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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Originally designed specifically for the iPad in 2010, the free Flipboard app has moved onto all the major mobile platforms. And this cool new technology has just gotten better with a big dose of genealogy!
Genealogy Gems has published the magazine in conjunction with the RootsTech program team in a continuing effort to help family historians embrace new technologies and present RootsTech attendees with the possibilities.
Consider what’s been happening in the mobile space this last year:
Smartphone usage in the U.S. increased by 50 percent (Kleiner Perkins)
The number of emails being opened on mobile increased by 330 percent (Litmus)
Tablet usage doubled in the U.S. (Pew Research Center)
The bottom line: More than ever folks are accessing websites, videos, podcasts, blogs and other online information on their mobile devices. That’s where the free Flipboard app comes in.
The free Flipboard app is a social-network and online aggregator of web content and RSS channels for Android, Blackberry 10, iOS, Windows 8, and Windows Phone 8. Content is presented in a captivating magazine format allowing users to “flip” through it with a simple swipe of the finger.
This magazine has presented an opportunity to crowd-source the know-how and talent of all of those who work to make RootsTech a success. The magazine offers an exciting look at the RootsTech experience the innovative technologies emerging in the genealogy industry, and a new vehicle for everyone in the RootsTech community to converge! The pages go beyond text and images by also delivering video and audio!
Coloring books are all the rage for adults and kids. Let this project and these free online tools inspire you to create a coloring book to celebrate your heritage.
Last Christmas, my mom Cheryl McClellan created a coloring book for our extended family out of family artwork. She requested copies of line drawings from every willing relative, especially her grandchildren (ages 3-20). Then she added her own childhood artwork, some of mine, and some of her mother’s, so four generations are represented.
The flowers on the left, originally painted by my grandma, wasn’t as easily colored because of all the dark areas. My mom’s childhood drawing and my son’s, on the right, both made very “colorable” images.
Then she simply photocopied each page to make it into a coloring page. She experimented with the black-and-white settings until she got the best quality reproductions for coloring.
The grandchildren’s artwork came out the best because they created images meant to be colored (with lots of lines and spaces and no shading). The older artwork reproduced with varying degrees of success. But all were fun to include. She chose not to bind the completed book, so the pages would be easier to color, but instead put each person’s collection of coloring pages in large envelopes.
More tools and ideas: Create a coloring book
To create your own family coloring book, gather family photos (or artwork) from your family archive that would be interesting to color. Consider pictures of relatives, homes, heirlooms, or other objects of significance to your current family life or your family history. The best images will have plenty of contrast in them (lights and darks).
Choose your favorite free online photo editing tool, if you have one. Examples include Pixlr.com and Snapstouch.com. I chose Snapstouch because it’s super easy. Here are the instructions on Snapstouch:
1. From the home page, select which final visual effect you prefer: I chose Sketch. (Depending on the photo and the desired effect, you might also choose Drawing or Outline.)
2. Choose your image file from your computer.
3. Select additional options, as shown here. (In Sketch mode, you can choose a darker pencil sketch and faces to be refined).
4. Click UPLOAD. Wait for the file to upload to the site.
5. After the upload is complete, you’ll see the option to click SKETCH. Click and wait for a moment.
6. If the final image is not to your liking, play with the options (you don’t need to re-upload the photo to do this). OR switch to a different visual effect and experiment.
7. Click DOWNLOAD when you’ve got the image you want.
The latest tech news from Google Earth, FamilySearch and MyHeritage
Alice’s Story – genealogy research with blogger Julianne Mangin
Cemeteries – both for ancestors and their pets
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Google Earth News
Jennifer in California sent me a fascinating item recently , and she says “Thought you might get a kick out today’s blurb from Google, where they pat themselves on the back for what can be done with Google Earth. No argument from me; it’s amazing!”
So, what can be done with Google Earth besides all the family history projects that I teach here on the podcast and in the Premium videos? Well, Peter Welch and Weekend Wanderers in the UK are using Google Earth to find treasure!
FamilySearch.org, the free and massive genealogy website from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has added a new way for you to add more memories to your tree.
In addition to photos you can now add audio both at the websiteand the FamilySearch FamilyTree and Memories apps which you can download from your mobile device’s app store.
So now as you’re selecting and uploading family photos to familysearch, you can also gather and record the stories that go with those photos. It’s sort of like being able to write on the back on the photograph, but in an even more personal way.
Your voice, and the voices of your relatives can now be part of your family’s history.
From the FamilySearch website: “Photos and audio attached to deceased ancestors can be viewed by other users on the FamilySearch Family Tree. To protect privacy, photos and audio attached to living people can be seen only by the person who added the memory unless that person shares the memory or album with another user.”
MyHeritage App update
Among the newly introduced features are Family Timelines, the ability to view family trees that you’re matched with, the ability to choose which information you extract from Smart Matches™, an improved research page, and more. Read all about it here
From Craig: “After finding my Paternal grandfather and great-grandfather, I looked for my Paternal GG Grandfather in the same area. No luck. I went to the R.B. Hayes library in Tiffin, Ohio and started looking at every page in the burial listing for the township I thought he would be in. And there he was – last name misspelled! (The “A” was changed to a “K”.) I was able to drive over to the cemetery and located his stone – still readable after his burial in 1885. I plan to go back to the area this summer to look for his wife, who was buried elsewhere (they were separated.) I wish I could get someone to update the lists with the correct spelling, to match the gravestone and census papers, but that seems impossible to do.”
“My brother Ray says we have visited more dead relatives than live ones. Trying now to visit the relatives above ground!”
Spent many hours walking, crawling, pushing through brush brambles and briers just to find and take pictures of tombstones. I regret only one such adventure. If I may. My sweetheart and I went to a small cemetery in New Jersey to gather family names and pictures for Billion Graves and our personal records. While I was taking pictures, my wife was clipping brush and bushes from the stone that identified her families plot.
We had a great day. I filled two clips of pictures and my sweetheart did a magnificent job on that stone. It was only a few hours later, when she started itching that I really “looked” at the pictures and realized that the brush that she cleared from that stone was poison ivy. Wouldn’t have been so bad, but when she found that I’m not affected by poison oak, ivy or sumac. She was not happy.
I have recently started doing ancestry research and have been astounded at what I have found. No creepy tree stories. However, it is nice to know that some ancestors took special care to by buy family plots even though they knew eventually the girls might marry and want to be buried with their husband. I found it interesting that both my grandfather and my grandmother are both buried with their individual parents.
Shirley’s story jogged my memory. My mother died in 1934 when I was 4 years old. She is buried in her father’s plot rather than my paternal grandfather’s plot. I have wondered for years why the burial was arranged that way and imagine all sorts of situations. Were the families feuding? Was one family more financially able to foot the bill. Did my paternal grandfather not like my father? Hmmmm………
I checked out this book from the local library about a month ago. Decided I needed my own copy. All genealogist should read it. It is very informative & entertaining.
About 5 years ago I found the farm on which my gr great grandparents were buried. The tall granite marker with the parents’ names had been knocked over, the foot stones stacked and several large rocks were around the monument and it was in the middle of a field that was being planted and harvested. We made contact with the owner and received permission to have it raised.
In the meantime, I found an obituary for a son who was buried on the family farm. I also found an article about a woman who did dowsing, contacted her and she agreed to come perform the dowsing. I was videoing it when my phone went totally dead! I had never had that happen and it was charged. Thirty minutes later it came back on mysteriously!
She found 2 adult women, 2 adult men and three toddlers. After further search I found another obituary for a grown daughter buried there and 3 toddler grandchildren who died in 1882. She said that the large rocks would have marked the graves. Sadly, they had totally desecrated the family cemetery. But I was excited to learn all I did and was startled by the phone totally dying.
