Thursday, December 31, 2009

Uncorked: My Goals for 2010

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. ~Bill Vaughan

Like many of you, I am not sorry to see 2009 end. I would have pushed it out months ago, if that was possible.

It was a year filled with worry, change, and unpleasant challenges, but it was also a year filled with amazing growth, both for me personally, and for my family. I've made so many wonderful friends through blogging and attending genealogy conferences, and I feel that I've made a great deal of progress in my genealogical education.

Plus, my daughter was potty-trained. Everything else is gravy.

What will 2010 bring? Hopefully more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.

Ambiguous, I know, but at this point, resolutions for next year are difficult to make. You see, I've agreed to take on a new "job" for a lineage group, and I don't know quite yet how time-intensive it will be, or how it will affect my goals for the year. What I do know is that there will be more paperwork and more travel - to which I'm actually looking forward (to the travel, not the paperwork). I'll have more to say about this in a couple of months.


That being said, there are a few genealogically-related things that I would like to accomplish in the coming year. In no particular order:
  1. Finally find the date of death and place of burial for Dennis Daniel DELANEY, my great-great grandfather. Find the place of burial for his wife, Nellie (Coyne/Coin) DELANEY. I'm closing in on these goals - a few phone calls might do the trick!
  2. Finish up work for the ProGen2 Study Group. We've had a wonderful ride, and I've truly enjoyed working with my peer group and our leaders. The end is in sight... about another 5 months to go!
  3. Complete the NGS American Genealogy: Home Study Course. Miles to go here.
  4. Attend the National Institute of Genealogical Research (NIGR) , as well as the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS)-Knoxville and the Southern California Genealogical Society's (SCGS) Jamboree. If I'm really lucky, I'll also make it to the California Family History Expo in Pleasanton.
  5. Attend the N.S.C.A.R. National Convention and the DAR Continental Congress, as well as state conferences for both groups. Try to attend a few SAR meetings, as well, and hopefully drag my husband along for the ride.
  6. Prove that my John S. Brown was, in fact, a Confederate soldier, and submit an application to the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) so I no longer have to hide from them at the SCGS Jamboree.
  7. Prove that my John Blanton was, in fact, a soldier during the War of 1812, and submit an application to the Daughters of 1812 so I can stop hiding from them. as well.
  8. Find a sitter and actually attend meetings for some of the other groups to which I belong.
  9. Take a side trip from Knoxville to Greeneville, TN for some research time.
  10. Do more writing and lecturing.
  11. Start a new blog. Yeah, I know; I need a new blog like I need a hole in my head, but I think it's a good idea, and you'll like it. :-)
  12. Get organized, and start a new database with COMPLETE source citations.
  13. Get those old photos scanned!
  14. Improve my CSS web design skills. Yes, I build web sites. I just don't talk about it a lot.
  15. Make time to READ. This is a habit I've all but given up since my daughter came along, but hopefully I'll be able to find a little more time for it next year.
Ok, that turned out to be a much longer list than I expected. [Insert "High Hopes" song here.]

However, my #1 goal for the year is to get healthy. It's become painfully obvious to me that if I'm going to accomplish any of my goals - and keep up with my turbo-charged daughter - I need to take better care of myself. This was actually my one and only goal for last year, but I got a bit sidetracked with that herniated disc thing. It's difficult to focus on fitness when you're busy figuring out how to lift a coffee cup.

Plus - and I'm sure you moms out there will agree - it's hard to find time for yourself when you're caring for a small child. *I* don't even make it onto my list most days. But for my sake - and my family's - I've got to try harder. Let's face it: I'm not getting any younger here. Time's a-wastin'.

How am I going to accomplish any of this? I'm not quite sure yet, but my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is sitting (still unfinished) on my nightstand, and my Franklin Planner is next to me. Guess it's time to start planning!

I wish you the best of luck in accomplishing YOUR genealogy - and life - goals for 2010!


Written for the 87th Edition, Carnival of Genealogy: "New Year's Resolutions!"

Vintage clip art from The Graphics Fairy.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Merry Christmas to All!

May you have a blessed, peaceful holiday with the ones you love.

Scrapbooking elements by Raspberry Road Designs.

Copyright © Elizabeth O'Neal

Ready for Santa

This is the first year that my daughter has been excited about Santa's visit. She and Daddy baked cookies, which we left out on the "Santa Plate," along with carrots for the reindeer.

Santa's plate is ready, along with a glass of "special milk." Hopefully we won't see Santa deviate from his course on NORAD's radar after his visit. We'll feel awfully guilty if he gets lost on the way to your house.

We're looking forward to tomorrow morning's excitement!

Copyright © Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: The Scot and the Irishman

"The Scot and the Irishman.." (Santa Barbara Co., California) Photographed by Elizabeth O'Neal, December 23, 2009.

Yes, I collect nutcrackers. These are two of my recent acquisitions, courtesy of Kohl's.

About Wordless Wednesday.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Christmas Gift from announced this mornng that they are offering free access to their databases from December 23 - December 28, 2009. The best part is that there is NO credit card required (it's not really free if you have to give your credit card number, right?).

Also, as I was typing this post (were they reading my mind?), I received a notice that their 40% off savings on the World Collection has been extended to December 28, 2009. This means a subscription rate of $59.95, rather than the usual $99.95.

Please visit for more information and to take advantage of these offers.


Disclaimer: I am a subscriber to, but I paid for my subscription with my very own money.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, December 18, 2009

Carnival of Genealogy: 86th Edition - "Holiday Twofer" is Posted!

Drop your last-minute shopping lists and head over to see the Carnival of Genealogy: 86th Edition - it's a terrific holiday two-fer! There are so many wonderful articles in this 2-part edition that you'll forget to come up for egg nog!

My submission for Part 1 is here: Advent Calendar: Day 15 - Holiday Happenings!

My part 2 submission is here: An Open Letter to Genea-Santa.

Were you too mired in the holiday craziness to play along this time? Don't worry, there's another COG coming up in 2 weeks:

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: New Year's Resolutions! This year is almost over and a new decade is knocking on the door. This is the perfect time to make your New Year resolutions, goals, aims, declarations, intentions, aspirations, objectives, plans, targets, schemes, wishes, or whatever you want to call them! Figure out how you're going to approach your family history research next year, write it up, and share it with us in the COG. The deadline for submissions is January 1, 2010.
Many thanks to Jasia for compiling and hosting this amazing double-edition of the COG! And thanks to footnoteMaven for the beautiful posters.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 17 - My Old Friend Santa Bank

As I was unpacking the Christmas decorations a few days ago, I was greeted by an old friend whom I hadn't seen in a few years: Santa Bank.

I don't remember when Santa Bank came to live with us. He's been a part of the family for as long as I can remember.

I also don't know where Santa Bank came from. I assume that he was a gift to me when I was a small child. His left foot says that he came from "Mexico." I wish I knew how he got from Mexico to me.

He's got a few cracks and chips, and part of his nose is missing. He's obviously been well-loved.

Somebody raided Santa Bank a while back (probably me). He's still got some coins rattling around inside, but I just leave them there.

Santa Bank hasn't come out to visit for a few years. He's old and fragile (like me), and I was worried that he wouldn't survive my daughter's curiousity.

Hopefully Santa Bank will survive long enough for my daughter's children to forget where he came from.


Written for "Treasure Chest Thursday," as well as the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories series.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society "Holiday Share" Program

On Saturday morning, the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society will be holding its annual "Holiday Share" program.

When: Saturday, December 19, 2009
Time: 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Where: First Presbyterian Church, Santa Barbara

SBCGS's "Holiday Share" program is always a warm annual tradition. This year we invite you to join us and encourage all of you to consider sharing with your fellow family historian one or more of your treasures:

  • Heritage holiday tradition
  • Inspiring or Holiday-themed ancestor story
  • Photographs or other family images
  • Memorabilia (medal, ornament, quilt, etc.) with the story behind it
  • Holiday treats
  • Genealogical "gadget" or essential website
  • Projects – Pedigree charts, scrap books, a completed book or "in-progress" memoir – that will inspire your fellow genealogists
Hmmm... I'm all about the gadgets, but Santa hasn't left me any early Christmas presents (that I can carry). Methinks some shopping is in order...

[Visions of an LCD projector, tablet & pen, handheld scanner, iPhone... dance in my head]


For more information about this event, please visit the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A-Blog Caroling We Go: Christmas Time is Here

While not a Christmas carol in the traditional sense, this song remains one of my favorites, ever since I first heard it on "A Charlie Brown Christmas" as a child. Hearing it stirs such vivid memories that I'm usually bawling like a little girl before it's over.

Christmas Time is Here

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year...


My 2008 Blog Carol.

"Christmas Time is Here" by Vince Guaraldi. Released on Fantasy Inc., Jan 16, 1992.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Holidays from the Snow Chargers

"Happy Holidays from the Snow Chargers." (Santa Barbara Co., California) Photographed by Elizabeth O'Neal, December 15, 2009.

About Wordless Wednesday.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 15 - Holiday Happenings!

Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again.
~Menachem Mendel Schneerson
In tribute to the ancestors whose birthdays and anniversaries may have fallen through the cracks during all the holiday chaos.

The birthdays

Mary Irwin
Luvinia (Swanay) Martin
Fethias Smith
George W. Swanay
Joseph F. Brown
Mararet (Delaney) Harms
Almina (Hughes) Blanton
Sarah Jane (Swatzel) Dunn
Margaret (White) Kopp
Hannah Thompson
Serena (Baxter) Brown
Myda McGraw
Mary Jane (Grogan) McGraw
Eliza Jane (Thompson) Swatzel
Mary "Polly" (Hays) Swanay
Polly (Brown) Hartman
Susan Dunn
Peter Swatzel
Susannah (Kiser) Swanay

The Anniversaries

Malinda Taylor & Patrick Erwin
Melissa Cunningham & Barnett Baxter
Susannah Kiser & Albert Swanay
Mary Brown & William Walker
Ann Long & Nicholas Haile
Julia A. Blanton & Samuel M. Dunn
Martha Thompson & Barnett Babb
Hannah "Bridget" Grogan & Peter Bradley

A special happy birthday "aloha" to my cousin and her husband and daughter, all of whom celebrate December birthdays. Also, birthday greetings go to a certain first cousin, once-removed, and her husband; and anniversary greetings to a special couple who shall remain unnamed. Hopefully you all know who you are.


Written for part 1 of the 86th Edition, Carnival of Genealogy: "Dear Genea-Santa," as well as the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories series.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

An Open Letter to Genea-Santa

Dearest Genea-Santa,

I'll be frank: it's been a rough year. That herniated disc thing really set my research/learning goals way back. Many days are still a struggle, although I'm happy to be off the pain meds and finally getting some strength back in my arm.

Despite this year's big set-back, I think I've been a pretty good girl. I've tried to be the best mom I can be to my little girl, which of course is my #1 priority. I helped a friend of a good friend finish her DAR application, which had been languishing unapproved on the genealogist's desk for about a year. I did a bunch of look-ups in the DAR's Seimes Technology Center, and made copies of applications and supporting documentation for several geneablogger friends (who, I hope, will eventually join the DAR!). I also helped at least a dozen kids join the Children of the American Revolution (C.A.R.), and filled quite a few Find A Grave photo requests for cemeteries all over the Central Coast (with the help of my husband and daughter sometimes).

