November 14, 2017

Family History Books for the Holidays

Want to give someone you love a meaningful gift this year? A photo book about some aspect of your family history is sure to be a hit.

Because time is running short, narrow your focus to something the recipient will enjoy. This doesn’t need to be an epic, cover-all-bases book. Just find a little piece of your family’s past that you’d like to preserve and share.

Imagine creating a book about your mother’s years as a teacher, your grandfather’s wartime service, or the quilts your grandmother made. How about photos taken at a favorite family vacation spot through the years?

The holidays themselves can provide inspiration. Your sisters or daughters might love a book of their favorite Christmas cookie recipes, with notes about where they came from. Or dig up those old childhood photos with Santa to surprise your siblings.

You’ll find lots of other photo book ideas and how-to directions in my article, “An Open Book,” in the October/November 2017 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Recently, I’ve noticed that many of the book publishing sites I mention in the article have announced sales and discounts for holiday orders.

Is creating a larger family history book one of your goals for next year? If so, a narrative book or a multi-generation family history such as the ones produced by MyCanvas might offer the perfect format. The article covers these options as well, including a step-by-step tutorial.

If you’re not already a subscriber, look for Family Tree Magazine at large bookstores or your local library, or order a print or digital copy. There’s lots of other great content inside I’m sure you’ll enjoy—like tracing Italian roots, family tree software and websites, finding US ancestors before 1850 (also written by yours truly), working with a pro, preserving family Bibles, and a DNA testing strategy.  

Now I’m going to take my own advice and get started on a book for my mother-in-law while there’s still time left!


October 19, 2017

The Witch at the Window

Halloween morning when I was five started out just like any other kindergarten day at Smith Road Elementary. We turned in our nickels for snack time and said the Pledge of Allegiance. We sat in a circle on the rug and listened while the teacher read us a story. At rest time, we laid on our mats (it seemed like forever), and afterwards we got little cardboard cartons of milk.

But that day we were all excited about our Halloween party. As we changed into our costumes in the coatroom, I wondered what the party would be like. Would we get candy? Would there be games and prizes?

All at once we heard a loud rapping sound. We turned, looked…and screamed. There was a witch with a pointy black hat banging her broomstick against our window! Where did she come from, and what did she want? After a few minutes, the witch went away. But before we could settle down, she reappeared—right at our classroom door.

I huddled with my friends as the witch came in. She was a real witch all right. She wore a long black dress with a cape, and had a big wart on her nose. She talked in a high, cackly voice. She swept through the room, and then, thankfully, she left.

When I got home at lunch, I told my mom about the witch at school. It was all my best friend, Holly, and I could talk about as we ate our grilled cheese sandwiches and waited to go Trick-or-Treating.

Late in the afternoon I put my white bunny costume back on and went to Holly’s house. Her older sister, who babysat me sometimes, was taking us around the neighborhood, because my mom had to stay home with my little brother. We ran from house to house as best we could, trying to keep up with the older kids. Little pieces of candy rattled around in my plastic pumpkin. I couldn’t wait to eat them, and snuck one whenever I got a chance.

Finally we got to my street. My house was on the corner, so it was first. I wanted to show mom how much candy I had. There were already some kids in the driveway. I started to go around them—then stopped cold. The witch had come back, and she was on my front porch! She looked even scarier in the dark. She was stirring a big pot with steam pouring out, and calling to the kids to come take a look. This was terrible. Were my mom and brother okay? Why was she here at my house, of all places?

A few brave trick-or-treaters ventured up to see her and peek inside the kettle. They came back with little treat sacks, then ran off to the next house. Holly’s sister coaxed us to go up there, too. I really didn’t want to, but it was my house and I was worried. We slowly made our way forward.

When Holly and I got to the porch, the witch’s voice softened. She said we had nice costumes. She asked if we wanted to look in the kettle, but all I could see was steam swirling around. Finally I got up the courage to ask where my mom was. She said, “Why, don’t you know?” When I shook my head, she said, “It’s me, honey.”

The next year, she made me my very own witch's gown and hat, just like hers.

Judy Ballenger donned her witch’s outfit and filled her cauldron with steaming dry ice every Trick-or-Treat night for the next twenty years, even as we moved to Berwick, and then to Bexley. Our house became well known in each neighborhood, and parents would drive their kids over just to see her. She never lost her delight in playing the role.

I wonder if she still has her costume? I know I have mine. What I'd love to find is a picture of her sitting there on the porch. So far that's eluding me. In my memory, though, it's magic.


Do you have a memory to share? For Family History Month 2017, Ol' Myrt invites you to participate in her Share a Memory Contest. Enjoy! 


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