Happy Independence Day!

Which of your family do you think of 
when you celebrate your nation’s birthday?
A patriot who fought for freedom?
Immigrant ancestors who came to these shores?
Your current generation, as it seeks its unique American dream?
Or your youngest and the yet-unborn, who will inherit this great land?
Happy Independence Day to you and yours,

-Lisa

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

The Story of Memorial Day

The history of Memorial Day–formerly Decoration Day–and what he will be doing to honor it are shared here by Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss. We also give you quick links to more free family history articles on researching your ancestors who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield.

(Image right: Gravesite in Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, IL. Decoration Day, 1927. Photo: Chicago Daily News)

History of Memorial Day

In 1865, just after the close of the Civil War, a local druggist in Waterloo, New York suggested placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers in his community.

The following year, another area resident, General John B. Murray, led the small village in putting flags at half-mast and decorating the gravestones of soldiers buried in the town’s three cemeteries. They repeated their efforts the following year. Many other communities in both the North and South also honored their war dead during this time period.

General John A. “Black Jack” Logan spearheaded the idea of a national day of remembrance for fallen Civil War soldiers in 1868. Logan, a former Union General, was the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which constituted living veterans of the war. On May 5, 1868, the GAR issued General Order No. 11 to designate May 30, 1868 as the day to decorate and commemorate the graves of fallen comrades of the late Civil War.

The wording of the order is very specific: “Let us then at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland them with choicest flowers of springtime…Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor…in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us…the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.” This order later became known as the “Memorial Day Order” and can be read on the website of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs as part of the National Cemetery Association.

On this date at Arlington National Cemetery, more than 20,000 gravestones of both Union and Confederate veterans were remembered. General James A. Garfield (who later became President of the United States) and other political leaders spoke to an audience of more than 5,000 persons. In following years, May 30th became known as Decoration Day, a national day of remembrance of the Civil War dead.

history of Memorial Day General John A. Logan

General John A. “Black Jack” Logan. Library of Congress image.

After the end of World War I in 1918, the scope of Decoration Day expanded to include all war dead since the Revolutionary War. The name gradually gave way to “Memorial Day,” a term first used in 1882 that didn’t become more generally accepted until after the end of World War II. A 1968 Act of the United States Congress, which went into effect in 1971, formally calendared the dates of several national holidays, including Labor Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day—the latter to be held in perpetuity on the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day, honoring all veterans who served rather than just our war dead, is held on November 11th.)

history of Memorial Day-1917 Poster

1917 poster, Library of Congress image.

Interestingly, not every part of the United States fully supported Decoration Day. The Civil War created divisions even in peacetime, long after the guns fell silent in 1865. A number of Southern states have over the years honored their own Confederate dead on specific dates. In Mississippi, for example, they remember Memorial Day the last Monday of April. Both North Carolina and South Carolina observe this date on May 10th.  In Virginia, the last Monday of May is observed as with most of the country, but it is often called Confederate Memorial Day. 

For a little more history (and some great historical re-enactment footage), enjoy this quick video.

How I will be honoring Memorial Day

Regardless of the name given this holiday, on Memorial Day here in Utah I will remember and honor those who sacrificed so much for our country by attending a free public event at Camp Floyd. I will be wearing my Civil War uniform with other members of the Utah Living History Association as we recreate and experience camp life; drill; and fire our period weapons to remember when the camp was occupied by the Union Army from 1858-1861. I am the second person in the left in this 2016 photo from the Utah Living History Association. We strive for historical accuracy in our representation of the men stationed at this camp in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. (With the start of the war, the camp was abandoned and the men stationed here moved back East to the fighting. Next to the museum at the camp sits a small rural cemetery to honor the burials of 85 men who died from 1857-1861 who were stationed at the camp while serving with the United States Army.)

Memorial Day isn’t just about remembering those soldiers who died in battle, but about honoring all veterans who have honored us with service. We give this honor—regardless of sectional differences—to those who lost their lives during both wartime and peacetime periods.

Explore and honor your own war dead

Michael Strauss contributes the Military Minutes segment on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. Why not use his expert tips to trace the stories of those on your own family tree who served in the U.S. military?

Find your ancestors in the 5 branches of the U.S. military

Intro to US military terminology: regular, volunteer, or militiaman?

US draft registration records: Civil War to WWII and beyond

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

Happy Mother’s Day

Wishing all you *mommy gems* out there a very happy Mother’s Day!

(Image: Introducing my oldest daughter Vienna to her new baby sister, Lacey)

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

How to Be a Good Mother-in-Law: A Steamer Letter from 1940

This 1940 “steamer letter” is essentially a lesson in how to be a good mother-in-law: Tell your daughter-in-law or son-in-law what you like about them. Express confidence in them. Respect the privacy of the couple’s relationship. That’s what I see in these words of wisdom and affection from a wise mother nearly 80 years ago.

In 1940, a young newlywed couple married and embarked on a new life together in Alaska. They took with them some “steamer letters” from the man’s mother, Laura Lu Copenhaver. (See below for a definition of steamer letters.)

Later this week, Margaret Linford will share more from Laura Lu in another post. But this letter to a new daughter-in-law seemed worth sharing separately. Full of love, confidence, and respect, it completely defies all those stereotypes about mothers-in-law. This missal is a timeless example of the loving support mothers-in-law often show behind the scenes.

How to be a good mother-in-law: A 1940 example

“Lois, this is your steamer letter, as well as your mother-in-law letter. Perhaps, I have not known you long enough to be sure that my son has made a wise choice, but I feel that he has.

It might make you self-conscious if I tried to mention the things I particularly like about you. They are the important things, as I see it. I love the warmth in you, the going out to other people of affection and interest. I like your sincerity, the absence of snobbishness. Your poise which means that you are not always thinking of yourself and how you affect other people. I like your intellectual eagerness, your real interests in finding and reading the best books.

But, an analysis of your good points is probably the last thing I should be giving you now. I ought to be praising my son to you and showing his good points. But another thing I like about you is that you seem to appreciate them without any help from me. Perhaps you see him more clearly and love him more deeply than I do. That is possible. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave only unto his wife so long as they both shall live.’ Yours is a more unselfish love than mine, perhaps. I do not know.

We mothers are the medium, the vessels through which life grows and passes…and such a long, long line of mothers and fathers back of us.

We used to read sentimental novels which talked of the nine months of pregnancy and the pains of birth, as if that bound our children to us for life. Since my own children have been born, I have not felt that way. We mothers are the medium, the vessels through which life grows and passes…and such a long, long line of mothers and fathers back of us.

“It is the mystery, the adventure that I once thought thrilling and I still think so. Shall I wish you both the deepest, most lasting happiness? That, but more than that—in marriage you have parted the veil of one mystery, but not of all. I hope you will both always have reverence for the mystery of life, of God, of man in this world and for the hope of a new heaven and a new earth.

“All my love, Mother.”

Thanks to Margaret for sharing this gem with us!

P.S. What’s a steamer letter?

The phrase “steamer letter” intrigued me, so I ran a quick search for that phrase in Google Books. Here’s a charming description in the 1916 edition of Dame Curtsey’s Book of Entertainments for Every Day in the Year by Ellye Howell Glover:

The e-book is available for free on Google Books, and appears to be one in a series of many popular domestic advice books written at the time. (Click here to learn more about using Google Books to find family history answers you’re looking for.)

Stay tuned for the next installment of Laura Lu’s letters: a Mother’s Day special post by Genealogy Gems blog contributor Margaret Linford. She’ll share Laura Lu’s fantastic advice to the newlywed couple on how to have a great marriage—and her own memories of becoming a mother.

Meanwhile, will you help us spread this supportive message by sharing it via social media? Thanks! You’re a gem.

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

The Christmas List that Continues to Speak to My Heart

Some family Christmas traditions carry over easily from generation to generation, and some don’t. Here’s one tradition I tried passing on to my children, and how it has played out. It reminds me that traditions themselves can be unexpected–which ones have staying power and how each generation reshapes heritage in its own way.

McClellan family Christmas traditions

That’s me in the green coat, between my grandma and my mom. My dad stands on the left, with my four younger brothers in the back of the truck.

