Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Traditions - The Christmas Tree

Welcoming in the New Year ! 1959
With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it might be fun to write about some of the holiday traditions that have been passed on in our family.  Christmas would not be complete without the family Christmas tree.  In my family growing up, the Christmas tree was an important family tradition.  Never mind needing it for something to put gifts under (although it was most certainly used for that).  It's most important role was always as a beautiful backdrop for holiday photos.

1960 (Yup, that's me with my new doll, Mandy!)
Our Christmas trees seemed to undergo a kind of evolution through the years.  It is fun to look back and see what the fashionable trees of the time were.  In the 50's and 60's, we always had a live tree.  This is probably because artificial trees had not been invented yet.  As a young child, I knocked over a couple of these trees, which resulted in a lot of smashed glass on the hardwood floor.  My favourite decorations during this decade were the hand blown glass birds and reindeer ornaments that clipped onto the branches.  I also loved the "bubbler's", clear glass tubes filled with coloured liquid that would bubble when the heat from the bulb made them boil.  These were a bit dangerous for a small child, but kept me mesmerized for hours.  Another ornament that I loved was the little porcelain bell that Santa gave out at the local Woodward's Department store.  It made the most heavenly sound and made me super excited for Santa to come to my house.

"Tin Foil" Christmas Tree - 1968
My mom went a bit crazy in the latter part of the 60's.  This was during the psychedelic age, when everything was a bit surreal.  That's when we got this beautiful tin foil tree, that looked like something I made in my kindergarten class.  The problem with this tree was that you had to be really careful if you put electric lights on it because the tree could electrocute you!  The solution was to get a flood light and shine it on the tree.  You could even buy more than one flood light in different colours for a variety of looks, or get one of the fancy kind that had a colour wheel made of gels that rotated from one colour to the next.  This tree marked the birth of the colour co-ordinated, mono-chromatic look.  The good thing about it was that the branches were very sturdy and it didn't need a lot of ornaments to be splashy (definitely saved on the Christmas decoration budget).  When the tree was worn out, the branches could possibly be recycled and used as a bottle brush!

Captivated by a bird ornament on our blue tree.
Ahh, the 70's.  Coloured Christmas trees replaced the metallic ones of the 60's.  Since blue was by mother's favourite colour, we had to have a blue tree.  The obvious advantage was with a plastic tree we no longer had to worry about getting electrocuted.  Our tree also had a kind of ethereal quality when the beautiful white mini lights made the fake snow frosting on the branches sparkle.  This tree, as I recall, had a funny smell, probably due to all the chemicals that went into making it.  It was lovely, though, and was a perfect backdrop to set the mood for an enchanted Christmas.  I never really thought the blue blended in all that well with the traditional Christmas colours of red and green.  I did get a little tired of the colour, and to this day, I can't stand the colour blue.  There's nothing like the smell of plastic to get you into the holiday spirit.

Our most traditonal tree - 1987
In the 80's, I now had children of my own, and went back to the earlier tradition of having a live Christmas tree for a few years.  While our kids were little, we made a bit of a ritual around picking out and decorating the tree.  It was a lot of fun stringing popcorn garlands, making hand made decorations and eating rice krispie treats.  I must admit that I have fond memories of these times.  We would all drive to the local tree lot when it was -30 degrees, freeze our butts off picking out a tree, tie it to the top of our car (hoping that it wouldn't fall off) and gently lift it to it's place of honour in the basement.  A few too many times we miscalculated the height of the tree and had to lob off the top quite a bit more than it should have been, giving it a strange volcano shape.  If we didn't do this, we ran the risk of scraping the stipple off our our ceiling, which we learned the hard way, left us with reminders of Christmas's past all the year through.  Of course, finding the right tree holder was always a bit of a challenge when you opted for a live tree.  It seemed like we bought a new one every year, and every year we had the same old problem with trying to keep the tree from falling over.  Sometimes we even had to tie it to the wall!

Proudly showing off the tree - 1991
In the 90's I got the creative urge to follow in my mother's footsteps and decided that it would be great to have a beautiful colour co-ordinated fake tree (fake trees definitely have their advantages).  It looked like a real tree (well pretty close anyway), and it came with little pine cones that you could soak in a kind of oil that smelled like real pine boughs.  Well that was the theory anyway.  I really enjoyed this tree for a couple of years.  I could make it a thing of beauty with all the matching ornaments.  Unfortunately my children and husband didn't see it that way.  They insisted that if I could have my own tree, that they could have their own as well, and for a few years, we ended up with two trees!  Of course, they wanted a real tree, and so all the advantages of the fake tree disappeared and it ended up being twice and much work and very little satisfaction for me.

Our "Charlie Brown" Christmas Tree - 2007
 In the 2000's we developed a new family tradition surrounding the tree.  I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but it seems to have come about as a result of my complaining about having to go out in the cold, having to clean up all the pines needles, etc, etc.  By this time I was really tired of putting up two trees and really wanted my fake tree to be the only Christmas tree.  My family kept insisting that we put up a real tree.  I would usually give in, but to get back at me for being such a grinch about it, they all decided that to make me even more angry (all in fun, of course) They would look for the ugliest tree on the lot!   They have succeeded in finding a lot of ugly trees through the years, but the best ugliest tree had to be the year we waited until the 23rd of Dec to get the tree, when there were no more left on any lot in town.  That year, we ended up with a branch for a tree!  Although they look sad in this picture, my children and husband were really ecstatic to have found such a great ugly tree!

I wonder what the new trends will be in our family Christmas tree in the coming decade.  One thing I know for sure, Christmas would not be the same without the family Christmas Tree, in all it's many forms!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Robert Nelson, Private in the British Tank Corps, WWI

Tin tobacco box given to my grandfather
by a German prisoner at the end of the war
Growing up, I remember my mother's stories of my grandfather Robert Nelson (born 19 Oct 1890 in Hetton le Hole, Durham, England), and how he fought in the trenches in France and Belgium during WWI. Other family members have said that he was assigned to the Tank Corps and  trained in Wareham, Dorset. My aunt has in her possession a small tin box (possibly to hold tobacco and papers for rolling cigarettes) that was given to my grandfather at the conclusion of the war by a German POW that he had met while in France. All family members agreed that the war was not something my grandfather liked to talk about, so there is very little additional information to be had from family sources.

Robert Nelson in his  British Army
Tank Corps Uniform
With these family stories as a guide, as well as a photograph of my grandfather in his WWI uniform, I sought to further verify what I had learned, and to find additional information that might add more depth to the story. I decided to start by using Google to search for information on the Tanks Corps and came across a number of websites dealing with Tank Corps History and research. Wikipedia, proved quite useful, as well as the Tank Museum website. Another valuable website dealing exclusively with British Army History during WWI entitled The Long, Long, Trail, provided a wealth of information. Other websites that proved extremely useful were the National Archives and
Through information I gathered from these websites, I was able to determine that my grandfather's uniform was consistent with those worn by British Soldiers during WWI, and the arm bade, cap badge and regimental badge were those of the Tank Corps. The following was information was gleaned from a Wikipedia Article which describes the uniform:
 The British soldier went to war.........wearing the 1902 Pattern Service Dress tunic and trousers. This was a thick woollen tunic, dyed khaki. There were two breast pockets for personal items and the soldier's AB64 Pay Book, two smaller pockets for other items, and an internal pocket sewn under the right flap of the lower tunic where the First Field Dressing was kept. Rifle patches were sewn above the breast pockets, to prevent wear from the webbing equipment and rifle. Shoulder straps were sewn on and fastened with brass buttons, with enough space for a brass regimental shoulder title. Rank insignia was sewn onto the upper tunic sleeves, while trade badges and Long Service and Good Conduct stripes were placed on the lower sleeves. A stiffened peak cap was worn, made of the same material, with a leather strap, brass fitting and secured with two small brass buttons. Puttees were worn round the ankles, and ammunition boots with hobnail soles on the feet. Normally brown, they were made of reversed hide and had steel toe-caps and a steel plate on the heel.”
Tanks Corps Cap Badge

The history of the Royal Tank Regiment began following the invention of the tank in 1916. At that time the six existing tank companies were part of the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps. On 28 July 1917 the Heavy Branch was separated from the rest of the Machine Gun Corps and given official status as the Tank Corps and “a request was made for the Tank Corp's own metal cap badge.” A close inspection of the cap badge on my grandfather’s uniform confirmed that it was indeed the official Tank Corp cap badge.
Tanks Corps Arm Badge from my
grandfather's uniform

While waiting for the new official cap badge to be manufactured and delivered, a provisional worsted arm badge became part of the Tank Corps uniform. This arm badge continues to be worn today and is believed to be the only badge of its kind to survive the years of WWI. A closer crop shows that the badge on my grandfather’s uniform is indeed the Tanks Corps arm badge.

