Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Art Journey Into Family History Part 3

Before I get into the thick of things today, I want to thank all of those readers who have taken the time to send me lovely emails or left comments on the blog about this series of postings. Your words mean a lot to me… and it tells me that there are people out there who are actually reading my blog! Without feedback from you, it makes it very difficult to judge whether or not what I am writing is of interest. So please continue leaving comments or sending emails… it is very much appreciated.

Jumping right in…

When I found the actual U.S. entry documents on the USGenWeb, I knew for sure that in August 1920, my great grandparents, Commela and Henry, along with their son and daughter in law (my grandparents) and their four children left New Brunswick and moved to a bustling little farming community called Cricket Corner (I love that name!) just outside Amherst, New Hampshire.

As I started delving into gathering information for the narrative part of my pages, I casually began chatting about it with my aunt.

“I was going through some old photographs”, I began “and I came across some photos of Dad when he was a baby.”

I described the first photo. She knew exactly the one I was talking about.

“I’m curious… where was it taken?” I asked.

This casual question came as no surprise to her. For years, she had called me “Nancy Drew, my mystery detective” when I related tales of my latest dance with historical research.

This casual question provided my entrée into talking about our family history. It was also a precursor to openly broaching the subject of doing family research. An idea I knew she would love!

“That was taken before I was born. I think it was after Mom and Dad moved to New Hampshire.”

An aside note…

This turned out not to be the case. Cross border documents I found in my research later on indicated that my dad was nearly two when they moved to N.H. My best guess: the photo was taken sometime in the spring while they still lived in New Brunswick. How do I know that? I studied the picture. My Dad was born in November and looks about six months old in this casual, back step photo. Six months from November would make it April. I will never know but I am guessing that it could have been taken on my grandmother’s birthday in mid April.

I described the second photo. She wasn't sure she had ever seen it.

"Send me a copy." she said.

I did. In a conversation a few weeks later, she was able to tell me who was in the photo. She had never seen it before.

After the book was published and my Aunt Joy (an aunt by marriage) saw the photo of her husband (my uncle Wilfred) as a young child, she was absolutely amazed. "My goodness, we never saw that photo. That picture of "Bamp" (their family nickname for my uncle) is a carbon copy of our eldest son at that age."

Nancy Drew and the Mystery Case of Family History…

Aunt Flo chuckled. “Ah, is my Nancy Drew about to go on another mission?” she said. “It would be wonderful if you did this and we found out more about where we came from.”

Yep, the gateway to mining her family knowledge and memories was definitely now open! It was, after all, her idea now wasn’t it? LOL

She reminded me that I had a “jump start”. My Dad and one of my uncles had already done some “detective work” before they passed away.

I knew my dad’s were on “slips of paper” in a big envelope (he died unexpectedly in 1984) that my sister had. My uncle, who passed away in November 2006, had managed to create a family tree of his immediate family.

Two good places to start.

I called my sister and asked if she could dig out the information and send it to me.

I tracked down the last known whereabouts of my cousin David (I had never met him or his wife). I must admit I was rather nervous picking up the phone to call him. I had never spoken to him and I didn’t want to sound like a “dork” when I did. I needn’t have been nervous… the conversation went very well.

I fired up my computer. The quest for family information began…

Who was my Grandmother?

All my life, I had believed that my grandmother’s middle name was Bertha. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was Bessie. Bertha, it turns out, was the second name of her youngest daughter who was my grandmother’s namesake.

I wondered where these names had come from. Traditionally many of the same family names are passed down from generation to generation in many families. Fortunately I had a copy of my grandmother’s maternal family history I could scour for clues. In the end, I never did discover either of these names in my grandmother’s maternal family history. I can only surmise that they may have come from her paternal side.

Born in 1891 to Amelia and John Nugent, Ina Bessie Nugent was the fourth of five children. Her parents had met at the wedding of her mother’s sister in 1877 and they were married in October of the following year.

(This photo collage of Amelia and John was not part of "Scraps of Memories, Slices of Life")

Born in Ireland in 1842, John Nugent was a young, recently graduated doctor from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery with a successful medical practice in Briggs Corner and Chipman, New Brunswick. No doubt, for the times, he was classified a “good catch” by Amelia Jane’s father and didn’t encounter any resistance when asking for her hand. Well read, he also had a side job. He was a newspaper correspondent for a Saint John, New Brunswick newspaper.

