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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A local genealogist used these strategies to help identify old photos taken on holiday in England by an Australian family. Read more about her savvy tips below and view the free video on using Google image search by Lisa Louise Cooke.
The photos in the article belonged to an Australian family. They included a series of images taken in the 1930s while the party was on holiday along the Great British coast. A partly-legible name and address on a picture postcard in the group provided a clue.
A few of the article’s readers responded with assistance. One of these readers was Sandra, who volunteers with the Kirkheaton Family History Group. Her answer was featured in a follow-up article (“Mystery SOLVED!”). We reached out to Sandra ourselves, to see if she would share the research strategies she used to identify these old photos. Very generously, she did!
Sandra Stocks, left, with Ann from Canada. Their grandfathers were cousins; they met via Ancestry.com and Ann visited England. They met up at The Croppers Arms pub, where a mutual ancestor was a 19th-century landlord. Photo courtesy of Sandra Stocks.
1. Look closely at the photo for any identifying names or words. Sandra begins by saying, “Although the name on the postcard looked like Mr. J. Stogley, when I looked on the newspaper’s website there were other photographs, one which showed the name P. Hogley, Druggist, above a shop window.” (Don’t see anything? Skip to step 4, below.)
2. Use any names or places you identify to consult historical records for that place and time. Sandra continues, “I then searched on Ancestry.co.uk for Joseph Hogley, which, being an unusual name, was easy to find…In the 1911 English census he was living with his wife at the address on the postcard, so I knew I had the right chap. I then searched for him in [an] earlier census and found his family, and his brother Percy Hogley, a druggist, the writer of the postcard.”
3. Follow up in other historical records to identify additional relatives–and possible subjects in the photos. Sandra most often consults birth, marriage, and death records on Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.co.uk. “Not everybody wants to pay for a subscription,” she acknowledges, so she also recommends FreeBMD.org.uk “which allows you to search births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales. A quick search of births for Hogley between 1850 and 1932 would have given me the births of Joseph and Percy Hogley in Huddersfield in 1875 and 1877, respectively. I used FreeBMD to discover that Joseph and his wife had a son, Bernard Thomas Hogley, in 1913 and Bernard married in 1945.”
4. If the photos have no identifying names or places, go straight to those who might recognize them: the locals. Lastly, Sandra shares, “There is a great family history forum where I could have posted a photograph and within a very short time somebody would have told me an approximate year when the picture was taken. The website is RootsChat.com and they also have pages for each English and Welsh county where local people are more than happy to help with genealogy queries.”
More on How-to Identify Old Photos
Unidentified old photos exist in nearly everyone’s family history holdings. Pull those old photos out and discover what else you can discern using these additional tips in Lisa Louise Cooke’s free video titled “How to Google Image Search to Identify Old Photos Using a Smartphone & Tablet.” By learning how to match the images you have to other images on the web, you may find some great new clues for your genealogy! This trick works great for distinct or well-known images, such as a location, or perhaps an important person in your family tree. Give it a try!
In this episode we are pulling back the curtain on the Antiques Roadshow, as well as talking a bit about what to include and not include in your family tree.
I’m just back from Odessa Texas where I presented a full day seminar at the Permian Basin Genealogical Society. I got to enjoy a big dose of Texas hospitality and had an absolutely wonderful time.
Next up I’m heading to Kelowna British Columbia for the Kelowna & District Genealogical Society Harvest Your Family Tree 2012 Conference where I will be again doing four presentations as well as a Meet the Speakers panel.
Family Tree Magazine Digital Subscriptions from Kathy: “I subscribe to Family Tree Magazine.Can I download my print subscription to my iPad….as you can with other subscriptions?Or do I need to pay for each issue that I download? Family Chart Masters helped me with my Family Tree Chart.It was beautiful and was a hit at our Family Reunion.Janet was so helpful.Thank you for the recommendation. Love your podcasts.”
Lisa’s Answer: The Family Tree Magazine digital subscription is separate from the print subscription, unless you have purchase their VIP Subscription. So you can either purchase individual digital issues from the Shop Family Tree Store, or youcan purchase a separate annual digital subscription. I think they keep it separate because not everyone wants both. Click here for a $10 off coupon for ShopFamilyTree and when you use that link it also supports the free Genealogy Gems Podcast.Thank you!
Get Lisa’s Book Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse
From Mary in Iowa: “In Podcast #139, Ricky asked about a successor to the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website.There are actually three Facebook groups (not pages) carrying on the task of looking up genealogy information and other requests.They are RAOGK, RAOGK – USA, and RAOGK – International.You need to be a member of the Facebook group to post a message or request, but most requests for membership are granted quickly.”
Scott from Oakland Maine: “I am in need of some advice regarding an un-cooperative family member.My father’s brother wants nothing to do with our family, and in years past once referred to himself as the “black sheep”.He has absolutely no interest in genealogy and is not at all willing to be a part of the family story that I am putting together.My question is, how do I reference this character in my tree.”
Lisa’s Answer: I imagine every family has a tough nut on a branch of the family tree!I’m a firm believer in the truth, and what I would do if it were me is to include basic data (that is publicly available) on him on my private, personal family tree. On trees and other info you make available publicly, (such as an online family tree) I would list him and his immediate family only as “Living” and whether they are male or female. In the end you have to do what seems right for you.
