Archive for June, 2008

Yesterday I spent a few hours scanning letters that my grandparents wrote to my parents while my grandparents were stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany.  It has been several years since I read them so it was a chance for me to re-read while I was scanning.  I try not to handle these pages from the early 1950s very much in a way to keep them from picking up too much acidic content.  When I received them from my mom, they had been placed in a large manilla folder and kept in her basement.  To be clear, my mom’s basement is finished and air conditioned so they haven’t been in damp, musty or too hot conditions.  All of them are still readable and intact which is rare since most of them were handwritten or typed on very thin onion skin paper.  Remember, they were being sent from Germany to the United States so to pack a lot of pages into one envelope for the regular price of a stamp, they used very thin paper.

My grandparents wrote letters at least once or twice a week and they were in Germany for three years so I have many – MANY – letters to scan.  And that’s just of the Germany letters.  There are also letters they wrote to my parents when my parents were stationed in Japan twice.  Letters my grandfather and grandmother wrote to each other while they were courting, when my grandfather entered military training after they were married, when my grandfather went to France during WWI, and letters from my grandmother’s siblings and mother to her.

Here are some excerpts from the Letters from Germany.


Most of the letters are little more than reciting the more mundane chores of daily life or the functions that my grandparents attended.  For genealogical purposes, they provide a window into their lives that I wouldn’t have if not for these letters. My grandparents also took several weekend trips into other regions or countries during their time in Europe.  My grandfather took my grandmother to the area he was in during WWI in France and showed her spots she had only read about in his letters.  My grandmother saw what was left of some of the concentration camps from WWII.  They went to Holland and saw windmills and tulips.  They shopped in Garmisch. One thing that was always consistent in the letters they wrote from Germany: they missed their children and grandchildren terribly.  No matter where the military sent them, their hearts were always wherever their family was.

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Please check out the 50th Carnival of Genealogy – Family Pets hosted by Bill West (West in New England).  There are 29 authors and 30 stories about pets we or our ancestors owned.  And when you visit each post, please make sure you leave a comment so that the authors know you visited and how much you enjoyed reading the stories. 

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This is the only picture I have of both of my grandmothers together and not with anyone else.  The lady on the left is my maternal grandmother, Vesta Christina Wilt Johnson.  I knew her as Nana.  Grandma Amore (Ella Marie House) passed away fifteen years before I was born.  In fact I don’t even know if that’s what her other grandchildren called her.  In our house she was referred to as Mom Amore (by my mother).  It seems odd that I think of her as “Ella” or as my dad’s mom instead of as my grandmother.

They are together in this picture because they both were in Montana to see my parents while my Mom was pregnant with my sister.  Apparently my grandfather, Lloyd Amore, didn’t want to fly out there.

Nana lived until I was 22 so I knew her very well.  I never remembered that she was that tall though; probably due to her osteoarthritis as her age advanced and she seemed “shorter”.  She always had a smile on her face – even through her many hospitalizations later on.  Nana always had a stash of kid friendly candy and cookies.  She was a good cook and had sewn quite a bit.  Since she and my grandfather had lived in many different places and she had traveled extensively, their home was decorated with beautiful artwork and figurines.  She had a prized Hummel collection that I loved to look at.  Nana always thought the best about people.  She tried to find that one small thing within each person that made them unique and special.  She loved all her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren the same – yet she loved each of us as if we were the only one.  One of the best gifts she ever gave me was the knowledge that no matter what I did, where I went or who I became, she would always love me unconditionally.  At a time in my teenage years when nothing could go right and I was always doing something wrong, that knowledge kept me from going over the deep end.  She only got to meet one of my children and saw a picture of my second daughter days before she died.  Yet I know that she is my guardian angel and is looking down on me and my family.  I don’t know how she’d feel about me reading the love letters she wrote to my grandfather before they were married, but somehow I think she’d get a twinkle in her eye and tell me that she had to maintain some type of mystery – even from her children and grandchildren – about what a passionate woman she was.  Nana didn’t have to lecture.  She taught by example and by her love.  And for that I will always be grateful.

Grandma Amore is more than a woman of mystery since I never met her or felt her grandmother’s love.  My dad thought the world of his mother and I think, as her “baby”, she probably spoiled him a little.  I wish I could find a colored picture of her because I’ve been told her hair was auburn.  My cousins (much older than me) have never really told me any stories about our grandmother for me to form any sort of opinion.  I guess I don’t feel her loss because she was never a part of my life.  I often wonder what was going through her mind when she learned she had breast cancer.  I also wonder that if the technology of today was around in the 1940’s if it could have saved her life.  Would her survival have changed the course of my father’s life?  Would it have impacted mine in a more dramatic way? 