Tragedy strikes…

As a child, my grandmother was termed “delicate”. Like her mother, she was a wisp of a child and often battled with her health. But be that as it may, she managed to attend and graduate from the New Brunswick Provincial Normal School (teacher’s college) and become a teacher.

She was in her first full year of teaching in a school not far from her birth place of Chipman when her eldest brother Arthur, a strapping, athletic young man with a penchant for the “manly” art of boxing, was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

She returned home to help her mother and younger sister Alida nurse her ailing brother. Arthur died within a few months at the tender age of 31. The family and particularly her mother Amelia was devastated by his early demise.

According to Dr. Nugent, who wrote the obituary that appeared in the newspaper, Arthur had taken one box to the head too many.

A popular sport among young men of his age at the time, the “obit writer” went on to rail against boxing and the matches being held in town. He concluded that the sport (and the beatings boxers take) had led his son to a weakened state causing him to come down with influenza. This bout with the “flu” further weakened him to the point that the TB “bug” could invade his body.

Reading between the lines of the obituary, I could hear the sobs of grief coming from a man who has just lost his eldest son.


While teaching in Blissville, Ina had been swept off her feet by a handsome, well read and established “army man”, Major George Thomas. Their romance continued, albeit at long distance (at least for those times... today it would be a hop, skip and jump!) once she returned home to Chipman.

Perhaps absence made the heart grow fonder, for soon after returning home, George proposed. Although there were some family concerns over their age differences (she was not yet 20 and George was 37), Ina was determined to marry him. After much discussion, a wedding was planned and they were married in June 1911.

Ina’s happiness was short lived.

In February of the following year, George died suddenly of a heart attack. The tragedy occurred almost to the very day her brother had passed away the year before.

Ina, seven months pregnant, in shock and disbelief at this tragic turn of affairs, returned to live in the family home.

Her mother was not well. The stress and strain of the past year was taking its’ toll on her health Run down from all the grief of the past year, she fell gravely ill.

Tuberculosis. That dreaded disease had struck his family again. My great grandfather knew that it was akin to receiving a death sentence. This time it would take his beloved wife. Very few people ever recovered from this disease, much less survived during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Determined to live to see the birth of her first grandchild, Amelia Jane Nugent passed away in 1912 when my aunt Georgia was but two months old.

Piecing the story together…

Over the years, I have studied, researched and written “stories” about the lives of women who lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I find this period in our collective history to be a fascinating study that provides some interesting insight into “who we were as a people and nation” before we became “who we are” today

As the puzzle pieces of my grandmother’s early life began to come together, my heart ached for her.

I had a pretty darn good idea what she must have been up against as fate handed her some painful blows. I could only imagine how helpless, hopeless and painful this time in her young life must have been for her. Many a day’s “work” of unearthing information left me feeling sad at the end of the day. The pain and grief in my grandmother’s early life touched my heart deeply. I felt vulnerable and fragile. Tears, always close at hand, tumbled.

I toyed with the idea of giving up. I knew there was more tragedy to come for my grandmother. I consoled myself with the thought that it would be okay because I already knew what it was. Well, not quite, as I was about to discover….

To end today’s post on a happier note, I’d like to leave you with a few notes and tips on gathering family information. Even if you don’t plan to ever do a family tree or delve into researching your family, you’ll find some ideas of things you can do today with your family information to make it easier for future generations.

But first, here’s the page I made with the photo of my Dad and uncles first school. It was such a fun page to put together!

Being “farm kids”, they all had chores to do before they left for school. As I studied the photos I had of their farm and thought about my visit to the area some years before, I found myself imagining those three young boys sauntering off to school picking up rocks, kicking at the dirt and playfully punching each other as they made their way to school.. It made me smile….

The narrative reads “Their morning chores on the farm done, Wilfred, Guy and Willis washed behind their ears, put on their school clothes, ran their fingers through their hair, spit on their shoes when their mother and grandmother weren’t looking, then trotted off to school just down the road.”

Some Thoughts and Tips on Gathering Family Information…

The conversations with my aunt Flo as well as gathering old family photographs from the past 100 plus years gave me a true appreciation for the importance of keeping good family records.

It very quickly became apparent to me that we all need to encourage our elders to write down or tell us about their lives and what they know about family members who have passed on. Memories, dates and names fade. They are lost forever when your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins are no longer here to supply the information. Get them talking! Offer to write it down or record the conversation if you aren’t into writing. Just get the information in any way that feels comfortable for you!

Even if you never plan to do your “family history”, I’d like to suggest that you take a few minutes to record current events for future generations in a small notebook. I am as guilty as the next person for not writing down family events as they occur. Now, not everyone in a future generation will be interested but I can guarantee you there will be someone who wants to know!

At a minimum, keep a record of birth dates, places, countries, marriages, divorces, deaths. Speaking of deaths… now that cremation is becoming more the norm, where are the ashes of loved ones residing or in many cases, being scattered? Someone will be curious and if it is not recorded, it will be lost forever.

Tuck family ephemera away, preferably all of it in the same spot! When I was a child, I remember my mother telling all of us where the “family” stuff was and how important it would be to “grab” the box in the event of a fire or flood. It was good advice… think of all the family stuff that was lost forever during hurricane Katrina! As much as many of those folks displaced by the hurricane were devastated by the loss of their homes, many of them mentioned feeling heartbroken at losing “family” ephemera and photographs.

Newspaper clippings, certificates, awards, your children’s drawings, family bibles, school records and special cards are just some ideas of what to keep. While you are it, make sure that your photographs list who is in the picture! Today, we may know when the photo was taken (it’s usually stamped on the photo) but often we forget to include the “where” and “who”!

Have a great week…


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Art Journey Into Family History Part 2

I don’t know about you but I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I am too much of a free spirit to be boxed in by some goal I think I should go after. I gave up “resolutions” years ago. Fraught with resistance from the “get-go”, they are doomed for early failure even before the ink on my page (yep, I use a fountain pen) is dry!

OOPS! You’re probably wondering already what New Year resolutions have to do with my art and this blog post. I confess! I am about to digress. Just a tad. Bear with me. I promise it won’t take long. There is a rhyme and reason to this brief, little “side trip”…


In January of any given year, I watch how my water aerobics group suddenly gets very large as folks flock to the pool to fulfill some New Year resolution of losing weight or getting more exercise. Occasionally, some of these folks last through March but the majority have all but disappeared by the end of the shortest month of the year. March always comes in like a lamb… our group becomes manageable again. I often wonder how many of them have abandoned a resolution they made. Something that seemed like a great idea on Jan. 1 that quickly deteriorated into a lot of hard work until finally they just gave up! We’ve all been there… Giving up is a crappy feeling …

Well if there is one thing I hate, it’s feeling crappy! After the umpteenth time of doing the same ole thing expecting different results, I banished resolutions and came up with a deviously simple way to go after stuff I determine is truly important to me. A simple solution that makes me feel good and for years now, has never let me down. Yep, I am about to share it with you…are you ready?

Getting Serious…

Sometime in January, preferably on a day when the sun is shining, I get serious I swing by my favourite coffee bar (aptly named “Serious Coffee”… LOL... a Vancouver Island based coffee chain) and get a BIG cup of coffee “to go”. Armed with my daytimer, my pen and a warm, comfy quilt, I head to a sheltered spot on the beach for a chat with ME, MYSELF and I. The only question on my mind is this very simple one: “What three things do you want to focus on this year?”

I rarely have any trouble coming up with an answer. As a matter of fact, I find it pretty darn easy coming up with lots of ideas that makes my heart go pitter patter. The hard part is sorting through all of the possibilities that dance in my head to settle on only three. In spite of being wrapped up in my beach quilt, the cold, north wind blowing along the beach on a January day definitely speeds up the decision making.

Once I know what they are, I whip out my trusty pen and write “the chosen” down in the first pages of my daytimer. I don’t spend any time making a plan, setting “goals” or “soul searching”. It’s too darn cold down there LOL. I just get on with my life and let whatever I write down percolate in the background trusting that when the time is right, it will surface for attention.

In 2007, “ART” … in its many forms (computer and otherwise) was something I felt personally important for me to focus on and wrote it down.

OK, end of digression. That wasn’t so bad now, was it? LOL

A Serendipitous Moment...

A few mere days after writing down my three focuses for 2007, I overheard one of the women in my water aerobics group talking about the “scrapbooking memory program” she had received for Christmas. My ears perked up and my curiosity GPS kicked in.

“What the heck is a scrapbooking memory program?” I wondered out loud. “BOY! I must really be behind the times.” I said quietly to myself.

Well… I didn’t get a satisfactory answer but then again that’s what we have the Internet for isn’t it? I fired up the computer when I got home and went surfing.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was “digital graphics made easy” through templates, etc…she was talking about. Hmmm…some ideas for how I could use this in my art started floating through my mind.

To make a long story short and so as not bore you to death with trivial details, I decided, in the end that a “canned” program was not for me. I absolutely did not want yet another program taking up precious space on my computer!

