Monday, December 24, 2007

Slovak Christmas Eve

While growing up, I looked forward to Christmas Eve even more so than Christmas Day. Sure, on Christmas, Santa arrived with all the gifts, but it was the day before Christmas that was filled with family celebration, ritual and tradition. For Slovaks, Christmas Eve, known as "Štedrý Vecer" (shtedree vecher), is traditionally is the biggest annual event in the home, where the entire family gathers for the traditional Slovak meal called the Vilija/Vilia (vee-lee-yah). The term comes from the Latin "vigilia" or "night watch." The name implies the joyful anticipation in waiting for the arrival of the Christ child.

My Slovak grandma (Baba) worked tirelessly to carry out the traditions of her heritage. In the Slovak culture, food is richly entwined with tradition and religious teachings, especially for Christmas, when special dishes are prepared and rituals observed.

Our family would gather each year on Christmas Eve at my Grandma Figlar's house to celebrate the Vilia Supper. It was a meatless meal (to honor the Christian practice of fasting). During this supper, we ate foods like mushroom soup, oplatky (Christmas wafers) with honey, 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. All of these recipes are included in my book, Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions (Gateway Press, $11.95).

Carrying on the tradition, today I celebrated the Vilia. I used a few modern shortcuts--ordering the pirohi online from Polish Pierogie, and using frozen white bread dough to make bobalky instead of my grandmother's recipe. But did make homemade mushroom soup. So, I still managed to have most of the traditional foods, which I shared with my husband (who is Irish and not Slovak but enjoys the foods anyway). I hope that my grandmother and mother are not too disappointed that I did not make everything from scratch, but my over-committed schedule just did not leave me any time to cook this year.

Time and distance, and the passing of loved ones have prevented the large family gatherings of we used to have, but nothing will replace the special memories of those Christmas Eves at Grandma's house, and in later years, my own home, with my mother at the helm.

This is my last posting for 2007. I plan to take a break from blogging to enjoy some time off. My best to everyone for a healthy and happy New Year. See you in 2008!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Take a Break from Holiday Stress

This has nothing to do with genealogy, but if you find yourself stressed out by gift wrapping, Christmas dinner preparations, family visits, parties, or other holiday preparations, try having a bit of fun with this entertaining site from OfficeMax that lets you upload your face onto a dancing elf. You can upload as many as four faces, record a message, and even send elves to your family and friends! But, hurry. You only have until January 2, 2008.

I tried this with a photo of mine, and even plugged in a few other faces of relatives just for fun. It's one of those sites that is good to try when you start taking yourself too seriously and just need a laugh. Click here to link to the site to start your own "Elfamorphosis." Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Vesele Vianocé!

I received this beautiful Christmas postcard with the Slovak Christmas Greeting - "Veselé Vianoce!"

So, I pass on the spirit of this greeting to everyone. Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday and all the best for the New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Connecting with Your Audience

When you're a writer, you learn to accept the good with the bad in terms of folks who evaluate your work. You develop a tough skin from rejection slips, negative reviews and/or criticism, heckling at book signings, etc. But every once in awhile you hear from someone who has read your book or article and in some way it has inspired them. This happened to me recently with my book Three Slovak Women (Gateway Press). TSW was my first published book and will always hold a special place in my heart since it is a very personal tribute to my grandmother and mother. When I wrote TSW (I initially wrote it for my M.F.A. thesis, and then self-published it), I thought that I would print a few hundred copies and it would be received by just a very small audience.The book was first published in 2001 and now I am proud to say it is in its ninth printing (I've lost count as to the total of number of sales to date). The book has been used as required reading in several courses on Slovak culture and immigration history at several universities in the Pittsburgh area, and I've sold copies to folks around the world, and I am always pleased when a reader writes to tell me how much the book has inspired an interest in his/her own Slovak heritage.

The e-mail I received the other day from an individual who recently read the book is one that I am happy to share (I am not including the person's name in order to protect identity but this person has given me permission to use the comments).

"Dear Lisa,

I have hope. And that hope of finding out who I really am by discovering who my ancestors really were took root in just the first few pages of your book: Three Slovak Women.

