( is a veteran-owned project that travels the USA to provide a forum for communities to HONOR-RESPECT-REMEMBER all who have sacrificed their lives for our country's freedom. In so doing, AVTT also honors all Veterans and those currently serving, by letting them know they will never be forgotten. AVTT is funded through sponsorship fees, donations, and sale of merchandise at events. Donations to support AVTT's mission are qualified charitable tax deductions through The Traveling Wall Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Great-Grandma Bess With Tea

...and beer.


"Bess (Delaney) McGraw" (Sioux City, Woodbury Co., Iowa). Digital Image. Whereabouts of original photograph unknown. July 1967.

Wordless Wednesday.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tombstone Tuesday: Albert T. Swanay

Albert Taylor SWANAY, my great-great grandfather, is buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Greene County, Tennessee.

He is buried next to his wife, Susannah (Kiser) SWANAY. They were married on December 16, 1855, in Washington County, Tennessee.

Children of Albert and Susannah are:

  • Alexander B. Swanay, B: Oct 1856 in Greene, Tennessee, D: 07 Dec 1920 in Sunnyside, Yakima Co., Washington.
  • Martha Alice Swanay, B: 15 Feb 1859 in Tennessee, D: 20 Jun 1882 in Tennessee
  • John M. Swanay, B: 21 Jan 1861 in Tennessee, D: 14 May 1886.
  • Mary Eliza Swanay, B: Abt. 1866 in Tennessee, D: 1966, M: 07 Sep 1884 in Washington Co., TN.
  • William Franklin Swanay, B: 25 Aug 1874 in Greene Co, Tennessee, D: 03 Jun 1960 in Fall Branch, Greene Co, Tennessee, M: 23 Jul 1891 in Greeneville, Greene Co, Tennessee.

Albert T. Swanay's grave in Pleasant Hill Cemetery photographed by Elizabeth O'Neal, May 1994.

For additional sources and information about this family, please contact me.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jonesin' for Geni Pro

Geni Logo Cropped

I've been using Geni for a little over 2 years. I gave it a try after seeing it demonstrated at the SCGS Jamboree, thinking that I wasn't going to like it or stick to it, but could at least say I tried it. After all, I'd already tried, and my family wasn't interested in participating AT ALL.

Well, Geni has been a big(ger) hit with the family. Most are mildly interested, but some are VERY interested. Many just use it to send birthday or anniversary greetings, which is fine. Not everybody cares about genealogy; I get that. But whatever their reason, many have joined and continue to come back (unlike, which was basically just ME talking to myself).

Not to toot my own horn here, but I've personally added 8,724 profiles. Sure, it's not the biggest family tree on Geni, but I think I did a pretty good job, considering...

Anyway, I've received several invitations to either merge profiles of ancestors (which I've done) or to join others' family groups (which I haven't done because I can't see how we're related). Apparently, certain information is only available to Geni Pro users, particularly information such as how you're related to people who ask you to join their family group.

Plus, Geni Pro members have the option of asking others to "collaborate" with them, which I guess means to share information. Or share ancestors? I'm not exactly certain.

And isn't genealogy all about the collaboration? I'm just sayin'.

So my questions for you Geni members out there are:

  • Have you actually shelled out the approximately $60 to become a Geni Pro member?

  • Do you feel it was a worthwhile expense (especially considering the many other databases on which we genealogists can spend our money)? Will you re-up when the time comes?

  • Have you found any previously unknown (to you) information by collaborating with others or finding "hot matches?"

  • When you contacted others to collaborate, were they responsive? Or did they ignore you?
I'll admit that I'm tempted (I hate clicking on things that promise me information, only to have it tell me no). But I'd like to know what you experts out there think, first.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: The Space Shuttle's Ride

In 2004, I participated in a NASA teacher training at the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. We were treated to a special tour of the modified Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft which ferries the space shuttle back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to take its ride home tomorrow Friday on Saturday (probably). It's a pretty awesome sight; not quite as awesome as a landing... but close. For mission status updates, visit Spaceflight Now.

Images of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, (Edwards, Los Angeles Co., California). Digital Images. Photographed by Elizabeth O'Neal, June 29, 2004.

About Wordless Wednesday.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

DAR and SAR Contests for Young People

Yesterday, Regina, of the Kinfolk News blog, shared an excellent essay written by her son. Entitled "What Freedom Means to Me," her son discusses the gift of freedom, and tells of attending his father's naturalization ceremony and how he felt watching his father become a United States citizen. It is moving, well-written, and very patriotic, especially considering that it was written by an 8th grader!

