Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kirk, Fairies, and Henderson

If you are in Glasgow the evening of Thursday 5 March and need something to do, go hear Lizanne Henderson speak at the Glasgow Theosophical Society. Her topic will be 'Fairies, Angels and the Land of the Dead: Robert Kirk's Lychnobious People'. Henderson, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, co-authored Scottish Fairy Belief: A History with Edward J. Cowan.

Robert Kirk was minister of the church in Aberfoyle and a folklore scholar. He also wrote about fairies in his best known work The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. Kirk died in 1692, shortly after it's publication. Apparently, the fairies were displeased at having their secrets revealed. At the top of Doon Hill in Aberfoyle is a Scots Pine, the Fairy Tree, in which Kirk's soul was imprisoned by the fairies. Today people tie strips of cloth representing their wishes or leave other offerings at the Fairy Tree. When I visited Doon Hill many years ago, I had no strips of cloths for wish-making, so had to content myself with photographing other people's wishes. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Crafting Your Heritage: Knitting in Shetland

Knitting: A Work in Progress

While it is quite satisfying to locate a set of 6x great-grandparents and fill in two more boxes on a pedigree chart, it can be equally satisfying to do something that our ancestors did everyday. For some people this is gardening, attending the same church, or cooking family recipes. For me one of these activities is knitting.

Both of my grandmothers knit, but my maternal grandmother, Karin Nordstrom Hood, is the one who taught me. She was taught the continental method by her mother, Linka Larsen Nordstrom, and that is the method I learned. This small connection to my Norwegian heritage pleases me more than it probably should.

This story from NPR profiles the tradition of knitting in Shetland. Even if you had no idea there was an island named Shetland let alone that they knit there, you would probably recognize a Fair Isle pattern. 

I'm not sure I would be a good descendant from Shetlanders. I don't like color knitting and lace frustrates me. I much prefer the texture of cables.

nb. This post first appeared on The Historian's Family in July 2014.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Extra! Extra! Research All About It

newspapers research immigration
Newspapers are a great source for information. I have not made wide use of them in my own research, but I know they are out there. They are becoming easier to use as an increasing number are being digitized and indexed. You will find that some papers like the historic Cleveland Plain Dealer archive are available via a subscription held by your local library and others like the New York Commercial Advertiser are available through a subscription service available anywhere.

Here is a sampling of sources for newspapers. I have not used many of them and can offer no endorsements. Many of the fee sites offer short trial periods, which might be worth taking advantage of. If you intend to use the site for a research project for work or school, it is probably worth getting a subscription especially if they offer terms of less than a year. Also check to see what newspaper resources is available vie a your local library or university.

Subscription Sites: **Read this article published in June 2104 before subscribing to NewspaperArchive. There have been complaints about billing, but not about content.**

Check to see what papers these sites have. NewspaperArchive and GenealogyBank have maps on their homepage and a list of states; click on state to see city; then click on city to see newspapers and dates of publication included on the site. has a similar process, just click on “see papers by location” first.

These aggregate sites exist primarily to serve the family historian, but there is no reason why students and historians cannot use them. Don’t be put off by the phrase “enter ancestor’s name.” Simply enter in the name of the individual you are interested in, like “John Witherspoon.” Or leave the name section blank and enter a term in the keyword section, like “enlightenment” or “immigrants.” The search can even be limited to state, city, or even a particular newspaper.  

Free Sites
Google’s United States Online Historical Newspapers here or here. Visit this page from for tips for using newspapers on Google.

ChroniclingAmerica from the Library of Congress 

Lists of Digital Newspapers 
Historical Newspapers Online from the University of Pennsylvania  This is an enormous list. It is organized by state; the first column begins with Alabama, the second column begins with Missouri.

Wikipedia: List of online newspaper archives  This is a world wide list organized by country. You can skip to the USA (organized by state) by going here.

Your Local Library 
Check you local library to see what sources the offer. Here is what is available from the Cleveland Public Library. Most of their newspaper databases require a Cleveland Public Library card to access from home.

Articles on using  newspapers in genealogical research:
Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research
Family History in the News: How to Find & Use Newspapers for Genealogical Research

nb. This post originally appeared on The Historian's Family in August 2014.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Twentieth-Century Scottish Emigration in Three Minutes

Scots' Emigration

In this short animated video a group of elementary school students narrate the Scottish emigration experience. Their video follows two young Scots - plus a stowaway sheep - as they make the journey from Glasgow to Canada. They hit all the highlights discussed in "grown-up" literature on the Scottish Diaspora: push/pull, incomplete knowledge of the destination, unrealistic expectations, stormy Atlantic crossing, and hopes for a better future. Good stuff!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Does Cultural Education begin before Birth?

Annie Murphy Paul - What We Learn Before We Are Born - TedGlobal 2011

When people are asked about why they "do genealogy" a frequent response is to get a sense of who they are and where they or their ancestors came from. They are seeking an identity. Identity comes from many places and aspects of our lives, one of which is culture. Here in the United States I would say I am "Californian" which has cultural similarities with the rest of the country (despite what you might think). However, when in Europe, I always said I was an "American." I often thought that these identities came from living in these places and experiencing, more or less, the same things as my friends and family.

This TedTalk by Annie Murphy Paul suggests we learn much about the world before we are even born. If you've read The Handmaid's Tale, the concept of learning in the womb, and how it could impact the lives of women, is kind of scary. On the other hand, it's fascinating in the context of cultural transmission because Paul argues that while in the womb we learn our mother's accent, her favorite foods, and her favorite music. In essence, we start learning our culture before we are even born. Her theory may go some way to helping to explain the persistence (or not) of immigrant communities.

Perhaps, I didn't learn all about being an American by living here. Maybe being a cultural American started before I was born because of they way my parents spoke and because my mom ate basic American foods, like meat and potatoes. 

If you want to learn more read Annie Paul's book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. I've not read it, but it is on my wish list.

nb. This post originally appeared as "Cultural Education before Birth" on The Historian's Family in March 2014.


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