Not to sound ungrateful or anything, but I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't bring me much from last year's wish list. I'm still stumped on Miles SWEANEY and Samuel Marion DUNN, and there's absolutely no sign of the family violin (my father thinks it was destroyed).

You did, however, manage to find my grandfather's typewriter, for which I'm very grateful. I thought this item was lost forever, but it turns out that my cousin had it in her closet all along! Many thanks to my cousin(s) for this gift, as well as for another early Christmas present: a big box of my aunt's original research, which was given to me after she passed away last month. I'm sure you must have had a hand in these wonderful gifts, didn't you, Genea-Santa? If you did, thank you!

Now... on to this year's wish list:

1. I still really want leads on Miles SWEANEY (SWANAY? SWANEY?).

While I was able to find some meager clues about him last summer in the DAR Library, they weren't really anything I didn't already know, and they didn't answer the questions I had from last year. I still have no idea where he came from, where he was born (nothing concrete, at least), where he died, or where he was buried. I'd love it if you could point me in the right direction on this one.

2. The date and place of Dennis Delaney's death.

I'm closing in on this one! I accidentally tripped (not literally) over a newspaper clipping in one of my grandmother's scrapbooks which indicated that he was still alive after his daughter got married. You sent me some good clues this year, and when I organized them all in an evidence analysis assignment for my ProGen Study Group, I realized that I had more information than I thought! I guessed his date of death at some time between 1906 and 1910; but now with the information from Grandma's scrapbook, I can put it at between 1916 and 1920, probably in Nebraska. I haven't been able to find him in either the 1910 or 1920 U.S. Census, so perhaps you could help me out, since I know now he was alive in 1910?

3. Information on my Great-Great-Grandfather, Henry L. DAGLE

Henry was born in Vermont in August 1859, and died after 1930 (probably in Iowa). He was married to Mederese W. LAFLEUR, born January 1864 in Canada, and died after 1930 (I really need that 1940 Census, Genea-Santa!). They had 8 children that I know of, including my great-grandfather, George D. DAGLE. When and where did he die? Who were his parents? Also, generally-speaking, I would love to know if our DAGLES really dropped the "i" in DAIGLE as my mother claimed, and if they are any relation to the surname DAIGRE. Do you think you could also find for me a male DAGLE ancestor who might be willing to take a DNA test?

4. Speaking of DNA, I'd really like more participants to join the SWANAY/SWANEY (and other variant spellings) DNA Surname Project.

A few more folks found us this year, but not enough to draw any useful conclusions. If you could send a few more good men my way (ahem), especially those from the variant spelling surnames, it would be fantastic. Please don't forget to tell them about the sale prices at FTDNA, good until December 31st!

Genea-Santa, in addition to these things - for which I hope I'm not being too greedy - please fulfill the wishes of my genea-blogging friends. May they find peace, happiness, and health - as well as break through a few more brick walls - in the coming year.

Oh, and I could also use some continued improvement to my back, which would be a gift that my whole family would appreciate.

Finally, if you could find a way to bring me more hours in a day so I can work on/complete the many projects I've got in the hopper, I would be a very happy girl!

Thank you for whatever you can do this year, Genea-Santa. My daughter is SO looking forward to your visit; it's the first time she's really had any clue as to who you are or what you do. By the way, we can't wait to see you at the mall later this week - hopefully my daughter won't scream and cry like she did two years ago (sorry about that), but no guarantees.

Really, I wish I knew how you manage to get so much accomplished and be in so many places. Your time-management skills are truly to be admired!


P.S. We'll leave out our customary cookies and milk, as well as some carrots for the reindeer. We've got a little Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog in the 'fridge - you're welcome to take some home with you, but please don't drink and drive. We don't want to be responsible for Genea-Santa getting a DUI!


Written for part 2 of the 86th Edition, Carnival of Genealogy: "Dear Genea-Santa."

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 14 - Fruitcake - It's in the Genes

Holiday Lament (The Fruitcake Song)

On some level, I think even fruitcake knows how awful it is.


Dislike of fruitcake supposedly dates back to the American Revolutionary War.

Legend has it that Commander-in-chief George Washington approached Benjamin Franklin one day to ask for barricade ideas to stop advancing British forces. Franklin suggested using his mother-in-law's fruitcake; apparently his uncle had broken a tooth on one the previous year. It is doubtful that Washington took Franklin's dubious advice.

Another legend proposes that George Washington, upon hearing from one of his men that they were out of ammunition, suggested that they fire fruitcakes at the British. Apparently many British soldiers were killed or maimed that day.

Finally, there was the story published in the New York Times in 1983, which tells of Russell Baker, the man who inherited a family fruitcake that had been baked in 1794 as a Christmas gift for George Washington. Washington apparently sent it back with a note of thanks, explaining that "he thought it unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter."

Mr. Baker coined the phrase, "Fruitcake is forever."


I can only guess that my Colonial ancestors also had an aversion to fruitcake, since I have such a supreme distaste for it, myself.

If fruitcake is forever, then dislike of it must be in the genes.

This post is part of the "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series. To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit Geneabloggers.


Funny song from the original holiday musical revue, "That Time of the Year." See

"Fruitcake is Forever," Russell Baker, New York Times, December 25, 1983, Section 6, p. 10, column 3 (subscription required to view the article).

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, December 11, 2009

Add a Copyright Watermark to Your Photos

This pretty butterfly is unprotected. Or is it?

On Wednesday, a couple of readers asked the question, "How do you put the copyright watermark on your photos?" I've actually been asked this question many times, but have never posted the answer here.

So, Amanda (the librarian) and Herstoryan - thanks for asking. Here's your answer!


Why bother putting a copyright notice on my photos?

I do it because they're mine, and I want them to stay that way.

Seriously though, I'm willing to share, if I'm asked, but I won't play nice with kids who take my stuff without asking. So before posting photos online, I'll take the time to put a copyright notice on each one. Sure, it's an extra step, but in the long run, I think it's worth the effort.

And yes, I know that a copyright notice is not a deterrent for anyone who reeeeeeaally wants to lift one of my photos. They can be easily cropped off or cloned out by a persistent photo-thief. I suppose if I was really paranoid, I would put a great, big, ugly watermark right across the middle of every photo. But I don't make my living as a photographer, and those watermarks are unpleasantly distracting. Besides, if someone wants to steal, he/she is gonna steal. Period.

I don't want to be the picture police, but I also don't want to make it any easier for him/her.

How do *I* add the copyright watermark?

The simple answer: I do it in Adobe Photoshop Elements.

Watermark added in Photoshop Elements.

My camera takes photos of over 2-4 MB each in its highest resolution setting. I never use the lower resolution settings because you just never know when you'll need a high res version; better to start high and reduce than to start low and need something bigger later, in my opinion. This, of course, means that every photo I intend to post online will need to have its file size reduced.

For the record, images posted on the internet should not be larger than 72 dpi, with a file size of 500 KB (or smaller) each. Any larger, and your risk having your visitors leave your site in frustration. Even today, not everyone has a high-speed internet connection, and long downloads will drive them away. If you simply must post larger files, it's best to link to a "high resolution" image which will give your visitors the option of waiting to see your excellent work if they choose to do so.

While I'm reducing file sizes, I also typically do some cropping, editing and other tweaking (such as removing gray hairs and wrinkles from photos of myself). Then I add a text layer with the copyright watermark. I adjust the text color and opacity depending on how it looks on the photo.

Before I'm finished, I include my copyright notice in the photo's metadata. (Yes, I know that metadata can be erased, but you can't erase it if you don't think to look there, eh?)

You can embed your copyright, keywords, and other information, in the photo's metadata. (Click to enlarge)

I'm sure that the procedure is similar in most types of photo-editing software.

What if you don't have photo-editing software?

There are several web sites that offer free watermarking services. I tested a few and will share my thoughts on each.

PicMarkr (Beta)

PicMarkr works with photos uploaded from your computer, or already posted on Flickr, Facebook, or Picasa. It allows you to upload 5 photos at a time (up to 25 MB total) for a batch resize and custom watermark (text, image, or tiled). You can then right-click and download your photo.

Watermarked with PicMarkr

I found PicMarkr easy to work with and fairly customizable. As you can see, though, it added a box around my watermark, which I don't really like.

For $39.99, you can upgrade to PicMarkr Pro, which will allow you to add watermarks to your Flickr photos, batch resize and rotate, and a number of other features. You can download a free trial from the PicMarkr web site.


The standard (free) version of Watermarktool (WMT) allows you to upload and watermark up to 10 photos at a time. But the catch is that the maximum file size allowed per photo is 200 KB or less. I typically post photos of between 250-400 KB, so I had to reduce my butterfly photo before I could upload it to WMT.

Watermarked with Watermarktool

Watermarktool offers several customizeable options, but it does not give you a preview of what your watermarked photo will look like. I was surprised to see the box across the entire lower portion of my photo. Depending on the photo, I would find this to be very annoying.

For a subscription fee of $4.95 a month, you can join WMT Pro!, which allows you to upload files of up to 10 MB each, as well as several other features.

Ivertech Free Online Watermarker

Watermarked with Free Online Watermarker

This one says you can watermark one photo at a time, with a file size of less than 4 MB. You can upload a watermark image (for instance, your business or blog logo) or use "any text you want." To customize your watermark, click on the "Preferences" link (do this FIRST; you won't like the default - trust me.).

For onesie, twosie jobs, this service isn't too bad. But if you need to add watermarks to a bunch of photos, it would be a real time-eater. I do like the fact that no annoying box was added around my watermark, though, so that's a plus.

Of the four online tools I tested, this one was probably my favorite. It was the most intuitive, easiest to use, and offered the most custom options.

The free service allows you to upload multiple images at a time, each with a file size of up to 500 KB. You can customize and position your watermark, resize and compress your photo, all in a preview mode that lets you see what you'll get before you get it.

Watermarked with

After processing, you can download your photo(s) in a zip folder. I thought this was a nice feature, especially for batch jobs.

For a lifetime fee of $29.95, you can upgrade to Watermark Pro, which allows you to upload unlimited photos with no file size limit. If you watermark large file-size photos for printing, this might be worth the investment.

Want something with more power?

If you need, as Tim Allen used to say, "more power!" there are several excellent, free editing options that you should consider:
  • Picnik - Grab photos from your computer or any of several online sites, crop, resize, and add special effects. Works on Mac, Windows, or Linux. Picnik is the photo editor for Flickr.
  • - Upload photos and video from "virtually any device," store up to 2 GB, and they promise never to shrink your files. There seems to be a virtual plethora of editing options. Oh, and the photos on the homepage are fun to play around with, too.
  • FotoFlexer - Claims to be "the world's most advanced online photo editor." They offer several demos to show you how to get started (good for beginners). I'm thinking of changing my hair color in my profile picture to purple.
  • Picasa - "Picasa is free photo editing software from Google that makes your pictures look great. Sharing your best photos with friends and family is as easy as pressing a button!" This one has to be downloaded to your computer, but as long as you're not using a netbook with a teeny, tiny hard drive, it shouldn't be a problem. Also, if you're a Blogger user and you've uploaded photos, you've already got a Picasa album.
Hopefully these ideas will help you get started watermarking your photos!


In the spirit of full disclosure, I would like to say that I purchased my copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements with my very own money. No one paid or otherwise coerced me to review any product or web site discussed herein.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 10 - Christmas Gifts

My father is the type of person who just decides to do something... and then does it.

Now, I'm not talking about simple things. I'm talking about big, complicated projects, things about which he has little or no knowledge of how to do prior to doing them. Like, "Gee, I think I'll make ships in bottles now." Or, "Hey, I'm going to make a stained-glass, Tiffany reproduction lamp now."

That sort of stuff.

One year - probably around 1978 - my father decided that he was going to build a banjo. To my knowledge, he'd never built a banjo - or any type of instrument - before. He'd done other kinds of woodworking: wooden candy dishes, gavels, ship-in-bottle stands, and such. But never a musical instrument.

For months I watched as a banjo began to take shape. I remember the wooden skeleton hanging from the garage rafters waiting for its"guts." Dad meticulously carved out the ebony fingerboard and peghead, where abalone and mother-of-pearl would carefully be inlaid. A detailed design was carved into the wood on the back of the neck. A small, mother-of-pearl swan was carved and inlaid in the heel.

I had seen my father work on lots of projects before, so to me, this was just another of Dad's hobbies. I assumed that he was building himself a new instrument; after all, he was the banjo-player in the house, so it made sense.

However, on Christmas morning, I was stunned when Dad handed me a large, black instrument case. Inside was the banjo, and inlaid in mother-of-pearl on the peghead were my initials, "EMS."

All along, he'd been making this instrument for me.


At the time, I had no idea why my father gave the banjo to me. After all, I didn't know how to play it (although I did try to learn afterwards), and I really didn't like listening to banjo music. I suppose that not many non-banjo-playing teenagers would know what to do with such a gift.

Dad told me later that he'd wanted to give me something special that he made himself. Something I could give to my children one day.

My daughter is slightly taller than a banjo.

Thirty years ago, I didn't get it. But I do now.

And if I forgot to say it then... thank you, Dad. I love it.

To this day, it remains the most special Christmas gift I ever received.


This post is part of the "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series. To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit Geneabloggers.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Christmas Overload

"Christmas Overload." Digital image. Undated; taken circa 1968. Original photograph in my personal collection.

About Wordless Wednesday.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Confederates in the Attic

Inspired by Texas Red's postings, I've finally decided to play along with "Teaser Tuesdays."

No, I don't have too much time on my hands, nor do I really need one more meme to participate in. However, I don't get to read much these days, and I'm hoping that if I have to post from the same book week after week, I'll be shamed into finally finishing my book and starting a new one!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along - just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (or three) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Be sure to share the book title and author so others can find and read the book for themselves.

Here's my teaser from page 10 of Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz (a book which I've been trying to finish for over a year!):

"Farb" was the worst insult in the hardcore vocabulary. It referred to reenactors who approached the past with a lack of verisimilitude. The word's etymology was obscure; Young guessed that "farb" was short from "far-be-it-from-authentic," or possibly a respelling of "barf."
What's your teaser?

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Advent Calendar: Day 8 - Christmas Cookies

My mother wasn't much of a baker. In fact, I'm fairly certain that she really didn't like to cook at all. That being said, if she ever baked Christmas cookies, I don't remember her doing it.

Both of my grandmothers, however, were excellent cooks, and did quite a bit of baking for the holidays. But I don't remember there being many cookies. Pies, yes. Divinity, yes. Quick breads, yes. But if there were cookies, they didn't make much of an impression on me because I don't remember them at all.

When I got older, I started doing some baking on my own. Each Christmas, I would make fudge, rum balls, and various quick breads (banana, date, pumpkin) to give as gifts or to help pack on the calories at home. I would also bake one of my favorite cookie recipes: Snickerdoodles. While not specifically for Christmas, they do taste wonderful, and with a few red and green sprinkles tossed on before baking, they look very festive on your holiday table.

This year, I'm hoping to start a cookie-baking tradition with my 3.5 year old daughter. She's fascinated by watching me work in the kitchen, so this seems like as good a time as any to get her involved. I'm thinking of making up some sugar cookies and letting her "help" decorate them, but if you have any suggestions for fun cookies (or other baking projects) that a little one can help make, please let me know!



3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsps sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375⁰. Grease a cookie sheet. Stir together flour, soda, cream of tartar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Beat butter for 30 seconds; add the 2 cups sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat well. Add dry ingredients to beaten mixture, beating until well combined. Form dough into 1-inch balls; roll in a misture of the 3 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon (and sprinkles, if desired). Place balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet; flatten slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass. Bake in a 375⁰ oven about 8 minutes or until light golden. Makes about 66.

(From the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, Ninth Edition, 1981, p. 162.)

This post is the eighth in the "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series. To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit Geneabloggers.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Monday, December 7, 2009

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Today we remember the day "that will live in infamy."

On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 Americans and wounding over 1,200.

The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed and the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized. The attack sank three other ships and damaged many additional vessels. More than 180 aircraft were destroyed.

The following day President Franklin Roosevelt, addressing a joint session of Congress, called December 7th "a date which will live in infamy." Declaring war against Japan, Congress ushered the United States into World War II and forced a nation, already close to war, to abandon isolationism. Within days, Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States, and the country began a rapid transition to a war-time economy in building up armaments in support of military campaigns in the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe.

On this National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor the lives lost in that horrific attack and salute the veterans of World War II.

