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Italian Birds of Passage

Andrea-Cantelli-956x648

Tracing my Italian roots has been difficult to say the least, especially when it comes to name changes or my ancestors names being misspelled. However, I was stumped with a new mystery when I came across three separate passenger lists that listed my 2nd great grand father, Andrea Cautilli.

At first, I figured it must just be multiple men with the same or a similar name but the more I examined and cross referenced the documents I realized all three were in fact records of Andrea’s travels.

Passenger List: New York, New York

On March 22, 1897, “Andria Cantilli” arrived in New York, New York on La Champagne, having departed from Havre. My 2nd great grandfather was only 27 years old when he arrived in the United States with his brother “Sevidio” (Cesidio Cautilli), age 30. Andria, whose occupation was listed as a workman, brought with him only one bag of luggage.

In this 1st document, a couple of details stood out. I knew that my great grand father, Andrea was from Italy and I knew he had an older brother named Cesidio. Although I knew Andrea and Cesidio’s names where spelt incorrectly on this document, I knew this was a common problem in records concerning Italian immigrants and assumed there was a good chance that this was my 2nd great grandfather and his brother.

Passenger List: Boston, Massachusetts

“Andrea Cantilli”, who was from San Donato in Southern Italy, sailed from Naples on the S.S. Cambroman and landed in Boston, Massachusetts on July 1, 1902. At the age of 32 he paid his way to the United States, landing in Boston with only $24.00 in his pocket. This document listed him as married, able to read and write, working as a stonecutter and mentioned that he had been in the United States before, from 1897-1900. Along with this information, the document provided a few other strange details, including the fact that he was not a Polygamist, that he was in good metal and physical health and was not deformed or crippled. In Boston, Andrea planned to stay with his friend, Carmine Cantilli.

This document, paired with the first passenger list provided a few more details and helped confirm that the two documents were pertaining to the same person. First of all, I grew up hearing about my family being from San Donato, Italy-that checked out. 2nd, although it lists Andrea as staying with a friend in Boston, I knew my great grandfather had a brother named Carmine Cautilli. Another thing that got my interest was that I knew Andrea’s son, my great grandfather Abramo was a stonecutter-did Abramo follow in his father’s footsteps? Finally, this record confirmed that Andrea had also traveled to the Untied States in 1897, which helped link the first and second passenger lists to the the same man.

Passenger List: Boston, Massachusetts

On April 22, 1909, Andrea Cautilli sailed from Naples, Italy on the S.S. Cauopic and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts. Andrea was from Southern Italy, in Caserta, San Donato. Listed as his “nearest relative or friend” in Italy is his wife, Angela who lived in San Donato. Andrea was 39 years old, working as a stonecutter, was able to read and write and was headed for his final destination in West Quincy, Massachusetts.

This third passenger list continued to make sense of the previous two. It also gave me a more specific location as to where my family was from in Italy and even mentioned my 2nd great grandmother, whose name was Angela. Finally, it mentioned Quincy, Massachusetts-the location my Cautilli family settled.

Once I went through these three documents, cross examined the information and determined that they all were referring to the same man I couldn’t help but wonder, why did he travel to the United States three separate times? During that time it wasn’t a quick seven to eight hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean… it was at least two miserable weeks trapped on a boat. Not to mention-how the hell was he able to afford the multiple trips?

This new information got my family’s imagination going… was Andrea up to some criminal funny business that lead to his several trips across the ocean? Because that’s the only rational conclusion-everyone’s Italian family must have mafia connections, right? Was there some large Cautilli fortune out there that we were never made aware of? I wonder… who was left the treasure map…

After hours of crazy (but fun) outlandish guesses, I decided to do a search on Italian Immigration in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.

Stepping back to take a look at Italian history around the time my 2nd great grandfather left provided me with some answers regarding his several trips. In fact, it was not uncommon for Italian men to make several journeys to the Untied States during that time period, they were even referred to as “Birds of Passage”.

So what made these Italian men flock to the United States?

From 1876 through 1976 Italy suffered from political, economical and environmental troubles. During this time period Italy was made up of several different states that were all busy fighting each other. In 1860 they were faced with a 10-year civil war, which lead to one million people being slaughtered by the Italian Army of occupation. From what I read, a majority of those targeted were southern Italians… where my family was from.

Following the war, Italy (especially southern) was confronted with an extreme economic depression. The northern Italians who basically ran the government took the opportunity to over tax the southern Italians into poverty. To make matters worse, there was a lack of natural resources, which lead to little to no industry.

