Back to Work on Family History

I need to buckle down and delve into my mother’s genealogy notebooks. The first year after her death, I didn’t have the heart to start working on them. Over the last couple of years, I’ve dipped into them now and then, but haven’t really worked on them.

Now enough time has passed that I’m ready to move forward. My online writing on other topics has reached a plateau. That leaves me free time to transfer information from Mom’s notebooks to my tree on She worked on the family history before the proliferation of online genealogy information. Now, it’s time to make her research accessible to others through these websites, through blogs and through self-published books.


A chart in one of Gail Lee Martin’s genealogy notebooks.


Mom collected this information over years of painstaking research that involved visits to courthouses, libraries, and cemeteries. She strained her eyes to read through reels and reels of microfilm ordered from the government. She wrote to distant relatives. She visited ones within driving distance. Then, she carefully documented what she learned.

I have several contacts asking for family records, so that will spur me into researching those requested topics. I also need to contact older relatives for information they may have.

I hope to assemble photos and stories from Mom’s charts and notes into blog posts on our family history site on WordPress. The name of the blog is Then and Now but mostly it is about the past. Drop by now and then to see what I’ve posted recently.

If you have a membership to Ancestry, my profile name on there is vallain159.

Mom and the Postcards

Back in 1999, Mom joined the Wichita Postcard Club. Maybe she was hoping for some clues to date the family photos that were in postcard format. We have some those photo postcards in the family albums.

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A vintage postcard with a photo from Guy S. “These are my bear dogs. Thanks for the present you sent.”

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I can’t read the date on the old postcard but it was addressed to my grandfather, Lorenzo Martin of Madison, Kansas.

Another reason that she might have joined is perhaps she found some intriguing postcards at yard sales. She loved rummaging around in boxes filled with the bits and pieces of other people’s lives.

She placed the newsletters in a three ring binder and kept the club roster in a folder with some articles about postcard collection that she clipped from newspapers and magazines. That leads me to my third guess, that she planned to write about the topic for Kanhistique. That monthly magazine covered Kansas history and antiques.

Kanhistique Magazines

Here are a few of Gail Lee Martin’s articles that were the cover story.

Over the years, they published quite a few of Mom’s articles. It thrilled her to see her writing in print and even featured as the cover story many times. The magazine, now defunct, paid for the articles which gave her an extra incentive to keep writing for them. Apparently the postcard article never made it out of the research stage.

I flipped through the club roster to find Mom’s name. It listed her collecting interests as El Dorado, Kansas oil field towns, and history. Her father and her husband both worked in the oil industry, so I imagine she hoped to learn more through the postcards about the early days to supplement her writing on their lives.


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Vintage Kansas postcard showing an oil well gusher in Sedan.





Mom’s Clipping Habit

My mother sat next to a pile of newspapers that teetered and sometimes slid from their stack to spread across the floor around her. I cautioned her not to step on those and go sliding, so she tried to keep the papers in their place.

In the 1940s radio cabinet, she kept her clipping tools; her scissors, tape, stapler, pen and rubber cement. The cabinet served as a lamp stand and a place to set her Pepsi can too. Her brother-in-law Ralph Martin made the cabinet in his high school shop class.

Gail Lee Martin in her favorite spot for TV watching, newspaper clipping and chatting.

Gail Lee Martin in her favorite spot for TV watching, newspaper clipping and chatting.

Hours passed as she watched the Cubs or other baseball game on TV while between plays, she scanned the newspapers for articles to clip.  Soon there was a second stack of papers for recycling and a batch of articles saved for filing.

What merited clipping? There were obits and mentions of people she knew. Some were inspiration for her writing. Here’s a sample of those:

  • The changing style of the Morton Salt girl from 1914 to 1968.
  • Old-fashioned autograph books
  • The discovery of an old trunk filled with family letters in Kanopolis.
  • The 50 year anniversary of Tupperware
  • 1880s jigsaw puzzles
  • 1918 Flu Epidemic
  • Advertising cookbooks distributed by Jello, Quaker Oats, etc. in the early 1900s
  • 90 years of the Fuller Brush company
  • Pre-1960s kitchen tools becoming collectible
  • Vintage butter churns
  • Grandma’s version of TV Dinners
  • Adding coloring to margarine in WWII

These are just from the folder labeled “Around the Home.” Mom had an inquiring mind and liked to learn about the history of everyday objects. These served also as triggers for her memory writing.