I grew up with several family Christmas traditions: making candy cane cookies, tromping through the snow to cut a live tree and, on Christmas Eve, re-enacting the Nativity with my brothers as my dad read from the Bible. Over the years, my husband and I have tried several of these traditions. Some traditions have translated well into our lives, and some haven’t. (Though I loved it as a child, the year I walked a mile into the woods in heavy borrowed boots while pregnant was my last for cutting a live tree.)

One holiday tradition that has rooted itself in my children’s lives surprised me. It’s not exciting or tasty. Yet they have adopted it fully–and they’ve even started documenting it.

A family Christmas tradition that lives on

My mom always loved putting up the Christmas tree. She planned a made-for-memories event each year, hoping to have joyful carols, hot chocolate and pictures worth putting in the Christmas letter. What she got from me and my five brothers was usually less idyllic. We sang plenty of carols, loudly, but they were more likely to be “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” than “Silent Night.” Pictures always had someone sticking out a tongue or elbowing a brother. And my mom often had to wrangle us into putting up the tree and stringing up the lights first, which was guaranteed to make some of us grumpy.

But every year, my mom made sure we each had a new ornament to hang on the tree. Sometimes she made or bought it. Sometimes another relative sent us ornaments. I don’t know how she always had these ornaments amidst the chaos of Christmas preparations for six children. But she did it. She even labeled them with our names and the year.

When I left home, she gave me a box of my ornaments–along with a list, year by year, of which ornaments we received and extra notes about some of them:

Morton family Christmas traditions moms list

About six years ago when decorating our tree with my husband and children, I pulled out my box of childhood decorations with my mother’s list in it. For some reason, that year, her list especially spoke to my heart. I knew I wanted to do this for my own children. So I divided up the ornaments I’d given Jeremy, Alex, and Seneca over the years. I added a couple of ornaments for years that didn’t have them. I started lists. They weren’t fancy lists: just a piece of notebook paper, like my mom’s on yellow legal paper. I figured if I waited until I found holiday stationery, it would never happen.

Morton family Christmas traditionsThe following year, I presented my children with cute boxes for their ornaments. I slid my lists into sheet protectors and taped them inside each box. They were actually delighted to hang their own ornaments! No cajoling was necessary.

In fact, we had so much holiday cheer that my husband decorated his ear with an ornament. My oldest son Jeremy began snapping pictures. Seneca launched herself at Jeremy, Alex pounced, and they all dissolved into a pile of giggles on the floor, their Santa hats somehow still intact.

Morton family Christmas traditions playing

Since then, the kids have gone looking for their own boxes of ornaments each year. Some years I am more prepared than others: this year, they will get their 2017 ornaments on Christmas Eve.

I love that my children have come to own this tradition. Alex has actually begun documenting his new ornaments himself. You can see how he picked up where I left off:

Morton family Christmas traditions Alex list

Now that I’m a mom, I can’t help but look at my mom’s list a little differently. It’s a chronicle of a mother’s love, steady and shown in little things and relatively unappreciated. Across the top of her list, she wrote, “DON’T LOSE!” She was probably thinking of her carefree young adult children who might not appreciate this box of ragtag ornaments and what it represented to her. Today, I think her message is more than a warning not to lose the ornaments she so carefully tracked and packed away each year. It’s about never losing hold of her love for us–the heritage that matters most.

In our family, at least, the adoption of any tradition is a little messy and uncertain, especially now that I have teenagers. I never know whether’s it’s going to “take,” who’s going to roll their eyes or rebel, whether they will feel and respond to the message behind the time we spend together and the rituals we create. My solution is to try a lot of traditions. To not be afraid to change things up to suit my own little band of a family–even to create new traditions on the fly. To be flexible with my expectations–they may very well wrestle instead of sing “Silent Night” as they hang their ornaments, and that’s fine. As long as they are laughing and creating memories of the ways their family shared its love.

May you enjoy creating or reliving your own holiday traditions this year! Feel free to share any with us on the Genealogy Gems Podcast Facebook Page.

Merry Christmas to your family from mine, and from all of us here at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems.

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