A while back I received an email from Tim. He writes:
“I’m getting back into genealogy in a meaningful way now that my dissertation is done and I realized that I don’t know what to do with all the ‘stuff’ I’ve taken photos of, picked up at yard sales, etc., that could be of genealogical value to someone but not me. I’ve got yearbooks, pictures of the genealogy information inside family bibles, etc. I used to be able to scan and submit to Mocavo for the world to use but that’s gone. With the Rootsweb mailing lists shutting down, do you have recommendations for where I can submit these things so they benefit others?”
As a matter of I do have a few recommendations for you!
These days a free blog is your own genealogy bulletin board with much greater reach than Rootsweb had. It’s a great way to get the word out about items that you have that you would like to reunite with their families.
Blogger.com (Google’s free blogging platform) is a good choice.
In addition to a photo, include as much text as you can that describes the item.
Tag the items with surnames, record types, and locations.
Encourage people to email you or leave a comment to get in touch.
Interview with Carly Kidd-Osborn
If you have an item that you picked up along your genealogical travels that belongs to someone else’s family history, the Shrubs to Trees – A Pay-It-Forward Genealogy Facebook Group can help. Caryl Kidd-Osborn is the Administrator, and in this episode she explains how the group has helped return over 1500 items to families and how you can enlist their help.
From Caryl: “We are almost 2 years old and in that time we have returned over 1500 “lost” memorabilia items to living family. We’ve given back photos, bronze baby shoes, sheet music that was written by someone’s family member, a marriage license and even someone’s cremains. We aren’t a very big group but we have some wonderful folks who just jump right in with researching the items. It’s a private group since we are dealing with living people. It’s very much a collaboration. Our members are genealogists who, like me, just can’t leave an antique store without taking someone else’s family home with them!”
Here are just a few examples of the precious items that the group has managed to return to grateful families:
Reunited: Little Renee’s baby shoes
Reunited: A photo of Frances Payne. “Our cutest return,” says Caryl.
Reunited: Andrew Johney and Maggie Bosley marriage license. This was found at a dump.
Sarah Fooks Tutherly – photo went to the Historical Society in Laurel, DE. The Fooks family was a prominent family in that town, she was a DAR member.
Reunited: The Vandermaas family. The parents had died before the children were of that age so this is a composite of the whole family.
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We all have cookbooks in our kitchen, many of which were handed down to us by our mothers and grandmothers. In addition to be overflowing with delectable recipes, they are often brimming with family history. Today I’d like to share with you a recipe mystery that followed me for years, and the bit of genealogical serendipity that solved it.
In it, I gave an example of some items I had found on Ebay from my husband’s Larson family. If you listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast then you have heard me mention the Larson family. They hailed from Winthrop Minnesota and owned a hardware store and lumber business there for many years.
LJ Larson Hardware store
While I was taking questions toward the end of the presentation a woman in the front raised her hand. Her name was Harriet, and she said she was sure that she had a cookbook from Winthrop, Minnesota in her collection of books at home. She offered to send it to me and I gladly gave her my email address so we could connect.
Considering that Winthrop is such a small town, it make her statement surprising indeed! To provide perspective: Winthrop is about 1 square mile and the population hovers somewhere around 1300. So, I was surprised indeed to have someone in Pleasanton, California telling me that she had a cookbook that dated back to the early 20th century from this little town.
As promised, Harriett followed up with me by email. She asked for my address and told me that the book “looks a little worn but all of the pages are there. I hope it can be of some use to you. My sister taught either first grade or kindergarten there during World War 2 and that’s how it came in to her possession.”
The Cookbook Filled with Family History
Harriett was a woman of her word because about a week later the 340 Home Tested Recipes cookbook compiled by members of The Ladies Aid of the First Lutheran Church of Winthrop, Minnesota was in my mailbox.