Now, as many of you already know, I like a good challenge and the thought occurred to me that perhaps this “new bit of information” was really an invitation to get "down and dirty" learning some graphic techniques. It was, after all, right in line with one of my “focuses” for 2007!

I had an old copy of Paint Shop Pro installed on my computer. Even though I dabbled with it from time to time, I rarely spent a concentrated block of time finding out what I could really do with it.

My research into “scrapbooking” had uncovered some free PSP tutorials that looked interesting. I took a crack at trying some of them out. Well WHOOPEE… they were both challenging and fun! Aaah… two experiences that will snag me in a heartbeat!

I upgraded to the latest and greatest version of PSP. Set some time aside every day to mess with it. Hey, I learned how to play piano by setting aside 15 minutes every day to practice. I could do the same with this!

Fast Forward…My First Pages…

As I sat at the computer looking at the photos of gramma’s grave, the farmhouse, barn and old school that Jackie sent me, I contemplated how I would set up the graphics pages for the photos. My initial thought was to try a design out digitally before I committed to creating it on “paper”.

Heck, I had all the time in the world. I was only going to do, at the most, four or five pages. I had already decided that they would make a lovely little Christmas gift for my aunt.

I popped a chocolate in my mouth.

Hmmm… I do love those Roger’s Victoria Creams,” I thought to myself.

Hubby, bless him, surprises me with some on occasion during the year. It’s just one of his sweet ways (no pun intended LOL) of letting me know he loves me.

“I wonder if gramma liked chocolate as much as auntie Flo and I do?”

I laughed to myself at the thought that perhaps her mother and my grandmother had passed down a “chocolate gene” of her own to both of us.

EUREKA!!! It was perfect. A “chocolate” coloured background. The colour for the background of my first graphic would be chocolate. I chuckled. My dear auntie would roar laughing when I told her how I came up with it. At 86, she deserved some good chuckles!

The graphics for the page with gramma’s grave photos came together in the wink of an eye! I “doctored” the photo… adding some calla lilies to her headstone. Flowers that (to me) mean simplicity and beauty. I was sure gramma would be pleased to have flowers placed on her headstone again.. even if it was digitally!

The quote between the photos reads: "Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal but love leaves a memory no one can steal." The photo of my paternal grandmother was digitally placed inside a scan of a gold watch case that belonged to my maternal grandmother. I just thought that was rather fitting!

Even though you can see the narrative section on these first pages I created with the photos from Jackie, the “story” part actually was added later on in the process.

A number of questions arose as I thought about what was to go in this section.

Who was my grandmother? What was she like? Who were her parents? What was important to her? What had happened to cause her death at 34? What must it have been like for these young children to lose their mother?

Questions… floating through my brain demanding an answer. Answers I wanted to have before even attempting to write anything in that blank section. Some of those questions eventually received an answer. Some could never be answered. It still brings tears to my eyes just thinking about some of them.

The BIG Nudge…

I didn’t know it at the time but these few pages and the questions swirling around in my head formed THE nudge towards researching the genealogy of the Burnett family. I love historical research. I jumped at the chance to indulge myself in it… Time well spent of course… it was, after all, for a good cause. LOL

I was amazed and fascinated by what I found on the Internet. It was a treasure trove of digitally scanned original documents from U.S. border crossings filled out in the hand of an ancestor to handwritten census reports, death, birth and marriage records and actual scans of certificates.

Imagine how excited I was to find newspaper clippings about long ago members of the family. A little bit of long forgotten (and new to me) family members scandal spiced it right up!

Here's the newspaper page I created, fashioned after a newspaper of the day, to record some of clippings I found from the 1890's....

I was absolutely flabbergasted the day I discovered that our ancestors are listed in the “First Families of New Brunswick” publication in the New Brunswick Provincial Archives. Our family roots are planted among some of the oldest families in Canada long before Canada became a nation in 1867.

The road ahead…

What you will discover in subsequent posts, will be many of the “story art” pages (now you know where the name of my blog came from LOL) I created as I researched our family heritage over a five month period in 2007. The “story” of getting there and the publication of the pages I created into an actual book for current members of our “far flung” family.

My aunt, of course, did not know that I was creating these pages for her. But my sister and some of my cousins were “in the know” keeping it a secret. It was easier than what you might think. My aunt lived in sunny California and the rest of us are scattered… miles upon miles apart… all over Canada, the U.S. and England.