To add to the destruction following the war, political corruption and weak economy Italy was hit with a series of natural disasters. There were two volcanoes that erupted burying entire towns and an earthquake in 1908, which killed 100,000 people from the tsunami that followed.

Needless to say southern Italy was a mess when men decided to leave their families (parents or spouses and children) to look for work in America. The plan however was never to stay here, it was to come to the United States to make money during the busy work months to send home to their families and then return home once the work season came to an end. This earned them the name, “Birds of Passage”. This trip across the sea in search of work became a common thing, part of growing up. They were trying to make life for their families back home better AND life in Italy better by getting temporary work here. Once these men made enough to live comfortably in Italy they would return home and stay there while others, after several trips, decided to stay here and become citizens.

From the sounds of it, my 2nd great grandfather Andrea and his brothers were “Birds of Passage”. His final trip to the United States would have happened just a year after the 1908 earthquake. Once he got settled in Quincy, Massachusetts he sent for his wife and three sons to come over in 1910.

Why did he decide to change his plans and make the US his home? That is something I will never know the exact reason for. However, with a little research into Italy’s history I am able to come up with a basic understanding of factors that probably played a part in his decision.

This is also an excellent example of what I love about genealogy-it gives us an awareness and appreciation for the very personal touch past events played in our very own existence.

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Life Advice From the Grave

My great grandfather, Abramo Donato Cantelli was born in San Donato, Italy on February 4, 1903. He was only six years old when he boarded a ship headed to America called the Canopic Line with his mother and two brothers. After two seasick weeks they finally landed in Boston where Abramo’s father was waiting for their arrival.

Abramo attended school until he was 12 years old, leaving to work at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA to help his family. There he made $80 a week working on destroyer ships during WWI. It was at this job, he began to hate his name. His co-workers regularly picked on him for it, “There’s a lot of ignorant people, they make you feel like two cents”. Due to the constant harassment, for his confirmation, he took on the name Biajo so he could call himself Joe. From then on, he was known as Joseph Cantelli.

Joesph-Abramo

Joe started an apprenticeship as a stonecutter in South Quincy around the age of 21. He worked on several different jobs but the one I was told most about was a statue of a woman. He worked on the folds of her dress as well as some writing. No one in the family seems to know where this statue ended up but we do know Tiffany’s of New York bought it. During the Great Depression he said that “It was impossible to live on stonecutting…Life is too hard. In the depression if you wanted to buy a nickel for six cents you couldn’t do it”.

My great grandfather was extremely proud to become an American and worked hard to fit in. Besides the name change, he refused to teach his kids to speak Italian. He would often tell them, “In America, you speak like an American!”. Joe would only speak Italian with his parents, brothers and sister. As much as I admire his pride and hard work, it also bums me out that this part of my family’s culture wasn’t passed down. Today, the best my grandmother can do is swear in Italian and I’m left trying to learn with CD’s and books!

My great grandfather gave a lot of advice through his own life experiences concerning work, family and remembering to enjoy the simple things. It’s his advice on relationships and marriage that have really stuck with me most.

Joe met my great grandmother Kathryn Mary Gaynor at a dance. They were married October 14, 1923 in Randolph, MA with a simple ceremony to keep costs down. The thing that I love about my great grandparents is how crazy they were about each other. I remember talking to my grandmother’s sister Kitty about it. She told me a story about how they were so affectionate with each other, even late in life; they could make others around them blush.

In a day and age where divorce is common, I really want what they had for myself. I have had several friends my age, who’ve been divorced, joke that I need a “practice marriage”. The idea of this being funny saddens me. Being a bit of a hopeless romantic in a “me generation” is difficult at times to hold on to. His advice on relationships and marriage holds true, especially in today’s society. Today we are so plugged into technology; we are forgetting how to communicate outside of it.

“When you get married, you become one. There’s no more two. It’s 50/50. Set up a stake and both of you reach for that goal. Sometimes his trouble will spill over onto you. If you think you might hurt each other with something you’re going to say, put on the breaks, and don’t say it; don’t hurt each other. Think first about what you’re going to say. It’s communication that’s the most important thing. You’ve got to be friends. Both work together, plan together and communicate. When you don’t communicate, no one knows what’s going on, the left doesn’t know what the right is doing. That’s why there are so many divorces these days. They don’t communicate, and they don’t know what the other wants. They have different goals.”

As a female today, I have also found that sometimes I feel a little lost. Women have come so far since his generation. The sad part however, is that today women who find themselves in a demanding career are almost forced to make a choice. Do I continue to climb the ladder or do I want to have a family? It’s a sad world when you are made to feel like having a family is a “set back”. Growing up, taking pride in being a strong female, I always said I didn’t want to just be a mom… where today, I have realized it will probably be the most important role I’ll ever play.

“That’s what I like to see, two young people in a garden of flowers. That makes me happy, to see… two people always together and happy. You need to get a nice little house, with a little fence and a little workshop downstairs. It’s natural to want a house and family”. To me, he is right. I am tired of feeling like I have to reject something that is natural to want, just to prove something to a society that’s slowly losing sight of what’s important.

My great grandparents were married 61 years when Kathryn passed away, “We miss each other. I am useless with out her”. I can only hope to someday celebrate 60 years of marriage with a man who feels just as strongly about me. Someone who makes me want to be a better person by simply being around him. Jobs come and go. Money can be gained, lost and gained back again. Fancy cars and big houses prove nothing. It’s family and the people we surround ourselves with that get us through and make life worth living.

The craziest part about all of this, my great grandfather passed away in 1986, when I was only five years old. The only memory I have of him is hiding under his lawn chair at a family reunion in Quincy, MA. However, here I am 26 years later hearing and finding comfort in his words. I owe a huge thank you to my Mom’s cousin Suzy for taking the time to interview him. Had it not been for her interest in genealogy and our family in general, I never would have had the opportunity to hear them.

Joesph and Catherine

“Don’t go by what you see on T.V., it’s a big balloon that’s blowing up and destroying the country. Show business is no good. My wife had better legs than those women any day!”

– Joseph Abramo Donato Biajo Cantelli

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Breaded Brain, Chicken Liver and Sex Glands-Oh My!

Did the title catch your attention?

I can promise you, breaded brain, chicken liver and sex glands caught my attention when I spotted them on a menu in a Serbian restaurant.

No joke.

As if the menu wasn’t enough to make your stomach turn, let me take you down memory lane… so you may enjoy my entire dinning experience.

While on the road looking for things that go bump in the night, we found ourselves in Serbia. Besides the hotel restaurant, which really didn’t serve much but cold sandwiches… all we had was one other restaurant in walking distance.

For those that like to think we lived the life of luxury while on the road… guess again (not to say we didn’t find ways to have fun)!

There were only five cars to share among 11-17 people. So, if there was still work left to be done, those of us off the clock had to depend on our feet to get us where we wanted to go.

I’d say our second night in town, four or five of us decided to venture out to the restaurant, located just a few doors down. The place really wasn’t all that big… At first,  it felt like you were walking into someone’s home.

Inside, the lighting was on the darker side and the tables were set in a way you’d expect to find them set at grandma’s… we were greeted by a friendly man, who lead us to our table and set us up with English menus.

And there it was.

Chicken Liver… Breaded Brain… Thymus (lymphoid organ found in the neck) and…

Drum roll, please!!!!

SEX GLANDS.

I seriously could have puked over the first three options under SPECIALTIES but when I read sex glands… I just about fell off my seat.

While the group screamed, giggled and gagged over the surprising dishes… we all settled on something and put in our order.

Waiting for my burger to come out, I remember being in mid-convo with one of my coworkers… when I realized the guy at the bar was picking his nose.

Yes, you read me right – Picking. His. Nose.

Now, I’m not talking quick, little poke to scratch an itch kinda picking… I’m talking two knuckles deep, picking and from what I could see… being caught wasn’t a worry.

When he was done, he went back to cleaning.

The first thing I remember thinking was, “Thank god I didn’t order anything from the bar…”

As the conversation continued, out came our meals…

A burger seemed like a safe choice, right? I can’t exactly say that it was horrible-it wasn’t. It was just weird. Think of the burger patty being more like the consistency of a sausage breakfast patty. The patty was huge and placed to the left of the plate.

To the right of the weird meat patty, were toppings like lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions… all in their own, neat little piles. Add to that-no bun. There was no bread to be found anywhere on the plate… and no sauce for that matter.

While continuing conversation and trying to make sense of my burger, which was more like some sort of meat salad… I noticed the final blow, making dinner the stomach twister of all stomach twisters…

Mr. Two Knuckles Deep Nose Picker was busy placing silverware on the surrounding tables.

And that for me, was dinner in Serbia.

What can I say… when it comes to restaurants… I guess we picked a good one.

Who’s hungry? 😀

serbia kris

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Australian Food, Sweets and Spreads

Half the fun of traveling can be trying new foods… depending on the location. I can’t say I jump at the chance to eat fried guinea pig in Peru or fried brain in Serbia. In Australia, the craziest thing I have tried so far is Kangaroo. It was weird… and did not taste like chicken. That aside, I am not a huge foodie but I do like my sweets.

Here are just a few common Australian food, sweets and spreads I have tried on my travels…


 

SconesScone: Australians say scone… Americans say biscuit. Australians eat these things for dessert… while Americans eat them for breakfast. Either way… they are far from healthy.

So how do Australians eat scones (biscuits)? They cut them in half then put a layer of jam on each piece followed by a layer of whipped cream. Sounds pretty weird if you’ve never tried them that way but it’s actually pretty good!

For our Australian readers…how do Americans eat scones (biscuits)? We make a breakfast sandwich out of them! We’d cut it in half then throw on any combination of cheese, egg, sausage, bacon or ham… if you live in the south you could even eat them with gravy…

I’d say we beat the Aussies in making them more fattening.


 

VegemiteVegemite: Holy hell-can it be disgusting. Let me give you a little heads up so you avoid the mistake most people make when trying it for the first time… It is NOT peanut butter, jam or butter.

The more you throw on your toast, it will not-I repeat-it WILL NOT taste better.

Less is more with this evil salty spread unless you want your face to turn inside out. If you avoid the mistake of slathering it on-it’s really not all that bad but I’d still say it’s an acquired taste. You either grow up with it and love it or you wonder what the heck is wrong with some people’s taste buds.

Still interested in trying Vegemite? When the Captain made toast for me he threw some margarine on first then a THIN layer of vegemite on top.

Key word-thin.

I have just learned there is something called a cheesymite scroll, that is a spiraled baked bread with vegemite and cheese.

I have never had it-but now that I know it exists I may have to try it on the next trip!


 

Meat Pie: Yep. It sounds gross doesn’t it? Apple pie, yum. Pumpkin pie, yum. MEAT pie? Let’s say I was more than skeptical on this one.

So what is it?

You’ll find them mainly in cafes and bakeries; they are a great takeaway (takeout) option if you’re on the go. Meat pies are hand-sized and are filled with all sorts of good stuff, usually minced meat and gravy but there are many filling combinations. Once you get past the name-they are pretty damn good! Warm, flaky, meaty, gravy filled pies… yum.

A common condiment paired with meat pies is ketchup… but if you ask for ketchup you’ll be looked at funny. Ask for tomato sauce and you’ll avoid sounding like a tourist… minus the accent of course.


 

BeetRootBeetroot: I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the beetroot obsession. I can’t say I had ever tried it before visiting Australia either. Australians will throw it on burgers, salads and sandwiches… Usually when I find it in my burger or sandwich, I’ll get a few bites in then find myself picking it out of my sandwich. I don’t hate it… it’s just strange, not sure how else to describe it.

The added bonus… it can stain your clothes and fingers purple. Sexy stuff.


 

LamingtonLamington: These things are weird but the Captain has told me they are a pretty standard Australian dessert, one that makes an expected appearance at most holidays or get togethers. He bought them on my last trip and he insisted that we freeze them-he swears they taste better that way.

So what the heck are they? They are little square, two layer cakes made from what I think is sponge cake. Between the two layers was a layer of jam and the entire outside was covered in a very thin layer of chocolate sprinkled with coconut. He did tell me that some have a layer of cream in the center rather than jam.

They were pretty good but they weren’t my favorite. For a sweet tooth… I would have been happier if there was a thicker layer of chocolate!


 

MaltesersMaltesers: I must confess. I am a Malteser monster.

Although I have heard you can find them in Canada and parts of the U.S. they are not easy to find. In Australia they are about as common as Reeses Peanut Buttercup are in the U.S. They are every where.

Maltesers are made by Mars, Incorporated and are small, round, bite sized chocolates that have a center made of malt honeycomb. Love them.

For those who are thinking it… They are NOT Whoppers. Whoppers are disgusting… Maltesers not so much. If you are lucky enough to find them in the U.S.-grab ‘em!


 

tim-tamsTim Tam: I am a fan of Tim Tams. The Captain tries to stay away from sweets but this is one of the first he wanted me to try. They are a biscuit (or cookie as we’d say) and they are made up of two chocolate biscuits, separated by a layer of chocolate filling and coated with chocolate.

