Category Archives: Uncategorized

Best of 2016, Politics, Baby, Heirlooms and Food

I have published 420 posts since I launched the blog in April 2013, 89 of them in 2016. I tend to write what I am interested in, assuming that surely somebody else must be interested in the same subject, or curious enough to read a bit. What is the Best of 2016?

There are always surprises when I turn to Google Analytics at the end of the year to see what you’ve been reading throughout the year.

The Ten Most Popular Kids on the Block–Best of 2016

Politics tea

Harriette Anderson attending a tea for politician John Bricker. June 1936

10: Family Politics: My Mom and Dad’s Political CourtshipPublished in March as part of a series on family members who have been involved in presidential campaigns for James Madison, William Henry Harrison, Alf Landon, George W. Bush.

tea and scones

Tea and Cranberry Scones and Lemon curd.

9: Cream Tea and Scones, from May, discusses the fine points of proper tea and shares some heirlooms.

8: Colonial Orange Cake, borrowed from the book, The Midwife’s Revolt, in April. I must say I LOVE this cake. And the post also presents my review of the book, which I also recommend highly.

7: Welsh Skillet Cakes, part of my research into my Welsh ancestry, published in August.

Calendar pencil polished

Calendar propelling pencil after polishing

6: The Propelling Pencil–a mysterious object my siblings and I discovered in our great-great-grandmother’s chest of antiques. Another in my occasional posts on heirlooms appeared in June.




Skylar Ross Walters

Skylar September 2016 Prescott

5: Meet the New Twig: Skylar Rose. The birth of our first great-grand daughter in Janaury (after two earlier great-grandsons) warranted a little meditation on the meaning of her name. As you can see, she had changed a lot by the time we visited her in September.

4: Why Genealogical Research is Never Done.  I don’t often write about the nuts and bolts of research, but sometimes the reader needs a warning label–“this work not complete”. Published in July.

3. Invalid Cooking – Rice Pudding. This article about how our ancestors in the 19th century through the early 20th coped with illness appeared in March at the end of flu season. The rice pudding is one of my family favorites. This post followed a more informative one that includes several suggestions for food for the sick. Sick Food – Barley Water. Even though you understandably might not be attracted to barley water, this post gives a worthwhile picture of the sick room of yesteryear.

After School Peanut Butter Cookies

After school snack of peanut butter cookies and milk. Harriette Kaser’s china, vintage Daffy Duck glass and Grandma Vera Anderson’s apron

2. Peanut Butter Cookies. Mothers have shoved aside the beloved treat of my childhood. The increasing problem of peanut allergies forced a change in after-school treat. But I learned that many people share my nostalgia when I published this in April. (Some heirlooms make their appearance in this post.)

1. The Story of a House, The Home of Jeddiah Brink.   I experimented with the Adobe Spark tool that presents a flashy slide show. It provided a good way to show off pictures of this ancestor’s farm house. Newly discovered cousins, the present owner of the house, a Facebook community site, and a fellow ancestor seeker collaborated with me in this June production. I name them all at the end of the post.

Some posts have legs, we say.  Just like in 2015 and 2014, you continued to love the post about Perfect Pie Crust. Another post with legs, about my Grandmother’s Corn Meal Mush (Not Polenta), also first appeared in 2013, but both still earn a place on the best of 2016.

Searches on the site focused mostly on food, with the exception of people looking for Peregrine White and  Jerusha Howe. Otherwise, an overwhelming number of you searched for German desserts. You also looked for Amish buttermilk cookies, Birds’ Nest Pudding, Creamed Celery (REALLY??), Buckwheat Pancakes, Joy of Cooking cookbook, food grinder (Maybe when Cuinsineart recalled the blades on their food processor?) and a recipe for Harvard Beets.

New This Year at Ancestors in Aprons

I launched a new feature called A Slice of My Life, in which I talk about my own experiences.

I increased the number of posts about heirlooms and have been labeling and photographing as fast as possible so that I can share more of them here.

I made a book for siblings and children based on family group pictures and stories I had used at Ancestors in Aprons, dating back as far as the mid 1800s and up to last June.  This is a first step in finding ways to share this famly research with immediate family.

I began to experiment with the new Ancestry app, We’re Related. An addenda about that app below, in case you are curious about it.


