Happy Easter

Easter is a Holiday that has always been celebrated in my family. As a child, my siblings and I would wake to find several Easter baskets that the Easter Bunny left for us–well, our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, anyway. We would dye eggs with food coloring and have Easter Egg Hunts, some of which were real eggs and some were plastic ones filled with candy or money. We would also go to church. As teenagers, when the fun and games associated with Easter became just fond memories, we started attending Sunrise Services at our church, which were always moving events filled with music and messages from the Pastor.

My brother Gerad, my sister Laura, and Me (William) with the Easter Bunny in the 1980s
My brother Gerad (left), my sister Laura (middle), and Me (right) with the Easter Bunny sometime in the 1980s

I hope that you all have a wonderful, joyful, and happy Easter!

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Holiday Family History: My 2nd Great Grandmother’s First Christmas Tree

Newspaper article describing the first Christmas tree my 2nd Great Grandmother had as a little girl.
Newspaper article describing the first Christmas tree my 2nd Great Grandmother had as a little girl.

Although I have a few holiday family history stories for Christmas, one has quickly become my favorite. The story involves my 2nd Great Grandmother, Anna Margaret “Maggie” (Leishman) Lapham (1875-1951), who wrote a letter to one of her nephews recalling her first Christmas Tree when she as about seven years old (so in about 1882) in pioneer Nebraska. Her nephew sent in the story and it was published in a local newspaper, the Wheeler County Independent.

The following is a transcription of the story from the article:

“It was when I was seven. We lived in Wheeler County then. The snow was about knee deep. I don’t know where I got the idea, if I heard someone talking about it, or if I saw a picture, but I had made up my mind that I was going to have a Christmas tree. Of course, there were no trees around there, but Christmas morning I bundled up and got the hatchet. Mother said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘To find a Christmas tree.’ They laughed but let me go. I waded around in the snow until I found a nice big wild sunflower, one with lots of branches. I pulled the dead blossoms off and dug the snow away, chopped it down, and dragged it to the house. Mother wasn’t going to let me take it in, but father said, ‘Let her alone, let’s see what she has in her head.’ So I took it in, and in some way made it stand up. Then I got my treasure boxes. I always saved every bit of colored paper or tinfoil, and pictures, or cards and pieces of colored yarn. (Father did lots of knitting.) I made chickens, ducks, cats, rabbits, etc. out of pie dough, and baked them hard. I kept them in one box. With the paper and tinfoil, I wrapped the branches, then tied the yarn around the animals, etc., and tied them on the branches, also some pieces of candy, and some little doughnuts that mother had made for us kids, and some popcorn and the picture cards. Your father and uncle stood around and watched me, and made suggestions. They thought it was marvelous. Once in a while, we would stand back and look at it, and decide that something needed changing a little, then I would change it. We played with the thing all day, and I don’t know about the boys, but I got more enjoyment out it than any Christmas tree we ever had before or since. We never had toys or things like that when we were small. If we got an apple or an orange, and few pieces of candy, we were happy.”

I enjoy this story very much. Not only is it a cute story, but it adds a dimension to the life of my 2nd Great Grandmother that would be lost without it. I hope that you enjoy it, and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas

Happy Thanksgiving

Although Thanksgiving is a holiday very much about family, I have not uncovered any stories that have been passed down in my family about the day. Many genealogy bloggers are taking this opportunity as we, in a sense, reenact the First Thanksgiving (in America) to share their descent from Mayflower passengers.

My research into my own family history has not found (yet) any verifiable connection to 103 individuals that sailed aboard the Dutch cargo vessel, departing Plymouth, England and arriving in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. There are, however, some potential connections, which include descent from Richard Warren, Francis Cooke, and Stephen Hopkins. They are potential connections because I not only have these surnames in my ancestry, but those baring these surnames in my line are traceable to Massachusetts in the mid- to late 1600’s and through the 1700’s. I have not been able to make a definitive connection, however.

Although I have not established a link to the Pilgrims that celebrated the First Thanksgiving,  and perhaps I never will, I still enjoy the holiday as a time to be thankful, reflect on our national heritage, reflect on my own heritage, celebrate family, and EAT LOTS OF FOOD! A great genealogy related quote I came across reminds me of Thanksgiving: “Generations pass like leaves fall from our family tree. Each season new life blossoms and grows benefiting from the strength and experience of those who went before.” ~ Heidi Swapp

Holiday Family History: Halloween & My Great Grandmother Irene

Although I have only a few holiday family history stories for Halloween, one in particular stands out, which involves my maternal great grandmother, Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006).

When my great grandmother was a young girl, between ten and thirteen years old, she and her family lived in Texas. In the weeks prior to Halloween, the one room country school she attended decided to hold a Halloween dance, for which students were encouraged to dress up. Growing up in a rural area and being one of eight children born to Hungarian émigrés, there was no access to or money for party dresses or Halloween costumes. Being a resourceful and creative young girl who liked to sew and make things, she was able to get enough purple, black, and orange crepe paper to make herself a Halloween costume dress. She was very proud of the dress because it looked like a real Halloween paper dress and didn’t really cost here anything to make it.

Despite the fact that it was October and clouds were in the sky, she did not leave the house with a coat, because she didn’t want to flatten down the dress she had worked so hard on. While walking to the dance, it began to rain; and by the time she reached the dance, she was soaked and her homemade paper dress was ruined, with the purple, black, and orange dye in the crepe paper running all together and all over her legs and arms. Her older brother, Alex, was already at the dance. Seeing her soaked and looking like an absolute mess, he gave her his coat to wear and immediately took her home. According to my great grandmother, neither of them were very pleased to leave the dance, and her brother even threatened to whip her. Of course, he didn’t and the whole event was something the two laughed about in later years, particularly my great grandmother.

Irene as a Young Girl (She is not wearing the dress she made–sadly, no photo exists of her wearing it.)

In recalling this story from her childhood, my great grandmother never mentioned where she received her inspiration or if she had heard that others made these kinds of costume dresses. Growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s my exposure to crepe paper was mainly party decorations, while costumes for Halloween were made from fabric or plastic. I have since learned that crepe paper dresses and costumes were widely used in the 1920’s and can still be found today. Martha Stewart even has a video on “How to Make Crepe Paper Costumes” on her website. An interesting article, entitled “Have a Crepey Halloween,” about Halloween and crepe paper costumes can be found on Jonathan Walford’s Blog, A Fashion History Perspective. The Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia website also features an article about Halloween that talks about crepe paper costumes.

 

I always enjoyed this story as a child, and hope that you do as well. Do you have any Halloween related stories in your family history? Have a Happy Halloween!