"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Welcome to Katzenhaus Books, where we tell - the stories behind the history.
RSS Follow Become a Fan

Delivered by FeedBurner


Recent Posts

Why I'm Being an Absolute Sloth!
Lessons We Learn Too Late
Christmas Without . . .
Another Thankful Morning--This Time for Alert Cats.
Connections

Categories

A new contest
Abolition
absurdity
academic myopia
Agents
Almost Free
Amazon
ancestors
Announcement
apocalypse
Applications and software
Appomattox
Arnulf of Lisieux
art of speaking
attracting readers
audience
audio books
Author Central
Author Gifts
author's Plea
awards
baseball
basketball
Battle of Port Royal
Battles
biographical
birthdays
blind artists
blockade
blog chain
Book Club Guides
Book Design
Book Launch
book stores
book trailer
bookstores
Boxed Set
bright ideas
Building a platform
business
Business plan
Busy-ness
Butterflies
Career choices
cats
celebrations
cemetery research
Census
challenges
chaos
characterization
Characters
Charleston
children
children's books
choosing a publisher
Choosing a Title
Christmas
Christmas Past
Civil War
Clues
commercials
Computer Hacks
Confederates
Conferences
Connections
constitutional amendments
construction
Contract labor
cotton
Countdown Sale
Countdown to Launch
Cover Designs
Cover images
CreateSpace
cutting and pasting
Cyber Monday
daily drama
daily events
Dead Mules
Deal of the Day
decisions
depression
diversions
dogs
Do-Overs
DRM
earthquake
e-book pricing
e-books
editing
elections
elevator speech
elmore leonard
Elves and Holidays
Emancipation
England
English class
evidence
Excerpt
exclusivity
Exercise
Expertise
Facebook
fact and fiction
failures
fame and fortune
family affairs
Favorites
Fear of Failure
fires
Fish
flood waters
flowers
food delights
Formatting
Fort Pulaski
free chapter
Free Days
freebies
Friendship
Frogmore
garden
gardens
genealogy
Getting organized
ghost stories
Giveaway
Goals
good business
good news
Goodreads
grammar cops
gratitude
gray horses
gripes
grocery shopping
guest blogs
Gullah
handicaps
hardbound books
Harriet Tubman
Hiatus
Historical background
Historical Fiction
historical puzzlers
historical thinking
history lessons
Holidays
home office
hope and kindness
horse races
horses
hurricanes
identifying your audience
illustrations
imagination
indie authors
Inspiration
inspirations
internet
internet history
intruders
ISBN
Kalamazoo
karma
Kindle
Kindle links
Kindle rankings
Kindle Serials
kings
Klout
Ku Klux Klan
Lack of co-ordination
landmarks
language
Laughs
launch dates
Laura Towne
Layouts
legal matters
lending library
Lessons Learned
lessons unlearned
libraries
literary genres
local news
loss
love story
making choices
Marketing
Matchbooks
medicine
medieval-isms
Meet the Characters
Memorial Day
memories
Milestones
military matters
mind-mapping
Misfis
Monthly Musings
name recognition
NaNoWriMo
Nellie Chase
Nellie M. Chase
New Blog
New Book
New England
New Research
New Year
newsletters
nonfiction
non-profits
nostalgia
Nurses
oddities
odds and ends
olympics
omens
opening lines
outrage
Oxford
Papacy
parties
Penn Center
photographs
photos
picture book
Pinterest
Pinterest and copyrights
Pirates
planning ahead
plot
point of view
polite society
politics
portraits
powerful women
Predictions
pre-orders
press release
previews
pricing
Principles
procrastination
productivity
Profiles
Progress Report
Promotions
proofs
pros and cons
publishing
publishing companies
publishing ploys
publishing rights
pure sentimentality
puzzlements
quiz
rain
random thoughts
RBOC
read an ebook
readership
Reading Enhancement
recipes
Reconstruction
Relaxation
research
Resolutions
reviews
road trip
rough draft
Roundhead Reports
royalties
rules
SALE
Sales
scams
schedules
Scoop It
ScoopIt
seasons
Secessionville
second edition
Second Mouse
self-publishing
settings
Shiloh
Short Stories
Silliness
slander
Slavery
small world
Smashwords
Smile of the Day
snow, living in the south
social media
software
software disasters
South Carolina
Speechless!
sports
Spring
story arc
Substitutes
Success
summer
Synopsis
Taking a Break
Taxes
Thank You
the difficulties of blogging
The Gideonites
Theme
Tongue-in-cheek
Traditions
trailer
Travelog
trilogies
Trivia, Nostalgia
trolls
Tweet
Twitter
Upcoming Events
using commas
Vacation
vacation photos
Valentine
video
Visitor
vocabulary
Volunteering
voting
warnings
weather
weather trauma
website
word counts
Word-of-Mouth
Words
Words of Warning
Writer Beware!
Writer's Block
Writing Advice
Writing as Career
writing process
X-Rays

Archives

March 2019
February 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010

powered by

"Roundheads and Ramblings"

family affairs

The Story of Simon And Sarah Jane


A Bit of Family Gossip

 Several years ago, when I was just starting to write A Scratch with the Rebels, I traveled to western Pennsylvania to see what I could learn about my Great-Uncle James, whose Civil War letters had started me on this adventure.  I already had the 1850 and 1860 Census records for Beaver County.  (You can actually access some old county lists on line from the U. S. Census Bureau.)  So I knew the names of his brothers and sisters, their ages, and his father's occupation. I knew James was the second child and oldest boy.The family, however, was still very much a mystery to me.  Even though I looked at the 1860 Census and found my grandfather as the six-year-old Joseph McCaskey, no one in the family seemed very real.

Then pieces began falling into place.  At the county registrar's office, I learned that the oldest girl, Sarah Jane, had married a man named Simon P. Fisher, and that Simon later served as executor of my great-grandfather's estate when he died in 1875.  Then in the local history room of the county library, the curator showed me a map drawn in that same year.  It showed every building in the township, each carefully labeled with the owner's name. There -- near where I thought it might be --  was "Mrs. McCaskey's house." What really caught my eye, however, was the property just down the road.  It was a house belonging to Simon Fisher's father, and set way back from the road -- hidden from view, almost in the woods -- was their barn.

To understand why that was so important to me, you have to know a bit about my own teenage years.  I grew up in a fair-sized town, back in the days when kids walked everywhere they wanted to go.  From the time I was 13 or so, my mother always sent me out with the same admonition. "You come straight home from school (substitute:  movie, dance, play, football game, choir practice, etc.). Don't you think about coming home by way of Fisher's barn."  At the time, I thought it was just about the dumbest thing she ever said.  I didn't know anybody named Fisher, and there wasn't a barn anywhere near our urban neighborhood.

 I laughed out loud at discovering the original location of Fisher's barn.  My guess? Well, I'm pretty sure that when Sarah Jane and Simon were courting, they took some detours on their way home.  That hidden barn would have made a perfect place for a bit of hanky-panky.  And evidently their antics were discovered. I asked around among my cousins, and they too remembered their mothers (my mother's sisters) using the same phrase.  In the McCaskey family, Fisher's barn was the equivalent of the local  drive-in, the back seat of the family sedan,  the back row of the balcony -- the local "make out" spot.

It was a bit embarrassing to realize that my mother suspected me of being up to the same sort of shenanigans, but the discovery of the origins of one family saying gave me a warm feeling of belonging.  Fisher's barn allowed me to connect with my long-dead ancestors in a way that the usual genealogical charts never could.

Preview of Coming Attractions


A special "heads-up" for those who are awaiting the third volume of the Grenville saga. "Yankee Daughters" will not be available until sometime around the end of the year. However, I have started two new Pinterest boards to whet your curiosity.

One contains the names of all the new characters being introduced in this third generation of the family. Many of them are based on members of my mother's family, so I've used those real pictures to illustrate the fictional characters. I've changed their names, but there's often a hidden clue. For example, if I had an aunt named Rose, her fictional name might show up as Lily or Iris.

The second board draws on other illustrations of the real pertinent objects, events, and places in the novel. Many were old photos taken in and around Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Others are "ripped from the headlines" of contemporary newspapers. The idea here is to immerse you in the period, roughly from 1886 to 1920.

And eventually (maybe even today)  there will appear a third board dedicated to the repertoire of "wise old sayings" -- the majority of which were cited as Biblical truths by my grandmother (who is Katerina McDevlin Grenville in the new book) and passed down through her eight daughters. Some of them are better in German than in English, but you'll get both versions.

Hope you'll drop by and get a taste of what is to come. You can  find them all on my Pinterest page:  https://www.pinterest.com/roundheadlady/

Rules for Family Living.

I'm back to working on the manuscript of my next book, "Yankee Sisters," which will be volume three of the Grenville Sagas. It is very loosely based on the lives of my mother's family, so I find myself doing a lot of reminiscing about the stories she told about her own girlhood. Among those stories, I keep hearing familiar sayings, aphorisms, and lucky charms that guided the lives of girls growing up at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Today, I've been reminded of some of her necessary rituals of everyday life, and I'm trying to work them into my novel, For example, my mother always assured me that if I wanted to grow up to be beautiful, I had to get up very early on the first of May and go outside to wash my face in the dew I found on the grass. My Pennsylvania cousins and I took that warning very seriously, although it didn't seem to make any noticeable difference in our pudgy cheeks or the blossoming of adolescent pimples.

Do girls still do that? Probably not. It would be downright dangerous today, I suppose. I know that in my neighborhood, our lawn service folks come around at the end of April and spray all the grass with a horrible mixture of fertilizer, pre-emergent weed-killer, and a virulent blue-green dye so they can tell which areas have been treated. Just imagine what that would do for the complexion! Every little girl would look like a Smurf!