I can’t just toss these folders of yellowed clippings. First I have to determine if it was written by anyone in the family or about someone in the family. Then I look at the topic and try to imagine what Mom would have written or why the subject intrigued her.

My librarian genes come from her, I’m sure. Information is precious and knowledge is power, so I hate to fill my recycling bin with these. Since she is no longer here to use these, I have to remind myself that they are just paper and are expendable.

U is for Uncluttering

The topic in the Unclutterer newsletter this week made me stop and ponder. It was about parting with sentimental clutter. Oh Oh, a delicate subject, for sure.

The first advice was to keep just the items you’ll display or use. I think of the 25 boxes of genealogy files, family photos and Mom’s writing that I brought home two years ago. Yes, those have a definite purpose as I’m hunting through them for information for the three books that Mom and I were working on together. Now it is a solo project, but the files are crucial to completing those.

The article then recommends that items not being actively used or displayed, at least be limited to what will fit inside a designated space. It recommends a single chest or a keepsake box. I’m stretching it a little to what will fit in my genealogy room shelves and cupboards.

Here's the guest room in our house with the shelving and work space. Hidden behind another cabinet is the murphy bed for guests.

Here’s the guest room in our house with the shelving and work space. Hidden behind another cabinet is the murphy bed for guests.

Keeping boxes of odds and ends in the garage or basement gathering dust is not a fitting way to honor your loved one. I can surely agree with that. They suggest selecting a few really meaningful pieces to feature in some way like in a shadow box.

Here’s a final thought from the Unclutterer article.

Remember that items don’t have magical properties, memories do.

K is for Keeper of Family Treasures

As the generation that came of age during World War I passed away, my mother assumed the role of preserving the memories of her parents and her aunts and uncles.

A number of her elderly relatives had no children to leave their photos, diaries, and special pieces to, so they handed them along to my mother.

One of the family portraits that came into Mom's keeping.

One of the family portraits that came into Mom’s keeping.

The family treasures like Uncle Albert’s WWI diary and his military helmet were safe in her care. These were entrusted to her by Albert’s widow, Vina. Mom visited Vina in the nursing home and gathered tidbits of family history from her. On the wall of Mom’s writing room hung the whatnot shelf that Albert made.

Here's Albert Vining's shelf that he made. Mom used to keep books on it in her writing room.

Here’s Albert Vining’s shelf that he made. Mom used to keep books on it in her writing room.

When her Aunt Bertha died, Mom preserved the photo album filled with vintage black-and-white pictures showing Bertha and the Navajo children in New Mexico where she worked in 1929 and 1930.

Bertha McGhee's photo from her time teaching in Farmington, New Mexico.

Bertha McGhee’s photo from her time teaching in Farmington, New Mexico.

Of course, no one person can save everything from previous generations, but my mother made a valiant effort to gather and write the stories from earlier generations of McGhees, Towers, Vinings, Martins, Joys and Kennedys. She served as the family historian or the archivist. She published many of the stories in Kanhistique, but that magazine has ceased publication.

These issues featured Gail Lee Martin's articles.

These issues featured Gail Lee Martin’s articles.

Now the photos, the letters, the diaries and her writings are in my keeping. I’ll do my best to maintain them and feature them for others to enjoy just like my mother did before me.

Here’s where I’ve showcased Albert Vining’s WWI experience: Albert Vining in WWI. The plan for Bertha McGhee’s photos, diary and letters is to make a book with those. We started this project together, but now I must carry it on solo.

You can read more about Bertha McGhee here: Navajo School – Farmington NM 1929-1931 and Bertha McGhee – Missionary from Kansas.

I’m a Woman on a Mission

I inherited my mother’s genealogy and family history files and writings two years ago. I feel it is my mission now to get as much information and pictures online as possible for the next generation to access. These bits of paper are our ancestor’s legacy to preserve and share.

So far, I’m taking a shotgun approach, spreading the material across a number of blogs, in Facebook groups, on my web pages created on Hubpages and even some on a site called Bubblews.

The Bubblews postings were part of a 52 Ancestors challenge. I pledged to write one family history piece a week for a whole year. Sadly, I’ve fallen behind on that.

The blogs are on WordPress and have titles like Then and Now and of course, here on  Discovering Mom: Gail Lee Martin. My Facebook groups focus on specific family names and pull together my cousins to share family stories and photos. We’ve had some success getting unlabeled photos identified which pleases me greatly.

I want to complete 3 family history books with the material too. Daunting task.

To keep me moving along, I’ve joined an A to Z blogging challenge for April. That keeps me on my toes to post something new each day here matching the letter of the alphabet.

I hope you’ll be right here reading the posts and cheering me on. You can subscribe to the blog if you want to get a notice for posts.

The family archives on the shelves and in the cupboards. Safe for now.

The family archives on the shelves and in the cupboards. Safe for now.

Leave a Trail of Bread Crumbs

Someday, someone interested in family history will search for you. You’ll be long gone from this earth, and won’t be here to answer their questions.

Here are a few ways to leave a trail of bread crumbs for them to follow. Make a list of all the jobs you had over the years. Create a list of addresses and the years that you lived at each.

Keep a diary. Write letters. Write a summary of the high points of your life. Make a timeline for your life.

You probably won’t do all of these suggestions, but even one or two of these would gladden the heart of someone searching for you.

I’m fortunate that some of my ancestors kept diaries. My great-aunt Bertha McGhee saved 40 years of her letters. She did some of the other activities as well, which will be a big help when I work on self-publishing her life story.

Mom believed in this and left her own trail of bread crumbs with her writings and her diaries. She also preserved those left by others, like Bertha’s papers and Albert’s World War I diary. Because she did, I’m able to share these many memories with you here and in future family books.

Gail's uncle, Albert Vining, left this diary from World War I about his experience in France.

Gail’s uncle, Albert Vining, left this diary from World War I about his experience in France.

N is for Notebooks

Mom loved notebooks. Big binders, small ones and in-between. She was the queen of notebooks, stocking up at yard sales on rejects from students or business men.

Out went their boring business papers and then she filled them with her stories or her family charts. Her son built shelves above her desk to hold them. Bookshelves lined the other two sides of the room. Those overflowed with her books on Kansas history and even more notebooks.

Gail's shelves above her computer.

Gail’s shelves above her computer.

I’m afraid I’ve inherited this obsession. Just yesterday, I spent hours printing out my family stories from a site called Bubblews. They look great in the notebook labeled My Ancestors. On Monday I’m taking it to our genealogy club Ancestor Show-and-Tell.

Mom’s Jackdaw Tendencies

I pull a folder from my mother’s files. What treasures will I discover tucked away inside it?

Frequently it reveals another jackdaw nest of newspaper clippings, old letters and photos that caught her eye. Like that bird, she collected these shiny tidbits and hoarded them away. For ravens, jackdaws and magpies, it is shiny coins or pieces of metal that attract them. Their nests reveal bits of glass, barbed wire or other polished gleanings that the acquisitive bird wanted to keep.

For Mom, it was nuggets of information and memory triggers. I scan through the yellowed newspaper clippings for clues. Did she save this article because it held information about our family history? Was it information that she needed for background for a future article? Perhaps one of her many writing buddies from Prairie Prose or the Kansas Author’s Club had written it. Some memory pieces about the good ol’ days must have reminded her of something she wanted to write.

Here’s a sampling of clippings from some folders:

  • How to behave when pulled over by a policeman (Lou Grizzard)
  • Alligator behavior during mating season
  • Ann Landers column on breast implants
  • Profile of an 89 year old lawyer in the Ozarks
  • Background history on songs about yellow ribbons
  • 60th anniversary of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping
  • Popular entertainment during the years of WWII
  • The fading away of a small Kansas town (Luray)
  • Clara Barton’s role in the Civil War and in starting the American Red Cross patterned on the Swiss