Let's take a moment out of our busy holiday schedules to remember what happened that day.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Giving Thanks, Kreatively

I would like to thank the kind and thoughtful ladies who have given me the Kreativ Blogger Award:

Greta, author of Greta's Genealogy Blog,
Jennifer, author of Jennifer's Genealogy Blog,
Felicia, author of My Nola Heritage
Tonia, author of Tonia's Roots
Michelina, author of Preserving Heritage, and
Astrid, author of Of Trolls and Lemons (love that blog name!)

I should have done this sooner (and I'm hanging my head in shame for this serious breach of manners)... but the rules require that I tell you seven heretofore unmentioned things about myself, and I just couldn't think of any. Seriously. My life isn't that interesting.

So, now that I've had some time to think, here you go: Seven Things You Probably Didn't Know (or care to know) About My Not-So-Fascinating Life:

1) I'm afraid of heights. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I have a paralyzing fear of heights. I can't even look over a second-story balcony without freezing in terror. It started at about age 12 when I got glasses for the first time and could see how far down things really are, but I suppose it's gotten worse with age (don't most things?).

2) I had my first and only child at age 42, after years of fighting the infertility/endometriosis battle. While I feel extremely blessed to have my daughter, I don't think I'll be having any more children. It's somewhat disconcerting to think that I'll be getting my AARP card before my daughter reaches double-digits, agewise. I try not to let it get to me. So far, no one has asked me if I'm her grandmother (note to self: be sure to thank my hairdresser for the fine job she does covering my grays).

3) I haven't eaten red meat since I was 16. Originally, I didn't want to eat anything with a face, but now I just can't digest it anymore.

4) I hate tomatoes, but I love tomato by-products like spagetti sauce, salsa, etc. Go figure.

5) I type 70 WPM. Even faster on a good day. Figures that the only A+ I ever got in school was in typing.

6) I haven't talked about it much here, but I'm something of a computer nerd. I've been designing web sites like this one for about 12 years, and I did the design for this blog and the recent holiday redecoration. I seldom meet a gadget that I don't like (However, I have met a few that didn't like me. Yes, I'm talking about you, Mr. Sony Digital Voice Recorder.).

7) My favorite color is pink. You probably guessed that from the color of this blog (before the aforementioned holiday redecoration).

Ok, the next rule is that I nominate seven bloggers to receive this award. This is by no means an easy task because I read so many blogs that it's so hard to choose just seven. But here are a few oldies, newbies, and in-betweenies that I enjoy:

ABT UNK (another blog name I love!)
FamHist Blog
Karen About Genealogy
The Hope Chest
The Shy Genealogist
Tina's Genealogical Wish List
Vintage Vines

Please visit these bloggers and say hello!

Once again, thank you to the ladies who have given me this award. And thanks to YOU, anyone who reads my blog. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Friday, December 4, 2009

Great-Grandma Dagle's Old-Fashioned Divinity

Every year at Christmas, my grandmother would serve a strange, white confection called Divinity.

What is Divinity? It's kind of a cross between fudge and a meringue cookie. I did a little research, hoping to find that it was an old, French-Canadian treat (my Dagles were French-Canadian) handed down for many generations. I was disappointed to find that it's actually thought to be a American in origin:

Although recipes for various nougat and sweet meringue-type confections (with and without nuts and fruit) can be traced to ancient Turkish and 17th century European and roots, food historians generally agree that Divinity (aka Divinity fudge, Divinity candy) is an early 20th century American invention. Why? One of the primary ingedients in early Divinity recipes is corn syrup, a product actively marketed to (& embraced by) American consumers as a sugar substitute at that time. Corn syrup was affordable (economical), practical (shelf-stable), and adapted well to most traditional recipes. Karo brand corn syrup, introduced by the Corn Products Refining Company in 1902, was/is perhaps the most famous. It is no coincidence that early Karo cooking brochures contain recipes for Divinity (from The Food Timeline).
I never much cared for Divinity as a kid. My grandmother - who got the recipe from he rmother-in-law "Zee" Dagle - made it in a loaf pan and served it in slices. I didn't like it this way; it included nuts and candied cherries, and reminded me too much of fruitcake. Years later, I tasted Divinity that was made in small "dollops" like cookies, which I think tastes much better.

Over the years, I've made a variety of holiday sweets and treats, but I've never attempted to make my great-grandmother's Divinity. So tonight - after a trip to Wal-Mart to buy a candy thermometer - I gave it a try.

Divinity is NOT the easiest thing to make. There are many factors to consider besides ingredients: weather conditions have to be absolutely right, the planets perfectly aligned, your chi unblocked, etc., etc. You might want to check your horoscope first, too.

Seriously though, humidity and barometric pressure play a big factor.

Why does Divinity sometimes choose not to set? "Divinity is a tricky confection to make under the best circumstances--almost impossible under less than good. The recipe in one community cookbook advises a short consultation with the local meteorologist: "Please remember candy doesn't set unless the barometer reads 30 in. or over; doesn't make a difference whether it's raining or not, just watch your t.v. for the barometric pressure." Divinity like most other Southern canides shows up around the winter holidays. It is sort of a companion piece to fudge in Christmas gift boxes. ---Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, Bill Neal [Alfred A. Knopf: New York] 1996, p. 138 (from The Food Timeline).
My advice: mix, mix, mix some more. And just when you think you can't hold the mixer any longer... keep on mixing. But, be careful not to mix too much.

I never said it was easy.

So how did my first attempt at Divinity turn out? Unfortunately, not as well as I'd hoped. The first few spoonfuls weren't firm enough and spread all over the wax paper like gooey cookies. After beating for a few more minutes, the mixture firmed up quite a bit, and finally began to stiffen.

Also, with humidity at 89%, and barometric pressure at just 30.14, our weather conditions were not ideal for Divinity-making. Sadly, my Divinity refused to set properly, and is just a bit too soft on the outside for my liking.

Strangely enough though, it tastes exactly like I remember my grandmother's Divinity tasting. One bite, and I was transported back to about 30 years ago.

It was a divine taste of Christmas past.


2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup chopped nuts
red and green sugar (optional)
Also optional: candied fruit pieces, chocolate chips, crushed peppermint pieces

Mix sugar, corn syrup and waterh in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar is completely dissolved; then cook without stirring to 260⁰ (a little dropped into cold water forms a hard ball).

Remove from heat and pour, beating constantly, in a fine stream into the beaten egg whites. Add vanilla and continue beating until mixture holds its shopa and becomes slightly dull. Fold in nuts and other optional items (if desired).

Working quickly, drop from a greased spoon onto waxed paper in individual peaks. If it flattens out (like gooey cookies), beat the mixture for another minute or so. Do not overbeat or mixture will be too stiff. Top with red and green sugar (optional). Makes about 48 pieces.

Alternatively, fold in candied cherries or other goodies and pour into a loaf pan. When firm, serve in slices. OR, spread in a greased pan and cut into 1" squares when firm.

Store tightly covered to keep the humidity out.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 3 - Christmas Tree Ornaments

My daughter getting her new "Little Einsteins" ornament last year.

It's no secret that I love Christmas tree ornaments. I must wind up with at least a half dozen new ones each year. Some I buy for our family - I'm addicted to those Hallmark Keepsake oranments - and some are given to me by friends and family.

Needless to say, we've amassed an extensive collection of ornaments!

As I mentioned in my Day 1 post about Christmas Trees, I inherited quite a few old, family ornaments when my mother and grandmother passed away. There are many that are in bad condition, and I should probably just get rid of them. But then, most were handmade by family and have sentimental value, so I keep them, even if I don't use them. (I suppose I hang onto them for all the wrong reasons, but I just haven't been able to let them go. No need to call "Hoarders," though, I promise.).

But there are many other heirloom (to me, anyway) ornaments that I use each year. One year, my grandmother decided to go with a gold and white themed tree, and made all of her ornaments by hand. I still have her gold bells, snowflakes, and icicles, and I use them each year.

Back in the late 1970's, my mother made dozens of red bows from a wired, velvet ribbon. Quite a few of them have survived, and I put them on the tree each year for a blast of red color. Plus, they remind me of my mom.

Probably my favorite old ornaments are the "icicle men." They're these odd-shaped, clear, plastic figures, with sharp, pointy heads and red noses. Clearly, they are not cute. When I was a kid, we would hide them in the tree (presumably because of their non-cuteness?) and make a game of finding them. I still do this, although for years, I've been the only one who cared to look for them later. I'm hoping my daugher will want to play along this year.

I have several ornament "collections" to which I add each year. In my younger, single days, I collected the Hallmark Barbie™ Christmas ornaments. I stopped collecting them (and hanging them on the tree) when I married my husband; he thought they were a bit silly and girlie. I'll probably give them to my daughter when she gets a little older.

For my husband, I buy an airplane ornament each year. He really could care less, but I thought there needed to be some ornaments that had some meaning to him on the tree. I also pick up whatever moose ornaments I can find.

A few of our special ornaments.

My daughter has receved those "1st Christmas," "2nd Christmas," etc., ornaments every year since she was born. I hang those low on the tree where she can see them. We also have several family pictures on the tree, which she enjoys.

We have many cherished ornaments on our tree each year. I'm looking foward to seeing them again... as soon as my husband brings in the boxes from the garage!

This post is the third in the "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series. To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit Geneabloggers.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 2 - Holiday Foods

Unfortunately, I don't really remember much about special holiday foods from when I was young. Is that odd? I guess you could say I'm a girl who eats to live rather than the other way around, so food just doesn't stand out in my memory.

However, I do remember a couple of things. My grandmothers were both fantastic cooks (aren't they all?). Watching them cook was fascinating to me; how could they make so many things at one time? It was amazing to see everything come together in perfect precision (I've since learned that this is NOT an easy thing to do!).

My maternal grandmother, "Mimi," made the best stuffing with her turkey. I think this was my favoriate part of the meal. She never did give me the recipe, but I've managed to find one that comes very close. It's the only stuffing I'll make, and thankfully it does not contain any "gizzards."

Mimi (and my mother too, I think) also made a strange, white confection called Divinity. I seem to remember it melted in your mouth and had a sugary taste. I haven't had it in years.

My paternal grandmother, Reba, was an expert pie-maker. She made many different types, but her pumpkin pies were always my favorite. I have fond memories of standing in her kitchen "helping" her bake cookies.


I haven't had to prepare a big holiday meal in a few years, thanks to family members who've invited us to dinner, but when I do, I typically prepare the same things each time. Turkey and stuffing, "bourbon" cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls... the whole deal. I'm a terrible piemaker (and more of a cake person), so I'll usually buy a pie and maybe a cheesecake for dessert. If I'm feeling very adventurous, I'll make the cheesecake myself.

I used to do a lot of baking at Christmastime. When we were particulary short on funds, we would give baked goods as gifts (unfortunately, they cost a bundle to mail). I found a great recipe for fudge that you can make in your microwave in about 5 minutes, so we enjoy a lot of fudge. My daughter has discovered chocolate this year, so I don't imagine it will last long in our household.

I also love to bake quick breads (banana, date, pumpkin), and sometimes I'll toss in some rum balls for fun.

My daughter loves to watch me cook; she even goes into her play kitchen to try to "cook like Mommy." I'm thinking this might be the year that I let her "help" me make some holiday treats. Do you think 3.5 is too young to start?

This post is the second in the "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series. To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit Geneabloggers.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wordless Wednesday: Meeting Santa

Me. Santa. Our first meeting.


"Me, Meeting Santa." Digital image. Undated; taken circa 1964. Original photograph in my personal collection.

About Wordless Wednesday.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Who Was T. Elmer Cox?

If you are interested in genealogical research in Greene County, Tennessee, you'll want to check out the terrific article in today's "Greeneville Sun" online about T. Elmer Cox.

Mr. Cox was a local historian, and the benefactor of what is now known as the T. Elmer Cox Historical and Genealogical Library, which opened on November 14, 2000.

Unfortunately, the library wasn't in existence when I last visited Greeneville in 1994. But it's definitely on my list for the next visit (which I hope follows FGS-Knoxville this summer).

Thanks for all you've done, Mr. Cox. It's about time you received due honors.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Calendar: Day 1 - The Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree, circa 1976. I still have this chair.

Getting our Christmas tree was always one of the holiday highlights for me. We always had live trees, usually about 6'-7' tall. Or maybe they just seemed tall to me because I was smaller at the time.

In my younger years, I vaguely remember going out to a tree farm somewhere to get our trees. We would tramp around in the bitter southern California cold (ha!) until someone declared that he/she had found the perfect tree. The tree-cutter-person would cut down the tree for us, and we'd haul it home... probably in my father's pick-up truck, but I don't really remember. It was a looong time ago.

Once we got the tree home, my father would stand it up in a bucket of water in the garage, and meticulously pull out all the dead pine needles. He would give the trunk a fresh cut on the bottom, and then bring the tree inside.

Next were the lights. When those little "twinkle lights" came out, we all thought they were so great. Unfortunately, putting them on the tree could be such a chore. Back in the day, if one, single light bulb was burned out, the entire strand refused to light. Dad would carefully unroll the lights, and we would all pray that they would light up when plugged in. But it never failed that at least one strand would have a bad bulb, and Dad would have to test each light with one of those light-tester-thingies to find the offender.

This could take hours.

Once the lights were on, we were finally free to add the decorations. I remember that there was a specific order in which the decorations should go on: the "balls" would go on first, with the large balls at the bottom of the tree, medium balls in the middle, and smaller balls towards the top. The "unique" decorations would go on next. These included various doo-dads I'd made in school, as well as some that my mother must have bought. I don't actually know where they came from.

One of my school doo-dads.

The finishing touch was always the tinsel. Back in the day, this was considered very stylish. I remember there being two types of tinsel: one was a plastic variety that would stretch when pulled, and flew off the tree every time anyone walked by. The other was a metallic sort, that stayed on the tree, but frequently fell apart in your hands. I preferred the plastic kind, even if it did fly off with the slightest breeze.

Actually, I hated tinsel, but it was going on the tree, whether I liked it or not.

There was a definite "technique" to applying tinsel. Like most kids, I suppose, I liked to grab a handful and throw. This method was, unfortunately, frowned upon by my mother (and most other adults). The "correct" method of applying tinsel was one strand at a time. ONE STRAND AT A TIME. One strand. At a time.

It took FOREVER to cover a tree "correctly" with tinsel. But even I had to admit that it was kind of pretty - in a weird sort of way - once it was finished.

The final touch was the angel on top. She wore a gold, fuzzy dress and had a halo of lights behind her.

Our tree would go up well before Christmas and would stay up until at least New Year's Day. After that, the decorations would come off, and the tree would mysteriously disappear. It was depressing.

The Christmas tree smell that filled our house was heavenly. I hated artificial trees and swore I'd never have one.


Our Christmas Tree, 2008. The chair is in the next room.

Fast forward about 30 years. Ironically, my family now uses an artificial tree. We bought it the Christmas after my daughter was born, and strangely enough, I love it. It's 9 feet tall, and very realistic-looking. It even has fake dead needles.

There were several reasons behind our decision to go artificial, but the main reason was allergies. I have them, and so does my daughter. No need to be miserable at Christmas if we don't have to be. Plus, it came with all the lights on it already, eliminating a step that I never enjoyed much anyway.

The school doo-dad is still on our tree. The gold bells and snowflakes were my grandmother's. The red bows were made by my mother back in the '70's.

After my mother and grandmother passed away, I inherited all the family Christmas ornaments. You will still find many of these on my tree each year. I have also collected ornaments of my own, most of which represent something that happened in our lives during the year (like "new home," "baby's 1st Christmas," etc. I'm looking for one with a little, crooked spine for this year.). These serve as special reminders of our lives together.

The artificial tree doesn't have that wonderful Christmas tree smell. But that's what pine-scented air freshener is for, right?


This post is the first in the "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" series. To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit Geneabloggers.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

Wreaths Across America: It's Not Too Late!

This "Tombstone Tuesday," I would like to remind everyone that it's not too late to honor the memory of a veteran - possibly a veteran ancestor - with a beautiful wreath for the holidays.

Wreaths Across America is still accepting sponsorships for wreaths to be presented at over 350 state and national veterans cemeteries, veterans memorials and other designated sites around the country. For only $15, you can honor the service of a veteran by sponsoring a wreath to be placed on his/her grave on December 12, 2009.

There are 16 participating locations right here in California. The deadline for ordering for a California location is today, December 1st, so don't delay!

Find out if your ancestor is buried in a participating cemetery.

BTW, I know that the Lancaster Cemetery District in Lancaster (Los Angeles Co., CA) is in dire need of sponsorships, so if you don't have a location in mind, please consider sending a wreath their way. My husband and I photographed this entire cemetery when we lived out there several years ago. Quite a few veterans are buried there, including several from the Civil War.

This holiday season, so many are in need, and there are so many places where our dollars matter.

Please don't forget our veterans.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal