The Changing of the Seasons - What's New & What's Changing

Happy Friday and Happy September, friends!

Today marks the beginning of my favorite time of year – September through December – fall, and the holidays. We have so many gatherings and traditions throughout this time of year – and of course, it’s also a beautiful time outdoors – I love the changing of the leaves and the first snowfalls. I got up very early this morning to greet September, went straight to the coffee maker, dogs on my heels, feeling encouraged. The tide is turning, and for the better, I can feel it.

Changes...  

Ogle lake.jpg

I follow a lot of bloggers and have noticed an encouraging trend lately. So many bloggers are becoming more open with their readers. Some of the bloggers I follow had disappeared for some time, and have come back with a confession: they’ve been struggling. They’re sharing their lives with their readers and supporters – they’re been honest, open, and real. I admire that. And I thought it was perhaps time I do the same with you, my readers.

I’ve been struggling, too. I battle two dueling mental illnesses and have for years. I also recently suffered a traumatic miscarriage and have been deep in grief. But you know – this, Storybook Ancestor, and all it entails, is not only my career – it’s my passion, and it truly helps keep me going. Seeing my work touch the lives of families and kids – that keeps me going when I want to give up.

But I need to change things up a little… and I need to heal. I am in counseling and therapy. My family is providing more support at this time because well, I need it right now. And while I won’t disappear, you may see a little less of me, and what you see from me will be a little different. (And if I do disappear, I’m gonna need you to come after me.)

What will you see from me?

Real life

Our family is active in our community. We serve in Girl Scouts and with Migros Aid Indy, and we are involved in a homeschool nature studies group and our neighborhood homeschool co-op. So, you’ll see photos and read stories from each of these. In our co-op for example, I’ll be teaching about family history, so I’ll be sharing my lessons with you and examples of the kids’ writing and art.

You'll also see my family more. I'm a wife and a mom before anything else... and also an aunt and cousin and daughter (and descendant!) so I'll be sharing our family life and more of our family history with you as well. 

Products

Most of the products I create will now be for sale at my Teachers pay Teachers store. I’ll still post activities and freebies here in blog posts and on the freebies page, however. (Subscribe below for access to the freebies page.) But - if you enjoy my products, I encourage you to check out my TpT store for more.  

Books and Story times

My husband and I are busy finalizing the formatting and design of the children’s book! It releases in October, and our book launch party is October 7. (See the Events page for more.) This event will also be the first in my Story time series with the children’s book – my very first true “storybook ancestor”! 

I’m also finishing up my third young adult novel, Wayfaring, and sending it off to my editor later this month. This book follows Going over Home and Going over Jordan, which you can learn more about and purchase through my Books page.

Going Live!

Follow my Facebook page and join my Facebook group so you’ll catch when I go live with story times and community activities with kids.

Support

I have finally been honest with myself too – and admitted that I can’t do all this on my own. I’ve tried it – it doesn’t work. We all need support. So, I have launched a way that you can support me in my mission to serve children through my programs and activities – you can become a patron of Storybook Ancestor.

For as little as $5 a month, you can become a patron and have access to even more content – more live feeds, special products, sneak peeks into works in progress, free books, and more - that are for patrons only. Please consider a pledge as a patron through Patreon – a membership platform that makes it easy to support creators and artists and receive rewards in return. See my Patreon page for more details.

And just for you – my Freebies page has a new activity – an All About Me Writing Choice Board. (The FULL Family History Writing Choice Board packet is new in my TpT store.) When you subscribe, you receive a free e-book and access to the Freebies page.

As always, it means the world to me that you have stuck with me in this bumpy road as I finally have realized my dream through this blog, my creations, programs, and books. Folks, it’s all about the kids. Your support makes it happen. So, thank you.

me and kids hiking 2.jpg

Happy storytelling,

Katie

 

Family Reunions and Traditions

Every month the #FHforChildren bloggers come together to write about a different theme along the lines of sharing family history with children. This month we're talking about family reunions, and I immediately knew I had to write about our Lutz family reunions every October.   

It’s the best part of October for me, really – the family reunion that we’ve had every year since about 1990. I honestly don’t remember a year without it. It’s been a part of every October in my memory, and so many traditions have been built into it over the years that oftentimes every year seems the same – and it’s so full of nostalgia for many of us that attend, that that’s the way we like it!  

Our October Family Reunion

Every year, usually on the second weekend of October, our Lutz side of the family has a reunion at my great aunt and uncle’s house in Morgan County, Indiana. The reunion has come to be affectionately called “The Stewfest” because my Uncle Joe makes a big pot of stew over the fire every year.

The family all gathers in their big red pole barn up the hill from their house with the wraparound porch amidst the trees. Their house is way out in the country, in the woods high on a hill, surrounded by rolling farmland. The trees are already starting to turn their bright autumn colors by that time, and usually the air is a crisp and cool. We have a big pitch in dinner, along with stew, of course!  

Uncle Joe & Aunt Darlene with the stew! 

Uncle Joe & Aunt Darlene with the stew! 

Once it gets dark enough, it’s time for the hayride! Everyone makes their way down the hill and we all pile in for a hayride out in the fields. My mother recites the poem Little Orphant Annie and everyone chimes in with “and the goblins’ll getcha ef you don’t watch out!” When we get back to the barn, it’s time to pass out pumpkins to all the kids. We sit around the fire and chat, roast marshmallows, and make s’mores. Everyone starts making their way home once it starts to get too late, after many, many hugs and kisses goodbye, and a “see you next year!” for many. And before you know it, it’s that time of the year again!

It’s happened every year since at least 1990, and now there have been five generations to attend – from my great-grandma Lutz to my children and their cousins.

My mother with her three grandchildren at the Stewfest in 2015 - the 5th generation to enjoy the reunion! 

My mother with her three grandchildren at the Stewfest in 2015 - the 5th generation to enjoy the reunion! 

Family Reunions and Traditions

A big part of what makes the Stewfest so special for me are its traditions. There are traditions that everyone from all over the family tree shares in, like the hayride and the pumpkins for the kids. And then there are traditions that each family has who comes. For us, growing up we would have about an hour and a half drive, eventually driving through the Indiana farmland on our way there, and in the early 1990s, my mother started playing the soundtrack from the movie The Last of the Mohicans on the drive there. Well, this started to become a yearly thing until eventually, once my brother, sister, and I got old enough, it was simply a tradition, and a special one at that!  

Special Family Reunion Traditions

Do you have a special annual family reunion?

Here are some ways you can make it special for your kids:

·         Start incorporating your own little family traditions into it. Listening to the same music on the drive to our reunion may not seem that big of a deal, but now I love that soundtrack and it always reminds me of fall and our get-together. Maybe a special kind of music could work for you, too.

·         Make your traditions that ties into the place where you hold your reunion. If you notice, our reunion is so very Hoosier. Pumpkins, stew, bonfires, hayrides – even a poem by James Whitcomb Riley! – it all cries We’re from Indiana! So, wherever you’re from, start a tradition that’s unique to that place.  

·         Start a tradition that’s only for the kids! At the Stewfest, only the kids get pumpkins. (Big ole ones, too!) They draw a number and when their number is drawn, they get to go pick out their pumpkin. It’s always exciting for my kids and they love to show off their pumpkin!

Traditions make memories, and they also help kids remember what they have to look forward to!

What traditions make your family reunions special? What traditions can you start this year? Share in the comments below!  

Don't miss the rest of the posts in this months #FHforCHildren Blog Link-up all about family reunions! Click on the image to see the posts:  

 

family reunion pin.jpg

The Stories that Really Matter

What are the stories that stay with you… the stories that really matter…?

This question was answered by Samwise Gamgee, or “Samwise the Brave” in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Two Towers. And what does he say?

 “It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”

The Great Stories

The stories that were filled with darkness and danger, the stories where folks kept going because they were holding onto something – those are the stories that mean something to us.

I think about this line often, and the images that now come with it from the movie, when it comes to my life, and the lives of everyday people. Sam and Frodo were everyday hobbits, after all, just wee folk from the Shire, before they began their heroic journey and saved Middle Earth. But they became a great story, because they kept going, because they persevered.

