"A family tree can wither if nobody tends its roots."


Abigail Rose Turns One

by  Phyllis Zeck

IMG_0066Miss Abby turned one year old on March 7th.  I can’t believe how fast the time has flown by.  As I was contemplating this I decided it was time for me to start on two projects for Abby.  

Project #1.  Start a savings account for Abby’s wedding dress.  Now you may think I’m jumping the gun here, but you see how fast her first year sped by!  

I had opened a savings account for Ashley when she was a teenager and I put money into it that my mother gifted to Ashley.  I was saving for Ashley’s wedding gown.  

In 2011 Ashley and I went shopping for her wedding gown.  She tried on many gowns of course, but the moment she put on that very special gown and I saw tears in her eyes, I knew she had found the gown of her dreams.  She whispered “This is the gown I want mom” as she spun around and hundreds of tiny rhinestones sparkled in the lights and glittered in the mirrors.  I told Ashley that the gown is a gift from her grandmother.  My mother had passed away seven years earlier but she was still able to have a significant role in Ashley’s wedding day.  


Now I will start a savings account for Abby.  God willing I will be with Abby on that special day and watch her dance the first dance in her husbands arms, but if not, Abby will feel my presence when she puts on her wedding gown the morning of her magical day.

Project #2.  Start filling Abby’s hope chest.  I have my mother in law Yvonne Zeck‘s Lane hope chest at the foot of my bed and I’ve been storing blankets in it for many years.  I emptied out the blankets last week and took a deep breath of that magnificent cedar smell.  This hope chest will be Abby’s one day.  What should I put in it?  The first items were a lace doily and a hand embroidered handkerchief that had both been purchased in Italy in the year 2000.  I also put in my 8th grade and 12th grade yearbooks and a Life magazine that my mother had given me which was published on July 9, 1956 (the day after I was born). 

I put in the teddy bear that I’ve been saving since 2002. When Ashley was in high school she was on the dance team.  Each spring one of the dance team moms bought teddy bears and sewed costumes to match the dance teams costumes.  Since I was team advisor for the dance team (for 11 years) I got a teddy bear also.  I decided I would put mine aside from 2002 because that was the first year we won our state competition and it was Ashley’s senior year.  Then I put a framed photography of Ashley on the dance floor at the Memorial Coliseum into the chest.  Dance is very important in our lives and I hope that Abby catches the dance bug also!

hope chest IMG_0008

Next I wanted to put Ashley’s baby book in.  I got out a chair, went into my closet, and brought down several boxes.  The first box sent me reeling, inside were some old photographs that I had never seen! I brought the box downstairs and my sister Lori and I went through old and new photos.  Some photos were of ancestors we did not recognize.  I follow many genealogy blog posts and have always been so jealous of people who share their stories of long lost boxes of photos they had just discovered.  Now I had one of those boxes of my very own!  The next few hours were spent going through the photos.  As time permits I will post them here so that you can enjoy them (and help me figure out who they are).

As you can see I did not get too far filling Abby’s hope chest before I got side tracked.  It will clearly take me the next 17 years to fill it up.



Where Are My Great Great Grandparents Buried?

by  Phyllis Zeck

The foothills of Pescasseroli

The foothills of Pescasseroli, Italy

Last year I sent an email to cousin Salvatore in Pescasseroli, Italy.  I wondered if he would take a photo of Filomena Ursitti and her husband Don Pietrantonio Amabile Ciolli’s head stones (my GG grandparents) who were married 05 Sep 1854 in Opi.  Salvatore told me “That will be very hard to do.  Back then people were buried under the ground.  After 10 or 15 years they were exhumed and their bones were put in a big hole inside a chapel or cemetery with other bones.  This hole is called an “Ossario” osso=bone.  Roughly till the last decades of 1800 the ossario was inside the parish church of San Pietro e Paolo of Pescasseroli”.  Salvatore said “Some families had a private chapel with some stone or concrete cells (loculi) where they put the coffins”. 

I have to tell you I was shocked to hear this.  In America we place such an emphasis on burying our ancestors and tending to their graves, this was hard for me to comprehend. Kathy Kirkpatrick (from GenTracer) and I had some time set aside to meet for coffee in Salt Lake City last month.  She was the perfect person to ask more about this.

Kathy told me that Italian families lease grave sites.  If no one pays the lease, the body is moved to a communal site and the grave site is leased to someone else.  The cemetery may keep the headstone of the name and photo of the dead, even though the skeletal remains have been moved, or the headstone might simply get tossed somewhere.  Cremation is not done often in Italy, families prefer to bury their ancestors.

Kathy explained that the Italian government donated land for cemeteries in Italy for our fallen hero’s from World War II.  Click on the following links for a brief video and some stunning photographs.  Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial.  Florence American Cemetery and Memorial

You will all be happy to know that I plan to live until I’m 99 years old!  When I pass away I will be cremated and I want Ashley and my grandchildren to sprinkle some of my ashes around the homeland of my ancestors, in the foothills of Pescasseroli. 



My DNA Kit

by  Phyllis Zeck

DNA KitI finally took the plunge and joined the growing masses of genealogists who have had their DNA tested.  One of my goals at the RootsTech conference this year was to learn more about DNA testing.  I signed up for Saturday’s lunch hosted by Ancestry.com.  It just so happened  that the topic was DNA.   The three different types of DNA testing were discussed.  Mitochondrial (mtDNA) is passed by mother to both male and female children.  yDNA is passed down the male line from father to son.  Autosomal (atDNA) is used to look for connections among family lines both maternal and paternal and will trace ethnic ancestry. My kit was $89.00 for an Autosomal kit and I saved $10.00 in shipping by purchasing it at the conference.  Click here to read a brief pdf guide about DNA.

My mother’s grandparents on her father’s side were born in Italy.  My mother’s mother Bertha Marie Christina Reher was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1901. I don’t know where her parents August Reher and Caroline were born.

My father’s mother was Grace M Norder born in 1908 in Monroe, Wisconsin. Grace’s father Edwin C Norder was born in Wisconsin in 1880. Grace’s mother Tillie was born in 1881 (birthplace unknown).  I don’t know anything about my father’s father, Frank Winike.  He abandoned my grandmother and father when daddy was a little boy and I have been unable to locate him in any online record databases.  Wow, I just realized that I have a lot of research to do on dad’s side of the family.

My Ancestry.com kit is an atDNA test so I expect a large chunk of my lineage will be from Southern Europe which includes Spain/Portugal and Italy/Greece. The instructions said the test was quick and easy to take.  No more swabbing the inside of your cheek.  I had to spit into a tube “up to the wavy line” (about 1/4 of a teaspoon).  It was obvious that the person who wrote the instructions was a young whipper snapper who was not on a ton of medications that leave your mouth dry!  This process did seem to prove very entertaining to my sister Lori, and after about 20 minutes of exhaustive spitting I had reached my goal.

Now I must wait patiently for 6 to 8 weeks to get the results of my test. Those of you who know me well know that this will be a challenge. Ancestry.com has 2.7 million subscribers and close to 300,000 members have taken the DNA test so far.  I think my chances are good that I will find some new cousin matches.



Happy Valentine’s Day!

by  Phyllis Zeck

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 2.36.38 PM



RootsTech – My First Genealogy Conference

by  Phyllis Zeck

RootsTechYep, that’s right.  I traveled to Salt Lake City and attended my first genealogy conference.  RootsTech has been on my bucket list for 3 years and it did not disappoint.  My sisters, Lori and Holly, teased me about my 27 page excel spreadsheet of classes (printed on legal paper) that I kept sifting through in the weeks before my trip. All the hours I spent color coding and sorting over 225 class options paid off.  I allotted myself 4 one hour classes each day.  Classes highlighted in blue were my first choice, classes in green were my back up classes, and classes highlighted in gray were backups of my backups. In between classes I was able to stroll through more than 130 vendor and exhibitor booths.

Remembering our ancestors was on everyone’s mind here.  What a joy that all my new friends actually wanted to talk about their research and ancestors.  No ones eyes glazed over as the discussions went on and on about the best way to share family history or as we debated the best online research products.  

Angel Moroni

I took some time to be a tourist. I had lunch at the restaurant at the top of the Joseph Smith Memorial building.  I even had a few hours to explore some of the floors of the LDS Family History Library and to do a little research.

The first day, Wednesday, was the innovator & developer summit.  We got a chance to scope out the convention center and find our way around and sit in on some of the lectures.  Each day started with a one hour general session with keynote speakers.  My favorites were Dr Spencer Wells, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence.  He gave an fascinating lecture about his genetic project.  Todd Hansen spoke about his TV series called The Story Trek on BYU TV.  

IMG_1487 - Version 2

Judy Russell stressed the importance of accurately recording and preserving family stories saying that oral family history can be lost in three generations and that we should document and pass on our stories to the generations that come after us. 

Thursday nights opening social featured Vocal Point, a Capella group which we enjoyed immensely.  Saturday was youth day.  I was impressed to see so many pre teens and teenagers attending classes and touring the exhibits.  There was a rousing game played on the stage in the ballroom as teen agers swapped turns on the stage.  

The classes that I attended centered around research and writing techniques, new services to help with my research, and ways to share my family history discoveries.  Lori thought I should sit on “Publish Before You Perish”.  I think she may have been making fun of me…

I’ve been anxious to start digging into newspapers to look for family stories so I took a class given by Newspapers.com and will subscribe to their database.


I attended a class given by Crista Cowan about researching records.  Crista has worked at Ancestry.com for the last 10 years.  She has the best job! Crista has some wonderful learning videos that will help you maneuver around the Ancestry website. On Saturday I went to a lunch hosted by Ancestry.com.  A panel of their experts spoke about Ancestry’s DNA project.  In fact DNA was a large part of RootsTech, a topic that has been on my mind for some time.  I attended a lecture titled “Begging For Spit” (no joke).  Watch out cousins, I’m coming for you!

So here I sit, typing my blog post at the airport.  My plane has been delayed headed back to Portland.  I will return tonight to 7 inches of snow, capped with a layer of ice. I do not want to lug my suitcase up my hill.  I hope that next year RootsTech is held in the spring!