I’m just glad that with this picture, there is a snapshot of my grandmother’s together.  That even though I only grew up knowing one, I still had two.  Possibly Ella’s been looking down on me as well.

Thank you, Nana and thank you, Grandma Amore, for the legacies you’ve left through your children and all those family members who knew you.

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A bit late in the evening but I wanted to post a bit about Father’s Day.  There have been several influential men – father figures – in my life.  None more so than my Dad.  He has led a pretty great life and has seen the world and technology change.  Dad was the youngest of seven and grew up in Coshocton, Ohio.  Soon after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Armed Forces and was in the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) until 1960.  He worked Civil Service on the Air Force Base for many years after.  He’s lived in Iceland when he was in training, Ohio, Florida, Montana, Wisconsin, and Japan for a total of six years while he was in the service.  Dad is primarily a nomad and likes to move every few years – similar to how the service does it’s placement and transfers.  He’s traveled all over the United States for recreation.  Similar to his brothers and uncles and father, he likes to work with his hands and has built furniture and done minor house maintenance. 

As a young girl, my Dad was very patient with me when I wanted to play.  He’d let me play house while he just went along.  He’d sit with me for tea parties.  I’d sit and tell him made up stories and when I was a pre-teen, he listened to me sing (that should earn him a spot in heaven!) for hours on end!  My Dad and I had a very tenuous relationship for many years and didn’t speak for quite a while due to some personal issues.  I realized one day close to Easter in the late 80s that someday my Dad would be gone and then how would I feel if the silence continued.  I reached out to him in a letter and soon got a reply.  Then I picked up the phone.  It was almost as if those lost years were swept away as we picked up our father-daughter relationship.  He’s been there when I’ve needed him and he’s turned to my husband and I when he’s needed to.  I called him early this morning to wish him a Happy Father’s day because he’s still going strong and I knew he’d probably be hard to reach any other time.

My grandfather also played a big part in my life.  For most of my formative years, I always thought he was so tall and formidable.  He had a booming voice that commanded – but of course – he’d retired as a Colonel from the Air Force.  When Grandad talked, people listened.  He was respected where ever he went and by whomever he met.  Yet, then I didn’t realize half of what he’d lived through in his life.  I remember the look on his face the night my grandmother passed away in 1984.  It was as if somoene had torn out his heart.  He was very lost.  She’d been by his side since Easter of 1916 – the day they met.  It was only a few years ago when I found their love letters and letters they wrote after they were married, that I learned of the depth of my grandfather’s gentleness, playfulness, and immense love that he had not only for his “Dearest” wife but for his entire family. 

During the years my dad and I were estranged, my brother – 21 years older than me – was also a father figure.  He’d spend time to talk with me about how my choices would affect my life.  And when he was disappointed in me, I felt just awful.  Rarely did I ever hear my brother raise his voice.  He never had to.  He had a way of looking at me with his blue eyes that made me very aware of his disapproval.  Yet my brother was full of fun and always found time for a little sister.  One summer he and his wife took me along with them on a short trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park.  Even though we were sleeping – along with their infant son – in a pickup truck camper, I thought it was a wonderful trip.  Unfortunately, my brother’s not around anymore for me to let him know how much I appreciated his influence on my life. 

I miss my Grandad and brother – because they are no longer around.  I miss my Dad because we’re separated by distance and not able to see each other very much – although I can hear his voice whenever I want.  Happy Father’s Day!

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I’ve just uploaded some photos to previous posts. 

A picture of my mom and aunt sitting in front of the house they grew up in: The Old House

A picture of my mom in her cap and gown: Graduation Past and Present

Update: A picture of Slick climbing a lader and a picture of one of the dogs my mom had as a child: Furry and Feathered Family Members – Carnival of Genealogy

Possibly more later!

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An Update

Hopefully tonight or tomorrow I will add some photos to some previous posts.  I will list the permalink in my post so you won’t have to scroll to find the updated info and photos.  I spent four hours this morning scanning in old photos – which was part of my genealogy goals.  Unfortunately, I also have a head cold and a low grade fever so I’m not much use to anyone right now – let alone myself!  Stay tuned . . .

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State Agency Databases website has a listing of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. If you click on any of the states, it will take you to the page of Databases for that state. Example: from the Kansas link, I scrolled through the list until I came upon listings under the Kansas State Historical Society. One of them was for Death Notices of Members of Fraternal Orders. There I found a death date I had been looking for. Some of the states have court case searches or land records searchs. This website probably won’t have everything you want to search for, but it is another place to look for information.

