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Monday, October 31, 2011


Happy Halloween!

Halloween comes from the saying and/or Scottish 16th Century tradition of "All-Hallows-Even".  Yes, I found it as "even" or evening.  All Hallows Day is the next day on November 1st.  Known as All Saints Day in Western Christianity and was once a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church,  All Hallows Day is the solemn day following Halloween.  November 2nd, is also a rather solemn day known as All Soul's Day celebrated in the Catholic Church for those faithfully departed.  Halloween, October 31st, leads off these days as a bit of a celebration.  Is and was Halloween intended to be a big party day?

Now, I am big into understanding history, religion, and people.  Most of my curiosity and understanding of history and theology came from what I learned in Catholic high school.  I provide this disclosure so that you know the source of my learning and experience when I discuss pagan festivals or something more controversial (or perceived to be as such).  My education was as honest and true as it comes which may surprise people where the Catholic Church is concerned.  Facts and history demonstrate the evolution of society, including something as basic as a holiday or celebration such as Halloween.

The Celtic festival of Samuin (sow-an or sow-in) is historically given the credit of where Halloween comes from.  The word is derived from the Old Irish meaning "summer's end".  Celtic people lived mainly in the British Isles and the northern part of France.  They were most certainly pagans that included animal sacrifice as part of their Samuin celebration on October 31st.  Their new year started on November 1st.  Is that a coincidence that it matches some very important days for Christianity?

Now, it should come as no surprise that the Roman Empire had influence over the conversion of pagan believers to Christianity.  Many of the pagan festival days were converted to Christian holidays.  I look at this as a way of making a belief transition easier.  I'm not sure how easy it really was but the Roman Empire and the Church worked to retain and replace some of those pagan holidays with something equally palatable and more "Christian" like.

Many holidays, including Halloween, still pull tradition from those old Celtic Festivals.  Where do you think carving a pumpkin comes from?  Turnips were carved to honor soul's that had passed on.

The story is changed and more elaborate from the Christian stance. There is the legend of "Stingy Jack".  In Ireland, the story goes that Stingy Jack tricked the devil into becoming a coin and also climbing into an apple tree.  With the coin, Jack was able to buy a drink and the story goes on.  Jack tricked the devil again a year later (presumably on Halloween).  The deal that Jack made with the devil was one that prevented him from going to hell.  When Jack died, God did not want Jack in heaven because of his previous unsavory dealings with the devil.  As a result, Jack is stuck roaming the earth forever with a lit coal that God gave him to light his way in the dark. 

Over the years this story evolved to create "Jack O' Lanterns" to light Jack's way on Halloween.  I guess Jack's in purgatory walking the earth and on Halloween his ghostly figure needs light to see his path.

I must admit that the stories of Halloween, and there are many more, are so much more exciting than reality.  The use of our imaginations now and thousands of years ago make this tradition fun and exhilarating for all ages.

My own children look forward to decorating with "Jack" and pumpkins plus dressing up and collecting some candy just as I did as a child as did my own parents.  Imagine that, the children are really enticed by the sweets.

So, share your stories and traditions of "All-Hallows-Even"....Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 7, 2011

What To Write About

Sometimes, I wonder what I might write about next.  I certainly have a plethora of family surnames for which I can rehash my research on each up until this point.  That fills up my blog for most part as it is.  I often wonder if I will run out of things to write about.  Then, I remind myself that I certainly haven't run out of genealogy topics to verbally talk about.  I also haven't finished going through the information that has been handed to me in yet another box of treasures.

While I try very hard to keep living people out of my blog, I find that I would have even more family history to write about if I could.  I will hold off since those living people do want their privacy.   I also find that I must be cautious in writing about those who came before that I personally knew.  I would never want to dishonor them and want to get their story correct.

I could definitely write some historical fiction to fill in the blanks.   That would make things a whole lot easier and quicker.  Of course, that is not genealogy.   I might someday attempt to write some historical fiction for that very reason.  I could fill in all of the blanks!

Some stories do abound within my family history while other lines have produced a basic family tree with dates, locations, and people who happen to be my ancestors.  Again, I search for my ancestors but also their stories.  I can't wait to find more.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Window In Time

Photographs are like small windows in time.  You can look at the photo and get a quick glimpse of the people.  I love photos and wish for more old photos.  It does help if we know who's in each photo.  I realize that is not always possible though.

A photo can share some information about people including what they looked like.  Most photos were taken on happy occasions when people were enjoying themselves.  I find it interesting that in many photos, no one is smiling.  I suppose that was not the practice in the 1800s.  It does help when those in the photos don't look like they're frowning though.

Below are a couple of my favorite photos.  I only wish that I had a true copy of the original for the second photo.

4 of Jack and Minnie Flanagan's Children - Circa 1913-1914 Carneros, Napa, CA

Katie Duffy and Ellen McLaughlin - A.K.A. Catherine and Ellen Maxwell - Circa 1915 Walter Springs, CA
Photos still leave much to the imagination.  I still have to wonder what my ancestors were like.  A photo can't tell you about their personality.   You might be able to pick out some emotion.  Joy, for example, can show through in a photo.  I think that I spotted some joy in these.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Quick Story - The Hickey's Circa 1950s, NYC

Sometimes in life, you take what you can get in the way of stories.  Even if they are anecdotal, they can still be very telling about someone.  In a recent short visit with my aunt, I asked her about her grandmother/my great grandmother, Johanna Coughlin Hickey, and her grandfather/my great grandfather, Patrick Hickey.  She said that they were quiet people.  She added that Patrick had such a thick Irish brogue that it was hard to understand him at times.  As for Johanna, I wonder how quiet she really was.

My aunt said that she did get to visit them in NYC as a child.  She lived on Long Island (as did my dad, her brother).  It sounds like on occasion, she had the opportunity to stay in "The City" (specifically, Manhattan, New York City in Greenwich Village) with her grandparents.  She mentioned Christopher Street as a street they lived on.  I threw out Bleeker Street and Charles Street and she agreed, too, that they had lived on each at different times.

She said that with at least one of her visits, a trip to the A&P was needed.  That is one of the grocery stores in New York.  I wonder if they are still in business.  The official name is The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.  I must admit that after over 100 years in business, I am not sure the name exists any longer.

The trip to the grocery store was a bit of a walk.  Johanna and Patrick Hickey lived in the city with their mode of transportation on foot.  Even today, most city dwellers would agree that is how they get around - on foot and with the assistance of public transportation.

My aunt indicated that during their walk to the A&P, Johanna chatted it up with everyone that she knew along the way.  This seemed to be everyone.  They even knew her by name at the grocery store.  She introduced her granddaughter to all that she encountered.  Let's also just say that the trip to the grocery store took quite a while.  I'll sum it as "social hour" from the sounds of it.  I also think that is wonderful.  She had the fun of visiting her community and friends along the way and involving her granddaughter in what was probably one of her favorite outings.

I love quick stories like this that get thrown out by my relatives of those who came before us.  I can now wonder if my gift of gab, social interaction, and just a "hello" to others comes from my great grandmother.  Thank you, Johanna Coughlin Hickey.  Your warmness and friendly spirit lives on!