Chi-Town Bound: The Wedding, Part I.

A Whirlwind in Chi-Town

This weekend was a whirlwind of emotions, events, and changing environments.  On Thursday, April 10, husband, Bob, daughter, Jennifer, and I (representing the Maryland-based Boling-Dickinson-McDaniel families) departed from Reagan-Washington National Airport headed for Chicago, IL., to meet up with our Lynchburg-based Dickinson’s for our eldest grandson, Joe’s, wedding on Saturday.

Food, Glorious Food!

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5601 W Irving Park Rd:   In Chicago’s west side Portage Park

When our flight landed, Joe was at Chicago O’Hare to meet us and to take us to lunch at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants, Taqueria Amigo Chino–not far from where he lives–Portage Park.

Food, glorious food–What a great choice.  The food was truly authentic and was wonderfully prepared and presented.  Jen and I wanted the Cubana sandwich and Joe had also suggested the Burrito Suizo.  He warned us the portions were large, so Jen and I opted to share the Cubana. But Bob, with his large “machismo” appetite ordered his own Burrito Suizo.  Little did we know, that when Joe warned us the portions were large what he really meant to say was that they were enorme grande!  Joe and Bob ended up sharing the first burrito and we asked Joe to take home the second one for family who would join him later in the evening.

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One Cubano Sandwich (This is an undeniably deliciously grilled sandwich made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, fried egg, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mustard and Cuban bread.)

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One Burrito Suizo with Rice and Beans

Joe had come to culturally diverse Chicago speaking only English about two years ago. So, we all were delightfully impressed when he fluently conversed in Spanish with our server.  She even complimented him on his Spanish language skills–which may come in handy as he readies to be a linguist in the United States military.


This was my second time to Chicago, but the first where I truly got to tour the city and some of its surrounding neighborhoods.




Following lunch, we drove Joe back through Portage Park to his home where he would take a siesta before his last night out as a bachelor.

Portage Park

Traditional Chicago Bungalow Houses in Portage Park

And, despite all of our hustle-bustle to prepare for this special day, Jen still had no matching shoes or shoulder wrap for her dress, which meant we would spend much of Thursday evening, (and little did we know), Friday searching shops in Chicago for just the right matches to her dress, with joyous papa Bob as our chauffeur.

(To be continued…)


A Girl Jekyll and Hyde Who Embezzled $110,000

I subscribe to World Explorer which gives me full access to everything Ancestry has available, including, the military records site and, which includes unlimited access to more than 50 million pages from more than 1800 newspapers across the United States with billions of articles, obituaries, and announcements that may contain stories of my ancestors.

No this is not an advertisemnt or endorsement, but you can easily search for family members, dates, events, etc., much like you search and that where my interests lie.  In one of my browsing moments with no specific intent in mind, I came across the following article from the Washington Post Newspaper, dated January 18, 1920.  The article’s title A Girl Jekyll and Hyde Who Embezzled $110,000 initially caught my eye, but when I started reading it, the writer’s literary and story telling style impressed me–you might say, a novellette. I apologize for the article being longer than I would usually post.  But, I found myself juxtaposing this 1920′s article and writing style to that of today’s newspapers’ writers–nearly 100 years later. The differences in style as I see them quite naturally evolved as our society grew, emphasis on proper grammar changed, and how we now choose to divvy up our time for reading and prioritizing our limited time in general.  What hasn’t changed in all these years seems to be people’s greed and their willingness to risk all they have for social influence and material possessions in spite of their God-given talents and abilities, real family and friends.


 The Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia): Sunday, January 18, 1920



An Amazing But True Story of Petite and Pretty Chief Accountant Position of Trust Who Took Funds to Keep Her Private Business Going so That She Might Live in Luxury.

Girl Dr Jekyll Mr Hyde“Most extraordinary case I have ever known, ” was the comment of the court at a session of Manchester assizes held the other day in England, when Tracy Mary Brady, a petite accountant for a ship broker was arraigned, charged with larceny, falsifications of accounts and fraudulent conversion of monies, the property of her employers, and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment as a punishment for her sin and folly.
“A female Jekyll and Hyde,” they said, as the weeping girl, wearing some of the fine clothes and sparkling jewels that had been the cause of her downfall, was led away to her cell.

For Mary lived a full life. To all outward appearances, as she came and went about her daily work in the brokerage offices, where she was employed, she was an honest working girl, smart and capable, but living simply on the stipend that was paid to her in a weekly envelope. Little did her employer know that when she went home in the afternoon that it was a handsome home in Victoria Park, where she lived splendidly in affluence and riches. And not until the trial did they know that she was the proprietress of a jewelry shop that served the elite of Manchester.

All England gasped when the story of her frenzied finances came out.

“In all my long legal experience I have never met up with a case that might have paralleled this one,” remarked the girl’s lawyer as she sat bowed in humiliation before the bar of justice. The Manchester paper said that if her story had been the subject of a novel by popular author it would have been looked upon as improbable and ridiculous.

Mary Brady was a poor girl who dreamed, like Cinderella, of a life in a gorgeous palace, where she can frolic in ease and luxury against an environment: of social splendor and Royal gaiety, indulging her every wish and for fineries and frivolities out of an inexhaustible treasury provided to her by an indulgent Prince Charming.

But alas! When she woke to find no gallant prince to whisk her off to the grand ball and the Elysian fields of riches, she set off alone to satisfy her heart’s desire is honestly – and counted not the cost of the dizzy game she play until her house of cards came tumbling down upon her slender shoulders and buried her in shame.

Played for High Stakes

Instead, she wished and wished, kept on wishing, until her desires so obsessed her that she determined to have all the creature comforts and luxuries of life, regardless of how they came. Unashamed, emboldened by her first “successes” she went on and on, trampling all convention, disregarding the laws and unscrupulously playing for high stakes with loaded dice. And then came the fall!

Mary was born of humble and honest parentage in Ireland. Her father was a county inspector in the Royal Irish constabulary. He died when Mary was 14 years old, leaving a will and a large family. The widow had some means either reason of a portion of an estate left her by relative. Mary, who in early school days was known as a smart little thing with a head for business and organization, was sent to the Ursuline convent in Sligo, and later continued her education in a Francescan and convent at Nottingham where she was a novice.

By and by she went into the world to earn her own living. To Liverpool she went. My, what a big city! It was very first trip to a large city, and she loved it. The handsomely dressed men and women, the taxicabs and limousines, the theaters and operas, the elegant mansions where the rich land in full and plenty – all her life she had wanted these things. Why was she denied them? She walked in the streets of Liverpool looking in the shop windows at the lovely gowns and wraps, smelling the rich foods as the flavors drifted to her through the windows of the gilded palaces, what the gay throng of pleasure seekers and being these well-dressed women as they tripped lightly from their cars on the arms of their smiling consorts.

But all of these things were denied her. She had not a single friend in all this city throng. She had no funds except the meager pittance that was paid her every Saturday night, and most of it went to pay her board and lodging, former laundry and the few clothes she was able to buy. She had only her position as a sales girl with Lever Brothers – that in her dreams as she sat alone in her tiny hallroom apartment, on one of Liverpool’s small side streets.

How Can She Raise Herself?

And then came the thought: why should she not have all these things? She was pretty, she was smart, she could hold her own among all the other city girls, even though she was a quiet country Irish girl. But how? How is she to mount the latter, rung by rung, until she could command is pretty things for which her soul was longing? How can she raise herself so that she could mingle on an equal footing with these people of another social stratum? What she could dawdle away while waiting for her Prince Charming, or was she to hew her way to the top by her own resources?

She would do it. Ambition inflamed in her and she applied herself to her work at Lever Brothers, and so conscientiously and faithfully that presently she was rewarded with a promotion and an increase in salary. By and by came another increase, for Mary, as was mentioned before, was a woman with extraordinary business capacity. Shrewd, quick witted and courteous to her employers and their patrons, she soon became an invaluable asset to the firm. They reciprocated by elevating her to a position of trust all where she was given the handling of large sums of money. Her private life was above reproach: she was industrious, painstaking and careful of her conduct in and out of business hours. Mary was working for definite goal was leaving no stone unturned that would hinder her drive toward success.

After a time she heard about a new position in Manchester and filed an application. Her references were good, and when the Manchester firm came to look her up they found that Mary was all and more than they had hoped for. So she won: to the hustling, bustling city of Manchester from Liverpool, and resumed again her diligent search for the Golden fleece.

Now she had an important position. She was engaged in the offices of a thriving ship owners and brokerage company. The war was on, and every resource of the nation was combined in getting out every scrap of tonnage possible. Everyone was busy about his or her job in this big establishment. The contract had to be turned out, no matter what the cost. Shipbuilders were being paid good prices, with bonuses for quick delivery, and the officials distributed some of their profits in the way of increased salaries among their employees.

A Trusted Employee

Mary Brady was caught in this wave of prosperity. She had an important position. She was an expert accountant and cashier: through her pants test all the funds of the company. The company’s books were under her supervision, and she kept them in “apple pie order”. Mary was a trusted employee – capable, efficient and always on the job. She was rewarded proportionately.

And now came for temptation. Why should she not live like other people of means? Her salary had increased to such an amount that she could afford to live in better style. So the girl took apartments in the fashionable Midland hotel. There she met folks of different class from those she had ever known before. Better food, more sumptuous living quarters, style, smart people, music, dancing, service – these were the things that appealed to her.
She revealed in this new life. It was wine to her spirits. Pretty and well-dressed now, she was an attractive figure. And she had a pleasing personality that readily won over many new friends. She was in the environment where she could meet them. She was living up to the limit of her income and still she had not enough. She must develop other resources of revenue. But where? And how? She was a salaried girl with no independent means. She must have more money or give up the life she was living. And she loved it so!
There, in the office, she was handling large sums of money, the payroll and petty cash that approximated £50,000 a year. She was tempted to take some of it. Only a loan, she figured. But how could she repay it? How could she take that which did not belong to her without getting an accounting for it? Has she any right to lend herself out of the company’s funds? She wrestled with the problem.

Eventually came a time when she must do something. Her bills at Midland were greater than she could pay. She was using so much of her funds for the day expenses of her new life that when these bills were presented she was unable to meet them. How could she make more money?

And then came an inspiration. She had it! She would go into business for herself! She would “borrow” money from her employers without telling them about it and later pay it back of the profits she would make. Fourth with began her peculations. They were small at first and she deftly covered them up in the books by false entries. As time went on they grew larger and larger, but always the girl was able to hide her defalcations from the company officials through expert manipulations of her accounts. In time she had gathered a considerable sum – enough to start her own business.

Got the Goods on the Margin

Now she went out and engaged herself a little shop in the middle of the Manchester shopping district. With the funds she had appropriated she was able to establish credit and get goods on a margin. She kept right on at her position in the shipyard and employed a manager, a woman who she knew and trusted. To her intimate friends she confided the information that she was in business and directed them to her shop. They went and bought her goods. Others patronize the little jewel shop and it leaped overnight into a flourishing business

.By day Mary worked faithfully in the offices of the ship brokers.

After hours she looked over her jewelry shop with her manager for an hour or so and then gave the rest of the evening over to the life she loved – social splendor. Money! It came to her last. She had “borrowed” from her employer large amounts, but she would pay back very shortly. Her business was prospering.

After time married took a house of her own in Victoria Park, a palatial little place, where she had entertained the friends she had met at the Midland and elsewhere. Clothes, expensive clothes, furs, elegant furniture, and house decorations – all these came her way. Curious people might have wondered how Mary maintained herself so luxuriously on her shipyard salary, but her friends knew about the jewelry shop. They patted her on the back and told her she was the smartest woman in the world. They were proud of such an energetic and resourceful little woman.

There were no romances in this life of Mary’s – saved one. There was never a suggestion of immorality of any kind or shape. Mary had a sweetheart in the service and she was true to him. Perhaps she might have married one of the firm, a junior partner, if she had loved him or set her For him. But Mary loved another. Instead, she introduced one of her sisters to the junior partner of the firm and a forthwith became engaged to be married.

For two years Mary Brady lived this life of shipbuilders’ accountant and jewelry shopkeeper. Money, money, money – how she loved it! It was also fascinating – this business of a young country girl engaged in business for herself. She was still “borrowing” from the firm; but wasn’t her business growing, and wouldn’t she soon be able to repay it without anyone being any the wiser?

All the time she was going a faster pace. It cost considerable to maintain the house in Victoria Park and entertain her friends and style. The prices of everything were constantly increasing. Nor could she received from the position into which she had climbed. She must make a bold front of it and keep things going, no matter what the cost. Even though there came a time when she had to go to a money lender to temporarily bolster her business, Mary kept serenely on her way, confident that she could pull through.

She Turned to Cards

Eventually she found herself face to face with a desperate situation. The pace was faster than she could stand, the demands greater than her resources. She must go slow on the office defalcations in order that she might keep her tracks well covered up. Auditing her jewelry shop accounts, she found that she had asked and received as much credit as she reasonably could without inviting undue comment. She can go no further in either direction. But something must be done.

Then she turned to cards. She had learned to play bridge and other games of chance with the paste boards. Adroit and cool in business, she applied the same methods to her card playing. Sometimes she won and applied her earnings to her business. More often she lost – lost the money that was needed to keep up the jewelry shop. Deeper and deeper she became enmeshed. Recklessly she plunged on and on, trying to recoup her losses and thinking all the time the tide would turn and she would work her way out of the dismal mess.

And then came the crash! One day an officer of the law stepped into the office where Mary was working as a cashier at a salary of £4 a week. He tapped her on her shoulder and said you are under arrest. She was led away, white with fear, but trying to smile and telling her friends that always come out right in the end.

The scene changes to the courtroom. The newspapers have told the whole story of Mary Brady and her dual life; all about the jewelry shop and the Palace in Victoria Park. The court room is crowded as the cashier is led before the presiding justice. All is hushed silence as the prosecuting attorney recites that Mary Brady was a single woman and had been for seven or eight years employed by Messrs. Thoresen as a cashier at a salary of £4 a week. The practices of the she has accused were said to have begun in 1917 and the frauds discovered in July 1919. Mary pleads “guilty.” To the police officer who had arrested her she said, “I cannot deny having had the money, but I can get friends to help me repay it.” She gave the amount as £10,000.

“Is that correct?” asks the court. “The sum was largely in excess of that amount,” comes the reply.

The official receiver in bankruptcy, when called by Mary’s attorney, testifies, saying he is administering her estate as trustee and that the state has realized £8,400. And then follows a running fire of questions and answers.

“Has she given you every assistance?” “Yes.”

“Is she a woman of exceptional business capacity?” “I should think so.”
“Had the prisoner’s employers put in a proof, and if so, for how much?” “£22,000.”

What She Told the Police

“According to the police, the prisoner when arrested said she had lost the money by gambling and cards, except when she had spent on dress. Went to the estate consist of?” “The estate consisted of dresses, furs, jewelry, furniture, a house in Victoria Park, and a jewelry business.”
“How did she pay for the business?” “In cash. It cost £2,000.”

“Is there anything to show how she paid for these things, the furs, the jewelry and so on?” “I do not think she made any secret of the fact that she paid for them out of money referred to in the prosecution.

“Did she spent largely on dress?” “Undoubtedly.”

“On expensive furs?” “Yes, on beautiful furs.”
“Was the business successful?” “I should say it was moderately successful. She would probably make from £50 to £600 a year.”

“Was she there during the day?” “She looked after the business, but had a manageress.”

“Was the business partly paid for by a loan from a money lender of £1,500?” “It is difficult to say.”

“Was there a loan from a money lender?” “Yes.”

It was suggested further by the receiver that Mary Brady must have lost thousands of pounds at cards played at the Midland Hotel.

“With whom did she play?” “I cannot tell you. I shall have to investigate these matters very closely in bankruptcy in view of this trial. I thought it was fairer not to conduct the bankruptcy proceedings until this was over.”

Addressing the court for the defense, Mary Brady’s attorney sketched the whole story of her life, from her birth in Ireland up to the present proceedings, omitting no detail. He told of her life and the Midland Hotel, where she had met the class of people who encouraged her to spend and live high. He told how she conceived the idea of starting a business for herself and how her defalcations began in the office where she handled so much money. They were trifling at first; then larger sums were taken to cover up the small. Finally she was swamped by the drain on her and began play cards for sums which she could not afford to lose. She lost, and did not require much imagination to show where the money came from.

Fought Against Disaster

She had filed a petition in bankruptcy and had made an exhaustive return in an effort to stave off disaster. The costs in this case were being paid for by a married sister. His client was absolutely without a penny and was ruined. There was no suggestion of immorality. It was no small punishment that she had to face so much publicly in the public journals and there had been attacks on her which were without foundation, pleaded the attorney for the defense.

An officer who was engaged to marry her still desired to make her his wife notwithstanding any sentence his Lordship might pass. The prisoner came of an excellent family and one of her sisters was engaged to marry a partner in the prosecuting firm.
The justice in passing sentence said it was a most unhappy case. It caused him as a Judge deep personal grief.

“Your great charm of manner,” he went on, “and your opportunities have led to one thing only – your appearance in the criminal dock of this assize. I am sure that no judge feels more deeply than myself the promptings of pity and sympathy. On the other hand, I realize always the duty of a judge to administer the law, to inflict proper punishment and to do that which will be a warning to others. In the present case it is impossible to overlook the serious nature of your offense.

“You were trusted and you violated your trust. You stole the property that you undertook to guard. I cannot see any element of remorse. I hope this case will warn all men and women that integrity of character is the only basis for lasting happiness. Your serious and prolonged dishonesty calls for substantial punishment, and the least sentence I can pass upon your set of 12 months’ imprisonment.”

They led Mary Brady away to her cell – away to a dreary dungeon so unlike the beautiful house in Victoria Park and totally bereft of all the fine appointments and fine friends who flattered her in the days of her “prosperity.”

Saying Goodbye Forever to Blogging…

 Or, maybe just getting ready for April Fools Day…

How often in our lives have we been the victims of a joke or prank and heard a “gotcha” from a friend or loved one on April 1, April Fools Day?

The video below originally published on Jeremiah Warren’s FaceBook page on
April 1, 2013 promises  not to be a prank, but rather, cites the history for this strange celebratory day as we now know it:

I’m very much hoping that by publishing this post today that you will read and comment back about your April Fools Day experiences so we can share them together.

If you are one of those jokesters or pranksters, here’s some helpful hints for you from April Fool Zone about what to consider before going forward with your ideas for the day:


Plan ahead

Don’t wait until April 1st to start thinking about strategies. Early planning means you’ll be ready on the big day!

Prank with love

Never pull a prank with a mean spirit in your heart. Do it to get a laugh out of someone you care about. And think twice about pranking strangers –it’s generally NOT cool.

Know your victim

Pranks can have consequences–make sure to think about the outcome. After the initial surprise, will your victim’s reaction be positive? A successful prank should always end with your victim laughing!

Match the prank to the person

The best April Fool’s gags are carefully chosen to fit the victim’s personality. For instance, a car prank is perfect for someone who is fussy about their car (but make sure you don’t damage their “baby”!). Or, a computer gag will work best on someone is isn’t very computer savvy. Tailor your prank for the best result.

Is it harmless? Really harmless?

Once you have your prank fully planned out, stop and think…. Is there any chance that someone could get hurt? Is there any possibility that something will get damaged? Consider all outcomes before you plot your prank!

Have the video camera ready

If you can get the moment on tape you’ll be able to enjoy your prank for years to come. So break out the camera…as long as it won’t raise too many suspicions!

Use your best acting skills

If you don’t think you’ll be able to keep a straight face, pick a prank where you’ll stay hidden–or recruit a helper to be the perpetrator.

Time your reveal

Enjoy the moment, and let the prank sink in before shouting out a victorious “April Fool’s!” Timing is important; you don’t want to call it out too early… or too late.

If caught, be gracious

Playing pranks on April Fool’s Day can be tricky–they’ll have their guard up. So don’t be too disappointed if you’re caught in the act. You’ll get ‘em next time!

Be ready for retribution

Expect a payback, so watch your back!

And, No, I am nowhere near ready to say Goodbye to Blogging, did I “getcha”?–
Probably not!

Remembering a 19th Century Educator…

My Paternal 2nd Cousin–5 times removed, from Linden, Amelia County, Virginia

Anna Peyton Bolling (1836-1919) was born 177 years ago. At that time, her father, John Peyton Bolling, was 48 and her mother, Anne Field Gilliam, was 40.  Anna was the sixth of seven children born to Petersburg, Virginia farmers.  Anna had six siblings, namely: Mary Field, Lucy Skelton, Arabella Gilliam, Evelina T., Fanny H, and John Peyton, Jr.Anna Peyton Bolling Relationship Chart

William DeBoulonge Descendant Chart (128x160)Our nearest relative in common was Robert Bolling, III (1730-1775),  who descended from the ancient aristocratic Bolling’s of France and then Yorkshire, England.  This family dates back to the first century.  In fact, Amelia County, Virginia, gets its name from Princess Amelia, daughter of George II of England.

Anna’s middle name “Peyton” was given to her in honor of her Peyton family lineage, a practice in naming across many families.  The Peyton name goes back to England and yet more notable aristocrats and politicians. Sir John Peyton, 1st Baronet (1561 – 1616) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1593 and 1611.  By the 1700′s,  descendantThomas Peyton and his son, Sir John Peyton, lived in Gloucester County, Virginia.

But, it was Robert Bolling’s family who in the early eighteenth century acquired the land and established the seven square mile unincorporated town of Petersburg, Virginia
37.227927900000000000 x -77.401926699999990000)

When the first Petersburg public school system was established in the late 1800′s, the Petersburg High School had a teaching principal, R.M. Cary, and an assistant teacher, Miss Anna Bolling. Her salary was $500 a year. Anna Bolling became official principal of that school in 1876 after acting in that capacity for several years. She served as principal until 1907.

Anna_P._Bolling_Junior_High_SchoolFor  31 years, Anna Peyton Bolling, a woman of strong personality, made an indelible impression on the generations of pupils who came in contact with her as teacher and principal. 

By 1926, architect Charles M. Robinson had designed and built The Anna Peyton Bolling School located at 35 West Filmore Street in  Petersburg. Thousands of children attended here throughout its 40+ years as a junior high school until it closed in the late 1960′s.  Notice if you will, the Second Renaissance Revival architecture as you look at the image on the left.

The 1970s brought school integration to Petersburg and the 1972 annexation of parts of Prince George and Dinwiddie counties added to the school age population and increased crowding in some schools. It was also during this period that Virginia phased out junior high schools throughout the state in favor of middle schools which housed sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. In 1974, all seventh graders attended a new high school built in 1973. In 1998, the National Register of Historic Places included the Anna P. Bolling Junior High School as an historic building.

But, after the Anna Peyton Junior High School closed, it was used as offices by the city’s health and social services departments. Finally, those too, departed and it was left vacant. In the late 1990′s-early 2000′s, the Anna P. Bolling Junior High School re-entered community life as moderate income apartment building.  Upon calling the Petersburg Historic Society today, I learned that it is once again under renovation.

AnnaPeytonBollingHeadstoneAnna Peyton Bolling never married.  She died 08 FEB 1919 in Petersburg, Dinwiddie, Virginia . She, among many other Bolling family members is buried in Blandford Cemetery, in Petersburg, Dinwiddie, Virginia, USA.

Here’s the inscription from her headstone:

Anna Peyton Bolling
Daughter of
John P. and Anne F. Bolling
Born at Linden, Amelia County, Virginia
September 30, 1836
Died February 8th, 1919
in her 83rd year.
Principal Petersburg High School
for 31 Years from 1876 to 1907
having taught continuously at this school for 39 Years
from October 1868 to May 1907.
Member B Street Presbyterian Church
63 years 8 months and 27 days from
May 12th 1855 to February 8th 1919.


Irish-American Heritage Month: March 2014

DNA Test Reveals 10% Irish Ancestry

From my dna report–A Look Into My Irish Ancestry - Primarily in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland, but some lived in France, and England:

Emerald IsleI guess the DNA results that revealed my blood lineage as 10 percent Irish, allow me to legitimately wear green today to honor my Irish heritage.  Ireland, called the Emerald Isle for its rolling green hills, is the second largest island in the British Isles, just off the west coast of Britain. Along with Wales, Scotland and a handful of other isolated communities in the area, it is a last holdout of the ancient Celtic languages that were once spoken throughout much of western Europe. Though closely tied to England, both geographically and historically, the Irish have fiercely maintained their unique character throughout the centuries.

My family’s Irish Surnames:

Irish Ancestry 1Irish Ancestry 2

People of prehistoric Ireland and Scotland

After the Ice Age glaciers retreated from northern Europe more than 9,000 years ago, hunter gatherers and farmers spread north into what is now Great Britain and Ireland. Around 500 B.C., the Bronze Age culture spread across all of western Europe, including the British Isles. These new people originated in central Europe, near what is Austria today. Many tribes existed, but they were collectively known as the Celts.

