Sunday, November 4, 2012

Heart of the Tin Trunk

You know you're addicted to genealogy when...  your son's out-of-town baseball tournament turns into a family heritage opportunity!  

My husband has a rich German Texan heritage.  Conveniently his ancestors settled in a few of the towns surrounding my son's tournament in Brenham.  Also, since I have Czech ancestors and got on the Polka On! mailing list, I knew that the musical "Heart of the Tin Trunk" was showing that same weekend.  The playwright Virginia Leech's intent was to encourage today's youth to remember and value the experiences and sacrifices of their immigrant ancestors.  Yes everyone groaned when I described it, but they also knew better than to argue with me.  

I tried to start the day on a good note by letting the boys get their fill from the Blue Bell Creamery.  Then we visited the utterly charming Welcome Lutheran Church and it's cemetery to visit Dorethea Giessel.  Cutting it extremely close, we hightailed it into the parking lot of the Round Top Festival Institute.  We were amazed at the warm welcome we received.  They let us park in the VIP parking lot up close so that we wouldn't miss the start of the show.  Then they gave us VIP seats up front.  An authentically-dressed woman welcomed us at our seats and promised that our kids would be "changed forever."  The architecture of the performance hall blew us away.  Pictures can't do it justice but I included 2 of the soaring ceiling.  Here's a link to see a 360 degree view.  The musical itself brought me to tears as I thought of my Slovak immigrant ancestor Helena Simek who was a mother of young children.  

After the show was over, I wish I could say that my boys raved about it the way they did for say, Captain America or Despicable Me.  But I am certain that for those 2 hours, they did put themselves in the shoes of their great-great grandparents and in the process, became more thankful for their sacrifices.  That's priceless!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Building Up Steam After A Long Break

It's been a while since I've blogged, what with summer vacations and family gatherings.  Here's the follow-up on my last blog ideas & a few other attempts I have made to peek my son's interest.

A few questions from the Father's Legacy book stimulated some funny stories.  The boys' favorite was definitely about dad's first kiss.  Don't know yet if Michael will want to transcribe it for his Heritage book.

Everyone enjoyed the family reunion.  The Descendent Chart was a big hit - even the teens briefly checked out where they fit into the big picture.  And I got a bit of info on my son's great grandfather's brief military service that we will definitely include in the Heritage book.

While the niece and nephew were visiting, we played tourist in our own town and went to the local heritage museum.  The boys were engaged for about an hour - well worth the $2 admission!

Lastly, I shared with Michael a portion of an Ancestors episode shown from the Merseyside Maritime Museum.  It depicted the conditions our ancestors endured below the ship's deck as they sailed to the New World.  I can't get the desired reaction from him such as "Wow, that would have been awful." or "That's incredible how much they suffered." or "I really appreciate what they did for future generations."  That irks me which naturally brings a smirk to his face.  Oh well, I'm planting seeds!     

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Road Trip!!!

We've got a 4 hour trip to my husband's family reunion, so I'm ready to use the drive time wisely.  I bought this book for my husband a decade ago and he hasn't touched it once.  So now I'm thinking I'll let my sons take turns picking a question and I'll digitally tape his answer.  Then once we get to the reunion, I have my Descendant Chart ready to tape to the wall in our gathering room.  One added bonus from Ancestry was that they had yearbook pictures from several of the relatives from the 60s to the 80s.  That should stimulate some chuckles and hopefully some entertaining stories.  Looking forward to it!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Considering My Teen's Personal Story

I am so very thankful that when my boys were in preschool and filled out a form with their favorite things, I saved it.  I would sometimes remember to ask them the same questions on their birthday.  So the other day we had a great laugh at their answers over the years.  It's such a fun way to track my childrens' history as they grow up.  I'm hoping Michael will be brave enough to include them in his family heritage book!     