I hope that my own daughter writes as well one day.

This got me thinking that Regina's son should put his talent to work and start submitting essays to the various contests sponsored by the DAR and SAR. I was going to simply email the information to her, but decided instead to share it here, in case there are others out there with talented kid-writers in the family!


The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) sponsor several contests for young people:

  • American History Essay Contest: All students in grades 5, 6, 7, and 8, attending public, private, or parochial school, or those who are home schooled, are eligible. The 2009-2010 topic is, "The Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad." Deadline for submission is November 25, 2009.
    Describe how you felt on May 10, 1869, when the golden spike was driven at Promontory Summit, Utah, to celebrate the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Pretend you are either a settler planning to use the train to travel to your new home in the West, an Irish or Chinese worker who helped build the line, or a Native American whose way of life was greatly affected by the railroad.
  • Christopher Columbus Essay Contest: This contest is open to students in grades 9 through 12 in public, private, or parochial schools, or those who are home schooled. The topic for 2009-2010 is, "Discuss and analyze the early influences and experiences of Christopher Columbus and how these contributed to successes and failures in his voyages of exploration." Deadline for submission is November 25, 2009.

  • Junior American Citizens (JAC) Contests: The JAC contest is open to all preschool through 12th grade students in public, private, and parochial schools, and in sanctioned home study programs in the categories: gifted, general and special needs. All grades, pre-school through 12, are encouraged to participate; however, pre-school and kindergarten students may participate only in the banner and group community service project contests. Youth groups such as scout troops, C.A.R. societies, and service organizations, as well as schools, may participate in the contests. The 2009-2010 National Theme is, "America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave." Deadline for submission is February 1, 2010.
Contest categories:

POSTER: Design a poster using the theme. Maximum size: 22" x 28". Minimum size: 8 ½" x 11". Original art work only. Do not attach essays. Posters may be laminated or placed in a plastic protective sleeve. Posters may be rolled or folded for mailing, so no rigid materials, please.

STAMP DESIGN: Design a postal stamp using the theme. Original art work only. Exact size: 5" X 7" drawn in the center of an 8 ½" X 11" sheet of WHITE paper. The paper should be white because the vast majority of envelopes are white, thus the stamp design is viewed in the way it would actually be used. Designs may be laminated or placed in a sleeve, if desired, but no folders, please.

BANNER: Working in groups of at least three, design a banner using the theme. Size: Use a 1:3 ratio. The maximum size is 16" X 48"/ Banners may be paper or fabric, but may be rolled or folded during mailing, so no rigid material, please. If the banner has support rods, do not submit them. Objects attached to banners should be glued or sewn on securely. For the safety of the judges, do not use straight or safety pins.

PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSAY: The student will submit not more than 25 color photographs illustrating the theme. The photographs should be mounted with glue stick on 8-1/2" x 11" paper, and bound in a three-brad composition folder. Brief captions may appear on each page. The first page of the folder should be a title page that includes the student's name, address, and the title of the essay.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Entries should consist of not more than 15 color photographs with a descriptive text of 500 words or less. Identify all photographs with captions. Entries should be placed in a three-hole punched, three-brad binder.

POEM: Write an original poem, any style, of 300 words or less. Entries should be on 8 ½ X 11 inch paper, either ruled or plain. Poems may be placed in a plastic sleeve for protection.

SHORT STORY: Write an original short story of 500 words or less. The story may be written from the first person or third person point of view. Entries should be on 8 ½ X 11 inch paper, either ruled or plain. Short stories may be placed in a plastic sleeve for protection.
For details about any of these contests, you can contact a DAR chapter near you. In California, visit and click on Chapters. Outside California, go to and click on Membership > State and Chapter Web Sites (on right navbar). You are also welcome to contact me for more information. I'd be happy to give you more information and point you in the right direction. Note: the DAR contests are conducted without regard to race, religion, sex, or national origin.


The Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) also offer some opportunities for young people:
  • Americanism Poster Contest: The National Society Elementary School Poster Contest was developed to help stimulate interest in American History in support of the 4th or 5th grade curriculum. If American History is taught in lower grades at selected schools, an entry may be accepted for the competition. The 2009-2010 theme is, "Battle of Bunker Hill." Deadline for submission is June 1, 2010.

  • The George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest: This contest is open to students in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade attending public, parochial, or private high schools (including accredited home schools). The topic of the essay shall deal with: an event, person, philosophy, or ideal associated with the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, or the framing of the United States Constitution. Detailed contest information is available here.
Entries for these SAR contests should be submitted through a local chapter. In California, visit and click on Locate a Chapter. Click on Education and Youth Programs for more information about the contests. In other states, go to > Membership > District & Society Web Sites. Contest information can be found under Education/Youth.