I started reading it yesterday afternoon. A few pages into it, and the tears came. I can feel so much of what you wrote. I have a few pages left to read, but I wanted to write and thank you. It's a connection for me in just knowing that your family "back then" and "back there" apparently lived in a village probably less than 50 miles away from my own.

I have learned some things, but when I would ask my grandparents, they would say little, just that they were from "the old country," or "Czechoslovakia", and now, they are all gone. My dad included. My interest in genealogy didn't blossom until the last few years and the difficulty in researching half a world away leaves me with a sense of sadness that just won't go away. I feel like an orphan. In a real sense, I am. I know some names, I know some locations, I have immigration information and pictures of the ships that brought my grandparents here, and naturalization papers, and their pictures, and their hugs and yet, I wonder so much more. Who were they and what was it like for them.

I know my grandparents names, I have their death certificates bearing my great-grandparents names, and from my dad's obituary I suddenly learned that he had had two sisters in the old country who died somehow, somewhere, sometime maybe even after Grandma came to America. No one ever mentioned them. My only sister never knew of them either.

Grandma came here eight years after my grandpa, I'm told so she could look after his father who was ill. She brought with her a little boy, my uncle who was killed in WWII, two years before I was born. And when my dad died in 1989, there was no one left to answer so many questions I still have in my heart.

I hope to find some of the answers so that my own children and grandchildren will not look at abrupt dead ends on our family tree only a couple generations back and wonder as I do, who are we. I want those people who were before us to matter. Now, I will keep looking, thanks to your sharing.

I didn't intend for this note to be so long, but I truly want to thank you for giving me hope."


As a writer and genealogist, I was glad to learn how my book served to awaken a new awareness and desire in this reader to persist in exploring family history, and that through my words I have given them "hope."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good News

I was glad to receive this notification.


For Immediate Release

19 December 2007


FamilySearch and The Generations Network Agreement Give Patrons Access to More than 24,000 Databases and Titles

SALT LAKE CITY—FamilySearch and The Generations Network, Inc., parent company of, today announced an agreement that provides free access of to patrons of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the 13 largest regional family history centers effective today.

With this new agreement full access will be provided to more than 24,000 databases and titles and 5 billion names in family history records. In addition to the Family History Library, the following 13 regional family history centers have been licensed to receive access to

  • Mesa, Arizona
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Oakland, California
  • Orange, California
  • Sacramento, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Pocatello, Idaho
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Logan, Utah
  • Ogden, Utah
  • St. George, Utah
  • Hyde Park, London, England

“We’re excited for our patrons to receive online access to an expanded collection of family history records on,” said Don Anderson, director of FamilySearch Support. “’s indexes and digital images of census, immigration, vital, military and other records, combined with the excellent resources of FamilySearch, will increase the likelihood of success for patrons researching their family history.” The Generations Network and FamilySearch hope to expand access to other family history centers in the future.

FamilySearch patrons at the designated facilities will have access to’s completely indexed U.S. Federal Census Collection, 1790-1930, and more than 100 million names in passenger lists from 1820-1960, among other U.S. and international record collections. Throughout the past year, has added indexes to Scotland censuses from 1841-1901, created the largest online collection of military and African American records, and reached more than 4 million user-submitted family trees.

Free access is also available at Brigham Young University Provo, Idaho, and Hawaii campuses, and LDS Business College patrons through a separate agreement with The Generations Network.

“FamilySearch’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City is one of the most important physical centers for family history research in the world, and we are happy that patrons to the Library and these major regional centers will have access to,” said Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of The Generations Network, Inc., parent company of “We’ve enjoyed a ten-year working relationship with FamilySearch, and we look forward to continued collaboration on a number of family history projects.”

About (visit

With 24,000 searchable databases and titles and more than 2.5 million active users, is the No. 1 online source for family history information. Since its launch in 1997, has been the premier resource for family history, simplifying genealogical research for millions of people by providing them with many easy-to-use tools and resources to build their own unique family trees. The site is home to the only complete online U.S. Federal Census collection, 1790-1930, as well as the world’s largest online collection of U.S. ship passenger list records featuring more than 100 million names, 1820-1960. is part of The Generations Network, Inc., a leading network of family-focused interactive properties, including,, and Family Tree Maker. In total, The Generations Network properties receive 8.7 million unique visitors worldwide and more than 416 million page views a month (© comScore Media Metrix, October 2007).

About FamilySearch
FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization that maintains the world's largest repository of genealogical resources. Patrons may access resources online at or through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and over 4,500 family history centers in 70 countries. FamilySearch is a trademark of Intellectual Reserve, Inc. and is registered in the United States of America and other countries.

Media Contacts

Paul Nauta

FamilySearch Manager of Public Affairs


Mike Ward

Public Relations Director


Paul Nauta
Manager of Public Affairs
Family & Church History Department
FamilySearch (TM)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Heritage Research Upgrade

I received this notice from the folks at MyHeritage Research. I can't wait to try out the upgrade to see what's new. I first wrote about MyHeritage in the article: "Find the Celebrity in Your Ancestor" for Internet Genealogy Magazine, January 2006.

"MyHeritage Research, the genealogy search engine on, has been significantly upgraded this week. This genealogy tool specializes in finding ancestors and advancing your family research. There is nothing else quite like it on the Internet. It is free and you're invited to use it on this link:

MyHeritage Research now searches across more than 10 billion records to provide you the most extensive genealogy searches available anywhere on the Internet, and it's free. This week we've released version 2.0, adding hundreds of new genealogy databases to its coverage. So even if you've tried it in the past, you're encouraged to use our new version, as you're likely to find more results.

To use MyHeritage Research, click
In the search form, enter the last name you are researching, or a combination of a first name and last name.
MyHeritage Research will then search for it in 1,400 genealogy databases and Websites on the Internet that cannot be searched by regular search engines like Google. Searches can look for an exact spelling, or multiple spelling variations (we call this Megadex). Because of the sheer extent of this search engine, some searches may take several minutes to complete. This search engine is particularly useful if you are researching a rare last name, or an uncommon combination of a first name and last name.

We also have good news for anyone interested in Jewish Genealogy. Thanks to our new collaboration with JewishGen, the top Website for Jewish genealogy, we've been able to add a JewishGen All-in-one search to MyHeritage Research. So searches on MyHeritage Research will now include almost all JewishGen databases, a feature not available anywhere else on the Web.

If you would like to share success stories, or send requests for covering additional sites in MyHeritage Research, or have bugs to report, please use our support forum available here:
We appreciate all feedback.

What's next? Here at MyHeritage, we're constantly working hard to bring you new tools for advancing your genealogy hobby. We've recently developed a breakthrough - Smart Matching technology which connects family trees submitted by our users. Stay tuned for exciting information about this very soon."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Slovak Christmas Eve Recipes

If you're Slovak (or Rusyn) and plan on celebrating the Vilia/Vilija/Vileja supper for Christmas Eve this year and want to make some authentic foods, check out my book, Baba's Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions (Gateway Press) now in its fifth printing!

You can order copies through my Web site. Priority mail shipping is available in order to receive your copy before Christmas! This book makes a nice gift too! And copies are selling fast so order now while they're still in stock!

Get a sample recipe for one of the Christmas Eve dishes at the book's Web site: Baba's Kitchen Online!

"Vesele Vianoce!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Looking for a Last Minute Gift?

If you are undecided about what to give your favorite genealogist for the holidays, or if you've been asked to provide your own "wish list" to family and friends, why not consider a class from GenClass?

Each class is only $29.95 for eight lessons and class chats with genealogical experts from around the world. In addition to its usual list of popular classes, a number of great new classes will be added in 2008.

Click here for more details.

Happy Genea-olidays!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Away from Blogging

I haven't posted any items for some time. I spent five days in Pittsburgh for book signings and other professional obligations. Then, had to catch up with work, my writing and begin holiday preparations and gift shopping.

I admit that I haven't had much time for keeping up with the latest genealogy news. To be honest, most of my time recently has been spent working on several different writing projects. I hope to blog when I can in the coming weeks before the holidays.