Connecting the Dots: Meeting My Grandfather

This weekend, I came into possession of my grandfather’s sketchbook. Grandfather Gans died when I was four, so I have no memory of him—just “memories” generated by photographs and a stuffed bunny that he (and my grandmother) gave me for my first Easter.

Three of my grandparents died before I was old enough to remember them, and unfortunately the fourth was ill for some time before she died, so I never knew the real her. In all the most important ways, I never knew any of my grandparents. I have always felt the deprivation of this, especially as I have grown older and become more and more interested in family history.

Getting this portfolio had an unexpected effect on me: I felt like I knew something of my grandfather for the first time. Art is so emotive, so expressive of the artist, that something of the person remains long after they are gone. What my grandfather chose to draw, and the style in which he drew it, gave me a peek into his mind and soul.

He drew people:

And scenes:

And ships:

And cartoons:

The style of my grandfather’s drawings are very much like my father’s drawing style. The similarity is rather spooky. The precision of line, the attention to detail, the choice of materials, even the subject matter was all eerily familiar. My grandfather came alive as he never had before.

But among all his wonderful drawings, a small slip of paper, only about half a finger long and a finger wide, spoke most loudly to me. On it was his careful calligraphy:

The name of his wife. Saved for 75 years.

For the first time, I touched my grandfather.

Family Bible Bonanza, Part 2

I’m still completely jazzed by getting the Family Bible! It’s given me great info, and it’s just incredible to hold and touch something over 150 years old. Some of the pages inside (obviously torn from other Bibles) are even older – perhaps as much as 250 years old!

Just to give you some idea of the beauty and size of this behemoth of a Bible, here are a couple of pictures of it with a standard trade paperback book.

And the 1857 marriage certificate from the owners of the Bible, Mary Sellers Hobson Warren Leinau and Daniel Leinau, her second husband.

The death entry for my mysterious ancestor James William Warren, who we think came from Halifax, Nova Scotia, but cannot confirm it.

The oldest record in the book: the 1754 birth of Isaac Kite.

And a sad reminder of how fragile children’s lives were back then—one of several death records for children in the Bible.

This family treasure leaves me in awe. Now I just have to figure out where and how to store it safely!


Family Bible Bonanza

Regular readers will know I am deep into genealogy. I love digging into the past to find the stories of my ancestors. This week, a tragedy led to a genealogical goldmine for me.

My uncle by marriage died suddenly last week. My parents went to my aunt’s house to help her start to sort things out and make her plans for the future. While there, my aunt told my mother, “I’ve been wanting to give this to Kerry for about 10 years. It’s the Warren Family Bible.”

Well, when I heard that, I was hyper-excited! Every genealogist reaches brick walls, and James W. Warren, born 1815, is one of mine. He married Mary Hobson, and he was killed in a train accident in 1852. Dying so young, there is not much information on him. His death certificate indicates he was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but I have been unable to locate him or his family there.

So a Warren Family Bible could be a huge breakthrough! HUGE is a good word – the Bible itself is a foot long, 9 ½ inches wide, and a whopping 3 ¾ inches in page depth! And it’s heavy! I swear it weighs more than my toddler.

Unfortunately, the gold-inlaid inscription on the front made it immediately clear that this was not the Warren Family Bible, but instead belonged to Mary Hobson Warren and her second husband, Daniel Leinau. So there was no breakthrough for James W. Warren.

However, there was a great deal of information on Mary Hobson’s family! I confirmed some research I had done, and got new information pushing the Hobson line back 2 more generations. It is often very hard to find information on the wives’ lines, so that is valuable and exciting data. The earliest date in the book was 1754—before the USA even existed. Fantastic!

I also have information on what happened to James Warren’s children, so I may be able to find more about their father through their census forms. You never know what little piece of data will open the floodgates!

A new mystery was raised, however. Barbara Boss, died April 19, 1836 at age 72, which means a birth date c. 1764. Who the heck is she, and why is she in my family Bible?

So although I did not get more information on my brick wall, I am immensely happy with the find. Just holding those pages from the book, seeing the handwriting change through the generations is evocative and connects me to the past in a concrete way that few other things can.

My ancestors’ stories, written in their own hands. What more can a writer ask for?

A Writer in a World Without Written Language

Last week, I asked fellow writers what they would do if they weren’t writers. Which got me wondering what I would do if I wasn’t a writer—if that wasn’t an option in our world.

All other things being the same, I think my dream job would be as a genealogist. I love digging around in the past so much, that I get as excited when I help other people do their family lines as when I do mine! So I think that would be my job: professional genealogist. I have no idea how you get to be a professional, but I certainly have logged thousands of “in the field” hours doing my own research!

But, since I am a writer, I took my mental musings a bit farther. What if I lived in a world with no written language? Then what? Genealogy research is based on documentation, which of course would not exist with no written language.

I don’t think I could be an oral storyteller, mostly because I dislike being the center of attention. And I would love to be the keeper of a family history, but my brain turned to mush at age 40 and I would have had to pass it on to the next generation already. So what to do in my retirement?

Keep in mind that a society without a written language does not necessarily have to be a backwards, primitive society. I expect that we would have evolved a different method of preserving and passing on information—likely a visual medium. So our stories would be long, elaborate films or series instead of books. Our non-fiction would be preserved in pictures and videos of lectures and speeches and documentaries. Music would have more weight, as songs would likely convey information instead of simply being “pop culture.”