If you need assistance locating a DAR or SAR chapter, or if you have any questions about these contests, please contact me. You do not have to be a member of DAR/SAR in order for your child to participate.

Good luck!

UPDATE: The Children of the American Revolution (C.A.R.) also offers several contests for kids involving poetry, essays, and art; however, participants must be members of the C.A.R. For membership information, please visit, or, or contact me.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, September 11, 2009

Not Just Like Any Other Day

About a month and a half before the terrible events of September 11, 2001, my mother died unexpectedly. Still consumed with grief, I was having an extremely difficult time coping with life, work, and people who didn't understand my pain. I was certain that nobody else in the world felt the way I did.

And then the world changed.

Just like that, thousands of people joined me in grief. Suddenly, we were all comrades in shock: we were all missing someone, we were all in pain. It was overwhelming, but on some level it was also comforting.


It sounds twisted now, but seven [eight] years ago it all made sense.

At the time, I was divorced, living alone, and working as a 1st grade teacher at an elementary school in Lancaster. As I'd done on so many other mornings, I poured a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch to watch the morning's news.

It was about 6:00 a.m. on the west coast. Half-listening, I heard Charlie Gibson talk of an airplane hitting one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

It took a few moments for my brain to register what had happened. "What a terrible accident," I thought. I was under the impression that some small plane had veered horribly off course and met with a tragic end.

As I tried to process the bizarre images on TV, the unthinkable occurred: the camera panned away from the burning tower to show a large aircraft headed straight for the World Trade Center. Charlie Gibson was stunned... we were all stunned, and we watched in helpless horror as the plane continued on its course and slammed into the second tower.

Twice in one morning? This could not possibly have been an accident.

I remember holding my coffee cup as if to take a sip, but I couldn't move. I just stared in disbelief.

Checking the time, I hazily remembered that I had to get myself together for work, a task that I dreaded each day. Today, that task seemed insurmountable.

I turned the TV on in the bedroom to try to follow the events as I went about my morning routine. When I got out of the shower, another plane was off course and apparently heading straight for the Pentagon.

What the hell was happening? Had the world gone mad while I was asleep?

The Pentagon was hit. Panic started to set in. My father took periodic business trips to the Pentagon, and I hadn't heard from him in a while. Was it possible that he was there? No... he couldn't be. I would have heard something. But that nagging thought remained in my head.

I continued to watch the horrific events unfold as I went through the motions of getting ready for work. A fourth plane, thought to be headed for the U.S. Capitol Building, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. Thousands were thought to be dead.

How did this happen? How do commercial jets get hijacked in 2001?

As I drove to work, I frantically called my father's cell phone. Was I going to lose both of my parents within 2 months of each other? No answer. No answer at work, either. I finally called his house and reached my stepmother. No, he wasn't on a business trip. He'd gone to work, just like any other day. His employer was sending everyone home, so he was on his way back to the house. They were all in shock.

Arriving at work, I was stunned to find everybody going about their business as usual. Didn't they know what had happened? Didn't they know we were under attack? Shouldn't we send the students home to their parents?

Apparently the school's philosophy was that unless we were directly under attack, classes would proceed as if all was right with the world.

In retrospect, it was probably for the best. Best for the students, I mean. They were allowed to be children - kept away from adult worries and fears - for one more day. The teachers smiled and pretended everything was fine. We laughed and played games, but our hearts were heavy.

The world as we knew it had changed. This was not just like any other day.


For the months that followed, I have almost no recollection of my days at work. What I do remember is coming home, turning on the TV, and feeling the strange, surreal camaraderie of a nation in mourning. Night after night, I wrapped myself in it like a warm, comfy blanket.

I was no longer grieving alone.

It wasn't healthy; I know that now. That warm, comfy blanket was suffocating me. But grief is so hard to let go. As long as we hold on to our grief, it's almost as if we can still hold on to our lost loved one.

Even today, watching the events of September 11th unfold once again on TV, I was transported back to 2001. The familiar pain washed over me like a tidal wave. I wanted to hold on just a little bit longer.


If only it had been just like any other day. I wonder what today would have been like.

Originally posted on September 11, 2008. It would be too hard to write this again.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Wheels 'n Windmills Car Show

Images from the 5th Annual "Wheels 'n Windmills" Car Show (Solvang, Santa Barbara Co., California). Digital Images. Photographed by Elizabeth O'Neal, August 29, 2009.

About Wordless Wednesday.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal