Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Monday, November 24, 2014

Family GatheringsWhen I grew up

When I was growing up mom had an old blue cosmetic case where she kept the old family photographs, I poured over them by the hour, wondering about these people. Sometimes I'd ask questions but usually there weren't many answers.

In 1977 I started doing my family genealogy and found a lot of the answers. I kept asking questions of my mother, my grandma and eventually distant cousins I found through my research.

I know the people in this photo are connected through my Keith and Thompson lines who settled in southwestern Kansas in the later 1870s and early 1880s. They lived in dug outs and married locals and became a part of the growing community. They gathered for special holidays from the countryside and various small towns. Those were special occasions for the holidays, an anniversary, a birthday or a funeral. The women spent all day if not more than one in the kitchen preparing a spread of food and traditions that each of them grew up cherishing.

I believe the lady on the far right is the sister of my gr. gr. grandmother, Nancy Ann Thompson Keith.  Hester Ann Thompson married Jacob Heape and had three children Fanny, Ruth and Ethyl. I don't know what happened to these people. Sadly I never followed up on where these girls went or if they have any descendants. The other possibility is her sister Helen who married a Crawford. I feel sad that I didn't follow up on these ladies.

I wonder what their favorite holiday foods were. What things they later made for their children. What stories did they tell around that table?

As the holidays approach take time to ask the questions. Make note of traditions or foods you've had all your life and haven't thought about. Record the answers for the kids who are now too young to ask themselves.

Americans have a Happy Thanksgiving. If not keep this in mind for your next family gathering.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


See that? It's a real letter I received last week. I love real letters but in this day and age I don't write them and don't receive them. I think that is a real shame.

When I was in school we wrote novellas in the form of letters. I loved the feel of pen on paper. I still do and usually write in my journal to keep that going. It is therapeutic. Then I'd receive an answer. Many pages of paper folded neatly into an envelope. They felt good.

We were just writing about our day-to-day activities and thoughts. An important thing for teens although we didn't realize that at the time. Pouring our feelings out on paper which were letters to dear friends that felt safe to us. That therapy doesn't happen through a keyboard and email.

It is sad that most schools are no longer teaching cursive writing. Printing is okay but I don't believe it has the strength of flowing cursive words. This will be such a loss to our children. Besides not being able to write in cursive they won't be able to read it.

How will they read letters handed down in the family? What if I wanted to share a part of this letter with my grandson? Our ancestors fought for the right to learn to read and write and it seems we are throwing that away. Sure there are books and emails and other printed sources but it just isn't the same.

I hope when I answer this letter she will write back. I hope we can find the joy we had years ago in handwritten letters.

Who could you write a real letter to today?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


 I've been watching some of those ghost hunting shows that are so popular on television: "Ghost Adventures," "Ghost Hunters International," "Dead Files, "Most Haunted." I love to see the buildings and hear the history. I even make notes if the locations are in the West because the stories could lead to an article.

I do find it interesting how people describe the apparitions they see. Often a description will include "really old," "late 1800s," "turn of the century" and other statements putting these people in the far distant past.

As a genealogist and historian I am more aware than most that these time periods aren't really that old. When I began doing my genealogy about 35 years ago I made contact with Dottie. She was a cousin on my Keith family. Here's a photo of her with her mother, Mattie.

This photo would fit many of the descriptions those people give of the really old apparitions. 
I don't remember when Dottie was born and it doesn't matter but she was still alive in my daughter's lifetime. We exchanged many letters and I still cherish them. 

This photo seems very old with that car. The lady in the center is my great grandmother whom I remember well. I think the other lady was her sister Laura. The man was a family friend and I knew his grandson and my grandma grew up with his wife.

I really had to laugh one day when one of the people on the show said the ghost she was seeing was really, really, really old and probably from the Civil War.

I realize it's all perspective and of course the younger you are the older these people seem but in reality the Civil War was just 150 years ago. I can remember when a Civil War soldier's widow died. It was all over the news.

Our grandparents and great grandparents saw an amazing period in time. Travel, communication, cooking and many other aspects of daily life changed. My grandma was born before cars, long before airplanes, she did own a microwave in her later years but her mother cooked on a wood stove. Wyatt Earp of the Old West was still alive when my mother was a little girl.

Another thing I heard the other day was that the researcher was going to meet with the descendants of two young men who committed suicide. Impossible. The person could have been a descendant of one of them or of their parents through another child but not the two young men. A descendant is somebody who descends from a particular person. Otherwise you are related to that person and descend from an earlier ancestor.

Every field or interest has it's own terminology. We all use terms incorrectly but as a genealogist this descendant thing really bothers me.

When you are watching television, a movie or reading a book think about how your family relates in time to what is happening. Could your ancestors have lived in that old haunted manor house in Lancashire, England? It can be quite mind boggling.