The Derby Scheme
Derby Scheme Recruitment Poster
The first page of my grandfather's service record was an Attestation Form, dated 11 Dec 1915. This date is significant in that it was just three days before the deadline for registration under the Derby Scheme.  Britain entered the Great War in 1914. By the early part of 1915, the number of recruits had gone down significantly. The government struggled with the idea of conscription, and so decided to try a different scheme to raise enlistment numbers. In October of 1915, Edward Stanley, the 17th Lord Derby, was appointed Director-General of Recruiting and came up with idea that was dubbed “The Derby Scheme”. The scheme appealed to men between the ages of 18 to 40 to either enlist voluntarily or to attest with an obligation to come if called up. The deadline to register for voluntary enlistment was 15 December 1915.  I believe that my grandfather was one of the 2,185,000 who attested for later enlistment under the Derby Scheme. A war pension was introduced at the same time, which may have helped entice him to sign up, as he had a wife and three children and would have had concern about supporting them on the chance that he did not survive. Robert was assigned to the Army reserve and sent back to his home and job until he was called up for service.

Copy of Medal Index Card from National Archives
The next step in my research was a visit to the National Archives website to search for the index card of my grandfather’s service records. My search for “Robert Nelson, Tank Corps” brought up two entries. On closer look I discovered that one of the Robert Nelson’s was an officer who died in action, so I was fairly confident that the other Robert Nelson was my man. (I should note that I paid to view the Index Card on the National Archives website, but later learned that these same Index Cards are available on, to which I already had a subscription). The next step was to search for the actual service records. Not all of these records have survived, so imagine my delight when I found them! There were fourteen pages!

WWI Watercolour painting by Jean Berne-Bellecour: 
Sir John Dashwood's tank
On August 19, 1918, Robert was mobilized and posted to the Tank Corps Depot in Wareham, Dorset for training.  On the 24 of August, he was posted to a Reserve Unit.   In September of 1918, his wife Margaret had a son, Joseph, who lived only two days.  This must have been a very difficult time for the young father who had just left his home, and equally difficult for his wife who had to deal with her grief alone.  On Oct, 25, 1918, Robert was transferred to the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force), which was the term referring  to those who served in France on the Western Front during WWI.  He was given the Medical Category of A1, which meant that he was in good health, and assigned to the 5th battalion.  He embarked from Folkestone, on the southern coast of England, and Disembarked at Boulogne, France on the 28 October, 1918.

German POWs in French Prison Camp - National Archives via pingnews
The 5th battalion , formerly named “E Battalion”, was involved in a number of battles in the months leading up to the Armistace on 11 November 1918, including the Battle of Amiens,  2nd Battle of Bapaume, Battle of Arras, Epehy, St-Quentin, and the Hindenburg Line and were part of the Allied 100 Days Offensive which led to the end of the war.  Most of the major battles on the Western Front had been fought by the time my grandfather arrived, so I’m not sure how much action he saw. The German armies continued to retreat as the Allied Forces recaptured villages one by one, so he must have been involved in this effort in some way. Between October 17 and November 11, the British advanced to the Sambre and Schledt rivers, taking many German prisoners.  Britain and France held about 720,000 German POWs, mostly gained in the period just before the Armistice in 1918.  My grandfather's battalion may have had a role with these prisoners, as our family stories suggest.  According to his service records, Robert served a total of 204 days active duty, and was demobilized on 20 Feb 1919.  He received the British War Medal and Victory medal on 11 Aug 1921.

The next step in my research will be a visit to the National Archives next time I am in London, to view the war diaries of the 5th battalion. These records will probably not mention my grandfather by name, but should give me more clues as to what specific operations his battalion was involved in. I may never find out the details of where my grandfather served or what he may have seen, but I know that even for the brief time he was there, it must have been a life changing experience for him. This Remembrance Day, I am once again reminded of those brave souls who have sacrificed their lives to preserve our freedom and I am grateful for the part that my grandfather played, however small.  May we never forget!

Monday, May 2, 2011

RSS Feeds and Aggregators: bringing information to you!

If you are a frequent reader of blogs and genealogy websites, you have probably spent a lot of time bookmarking your favorite sites and visiting them frequently to see if there have been any changes or updates made since your last visit. This can be a time consuming endeavor and is very frustrating when you spend the time, only to find the site has no new information.  Wouldn't it be great if there was a way for you to receive notification when a favorite blog or website has been updated?   Well, look no further, you're prayers are about to be answered!  If the site that you are viewing contains this little orange icon, it means that the owner of the website you are viewing has the ability to notify you when changes or updates are made.  These notifications are called "web feeds", or "RSS feeds".  RSS stands for the term "Really Simple Syndication" which is a type of computer format used to communicate to you when a website has changed some of its contents.  