In a world like that, what would I be? I would still be what I am, a storyteller, only I would have to use the visual medium of the day to tell my stories. I would have to learn to interweave the visual and the aural and the symbolism into a work of art on the screen. Which shouldn’t be too hard—many authors are visual thinkers anyway and many use music to set the mood as they write.

So I would be a visual storyteller. Which is kind of ironic, because in a previous life—before full-time writer, before Mommy—I was an award-winning video editor.

Funny how you can never escape what you really are.

The Gift of Our Elders

Americans live in a society that does not value its elderly. This is a fact, and a sad one. I am heavily interested in genealogy, and even though my parents taught me early on to respect the older members of our family (and society), it was not until I got older that I began to appreciate them as real people. People with amazing stories to tell and wisdom to share. And at just about the time I began to realize what a treasure they were, they began to die.

On June 11, my family lost two gems on the same night—my great-aunt Clare (aged 93) and my great-uncle Ed (aged 90). Ed was married to Clare’s sister. Clare and her sister were my grandmother’s sisters—the last three people to carry the Warren surname in my line. Now only the youngest sister remains.

I didn’t get to know my Aunt Clare nearly as well as I would have liked. She lived on the opposite coast, in Washington, so I saw her rarely. As the eldest of the Warren sisters, we called her the Matriarch of the family. Aunt Clare lived up to that title—she took great pride in the Warren clan and all of our accomplishments. She found great joy in joining us all for rare sprawling family reunions, and loved getting cards from us even as her health declined.

The few times I met her in person, I remember her quick laugh and sparkling eyes, and the genuine interest she showed in every member of the family, no matter how young. And I remember her telling us that she always disliked her formal name of Clara, and therefore always used Clare—so much so that her younger sister had never even known that Clara was her real name! We will all miss her warm heart and bright smile.

I knew Uncle Ed slightly better. I had visited him and my great-aunt several times at their retirement community. He was a fantastic woodworker, carving birds and ducks so good they should be in a museum. He enjoyed trains, too, and cars—for years Uncle Ed had met my father, brother, nephew, and uncle for the annual Philadelphia Car Show. Uncle Ed was also a compulsive photographer. While I can’t honestly ever remember him with a camera in his hand, he had carousels of slides from when his children (and my father) were young, and he loved to show them when given the opportunity.

Uncle Ed embodied kindness—a soft voice, a welcoming smile, and gentle eyes. His love for all his family was always obvious, as was his love for his wife. Once, when my husband and I were visiting them, Uncle Ed told us that his courtship with my great-aunt had several parallels to ours. Among them was that he had lived in New Jersey, my aunt in Pennsylvania. He had to cross the river every time he wanted to see her and pay the hefty 25-cent toll. He decided he had better marry my aunt quickly, before he went broke!

The year my husband and I married was Uncle Ed and my aunt’s 60th wedding anniversary. We made sure to take a picture with them at our reception, to commemorate their achievement and in hopes that we can do as well in our marriage. Uncle Ed and his wife faced all of their lives—the good and the bad—with love, laughter, and faith, and we hope we can do the same.

Unlike Aunt Clare, Uncle Ed did get to meet my daughter at one of the monthly family get-togethers at a diner near their house. I am grateful for that, although my daughter will not remember. But I will remember.

I will remember these two warm, kind, gentle people who lived their lives with discipline, fortitude, and respect for their fellow human beings. I will remember that while the world they grew up in has vanished, their values and principles should not. I will remember how they lived and how they loved, and be forever grateful for this gift from my elders.

Alex Haley, Scottish Roots, and Genealogy as Story

Alex Haley, author of Roots, is Scottish! So am I, and maybe we’re related. Maybe it’s no surprise I’m embarking on a writing career—perhaps we share the same Scottish writing genes, somewhere a few generations back.


Of course, I’m not serious about Alex Haley and I being related. I have no clue if we are, and it would be an amazing coincidence. But I am deeply into genealogy, and I am currently immersed in my Scottish history. I’m quickly becoming an expert in Scottish history. I find my family history fascinating, and can lose myself in the research for hours. Ask my husband—he has spent many a Saturday watching me cruise the Internet on the genealogy websites. I also ask him to order strange books from the inter-library loan system. “Honey, this book was printed in 1713, I wonder if they can find it for me?” He is quick to tell the librarians that these are for his wife.


What I love about genealogy is the people. I’m not satisfied with the bare facts of their existence. I like to explore where they lived, and the era they lived in. I love seeing family traits that pop up from generation to generation. My cousins are carpenters, and my brother also is good with his hands. My great-grandfather was a carpenter and shipwright. My aunt is musically talented, as are many of my paternal relatives. My great-grandmother was a musician and composer. My mother is very good with languages, and one of her ancestors back in 1500 is known to have spoken eight languages. I’m a writer, and my great-grandmother also was a writer—which I did not know until long after she was gone.


The other great thing about genealogy, from a writer’s point of view, is the stories that come out of these people’s lives. My great-grandmother was 97 when she died. She had been born in 1899. Think of all she lived through! The harrowing tales of early immigrants make for great drama. The noble lineages provide political intrigue and wars. The Celtic clans bring their share of blood feuds and revenge. There is great fodder for books.


In fact, I have already outlined a book based on what I have learned from some of my research – The Cypher King.


Genealogy rocks!

WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien