Monday, June 13, 2011

Buying a House, part 2

"In life, all good things come hard, but wisdom is the hardest to come by." - Lucile Ball

We learned that lesson during the process of trying to buy a house.  I never, ever want to have to go through this again!  But in the end, we did learn some good lessons:

1. If possible, don't buy a house from a bank.
Banks are not people.  They are banks.  They don't care if you have to move out of your apartment and be homeless for anywhere from 1-3 weeks before they let you move into your house.  They don't care that the sod they put down and promised to water because they wouldn't fix the sprinkler system (and then didn't water) is crunchy and brown.  They don't care that you don't have anywhere to put your moving truck (because you are technically homeless), so when you put it in your new driveway after closing, they chew out your realtor because they haven't received the last $900 check from the title company, and they make you move your truck again until the check clears.  They don't care that, when you move the truck out of the driveway, all of your bookshelves break into pieces because you moved some of the things supporting them out of the truck already, since you thought it was YOUR house and YOUR driveway.

Yeah, I needed to get that out.  For a much better experience with buying a house, I would highly suggest going the normal route with a homeowner selling their own house.  There is so much more room for reason and understanding, and for getting things fixed before you move in - like the sprinklers, and the dishwasher, and the fridge, and the A/C, and the washing machine, and . . .

2. God will still find ways to take care of us, even when others' choices affect us negatively.
So, that was my complaining rant.  But the truth is, even with all the craziness the bank put us through, God still took care of us.  Many of our friends and several young men from church came and helped us pack up our moving truck in 45 minutes.  Jon's brother, Ryan, and my mother-in-law, Lucile, came over and helped us clean.  Our bishop said we could keep our moving truck in the church parking lot, and since he's a cop, he had the local police patrol periodically to make sure our stuff was still there.

Our wonderful friends, the Nietos, allowed us to stay with them for a week.  We had a super-comfortable bed to sleep in, amazing food to eat, their 5-year-old daughter to entertain us, and scripture study with their family in the evenings.   There was no better way to be homeless. :)

We had friends invite us over for dinner, help us unpack the truck (in only 30 minutes!), and share mangoes from our very own mango tree.  All in all, for the trial that we had to go through, God inspired many people to help us and support us in what could have been a really awful time.  It brings to mind a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
"When we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods . . . Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind."
3. Slow-burning coals burn longer.
Moving is a stressful situation, no matter what the circumstances are.  For me, when I combine the stress of moving and the dust of moving with my allergies, I get problems.  Add to that being around several people who were sick, and BAM, you've got Kristen writing this post from the couch she hasn't left in 3 days except to go to the doctor.

Well, that's not entirely true.  I left the couch on Saturday when I got impatient from being on the couch for a full 24 hours.  I spent half of the day Saturday unpacking, priming the mailbox post, buying a drill, changing the locks, and generally wearing myself out.  By 6pm I was back on the couch with a fever and feeling worse than ever.

With all the time I had on my hands on Sunday, since I could barely get myself off the couch for water refills, I spent time pondering on something that my very first bishop, Wayne Brockbank, told me a few months after I got baptized.  I was so excited about church, and I wanted to do everything all at once.  I was taking 16 credits in college, working 2 jobs, serving in a calling, and taking extra religion classes at church - four, to be precise.  He sat me in his office one Sunday and said, "Kristen, slow burning coals."  I had no idea what he was talking about.  He then explained to me that coals burn longer when they burn slowly.  In other words, he was telling me that if I kept up my overzealous pace, I would get burned out and wouldn't be able to do any of it.  He finally talked me into only taking one religion class, and I had a semester that was much less stressed out than it could have been.

Fast forward to this week, when, in my enthusiasm to unpack boxes and put together my house, I pushed through sickness, overdid it, and ended up burned out and sicker than I needed to be.  I guess I have to learn this "slow-burning coals" lesson over and over.

Well, for all of that, we still got our house.  We love it, and even though there is much work to do, we feel good about making this our own space and raising a family here.

So without further ado...

                    The exterior, freshly painted

                                     Right after closing

The kitchen

 The mango tree and backyard

The garage

Living room/kitchen view

Living room/dining room/stairs

Master bath shower - needs some work :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Buying a house

My great-great grandfather, William Sherman Booker, knew that it was important to own your own land.  He was born just before the end of slavery in February of 1865, and spent his formative years working alongside his father, Daniel, sharecropping to help support the family.  When he started a family of his own in 1887, he was also a sharecropper, renting land and equipment from others to farm a small plot, and slowly going into debt.  But somehow he turned his financial situation around, and by 1915 he had saved up $350 to buy 21 acres of land (that would go for about $80,000 today), thus securing a place to live for his family that no one could take away from them.  I thought of him when Jon and I felt like it was the right time for us to buy a house.

As much as I love modern technology and comforts, I wish there were some things that were still as simple as they were back when my grandparents got married.  After Charles Demps and Nellie Booker had been married married for 2 years, in 1935 he wanted to provide a place for them to live.  So he saved up some money, bought a plot of land for $30, had it recorded in the deed books, and proceeded to build a house on it.
Now, I understand that there are safety protections in place nowadays that weren't there before, but seriously, I think we have printed out an entire ream of paperwork for the house we are buying.  We feel like we are signing our lives away!!!  There are contracts and addendums to contracts, disclosures, buyer information forms, acknowledgements, applications, and agreements.  They come from the realtor, title company, mortgage broker, home loan company, homeowner's association, and homeowner's insurance agent.  It is crazy!

But in the end, we should have a house, a place to raise our children.  Even though our house will have been made by builders 20 years ago and not by our own bare hands, we can still build our family on the same principles that our predecessors lived by not so long ago - faith, love, hard work, service, and self-reliance.  And even though we have to jump through hoops and kill a tree for all the paper to do so, we feel like by owning our own small plot of land, we are following in the footsteps of those who made it possible to be where we are today.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 4: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal for me.  I love to spend time with friends and family, remembering all of the blessings in my life and creating new memories.  This year was very different, however, since Thanksgiving is not celebrated here in the UK.  So Jon and I came up with a plan to make the weekend special: we would go to the pub down the street that has been advertising for their Christmas turkey dinner (served all month long), and we would get a Thanksgiving dinner for two with all the trimmings.  Then we planned to catch a ride to London with someone from church on Friday night and spend the weekend sightseeing.  Sounded like a fantastic, memorable weekend.

That is, until all of our plans fell apart.  First, the pub told us that you had to have FOUR people for the meal, and you had to book significantly in advance.  Then the hotel that we booked (significantly in advance) near Buckingham Palace emailed us to say that they had accidentally double-booked our room, and that there was no space for us.  In fact, there was no space for us ANYWHERE in London for under £120 a night (the equivalent of $187.22 per night).  Then our ride called and said he pulled his back and didn't know if he'd be able to take us.  REALLY?!  Could EVERYTHING fall through?!?  Yes, it could, and it did.

At first I thought I could run out on Thursday night, grab a chicken and some potatoes and pull together a Thanksgiving dinner for Jon and myself.  I quickly decided against that.  So this is what we did for our Thanksgiving dinner instead:

We went to YO! Sushi for dinner!  That will definitely make for one of our most memorable Thanksgivings ever.  Jon has been telling me for years about his years as a kid in Japan, and how the restaurants would have bowls of sushi going by.  He ate his fill and loved every bite of it.  As for Friday, we decided to brave the traffic around London, but did a completely different activity than planned:

We decided to go to the temple on Friday night, stayed in a hotel nearby (that didn't cancel our last-minute reservation!), and spent most of the day at the temple on Saturday.  It was definitely refreshing and renewing to spend a significant amount of time in the temple.  And the temple cafeteria even served turkey, mash (mashed potatoes) with gravy, and stuffing, which Jon happily devoured. :) (I opted for fish and chips.  I can't get enough!)  So even though it wasn't the glamour of sightseeing around London, it was a wonderful weekend.  And in all honesty, it is probably better that it worked out this way, since today the temperatures were below freezing and windy.  I don't know if our Floridian blood could have handled it.

So this Thanksgiving, I am very grateful that God had a different plan for us this weekend than we did.  I'm grateful to know that God is there and that He knows me (and all of us) individually, as His sons and daughters, and that I can turn to Him for guidance and strength.  I am thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it joins me together with people in just about every country in the world, of every background and culture, in a bond of faith and friendship.  There truly is so much for which I am thankful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 3

Jon and I had a lovely weekend here in Cambridge. We did one of the most touristy things there is to do around here: punting. Now, lest you think we went off learning how to kick an American football through a goalpost, I shall explain.

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat used in shallow canals, and is propelled using a long stick that pushes against the river bottom. It's an activity that is best enjoyed during the summer months, but since we are here in the winter, and they were offering the tours, we went for it.

It was really pretty along the river, albeit cold. The tour took us through several of the colleges that are around Cambridge (32 in all!), so we got a bit of education on the history and architecture of the area. It was well worth it.

We spent the afternoon walking around the city centre (that's how it's spelled here), and then in the evening we went to a free brass band concert at a church on our street. It was held at St. Giles Anglican Church, originally built in the year 1092!!! Most of it has been rebuilt, but they did keep some elements from the original structure. They had refreshments during the intermission, so we got to sample a traditional Christmas Pudding (it's pretty much coffee cake with dried fruit, nuts and a creamy layer in the middle). We had a great time.

Today we went to church and enjoyed the Primary program (little children are so sweet and HILARIOUS!), as well as a "munch and mingle" after church. We had some traditional, homemade English foods, like mushroom soup, carrot and coriander soup, Swiss rolls (okay, so I'm guessing that's Swiss), some sort of yummy sandwiches with cheese and dried fruit, as well as various breads with butter. We also got a chance to talk with several of the ward members and make some friends. Among them, we think we found the spiritual fraternal twin of our sister-in-law, Jessica (imagine for a moment that they have the same hair color):

Not only do we think they have some similar facial features, but they also have similar laughs and mannerisms. Being with our new friend, Esther, is very much like being with Jessica - which means lots of fun!

In other news, I am still trying to find a place to mail some letters. I guess I have been spoiled for much too long, because I assumed that I would be able to drop mail in an outgoing box near the apartment, or that there would be mailboxes or small post offices around. Alas, it is not so. I have been walking around Cambridge for almost a week with addressed letters, just waiting to find a place where I can mail them. I think I have to go all the way to the city centre just to mail them, but of course I didn't find the post office when I was there yesterday. So if you had a birthday recently and you don't get a card until mid-December, it's because I didn't find the post office until I got back to Florida.

We are just over 1/3 through our stay here in Cambridge, though it doesn't feel like we have very much time left. Hopefully we can enjoy some of the Christmas festivities coming up over the next few weeks!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 2: Day of Remembrance

This week I was struck by how many people here in the UK were wearing these little red flowers on their lapels.  I had no idea what they were for, until I finally asked a sweet lady in a pub.  She said that they were poppies, worn in honor of Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, to remember the nearly 20 million fallen soldiers in World War I, and those who have given their lives since then in military service.
The tradition of wearing poppies stems from a poem written by John McCrae in 1915, "In Flanders Fields."  It is said that poppies grew in great numbers near the battlefields and final resting places of the soldiers who fought in the town of Flanders, and the poem was written after the author witnessed the death of his friend on the battlefield.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

I was struck this week by how many people observed this holiday with deep reverence.  We call the same holiday Veterans' Day in the US, but we do not honor it in nearly the same way as they do here.  Even today during church, we observed two minutes of silence in honor of fallen military personnel.  There was a sense of patriotism and respect for service men and women who were willing to give their lives in the cause of freedom.  It was very inspiring, and an eye-opener for me about how we regard our own military personnel in the US.  People picket and set up demonstrations at fallen soldiers' FUNERALS in the US.  I hope that we can learn some lessons from our allies here in Europe about how to respect and honor those who are contributing to our security and freedom.

On a lighter note, we got lost today.  AGAIN.  Big surprise, huh?  A family was having some people over for lunch and invited us to join them.  We were pretty excited.  They told us to follow their car.  We were the 3rd car in the caravan.  We drove about 5 miles, and I assumed that the second car was going to the same place, until we got to a roundabout (curse them!) and the first car went one way and the second car went another!  We didn't know what to do, so we went around the roundabout and tried to find the first car (because we were going to their house).  We couldn't find them.  We drove for another 10 minutes, and finally we pulled over into a parking lot with some young military-looking cadets.  One of them let us use his phone to call the only number we had (the bishop).  No answer.  So after a 40 minute drive out into the middle of nowhere, we turned around and tried to find our way home.  Fortunately, we only got slightly turned around, and got back to our apartment in time for peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a nap. :)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cambridge Chronicles, volume 1

As I am writing this, Jon and I are in Cambridge, England.  His job sent him here for a month of training, and I was fortunate enough to get to tag along!  So I will be giving some updates about our experiences here.

Some important lessons I have learned so far on our UK trip:
1) It was good that I learned to look BOTH ways before crossing the street, especially now that the cars are coming from a different direction.

2) We should have gotten the GPS instead of adding me as an extra driver for the extra £10 a day.  Why?  a) Directions on Google Maps are useless because most of the street signs are obscured, and b) I am really not that great at driving on the other side of the road. (Which gets me really frustrated because I normally really like to drive.)  The result is getting lost.  A LOT.  But at least you can circle around the roundabouts as many times as you want to until you figure out which street you think is the one you're supposed to take.

3) I am thankful for my washer and dryer at home.  Every time I leave the country, those are what I appreciate the most.  It obviously takes an advanced degree to operate the one here in our little apartment, between converting the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit, then choosing which temperature at which to wash your clothes (because cold water is apparently only an option for wool), selecting the RPM at which your clothes go through the spin cycle, and the temperature and time of the drying (which happens in the same machine).  Even though I have previous experience with using one of these washers, I am no more satisfied with it now than I was at any other time.  After an hour and 30 minutes of washing (JUST washing), it took another THREE hours to 'dry' the clothes.  And the clothes still came out damp.  Grr.

My nemesis: the washer/dryer
Does a washer even need all these buttons?
Rack: the OTHER dryer

4) Don't listen to anything anyone says about food in England not being a good experience.  Perhaps I am biased because I really like food in general, but Jon and I have had some excellent food since we've arrived: Lincolnshire sausages and mashed potatoes (better known as "bangers & mash"), Yorkshire pudding (which is a type of bread), fish and chips, lamb meatballs with couscous, creamy penne with chicken and garlic bread, cream of broccoli soup with bread, bell peppers stuffed with couscous and eggplant with cabbage on the side...and those are just the main dishes!  Everything we've had has been very good.

5)  It is not customary in the UK to ask for your leftover food to be boxed to take home with you.  Doing so will result in the bartender (because you order your food at the bar) looking at you strangely, spending 5 minutes in the kitchen rummaging around for a container to accommodate your request, and your having to carry your leftovers home in a washed, oversized coleslaw container.  But on the upside, we got the equivalent of a tupperware container out of it, so I can store leftovers in the apartment now. :)
(It's definitely better than the foil and napkin we got tonight.)

6) Credit cards here in the UK come equipped with some sort of chip, whereas our cards in the US only have the strip on the back.  So beware when pulling out your University of Michigan Visa Signature card through Bank of America at the pharmacy, lest the pharmacist attempt to engage you (in an increasingly loud voice) about the recession, the housing crash, and how the Republicans and Tea Partiers in AMERICA (really loudly) HATE OBAMA.  Not really what I wanted to discuss while picking up some nail clippers and conditioner.

More cultural mishaps to come...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Heritage Restored

Check out a preview of Heritage Restored below:

This has been a wonderful journey for me, and it's not over yet!  For those of you who are family, I hope that as you read this book you will be inspired to share more stories and photos, so each of these lines can have their own history.  For my friends, thanks for supporting me in undertaking this project.  Thanks to all of you for being part of preserving family history with me.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thoughts on Motherhood

Mother's Day is always a bittersweet day for me, for several reasons. On one hand, I am so grateful for all of the examples out there of wonderful, nurturing women who are doing their best to raise well-rounded children, and I look forward to joining them one day in the responsibilities and joys of being a mother. On the other hand, I am aware of all of the people who might be mourning on this day, whether because of loss or abandonment or any number of reasons.

Since this is primarily a family history blog, I will draw up on my own family history for some examples. There are mothers like Annie Magruder Demps, my great-grandmother, who worked so hard as a laundress, servant, and farm worker for years to help her husband make ends meet. Or the mother of John Estill, who kept her family together during and after slavery, such that her three sons stood by each other throughout their entire lives. There are mothers like Fannie Player Estell, who raised seven of her own children - as well as several who were not her own - with love and compassion. Or like Josie Estell Booker, who spent most of her young life bearing and raising children, only to die in childbirth when her oldest daughter, Nellie, was just turning 16. But there are also mothers like Frieda Rohrs Mast, who committed her husband to a mental institution and then abandoned her children.

David O. McKay said, “Motherhood is the greatest potential influence either for good or ill in human life. The mother's image is the first that stamps itself on the unwritten page of the young child's mind. It is her caress that first awakens a sense of security; her kiss, the first realization of affection; her sympathy and tenderness, the first assurance that there is love in the world.” I believe this wholeheartedly. Mothers have so much more influence than they realize and that influence can either completely destroy a person, or heal and soothe the

deepest possible wounds.

Today, I want to honor the mothers who heal and nurture, protect and provide, love and listen to their children. And to those out there who are mourning today for whatever reason, my heart and thoughts are with you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Art of Homemaking

I am convinced that my grandmother, Nellie Booker Demps, was Superwoman in disguise. She was the ultimate homemaker, in my opinion. Over the past few years, during breaks from researching and writing up my family history, I have tried to acquire various homemaking skills. I have worked my way through sewing, quilting, homemade interior decorating, crocheting, and this week I will take on the project of learning to make homemade bar soap. But I started out with the very basics of cooking, after I was married for three days and ran out of things to cook for my new husband. The result was me in tears in front of a slew of open cupboards. After he took me out to dinner, I decided to learn how to cook. It has been five years now, and I definitely feel confident in my cooking.

But I have the modern convenience of going to the grocery store to pick up bread, butter, milk, vegetables, etc. My grandparents owned a small house that they built themselves on a farm in Talladega, Alabama. They had milk cows that they had to milk morning and night. They grew vegetables. My grandmother churned her own butter. She gathered eggs from chickens and made her own cornbread. During the years that my grandfather was working in Detroit to make money to bring them up north, she had four young children (including a set of twins). I have the luxury of being able to work on all of these new skills without little ones "helping" me all day long. (At least, not yet!) I have a sewing machine to help along the process of quilting; she sewed hundreds of tiny triangles by hand into beautiful pieces of art. I recently made my own laundry detergent and thought it was so amazing, until I thought about my grandmother hand-washing the clothes of four children in a bucket with a washboard. I thought about how great it was that I made homemade gifts for Christmas, but then I thought about how all of my grandmother's gifts, at least for the early years of her marriage, must have been homemade.

So when I think of the term "homemaker," I think of my grandmother. She was literally making everything in her home: food from scratch, butter straight from the cow, vegetables in the garden, the quilts on the beds, the clothes her children wore to school. All of this work made her home a more comfortable place for her family to live. And not only did she put work into her homemaking, but she did it with love. I can only hope that in my attempts to learn some of the arts of homemaking, improving my talents and living more frugally, what I can really do is make a home that is filled with love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Another year has passed and we hope that this letter finds you healthy and hopeful during this holiday season. First, we want to share how grateful we are that you are a part of our lives. We are uplifted and enriched by our association with you, and we want you to know that we love you.

So much has happened this year for which we are truly grateful. Jon’s company laid off 500 employees, yet we were blessed that he was able to keep his job at Citrix. Kristen has been making contact with family members all over the country (primarily Bookers) who are also interested in the family history. It has been a blessing to connect with such wonderful people. We hope to get together for a family reunion sometime in 2011. (Let me know if you are interested!)

Kristen is still working at the Family History Center, as well as serving in the church as the music leader. Jon was recently released as the Elder’s Quorum president, where he served for the last 2 ½ years, and was just called to the Stake High Council. We are grateful for this opportunity Jon will have to teach and train in other congregations all over the area, but we’re sad that we won’t be able to sit together at church so much.

We have also been blessed this year with the opportunity to learn American Sign Language. We have several members of our congregation who are deaf, and they are so warm and friendly that we wanted to be able to communicate with them. It has been a blessing for both of us to gain this new skill as it has allowed us to create friendships with wonderful people that we otherwise wouldn't have known.

This year we welcomed a niece and nephew into our extended family – Siene was born in February, and Reid was born in November. We feel so much joy in being an aunt and uncle to them, so it is hard to be so far away, especially at Christmas.

Most of all, we are grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that gives our lives direction and purpose. Ten years ago this month Kristen was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it is also when we first met at church. We have spent the last 10 years serving the Lord together and watching innumerable blessings come into our lives. We thank God each day for our Savior, and we love the opportunity to celebrate Him even more at Christmastime.

We pray that you and your families will be blessed with all that you need this year, especially with peace during this Christmas season and always.


Jon and Kristen Andersen

The two of us enjoying the view at Snow Canyon near St. George, UT in October.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Calling All Bookers!

I am looking into organizing a family reunion for Bookers descended from Daniel Booker (born 1819 in Virginia as a slave, died in Talladega county, Alabama). We have a rich heritage and a LOT of cousins across the country, so it's about time we get together and celebrate!

Daniel Booker was married to Rachael Welch (and possibly to another woman whose name is unknown), and had the following children:

John (m. Celia Reynolds)

David (m. Willie ?)

Julia Ann (m. Philip Long)

Thomas (m. Tilla Rivers, Nannie Allen)

Basil M. (m. Mattie Pope)

Lafayette (m. Martha Thomas, Ella Reynolds)

Robert Lee (m. Georgia Willis, Etta Lawler)

William Sherman (m. Caroline "Callie" Jemison)

Wesley Scott (m. Jennie Halmon, Estella ?)


Nannie (m. Paul Chapman)

Ann E.

Most of Daniel Booker's descendants either stayed in Alabama or moved to Chicago, New York, and Detroit, and then spread out from there. Please contact me if you are related, interested in getting together for a family reunion, or would like help to see if you are connected to this family.

Also check out this family tree on RootsWeb to get more information on the descendants of Daniel Booker.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Facebook and Family History

This week, I felt a little stuck in my research on my Czech ancestors. I have been checking the message boards at and I made some connections with people who have similar surnames in their trees, but I just couldn't figure out any really solid links.

Early Sunday morning as Jon was leaving to go to a 7am church meeting, the thought came to me: check on Facebook. I thought it was kind of weird because I usually don't associate Facebook with doing my family history. But I have learned that when you hear that little whisper, you do what it says.

I started looking up the surname Jurasek, and I found that there are quite a few people with that surname living in Michigan, where my line ended up. I sent off a message to a friendly looking U of M alumna, and she wrote back! She is also not sure about how we might be connected, but her father has done some research and she is willing to send it to me.

The miracle was when I was looking at the group "Hey I'm a Tomecek" and found a man with that same surname, who comes from Vnorovy - where my Tomecek ancestors are from! I sent a message to him as well, and he wrote back, too! Not only is he a Tomecek from the same village, but he is into genealogy, has several of the same surnames in his family tree, speaks impeccable English, AND is really nice and helpful. I could not have dreamed up a better connection. In order to me to figure out how we are related, though, I will essentially have to pay a professional researcher to go to the regional and local archives to do research for me. Something tells me that I won't be able to decipher Czech, Latin, and old German records, even if I can scrounge up the money to get there.

So, as it turns out, Facebook is a pretty awesome tool for doing family history research. You just may find a distant cousin from the "old country."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I wish it weren't so...

When will the madness end? Nine years after the last state (Alabama) finally overturned its ban on interracial marriage, we have this mess going on. In Louisiana, a justice of the peace is refusing to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples. I am tired of hearing people against interracial marriage use the excuse that "the marriages don't last long" or that "[interracial] children suffer" from such a marriage.

Mildred and Richard Loving, whose appeal to the Supreme Court in 1967 ended interracial marriage bans in the U.S.

I am mixed. My dad is black, my mom is white. Yes, I went through the moment of uncertainty when I had to check the race box on my college applications. Yes, I encountered my fair share of "not fitting in." But what kid doesn't? I think my experiences were shaped by the racial attitudes of the parents of my schoolmates. I found a great multicultural group of friends whose parents were open to us being friends. It's the adults that pass on attitudes about who you "should" marry, what skin shades and hair textures are "good," and other stereotypes about their own and other cultures. My black relatives and my white relatives love me equally. Even my Czech great-grandparents, who were super-racist and thought that me and my brother were adopted Hawaiian children for the first few years of my life, accepted us whole-heartedly when they finally found out that we were mixed.

I would never trade for a day who I am. I have such a rich heritage from being mixed, and I get to pass that on to my children. I love being brown. I love my curly hair. I love that everywhere I go I am asked if I am local - Hispanic, Polynesian, Mauritian - you name it! I can fit in just about anywhere, and that opens up greater connections for me with people of cultures that are different from my own.

If interracial marriage had still been illegal, I would not be here. And I think that's a shame, because I am doing my best to contribute some good to this world and to offset some of the tragedy that swirls around us. One less good person in the world, just because her parents aren't the same race, would be very, very sad.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Amazing Progress in Research Tools

There are other posts on the internet that talk about the New FamilySearch program, but I just have to add my two cents about how amazing it is - and will continue to become.

In 2007, the LDS Church (who has helped preserve so many records it's ridiculous!) started testing a new version of their site. Right now it's called New FamilySearch, but eventually it will replace the current site. It is pretty awesome. The New FamilySearch combines all of the information in the International Genealogical Index (IGI), Ancestral File, and Pedigree Resource File, and will eventually allow for searching in Censuses and other records...all in one shot.

Not only does it streamline the search process, but everything is in a family tree format, so when you find your ancestors in another family tree, you can link it up with your own and contact the person that added that information. If you realize you've made a mistake, you can always un-link it later. What makes this so beautiful is that it is not only going to be available in the U.S. - it is currently rolled out in almost every country in the world! So one day, I fully expect to make contact with some very, very distant cousin in Germany who has linked up their family tree with mine.

One other advantage: it is internet-based, so you don't have to worry about your computer crashing and losing all of your family history information. It currently does not have the capability to add photos or to download a GEDCOM (if, unfortunately, you DO lose all of your family history info on your computer), but I believe that is coming. There are all sorts of features that the Church is developing, and you can check them out at

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Genealogist's Nightmare...

I have been working very hard for almost two years now on writing a book about my African American ancestors. It has been the most challenging and rewarding project I've ever done.

About a month ago, I decided it was time for self-publishing. I had all of the text and photos laid out, I had done four rounds of editing with various friends, and I was pleased with the final result. That day, though, some new historical records became available for free online: the Alabama Statewide Deaths 1908-1974. It was a gold mine!!! I found so many records I could barely handle them all. But then my heart sank as I searched through records for the Magruders and found this:

Name: Annie B. Lampkins
Death date: 26 Nov 1940
Death place: Tuskegee, Macon, Alabama
Gender: Female
Age at death: 46y
Estimated birth year: 1894
Spouse's name: Simon Lampkins
Father's name: George Mcgruder
Mother's name: Sally Fitzpatrick

I found out that the Annie Belle Magruder (Demps) in MY family tree, my great-grandmother, is not the same Annie Belle Magruder whose parents are George Magruder and Sally Fitzpatrick. I linked her to the wrong parents. I'm very fortunate that I caught this HUGE error two days before I was going to publish my work!

