AncestorNews: Readers Respond on Family Mementos

AncestorNews: Readers Respond on Family Mementos

AncestorNews readers share stories of their own family heirlooms.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my column on preserving family mementos. And my apologies to the people I couldn’t respond to personally—I have been on vacation and having e-mail problems.

Thanks to Karla Hummel, director of Continuing Professional Education at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, for her kind comments. “Thank you for the wonderful suggestion in the May 2 issue of Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update! While I’m actually very computer-savvy, it had never crossed my mind to use digital photography and scanning to document these items and add them to my records. I’ll be gathering a few garters and bow ties, dinner plates and monogrammed table linens, and all sorts of other things this weekend. THANK YOU!”

If you’re looking for more great preservation ideas, check out these great ideas sent in by our readers:

Annie Parent writes, “I just read your article about family mementos, and I wanted to add one of my most treasured mementos. I have all my dad’s report cards, but what is even more treasured are the pictures he drew, colored and glued when he was a young boy. I have framed them and they hang next to pictures of my dad when he was young. I also have an old spelling book of his from maybe when he was in 4th or 5th grade and his old lunch bucket. These things are from the 1930s. I’m lucky to have them.”

Linda Taylor says, “Since my family has done very little traveling (except the latest generation), I have been able to get pictures of their family homes. Maybe just the ones during the 20th century (my parents and some grandparents), but I have attempted to get in one place the houses (and trailers) my children have lived in with us, and now on their own. The pictures are not ‘organized’ yet, but it is another theme when I do get organized.”

Annette Fulford in British Columbia sent along two great ideas. She says, “I am preserving the memories of my grandmother’s voyage to Canada in 1919. In 1992, I was given the 68-page letter she wrote while on board the SS Melita to her parents back home in England. In the letter she talks about buying a souvenir spoon of the ship. However, it wasn’t until 1994 that my sister found the spoon in an old box she was going through.

“When I first got the spoon, I tried to take a photo of it with my husband’s camera but it didn’t turn out the way I hoped. It was clear but the color was off. Just recently my brother took a digital photo of the spoon but it didn’t turn out very clear. In an experiment, I just placed the spoon on my flatbed scanner and scanned it. The image turned out wonderful! I took the disk copy of it to my local photo shop and they printed off copies of the image.

“I was able to share photos of the spoon with any family members who wished to have a copy of it. It goes with the transcribed copy of the letter, which was given to family members at a family reunion in 1989. I was able to get a copy of a photo of my grandparents just before they sailed and I have since obtained a print of the ship as well. A full account of a war bride’s journey to Canada in 1919.”

Annette also writes about preserving her father’s paintings: “My father dabbled with watercolor paints most of his life. However, with a family of six to feed, his artistic abilities were placed on a back burner while he earned a living. When my father turned 65 he began a new hobby: oil painting. He bid on painting lessons at a local fund-raising auction and won. He learned fast and created many beautiful paintings. Each person in our family had our favorites or wanted copies of them.

“When my father passed away in 2000, he left many of his paintings to family and friends. However, before each person received his or her painting, a negative was made for each painting. Since I am the historian for my family, I now have an archive of 4×6 photograph prints of my father’s paintings, including a history of each painting and whom it belongs to now. I also have two original paintings and one print on linen. Most of the paintings are posted on my brother’s Web site.”

One of the most unique ideas for preserving family mementos comes from Frances Muller. Because I have a fondness for hollyhocks (they grew in my grandmother’s back yard), Frances’ idea really hit home. What do you think?

Frances writes, “As we search through our recent ancestors for information, we occasionally find stories of other things which are too fascinating not to record. This is the story of how I discovered the heritage of a lily plant.

“My first memory of this plant was in the late 1940s after my great-grandmother’s death when I was about 9. She was buried in a family plot in Little Elm Cemetery in Denton County, Texas. This group of graves includes my great-grand mother (Lucy Ella Beale Smith Hawkins) who died in 1946, her first husband (George Andrew Smith who died in 1883), one of her daughters (Lillian Smith) who died when she was only 2, and my great-grandmother’s parents (Robert Terrill Beale, died 1899, and Nancy Edna McKinsey, died 1890). My story, though, is about a plant that was planted in the plot. On one of our visits to the cemetery after my great-grandmother’s death, my mother was thrilled to find this plant had made a seed pod that was dry and ready to fall. She brought some of the bulblets to our home in Dallas to plant.