Population expansion

From around 400 B.C. to 275 B.C., Celtic tribes expanded to the Iberian Peninsula, France, England, Scotland and Ireland—even as far east as Turkey. As the Roman Empire expanded beyond the Italian peninsula, it began to come into increasing contact with the Celts of France, whom the Romans called “Gauls.”

A Tribe of Gauls on an Expedition by Alphonse De Neuville

Roman invasions

The Romans eventually conquered the Gauls and then invaded the British Isles in 43 A.D. They conquered most of southern Britain and occupied it over the course of a few decades. Those Celts who were not assimilated into the Roman Empire and retreated to other areas that remained under Celtic control, such as Wales, Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Brittany. The Roman presence largely wiped out most traces of Celtic culture in England—even replacing the language. Since the Romans never occupied Ireland or Scotland in any real sense, they are among the few places where Celtic languages have survived to this day.

Another thing the Romans brought was Christianity. During the few hundred years that the Romans occupied Britain, they promoted Christianity with varying degrees of force. Many missionaries traveled to the area and succeeded in converting the Celts from their pagan Druidism, though pagan religions resurfaced after the Roman Empire’s collapse.

Viking invasions

Beginning in the late 8th century, Viking raiders began attacking the east coast of England and the northern islands off Scotland.  During the next few centuries, they controlled parts of the islands, exacting tribute, pillaging villages and monasteries, and occasionally setting up trade outposts. During the 9th century, the Vikings established Dublin in western Ireland as a trade port. Vikings controlled this area of Ireland for nearly 300 years, but their power diminished after heavy losses at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

Norman invasions

During the 12th century, Ireland consisted of a number of small warring kingdoms. When Diarmait Mac Murchada, the petty king of Leinster, was deposed by the Irish High King, he turned to England for help. Henry II, the Norman ruler of England, sent Norman mercenaries who assisted Mac Murchada and he regained control of Leinster, though shortly thereafter he died. In 1171, Henry II landed with a large army and seized control of Ireland. With the support of Pope Adrian IV, Henry II took the title “Lord of Ireland” and the Emerald Isle became part of the English Kingdom.

Drawing of Diarmait Mac Murchada, from W.R. Wilde’s A Descriptive Catalogue of the Antiquities in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 1 (Dublin & London, 1863), page 310.
King Henry II by unknown artist. Nation Portrait Gallery, London.
Pope Adrian IV

The Norman kings, ruling primarily from France, gave rise to the House of Plantagenet, a line of kings who began to merge and modernize the kingdom of England. Beginning in 1277, Edward I put down a revolt in Wales and led a full-scale invasion of the country, bringing it under control of the English crown. He then seized political control of Scotland during a succession dispute, leading to a rebellion there. Edward’s campaign against the Scots was less successful and remained unresolved at his death. By decisively defeating Edward’s son at Bannockburn in 1314, the Scots assured their independence.

The Great Plague of the 14th century devastated the Norman and English leadership in Ireland. This destruction of outside authority promoted a renewal of Irish political power, culture and language.

Early modern Ireland

Beginning in 1537 and for the next 70 years, the English monarchy reconquered Ireland. The English attempted to force acceptance of Protestantism among the Irish people, who had mostly remained Catholic. When forced conversion failed, the British Crown replaced the Irish landowners with thousands of Protestant colonists from England and Scotland. England also sold Irish prisoners and “undesirables” to Caribbean plantations as slaves.

The Irish diaspora

Two famines, one in 1740-41 and the second in 1845-52, decimated Ireland. They brought widespread death from starvation and disease and created a massive exodus of refugees. The first famine, caused by severe winter weather, led to the deaths of some 400,000 people; about 150,000 Irish left the country. The second, called the “Great Famine,” was the result of potato blight, killing 1 million people by starvation. Another million Irish fled the country, most immigrating to England, Australia, Canada and the United States, creating a worldwide Irish diaspora.

Victims of the Irish Potato Famine immigrate to North America by ship
The Irish Famine: Interior of a Peasant’s Hut by H. Werdmuller

And, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Facts for Features

Percentage of U.S. Residents with Irish AncestryOriginally a religious holiday to honor St. Patrick, who introduced Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into a celebration for all things Irish. The world’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade occurred on March 17, 1762, in New York City, featuring Irish soldiers serving in the English military. This parade became an annual event, with President Truman attending in 1948. Congress proclaimed March as Irish-American Heritage Month in 1995, and the President issues a proclamation commemorating the occasion each year.

From the U.S. Census Bureau’s Facts for Features

MARCH MADNESS/Sports Celebration of Irish Heritage


Population of South Bend, Ind., home to the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame. About 10.4 percent of South Bend’s population claims Irish ancestry.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey


Percentage of the Boston metropolitan area population that claims Irish ancestry, one of the highest percentages for the top 50 metro areas by population. Boston is home of the Celtics of the National Basketball Association.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey

78,390 and 16,167

Population of New Rochelle, N.Y., and Moraga, Calif., home to the Gaels of Iona University and St. Mary’s College of California, respectively. During college basketball’s March Madness, you will typically see these universities compete on the court, no doubt rooted on by some of the 8.4 percent of the New Rochelle population and 15.5 percent of the Moraga population that claim Irish ancestry.
Sources: 2012 American Community Survey

Population Distribution

34.1 million

Number of U.S. residents who claimed Irish ancestry in 2012. This number was more than seven times the population of Ireland itself (4.6 million). Irish was the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German.
Sources: 2012 American Community Survey
Ireland Central Statistics Office


Percentage of the population in Massachusetts that claims Irish ancestry, which is among the highest in the nation. New York has 2.5 million people claiming Irish ancestry, which is among the most of any state.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey


Number of people with Irish ancestry who were naturalized citizens in 2012.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey

39.2 years old

Median age of those who claim Irish ancestry, which is higher than U.S. residents as a whole at 37.4 years.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey

Irish-Americans Today


Percentage of people of Irish ancestry, 25 or older, who had a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition, 93.4 percent of Irish-Americans in this age group had at least a high school diploma. For the nation as a whole, the corresponding rates were 29.1 percent and 86.4 percent, respectively.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey


Median income for households headed by an Irish-American, higher than the $51,371 for all households. In addition, 7.4 percent of family households of Irish ancestry were in poverty, lower than the rate of 11.8 percent for all Americans.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey


Percentage of employed civilian Irish-Americans 16 or older who worked in management, professional and related occupations. Additionally, 25.9 percent worked in sales and office occupations; 15.9 percent in service occupations; 9.3 percent in production, transportation and material moving occupations; and 7.7 percent in natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey


Percentage of householders of Irish ancestry who owned the home in which they live, with the remainder renting. For the nation as a whole, the homeownership rate was 63.9 percent.
Source: 2012 American Community Survey

Places to Spend the Day


Number of places in the United States that share the name of Ireland’s capital, Dublin. The most recent population for Dublin, Calif., was 47,156.
Source: 2012 Population Estimates

If you’re still not into the spirit of St. Paddy’s Day, then you might consider paying a visit to Emerald Isle, N.C., with 3,669 residents.
Source: 2012 Population Estimates

Other appropriate places in which to spend the day: the township of Irishtown, Ill., several places or townships named Clover (in South Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) or one of the seven places that are named Shamrock.

The Celebration

25.9 billion

U.S. beef production in pounds in 2012. Corned beef is a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish.
Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

$21.5 million

Value of potted florist chrysanthemum sales at wholesale in 2012 for operations with $100,000 or more sales. Lime green chrysanthemums are often requested for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

“Life Interrupted–Navigating the Unexpected”

LifeInterruptedI “borrowed” this post’s title, above, from Priscilla Shirer’s 2011 inspirational book of the same title, as well as the opening description about it:

“From telemarketers to traffic jams to twenty-item shoppers in the ten-item line, our lives are full of interruptions. They’re often aggravating, sometimes infuriating, and can make us want to tell people what we really think about them. But they also tell us something important about ourselves…”

For me, it is what’s most important to me and where I have set my priorities.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that I try to post regularly and that it has been nearly two weeks since my last post.  My lag between posts is in fact because life interrupted my process of documenting and recording Our Heritage: 12th Century and Beyond–up there on my list of priorities–for me and for my family.  However, even higher on my list of priorities is my parents–their quality of life and our care giving efforts.  Both of my octogenarian parents suffered health issues these past two weeks requiring mom to be hospitalized for congestive heart failure and pneumonia and my dad to undergo an angiogram in prep for a future arteriogram to add yet more stents into his arteries to return blood flow into his lower extremities.

So yes, our family who primarily lives in three counties in Maryland with some in the Midwest and some in the south, and even one in Korea, lives were interrupted and we have been navigating the best we can under these unexpected events.

When mom was taken to the hospital, about 20 of the family were celebrating a birthday at a local restaurant not too far in fact from the hospital.  So after several hours when she was taken from the emergency room bed to a regular hospital room, some of the family came directly to the hospital while others went to the parents house to wait for more news–and this is called “navigating the unexpected.”  Over the next couple of days children and grandchildren took turns with hospital visits and home care for the other parent and their pets.

But… had we been alive three centuries ago when so many of our ancestors were living in the original 13 colonies, life for the most part would have been much different, and yes, much simpler–and–we would likely have said our good-bye’s to both our parents many, many years ago.

1800 to today

Yes, life expectancy at birth has doubled from 40 years old in the 1800′s to 80 years old today – in a period of only 10 or so generations! The medical industry attributes improved health care, sanitation, immunizations, access to clean running water and better nutrition.

Today, you seldom hear of diseases that were common in the early 19th century like: parasites, typhoid, and infections like rheumatic fever and scarlet fever.

And the following scenario of family life passed with the years. In the 1800′s, families lived their lives together in the same house or on adjacent strips of land.  They managed to eke out their living by farming small pieces of land, raising animals for food and transportation. They used nearby waters for their baths, food preparation, and fishing. They grew and cared for the trees and forests that provided wood for heating stoves, fireplaces, and timber for building their homes and crafting their tools and furniture–nothing wasted–time well spent helping each other toward a common goal–and the young respected and learned from their wise elders.  Time--me me me generationSuch a contrast to today’s reconfigured family units, hectic lifestyles, and the Millennial Generation.

I’d like also to add just one short yet interesting video by Dr. Hans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor, academic, statistician and public speaker. He is Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute.  This video begins with global statistics starting with the year 1810 and compares global lifespans and income of the poor and sick and the rich and healthy up through 2009 when these huge quantities of public data were last updated.  This animated video very cleverly reveals the story of the world’s past, present and future development, in just under five minutes, telling the story of the world in 200 countries over 200 years and using 120,000 numbers (2015 will be the next time new numbers are available for updates this video):

Meanwhile, our family is continuing to research and investigate what new technological gadgets and gizmos might be available for care giving for those seniors classified as “aging in place”–those who prefer to stay in their homes as long as possible, and yet support family connections and a true quality of life in their later years.  I should also call your attention to a recent article in March 2014′s issue of AARP’s Bulletin, pages 20 and 21:Is This the End of The Nursing Home?  It discusses some new technology options the might allow you or your parents to stay in their homes at least a while longer.

Boys vs. Girls

Boys vs. Girls

“With about 1,048 male babies born for every 1,000 female babies born in 2008, boys are keeping the edge in a ratio that’s stayed about the same over the past 60 years.”

(These numbers came from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, which are sometimes compiled and analyzed over several years.)


Soon to be newlywed!

Nearly 27 years ago our eldest son and his wife blessed us with our first grandson (who is getting married in one month).

Six months later our second son blessed us with our second grandson (a tree expert and home repairs specialist).

Justin and wife

Justin and wife

And, 10 months later our eldest son and his wife again blessed us with our third grandson (Airmen 1st Class, stationed in Korea).  

A1C Mike Dickinson

Next, our second son added three more sons to our family.  

The first of these three (an ironworker), was born only four months after our eldest son’s second child .?????????????????  

Then about one year later our second son’s  third son was born (currently a server at a local restaurant)–making this our 5th grandson whose birth was in that four year span. ?????????????

??????And, about one year later our second son’s fourth son was born (an ironworker at the moment).  

And three months later our eldest son and wife delivered their third and final son (he’s studying criminal justice). Andy

If you’re trying to keep track, that gives us a total of 7 grandsons who all were born between 1988 and 1992–a period of four years!  There truly was no competition between them at the time–life just happens according to God’s plan for us.

And Finally–a Grand Daughter!