When some of my family members saw a few of the first results, they began “hinting” (in a very good natured way) at the possibility of making more than one copy of each page. They wanted pages too! Well so much for doing "one off" art on paper. I decided I would continue creating the pages digitally so I could share them with those relatives who wanted a peek!

As I neared completion of the graphic and photo phase of the initial pages and was knee deep in the research end of this “project”, I had an experience that pointed out to me that the countless hours of research and art so far, sometimes working from early morning to well into the night, but never less than eight hours a day, deserved to be acknowledged and shared. The thought of just putting all the information, photos, and mementos I had gathered thus far in a binder and squirreling it away in a filing cabinet to be forgotten just didn’t cut it with me. It was important for me to somehow honour my own process of doing the work to get to this point but how? I really didn’t have an answer.

One morning I woke up at the crack of dawn with an “itch” on the brain. Something in my psyche was bugging me, demanding my undivided attention. As I lay quietly in bed, it bubbled up into consciousness. It was my creative muse. Dropping by to remind me that it was important for me to honour my own process of creating as well as producing a result. These pages deserved to be published on the best paper I could find with the finest binding available.

“Probably end up being one of the shortest, most expensive books ever published!” I thought, laughing to myself.

My next thought came like a jolt of lightning out of nowhere. The name of the book just tumbled forth. I started to argue with my muse about the time and work that would be involved in expanding the pages to include my aunt’s siblings, maybe her grandparents. We argued back and forth… but in the end, my muse won. OK. I got it. You win. Fine. Let’s get on with it. I got out of bed. I knew exactly what I needed to do next.

Join me again next week, as I continue the “show and tell” journey of “Scraps of Memories, Slices of Life”.

Yep, that’s the name my muse gave our family book that morning! Little devil. it neglected to put the years in the ”from and to” spaces. BOY was I in for a surprise.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year's Tale for you...

Welcome to 2009. I wish you much love and peace in your life as this year unfolds.

Here's a delightful little New Year's tale for you by Emilie Poulsson that I have adapted for telling.


Two little boys were at play one day when a Fairy suddenly appeared before them and said: "I have been sent to give you New Year presents."

She handed to each child a package, and in an instant was gone.

Carl and Philip opened the packages. Inside they found two beautiful books with leather tooled covers and pages as pure and white as the snow when it first falls.

Many months passed and the Fairy came again to the boys. "I have brought you each another book." said she, "and will take the first ones back to Father Time who sent them to you."

"May I not keep mine a little longer?" asked Philip. "I have hardly thought about it lately. I 'd like to paint something on the last leaf that lies open."

"No," said the Fairy; "I must take it just as it is."

"I wish that I could look through mine just once," said Carl. "I have only seen one page at a time, for when the leaf turns over it sticks fast, and I can never open the book at more than one place each day."

"You shall look at your book," said the Fairy, "and Philip, at his." And she lit for them two little silver lamps. Slowly, by the light of the lamps, she turned the pages so they could see them.

The boys looked in wonder. Could it be that these were the same fair books she had given them a year ago? Where were the clean, white pages, as pure and beautiful as the snow when it first falls? Here was a page with ugly, black spots and scratches upon it; while the very next page showed a lovely little picture. Some pages were decorated with gold and silver and gorgeous colors, others with beautiful flowers, and still others with a rainbow of the softest, most delicate brightness. Yet even on the most beautiful of the pages there were ugly blots and scratches.

Carl and Philip looked up at the Fairy at last.

"Who did this?" they asked. "Every page was white and fair as we opened to it; yet now there is not a single blank place in the whole book!"

"Shall I explain some of the pictures to you?" said the Fairy, smiling at the two little boys.

"See, Philip, the spray of roses blossomed on this page when you let the baby have your playthings. And this pretty bird, that looks as if it were singing with all its might, would never have been on this page if you had not tried to be kind and pleasant the other day, instead of quarreling."

"But what makes this blot?" asked Philip.

"That," said the Fairy sadly; "that came when you told an untruth one day. And this one, well this is when you did not mind mamma. All these blots and scratches that look so ugly, both in your book and in Carl's, were made when you were naughty. Each pretty thing in your books came on its page when you were good."

"Oh, if we could only have the books again!" said Carl and Philip.

"That cannot be," said the Fairy. "See! they are dated for this year, and they must now go back into Father Time's bookcase. But I have brought you each a new one. Perhaps you can make these more beautiful than the others."

So saying, she vanished. The boys were left alone, but each held in his hand a new book open at the first page.

And on the back of this book was written in letters of gold, "For the New Year."

Happy New Year