The Winthrop Cookbook
It continues to amaze and delight me how powerful just putting your family history “out there” is. By regularly mentioning real people and places in your own research, it so often leads to information and items that just seem to be waiting to be found. It’s what we call “genealogical serendipity” in genealogy circles.
But the genealogical serendipity didn’t end there. Not only did my husband’s ancestors contribute recipes to this little community cookbook, which of course I was thrilled to find – but there was a recipe in there that I had been in search of for over 25 years.
The Great Cookie Mystery
You see, when Bill and I got married, he shared his fond memories of a sour cream cookie his grandmother used to make. I’m an avid baker, so I checked with his mom to see if she had the recipe. Sadly, she didn’t.
Over the years I have tried to find a recipe for sour cream cookies in an attempt to recreate them. Every time I found one, I whipped up a batch. Bill would take a bite and shake his head saying they’ were good, but they weren’t like grandma’s cookies.
Bill enjoying baked treats with his Grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield.
So as you can imagine, the first thing I looked for when I received this cookbook from the town where Bill’s grandma was born, was a recipe for sour cream cookies. There were many yummy-sounding treats to comb through like Pecan Sticks, Victoria Cookies, Father and Son Favorite Cookies, and Sorghum Cookies.
I got excited as I came across names I recognized from the family tree including Mrs. Sheldon S. Larson, the mother of a cousin we had the good fortune to finally meet two years ago when I presented a genealogy seminar in Minnesota at the Swedish Genealogical Society.
But the real thrill came when I made my way to page 42. There I found a recipe for Sour Cream Drop Cookies:
The infamous sour cream cookie recipe!
Surprisingly, the recipe wasn’t contributed by Bill’s grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield or anyone named Larson. Instead it was submitted for inclusion in the cookbook by Mrs. Hulda Anderson. That fact didn’t deter me from trying it out. In a small town like Winthrop, recipes likely were regularly swapped and handed down through various families.
I immediately baked a batch and served them up to Bill. I’ll never forget his eyes as they lit up in excitement! He took a bite, and was ecstatic to once again be tasting Grandma’s sour cream cookies!
It may sound like a small victory in the scheme of thing, but for me it was a thrilling one, none the less!
I emailed Harriet and told her the good news and thanked her profusely.
I got a reply from her husband George. He wrote:
“I thought I would add a little amusement to the coincidence of the Sour Cream cookies. My father, George Anderson, Sr., was a salesman for American Steel and Wire, subsidiary of U. S. Steel, from the 1920s to the 1960s, traveling to every hardware store and lumber yard in southern Minnesota to sell fence, posts, nails etc. I don’t have any record of it, but I’m sure he would have called on your family’s hardware store in Winthrop. He knew all of his customers by first name, no doubt your in-laws included.”
Genealogy Serendipity never tasted so good!
A Genealogical Look at the Cookbook
I looked through the book carefully for a publishing date but none was to be found. However, there were several clues including the name of the church and the pastors name:
First Lutheran Church Lambert Engwall, Pastor
To put these clues to use, I headed to Google and searched the name of the church, the location and the name of the pastor: first lutheran church winthrop minnesota lambert engwall, pastor
Googling the church, location and pastor
The first result was just what I needed. The link to me to a Wikipedia page about the church:
The church in Wikipedia
It was a fairly comprehensive page, and I was specifically looking for a list of pastors who had served at the church. To save time, I used Control + F (PC) to trigger a find on page search bar. I searched for “pastor” and was immediately take much further down the page to exactly what I wanted to know.
A helpful list of previous pastors
I quickly learned that Lambert Engwall served at this church in Winthrop, Minnesota from 1944 to 1972. Given that Harriett through it hailed from the World War II era when her sister lived there, and from the condition and style of the book, I feel confident it was published closer to 1944.
The next steps to learn more about the relationship between the Andersons and Larson include could include:
Reviewing the 1940 census for Winthrop, Sibley County, Minnesota, and mapping their homes in Google Earth.
conducting additional research into church and their available records include church meeting minutes.