Our Everyday Lives

Most of us are everyday people. Most of our ancestors were everyday people. But each of us has a story, and at certain times in all our lives our stories are full of darkness and danger. But who do we really remember? Whose stories stand out to us?

It’s the people who kept going, who held on. It’s the people that even though they failed and faltered at times, they persevered, and they overcame.

Many of these stories are forgotten. This happens to many of our ancestors, and many of the ordinary, everyday people in history. But if it weren’t for them, where would we be?

This is why I think it’s so important for us to remember, to discover their stories, and to tell their stories, and share them with our children. Because without the perseverance of our forebears, many of us wouldn’t be here at all.

Kindred Spirits

This month I am hosting a blog link-up for family historians to write about ancestors or relatives who are their kindred spirits. We all have one, someone we relate to, who inspires us. So, who is my “kindred spirit ancestor”?

The first person who came to mind is my ancestor Almyra King Holslcaw. She was an ordinary, everyday woman, the daughter of a carpenter and wife of a poor orphan farmer boy, who lived in the backwoods and a small southern Indiana town. She was probably like many of the folks from her area. Nothing too extraordinary about her. She lived her life, and it was a hard one. Her father died in a tragic accident when she was a teenager, she lost two siblings in infancy, she faced poverty with her widowed mother, she married a poor farmer, and raised children in the hard years following the Civil War. Myra had a hard life. But she kept going.

Almyra King Holsclaw, late 1920s 

Almyra King Holsclaw, late 1920s 

She sat down near the end of her life to tell her story. She wrote, “There has been much of sorrow and hardship but also much of joy in my life and as I look back over the past eighty years, I can see my life like a pattern woven in with the lives of so many others. It seems, as I look at it from here, now that it is so nearly finished, that there is plenty of brightness to offset the dark, gloomy part of my weaving.”

Almyra could see the patterns in her life at its finish – the dark parts offset by the bright parts, the losses as well as the love. I can just imagine her, old and wrinkled, sitting pensively in her rocking chair with an old coverlet made by her mother across her lap, probably knitting as she tells her story aloud to her daughter, who writes it down just as she hears it. Almyra recalls as she closes her eyes, thinking back to her childhood as the daughter and granddaughter of pioneers in the “poorest” part of the state. She tells how hard it was raising so many children yet says how much of a blessing each of them have been to her. She remembers the Civil War and seeing all the boys off… and her grandsons off to the Great War…many of them never to return. She tells of their awful fear during these wars, the terrible after effects of both. And so, she ends her life story, the one that she knows will be passed down by her descendants, with a prayer: “And so my prayer is may war be outlawed from the land. May peace and joy and gladness come to take its place.”

Perseverance and Inspiration

Almyra’s life story inspires me for her perseverance… how despite her many trials and sorrows, she kept going. She could see at the end of her life how the brightness offset the gloominess, and she left us with a prayer.

Life has been hard for our family lately. This is one part where the darkness seems overwhelming. It’s hard to see how any brightness could offset this dark, gloomy part, as Almyra would say. It’s been hard for many people lately. The world seems so hopeless, and so often we feel helpless to change it. We rely on the stories of those who have gone before us to show us the way - to remind us that, as Sam says, Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

We can have hope. There is hope. If we just hold on.

Our Vision & Mission 

My vision is to help families and children discover the stories that are held in their family history, and to share them with each other, to share them with the world. Because stories change our lives – they teach us how to hold on, they teach us about ourselves and about each other. They have the power to change the world. For this reason, I am creating a children’s picture book based on Almyra’s memoir, that will be released in October 2017, and bringing it to children’s groups as part of a Story time program that will include a read aloud of the book as well as an interactive lesson on discovering and telling the stories in children’s family history. Will you join me? For updates about the release of the book and Story time programs, subscribe here. When you subscribe, you also receive my free e-book: Writing Family History for Children: A Workbook & Guide, which will help your family discover your family stories.

Do you believe in this mission? Become a patron of Storybook Ancestor and be a part in bringing family history and stories to children everywhere, for as a little as $5 a month. In return for support, patrons receive access to exclusive content and updates from Storybook Ancestor (including videos of read-alouds and live feeds of Story time programs!). Visit our Patreon page for more details and to share in our mission. Thank you, friends! 

Happy storytelling! 

Dear Anyone who is Raising a Child

Dear Anyone who is Raising a Child,

We have the chance to stop racism in its tracks in the raising of our children.

Please do not brush it under the rug, and don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

It stares us in the face every day.

For some of us, we have the privilege to pretend it doesn’t exist, for others it truly does affect them every day. For those of us who have the privilege of pretending it doesn’t exist, it’s time to disown that privilege and speak out against the silence, and speak out against the hate. Silence begets ignorance in our children. We can’t only read stories set during the Civil Rights movement or set on the Underground Railroad and talk about racism and prejudice and hate as something of the past. Yes, please read those stories, because they bring about change and new perspectives, but also recognize that racism and prejudice and hate have persisted. We see it in the news, we see it on our streets. We see it in Charlottesville.

Real Talk with your Children

Oh, please talk about it with your children. Something I did with my daughter last year was watch live feeds out of Standing Rock, and talk with her about how racism and oppression of Native Americans did not end during the times of the Trail of Tears, no, they persist today.

We’ve got to pay attention.

In our studies of history and family history, we must recognize our connections to the people of the past, how history is fluid and continuous, that humanity’s problems “back then” are still humanity’s problems today.

Listen First, then Speak Out

We have to have these real talks with our kids. Teach your children to listen and to love. This is why stories are so powerful - when we listen to each other's stories, we learn about different walks of life and different experiences, and then how we are so similar to each other in our hearts. We learn to empathize.

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason: listen up. Share stories of kids and families from all walks of life with your kids. Listen to the stories of your neighbors, listen to stories of the past as well as those of today. Listening to each other's stories changes the world.

Stories change the world. Listen first, and then speak out against hate.

Teach our kids to interrupt hate and wage peace and love.

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” – Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace

 

Those Moments we Create our Family History

Today - August 4 - is my husband Ben and I’s tenth wedding anniversary.

Ten years. 

Ten years ago today, my father walked me down the aisle to my best friend. Ten years ago today, Ben and I said “I do” before two hundred of our family and friends. Ten years ago today, we didn’t know what in the world we were heading for, but we knew we were heading into it together.

When I look at our wedding photos, I see family members who have passed on during these last ten years – my grandma, my great-great aunt, and my husband’s grandpa. I also see family members and friends who are still with us, who have stuck with us through all the good times and the bad these last ten years. I see hopes and dreams in our eyes, promises of the future. And I realize, as I am ever the family historian, that I see family history playing out in our wedding album, family history playing out over these first ten years of our marriage.

Ben and Katie - August 4, 2007 - making memories 

Ben and Katie - August 4, 2007 - making memories 

Making Memories of Us 

Sometimes, when we are in the trenches of life, we don’t realize that we are creating family history together, especially in the eyes of our children. That when we suffer losses, and celebrate our triumphs together – a graduation, a birth, a wedding, even times of death – miscarriage, sickness, times when family gathers from around the country as a loved one spends his last days in a hospital bed – that this is the family history we will speak of years down the road.

Family History in the Eyes of our Children 

Ben and I homeschool our two children. It can be truly hard sometimes. It can be lonely. It can be frustrating. It can be overwhelming.

But then there are days that make you realize – it’s all worth it. Little days when my kids have breakthrough moments in their learning. Days when they realize they love something they are learning. Days when we just love spending time together because we are all happy in our home. And then there are days when you just know, you are all going to talk about this day for years. Yesterday was one of those days.

My kids and I drove over two hours down to a nature preserve in southern Indiana, just the three of us, to meet up with the homeschool nature studies group we are working with this summer. Little did I know the amazing memories we would create. And I didn’t fully realize how much we all truly enjoyed it until later when I scrolled through the pictures on my phone and saw the genuine smiles on my children’s faces. We talked and sang on the long drive there and back, we learned about wildlife from a naturalist, we went creek stomping, hiking, caving, discovered an old abandoned log cabin, and we made new friends. It was a day we will remember, a special day, a day I know we’ll talk about for a long time.