From Glenn: “Just wanted to say a quick thanks for both podcasts you produce…I’ve been interested in the Family History for some time…Recently my interest has arisen again, of course I have made classic mistake in not documenting everything, and just collecting names, dates and so forth.So in the last 6 months I’ve been citing sources and updating the database. One of the quandaries I have is when do you stop, not so much vertically, but how wide do you go, in relation to cousins, second cousins and families? Probably the main question I have is trying to decide whether to get a subscription to Ancestry.com or not, I feel I’m at that stage where online document will help out, in filling in the leaves on my branches.”
Lisa’s Answer:Go as wide as you want and are interested in. I would recommend adding basic info for someone you find who you won’t be pursuing, so that if down the road you run in to a brick wall and you need to do some cluster research or reverse genealogy, you will have new leads to follow. RE: Ancestry – I think you will find that Ancestry membership is a very cost effective and time saving way to do your research. Mine has been invaluable. See if you can find a 7 day free trial to check it out and confirm they have the kinds of records you need.
The final episode of TLC’s first season of Who Do You Think You Are? came with more than just an extra helping of ancestral drama. Along with the end of the season came the welcome announcement that WDYTYA? will return in 2014 on TLC.
First, the final episode recap: American actor Jim Parsons explored his paternal line and discovered one ancestor who was lost in a tragic accident–and another who narrowly escaped death by guillotine.
The Ancestry.com research team reports, “When we went digging into Jim Parsons’ family tree we found his third-great-grandfather was Jean Baptiste Hacker, a physician who was raised in New Orleans but moved to Plaquemine, Louisiana, after starting his medical career. Just a few years later, Dr. Hacker, along with his daughter Leocadie and his nephew, was killed in a tragic fire on board the steamboat Gipsy in December 1854.”
They documented the accident through an article from New Orleans paper the Daily Picayune (digitized at Newspapers.com and shown here):
Another line of research takes Jim’s ancestry back to France, where he learned one of his forebears was an architect to Louis XV. “The timing of Louis Francois [Trouard]’s appointment is significant: 1787 is only two years prior to the French Revolution. Four architects were executed during the Revolution, and another 25 were imprisoned. Yet Louis Francois escaped Republican retribution….”
“At the Chapelle de la Providence, a structure designed by his ancestor, Jim discovers the startling truth: Louis Francois had good revolutionary credentials, including houseguests such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.”
Along with that riveting last episode, TLC just announced it will bring back more of the same next season. On September 10, Digital Spy reported that 2014 will see 10 more episodes. Celebrity guests haven’t been announced yet, so stay tuned! We’ll keep you posted on future developments.
Meanwhile, TV watchers, mark your calendars for the American version of Genealogy Roadshow, the PBS show scheduled to debut next week.
Every Friday, we highlight new genealogy records online. Scan these posts for content that may include your ancestors. Use these records to inspire your search for similar records elsewhere. Always check our Google tips at the end of each list: they are custom-crafted each week to give YOU one more tool in your genealogy toolbox.
This week: British POWs in World War I, North Carolina marriages, and church records for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and various denominations in Scotland.
BRITISH POWs IN WWI.Prisoners Of War 1914-1920, with over 43,000 records with images at FindMyPast, consists of “10 series of British Foreign Office documents relating to prisoners held by the Ottomans during World War One. They not only include the names of military personnel taken prisoner–both allied and foreign–but also the names of civilians, merchant seamen, fishermen, diplomatic employees and more.” Some documents “contain the names, ranks and locations of PoWs and provide insights into life in the Ottoman camps. They contain details of requests made by inmates for items including footballs and biscuits, details of visits by foreign diplomats and reports on camp conditions.”
NORTH CAROLINA MARRIAGE RECORDS. Ancestry has a new collection of North Carolina “marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers, as well as indexes and abstracts to the various records from 87 North Carolina counties….Of special interest to African American researchers are records of cohabitation, which were required to be recorded in 1866 in order for the marriages of recently emancipated slaves to be legally recognized.” The records span 1741-2011.
SCOTLAND CHURCH RECORDS. Births, baptisms, banns and marriages, deaths and burialsare among a slew of newer records searchable on MyHeritage.com. According to the site, “The records in this collection were taken from Kirk Session material of the Church of Scotland, other Presbyterian churches, and also the registers of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). These parish registers cover a wide range of dates (from 17th to 19th century) and many of them are not to be found in any other record source.” Information listed in these records may include names, family relationships, dates and places of events and details of the parish.
U.S. LUTHERAN CHURCH RECORDS. Baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial records from more than 2000 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (1875-1940) are now on Ancestry. These have been available on Archives.com but have migrated to its parent site. “The information…varies from congregation to congregation (and sometimes from minister to minister). In some ethnic congregations, you may run into records in German, Danish, or some other language….Within the collection you may also find membership records, with some listing the names and dates of admission, communion records, and how they were received into the church.”
Google tip of the week: If you see a record collection online but don’t have a subscription to the website that hosts it, Google the name of the database. See whether a free site (like FamilySearch) or another site to which you do have access also hosts the same data set or a similar one. Can’t find it? Click on the description of the record collection (you can generally read the description even if you can’t search the records themselves) and read its source. It may come from a book or a resource that’s been microfilmed–something you can search for on WorldCat and borrow to a library near you. This tip is brought to you by The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd edition–fully revised and updated in 2015!