The way this happens is that the user "subscribes" to the particular "web feed" that they are interested in and it is then delivered to them through a software program specifically designed for that purpose.  These programs are known as "aggregators" or "feed readers", and can greatly reduce the amount of time you spend searching websites, by delivering updated blog entries and news items directly to you, in one place.  There are several different "feed readers" out there, such as Bloglines or Newz Crawler and Google Reader.  It doesn't really matter which one you choose, but check them out to see if one looks better to you than another.  I choose to use Google Reader because I am a big fan of Google products, and Google Reader can be accessed easily from my Gmail page by clicking on the link in the top left corner of the page.    To set up an "aggregator", here's what you'll need to do:

1. First, you will need to set up an account with the aggregator of your choice.  I am going to demonstrate using Google Reader, but most "aggregators" will work basically the same way.  If you already have a Google Account, you can use the same user name and password to log in to Google Reader.

2. Second, subscribe to one or more "web feeds".  This can be done by right clicking on the RSS icon on the page you are interested in, saving the url, then pasting it into the "Add a subscription" box on your reader, or 

left clicking on the RSS icon and posting the feed to the service you are using from the list.

3.Third, organize the feeds into categories or folders

4. Fourth, read items of interest

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Social Media, Social Networking, Family History Research and You!

Photo credit: Stephen VanHorn
As a webmaster, and social media manager for a local non-profit organization, I thought I knew quite a bit about social media and social networking.  That is, until I began preparing for an upcoming class that I am presenting at Bridges to the Past on "how to use social media to assist you with family history research."  Turns out, there is way more out there than I had ever imagined!  So much so, that I realized how daunting it can be, especially for those of us who are getting on in years.  A lot of people my age (I won't tell you exactly how old I am, but lets just say I've reached the top of the hill and am on my way down the other side) seem to be either scared of social media, or are not interested in it at all.  They tell me that they don't need it, and in fact, view it as something that is either an invasion of their privacy or a huge time waster.  I can understand why they might think of it that way, having had some issues with both of those myself.  However, there are so many benefits for the family historian, that I think it merits a good hard look to see if the benefits might outweigh the costs of ignoring it.

First though, let's define exactly what Social Networking and Social Media are.

Social Networking is a way of communicating via the Internet with individuals and groups of people who share a common interest.  Social Media refers to the Internet tools that allow us to participate in Social Networking.  These are part of something we call Web 2.0, which refers to the way people behave on the Internet, focusing mainly on collaboration and interactive web technologies rather than static web pages.  If you are still thinking of the Internet as an online encyclopedia or dictionary, think again!  Social media has forever changed the Internet landscape!

For those of you who are not yet converted, let me try and convince you of the value of social media by answering the question "Why would someone use social media and social networking in their genealogical research?"  Here are a few important reasons:
  1. It increases the speed and efficiency of communicating with others.  Remember the days of handwriting letters, trying to track down mailing addresses, then waiting weeks for a reply?  Contacting almost anyone, anywhere in the world today is as easy as sending an e-mail or visiting a website and posting a query, and can often bring about almost immediate results.  
  2. It's about creating "communities" made up of individuals from around the world who share a common interest and is the easiest and most efficient way of finding and collaborating with other researchers who are working on the same area,  the same surname, or the same ancestral lines as you are.  
  3. It is a great way to find out about and locate new resources for research as they become available, many of which are now digitized and online. 
  4. It is a great place to connect with other genealogists and experts who are willing to share their recommendations and opinions.  Some of them may even live in the areas that you are researching, and know hard-to-find facts about local places that you might never discover otherwise.
  5. It's a inexpensive and time-saving way to grow in your research skills and knowledge, without having to leave your house to attend expensive conferences and seminars.  
  6. Social Media is a great way to share the results of your research with others.  One of the very things that makes social media work is that it is based on user-generated content and user-participation.  Sharing your research this way has the potential to reach the greatest number of people, and often brings back loads of information to you in return.
  7. Many libraries and genealogy-related organizations and societies use social media to update users on what they are doing, conferences they are sponsoring, or other newsworthy items.  It's one of the best ways to keep abreast of new developments in the field.  
  8. Social Media sites provide a great place to organize and store large multimedia files and documents, as well as the ability to share them with family members in an simple, cost effective way.  
  9. If you are involved in a local genealogical society or organization, social media provides a wonderful method for getting the word out about upcoming events.
  10. And last, it's just plain fun!
Because there is so much out there, I would suggest that you start out slowly, and remember that you only need to use the media that is useful to you.  There is an excellent resource to help you get started, that was developed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  It can be accessed by clicking on the following link  There you will find twenty three small "steps", each focusing on a different method of social networking.  My suggestion would be to pick just one step at a time to work on, and when you've mastered it, try another one.  Happy networking!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Remarkable War Brides of WWII

My mother was a true hero.  She was part of a contingent of 48,00 women who chose to come to Canada fifty five years ago, braving the hardships and the radical adjustment to cold prairie winters in small towns and farms across the country.  Many were faced with discrimination and anger, and the romance and adventure quickly gave way to the reality of their new lives, far away from their families.