Ellie and Micah at Cave River Valley - making memories

Ellie and Micah at Cave River Valley - making memories

Our Story

And now, as I think on it, it reminded me of the group backpacking trips that Ben and I went on when we were in high school. Just like the trip when we met in 2003. The trip when we went hiking on the Appalachian Trail, when we got caught in a horrible mountain storm – a story we still love to tell with our friends who were on the trip with us. Times like yesterday remind me of the trip to Georgia in 2004 when I realized more fully how much of a wonderful young man my husband was, how he loved children, how he loved nature, loved God, loved life.

I’ve been listening to all of “our songs” this past week and just reflecting on our time together. These songs help tell our story. And as he and I have been reflecting on our past, our daughter has taken an interest in our love story, in how he “told me he liked me”, how we started dating and how he proposed. I realized that in this, I have been sharing with her our story – our family history.

The Camptown backpacking trip where Ben and I met - making memories 

The Camptown backpacking trip where Ben and I met - making memories 

Our Stories

I think I didn’t completely realize until recently that our current lives with our loved ones are family history – that they will become family history. I remember back in January Ben’s grandmother telling me a story about a time when she and Ben’s grandpa were hiking at Turkey Run State Park when they were younger – about how she grew tired and he promised her ice cream if she would just keep going. She told me this story over ice cream. Ice cream brought the memory back. 

These are the little stories we remember, the little stories that matter – the little stories we share later with our children, the stories that become our family history, that are passed down through generations.

We are creating our family history today. Those smiles in our wedding photos, on our honeymoon, in the hospital the days our children were born, the smiles and the tears and laughter of remembrance at funerals, the stories shared, these are all family history.

Remember them. These are the stories we share. Make them count, friends. 

Happy storytelling. 

I’m gonna love you, like nobody loves you, and I’ll earn your trust making memories of us

             Keith Urban, Making Memories of Us

            Ben and Katie’s first dance

             August 4, 2007

Happy tenth anniversary, Ben. I love you.

4th Grade Indiana History: Hoosier Biographies on TpT

“I write as the birds sing, because I must, and usually from the same source of inspiration.”

So said Gene Stratton-Porter, author and nature-lover of Indiana.

Sylvan Lake, as seen from Gene's home 

Sylvan Lake, as seen from Gene's home 

Gene Stratton-Porter: Indiana Author and Naturalist 

Gene was more than your average nature-lover, however. This remarkable woman would do anything for nature. She was years ahead of her time as a woman born in 1863 - she was a naturalist. She wandered around her father’s farm and her mother’s gardens and the woods and fields near her home when she was a child. She kept pet birds and studied insects and flowers, and even transplanted plants to save them from destruction when she was still only a child. As a grown woman, even as a wife and mother, she would still brave insect bites and stings and poisonous plants for her research and later for photography. She would crawl through poison ivy for the perfect nature photograph, and on more than one occasion fell ill because she spent too much time wading through a swamp or a river. She wrote nature studies and fought for conservation, and even her fiction novels were based around nature. And even as she studied, took photographs, and wrote her nature studies, journal articles, poetry, and novels, she still found time for music and her beloved family. She was an inspiration to say the least, and her legacy lives on today. She is still the most widely read Hoosier female author of all time.

4th Grade Indiana Biographies 

Gene's home on Sylvan Lake, viewed from the gardens 

Gene's home on Sylvan Lake, viewed from the gardens 

When I was asked by a 4th grade teacher to create Indiana biographies for Teachers pay Teachers, I jumped on the chance. I knew immediately that Gene Stratton-Porter would need to be my first biography. I’ve always found her fascinating, and I know children would, too. So I studied and researched her life, and our family drove nearly three hours north to the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site near Rome City, Indiana. Her last home and her Wildflower Woods and gardens are all preserved for visitors to enjoy, which was her wish. We toured the beautiful house, which is like Gene - full of stories -and then we wandered around the gardens and grounds.  We met a friend and our children enjoyed their time, too. It seems to me that Gene was childlike her whole life, and so her legacy would naturally engage children.

Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale & Coming Soon... 

My first Indiana Biography on Gene Stratton-Porter is now available on Teachers pay Teachers. TpT is a wonderful resource for teachers, homeschoolers, parents – really anyone who works with children. I am proud to be a TpT teacher-author!

Coming soon for Storybook Ancestor’s 4th grade Indiana History Biographies:

-          James Whitcomb Riley

-          Tecumseh

-          Frances Slocum

-          T.C. Steele

-          AND I am taking suggestions from 4th grade teachers, too! Whose biography would you like to have for your students? Leave a comment and let me know and I’ve gotcha covered! Also - don't forget to subscribe to the blog's newsletter and follow my Teachers pay Teachers store for updates! 

Happy Back to School, and Happy Storytelling! 

 

Storytelling with Historical Records

The Story Begins by Listening to Family History

“It was like they all left Connersville and wanted to forget it all.”

These words spoken by my great-great aunt Betts intrigued me. I couldn’t forget them. She was speaking about her mother and her siblings, the Garrity children. They’d all left Connersville, Indiana in 1905 when they were suddenly orphaned, and seemingly, never spoke of it again.

Betts’ mother, my great-great grandmother, Katherine Garrity Fox, had been born in Connersville in 1889. She and her siblings had come to Indianapolis when still young, this Betts knew, but she didn’t know why. And when I asked her, she didn’t know her own grandparents’ names either.

Searching the Records

"Miss Katherine Garrity"

"Miss Katherine Garrity"

Betts’ words stuck with me, and the fact that she didn’t know anything about her own grandparents, so I vowed I would find out. I dove into the records and discovered their names – John and Anna Walsh Garrity – and that they had both died and left all the Garrity children orphaned. I dove deeper and found out that Anna was an orphan herself – her Irish father had died in England, and her Irish mother had died when Anna was a teenager, two years before she married John. Now I could tell Betts their names, and why they left.

But her words still stayed with me. Was it the sickness, the poverty, the sorrow, the grief, that hurt the Garrity children so much that they never spoke of their parents ever again, or their family, or their time in the town of their birth?

There was a story there.

Katherine and Anna happen to be in my matrilineal line. Mary Ann Fox Mulry, Katherine’s daughter and Betts’ sister, is my great-grandmother, and her daughter Jackie was my grandmother, and her daughter is my mother, Laurie. What an amazing story it might be to write about that line of women, all the way back through Indianapolis to Connersville to England to Ireland, mother to mother to mother, and so on. So, I decided to write a novella based on my matrilineal line.

To write a story like that I’d need to rely heavily on records beyond oral history. My mother is still living and can tell me all about her mother and grandmother and family, but beyond that – Katherine, “Mom Fox” – well, she didn’t speak of her family, of course.  So, to tell their story, to uncover the mystery, I’d need to go to the records.

My Story Woven from Records

How can records inform a novella?

I start where the family oral and written history ends, and the unknown begins.

This is a story of motherhood, of childbirth, childrearing, and childhood, and womanhood. What can I find?

I can find out when my great-grandmother Mary Ann was born, to tell me the story of my great-great grandmother’s childbirth. I can look at her birth certificate. I discovered she was Katherine’s firstborn, born at 5am on March 8, 1918 - born at home during the flu epidemic on East New York Street in Indianapolis.

Now I can tell the story of Katherine giving birth. I can tell the story of nightlong labor, a doctor’s house call, a fear of the flu, a cold night, but all in the comforts of home. This is what this record can tell me.

Going further back, I can find out why the Garrity children left Connersville, and where they went. I find a death record for John Garrity in 1895, and I know he left Anna a widow with eight young children at home – and if I look closer at the children, I see that one of them is a newborn. Now I can imagine Anna’s life during that time. In the 1900 census, she is listed as a washerwoman with her children. Now I know she took in laundry to make ends meet to provide for her many children. But Anna died in 1905, and looking at her death certificate, I see that her secondary cause of death was “exhaustion”.

I sigh. It’s becoming personal now. I can see that Anna likely worked her young self to death trying to raise and provide for so many children all on her own. There’s a story there.

Anna’s obituary tells me that her children will go to Indianapolis to live with their aunt Mary Walsh, who I see by looking at the records, is Anna’s younger sister. I see in the records that she lives in downtown Indianapolis, and from family oral history I know she was a prim and proper person, as were some of the Garrity girls, but not Katherine. There’s more of a story there.

So many stories, all extracted from looking at records critically. If I weave oral and written family history together with the information I glean from the records, over time, I have a story that spans decades from mother to daughter and on and on right on down to me and my daughter. It’s a story of hope and sorrow, a story of love and loss, a story of motherhood and childhood. It’s told in the voices of each woman in my matrilineal line and is also a memoir of myself as a family historian, something that has brought great joy and love into my life as I have gotten to know my living family, lost close family members, and as I have also discovered the stories of my ancestors.

Mary Ann Fox Mulry with her family 

Mary Ann Fox Mulry with her family 

 

How to Write a Story from Records

There are so many stories to be found hidden amongst old historical records. Here are tips for writing or imagining stories through information on records.

1.       Visualize the information in the record.

  What was your ancestor’s occupation? What did that look like? Do some research if you need to. For example, what did a sheet metal worker or a bricklayer do exactly? What was a housewife’s life like at a certain time and place?

2.       Analyze each bit of information in relation to other information on the record.

   For example, I can see that John died in December 1895, and Dorothy, his daughter, was also born in 1895. Putting these two together, I know that Anna likely had a nursing babe when her husband was sick and when he died and when she buried him.

3.       Put records’ information together with family oral and written history.

I remember Aunt Betts telling us that all three of them were born at home. Now I can look at their birth certificates and confirm that, and see where they lived and what time they were born, and other doctors’ notes that give me a fuller story.

4.       Follow the story over several generations.

       I know more about Katherine’s early childhood because I now know that her mother was an orphan and a widow, and I know that her grandmother was also a young widow.

5.       Search the newspapers.

       The newspapers can give you a bird’s eye view of a story. I know that Anna’s mother Winifred died in October 1877 because of a church death record, but the newspaper told me that she left two orphan daughters and a host of friends to mourn her death. Elsewhere in the newspaper, I find that the two daughters, Anna and Mary, went under the guardianship of a neighbor, who was likely a relative.

6.       Create a timeline for the family, and put it all together.

       Patterns and connections will appear when you create a timeline for a family. You will be able to see your ancestors’ lives in context.

7.       Write the story!

       New questions – and answers – will arise as you write, and you’ll be able to go searching for the answers in the records or among your family members, which will enable you to write a richer story, and it’ll all come to together.

Don’t worry that you have to “get it all right”. I will probably never know the true story of why they “wanted to leave Connersville and forget it all”, but by searching through old records and talking to as many older family members as possible, I can make an educated guess in my story. We have to trust ourselves and our knowledge and the rest will come. We honor our ancestors when we discover and tell their stories.

What questions do you want to answer in your family stories? How will you go about using records and family history to answer them? Our Writing Family History for Kids workbook has tips for everyone - subscribe here to receive your free copy and begin learning how to better write your family history stories.

For more on writing about family history, see this post

Happy storytelling, friends! 

Exploring our Heritage through Living History: Our Family History Travels

We're part of a Family History Travel with Kids link-up today! We have traveled far and wide with our kids researching our family history, from genealogy libraries, to cemeteries, to ancestral homes, but our favorite has been to experience the lifestyles of our ancestors through living history museums. Read on to learn more about our living history experiences, and find the rest of the blog posts at the link-up here to read more about how other families have learned about their family history through travel! 

A Hoosier Family 

 Our family lives in Indianapolis, the capital city of the state of Indiana. My husband grew up in Indianapolis, and I grew up in Carmel, Indiana. My parents both grew up in Indianapolis, as did my husband’s mother, and his father grew up near Lafayette, Indiana. I could go on about who in our family grew up where in Indiana… but it would go back years and years… hundreds of years in fact.

Our Hoosier Heritage

If I was quizzed about our Hoosier (Indiana) heritage, I could tell you about several lines of ancestors across this state. I could tell you about my Mulry ancestors who came to Indianapolis in the 1870s from Ireland. I could tell you about my Caylor ancestors who lived in Hamilton County, where I grew up. I could tell you about my husband’s Potter ancestors who came to Brown County, Indiana in the 1850s because they heard it was pretty. I could tell you about Jesse Vawter, the first ancestor of mine to set foot in Indiana by crossing the Ohio River, around 1806, when Indiana was still a territory. I could tell you about hundreds of ancestors that lived in Indiana alone, because my children are tenth generation Hoosiers on both sides – in fact, through all four of their grandparents’ lines, they are longtime Hoosiers.

William & Almyra King Holsclaw, two of our Indiana pioneer ancestors 

William & Almyra King Holsclaw, two of our Indiana pioneer ancestors 

Tenth Generation Hoosiers

Salome Clouse Hitchcock, another Indiana pioneer ancestor 

Salome Clouse Hitchcock, another Indiana pioneer ancestor 

What does that mean in terms of my children’s heritage? For us, that means my children come from a long line of pioneers. Countless ancestors came to Indiana when it was a territory or a young state to stake their claim, purchasing their land through the land offices, building a humble log cabin, felling the trees, planting crops, and raising their families in those log cabins, sometimes for generations. Our Hoosier heritage is largely diverse, but for the clear majority, their Hoosier ancestors lived the pioneer lifestyle in early Indiana.  

Hands-on Learning

My daughter’s 1st grade year, we became a homeschooling family. Throughout this time, I have had the amazing opportunity to discover how my children learn best. It has become clear that both my now 3rd grade daughter and preschool son learn best when they experience things for themselves, first-hand and hands-on. We have a lot of freedom in homeschooling, so I take the opportunity to incorporate family history into their education.

I knew that our pioneer heritage was important for them to learn, and amazingly, we have discovered several living history museums nearby that are dedicated to the state’s pioneer history. I knew immediately that experiencing history in this way was going to be the best way for my children to experience and understand the lives of their pioneer ancestors.

Living History Museums

Perhaps the most popular living history museum in Indiana is Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers. We absolutely love our visits to Conner Prairie. They have several different historical areas to explore, including a Lenape Indian Camp, the 1863 Civil War Journey, and my favorite, 1836 Prairie Town. This is where we gravitate to, because this is where we learn about pioneer lifestyle. Reenactors become school teachers, blacksmiths, shopkeepers, housekeepers, doctors, farmers, potters, and more. It’s truly a living, breathing 1830s-era town, and families can wander at will, pop in and out of the buildings, interact with the townspeople, try their hand at arts and crafts, and ask any question their heart desires. My kids love Conner Prairie, and since we had ancestors who lived in the area in the 1830s, it’s even more meaningful to them to see how life would have looked like for their them.  

Log cabin at Conner Prairie 

Log cabin at Conner Prairie 

Reenacting Pioneer Life

There’s one more way my daughter and I have learned about pioneer life, and that has been becoming reenactors ourselves! Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin, Indiana has a cabin onsite that was built in the 1830s by Lewis and Sally Hendricks and family. On certain weekends and during the museum’s fall Heritage Day, the cabin is open and visitors are transported back to the 1830s. Ellie and I have studied the Hendricks family by researching them in the museum’s genealogy library, and we dress up and portray Sally Hendricks and her daughter Caroline. By dressing up and playing Caroline, Ellie has been more motivated to learn about her ancestors – it’s amazing to watch her become a pioneer. 

Ellie as Caroline Hendricks 

Ellie as Caroline Hendricks 

Living History and Family History

Living history brings family history to life. If you live near the areas where your ancestors lived, I encourage you to seek out living history museums nearby where you can experience their way of life. If your ancestors lived far away, plan a trip, and if that’s not feasible – research museums in their area online! They may have videos or interactive activities on their website. When kids can experience their heritage first hand, their family history becomes more real to them - it comes to life.

How has your family engaged in bringing your family history to life through travel? Tell us in the comments!  

There are so many places in Indiana where families can go to learn about pioneer life. We have discovered many more living history museums and pioneer villages, from state parks to national parks to festivals and fairs, to private and county museums. There are so many opportunities across Indiana to learn about pioneer life that I decided I needed to collect them all in a book. My Indiana Historic Villages book is in the works and will be released around the holidays. To learn more, see our Travel Tuesday posts about other historical sites to visit in Indiana, including the village at Spring Mill State Park and at Billie Creek. To receive updates about the book, and our other books and events, and to have free access to our family history printables and e-books, subscribe here

To read more from other bloggers in the Family History Travel with Kids Blog Link-up, click on the image below! 

Storybook Ancestor Storytelling

For the Love of Storytelling

The first storybook I ever fell in love with reading out loud to kids was Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. Have you read it? It’s hilarious. I remember when I was a counselor at a summer camp and we had a bunch of rowdy, bored kids on our hands. I broke out that book and read it aloud and they all just stopped, all eyes fixed on me, and began laughing uncontrollably. They were hooked by a good story.

But you know why I love this book so much? Because when I was in school at Indiana Wesleyan University, I had a Children’s Literature professor read it aloud to us. Yes – us – a bunch of college students, all sitting on the floor at his feet while he read aloud a silly book about a pigeon wanting to drive a bus!

Ever since that class, I have LOVED reading stories aloud to kids. I love storytelling, I love capturing their attention with emotion and expression, long expectant pauses, and sometimes, tears. (Yes, I once cried while reading Let’s Get a Pup! Said Kate to the 4th grade class I student taught.)

I just love reading out loud to kids. It makes me come alive.

Storybook Ancestor Storytelling

So, beginning in October, I will begin holding my own Storybook Ancestor Storytelling times.

These programs are still in development, and the books I will read are nearing completion, and will be released in September. In early October, we will have a launch party in an original 1830s log cabin at the Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin, Indiana, to kick off the Storytelling series! Both ancestors I have written about were likely born in log cabins, so to have the launch party in a log cabin is more than fittin’ – it’s perfect.

Let me tell you a little about the books I will be reading:

The Storybook of Almyra King Hosclaw

When Mother Read Aloud: The Life Story of Almyra King Holsclaw

This storybook is based on a memoir written by my great-great-great grandmother, Almyra King Holsclaw. Myra was born in 1842 in Jennings County, Indiana to pioneer parents, and she lived in Jennings County her entire life.

Almyra King Holsclaw 

Almyra King Holsclaw 

The book is illustrated by five Indiana high school students, and includes the memoir in her own words, and a short biography with photographs of Almyra.

The book begins:

I am an old woman now, so old that some of my grandchildren have grandchildren of their own.

There has been much of sorrow and hardship but also much of joy in my life, and as I look back over the past eighty years, I can see my life like a pattern woven in with the lives of so many others. It seems, as I look at it from here, now that it is so nearly finished, that there is plenty of brightness to offset the dark, gloomy part of my weaving.

Two examples of the illustrations:

(c) Kiah Cheney, 2017 

(c) Kiah Cheney, 2017 

(c) Serenna Bottoms, 2017 

(c) Serenna Bottoms, 2017 

 

 The Storybook of Nellie Hitchcock Mulry

This storybook does not have a title yet. It is a poetic rendition of the life of my great-great grandmother, Nellie Hitchcock Mulry. She was born in 1884 in Nashville, Indiana, and died in 1966 in Indianapolis. She has been described as “saucy” and “spunky” – and I have heard so many great stories that I just had to write about her. This book will be written and illustrated by my daughter and I, with input from members of Mulry relatives all over Nellie’s family tree.

Nellie May Hitchcock Mulry 

Nellie May Hitchcock Mulry 

The book begins:

Let me tell you about Nellie.

They say she was a “saucy gal.”

Nellie was born to a country family, but later came to live in the city – and she really was a city girl, with a spice of pioneer in her.

One day she was looking out her window onto the street and saw this tall, lanky Irish railroad man.

“I’m gonna get that man,” she said to herself. And she did.

Nellie Hitchcock and Lawrence Mulry soon became “Mom and Pop Mulry.”

The illustrations for Nellie’s book are in the formative stages – Ellie and I began sketching them just recently. Following are examples of Ellie and I’s sketches:

Text by Katie Andrews Potter, sketch by Eliana Potter

Text by Katie Andrews Potter, sketch by Eliana Potter

Sketch and text by Katie Andrews Potter 

Sketch and text by Katie Andrews Potter 

 Teaching Kids to Write Family History Stories

Storytelling times will also include a mini-lesson to teach children skills on how to write their own stories about their family and ancestors. The lessons will be very similar to my Writing Family History for Kids e-book, and Family Story Time activity. Storytelling times will be geared toward students in 3rd-5th grade, and centered around 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade Indiana Language Arts and Social Studies educational standards, though children of younger and older ages can certainly benefit and enjoy the program.

Schedule a Storytelling Time! 

I am excited to announce that I am now booking times beginning the second week of October for Storytelling times. Libraries, schools, museums, homeschool groups, Scout troops, afterschool programs, etc. are more than welcome to contact me with interest and we will discuss times and a small fee. I prefer to stay within 50 miles of the Indianapolis area, but may make an exception for special situations. 

Please contact me at Katie (at) storybookancestor (dot) org to discuss scheduling, or through or Submissions page. Also, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter for updates on Storytelling times, the release of the books, and also to get your free e-books and activities! 

I look forward to working with you and your children!  

Happy storytelling! 

Katie

I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in providing you with the best resources for your children in their pursuit of history and genealogy. 

 

Travel Tuesday: Historic Villages in Indiana

Our family has had a blast this summer "wandering Indiana." (If you're a Hoosier, you know that term, and you've probably done it yourself.) We are staying in our home state for the summer, but we are ALL OVER THE PLACE. 

Indiana Travels 

First, the kids and I joined a Homeschool Nature Study group where we study Indiana waterfalls, so every Thursday we travel to a different waterfall in Indiana, and learn about the geology behind it - or sometimes we just play in the creek! It's a lot of fun and a perfect way to incorporate science, nature, exercise, play, travel, and fun into a summer break. 

In addition to this, I have been working on my Indiana Historic Villages Field Trip Guide this summer. So, we have been popping all over the state into different historic villages, most of them pioneer, some of them turn-of-the-century, some frontier. I will highlight two of our visits so far below (there would be more if I had bothered to check that one we drove two hours to was open...ha...). 

Billie Creek Village 

The Schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

The Schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

Billie Creek Village is a turn-of-the-century village located in Rockville, Parke County, Indiana. It opened in the 1960s and has been a popular destination for family and school trips ever since. It has a 1900s era schoolhouse, two churches, a Civil War-era barn, shops, a log cabin, and more...not to mention two of what Parke County is famous for, covered bridges! 

My kids and I traveled out to Billie Creek with our good friend Allie (who wrote the first story on our Family Stories page). Allie enjoyed playing teacher in the schoolhouse, and Ellie and Micah enjoyed playing student. Allie also gave a "sermon" from the pulpit of one of the churches, and we explored the town together. Keep an eye out for the field trip guide for more information on Billie Creek and an activity guide - released later this year! 

The kiddos in the schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

The kiddos in the schoolhouse at Billie Creek 

Spring Mill Pioneer Village 

The kiddos in front of the mill 

The kiddos in front of the mill 

Last week we visited Spring Mill State Park and its pioneer village. It is located in Mitchell, Lawrence County, Indiana, and is one of my favorite places in the world. I want to live there. (Seriously, look for me in one of the cabins with the beds and comfy-looking quilts.) We went with our kids, and one of my Girl Scouts and Ellie's friend, Br'yinna. The neatest thing for me was that every hour on the hour, the 1817 mill actually works and grinds cornmeal that you can purchase. It's amazing to watch a 200 year old mill in action with water that comes from a cave upstream. 

There are several log homes, shops, and gardens that you can take self-guided tours through, and sometimes there are reenactors onsite. The buildings are authentic - some are in their original location, others have been moved from elsewhere in Lawrence County. I learned that a friend of  mine's grandfather was actually born in one of the cabins. This is real history - it's a real village that was active for around a century before the railroad moved the majority of the population to the town of Mitchell. The village fell into disrepair until the state created a state park and the CCC built up the village and the park. There is more to the park than the village by the way - several caves, hiking trails, and a museum dedicated to Hoosier astronaut, Gus Grissom. It's a must-visit place for Hoosiers. This village will be highlighted in our Field Trip guide as well. 

