Thursday, December 28, 2006

Taking a Break: See You in 2007!

I am taking a few days off from blogging. I will be away enjoying the last few days of 2006 with family and friends.

The end of the year is a time for reflection. Professionally, 2006 was an exciting year for me. I published numerous magazine articles and two books—Pittsburgh’s Immigrants (written in partnership with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh), and Slovak Pittsburgh—both with Arcadia Publishing. I also started this Blog! In addition, I participated in numerous book signings around Pittsburgh as part of “The Blue Collar Book Tour” formed with my fellow Arcadia authors, Dan Burns and Sandy Henry. We even appeared on TV in Pittsburgh in September on a live local morning show!

In addition to writing I was fortunate to be able to travel to new places to speak at
conferences and also for vacation. I went to Connecticut, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and
even Winnipeg, Canada!. I had a great time visiting with old friends and meeting new
people.

I hope 2007 will be at least as good. I look forward to many more exciting opportunities!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hidden Genealogical Gems Part 4

Sometimes when we are performing genealogical research, we come across items I like to call "Hidden Genealogical Gems."

I found another of these recenty--an envelope addressed to my paternal grandfather.




On it there's his address, and a name and address on the back from someone in Slovakia.


Don't overlook even the smallest of items which could lead you to clues about your ancestors!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Start Your Own Traditions

Perhaps you spent the past several days celebrating the holidays with your family and participating in some long-standing traditions. However, not everyone today is that fortunate. Sometimes life's circumstances force us to adjust, change, or start new traditions. This was the case for me this Christmas. My husband and I did not return to Pittsburgh for Christmas with my extended family. Work and other circumstances influenced our decision to stay home. And while I missed the old familiar celebrations, it was kind of nice to start our own traditions. Like going to the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve mass and then coming home and opening one gift each while having a cup of tea. Or, sleeping in on Christmas morning and not having to be someplace at a certain time. Enjoying a Christmas breakfast and watching movies all day while sipping wine and eating Christmas cookies and chocolate candy!

If, like me, you found yourself away from the familiar this year, you may be interested to read an article called "Start Your Own Tradition" that I found on MSN the other day.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Slovak Christmas Greetings!

“Vesele Vianoce a Stastlivy Novy Rok!”
“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Rusyn Greetings!

“Christos Razdajetsja!” “Christ is Born!”

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My Modern Day Vilia/Vilija

For Slovaks and Carpatho-Rusyns Christmas Eve is a solemn day - a time to gather with family and share in beautiful traditions and special foods in a Christmas Eve Supper. Some of my fondest memories are entwined in the Slovak and Rusyn customs that my family celebrated on Christmas Eve. My mother and grandmother would spend several days preparing for this feast (see below).




As much as I love the traditions of my heritage, my "modern day" lifestyle does not afford me the luxury of being able to spend days in the kitchen. Also, not only do many of these dishes take hours to prepare, but the recipes are usually for large amounts and not easily decreased for smaller servings (it takes a lot of practice to get the proportions of ingredients just right so as not to alter how the foods look and taste).

So, this year, I had a dilemna. I wanted to partake in the traditional Christmas Eve Supper, but I would only be cooking for my husband and me so this was going to be a challenge. Well, with some creative thinking and the help of modern technology (the Internet) I was able to pull together a "modern day vilija" without a whole lot of effort or time in the kitchen. I used a combination of some homemade dishes and pre-prepared foods. I started by making homemade mushroom soup - it's pretty easy to do. The recipe is included in my book, Baba's Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes & Traditions.

But for the bobalky, I cheated just a little bit. My secret? Rhodes "Dakota Hearth Recipe" white frozen roll dough. It comes in a package of 12 pre-formed small balls of dough for rolls and I discovered it in the frozen food section of my local grocery store. You let it thaw and rise. I followed the directions on the package and once the dough had risen I was able to roll it into a long tube and then slice it down for the size of the bobalky (into little balls). I baked the bobalky as I would if I had used dough made from scratch. They turned out perfectly! I was then able to combine them with butter and sauerkraut for my husband to enjoy (for me, just butter because I don't eat sauerkraut). And with the leftover dough, I was able to even make a nut roll (using my grandmother's recipe for the filling).

Next, thanks to the Internet I was able to enjoy both oplatky and pirohi. I purchased the oplatky from Slovak-Shop on eBay.




The pirohi I bought from Zum Zum Foods (see my posting from several weeks back about their delicious pierogies!). The only dish I did not prepare this year was pagach (maybe next year).

I know it isn't exactly the way my mother or grandmother would have prepared the supper, but it worked for me and everything tasted great! I've learned that it doesn't really matter how you get there, but that making the effort to keep the traditions alive that really counts!

For those of you who may be interested, below is a description of the traditional Slovak Vilija!

***

Traditional Slovak Christmas Eve Supper Menu

Oplatky Honey
(Christmas Wafers)

Wine

Mushroom Soup Pagach

Bobalky

Fish

Beans Peas Sauerkraut

Mixed Dried Fruits or Stewed Prunes

Assorted Fresh Fruits Mixed Nuts

Nut and Poppyseed Rolls Rozky (cookies such as Cold Dough)

Coffee

The “Slovak” Supper

The Vilia/Vilija or traditional Christmas Eve Supper was typically prepared with home-grown crops. The menu varies in different parts of Slovakia. The type of soup served may not be the same in one region as another. For example, some Slovaks serve mushroom soup, while others serve sauerkraut soup with mushrooms poured over mashed potatoes and browned onions, or lima bean and prune soup.

The Christmas Eve supper, which begins with the appearance of the first star, is filled with benevolence and mystery. With roots in the Passover supper of the Old Testament, the meal is filled with ritual and meaning. Each of the various regions of Slovakia has its own culinary specialties.

In some localities, it is the custom to set the tablecloth over clean straw. In other places, straw is laid upon the floor. This reminds the family that the Christ child was bedded upon straw in the manger.

The father and mother come to the table, carrying a lighted candle (the symbol of Christ, the light of the world), holy water, and honey. Once at their places, they extend good wishes and greetings as a type of festive toast.

Maternal Blessing

Before serving the meal, the mother sprinkles holy water on the table and the rest of the house that the blessing of God might rest on them. The father serves an oplatka (wafer), or unleavened wafers imprinted with scenes of the holy birth, to each family member starting with his wife. He asks her forgiveness for any hurt he may have caused and invites reconciliation with an embrace and a kiss. The mother returns the gesture to her husband. The father then takes a little honey and makes a small sign of the cross on the foreheads of all present as a reminder to keep Christ in our thoughts and to live and work so that harmony and pleasant fellowship might sweeten our lives.

The word oblatky comes from the Latin word oblata, which means “offering.” These wafers are common to Slavs living in the Tatra Mountains. Because of the often snowbound conditions of the region, which may have prevented the villagers from traveling to church for the Midnight liturgy, the wafers were usually blessed by the village priest after baking and given to the faithful by the so that this symbol of Christ and the Eucharist might serve as their Christmas Eve spiritual nourishment. The oplatky are eaten with honey and remind the family of the unleavened bread of the Passover supper of the Israelites. Today, many Slovak churches will sell packages of oplatky wafers to the congregation in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Following the oplatky, a soup of tart quality, usually made of sauerkraut brine and dried mushrooms, continues the exodus theme of recalling the bitterness of slavery-life without Christ.

Next come opekance-pupacky-bobalky, which generally are sweet, raised dough or may be a biscuit type dough sweetened with honey and sprinkled with a pleasant preparation of poppy seed. The use of poppy seed recalls a pagan tradition in which poppy seed was strewn at the portal in order that the evil spirits might be occupied with picking up each morsel and thus would not enter the house. Some areas serve bobalky with browned butter and sauerkraut. My grandmother Figlar followed this recipe.

Pagace or pagach is the next course. It is thin raised dough baked either in a single or double layer filled with sweet cabbage or mashed potatoes. After baking, it is brushed with butter and cut in pie wedges. In addition, lokse, a potato pancake type of specialty is also enjoyed.
Fish is generally used, as Catholics in Eastern Europe observed a strict fast on the vigil of Christmas.

Pirohy are generally enjoyed at the Christmas Eve supper. They are dough pockets, pastry filled with fillings of sweet cabbage, sauerkraut, lekvar, prunes, or potatoes and cheese and boiled.
Other foods eaten include dried prunes, apples, nuts, and other items as dictated by family, village or regional customs. The meal concludes with the traditional Slovak pastry, known as kolace or strudel-like rolls which are filled with walnuts, poppy seed, lekvar (prune butter) or cheese. Red wine is served with the meal.

Traditional "Vins"
In addition to a place for every member of the family at the table, a place is left vacant for the welcome traveler. In rural villages of Slovakia, a shepherd went from house-to-house making his Christmas wish or "vins" to all in the household:

"On this glorious feast of the birthday
of Christ our Lord,
I wish you from God,
good health, happiness
and abundant blessings.

May it be yours to enjoy comfort
from your children,
salvation for your soul.
The kingdom of heaven after death,
and for the family's welfare, may you have
whatever you ask of God."
Virtual Holidays, Family Dinners, and Other Reunions?

Are you unable to travel to be with family for the holidays this year? If so, some new technology that's being developed may (in the future) help you share a meal with them, or open gifts together, or just spend some time visiting in the virtual world.

I just read this interesting piece on Yahoo! from the Associated Press about a new system called "The Virtual Family Dinner" that would allow families to get together -- virtually -- as often as they'd like. This would be especially useful when there are elderly family members who are not able to travel and whose loved ones may not be able to make it home for the holidays or frequent visits.

It's a simple concept. For example if you have an elderly man or woman living in Florida or California, ready to sit down for dinner. The system, consisting of speakers and a screen (as big as a television or as small as a picture frame) detects it and alerts (possibley through a message on the TV) a son or daughter in New York. The son or daughter would then go to the kitchen, dining room, etc. with a similar set-up where a small camera and microphone capture what he or she is doing. The system allows the cross-country folks to hear and see each other.

Some experts think the system could address a growing problem with the elderly who live alone. But others argue this could pose a problem with privacy issues so some type of care must be used when setting up the system so that the person could have control over turning the system off.

Cost may also be a consideration, at least initially. When a prototype becomes available, possibly in about two years, it likely will cost $500 to $1,000 per household.

I am a big fan of new technology. Although I can appreciate the privacy issues, I think that if used properly this type of device could be great for families who can't always reunite as often as they'd like. In fact, I could use one of these devices today as I will be missing out on the traditional Slovak Christmas Eve Supper (Vilija) with my extended family in Pittsburgh this year. This tradition was such a big part of my family for so many years, so it would be nice to have a way to keep it going long-distance even if just virtually.

I will be keeping my eye out for further announcements about this forthcoming technology!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Need a Last-Minute Holiday Gift?

Are you running out of time for your holiday shopping? Don't want to face the crowds in the malls or stores or pay for overnight shipping from online retailers? If you're a genealogy buff or trying to buy a gift for that genealogist family member or friend, why not give them the gift of learning for 2007?

Go to GenClass.com to purchase a great genealogy course for only $29.95 and no shipping and handling!!! Registration is quick and easy.

Courses begin on Thursday, January 4, 2007. The courses are taught by experienced instructors who are experts in their respective fields. Each class lasts for 4 weeks and consists of 8 self-paced Lessons and optional weekly class chats.

The January courses include:

  • Family Tree Maker 16 - The Basics
  • Jump Start your Genealogy!
  • Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class
  • Native American Genealogy
  • Northeastern United States Genealogy

February courses begin on Thursday, February 1, 2007.

The February courses include:

  • Adoption Investigative Class
  • Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 1 (Basic)
  • Jewish Genealogy - Basic Introduction (Part 1)
  • Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class
  • Organizing Your Family History
  • Write Your Family History Step-by-Step

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an instructor for GenClass, and I would enjoy "meeting" you in one of my classes in the coming year! My fellow instructors are a great group of people committed to teaching others how to research their roots.

So, why not consider the gift of family history this year? It is definitely a gift "that keeps on giving!"

Friday, December 22, 2006

MyFamily.com Changing its Name

Here is a recent press release from MyFamily.com announcing its name change.

Press Release Source: The Generations Network, Inc.

MyFamily.com, Inc. Changes Corporate Name to The Generations Network
Tuesday December 19, 8:08 am ET PROVO, Utah, Dec. 19

/PRNewswire/ -- MyFamily.com, Inc., the leading online network for connecting families across distance and time, today announced that it is changing its name to The Generations Network, Inc., effective immediately. The company will continue to serve families online through its portfolio of leading brands and websites.

Ancestry.com, Ancestry.co.uk, Rootsweb.com, and Genealogy.com together form the No. 1 network of family history websites in both the United States and United Kingdom; Ancestry's OneWorldTree(SM) is the world's largest online family tree
* Ancestry.ca, Ancestry.com.au, and Ancestry.de were recently launched to extend the company's presence into Canada, Australia and Germany
* Family Tree Maker® remains the world's No. 1 selling family tree software
* MyFamily.com, online since 1998 as a place for families to connect and share photos and news, is being overhauled and relaunched in early 2007
* The company also publishes Ancestry Magazine and over 50 book and CD-ROM titles

"The Generations Network has a powerful mission to connect families across distance and time," said Tim Sullivan, the company's President and CEO. "Our company was founded over two decades ago as a publisher of genealogy products. Today, we are a multi-brand company focused on providing families with unique, interactive online experiences that help them research their family history, share and publish their stories, and find and stay connected to family members throughout the world.

"We felt now was a good time to establish a company identity expansive enough to encompass everything that we do, but also completely focused on the family ... across the generations. Over the past year, we've improved Ancestry.com through the addition of millions of new records, enhanced tree-building and family networking technologies, and by giving our members the ability to save and store their precious family photos and memories online. We've grown rapidly in the UK and expanded our presence into new international markets.

"In 2007, we are looking forward to the upcoming relaunch of MyFamily.com, an exciting new release of Family Tree Maker, and our plans to make Ancestry.com even more mainstream and indispensable to families around the world. And we're thrilled to be moving forward as The Generations Network."

For more information on The Generations Network visit http://www.thegenerationsnetwork.com.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Family Holiday Traditions: The Powdered Sugar Can

One of my favorite family treasures is an aluminum can my mother used for storing the powdered sugar she sprinkled on all of the wonderful cakes and cookies she baked at holidays and for special occasions. I will be carrying on the tradition this Christmas, using this special can to add some delightful powdered sugar to the cookies I have made this year (see my previous post for a recipe).

Below is the story about this family heirloom:

Family Story: The Powdered Sugar Can



My mother had a special aluminum can for storing the powdered sugar she used to decorate her cakes and cookies. Whenever my mother would bake cakes or cookies for special occasions such as holidays, weddings, graduations, etc. she would take this can with her so that the items would be “perfect” when placed on the cookie trays. One time, while driving from Pittsburgh to Cleveland for one of my cousin’s bridal showers, my mother realized that she left this powdered sugar can behind and cajoled my father to turn the car around so she could retrieve it. Perhaps it was our imagination, but those cookies always did seem to taste better with a sprinkling of powdered sugar from that “magic can.” I now have the can in my kitchen cupboard.

For more recipes and traditions, see my Baba's Kitchen Web Site.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Favorite Family Recipe: Auntie B's Christmas Cut-Out Cookies




Over the weekend I participated in a longstanding family tradition - baking Christmas cookies, using a recipe that my dad's sister Betty (Auntie B as I called her) used and passed down to us. Ever since I was a young girl I have looked forward to this tradition every year. I have many fond memories of baking these cookies, especially with my "Auntie" - my father's other sister (Sr. Camilla) when she came home to Pittsburgh from Texas during the holidays. Here are a few photos of one of our baking sessions during Christmas 1972. I still have the same cookie cutter too! Great memories!







If you like to bake and are looking for a new recipe for cut-out cookies (you can make these for any holiday using the appropriate cookie cutters), here's the recipe. The secret to their great flavor is the almond extract. This recipe, along with many others can be found in my book, Baba's Kitchen Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions (Gateway Press).


Auntie B’s Christmas (Cut-Out) Cookies

Ever since I was a young girl these cookies have been a “must-bake” at Christmas! The almond extract provides a unique flavor.

1 c. butter or oleo 4 c. flour
1-½ c. sugar ½ tsp. baking soda
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract

Cream together butter (or oleo) and sugar. Beat in eggs; add vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. Mix together flour and baking soda. Add to mixture and mix well.
Let stand in refrigerator for about 30 min. Roll out dough with rolling pin on floured board. Use cookie cutters to cut out cookies.
Bake at 350 °F for 15 minutes. Using parchment paper helps to prevent cookies from sticking to pan (or you can use non-stick cooking spray—lightly coat pans).

Frosting and Decorating

1 egg white
1 c. powdered sugar
Few grains salt

Beat egg white with electric mixer and add 1 tsp. cold water; beat again. Gradually add powdered sugar to beaten egg white and beat until smooth, with a consistency to pour slightly. For colored icing, divide into small bowls and add few drops of food coloring of desired color.
You can make these cookies for any holiday (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, etc.) using the appropriate cookie cutters.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

FEEFHS 2007 International Conference/Workshop

The Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies will be holding its 2007 International Conference/Workshop in Salt Lake City, UT July 12-14, 2007. The event will feature expert speakers, one-on-one consultations, and hands-on research time in the world famous Family History Library. I am pleased to announce that I will be a speaker and track leader at this conference/workshopt.

If you have roots in Eastern Europe this is one event you won't want to miss! Register early to reserve your spot!

Here's a link to the registration form.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ancestry Magazine Relaunches

Ancestry Magazine has a new look. The publication has relaunched with all new content and design. A premier issue is now available on the newsstands. As a subscriber (and sometimes author for them), I received my copy in the mail a few weeks ago and I liked what I saw/read).

MyFamily.com issued a press release about the relaunch which you can read online on the 24/7 Family History Circle.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Congratulations, You are the "Person of the Year!"

Time Magazine has announced its "Person of the Year," and it's YOU! Yes, if you have a blog, have posted video to YouTube, have a MySpace account, you had the qualifications to make you eligible for this honor!

“For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you,” the magazine’s Lev Grossman wrote about the choice.

The issue will be released on Monday. Congratulations!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Have You Tried GenealogyBank?

If you haven't tried the new online family history site GenealogyBank.com yet, now's a good time to see what it has to offer. If you like to search historical newspapers (especially obituaries), this site has an extensive collection that is growing daily! There's also a section on Historical Books, Historical Documents, and a version of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) that has new content added weekly!

The monthly membership price is $19.95, but the site is running a "Holiday Special" - sign up for a yearly membership and for a substantial savings. You will save even more by signing up for two years. But, hurry...this offer expires on January 5, 2007!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stupidest Genealogy Moves

The other day I read an article on MSN.com entitled, "Your Stupidest Money Moves." This article offers tips for how to avoid major financial flubs and includes some confessions from readers admitting their own critical mistakes. After reading this piece, I thought how this could possibly be applied to genealogical research.

Have you ever spent months (years???) researching a specific surname, only to find you were chasing down the wrong family line? Did you ever order the wrong microfilms from the Family History Library? Or perhaps you overlooked a key detail in a vital or census record that may have saved you hours of research time?

Now it may be that you're such a meticulous researcher that you don't make mistakes. If so, congratulations. And, can you tell me, "What's your secret?"

I am ready to confess some of my own "genealogical missteps," and in the 16 years I've been an avid researcher, I've made plenty of them. For example, I was once so convinced an ancestor came to America via Ellis Island that I spent a year searching the online database, only to finally discover she actually arrived through the port of Baltimore. Another mistake I made more recently was searching for a paternal ancestor's burial plot in one cemetery (based on family and obituary information) but then discovering he was buried in another (after eventually tracking down his death certificate).

If you feel like fessing up to some of your own genealogical research mistakes, dumb moves, regrets, etc., I would like to hear from you. Feel free to post comments on this blog (if you're not shy) or click here to share them with me via e-mail. I may use some of them in a future post or article.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"My Baba"

During the Christmas season, my thoughts can't help but turn to my maternal grandmother (Baba in Slovak). Here is an essay I wrote for the 2004 Write Your Memoir Contest. The theme was "Someone Who Made a Difference in My Life" and I wrote about Grandma Figlar. I received an "Honorable Mention" for my entry. I thought I would share it here in loving memory of my grandmother.

***

MY BABA

by Lisa A. Alzo

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the times spent in my Grandma Figlar’s kitchen. I remember spending many Friday evenings in her two-story house on Hill Street in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Dressed in her blue and white cotton housedress, quilted slippers, and a white babushka (scarf) around her head, my Slovak “Baba” stood over her stove for what seemed like hours, preparing chicken soup, mouthwatering golden buns dusted with flour, and lemon pie—all made without reference to a written recipe. Even today, I can recall the delightful aromas of fresh bread baking in the oven, the chicken soup slowly simmering in the large, "bottomless," white enamel pot on the stove, and browning butter in the old black iron skillet.

I grew up in Duquesne, a steel-producing town near Pittsburgh, where large numbers of Slovaks settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My grandmother came to America from Slovakia in 1922. Although she left behind her own mother and the world most familiar to her to start a new life in America, she brought with her all of those aspects of her Slovak heritage that were an integral part of her identity.

In the Slovak culture, food is richly entwined with tradition and religious teachings, especially for Christmas and Easter, when special dishes are prepared and rituals observed. For example, on Christmas Eve, we celebrated with a meatless Vilia Supper (to honor the Christian practice of fasting) and ate foods like bobalky, perfectly baked little balls of dough browned in butter and mixed with sauerkraut, and pirohi, ravioli-like pillows of dough filled with cabbage, cottage cheese, potato, or prunes. At Easter, we ate paska, a round bread with a golden crust and yellow center made from eggs, butter, and white raisins (indicative of living bread come down from Heaven) and hrudka, a bland, sweet, custard-like “cheese” made from cooked and separated eggs and milk (as a symbol of moderation).

Then there were the home remedies. Some I continue today, like adding a shot of whisky to a cup of hot tea when I have a sore throat; others I try to forget from my childhood, such as wearing cooked sauerkraut wrapped in a cloth around my neck to reduce the swelling from the mumps.

Whatever the occasion, “Baba’s” kitchen functioned as the center of her home. It was where this soft-spoken Slovak woman spent the majority of her days as wife, mother, and grandmother, preserving the traditions of her homeland. There, in her domain, she also assumed other important roles of comforter, teacher, disciplinarian, financial manager, and instiller of religious teachings, morals and values.

The kitchen also became the place where some of life’s most important lessons were taught and learned. Simple principles of generosity and honesty and, above all, a genuine love for her family that Grandma taught by example. Moreover, for me it was in this kitchen where the genealogical seeds were planted, eventually sparking a quest to discover facts about this amazing woman, along with the desire to preserve our family’s history for future generations.

While neither of us realized it at the time, my “Baba” would inspire me in my adult years to write a book, Three Slovak Women. When my grandmother passed away in 1984, my mother took over the roles of "expert cook" and cultural "torch passer." Our kitchen became the gathering place for Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday celebrations. Mother would don her own babushka, pull out Grandma's large wooden board and rolling pin and prepare the various Slovak dishes to perfection. Although she opted to keep her "recipes" handy, my mother probably could have prepared all of the dishes without reference. Of course she had a great teacher.

My mother passed away in 2000, leaving my family one more step removed from our heritage. While we try to preserve our Slovak traditions, it becomes increasingly difficult in today’s hectic world, as my family becomes more scattered and time spent with loved ones is limited to holidays and special occasions.

It is often said that you do not truly appreciate a person until he or she is no longer present. I am so grateful to my grandmother for passing down her recipes and her life’s lessons. Yet, in all the time that I spent with my “Baba” before she died, I never thought about her as someone who had her own identity or interesting stories to tell; I saw her only as my grandmother. Until a few years ago, I knew nothing about my grandmother’s life as a young girl back in Slovakia, the story of how and why she came to America, or her experiences as an immigrant trying to survive in a culture that was new and different from her own. Symbolically, my grandmother’s story represents the stories of other Slovak women that were never told.

For her inner strength, integrity, and unfailing devotion to family, my “Baba” is undoubtedly the person who has influenced my life the most. Through my book, I found a way to pay tribute to her and relay her experiences to show, above all else, that she mattered. My grandmother’s story has now touched the lives of numerous individuals throughout the U.S. and the world, serving as an inspiration for other women to recognize the importance of their own female ancestors.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Dear Santa..."

Since it’s the time of year for holiday “wish lists” I came up with a few items I wouldn’t mind seeing this season. Problem is that most of them really can’t be wrapped or placed under a tree or in a stocking. But here’s my list anyway.

1. A 48-hour day. I would really like to have more hours in a day to accomplish all of the tasks on my “to do” lists—both my professional/personal list and my family history research list. While I feel I am pretty good at multi-tasking and getting things done, I always seem to want to take on more jobs and more responsibilities. My husband also tells me that I have so many great ideas, which may be true, but I don’t have sufficient time to carry them all out.

2. A winning lottery ticket. Boy would it be nice to be independently wealthy so I wouldn’t have to worry about things like health insurance premiums, depleting my savings account, or whether I can afford the trip to Slovakia I would like to take this summer. And, I am not greedy. I don’t need “Mega Millions” – I’d take even just one or two mil. I am not that interested in buying flashy material things or a bigger house or fancier car. I would just like the freedom to do the things I love to do while my money earns interest in the bank or my stock options soar. These favorite things include: write, give lectures on genealogy and writing, and travel to do research or see new places. While I do all of the above on a much smaller scale now, it would be nice to have the flexibility to do so full-time.

3. A magic fairy. It would be great to have someone I could call on to help me organize the boxes of unlabeled family photographs I inherited from my parents and relatives and have stored away in our spare room. Oh, and I would like that same fairy to wave a magic wand and sort the 40+ boxes of items I brought from PA to NY when I sold my parents’ house this summer. What on earth did my mother think she would do with the more than 100 vases she collected over the years? Then there’s Dad’s endless collection of tools, nuts, bolts, and nails, from his carpenter days working on the railroad. I swear I could open the next “Home Depot” in my garage.

4. A chance to see my parents again. I really miss my mother and father. And I while I realize how fortunate I was to have them in my life for as long as I did, there are still things I wish I could share with them on a daily basis. For example, I wish my dad could be here to see the research process for my current book project, Sports Memories of Western Pennsylvania (my dad was not interested in genealogy, and it figures the year after his passing I sign a book contract for a book he would be interested in reading!). Then there’s my mother. I know that she would be proud to be in the audience of one of my genealogy talks, or see my articles in print, or excited to accompany me to her mother’s ancestral home, Milpos, Slovakia, this summer. I recently read Mitch Albom’s book, For One More Day, and it really made me wish I could have one more day with my parents.

5. An agent. During a recent book fair I had a discussion with a fellow writer who told me that I “must get an agent.” I admit that I have thought about it, but not all that seriously. I’ve been going the self-publishing route for quite a few years now and have done well with my target audience. But, perhaps 2007 will be the year when I will find an agent to market my new projects. So, if you’re an agent looking for new clients and like my writing, I’d welcome the opportunity to chat with you!

Well, that’s my list. Items #1 and #3 are wishful thinking. And because of my faith, I believe that one day #4 will happen—that one day I will be reunited with my parents. I’ll keep working for #5. And as for the #2- “Hey, you never know!” There’s always a chance I could win the lottery, so excuse me now while I go buy my ticket!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Believing in Your Book

Every now and then I will receive an e-mail or phone call from someone who has just read my first book, Three Slovak Women and wants to tell me how much they enjoyed it. I received such a phone call today. The gentleman said there were many parts of my book he could identify with and recalled similarities with his own Slovak family while reading it. He complimented me for my honest, "told it like it was" account of the experiences of Slovak immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and how religion, work and culture influenced behavior and actions. As a writer, receiving this type of compliment gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. And, even after publishing five books, TSW will always be the one that I hold as my personal favorite for several reasons--most especially because it was my first book and the one that I most believe in.

Three Slovak Women is now in its eighth printing and one of the top sellers for Gateway Press. I also recently learned that it will be used in a class at the University of Pittsburgh next year, and it is currently being used for a course in another college--St. Francis (Loretto, PA). I am also glad I made the decision to self-publish this book because it gave me the freedom to write the book I wanted to and be selective about how and where I sell it.

I believed in this book. If you are a writer, having confidence in your work is a critical part of the publishing process.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Looking For Photographs

Although my latest book, Slovak Pittsburgh, was just released on December 4th, I am already looking ahead to my next project, which just also happens to be for Arcadia Publishing, and I can use your help!


I am in search of photographs to be included in a forthcoming book I am working on: Sports Memories of Western Pennsylvania.

This book will be a bit of a departure for me from my usual genealogy-themed writings, but I look forward to the challenge! Plus, I am looking forward to working with a great co-author, Pittsburgh TV sports anchor, Alby Oxenreiter!


If you have any photographs you would like to share for this project, I would love to include them in the book. The publisher is unable to pay for images, but a full credit line will be given to the owner or copyright holder. Should you wish to send digital images they must be scanned at 300 d.p.i. and saved in TIFF (.tif) format.

If you prefer to submit hard copy images (clear, high quality photocopies), please contact me by e-mail me for further instructions.

All images should be submitted no later than January 15, 2007. Please provide the following information with the photographs:


Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address
Date of the photograph (if known, or at least the time period, e.g. early 20 th century, late 18 th century, etc.
Who is in the photograph (if known) and the occasion or a brief description
Name of the copyright owner.

Due to space limitations, not all photographs submitted can be chosen or used. The publisher will be selecting all photographs to be included - the author assumes no responsibility for use or for loss or damage to any materials provided.

If your photograph is selected you will be notified prior to publication of the book(s).

Many thanks, in advance.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Need Pirohi (Pierogies) for Christmas Eve?

If you're Slovak (or Polish, Rusyn, Ukrainian, etc.), and want to have some delicious pirohi (pierogies) for Christmas Eve (Vilija) supper this year and don't have time to make them, I would like to recommend PolishPierogies.com. I found them on the Internet (their store is actually Zum Zum Foods) and their physical location is in Pittsburgh.

When I first looked at their site I was impressed that they sold Sweet Cottage Cheese pierogies (my favorite!) - not many other places make these. So, I had to order some!I am not going to have time to make pirohi myself this year, so I ordered a dozen each of potato & cheese, sweet cottage cheese, and lekvar.

The prices were reasonable for the pierogies, but the shipping cost was a bit high because they are packed in ice packs. You can freeze the pierogies once they arrive.These pierogies are very good - the closest to my Baba's (Grandmother's) that I have tasted and they even look like the ones she used to make. I would buy from them again. They sell other foods too, like stuffed cabbage, mushroom soup and more.

You can order by phone or internet and they accept Visa/Mastercard and PayPal (for those of you who use it perhaps for eBay or other purchasing).But hurry: To get them in time for Christmas Eve, you must place your order by December 15th!

Here's the address:

Route 56 East Allegheny Township, PA 15068
Phone/Fax: 724-337-7030
Store Hours: Mon-Fri: 11 am - 7 pm; Sat: 11 am - 4 pm; Closed Sunday

I am not sure what grandma and mom would think (probably rolling their eyes up there in Heaven) but as much as I would like to I simply don't have time to cook this year. But thanks to modern technology, I was able to find this store and now at least can have some traditional Slovak food for Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Holiday Ghost Walks

If you live in or near the Bedford, Pennsylvania area and are looking for a different kind of holiday activity, why not join Bedford Ghost Tours for their Holiday Ghost Walks?

The walks will take place on two nights only: Friday, December 15th & Saturday, December 16th, 2006

6:30 PM & 8:15 PM in Historic Downtown Bedford

Get into the holiday spirit and join BGT guides as they explore the spooky myths and legends of historic Bedford and beyond. Your guide will lead you by lantern light on a ghostly adventure that celebrates the holiday season.

Tours are 80 minutes long and start from the Bedford Common School at 322 S. Juliana Street,
where there is plenty of free parking.

Admission is $9.00 per person and includes refreshments.
Reservations required and space is limited to a first come basis.

Click here to register online or to get more information.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Excuse Me, But I'm in a Hurry...

I had one of those experiences yesterday that made me pause for a little "food for thought." My husband was dropping me off in front of the building at the university where I work the "real job that pays the bills." He typically stops our vehicle in front of the sidewalk which divides two sides of parking spaces, but yesterday there was a truck blocking the usual stop. So he pulled over a few feet before the sidewalk, which just happened to be in front of a couple of parked cars. We were only to be there for about 2 minutes. As I got out of the van, I bent down to pick up my bag from the floor of the van and all of a sudden heard this irritated voice say, "Excuse me, but I'm in a hurry." It was a gentleman sitting in one of the parked cars. We did not see him when we pulled up. And, he did not say this politely, he was actually quite rude about it and it took me by surprise. I mumbled something like, "Okay, sure, just a second," and then he proceeded to shoot me a very digusted look. My husband promptly moved our vehicle and the guy hurriedly backed out of the parking space and sped off. My husband later told me that he followed this person for a few blocks and he didn't get very far ahead in the traffic. To be fair, I don't know where he was rushing off to--perhaps he got an emergency call about a loved one (I've been there many times, but even at the worst time when my father was in a hospice last year before he died, and I got the call to "come right away", I never used it as an excuse to be rude to others). I've been in situations where I need to get somewhere but I have always tried to treat others with respect even in those instances.

At any rate, this incident made me think of our "I want it now" society. We're always in a rush--whether it is sitting in traffic at the red light with our foot ready for the accelerator, waiting impatiently while trying to get through the express lane at the grocery store, or pushing ahead to be the first one off the airplane. Perhaps we even apply this "in a rush" mentality when searching for our ancestors. Because of the wealth of online databases that give us data with a click of the mouse, we tend to want results right away, and when we can't find what we are looking for in 10 minutes or less, we get impatient. We also get frustrated if the resource we want is not online and we have to write away for the record, search microfilm, or spend hours in a library or courthouse. I am as guilty as the next genealogist when it comes to being in a rush to get results. But, my recent encounter with the unidentified "man in a hurry" has given me reason to pause.

I plan to slow down a bit--both during my daily activities and my genealogical research. Remember the lesson of Aesop's fable, The Tortoise and The Hare: "After that, Hare always reminded himself, "Don't brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!" "

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

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