We first talked to Julianne last year in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 219. In that episode we explored the tragic story of Julianne’s ancestors, the Metthe family. It was a riveting case study of the twists and turns that genealogy can take us on.GEM: Checking in with Julianne Mangin
Julianne had originally been a bit of a reluctant genealogist. But after a 30 year career in library science, including 14 years as a librarian and website developer for the Library of Congress in Washington DC, she could couldn’t help but try to find the truther in the piecemeal stories that she was told by her mother.
Julianne has continued to research and write at her Julianne Mangin blog, and I thought it would fun to check back in with her and see what she’s been up to.
Her latest blog series is called Alice’s Story. It follows the path of discovery she followed to uncover the story of a previously unknown aunt.
The research began where most good genealogical research begins: at the end of Alice’s life and her death certificate.
Institutional Records – But with few records and no first-hand interviews available, Julianne turned to researching the institutions themselves to dig deeper into Alice’s experience. Resource: Genealogy Gems Premium Video: Institutional Records (membership required)
State Census Records can help fill in the gaps between the federal census enumerations. Search for “state census” in the card catalog:
“Copies of many state censuses are on microfilm at the Family History Library. The Family History Library’s most complete collections of state censuses are for Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. However, censuses exist for the following states also:
Old Postcards are a great resource for images. Resources: Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 16 and episode 76 feature strategies for finding family history on ebay. (Genealogy Gems Premium Membershiprequired)
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Member Gain access to the complete Premium podcast archive of over 150 episodes and more than 50 video webinars, including Lisa Louise Cooke’s newest video The Big Picture in Little Details. Learn more here
Many of us already know that some of Ancestry’s content is free to search for everyone. But did you know that you can use Ancestry’s powerful search interface to search genealogy databases on OTHER websites, too? This includes sites that may be in another language–and sites you may not even know exist!
You may have heard that there’s a lot available on Ancestry for free to anyone. Like the 1940 and 1880 U.S. censuses. Australian and Canadian voter’s lists. A birth index for England and Wales. The SSDI.
A few years ago, Ancestry also began incorporating off-site indexes into its search system. These are known as “Ancestry Web Indexes.” There are now more than 220 of these, and they point users to over 100 million records ON OTHER WEBSITES.
“Ancestry Web Indexes pull together a lot of databases that are already online from repositories all over the world, like courthouses and archives,” Matthew Deighton of Ancestry told me. “We index them here because we’ve found that people may not know their ancestor was in a certain region at a certain time. They may not know about that website that has posted those records. What you don’t know about, you can’t find.”
According to an online description, the guiding principles of Ancestry Web Search databases are:
“Free access to Web Records – Users do not have to subscribe or even register with Ancestry.com to view these records;
Proper attribution of Web Records to content publishers;
Easy access to Web Records – Prominent links in search results and the record page make it easy to get to the source website.”
Better yet, you may have a better search experience at Ancestry than you would at the original site. Some sites that host databases or indexes don’t offer very flexible search parameters. They may not recognize “Beth Maddison” or “E. Mattison” as search results for “Elizabeth Madison,” while Ancestry would.
Results from Ancestry Web Indexes point you to the host website to see any additional information, like digitized images and source citations. A subscription to that site may be required to learn all you want from it. But just KNOWING that the data is there gives you the option to pursue it.
Doesn’t Google bring up all those same results if you just do a keyword search on your ancestor’s name? Not necessarily. Not all indexes are Google-searchable. Even if they are, Google may not present them to you until the 534th page of search results–long after you’ve lost interest.
And Ancestry specifically targets genealogically-interesting databases. Your results there won’t include LinkedIn profiles or current high school sports statistics from a young person with your ancestor’s name. (Learn how to weed out Google results like these with The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.)
Some may be skeptical: isn’t it bad form for Ancestry to reference other sites’ material, especially when they often do so without consulting the host of the databases? They do have an opt-out policy for those who wish their databases to be removed from the search engine. Matthew says a couple of places have opted out–because the increased web traffic was too much for them to handle. That tells me that Ancestry Web Indexes are helping a lot of people find their family history in places they may otherwise never have looked.