The stone garden wall built by the CCC in Spring Mill Pioneer Village 

The stone garden wall built by the CCC in Spring Mill Pioneer Village 

History Nerd 

If you know me or my writing, you know by now that I am a "history nerd." No shame. I mean, I was grinning giddily as the mill was grinding corn, people. So, as we were walking out of the village at Spring Mill, I told Ellie and Br'yinna, "I knoooow,  I'm a history nerd. But you had fun too, right?" (They did.) But I had to explain what a nerd is. Somehow they equated this with "loser." I promise you, "loser" was NOT part of my definition of nerd. But then, both girls looked at me and said, "Don't worry, Mommy/Miss Katie, you're not a loser!"

Yes! I'm not a loser! My husband and I had a good laugh at that. History is fun, folks. It's exciting, it's living, it's educational, it's fascinating, and even kids who don't identify as "history nerds" can enjoy it. 

Where have you visited recently that made you grin giddily? (Surely, I'm not the only history nerd out there! So, what about you?) 

Happy travels, happy storytelling, and to my American friends, Happy Independence Day! 

Take your kids to historic sites. They may just turn out to be history nerds, too. :) 

Take your kids to historic sites. They may just turn out to be history nerds, too. :) 

Family Story Time

I have been a family historian since I was 16, and over the years, people have often asked me how to get started doing genealogy. Usually, they mean “where can I go online to find my ancestors?” but I always start them at the very, very beginning: start with your living relatives.

Where to Start in Family History 

You cannot find your ancestors from centuries ago unless you first speak to your living relatives and learn about your more recent family history. Your parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents – they are the foundation of your family tree, and many times, they will be able to direct you further back in time, and sometimes, yes, an old family story will have been passed down to them that will lead you to your more distant ancestors!

But first: visit your Grandma. Talk to your mother. If you cannot do that, ask yourself. What do you know? What have you heard? You know more about your family history than you may realize. Start writing these things down as they come back to you.

Family Story Time 

In this vein, I have created an activity for kids to get started in listening to their family stories – in particular, the stories of childhood. The activity begins with space for the child to write a story from their childhood, with space to illustrate it. Then it moves on to older family members and beyond – all with space to write and illustrate, together with family members. By the end of the activity, a simple and sweet basis for the child’s family history will have been formed, and they can start creating their family tree, now knowing stories behind the names!

 

Children's Storytelling 

Through an amazing organization called Migros Aid Indy, our family spends a lot of time with refugees from all over the world. Every week we go to “English club” and hang out with kids while their parents attend an English class. We eat, we sing, and we learn from each other. It’s a beautiful gathering of people from all walks of life.

Many of the kids are active, playing on the playground or playing soccer, but there are a few that love to draw and write, and I am generally found with these kids (because I love to draw and write, too, of course!). So, I decided to introduce this activity to these kids this week.

The products of their work were as diverse as they are. There was a girl who recently arrived from Syria who is learning to write English letters and words, so she intently copied the words on the page, and then drew a beautiful picture. There were two young ladies, one from the Congo and one from Tanzania that wrote stories about themselves – one of them in her own language, and they also drew pictures. My daughter and I also wrote and drew our own as examples. It was an amazing experience, and now I am inspired to create activities in Spanish, French, and Arabic, with simple English instructions that would accommodate these young people so they will be able to express themselves further.

story1.jpg

Children always have amazing stories to tell. I always say that children should consider themselves and their stories when learning their family history, because after all, they are a very important part of it.

You can find this product for sale at Teachers pay Teachers, as well as a Family Photos Scavenger Hunt activity, and a Family Tree activity that is absolutely free. Visit my store here to find these products.

Happy storytelling, friends.

Stories Can Change the World: Writing, Mental Health, & a DNA Test

I took a DNA test last year.

If you’re a genealogist, you’re probably thinking, Oooh cool! Where do you come from?

Alas, it was not that kind of DNA test. This was a DNA test prescribed by my doctor, and it came back with the results that I am predisposed to a mood disorder.

What My DNA Test Means

This was not surprising, as I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I in 2010. It has been a long road ever since, but through counseling and medication, I have learned to thrive in life, and the DNA test, like one a genealogist would be interested in taking (that I will also someday take), well, it helped me understand myself - and my ancestors. Because it is my ancestors’ DNA that was passed down to me to enable bipolar disorder to manifest in my life.

There’s always the “nature/nurture” question in mental illness. My DNA test told me that “nature” plays a big part in my mental condition, but “nurture” also has a part to play. And here is where I bare a bit of my soul to you in a way I’ve not done on this blog, but I promise, it has to do with the theme.

In May 2010, I was graduating from college with a degree in Elementary Education. I was scared to death of finding a teaching job, and anxious beyond all belief. And every May, many high schools in our area put on their spring musical, so to relieve some of this stress, I went to see one of my favorite musicals – Aida – at a local high school.

Oh. The music. The acting. The costumes. The dancing. The story.

It took hold in my mind and wouldn’t let go. I was inspired. I was in awe. I couldn’t believe what I had just experienced in that theater. There it was – kids – high school kids – had just put on a work of art that was more amazing than almost anything I’d ever seen kids create. And I knew that using a story to teach kids was the key.

But it was more than inspiration. My mind spiraled out of control. I couldn’t sleep. For days. My mind reeled, my body was like the Energizer Bunny, I didn’t stop. I knew that using a story – especially a story with music, with art – could save education. It was what I would do in my classroom, when I got one. It would be how I would teach.

This was my first manic episode. My mind and body were supercharged, until finally I collapsed, literally, and was unable to walk and my husband and parents took me to the Emergency Room, because they had no idea what was going on. They said I wasn’t myself, but I told them, I had never felt more myself before in my life.

The Roller Coaster of Bipolar Disorder 

But if you know what bipolar disorder is, you know what was inevitably coming.

Depression.

Deep, dark, terrifying, isolating, depression.

It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since. Through medications, my moods have mostly stabilized, but even through a medication regimen, my mind still ebbs and flows… but I have learned to stay in my “effectiveness range” through counseling. I embrace the waves and ride them out instead of sinking and succumbing to them.

Stories... and Writing 

It is in embracing my mind that I have learned to write. My characters are deep, confusing, and also confused. The main character that I am writing now is also bipolar, and learning to live life with this condition in her own way. All of my writing comes from the depths of depression or the calm waves, or the heights, the weepiness and inspiration and passion that flows from a mind that is compelled through mental illness. I write because I must. I write because the world is full of beauty. I write because I want to connect people, children, adults, grandchildren and grandparents and ancestors and those yet to be born with each other, across generations and across the world. I know I was manic when I came up with the idea so it may be a bit irrational and naïve, but I cling to it:

Stories can change the world.

____________________________________________________

To my readers:

I am closing in on completing my third novel, entitled Wayfaring. And to gear up for the release of this book later this year, I am giving away free e-copies of my first two books in the series – Going over Home and Going over Jordan - to young adult readers in exchange for reviews. If you are a young adult reader yourself, or have one in your life that may be interested, please subscribe to the newsletter, then send me an email and I will send you the free books (PDFs). To read about the books, visit here.

Email me at Katie (at) storybookancestor (dot) org

Happy storytelling, friends.

Who Tells Your Story: Sharing our Family History with our Children

I am currently going through a very difficult time in my life, a period of loss. It has made my reconsider many things in my life – what’s important… and what’s not. And I’ve realized what it really boils down to for me is this – loving God and loving people. Those were what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments. Love God, and love others.

Who Tells Your Story

Family history for me is a big part of loving people. I love the musical Hamilton, and the line, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” We all want to be remembered. I met with a friend a few days ago and we were talking about this difficulty that I am going through and she reminded me of what I admire about so many members of my family and my ancestors – their perseverance through hardship, the legacy of love they left despite all the trials they faced. Who tells your story? Those to whom you pass down something to… and will it be a legacy of love you leave?

What do we want to remember? Each of us makes mistakes, each of us does things that we regret, but if we press through these things, ultimately we will be remembered for the good things we did in our lives, the love we shared. This is something I believe our ancestors wanted as well. It is our love that reverberates through time. “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

I try to share stories of my grandparents, my older relatives who have passed on, my ancestors, with my children. When my husband’s grandfather passed away earlier this year, I heard his wife, my husband's grandmother, whisper to my sister-in-law at his funeral, “Remember him.” That is how we honor our passed loved ones, our ancestors. We remember them.