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Jasia at Creative Gene has a guest post at Shades of the Departed concerning Digital Scrapbooking for Genealogists. She asks everyone to go check out her post, and she’d like to see our creations too.

Last fall I made two complete digital scrapbook albums – one for my mom on her birthday and one for my mother-in-law on her’s.  They both seemed to enjoy them.  Instead of worrying about plagiarizing someone else’s designs, I make my own digital papers, elements, and more. 

Below are some of the pages I did for them.  Enjoy!


 Dearest: The Love Story of Glen Johnson and Vesta Wilt

John & Katie Johnson

Flowers From Childhood

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My mom recalls with fondness the two dogs she grew up with.  Queenie was an Airedale Terrier and Jewel was a St. Bernard.  (Photo at left shows my aunt, uncle & mom with Queenie.)  


In the 50s after she and my dad were married, they had a bull terrier – Slick.  He was black and white and could climb ladders (below left).  When my dad was transferred to Japan, Slick had to stay with my grandparents.  My sister still has fond memories of Slick.  The picture at right of the two of them out in the snow.  I’m not sure how old he was when he died of heart problems.  Along the way my mom also had a bird (I never knew she liked birds until I was older). 


Yes, dogs were the main pets in our family.  Cats – well, not so much.  As a child, I always wanted a cat but mom wasn’t a cat person.  Didn’t like the whole litter box idea nor would she have wanted to let a pet “roam” outside and possibly get hit by a car.  She told me a story about what happened when she was a young girl.  Either she or her sister (or both) took a bunch of kittens and threw them down the outhouse.  Needless to say whoever did the deed, had to retrieve them and clean them up.  I’m sure that soured them more on cats!


Before I was born, my parents had a dachshund (Gretchen).  She had two puppies – one we gave to my grandparents (Lisa) and one we kept (Bridget).  Those were my dogs!  When I was about three, my parents had a sitter stay with me one evening.  I remember they put Gretchen in the car and drove away in the dark.  The poor dog had broken her back and for a dachshund, that was a death sentence.  From what I’ve been told, she died quite peacefully at the vet’s office.  It wasn’t long after Gretchen’s death that I began to insist that we needed to get another dachshund – as a playmate for Bridget. 


We drove to Marysville, Ohio to a dachshund breeder’s home and picked out a cute little red shorthair puppy.  In keeping with the tradition of naming them with German names, I wanted to call her Gretel.  I joked with my parents that if we got a male, we could name him Hansel.  But we just got the little girl.  Not only were the two dogs friends but they were my playmates.  No matter where I went they were there too.  When I played in my room, they slept under my bed.  When I took a bath, they sat quietly in the corner waiting until I was done.  When we had parties, I’d put a party hat on them!  And those poor dogs allowed me to dress them up in doll baby clothes and wheel them around in my doll buggy!


We bred Gretel when she was a couple years old and the result was seven little puppies!  There were five males and two females.  My brother and his family took one of the little girls – Heidi (again keeping with the German naming tradition!)  Here is a shot of the puppies in the whelping bin. 


Then Bridget got sick when I was about 9.  She died soon after she got sick.  I don’t think I ever knew what was wrong.  When my mom asked me if I wanted to see her, I said no.  I wanted to remember her as my energetic friend. 


Gretel became my confidante.  I could tell her anything and she’d just sit there and absorb everything.  I just knew she understood everything I said because when my grandparents had to stay with me for awhile when my mother was in the hospital, I heard my grandfather get upset because of her barking (she really didn’t bark all that much).  So I told her that when she wanted out to just go to the door and if no one noticed, to give a “quiet” bark.  Then when she wanted in, to bark twice.  I don’t think it was my imagination that from then on, that’s exactly what she did. 


When I was in 7th grade, I got up one morning to discover that Gretel was sniffling.  I really wanted Mom to take her to the vet then.  But Mom couldn’t miss work or she wouldn’t get paid.  I think we both talked ourselves into believing she just had a cold.  Since Gretel stayed in our “mudroom” area when we were gone, I left the door open a little as I left for school that morning.  I talked to her and petted her and then I left.  I usually arrived home from school about 30 minutes before my mom did.  When I walked in the door, I immediately called her name.  I heard nothing.  Somehow I knew before I got to her bed that she was gone.  The shock of seeing her lifeless body was more than I could bear.  I called my mom’s work, told them it was an emergency & when Mom got on the phone I exploded in sobs begging her to come home RIGHT NOW.  She said she would, however, knowing she only had five more minutes before her day was over, I’m sure she stuck around for those five minutes.  Nothing would change if she had left right then other than she would have been docked about 15 minutes worth of work time. 


