Monday, January 14, 2019

Unusual Name: “Hochwohlgeboren Frau Spiegel”

I often felt my mother, Doris Lichtenthal Falcone, was prone to exaggeration. She told me her paternal grandfather, Sigmund Lichtenthal, listed Expert on his business card. He did – I found the card. She told me there was a buzzing noise in her walls. There was – the bees actually drilled through the drywall! So, I shouldn’t have been skeptical when Mom described her beloved grandmother, Sophie Weiss Spiegel, as a "high-society" woman.  

Monday, January 7, 2019

Oy! This IS Going To Be A Challenge!!!

This week's blog prompt for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is "Challenge." My theme this year is "Our Stuff." As I explained last week, I have a lot of stuff. This week I'm giving you a little peek into the "abyss." 

In the pictures below you see my genealogy/bedroom space. It actually looks pretty good right? Now stop for a second and think about this: only about 25% of what you see has actually been cataloged, indexed, or recorded for posterity. 

Reference books and two dead-ish laptops
are good company for Topo Gigio.
All the black boxes are full of documents
that need to be translated from German,
Dutch, or Polish,

The black drawers on the little table to the right contain pictures of me and my siblings as well as unsorted vintage photos of my grandmother's generation.

And this is where the MAGIC happens! The photo above is the shelf to the left of my desk. I have met one organizing challenge - EVERYTHING on that shelf (except for all the photos of our family 1979-2010) has been scanned and indexed.* The large boxes on top hold some of the family items you will become familiar with this year.

Not only do I possess my own stash of crafts, books, and of course, dollhouse miniatures, I also have most of our daughters' childhood items. Unlike my friend, Stacy who threw out her kids' Happy Meal toys as soon as they went to bed, (mean mother!) I still have most of ours. The Spice Girl dolls.... the Barbie stuff... and more books. So, that accounts for close to 34 years of "stuff." (Thank goodness we had a fire in 1997 or it would be even worse!) I was going to post more photographs of where all this is stored but I don't want to encourage thieves!! (Although that might be a blessing in disguise, I don't want mean people owning our stuff.)

There is one very special item visible in this
stash. If you can identify it, it's yours!
But, if you take it, it's at your own risk!!

My mother, Doris Lichtenthal Falcone passed away on December 2, 2011. She was the "original" curator of our family museum. Clearing out her home was a daunting task. Mom's house was a 1950s ranch with an attic that ran the full length of the house and it was chock-full of stuff. Her stuff, the stuff of her five children, her aunt and uncle's stuff and her mom's stuff. It took weeks to clear out the attic, the full basement, and the 1400 sq. feet of living area. My siblings and I sorted, sold, and then finally, saved. There were things that were clearly valuable, monetarily or sentimentally. And then... there was the other "stuff." Not knowing the provenance or the use of certain objects, but fearing they might be "important," I boxed them up and brought them home. And there they sit. 

So - it begins - the documenting of "Our Stuff." Telling the stories is important, but I also hope that through this process I can find homes for some of our orphaned items. I know my husband would be happy to have a little more clear space!!!

* I learned a ton about sorting, downsizing and indexing by reading Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, a book by Marian Burk Wood. Available in print and Kindle on

Friday, January 4, 2019

"First" Day of School Never Happened

Should I or shouldn’t I? I’m trying to decide if I want to commit to another year of Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog challenge. This past year was a great success for me. I responded to 49 of the 52 prompts plus wrote additional posts as the spirit moved me.   Can I accomplish that again? Probably. Is it worth the effort? Definitely. Judy Russell shared a quote by Aaron Holt, an archivist with the National Archives, “It only takes three generations to lose a piece of oral family history. … It must be purposely and accurately repeated over and over again through the generations to be preserved for a genealogist today.[1]

That would mean my grandchildren’s children might not hear about how our family was saved by a hamster! I can’t let that story evaporate into oblivion. Ok. Decision made.  The blogging will continue!! I need a focus though.

For most people the weekly writing prompts alone would be sufficient. I need a theme. Last year I focused on sharing stories about my generation. This year I will try to tell the stories of “our stuff.” I love stuff. As the self-appointed curator of our family “museum”, I have stuff. A lot of stuff.

A few years ago, I wrote a book based on letters I found in my mother’s closet after her passing. Through those letters, I discovered the origin of many of the items she and my father brought back from their two-year stay in Japan.[2] It was really exciting for me to be able to document the provenance of many objects we had grown up with.

As I draw closer to that time where I should probably be divesting myself of all the stuff, it seems all the more important to identify how these things were acquired over the years. Perhaps that will make the chore of clearing our home easier for our daughters when the time comes. At the very least, it will help them determine which vase is from Tiffany and which came from the Christmas Tree Shop!

So - inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s Week #1 prompt “First”, I offer you the story of my mother’s schoolbag.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

52 Ancestors - Week # 52 - Resolutions (Or Not...)

Every year I say “My resolution is to not make any resolutions." But then I can’t help myself.  I did a pretty good job this past year on the blog.  Counting this post I will have posted 49 out of 52 weeks. I also kept pretty close to my aim of writing about my generation each week. Luckily my family gives me plenty of content to work with!