Share with your Children

So, share your stories with your children. Teach your children how to preserve those stories, too. I have written a workbook to help kids write about their family history – but before they write, there is also a guide on how to learn about their family history. Tips on how to interview older family members, and how to find more about their family history. It’s called Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide, and it’s free when you subscribe to our newsletter.

My children with their great-great-great Aunt Betts 

My children with their great-great-great Aunt Betts 

I started this blog in the hopes of teaching kids how to write about their family history because I know how important it is to start when you’re young. I began my journey into family history when I was 16, but even now I wish I had begun sooner, because at that time, two of my grandparents had already passed and I missed out on so many stories and memories they could have shared with me. But still – I have been able to preserve memories and stories of several family members that have now since passed that I otherwise would not have been able to, had I not taken the time to listen. My Grandma Andrews, my Great-great Aunt Betts, and my husband’s Grandpa Potter, especially. Because I started when I was so young, I learned so much from them, and not only that, I got to know them better, and in the case of Aunt Betts and Grandpa Potter, so did my kids.

My blog is devoted to the mission of family storytelling, and preserving our family stories and memories through our children. They are the ones who will carry on the family history, so we need to start teaching them now how to preserve it, in ways that reach them, as children. When children learn the meaning and importance of preserving family history, and ways that they can do it themselves at their age, then our family history will truly be safe in their hands. The legacy of love of generations will continue. 

Subscribe here to receive your free copy of Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide.

Happy storytelling, friends.

Thank you to Elizabeth O'Neal of My Descendants Ancestors for hosting this June Blog Party - click the button below to read about how other family historians are preserving their family history through the descendants. 

My Descendant's Ancestors

Two Simple Ways to Encourage a Reluctant Writer

I have always been a writer, but as a teacher and a homeschool mom, writing is something I have always found the most difficult to teach. Ironically, growing up I hated math, but math is now one of my favorite subjects to teach – it’s straight-forward and always follows rules. In writing – creative writing, especially – there really are no rules. You go with your heart. You follow certain conventions, but when it comes to content, you design it on your own. How in the world can you teach that?

Read

My Papaw Andrews loved to read us books about horses 

My Papaw Andrews loved to read us books about horses 

As I’ve grown as a writing teacher, I have had to examine how I learned to write, and the times where my writing teaching inspired a student to write. And that’s when it hit me – that word: inspire. Good writing comes from inspiration. And where do we get inspiration? Often, from reading.

Stephen King once said you can’t be a writer without first being a reader, and that is something I have come to find to be entirely true. We learn to write by reading others’ writing - we read! We read to our kids, with our kids, and we let them read on their own, and we read on our own, too. Kids learn the art of storytelling through reading, and about topics that interest them that they may want to write about themselves.

When I was student teaching, we based the Writing Workshops we designed for our classes on the model in the book About the Authors: Writing Workshop with our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa B. Cleaveland. This book shaped my approach to teaching writing immensely, because it taught me that before we write, we read. We study good writing. We find books that model what we want to write, and then we study those books and use them as a jumping board to our writing.

Thinking back to how I learned to write, this was exactly it. My parents read aloud to me from an early age, and I loved to read to myself, too. The Boxcar Children books inspired me to write mystery, and the Dear America books inspired me to write historical fiction. I learned to write from reading, and now my daughter is doing the same. She is devouring the American Girl series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, the My America books, and now I’m finding her sitting at her desk, the computer, and even in the back of my car writing stories that reflect what she is reading, whereas before when she read much less, writing was like pulling teeth with her. Now she doesn’t stop, and it all comes from reading.

So one way to encourage a reluctant writer to write? Simply: read!

Write

Another way to inspire a reluctant writer? By writing yourself. I can’t tell you how much seeing her mother write has encouraged my daughter to write on her own. Especially now that she is old enough and has read my novels, she wants to be a writer like me. She has asked me many times if and when she can publish her first book, and often when I am sitting down writing, it doesn’t take long before she wanders in and starts writing near me on her own. Our children, especially when they are young, model their behavior after their parents. How can we teach our children to write if we neglect to do any writing ourselves? It doesn’t have to be a story, it can be anything. You can journal, or write about your family history, or record your childhood memories – anything. Don’t forget to let your kids read some of your writing, too. You may just inspire your children to write if you also take the time to write.

So another way to encourage a reluctant writer? Simply: write!

Too simple?

It does seem a little too simple, but words are powerful. One of my movie quotes is Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society: “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” I wholeheartedly believe that’s true. Words inspire us. They take root and make us think and give us new ideas, which inspires us to create. So if you’d love to see your child become a budding writer, there are two things to keep doing:

Read, and write.

Want to write a family history story with your kids? Subscribe here to receive your free e-book: Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide – a book you can work on together where your children will discover their family history and learn how to write the stories they find. 

Happy storytelling! 

I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in providing you with the best resources for your children in their pursuit of history and genealogy. 

Father's Day Scrapbooks: Preserving the Memories (and having a little fun, too!)

When kids are little, homemade gifts for Father’s Day are always the most meaningful, aren’t they? Store-bought gifts are nice for sure, but when kids take time to make something special for their daddy, it’s sure to be treasured for years to come.

My dad has always had a sense of humor, and our family has an endless amount of inside jokes with him and my mother. (Lemme tell ya.) From “The Incident at Wendy’s” to the infamous “Mile 171”, we could speak in our own language of jokes for hours and nobody would be able to follow us. So one year for Father’s Day, my sister and brother and I decided we would put that to good use for our gift.

 

 

 

A Homemade Scrapbook for Father’s Day   

Somehow, our annual family vacations came to be known as “varecations”, and that is the time of year that generally produced the most hilarious of inside jokes, and they also had the tendency to become somewhat legendary. So for our Father’s Day gift in 2003, when I was in high school, my siblings and I created a scrapbook based on our summer family vacations. Here are a couple examples of pages from this scrapbook:

Of course, these are inside jokes, so there are really only five people in the world that would understand them, and they’re probably cracking up right now. But that’s the awesome thing about family, right? You create memories together that are special and meaningful, and also hilarious only to each other!

Create Your Own Scrapbook with your Kids

Why not make a little scrapbook with your kids for Dad this Father’s Day? You can make one about family vacations like we did, or holidays, or any other special memory that means something to your family. (Don’t forget to include the inside jokes – I know you have them.)

Tips for Creating a Father’s Day Scrapbook

-         Keep it simple!

o Scrapbooking can be very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be! Use every day items from around the house – construction paper, stickers, even old calendar photos  

-         Handwrite!

o   You don’t need to print anything out unless you want to. Handwritten notes are always more special anyway!

-         Draw!

o   Don’t have any extra family photos on hand? Use them if you do of course, but have the kids recreate their memories with dad in their drawings, too.

-         The little things matter.

o   It’s often the little things that are so special to us. Include them!

-         If you’re short on time, use the free printables below! :) 

Gifts like these scrapbooks are bound to become family keepsakes, and will be passed down through the family (and your descendants will have a jolly good time trying to figure y’all out, too).

You’re creating family history when you make family scrapbooks, and telling family stories in a memorable way while you’re at it. Have fun!

Have a very happy Father’s Day!

MEMORIES Fathers Day printable jpg.jpg

Here are your Printables!

Me & You, You & Me: Kids get to draw a picture of themselves with their dads, so print one out for each of the kids! Don’t forget to have them write their name and the year in the space at the bottom.

Memories: There’s one for dad, and one for grandpa. Kids draw two memories of themselves with their dads and/or grandpas as gifts for Father’s Day.

Bonus: Want more freebies? Subscribe here for workbooks, printables, and more.

 Need more ideas for this Father’s Day? Check out the other wonderful blog posts in this special Father’s Day #FHforchildren link-up!

 

Where Were You When: Tips to Help Kids Interview Family about Historical Events

“We never missed a single speech [of Roosevelt’s]. We knew that he was going to come on and we made sure that we got that information. We didn’t miss any of them, and we were anxiously awaiting what he had to say and I don’t think anyone had any ideas of anything except feeling that it was in good hands.”

These were my grandmother’s words from when I interviewed her about World War II when I was a junior in high school. We had been studying World War II in our U.S. History class, and our assignment was to interview someone who had lived through it, so I chose my grandmother. She was twenty years old and newly married when the War began, and she told me all about life throughout the War on the home front.