A comprehensive search of the Winthrop News newspaper, with a particular eye on the social pages.
Share Your Genealogical Serendipity and Cookbook Stories
Have you experienced glorious instances of genealogical serendipity in your own family history quest? Do you have a cookbook that has been handed down to you that you treasure? Please leave a comment below and share your story!
Learn more powerful Google search techniques and ways to use Google Earth for genealogy in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louse Cooke (2020) available at the Genealogy Gems Store.
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Pinterest is a free, online bulletin board where you can collect content that you find on the web. It’s a kick-back to the old days when we found pictures of our favorite home decor or recipes and tore out the pages of the magazine. Do you remember doing that? No longer do we need to tear out pages and file pictures and articles of our favorite things in old binders. You can use Pinterest to keep all of your items organized and accessible at the click of the mouse.
Pinterest is not a piece of software or something you download. All you need to do is go to www.pinterest.com and sign-up using your email or Facebook to create a free account.
FamilySearch Family Tree works similarly with their “Memories” section. The Memories section allows users to collect and store family photos, documents, stories, and even audio. But that is just the beginning! Pinterest provides you with a way to put these items to work for you. Photos, documents, and stories you post on a FamilySearch memories page can be pinned to your Pinterest board.
Why is this so groundbreaking, you ask? When potential cousins Google your common ancestor, the list of results will include your Pinterest board, like the search example below that finds my own Pinterest pins:
Then, when they click that great photo of grandma or the WWII story of great-grandpa on Pinterest, they are automatically directed back to your FamilySearch Family Tree where they can see your pedigree chart…for FREE!
(You don’t need an account to see, use, or search within the FamilySearch Family Tree. If you were to try this technique using images you have uploaded to a subscription site such as Ancestry, those clicking from Pinterest would simply land on the log-in page to Ancestry. Without a paid subscription, they go nowhere. How frustrating!)
How to Connect Your FamilySearch Family Tree with Pinterest Pins
1. If you haven’t already set up a Pinterest account, you will need to do that first.
2. Create a board specifically for the purpose of family history. I chose to create a board for each of the surnames that I’m actively researching. I would love to make some connections with other genealogists on these! “Bowser Family of Clark County, Ohio” and “Cole Family of Lee County, Virginia” are two examples. (Notice, I added a county name and state. I wanted to be sure I attracted people who searched by surname and/or place name.) Do not add any pictures to your boards yet.
3. Create or log in to your free FamilySearch Family Tree with names and dates of your ancestors.
4. Click on an ancestor for whom you want to add a memory. At the “Person” page, click on “Memories” near the top. This will take you to the memory page where you will upload the photos, documents, and so forth for your specific ancestor.
5. Add a title and an accurate, thorough caption. An example of a title might be a full name or a story title like: “When Her Baby Died.” A caption needs to include more details: “Lillie Amanda West, Clark County, Ohio. Wife of George Henry Bowser and daughter of Edmund West and Lavina Wilson. Picture taken ca. 1897.”
6. Once you have uploaded everything you wish with your titles and captions, go back to the FamilySearch Memories gallery page by simply clicking on “Memories” again. If you hover your cursor over a picture, document, or story you uploaded, a little “Pin It” box will pop up. (Important Note: FamilySearch reviews all items uploaded to the Memories section for inappropriate content. Because of this, you may have to wait a few minutes before your items are able to be pinned.) Now, click “Pin It” and follow the prompts to pin the item to the Pinterest board of your choice. You will need to copy and paste or create a new caption for your pin. Click the little pen below the picture to edit the caption. (Remember, this caption will be what you want to be Google-searchable, so pack it with names and words that you think your long-lost cousins might type into the Google search box when searching for those ancestors. (Need help with Google search terms? Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd Edition is your go-to resource.)
Cousin connections often bring to light new and exciting pieces of your family’s story. Try using Pinterest and FamilySearch Family Tree today as cousin bait to find long-lost family members anywhere in the world.