Friday, December 21, 2018

52 Ancestors #51 - 2018 - A “Nice” Year- Genealogically and Otherwise

As I write this, many people, including one of my closest friends, are praying that 2018 hurries up and disappears. They need and deserve, 2019 to be better. I’m taking this opportunity to express my thanks that 2018 was really pretty nice to me. Sure, there were some trials in our family. For example, our daughter’s house experienced a flood requiring them to live in alternate housing for more than 3 months. Two of my sisters struggle nearly every day with health issues; one is challenged with fibromyalgia, the other has a spouse experiencing declining health. Another sister is raising a child on the autism spectrum (and I should add she and her husband are doing so with amazing strength and humor!) A niece is facing serious health concerns with the charm and grace she has always shown. I’m sure I have left out several others, and to them, I apologize in advance. My personal life, however, was pretty darn nice in 2018.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

52 Ancestors - #50 - "Naughty" Ancestors Are the Most Fun!!

The blog prompt for Week # 26 of Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks was "Black Sheep." I wrote about Scott's great-grandmother, Catherine Seeley Fitzallen that week. She was most decidedly a "black ewe", quite naughty and quite the character! As part of that post, I included the first chapter of the book I was writing about Catherine's adult life.

I am pleased to announce I have FINALLY finished that project!! I spent more than three years tracking down information and "following" Catherine from New Canaan, CT to Albany, NY to Kansas, Missouri, and finally Chicago, Illinois.

So excited to see the finished product!
Available at

I learned so much throughout the process of writing this book. Perhaps the most important "take away" was realizing how important it is to look beyond the facts of a person's life. Some people simply add relatives to their tree - names and a few dates of vital events. As I have mentioned, probably numerous times, I prefer to look at the person's entire life - who were they really? Most times the story is uneventful - birth, marriage, work life, death. But then, there are those relatives whose lives were a bit more colorful. Okay, maybe even criminal. Should I tell that story?

I struggled with that question in my post, Is Insanity Hereditary?  Whether to tell the stories of our "naughty" ancestors is hotly debated in the genealogy community. We are always thrilled to take credit for the positive contributions of our ancestors - sometimes as if we accomplished the "good deed" ourselves. But... those "bad deeds." Sweep it under the rug. Keep those skeletons in the closet.

It doesn't really make sense to me. Or even seem fair. If we take credit for the "good" our ancestors did, shouldn't we also take credit for the bad? Maybe that's where the concept of reparations comes from. (Stay tuned to this blog for my next project - the story of my great-grandfather's struggle to get reparations for the loss of his business when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.)

Obviously, living descendants should be considered when sharing some stories. Divulging the fact that "Uncle Xavier" had a mistress might result in serious implications, especially if there was a child involved. (Example given is only for descriptive purposes. I don't think we even have an Uncle Xavier!)

I became involved with family history because I wanted my children and their descendants to know who we are. Knowing where you come from can help a person feel connected. Years ago, when I taught genealogy to my high school students, I saw "the lights go on" as they discovered parallels between their ancestors' lives and their own.  However, it's more than just knowing you are 75% this or 35% that. It's the things people did, the choices they made - WHO THEY WERE - that can help us understand WHO WE ARE.  (Have you noticed the name of this blog??) Yes - they may have made some bad choices. We can learn from that. Especially if their bad choices negatively affected our own lives. But, here's the thing- those were their choices. What my ancestors chose to do was a reflection on them, not me. How I choose to interpret their choices and how I allow their choices to affect me, is on me

So, I will continue to chronicle our history, as compassionately as possible. From what I've experienced our "naughty" ancestors have the best stories.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the Week 50 blog prompt "Naughty."

Thursday, December 13, 2018

52 Ancestors - Week #49 - Winter!!!!!

Last week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog prompt was "Winter." Enjoy this TBT (Throwback Thursday) collection of some "winter gems."

Above is the backyard of my childhood home. Probably mid-1960s. You can't even see the houses anymore due to tree growth!

The photo below is one of my favorites! Little sister, Betsy is definitely enjoying herself. Brother Dean - not so much!! In December 1964 he was only two months old!!!  By the way, the "Cannonball Express" was purchased at the Hamden Firestone store. That's where my Mom met Alfie! Doesn't the train look great? Now fast forward a few years. That thing stayed outside 24/7 and turned to rust!

Below - later that winter - March 1965. Hanging out with the neighborhood kids. And people say I don't go outside!! That's me, right behind Betsy, wearing the light blue jacket. I just turned 10 the month before.

My sister Kathy wanted to learn to ski - she got skis for Christmas 1966 (found that out while organizing another folder!) Wonder how that worked out?

The picture below was taken in April 1968! That's New England for you!! Look, I'm outside again! Thanks to my sister Jeanne for shoveling! I wouldn't have wanted to ruin those fashionable gloves!

And below is proof is that I don't hate dogs (all the time... ) I'm posing with our crazy mutt, Rodney - March 1970. 

Here are few more recent pics of Winter in Connecticut.

A brutal storm in 2010 caused this Larch tree to topple. It had been a fixture in
the front yard of my Mom's house for 51 years.

The record-breaking storm in January 2011 was enjoyed by
Scott and our first "grandson", Hudson who was visiting from
This is what I was treated to on my birthday in February 2013. I would have gone outside, 
but I think the snow was up to my neck!!

With a little luck, maybe we won't see too much of this guy this winter.

And... finally... if Scott had his way (along with a crapload of money) here's where HE would be spending this upcoming winter:
Hotel El Ganzo - San Jose' del Cabo, Mexico
Hmm....maybe he's got the right idea?????