When WWII broke out,  Margaret "Peggy" Nelson was nineteen years old.  She lived through days of rations and air raid sirens, and witnessed the horror of  fighter planes having 'dogfights' overhead while bystanders placed bets on who would win. With the war came an influx of many foreign troops into England.  It was during this time that Peggy had a relationship with a Canadian soldier which ended when she became pregnant.  She had believed him to be an honourable gentleman, but it turned out that he had a wife back home in Canada.  During this difficult time, she decided to move to Tunbridge Wells in Kent to live with her sister Tina, where her beautiful daughter Jacqueline was born in October 1943.

Wedding Day - June 1945
While living in Tunbridge Wells,  Peggy worked, first at the local Woolworth store, and then later as a conductress on the buses in London.   She recalled witnessing many scenes of horror and destruction in London as a result of the bombing blitz.  She often commented on the knot she would get in her stomach whenever an air raid siren would go off and the horror of the "buzz bombs".  They were particularly frightening because one never knew where they were going to land.

Shortly after the birth of Jacqueline, Peggy decided to go back to Durham in northern England to live with her parents.  It was here that she met her future husband, Howard, an RCAF aero-engine mechanic, from Gull Lake, Saskatchewan. They met at the local Durham ice rink, where Howard played hockey with the RCAF "Rossmen".  Howard soon taught Peggy how to skate, their relationship blossomed, and they were married in June of 1944 in Durham.

Queen Mary
When the war ended, Howard returned to Canada to establish a home for Peggy and Jacqueline.  It was a year later when they were finally allowed passage to Canada.  They sailed on the Queen Mary which departed from Southampton and landed in Halifax in 1946.  This was followed by a long train ride to Saskatchewan.  Not knowing what to expect, Peggy was surprised to find that "the farm over there" was really the prairie town of Vanguard, Saskatchewan, her new home.
Ships' Register - Queen Mary - courtesy

The hardships faced by  "war brides" has been well documented, and many of these hardships became part of Peggy's life. The fairy tale dream of coming to a new country with her handsome soldier, quickly became the reality of cold, harsh prairie winters, living in a small town on a small income, adjusting to new Canadian customs and culture, and trying to become accepted by her new in-laws who were not particularly overjoyed at her arrival.

Arrival in Vanguard, Saskatchewan, 1946
Howard, Peggy, Jacqueline, Ethel (Howard's sister)

Peggy missed her family in England immensely, and found some consolation in the many friendships she made while living in Vanguard.  Sadly, in 1949, Jacqueline died during a routine tonsillectomy, either from an allergic reaction or overdose of ether.  Peggy had already given birth to a second daughter, and shortly after Jacqueline's death, a son.  In 1955, Peggy's homesickness became so intense that she traveled by boat back to England with her two small children in tow and stayed for three month, almost deciding not to come back.  After some coaxing, she eventually she did return to her anxious husband back in Canada.  In speaking of the heroism of war brides,  journalist Catherine Ford wrote,  "In the great scheme of grand deeds, the individual acts of courage of a wave of women and children don't seem much until one factors in the personal courage each had to show in the face of the unknown."  For this, her posterity can ever be thankful.

For more information on war brides, visit the Canadian War Brides website.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bridges to the Past - Family History Mini Fair

As I write this, I am busily preparing for two presentations that I will giving at an upcoming mini Family History Fair. The fair is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and will take place on the 29th of April, 2011 at the Calgary Stake Center (2021 – 17 Ave. SW). There are a lot of great classes being offered. If you would like to register, you can go the Bridges to the Past online registration form. The two classes I will be presenting are:
  • Social Media: Learn how to use social media to assist you with your family history research. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and SmugMug will be included
  • Google: Learn how to do effective genealogy searches using Google
Hope to see you all there!

Welcome to Judiology!

Genealogy is a great hobby, and a wonderful way to preserve the history and heritage of those who have come before us. Starting a genealogy blog is something that I've been wanting to do for a while. I think this will be a great way for me to share my research with others, and to journal about the things I learn along the way. Hopefully you will find something of interest here, and it will help you in your own research. Happy hunting!