Now my challenge is to find the right parents for my great-grandmother. So far, with these newly available death records, I have narrowed down two Annie B. Magruders that are NOT my ancestor: Annie B. Magruder Lampkins, mentioned above, and Annie Bell Magruder Appleby, whose parents are Lazarus and Lou Magruder (also mentioned in my family history). I am pretty much at a standstill until I can find the right parents, but because of the missing 1890 census, it will be a miracle when I find them.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Musings on Father's Day

"Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes." ~Gloria Naylor

I saw this quote and immediately thought of my grandmother, Nellie Booker Demps. During the last few months that she was in the nursing home, Jon and I would go to visit her. We took our laptop full of old photos of her family members, and we would show them to her. Even with Alzheimer's disease taking quite a toll, she remembered most of the names of the people in the photographs. Inevitably, we would come around to this photo:

And as soon as his face flashed on the screen, she would say, "That's my daddy, Joe Booker!" Even at 94 years old, he was still her "daddy." I don't know a lot about Joe Booker's life - mostly that he suffered the loss of his wife when she was only 34 years old - but he must have been something special to Nellie for her to speak his name with such love, almost 30 years after his passing.

Unfortunately, many of us don't have ideals relationships with our fathers. In fact, searching through my family tree for an especially good example of fatherhood revealed too many dysfunctional fathers! As I have searched for my ancestors, I have found that one thing is certain: fathers WILL be remembered. It is up to them to live their lives such that they will leave behind a legacy of honor and love. May all men have the desire to earn the love and respect of their daughters, sons, and wives, so that their names will be praised for generations after they are gone.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Black History Month Part 2

"A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself." --Malcolm X

Mae C. Jemison First African American woman in space (and possibly distantly related to me!)

Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the most visible advocates for non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement

Thurgood Marshall First African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court

Oscar Micheaux First African-American filmmaker, sometimes called the "Cecil DeMille of Race Movies"

Judy W. Reed was the first African-American woman to receive a patent in 1884 for a hand-operated machine used to knead and roll dough.

Sojourner Truth Campaigned for the abolition of slavery, against capital punishment, and in favor of women's rights

Harriet Tubman Freed herself from slavery, then spent her life working to free others through the Underground Railroad

Madame C.J. Walker Inventor, businesswoman, and self-made millionaire before 1920

Booker T. Washington Educator, head of Tuskegee Institute, champion of economic empowerment for Blacks through work and self-reliance

Malcolm X Powerful civil rights activist and spokesman for the Nation of Islam until his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Just in time for the inauguration...

...we are reminded that there is still, unfortunately, reason to be fearful and sad about the lack of progress in our society. At a time when there should be great growth and unity, instead there is an enormous surge in the number of people joining white supremacist groups and committing hate crimes. I have lived through hate crimes. My neighbors were white supremacists. We don't need more hate--we need more of our wounds to heal.

Suggested reading: The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry. The most enlightening book I have EVER read on racism. You cannot hurt another person without hurting yourself.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Black History Month

We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.

- Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) on founding Negro History Week, 1926

Black History Month (also known as African American Heritage Month) is a time to celebrate the historic achievements and contributions of African Americans to our society and our world. I remember growing up and learning about so many amazing African Americans who were positive role models for me, at a time when all we saw on TV were athletes and musicians. And that's pretty much all you see now, except that suddenly we have a Black president, which is practically a miracle.

This entry (and perhaps a few other ones) will be devoted to making known a few of the amazing Black Americans who have advanced our society, and historical events in which they have participated. I hope this is as fun for you as it is for me. :)

Marian Anderson Contralto performing classical reperatoire whose career included several European tours, performances at the New York Metropolitan Opera and at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

Crispus Attucks The first American to die for the Revolutionary cause

Benjamin Banneker Astronomer and mathematician who carved one of the first clocks in America out of wood

Ralph Bunche Recipient of Nobel Peace Prize and United Nations mediator between Arabs and Jews in Palestine in the 1940s

George Washington Carver Scientist, researcher, and educator at what is now Tuskegee University

Paul Cuffee philanthropist, ship captain, and devout Quaker who hoped to settle free African–Americans in Sierra Leone, Africa in 1815; also founded the first integrated school in Massachusetts in 1797.

Benjamin O. Davis First African American general in the United States Army and commander of the 99th fighter squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen

Frederick Douglass Abolitionist, orator, and writer who fought against slavery

Charles R. Drew Founded world's two largest blood banks and developed preservation of blood plasma

W.E.B. DuBois Author, critic, editor, scholar, civil rights leader, and founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Langston Hughes Author, poet, and world traveler during the Harlem Renaissance.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thoughts on a 'Dream'

"One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land." Even though Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we are still facing these same problems today, what would be 144 years later.

I am sad to say that today is the first time that I watched Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety. But I am grateful that I watched it. It is powerful, and it is applicable to today.

We should not be satisfied. This work is not finished. There is still inequality, police brutality, an increase in segregation in schools, an enormous economic and educational disparity between blacks and whites. My dream is Dr. King's dream, that one day people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Our hearts must change.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

AfriGeneas: From Africa to the Americas

I stumbled upon an excellent resource recently for African American family history research: AfriGeneas (pronounced: A · fri · GEE · nee · as). Users submit information that they have on their family members into searchable databases, allowing African Americans to search Census records, death records and obituaries, marriage records, photos, and even some slave records for their ancestors. There are also discussion forums, places to list or search for family reunions, and a "Lunch Bunch"--an online chat group that meets Monday through Friday from noon to 1:30pm.

The best resource that I have found on AfriGeneas is the Surname Database. By typing in a surname, you can get a listing of all of the people who are also searching for that surname on AfriGeneas. I was able to make contact with a distant cousin who is related to me through my great-great-great-grandfather, Daniel Booker, by searching for Bookers in Alabama on AfriGeneas. What a miracle!

AfriGeneas is free to use, and you can also submit your own information for others to search. It is an excellent resource to help those of us with African ancestry "climb the 1870 'brick wall.'"

Check out AfriGeneas by clicking here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It IS time for a change...

Over the past two years, I have watched the presidential campaign somewhat closely. Tomorrow it will finally wind down to an end, and the country will know who our next president will be. I have thought much about my great-great-great-grandfathers, John Estill and Daniel Booker, who both waited in line to register to vote in 1866 after they received their freedom from slavery. They did not take for granted this sacred privilege to use their agency, and I have an opportunity to follow their example, 142 years later, by showing up at the polls to vote.

I will not bore you with my views on various political issues, or even announce in whose behalf I will cast my ballot. I will support the president no matter who wins and follow the laws of the land. But I am appalled at the the voter suppression that is rearing its head even to this day, targeting areas with higher percentages of minorities to try to keep them from voting. (Read about one instance here. ) In some areas, people have been making phone calls encouraging people to vote by phone, sending our fliers warning people that they could be arrested if they try to vote with outstanding parking tickets, or that because of the unprecedented number of new voters, they have extended voting to Wednesday, November 5th. These are all attempts to confuse people, and although voters do have a responsibility to educate themselves, many first-time voters may be swayed by this very illegal behavior. It is time for this to stop.

It does not surprise me that there is still so much racism, but it still does hurt.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Walmart taking Christ out of Christmas

Grocery shopping in South Florida is not cheap. Lately, I have been lulled into shopping at Walmart because there are so many of them (there are four within a 5-mile radius of our apartment) and their prices are absolutely unbeatable. I don't agree with their business practices or the way they treat their employees, which is why I have tried to avoid shopping there for so long, but what do you do when food prices are going up and there is a recession?

This morning I went to Walmart to pick up a few basics, and I noticed that they had already put up the Christmas section. It is not even Halloween yet, mind you. But being the Christmas lover that I am, I decided to pick up the remaining pieces in my nativity set that I started last year. I bought figurines of the baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and some animals, and this year I wanted to finish it off with the wise men. I was pretty excited for my early Christmas gift to myself. :)

I want you to know that I went up and down those aisles TWICE. There were no nativity scenes. In fact, there were no references to Christ at all. None. I felt absolutely sick inside. I came home and searched to see if I had just missed something, but the online Walmart site only has four nativity sets now, and none of them are sold in stores.

But they did have a whole row of Hannah Montana tree decorations and stockings, in case you wondered.

According to an article by the World Net Daily, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights at one point back in 2005 launched a boycott on Walmart for "banning" Christmas. I think I will do some personal boycotting of my own. It may be a little more expensive, but I would like to choose to support an establishment that chooses to support my Savior, especially during a time of celebrating His birth.

Read more about the issue at

Here's a tongue-in-cheek video about "Big Box Mart" for your viewing pleasure...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reunion Photos and Presentation

Here are links to the photos we took at the family reunion, as well as the visuals I used during my presentation. There are many, many more records than this, and we are updating the links on the right to make them easier to use. Have fun!

Family Reunion
Estell(e) Reunion Presentation Visuals