1.  My favorite TV show is__________
2.  What I like best about myself is________
3.  My favorite thing to eat for supper is ________
4.  My favorite color is ________
5.  Other children think I'm________
6.  My favorite song is________
7.  What I like best about my mother is________
8.  My best school subject is________
9.  My favorite video game is________
10. When I have to work around the house, I________
11. What I like best about my father is________
12. I like my teacher when________
13. My favorite movie is________
14. I think my bedtime should be________
15. When I have free time, I like to________
16. When I grow up, I want to________
17. I like people who________
18. What I would like to change about me is________
19. I do not like people who________
20. If I had lots of money, I would________
21. Favorite restaurant________  
22. Favorite flavor ice cream________
23.  Favorite friend________
24.  Favorite book________
25.  Favorite hobbies________
26.  Favorite board game________

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Marrying Across Boundaries

While we were at Polka Fest, we sat at the same table with a very friendly older woman who had a Czech heritage.  I brought up the fact that I had an ancestor from both the Czech side and from the Slovak side of the border.  She said that there was a big difference between the two.  I had already read a little about why Czechoslovakia had broken apart, and how the Czechs were typically more educated while the Slovaks were typically more rural.  So I didn't press her for details, partly out of a defensiveness that she might put down my Slovak ancestors.  When we discussed it later as a family, I wondered if marrying across ethnic boundaries put a strain on my great great grandparents' marriage.  After 6 children, Joannes Turanek abandoned Helene in Slovakia, came to Chicago and married a second woman (who specified her birthplace as Germany).  That conversation seemed to engage my son, speculating on the influence of prejudices & stereotypes in this situation.  Score one point for the genealogist mom :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day - Let Us Never Forget!

(Puerto Rico's 65th U.S. Infantry Regiment in South Korea, Feb. 2, 1951)

During the Korean War, my grandfather briefly returned to Puerto Rico to bring condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers in his regiment.  I've typed the spanish words from the newspaper article into Google Translator but I really need to ask my mother to translate it in a way that flows better.  I can imagine how emotional he must have been to give that speech- he said that in every step they demonstrated unparalleled value, intelligence and native pride.  In addition to their great fighting spirit, he described them as very religious.  He offered his home in Ponce to all those who had relatives in the Korean front.  Here is a list of the "Los Boricuas Caídos Honrosamente" who gave their all for the country they loved.  Let us never forget their sacrifice. 
This morning, I took the boys downtown to meet a Holocaust survivor Mike Jacobs.  What a horrific experience he lived through- when he was finally liberated, he weighed only 70 pounds as a 21 year old.  Fortunately, the Nazis did not accomplish their goal to exterminate the Jews, such as Mr. Jacobs.  As the sole survivor of his family, he came to America, got married, and had four children!  Let us never forget what happened during the Holocaust.   
We also paid a visit to our town's war memorial.  There was so many names for such a small town.  Let us never forget those brave men.
Just a few years ago, my grandfather lamented that our country has forgotten the purpose of Memorial Day.  Papi, I hope this blog post would please you.  Love, Michelle. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Polka On!

One of the biggest revelations of my research on my father's side concerned his grandfather's family.  Through Ancestry, we found my dad's second cousin and she stunned us with the circumstances of how the family had immigrated from Europe.  It was quite a shock for my dad because he grew up thinking he was one thing (German), and it got changed 65 years later (Czechoslovakian).  It was fun for me to get to look at a new culture as my own heritage, especially a culture that's so prevalent around central Texas.  A perfect opportunity to see that culture presented itself as we spent yesterday afternoon at the National Polka Festival.  On the schedule, I zeroed in on the kolache eating contest & the horseshoe contest as activities that might engage my teenager.  Surprisingly, when it came time to enter, my husband and father-in-law did while my son declined.  We all had a great time cheering them on.  Afterwards, we got to polka while the Texas Dutchmen played in the Katolická Jednota Texaská Hall.  I can't say my son had a fabulous time, but hopefully he got a little taste of his heritage and the men got a picture with Polka Fest Grand Marshal, Miss Texas.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

No Regrets - Interviewing Your Older Relatives

It just so happened that my cousin got married the year that my older son had the family heritage assignment.  My grandfather was in amazingly great shape in his early 90s and golfed as much as possible.  Sadly he wasn't physically up to joining the traditional pre-wedding golf day with all the men in the family.  But that turned into the golden opportunity for my son to interview him.  I am so incredibly thankful we got to do that, because he passed away only 6 months later.  But I do have two regrets.  Firstly, most of the questions were pretty superficial (about pets, hobbies, etc.).  That made sense coming from his great-grandson.  But I wish I asked him some more introspective ones.  Secondly, I wish I had given him a microphone to speak into.  We had a room full of people, so at times it was difficult to hear him on the video.  And since I was holding the camera, my voice came in the loudest - which is a painful thing indeed!  I hope to figure out a way to edit out the background noise with Photoshop Premiere, when Michael needs to listen to it for his assignment.

Given how busy the school year is, we will be aiming to interview grandparents over the summer.  I found some great questions online that I would like to borrow.  Thank you Treasure Maps Genealogy for your many great ideas!  I will also be asking my technophile hubby for help securing a cordless microphone.  Please comment with any suggestions you might have.

- Who where the most influential people in your life (relative, teacher, coach, boss, etc) and why?
- What hard-earned lessons have you learned in your life?
- What was a life-defining or life-altering moment in your life?
- What do you want to make sure we know about your parents/grandparents/siblings?
- What predictions would you make for each of your grandchild's lives?
- What wisdom do you want to pass down the generations?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"VI ET ARMIS" By Strength And Arms

Boy, just to talk about this took some negotiation last night!  Michael pushed for not working on this at all until the end of June, but I reminded him of all his extracurriculars that will start up in the Fall.  Neither of us wants to be slaving over this full-time next Spring.

When I read in the description of the cover of the book that there was blood dripping from the leg, he wanted to find it.  Then he asked me to scan it to put in his book.  We're getting somewhere!

"Gules, three dexter arms vambraced argent and embowed, the hands closed proper.
A dexter arm vambraced and embowed argent, the hand grasping an armed leg couped it the thigh and bleeding."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Focus on the Men in Battles

This assignment has been legendary in our town waaaaaay before my time.  Many a mother has slaved hours upon hours creating a beautiful family heirloom.  That was never in the realm of possibility with my non-artistic, analytical brain. 

But on my first go around, I drove my older son to cram in all of the ancestors I was adding to my tree in back to Charlemagne.  This time we're not going for breadth as much as depth.  (After all, the assignment only requires that we go back as far as the Civil War.)  I'm going to be picky and choose to highlight the ones with life events that would interest my son.  When I consider his favorite books - they usually climax with an epic battle.  So the first tidbit I gave him was from a wonderful book about my maternal grandmother's line, Familia:  La historia de los Armstrong en Puerto Rico.  There's a great story of how the first Armstrong earned his name in Scotland.  I read it to him and he gave me a nod of approval.  Then I quit while I was ahead!

The story goes that in an ancient battle the King of the Scots was unhorsed. His armor bearer Fairbairn, with one arm, picked up the king and sat him upon Fairbairn's own horse. The grateful king decreed that Fairbairn should thereafter be know as Armstrong, and gave him land along the Scottish Border.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Your mission Mom, should you choose to accept it...

Welcome to my first ever post to my first ever blog!

Here on Mission Impossible - Making Genealogy Fun For My Teen Blog, I will be sharing my year-long journey to help my 8th grade son complete his family heritage album.  Not only complete it, but actually enjoy it.  (OK, if not enjoy it, at least not detest it.)  I already went through this process with my older son two years ago.  That ended up being a year of a whole lot of nagging with a final product basically full of names, dates and places, but not much else.  Hindsight being 20/20, this time around I want to find ways to engage my son by making his ancestors come alive and become interesting people to get to know.  It will take some work, but I choose to accept the mission!