March 2010 Everything’s Relative

March 2010 Everything’s Relative

The lighter side of family history.

November Winners: In With the New
The ways we say farewell to the old year and greet the new one blend cultural traditions and local customs.

Our readers shared New Year’s traditions in their families.
Ashes, Ashes

My father was the 16th and last child of German immigrant parents. This is his story about the Asche Weib, the ash man’s wife. (My grandparents spoke low German, so the term may translate the same today.) This ugly old hag would visit Dec. 31 looking for children who’d broken a Christmas toy. Should she find such a child, she’d take away all the toys he or she had received. After all, someone careless enough to break one toy couldn’t be trusted with the others.

In 1916, my father was a young boy who’d broken a truck he got for Christmas. Now was the time of reckoning, and he was scared. His mother had filled the bathtub and given each youngster a half walnut shell containing a lit candle. The vessels floated on the water to represent the arrival of the New Year. Dad couldn’t enjoy the festivities. He sat in the corner, his toys around him, knowing that at any moment the Asche Weib would arrive to take them all away.

Nancy Merzke » Rochester, NY

Out With a Bang
I grew up in an urban area in the Bronx, New York City. We lived in an 18-family apartment building in a four-room apartment, but the rooms were large. My parents would invite the other 17 families for New Year’s Eve. At midnight, my Uncle John would lead a parade of children through the hallways like the Pied Piper, with pots, pans and any other homemade noisemaker we could find. The sounds echoed through the stairwells, but no one complained because they were all at the party.

Anita Mistretta » Holbrook, NY

Small Fortune
Our family tradition for New Year’s didn’t involve celebratory noise, a banquet of food or hours of football. It was more about hope and optimism. Each New Year’s Day, there’d be a hefty silver dollar on the sink ledge. It came from the small treasury of silver dollars our great-uncle gifted to each child. We’d all start Jan. 1 by washing our hands with that coin. It signified that the new year would bring sufficient money to see us through, and all would be well.

Donna McClure » Guilderland, NY

Grandma Knows Best

My mother hosts a New Year’s Eve party for her grandchildren—no adults allowed. Mom and Dad would plan the whole night, with stories from their past and from ours, and they taught the children how to let the new year in the front door and chase the old year out the back door with pots and pans.

Now Dad is gone and my mom has great-grandchildren. The grandkids have taken over most of the New Year’s responsibilities. Instead of going out, they enjoy watching their nieces and nephews. What a great legacy!

Judy Trask » Saint Peters, Mo.
Your Story
Bible Passages
Our family had been trying to establish a link between Roger Kennicott, our first known Kenicott progenitor in America, and individuals of the same name in England. One day I went to the GENUKI site <> to search for the name in counties in England. I started alphabetically, typing Berkshire. A message flashed onto the screen. It said “Kennicott: R. Kennicott Bible” and linked to eBay.
To my amazement, I saw a book whose auction ended that day. It was identified as the Ransom Kennicott Bible, with pages noting the 1870 marriage of Ransom Kennicott and Helen M. Smith, and the births of sons Cass, Lynn and Donald. These were my great-grandparents who lived in Chicago, and their children. I’d accessed an English website, been referred to a US site and found my family Bible, previously unknown to exist. I wanted it. I submitted my bid.
Another bid had been made; I had to raise mine. With less than an hour to go, I received an e-mail message from the other bidder. Who was I, she asked. Her grandfather was named Ransom Kennicott, and this was his Bible.

I helped her determine that her Ransom was much younger than the man who married in 1870. I won the Bible.
The dealer, who lived in Maine, wrote me that the Bible had come in a group of books from New Hampshire. She was happy to see it returned to its family. There in Great-grandfather’s spidery hand was the record of his marriage and the births of his three beloved sons, the last born 127 years ago. Where has this precious Bible been over the years? We’ll probably never know. Serendipity has safely returned it to the Kennicott family, where we hope it will long remain.
Jane Kenicott Lillard Miller » Arlington, Va.

From the March 2010 Family Tree Magazine

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