 

An Interview with my Grandmother about World War II

At the time, I had been meeting with my grandmother often to talk about family history, and look through her old photos and the old family Bible, but I had not talked to her specifically about the war. I was fascinated by what she had to say – for instance, her husband at the time was classified 4-F, which meant he was not in the service, for bow-legged vocal chords – a “raspy voice.” She never knew exactly why this disqualified him for service, but they had many friends at the time who were also “4-F couples.” She talked about living with rations, about her husband and mother working for Allison General Motors manufacturing war supplies, and how everyone she knew was dedicated to the war effort. She told me her grandfather, whom she lived with, was a Republican, “but was completely dedicated to President Roosevelt and his procedures.”

Grandma, Mary Holsclaw Andrews, in the early 1940s 

Grandma, Mary Holsclaw Andrews, in the early 1940s 

When I look back on this interview now, I see how significant it is that I was able to take the time to ask her these questions about this important period in history. My grandmother was a girl during the Great Depression, and thus in our conversations about family history, would tell me about her childhood, which was of course directly affected by the Depression, but until this interview, she had never really mentioned World War II, which was obviously a major part of her life as a young woman.  

It made me think, when we talk to our older family members about family history and their lives, do we bring in the historical events that they lived through? As genealogists, we are often careful to identify the time periods and events that our earlier ancestors lived through, but do we do the same with our living relatives when we interview them?

This is an amazing way for kids to learn about history in general in addition to important family history, and to give an added depth to family history. If you have an older relative who lived through World War II, discuss the war with your children. Study it with them, so they have a basic understanding of world and local events through the war. Share with them what you have heard from your relatives about your family’s experiences through that time. And then if you can, guide them to crafting thoughtful interview questions for your relative, if they are okay with being interviewed of course. It’s always important, in any interview, that children understand that some questions may be too personal for the person to answer. My grandmother for example did stop me at one question and requested that I not ask her about it. I was a little taken aback but I respected her answer. It’s best that kids know going in that this may happen and to be prepared for it.

Tips for kids interviewing relatives about historical events:

-         Familiarize kids with the historical event they’ll be discussing before the interview. Do a little unit study together, or a read a short book or section of a history book about it so kids can ask informed questions and follow-ups.

-         Keep it informal. If everyone is relaxed, it will be more like a conversation and therefore more authentic.

-         Discuss with your child that you will be there and may jump in if appropriate, but it’s just to help the conversation and not to step on any toes.

-          Always ask both the child and your relative if you can record the interview, and let them know why you’d like to – but keep the recording device inconspicuous so as not to intimidate.

-         If possible, include visuals in the interview, such as family photos from the time period. This will keep kids’ focus and help them ask relevant questions.

-         Debrief with your kids after the interview and answer any lingering questions they may have about it.

-         Enjoy your time together!

Interviewing family members about historical events will add an extra layer of understanding to both history and family history for your kids. It can also be a wonderful opportunity for your relative to share with your kids important aspects of their life they’d never been able to share before. Enjoy this time together – you’ll all learn something, and grow closer together in the process.

Are you and your kids interested in learning more about interviewing older family members and also writing about their family history? We have a special workbook to help kids learn to do just that. Subscribe here for the free workbook Writing Family History for Kids: A Workbook & Guide, plus more freebies all about family storytelling.

An Indiana Summer: Stories of Hoosiers and our Home

Last weekend in my home town of Indianapolis, Indiana we had the event our state is most known for – the Indy 500 race. From Back Home Again in Indiana to “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” to  the winner drinking milk to the huge crowds that descend upon our city, “the greatest spectacle in racing” is what many think of when they hear the word “Indiana.”

But I promise – we are so much more than that! We have a rich history that goes back thousands of years. I know – I’m a 9th generation Hoosier, and I have spent my life here, much of it studying our history and our people and our stories.

And so this summer, I want to dedicate the blog the stories of the people of Indiana!

The exciting news, part of the reason I’m having an Indiana summer, is to gear up for the release of my first children’s picture book, based on the memoir of an ancestor of mine, who was an Indiana pioneer.

My Storybook Ancestor 

Almyra King Holsclaw was born in 1842 in Jennings County, Indiana, and spent her entire life there. And at the end of her life, some time in the late 1920s, she sat down with her daughter and told her life story. She told intricate details of what life was like in pioneer Indiana, stories of her childhood, community, marriage, and children, in such a beautiful way. The first thing that struck me when reading her memoir was how much it read like a picture book with the beautiful imagery, and I knew what I had to do.

When Mother Read Aloud: The Life Story of Almyra King Holsclaw will be released this fall. I am excited to share that it is illustrated by five other Hoosiers – all high school students from the Indianapolis area. The illustrations have turned out beautifully and I am so proud of the artists – they captured Almyra’s story wonderfully. Almyra will be my first true "storybook ancestor". 

Keep an eye on the blog and our social media for updates about the release of the book and events - I'll be at several different events in the fall and winter sharing the book with other Hoosiers! 

An early sketch of one illustration for the children's book, by Kiah Cheney 

An early sketch of one illustration for the children's book, by Kiah Cheney 

So what’s in store for the blog this summer?

-          Book reviews of children’s and young adult books by Indiana authors and about Indiana history

-          Indiana field trip reviews

-          Indiana ancestor stories

o   Do you have Indiana ancestors? Contact me and we’ll share their stories!

-          Surprises!

I’ll be doing a lot of traveling this summer to different historical points of interests around Indiana, as I am also writing a field trip guide to go along with the children’s book. My daughter and I will be reading and reviewing books together, and we can’t wait to share with you.

Are you a Hoosier, or do you have Hoosier roots? We’d love to hear from you! Share your story, or your ancestors’ stories, your favorite Indiana field trips and books with us. We always love to hear from you.

The Hard Part of Family History

I have to admit: I’ve been struggling with my family history lately.

I find my pioneer ancestors absolutely fascinating. I love learning about the hardy women in my family tree who raised their children in covered wagons and log cabins. I’m writing a book about field trips to take in Indiana to learn more about pioneer history, but this has raised some issues for me, and I can’t ignore them.

I can’t isolate my ancestors from their historical context. Because the fact remains, these hallowed ancestors of mine were part of very real historical systems that perpetuated racism and oppression. They were a part of the force that drove Indiana’s Native Americans from their land. Many of my ancestors had sold slaves before they moved from a southern state into Indiana.  Many of them, if not most of them, held a white supremacist point of view, in that they may have believed firmly in Manifest Destiny, where America was destined to take over North America to the Pacific Ocean and “tame the land”, causing destruction of lives and nature along the way.

We as adults can wrestle with these issues. We can see, if we’re honest with ourselves, the complexities in which our ancestors lived their lives. They did not live in a vacuum, and sometimes it seems that way when we just pencil their names and dates in our family trees. But they lived within history, amidst everything that was going on around them at the time. Sometimes it seems the hardy pioneer was just that – and it seems the idealized lifestyle. But my ancestors were a very real part of movements of history that were not so ideal. Movements that caused pain, suffering, death. Of course, we ourselves are not to blame for their actions, but we benefit from them. And it would in fact be wrong to ignore the consequences of every action, even the ones that may hurt to admit.

What does that mean for our kids? Our kids are growing up in a world that is shaped by our history – a world where racism and oppression are still very much alive. And because of that, if we are studying family history with our kids, it’s important to study it within every context of the history in which our ancestors lived their lives. In order to start to break today’s systems of oppression, we have to address the systems of oppression of the past. We have to be open and honest with our kids. Does this mean totally disparage our ancestors? No. Simply, it means we look at them as human beings that lived on planet earth. We study their sins as well as their triumphs. Yes, we can be proud of our ancestor who raised eight children in a log cabin, but we also need to remember that her family was involved in more complex movements of history of which the consequences were dire. By studying this part as well as the good parts, we come to a more complete understanding of our ancestors’ lives and times.

We must be honest with ourselves, and with our children in our studies of family history. And only by being completely honest can we begin to gain real understanding, and in doing so, begin to break down the walls of centuries that cause oppression, racism, prejudice, and injustice. Family history is a study of humanity, and it can change the world.