Friday, January 24, 2014

Grandma's Bell, Little House on the Prairie, and Genealogy Stories

Grandma's school bell and quilted pillow

"A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin."--Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

My grandmother never wrote on the scale of Laura Ingalls Wilder (and of course there would only be one Laura anyway!), but she did write down the story of her childhood. It is recorded in a little 22-page booklet for her descendants to enjoy. Yes, though she was grandma to us, she, too, was once a little girl. In her story she tells of mischievousness (my grandma, really?), escaping the 1913 Marietta flood, loss of loved ones in the 1918 influenza epidemic, and dashed dreams--including the fact that she wanted to be a teacher but, except for Sunday School teacher, never achieved that goal.

My sister collected bells, mostly U.S. state bells, but we also found the little gem featured in the photo above tucked away in her collection. The label affixed on the inside simply reads, "Grandma's Bell." I often wondered about its history. Was it Grandma's inspiration, reminding her that even if she had not attained a teacher's degree she could still be influential? Had it been a gift? Did a one-room schoolhouse teacher who knew of her dreams bequeath it to her?

Two things happened recently that prompted some of my reminiscences. My 5 year-old granddaughter started reading the Little House on the Prairie series (yay, Angelica--another generation to be warmed and inspired by Laura!), and my cousin Amy floated a pretty neat challenge at the first of the year that seems to have exploded. Let me explain.

Amy is a certified genealogist. We have her to thank for the details of our family's genealogical tree on my mother's (and her father's) side. Amy blogs at No Story Too Small, "Life is Made of Stories." In her profile she says she doesn't think she's been to a cemetery she hasn't liked. She is seriously good at what she does.

Well, I have to brag on my younger cousin. Amy proposed a challenge for 2014 to her readers: "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks." Not only is she posting about her ancestors once a week (some mine, but she writes on both sides of her family), but she's also running a recap each week of those who have accepted the challenge and are posting about their ancestors on their blogs. As of week three, she is up to 242 links! What fascinating reading. Oh, imagine multiplying our own stories by those of each person around us, enlarging the circle, generation after generation. How many Little House on the Prairie series could we collectively write??? Amazing information at No Story Too Small. You can get lost in the links each week.

Amy's first of 52 posts featured, ta-da, our grandmother--along with photos and little details even I didn't know about. She started with Grandma because, as she says, she credits her for instilling in Amy her love of family history and genealogy. Funny, but I've credited our grandmother for instilling the love of writing in me (though I suspect Amy got her writing talent from her, too) since Grandma not only wrote that short history of her childhood but also poetry.

See, Grandma, you were a teacher after all.

And so I share this for all who love stories, history, genealogy, and just plain old inspiration to get out there and do what you love, and love as you go. Along the way collect your stories, pass them on. Who knows, maybe someday someone will say, oh, yes, she was a little girl once and what a neat story she lived to tell.

Love you, Amy--and if you're reading this, watch your mailbox. I think Grandma would want you to have the bell next :-)

Have you traced your family tree? Any stories pop up that you would want to pass on to those who follow after you? Has anyone in your family written about their childhood that gets passed down generation-to-generation?

"And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see--or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read." --Alice Walker


  1. The fact that your grandmother recorded a little booklet of her stories is amazing and so forward thinking on her part. How precious that book must be to all of you. I did my family tree from where a great aunt had stopped. I compiled the whole thing, but right now the other family members, the younger ones, are not that interested since they are busy living their lives. One day, I hope they will be happy to have that information. Now I'm heading over to visit Amy's blog :)

  2. Your grandmother sounds like she was a wonderful woman! And what a treasure, having her written history. I so wish we had more of my family's stories written down. I need to work on that. :)

    I love Amy's challenge. I can just imagine all the writing ideas that could come from that.

    Happy weekend! :)

  3. Catherine, congratulations for finishing up where your aunt left off--and let's hope someone somewhere in your family becomes interested in all that great information! At least it will be there when they are ready :-) Hope you enjoyed Amy's blog. There's sure a lot of great info' there, too.

    Karen, hope you can gather some of your family's stories, too. It would be a treasure to your grandkids, that's for sure. Have a great weekend...

  4. I have not done any genealogy work, though others on both sides of our family have. My sister (who is a journalist) actually wrote a book (complete with photos) to commemorate my grandmother's ninetieth birthday. She had it bound, and we all ordered copies. So we do have those memories written down. I love your sister's idea, though. I've never had the urge to write a memoir, but I do enjoy reading what my sister provided for all of us.

  5. Peggy, I remember you mentioning your sister's book about your grandmother. What a wonderful keepsake for your family. Too many times the stories and photos get lost. This way you have everything compiled. Thanks for sharing. Hope this cold, cold winter hasn't been too hard on you!

    1. The cold winter has gotten me 3 "snow days" - and OSU doesn't cancel easily. Of course I miss my students, but there's more time for writing. I guess every cloud filled with snow also has a silver lining. :-)

  6. Your grandma would have been so proud to have her story out there! Sounds like she did teach as you said :) I love history on family, it intrigues me to know what my ancestors did although I have never been one to research them. I prefer to hear the stories passed down.

  7. Kenda,

    I've been traveling 2 1/2 weeks out of the past 3 and got horribly behind in my reading. Your package arrived today and I am overwhelmed... (It was a real surprise since I hadn't seen this post yet!) I will be in touch soon... well, as soon as I stop crying :-)

    Love you,

  8. Love you, too, Amy--and I'm tickled this was such a surprise for you on your return from your travels :-) Grandma would be so proud of you!!!!

  9. Neat, I didn't know that you ascribed your love of writing to your grandma!