I still like some of the old rituals, however. I was taught that when a family moves into a new residence, four items need to cross the threshold before any other belongings can enter. (This practice really confused some of our moving companies!) First comes a broom, to sweep out troubles. Then there must be a whole loaf of bread, to be sure that the family will always have enough to eat. Next comes a cup of sugar, for love and sweetness. And finally, we add a shaker of salt, to add a bit of flavor and fun to our lives. Even if there's nothing magical about my thinking any longer, the four items still serve as good reminders about what's important in our lives.

What about your family? Did your folks have any traditional rituals that still remind  you of them?

Here's a Good Reason to Get Your Flu Shots.

Though the Great Plague gets more press, the 1918 influenza pandemic was much more deadly. It it one reason that both sides in World War I came to the peace table as it killed hundreds of thousands of young men in barracks and camps and made a growing manpower crisis critical.  The epidemic spread slowly, but I've seen few signs that people recognized it in its early stages. 

It certainly affected my family in western Pennsylvania in the year before anyone called it a pandemic..




The picture on the left shows my mother's oldest sister, Eleanor (called Ella) holding baby Electa in 1900. 

The picture on the right shows the whole Smith family in 1908 -- There's Ella (who seems to have aged  in the intervening 8 years), her husband, Harry Smith, and their two children, Clair and Electa.






In the notes I am assembling for my book on my mother's family, I find that my first cousin,  Electa Smith,  died at the age of 17 from influenza.  The year was 1917, according to her tombstone.   Her mother  (the oldest of the eight McCaskey girls)  died in 1920 of  "a broken heart," people said, and Electa's brother, Clair, was left with a permanent stutter from the grief that engulfed his family.


And then there is this picture, which has a bit of mystery behind it. That's Electa on the left at the age of 16.   The other girl, referred to only as "Carrie," seems to have been an orphan that the Smiths took in to help around the house.  After both Electa and Ella died, Harry quickly married Carrie. There's 
a story there, somewhere, but I doubt I'll find it.

The Mysterious Dynamics of Family

The more I dig into my mother’s family history, the more I am surprised by how different their life was at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Now, let me say, first, that I was born in 1939, and I grew up convinced that the twentieth century was “modern.” We had great cars, television, single-party telephone lines, women voted, girls got to wear slacks, and we had McDonald’s as a hang-out.  Oh, i know things have changed a lot since I was in high school, but the changes I've experienced have always seemed to me to be a natural progression, not some grand sea-change.  But now, as I look back at my mother’s life, and the lives of her seven sisters, I’m recognizing a tremendous gulf between our worlds.

Among the stories I’m finding are these:

    •    A developmentally-disabled child, raised without benefit of medical intervention or therapy or adaptations to make her life better. She just lives out her life as best she can. And if she cannot do something, or reach something, or understand what's happening, then it’s just too bad. Things pass her by.
    •    A child born out of wedlock, who carries that label of “illegitimate” as if it were she who has committed some great sin. Her mother, too, faces a lifetime of shaming and ridicule, which drives her to make even worse decisions with her life.  Who was the father? I wonder, but I find no record or even any effort to identify him or make him bear part of the responsibility.
    •    A father, knowing that he was dying, mortgages the family farm to hide the fact that he cannot work, which ultimately leaves his wife and children homeless and penniless when he dies.
    •    Another child, born to a mentally unstable mother and left solely in her care although she is clearly incapable of understanding her responsibilities. Even when the child comes close to dying at his mother’s hand, there is no intervention. There’s no social worker, or child protection agency, or thought of notifying some authority — because there is no authority to turn to if a child’s life is just plain rotten and dangerous.
    •    A man with what appears to be early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, whose tendency to get lost, whose forgetfulness, whose failure to recognize family members, whose sudden and violent  rages are all explained by his devotion to God.
    •    A teenager who dies from a lack of medical attention, and another scarred for life by an incompetent doctor — both of whom should have been able to live long and healthy lives.
    •    Another teenager, taken in by a new family when she was left an orphan, only to find that when the  wife died, she is expected to marry the husband.
    •    An adolescent boy, so traumatized at the age of twelve by the loss of family members that he develops a debilitating stutter that leaves him unable to communicate. and he is made fun of, not helped to overcome his problem.
    •    A young wife who suffers a devastating stroke that leaves her unable to say anything  beyond “a-no, a-no.” She never sees a doctor, never receives treatment. She is just allowed to wither away from neglect.
    •    An alcoholic husband who refuses to speak to his wife because she will not join his church.  And his absolute silence lasts not just for a period of days, but for years.

These stories, horrible as some of them were, were not told to me as anything other than simple explanations of why things were as they were.  And when, in the course of these tragedies, someone did step in to help, it was not a parent or a grandparent, a policeman, a pastor, or a teacher.  Invariably in this particular family help came only from one sister to another. I’m struggling to understand.