Babies CollageThe next grandchild to be born and to grace our family was from our third child, our daughter.  Our 8th grandchild, and the only girl among all those boys, was born after a 7-3/4 year hiatus from births in our immediate family (she’s the only girl in the collage pic).   Then, the youngest of our grandchildren was born to our daughter and her husband nearly 2-1/2 years after our grand daughter’s birth (the baby in the collage pic). You guessed it, the 9th birth and our youngest grandchild was also a boy.  All totaled, we now have 9 grandchildren, (8 boys and 1 girl), all born over a span of 14 years! (If you’re counting heads in the collage pic, I made a small error.  It seems the top upper right pic and the second row far right pic are the same grandson, but please don’t consider this me playing favorites, I truly goofed!)

An only Girl among 9 Grand Children!

Now, I’m not saying that being an only girl among all these boys encourages her grandparents to spoil her.  But, sometimes we feel she wishes we would or believes she’s got a chance to be.  Take for example about three years ago.  “Meems,” that’s me, and our grand daughter had a girl’s day scheduled.  Her mom had told her that she had to clean her room (a very sore subject because she always became overwhelmed with this task), before I could pick her up.  And, as her room chore began to overwhelm her, she placed a telephone call to me pleading for help.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t by my phone when it rang, and so our sweet little 10 year old grand daughter left the following message which I will forever treasure.

Getting to Know My Cousin – 5 Generations Later

We are so blessed that our 13-year-old grand daughter is an avid reader and also enjoys writing her own stories.  So, when she came to me a couple of weeks ago to say she had a social studies project and wanted to focus on proactive women from our past I just jumped with joy.  It just so happened that I had some incomplete genealogical research sitting around that I had hoped to process into a post.  She picked up the torch and gleefully ran with it.  But, before we get to her story below, I’d like to share with you her relationship to the woman she writes about:

John Lothropp (also Lothrop or Lathrop; 1584–1653) was an English Anglican clergyman, who became a Congregationalist minister and emigrant to New England. He was the founder of Barnstable, Massachusetts. Reverend John Lathrop as he later became known was Julia Clifford Lathrop’s 6th great grandfather and just five short generations later our grand daughter Kylie McDaniel was born.  She is Reverend John Lathrop’s 11th great grand daughter. And, here’s Kylie’s story about her cousin.

 Julia Clifford Lathrop

By: Kylie McDaniel

Why was Julia Clifford Lathrop a significant person in the history of the United States?


Julia Clifford Lathrop was a very significant person in the history of the United States. She was appointed as head of the new United States Children’s Bureau of the Department of Commerce and Labor by president William Howard Taft while women were still fighting for their rights in the suffrage movement of 1848. She also joined in as many reform movements as she could. Becoming the head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau was a big deal not only because women still didn’t have their rights but, because she was the first woman to head a federal bureau at a president’s call with full concurrence from the senate.

How did Julia Clifford Lathrop affect others?

Julia affected others in many ways in her line of work. She helped fight for invalid children. She was also an activist. The reason behind the new Bureau was to investigate and report “upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life among all classes of our people.” As stated in my earlier paragraph, Julia was the first female head of any government bureau. She was the daughter of a suffragist. Her mother, Sarah Adeline Potter Lathrop, was a suffragist and was very enthusiastic about what she was fighting for. As a daughter of a suffragist, Julia would hear a lot about women’s rights in her home. votes-4-women.jpg

Her father, William Lathrop, was a personal friend of former president, Abe Lincoln. William also was a lawyer. Julia’s father, helped establish the republican party and served in the state legislature.

Julia worked at the U.S. Children’s Bureau of the Department of Commerce and Labor for 9 years where she mainly worked cases of child labor and juvenile delinquency. This was because she was born into a wealthy family and wanted to help kids who were not as fortunate as she had been. There, she helped many, many, children from child labor, juvenile delinquency, and many other things that involved children.

Julia involved herself in as many reform movements as she could. She joined her mother sometimes in the fight for women’s suffrage. She moved to Chicago in 1890 to join Jane Addams (a pioneer settlement social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace), at the new Hull House. The Hull house was a settlement home in the U.S. that allowed European immigrants who had recently come to America to live there. Julia joined the Illinois Board of Charities in July 1893. She started a personal inspection of all 102 almshouses and farms in the county. In 1893-1894 she stopped that work to inspect county charity institutions that were in Cook County, Illinois. Julia’s descriptions of the Cook County Infirmary, asylum, and the other institutions were put into the Hull House Maps and Papers as its own chapter in 1895. She resigned from the Illinois Board of Charities in 1901 because performance of the staff of almost all of its institutions was really poor. In 1905 she rejoined the board and resigned once again in 1909 when her plan for reorganization was put into place. That same year, at Clifford W. Beers’ National Committee for Mental Hygiene, she became a charter member. Julia involved herself in very many reform movements.

How might history have been different if Julia Clifford Lathrop had not reached her level of importance?

Women-get-the-vote.jpgIf Julia had not reached her level of importance, some women who were proactive about their rights and involve

d in humane charities-based organizations may not have aspired to do so because they would not have had such a role model to believe in. They may have gotten discouraged and felt that there was no point because nothing of significance had happened yet and  would have probably been convinced then nothing ever would. If it weren’t for Julia, and other women like her, women may have never gained their right to vote or be respected enough to hold leadership positions in private organizations and federal government! Also, because she was head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, the children may have never had someone to help them fight against child labor, and offer programs that dealt with juvenile delinquencies, etc. They needed her!

child labor banned.jpg

Was there another person on the horizon who could have taken Julia Clifford Lathrop’s place?


Julia Clifford Lathrop was a unique person with her own unique qualities. She is the one and only. No one could have ever taken her place. Not in the U.S. Children’s Department, the Board of Charities, and not as a charter member of the Clifford W. Beers’ National Committee for Mental Hygiene. If she weren’t any of those things and was replaced by someone else, the United States would probably be a bit different than it is now. Thank you Julia Clifford Lathrop; for making the United States a better place for vassar college J.C.L..jpg

                  julia at her finest.jpg

Oldest-Known Holocaust Survivor Dies; Pianist Was 110

This blog would be incomplete if I failed to include references about the good, the bad, and the uglies of this world. So when I came upon this story of Alice Herz-Sommer, I realized it had all of those features and many more. Alice’s spirit, in only moments, touched my heart. I believe she survived two years in Nazi camp and so many more so she could tell her poignant story–one of a survivor! Thank you Alice and thank you film director Malcolm Clark and producer Nick Reed for your Oscar-nominated documentary The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.

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the Two-Way  Breaking News from NPR


February 24, 201411:44 AM
Alice Herz-Sommer in July 2010.

Alice Herz-Sommer in July 2010.

‘The Lady in Number 6′/AP

There are many remarkable things to say about Alice Herz-Sommer, who until her death in London on Sunday was thought to be the world’s oldest survivor of the Nazi Holocaust.

To start with, there’s her age: Herz-Sommer was 110.

Then there are the people she knew, including writer Franz Kafka — who died in 1924.

But what has particularly touched us as we’ve read about her this morning is her amazingly positive view of the world.

From the documentary ‘The Lady in Number 6′: Alice Herz-Sommer says whether life is good or not ‘depends on me.’

Bear in mind: In 1943, Herz-Sommer and her husband, Leopold Sommer, and their son, Raphael, were sent from Prague to a Nazi camp for Jews in the Czech city of Terezin. According to The Guardian, “she never saw her husband again after he was moved to Auschwitz in 1944 and many in her extended family and most of the friends she had grown up with were also lost in the Holocaust.”

According to the BBC, Herz-Sommer and her son “were among fewer than 20,000 people who were freed when Terezin was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945. An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent there and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were transported on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most were killed.”

Still, when the Guardian spoke with her in 2006, Herz-Sommer had this to say:

“Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything.”

Film director Malcolm Clark and producer Nick Reed — whose Oscar-nominated documentaryThe Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life tells the story of the concerts that Herz-Sommer, a pianist, and others performed in concentration camps to lift the spirits of prisoners — say in a statement that:

“Even as her energy slowly diminished, her bright spirit never faltered. Her life force was so strong, we could never imagine her not being around. We can all learn so much from this most amazing woman.”

On the film’s website, Herz-Sommer was quoted about the role music played in her life:

“She speaks with great pride and passion of playing more than 100 concerts inside the concentration camp and she likens that experience, both for the performers and their imprisoned audience, as being close to the divine. Alice is unequivocal in stating that music preserved her sanity and her life — while bringing hope into the lives of countless others. To this day Alice never tires of saying ‘music saved my life and music saves me still.’ “

The film’s creators added that:

“Despite all that has befallen her, Alice insists that she has never, ever hated the Nazis, and she never will. Some see in her tolerance and compassion a secular saint who has been blessed with the gift of forgiveness, but Alice is far more pragmatic — she has seen enough in her life to know all too well that hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated.”

According to the Guardian, after the war Herz-Sommer “went to Israel in 1949 with her sisters and taught music in Tel Aviv before moving to London at the prompting of her son, who had grown up to become a concert cellist but who died suddenly in 2001 while on tour.”

In the 2006 interview, she shared with the Guardian her secret to a long life:

“My temperament. This optimism and this discipline. Punctually, at 10 a.m., I am sitting there at the piano, with everything in order around me. For 30 years, I have eaten the same — fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don’t drink — not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water. I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good.”

All Things Considered is due to have more about Herz-Sommer and her life later today. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.


How Well Does Your Family Know It’s History?

How well do you think you know your family’s history?

Story Telling2More importantly to me, I’d like to confirm that there is practical value in my documenting and sharing my family’s story.    I sure hope so, because this blog site, as my legacy to future generations of my family, is intended to provide accurate reflections from my family’s past and to hopefully create mirrors to future generations that instill in them a sense of pride, well-being, self esteem, a true belonging to a greater and more in depth personal family history that inspires them in their life’s pursuits.

brucerfeilerI have been looking into and compiling our family’s history since 1980.  I have been writing posts on this blog from this genealogical research since 2011. Family history and genealogical research fascinate me—but beyond just being interesting, exploring family history is an activity that can be traced back to both the Old and New Testament eras. (If you have read the New Testament, you may recall that the story of Jesus opens with a lengthy genealogy that traces all of his human ancestors–not the famous Christmas story that you may have expected.)

I mention this because Bruce Feiler, (New York Times columnist and author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers), published a new book in January 2014,  The Secrets of Happy Families.   In it, is a section on the value of passing on family stories to children. This section gets at the heart of why I started this blog.  And, when Bible Gateway shared an excerpt from it on their blog, I felt compelled to also share it with you:

Guest Post by:   NY Times Best Selling Author, Bruce Feiler

Adapted from The Secrets of Happy Families.

I hit the breaking point as a parent a few years ago. It was the week of my extended family’s annual gathering in August. My parents were aging; my wife and I were straining under the chaos of young children; my sister was bracing to prepare her preteens for bullying, sex and cyber stalking.

Sure enough, one night all the tensions boiled over. At dinner, I noticed my nephew texting under the table. I knew I shouldn’t say anything, but I asked him to stop.

Ka-boom! My sister snapped at me to not discipline her child. My dad pointed out that my girls were the ones balancing spoons on their noses. My mom said none of the grandchildren had manners. Within minutes, everyone had fled to separate corners.

That night I began to wonder: What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?

I spent the last few years trying to answer that question, meeting families, scholars and experts ranging from peace negotiators to online game designers to Warren Buffett’s bankers. After a while, a surprising theme emerged. The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

I first heard this idea from Marshall Duke, a colorful psychologist at Emory University. In the mid-1990′s, Dr. Duke and colleague Robyn Fivush developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions. Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests. Their overwhelming conclusion: The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

“We were blown away,” Dr. Duke said.

Why does knowing where your grandmother went to school help a child overcome something as minor as a skinned knee or as major as a terrorist attack?

“The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,” Dr. Duke said.

Psychologists have found that every family has a unifying narrative, he explained, and those narratives take one of three shapes.

First, the ascending family narrative: “Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. Our family worked. We opened a store. Your grandfather went to high school. Your father went to college. And now you. …”

Second is the descending narrative: “Sweetheart, we used to have it all. Then we lost everything.”

“The most healthful narrative,” Dr. Duke continued, “is the third one. It’s called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “inter-generational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Religious traditions do a particularly good job at conveying this message. Many Bible stories including overcoming suffering and bouncing back from difficult times. One reason religious communities are so tight is that they understand one of their roles is to help people who are experiencing pain and hardship.

Dr. Duke recommends that parents convey similar messages to their children. Any number of occasions work to convey this feeling: holidays, vacations, big family get-togethers, even a ride to the mall. The hokier the family’s tradition, he said, the more likely it is to be passed down. “These traditions become part of your family,” he said.

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.

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