“It was several years before the plant bloomed. My mother called it a Milk and Wine Lily. After all my mother’s excitement, I remember being really disappointed when it bloomed. As the name indicates, it was not quite pure white but like milk was before the cream was taken out and deep in the throat it is the color of burgundy, with steaks coming out into the petals. The leaves were long and lanky and not really very pretty. We had so many pretty flowers, I just could not understand her appreciation of this plant, but I knew it had come from the graves near my great-grandmother’s and I thought this was its importance to her. The plant grew, but I did not pay any attention to it. I do remember my mother was always excited when it bloomed.

“In 1972, my parents moved to the other side of Dallas. I was married and living in Whittier, Calif., in the house in which we are still living. Before they moved, my parents dug up and mailed me many of the flowers and seeds they knew I loved. In the box that arrived, there were several colors of iris bulbs, several golden day lily bulbs, and some Love-in-the-Mist seed. Then, I pulled out of the box a large mass of dirty bulb with long lanky leaves. Yes … it was the Milk and Wine Lily. I, of coarse, planted it because it had been on my great-grandmother’s family graves, and I must respect it and my mother’s desire to pass it to me to continue its care.

“As it continued to grow, I became curious to know if Milk and Wine was the real name of the lily as our family had given our own names to several of the plants we had. The blooms look similar to the blooms of a Naked Lady Lily. It is also similar in that the bud pod contains 12 to 15 buds. One, two or three flowers bloom at a time and as each wilts, the others come out to bloom. By the mid 1990s, I had to admit, it looked kind of pretty when several of the large stalks of the plant grew tall and were all blooming in the spring.

“In 1991, while visiting in Dallas, I taped an interview with my uncle (Frank Tarpley, my mother’s brother) about their family’s early life in Waco, Texas, in the 1920s and 1930s. He told me during this time that my great-grandmother (Ella Beale Smith Hawkins) had come from Denton to Waco to visit several times a year. When finished, I showed him recent photographs of my family and the yard here in Whittier, which included the Milk and Wine Lily. I told him about how my mother had taken bulblets from the plant at Little Elm Cemetery. My uncle did not say anything, but my aunt, who had already seen the photographs, came in and told me that the lilies had been growing beside the Tarpley house in Waco.

“When she said this, I suddenly understood why my mother loved the Milk and Wine Lily so much. It wasn’t because it had been on the graves at the cemetery, but because it had come originally from their Waco home, just as I am thrilled with many of the iris because they came from the backyard I loved so much in Dallas. My great-grandmother had obviously liked the lily and brought bulbs from Waco and planted it in the cemetery plot near three generations of her loved family members near Denton. This was back in the days when cemeteries were more personal and we could plant favorite plants on the graves of our loved ones. This discovery thrilled me as much as discovering another generation of ancestors. I now knew the migration route this plant had taken. It had come from Waco in the 1930s … to the Little Elm Cemetery in the 1940s … to my parent’s backyard in the 1950s and 60s … to my front yard in Whittier in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. I still did not know about the name of the Milk and Wine Lily. I had checked several garden books and taken it to the Whittier Begonia Club hoping for identification, but could find out nothing.

“Unrelated to this plant, I have received a book catalog for several years that listed a book called Passalong Plants by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing (University of North Carolina Press, $32.50). It was about southern plants that were, for the most part, only available by being passed from friend to friend as nurseries usually stock the most popular plants and the most recent discoveries. I finally ordered this book. To my surprise, the fifth photograph and description in the book was my lily. In fact, I learned that most of our back yard in Dallas was and our yard here in Whittier … are ‘Passalong Plants.’

“Its name is Crinum. It is also known as: apostle lily, angel lily, candystick lily, Confederate lily, and … milk and wine lily. My mystery plant was no longer a mystery.

“It has already been ‘passed along’ to several people in Whittier. Its descendants will continue to be passed along to my daughter, Dawn, in Whittier, and next year, will go to Aurora, Colo., when my other daughter, Jenny, moves into her new house. I think my grandparents would be pleased to know that the flowers which grew beside their house in Waco, Texas, in the 1930s were still in the family after traveling halfway across the country for 70 years.”