After she arrived home, we took poor Gretel to the vet.  She wanted to make sure she hadn’t been poisoned and asked for an autopsy.  Mom said all she saw were dollar signs wondering what she had asked for!  It was concluded that Gretel had contracted bronchial pneumonia and her lungs had filled with fluid.  We had her buried in a pet cemetery in the Dayton area (I don’t even think I know where it is).  Luckily, the autopsy and burial weren’t as expensive as my mom had thought.


From that time on, she said no more animals. That it wasn’t fair to them to be alone most of the time – with her at work and me at school.  I think she was also trying to protect her heart and mine from any other pet losses.


Intermingled in all that time, my sister and her family had a dog and cat.  When they’d go on vacation, they’d board the dog but asked mom to watch their cat.  Remember the whole “not a cat person” story from above?  Well, I will say that at first Kitty liked Mom more than Mom liked Kitty.  But I think that changed.  Mom finally said she didn’t mind Kitty because she didn’t rub around on her legs or get under her feet.  She was a pretty laid back cat. 


As an adult, I’ve had several dogs and cats and birds.  No fish – I’m not a fish person!  The best cat I ever owned was found in a diesel truck yard – covered in black soot.  He wasn’t very old.  The first thing I did was throw him in a bath to get all that soot off of him.  He turned out to be a beautiful gray and white cat.  We called him “T.C.” for Tom Cat.  He quickly learned where he could sit (not on my kitchen counters or table), where he could scratch (on his cat post, not the furniture or carpet), and that he needn’t be afraid of people.  When my oldest daughter was an infant, he would sit at the foot of her infant seat and hiss at anyone who came near to her that he didn’t know.  We soon learned to “introduce” T.C. to people and tell him it was okay that they get near the baby. 


We had been in our present home a little over a year; listening to our son wish he had a dog.  His sisters were old enough to run off and play without him and he was still so little he could only go in the backyard – not in the front.  So one weekend the kids and I went to an Adopt-A-Pet event.  There was a little white dog who seemed so excited to see people who were interested in her.  We were told she was at least 2 years old, housebroken and spayed (all not true).  She was part terrier, part poodle – but her fur was shaved close to her body so she wasn’t all fluffy and hot.  After she arrived home with us, she found the kitchen floor and decided she wanted to mop it up for us.  That’s how she got her name – Mopsey.  We determined she was probably at least 6 months old.  But when she started chewing on everything we owned, it was outside for her.  I was working full time and with three kids, there wasn’t any time to housetrain her or anything else.  She had a carpeted dog house and was an outside dog for a long time.  My son had his friend.  He’d sit on the edge of the patio with his arm around her.  After our last child was born, she was very careful not to jump on the baby.  Finally we brought her in to let her have a place on the inside.  She had matured so that she wasn’t chewing on anything and was pretty laid back.  Mopsey was part of our family for quite a long time.  The spring before our son graduated high school, we could tell she was going downhill.  After all she was at least 17 years old.  She went blind and have a seizure every once in a while.  The weekend of graduation, we already had her on medication & a special diet hoping to halt any further damage to her kidneys.  But a few days later – she started seizing constantly.  We all knew it was time.  In the morning, my youngest daughter, grandson and I took her to the vet.  He examined her and told us that we really only had one choice to spare her any further indignity as he didn’t think she was aware of any pain anymore.  I called family to let them know and give them the option of being there at the last moments.  So with soothing words of comfort and love to our beloved Mopsey, we waited for the end. 


It took quite a while before we wouldn’t cry anymore every time her name was mentioned or a memory about her was shared.  She had been an important part of our family life and I believe she had waited until she got to see everyone one last time before giving it up. 


Almost a year later, our youngest daughter was ready for another friend.  So for her 15th birthday, we found a medium sized mixed breed named Oreo.  She was a year old, housebroken and spayed (all true this time).  She’s been a best friend to my daughter and we often wonder just who gets the bed as Oreo loves to lay her head on pillows and be covered up – just like a person!  She is smart and has similar traits to her human! 


Yes, pets have been an extension of not only my immediate family, but of my mom, my sister, and my grandparents.  They have only enhanced our lives and helped us be better people because of their unconditional love for us.

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I was browsing through The Genealogue yesterday and clicked the link for the Top Ten List Index at the top right. There’s about 64 different Top Ten Genealogy lists to check out such as Top Ten Signs Your Ancestors Were Poor, Top Ten Signs You’re a Redneck Genealogist, and much more!
Go visit and let Chris Dunham know how much you enjoyed reading these! There are also some other areas on his site to explore. He posts Challenges, Exclusives, and his favorites.

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