Sometimes my idea of the best of 2016 is not the same as yours. My wild great-grandfather Jesse Morgan who ran off to California and got killed on the street in Sacramento did not fascinate you as much as he did me. One of the letters Jesse wrote to his wife to tell her “that I am alive” came in twelfth in the popularity list. Still, I feel blessed to have photocopies of a bunch of his letters to his wife from the period just before his trip to California. I wrote several posts on Jesse, plus some on his family.  I encourage you to seek out his saga.

Coming Next–Fewer Posts

So much for look back–what’s in store for 2017?

I’ll be doing a lot of research, and cleaning up loose ends on the work I have done in the past three years. Plus I have expanded some of my searches into Europe, and would like to wrap that up within six months, so I do not have to continue to pay Ancestry the extra amount for World coverage.

In order to do that, I’ll be writing far fewer blog posts.  Rather than letting the blog rule my life with scheduled posts on Tuesday and Thursday each week, I’ll only be writing when I have something particular to say. So you may not hear from me for stretches of time. Don’t worry. I’m here, and  you can always catch up on things you have missed in the past.

A very Happy New Year to you from Ancestors in Aprons.  Have a piece of Swiss New Year’s Bread, or Scottish Black Bun, or Dutch Olibolen (sorry, no picture available).




The New Toy launched an app called We’re Related that pops up with people they calculated as cousins.  Most of my “relatives” were 6th cousins. And the first ones to show up were both Clilntons–Hillary and Bill; plus Barak Obama, which sent my Republican ancestors whirling in their graves. I don’t get excited about the matches with pop stars, but match me with Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill and many others and I’ll pay attention.

Controversy arises mainly because Ancestsry bases conclusions on a compilation of family trees. Those trees often contain faulty information.  No evidence attached to conclusions breeds serious doubts about truthfulness. (Garbage in, garbage out.)

However, I follow the theory that a monkey can compose a symphony if he bangs on a piano for a thousand years. Some people carefully research their trees. The task calls for a quest to prove or disprove. And I’m learning some valuable things that add to my knowledge of my own line.

I cannot claim Helen Keller, it turns out, because the Ancestry equation links her through my Brink line. They use a great-grandmother whose maiden name I cannot confirm, and the line they assign to that woman doesn’t prove to my satisfaction.

On the other hand, Kevin Bacon, Winston Churchill, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, Henry David Thoreau and John F. Kennedy all seem to check out.  “Seem to” because I can only check my own side of the line in most cases. Since most very famous people have verified lines, this turns out not to be a serious barrier. The problems arise when I am allegedly connected to a famous person through a remote overseas ancestor.

Most people recommend using the app  for entertainment, not serious research, but I have chosen to use it as another research tool.  Have you used this app? What do you think? Can you find a way to make it useful?

German: Pumpernickel Bread–The Good and the Ugly

Mmmmm, what represents our grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s culinary skills more than baking bread? The house fills with a yeasty smell. The family gobbles down the warm, soft pieces of heaven. For our ancestors in aprons it was not an “artisan” event–baking bread was just one of those chores that came around every week.

And for my German ancestors, if they had a bit of rye in their fields–or their neighbors did–they would certainly be making rye bread. And probably the queen of rye breads–dark, dense, sweet and fruity Pumpernickel.

There are two kinds of German Pumpernickel–the kind with yeast and the kind without. The kind without we’ll try another day, but this week I’ve been making pumpernickel. Although I cook and bake a lot–I generally shy away from things with yeast, but I had such good luck with those Welsh recipes, that I felt emboldened to try my husband’s favorite bread–pumpernickel. And my foray into replicating my ancestors in aprons made me wonder about something I had never thought about before. What did Great-Grandmother do with her mistakes? Surely not everything that came out of a wood-fired stove or a fireplace was a guaranteed success.

Well, the bread I made (the second time) was absolutely delicious, particularly with a little of that Ohio Smucker’s apple butter smeared on top.

Pumpernickel Bread

Dark Pumpernickel bread slices with Smucker’s apple butter.

Delicious? Yes.  But pull the camera back a bit…

Pumpernickel bread--the whole story.

Pumpernickel bread–the whole story.

What is that blob in the background?  Sorry to burst your bubble–but that is what the loaf of pumpernickel bread looked like.

And this was my SECOND try. Here’s the first…

Pumpernickel Bread

Pumpernickel Bread, First attempt.

Now, it is absolutely no excuse if I explain to you the root of the name Pumpernickel.  Believe it or not pumpernickel was named for the affect that some foods have on the digestive system making you—-well, in polite company we would say, “break wind.” This comes about because of people who looked down on the rough rye bread made by the Westphalians in what is now Germany, saying it , uh, caused flatulence.  And the Nickel has been explained as a reference to Old Nick–the Devil.  So (cover your ears if you’re sensitive)–doesn’t my bread look like it has been blown apart by the Devil’s fart?

Like I said, that is no excuse.  And I’ll try again to attempt to get a loaf as attractive as it is delicious.

By the way, you may notice that the 2nd effort (the pictures on top) is darker than the pictures below (which was the first attempt).  That’s because I decided to follow a recipe that adds cocoa to increase the rich taste and dark color. It works great.  Some people kick it up a notch by also adding coffee or instant coffee granules.

I’m sharing the recipe, which should not be blamed for my ugly loaves, but should get full credit for the deliciousness.

Let me know how it turns out for you.

Pumpernickel Bread

Prep time 4 hours
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 4 hours, 30 minutes
Allergy Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Bread
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable
Region German
Website Smitten Kitchen
Pumpernickel Bread is moist and dense. To get the dark color you love, add some cocoa powder.


  • 2 cups water (warm--not hot)
  • 2 2/3 teaspoons active dry yeast ((2 packets))
  • pinch sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups white flour
  • 1 1/3 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup corn meal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1 or 2 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 2 2/3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons molasses


1. Warm the water in a pan or microwave until just above room temperature. Whisk in yeast and pinch of sugar. Set aside for five minutes.
2. While the yeast is getting high on its sugar treat, combine the flours (using 2 1/2 C of the white flour), corn meal, salt, cocoa powder, caraway seeds and brown sugar in large bowl. Whisk them together, then stir in the yeast mixture, vegetable oil and molasses, by hand, or using the dough hook on a mixer. Add more of the white flour as needed to get the dough to the point where it pulls away from the bowl.
3. Turn out on lightly floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes until elastic and no longer sticking to the board.
4. Lightly oil another large bowl. Put the dough in the bowl, turn it to get oil on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and set aside in a draft-free spot to rise for one hour--or until about double in size.
5. Punch down and let rise another 30 minutes.
6. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or two 9" square baking pans. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Divide dough in half and form two balls. Pinch together the underside seam. place on pans. Cover and let rise another 30 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake bread for 30-40 minutes until hollow sounding when tapped.
8. Transfer hot loaves to a wire rack and let cool before slicing.
9. To serve slice as thin as possible. This is a heavy bread, so thin slices are best.


The oil is listed before the molasses for a reason. If you measure the oil first, then use the same spoon to use the molasses, the molasses will not stick to the spoon. (The downside is you don't get to scoop it out with your finger and lick your finger--not that I would do that.)

Some recipes double up on the darkness factor by adding a couple of teaspoons of powdered instant coffee.

Pros use some moisture in the oven for the first 5-10 minutes of baking. Put a shallow pan of water on a shelf below the bread or spritz the oven with water a couple of times after it is warmed.

Jesse Morgan–Steamboat Travelling Man 1847


Drawing of the Samuel Ward  steamboat that Jesse sailed on from Buffalo to Detroit on its maiden voyage.

Jesse Morgan, my 2nd great grandfather, continues to travel by steamboat on Lake Erie and the canals. The last four letters from her second husband Jesse Morgan that Mary Bassett Platt Morgan kept  may well have been the last she ever received from him.  I have read and re-read these letters trying to determine if Jesse is on one long trip, stretching from March through August, or if the traveling man was going home in between some of the letters.

At any rate, the one-year teacher certification seems to have been set aside. That certificate was valid through November 1846, and unless Mary did not bother to keep the renewal certificate, that was the end of his official teaching career.  The first letter of 1847, written in April, says he has been on the road for a month–certainly well before the school year is over.

The letter is written on both sides of rather thin paper, so the photocopy shows a lot of bleed through. Additionally, some of the first page got cut off on the right side when it was copied.

The Travelling Man Goes Both East and West Again

It appears that when Jesse left Ohio at the end of March, he headed East, because he then took a steamboat at Buffalo to Detroit when he could not get one to Toledo, his intended target.  He wanted to get to Toledo so he could take the canal into Indiana, since he has heard that he can buy cheap horses somewhere south of Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne is only about 103 miles south of Toledo Ohio, probably two days journey for him by land.


Mary Is Surprised By a Letter from Detroit

This letter was in an envelope postmarked Detroit April 30 to Mrs. Mary Morgan, Killbuck, Holmes Co., Ohio with a 5 cent red stamp.

 Detroit April 28th 1847

Dear Wife

                                                           You may perhaps be a little surprised at receiving a letter from me dated at Detroit. It was my intentions to have gone to Toledo but could not get a boat in Buffalo that was going to that place so I took one for this, and tomorrow morning I take one from this place to Toledo.

It costs nothing to travel on the Lake [Lake Erie] now. Only $1.00 from Buffalo to Detroit and 25 ct back to Toledo. This is the effects of oppose (?)[opposition—i.e. competition?]

You must understand that I have sold as I informed you I intended to do as soon as I could in my first letter. [That first letter is missing from the collection.] My horses did not please me and I thought best to get rid of them at small proffit [sic] and buy again. I am now going to take the canal at Toledo and go to Indiana. South of Fort Wayne from the best information the horses are cheaper and plentyful (sic) there.

I think I had better do this than to come home and I hope you will agree with me. I have made $38.00 and it is one month this day since I left home (over my expenses). This is not bad considering the means I had to do with. [Meaning he had few or bad horses?] The demand East is good yet.

I did intend to have written to you from Buffalo but could not get my breath after friessing(sic)  on the__________ until the steamboat started. I came up on an entire new boat we had a pleasant time but rather cold. It was with some difficulty we got out of Buffalo for the Ice. It was more than one mile before we could see the water.

I am well and hope this may find you the same. I should like to see you but will try make up for lost time when I get home. Give Harriet a kiss or two for me and try to get along as well as you can. I wish you to write to me as soon as you received this. Direct it to Akron, Summit County, Ohio.

This next letter I shall write to Doc Woods [a year ago, Jesse had cautioned Mary not to “let Mrs. Woods know everything.” . ] and know you can hear whear I am.

Your affectionate husband

                                                                                   Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Apparently  Jesse hopes to go from Ft. Wayne back into Ohio and then head for Akron, in the northwestern part of the state, and quite close to home. Perhaps he was going back East from Akron before going home, because–horse trading.  It seems he counts on buying cheaper horses in Indiana, and returning eastward to sell them, since he mentions that the market is still good in the East.

If Mary is worrying about Jesse while he is traveling, the information about ice on the lake must have been unsettling.  Conditions on the Great Lakes are so dangerous to the steamboat in the winter that all shipping closes down.  Jesse is traveling in March and April, and reports there is still ice covering the lake a mile out from shore. Shipwrecks were frequent, and mostly weather related.

A Brand New Steamboat

I particularly treasure the details he mentions, like the ice on the lake and how cold the trip was. Because he says he was on a brand new ship, we can trace the name and description of the ship he traveled on to Detroit.The brand new ship could have been the Sam Ward, which launched out of Detroit to Buffalo in 1847 and ran back and forth to Detroit.


New Steamboat announced.

Letter Writing Protocol

All the letters that Mary Bassett Platt Morgan saved have a few things in common. People, in order to get their money’s worth for their postage, strove to fill both sides of a piece of paper, except for space to write an address when the letter was folded.  (Jesse, however, frequently writes one-sided letters)

The signature ordinarily is on the right bottom of the page, and the name of the recipient is on the left bottom of the page. Jesse makes those signatures very fancy, sometimes underlining them. I this letter written in August 1847 from Palmyra New York, Jesse outdoes himself.

Jesse Morgan siganture

Jesse’s signature on letter August 1847–the last one

These 19th century letters seem obsessed with the health of the sender and the recipient. Sure, we still say, “How are you?” in greeting–but I get the sense that health was a major concern. People in this age did not expect to be healthy and live long lives. Thus ill health was an ever-present concern.

Here’s a humorous “guide” to 19th century letter writing.

A more serious view of letter writing.

Coming Next

When Jesse writes his  next letter in June 1847, it is a bit rushed because he has had an unsettling experience. It appears that he may have been home between trips.

When I relate his later letters, you will learn who this “Doc” Woods is that is mentioned so frequently, and see what I learned about his business in Illinois.