 

They are very common and easy to find. Tim Tams can be found in several different flavors too. I’ve seen white chocolate, dark, caramel, orange, original… My favorite is the chocolate/orange combo.


 

caramel Slice 2Caramel Slice: Evil layers of yum. I was first introduced to these in Townsville, Australia by the Captain. They are hands down my favorite.

If you have a sweet tooth, these things will destroy it. Layer of soft chocolate, caramel and a shortbread base. Sometimes the base will have coconut in it… which just makes it that much more evil.

These are not the type of dessert you could sit and eat several of in one sitting-they are heavy. I have made them several times at home now and have introduced my family to them in the states… they curse me every time I bring them to a family holiday but the plate always comes home empty!

And we all leave 10 pounds heavier.

Interested in making them? The recipe I use can be found here on Taste.com.au. There are a couple of things I do different though since some of ingredients are hard to find in the states.

If you are unable to find golden syrup you can use honey (although it will change the taste slightly).

For the top chocolate layer, copha might not be so easy to find in the U.S. so I substituted it with a recipe I use to make the center of my truffles. I’ll take a half cup of heavy cream and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, bringing it just to the point of boiling I then remove it from the heat. Then I add a cup of chocolate chips, mixing until it is melted. Once it is melted, I pour it on top of the other two layers then place it in the fridge to harden.

These things are so worth the effort. If you give them a go, let me know how they turned out!

If you have any suggestions on other Aussie foods I should try, let me know in the comments below. I will be adding new foods as I try them, so keep looking back for updates!

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The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!

– Kris Williams

Have you ever learned of a location that left you with an extreme desire to go? For me, that was the Antietam National Battlefield. Not only did I have to get there someday, I needed to get there for a specific day.

That one special day, everything in me insisted on experiencing, was The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.

I am willing to bet many of my readers will be left wondering the same things I did when I first heard of this location and event… What is Antietam all about? And what is an Illumination Memorial?

It is amazing how much we don’t know about our own history. While I am sure every American has heard of the Civil War, I think Gettysburg will be the one and only battle they are familiar with.

Although Gettysburg is definitely one of many battles that shouldn’t be forgotten, the devastation at Antietam is one most Americans have never heard of… Unless, of course, you live local to the battlefield or you’re a Civil War buff.

So, what was Antietam?

On September 17, 1862, about 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle in the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Antietam, referred to as Sharpsburg by Southerners, was a 12-hour battle that left a total of 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing. Known as “The Bloodiest One Day Battle in American History”, it was a narrow victory for the Union Army.

At the cost of 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing, what did the Union gain?

There were a few things the Union gained from the victory at Antietam.

  • Due to other losses, the Union’s morale among soldiers and citizens was shaken. The North needed a victory more than ever in hopes of turning things around. The win at Antietam not only give the North a badly needed morale boost, it put a stop to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into Union territory.
  • It also enabled Lincoln to release The Emancipation Proclamation. With its release, the North not only fought to preserve the Union, it looked to bring an end to slavery.
  • Finally, the victory squashed all threat of British intervention on the side of the Confederacy.

What is the Illumination Memorial all about?

The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is an annual event that honors the memory of each soldier who was killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Antietam.

On December 5, 2015, I was fortunate enough to experience their 27th Memorial Illumination, which was hosted by the Antietam National Battlefield, the American Business Women’s Association and the Washington County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

In memory of each solider, a candle is carefully placed on the battlefield. In total, 23,000 candles line a five-mile route that is included in a driving tour.

During this driving tour, visitors are instructed to only use their parking lights and are expected to drive through without stopping or getting out of their vehicles.

Due to the popularity of the Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination, lines to get into the event can be a two-hour wait.

I promise you; it is well worth it.

My Visit to Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination…

Starting my day at Visitor’s Center, I had a chat with the staff before grabbing some pamphlets and a self-guided Battlefield tour.

Jumping back into my rental, I started to make my way around Antietam’s 11 points of interest. However, before I could even focus on Antietam’s history something else caught my eye.

The first thing I noticed, which was hard to miss, were the volunteers. I had gotten to the battlefield around 10am but you could tell they had started their day hours earlier.

They were everywhere.

Young and old… Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, veterans, local organizations and residents. Working in large groups, they carefully placed each luminary. Using rope, they worked tirelessly to be sure each was placed with the others in straight lines.

Watching the process and the number of people involved was pretty impressive.

Battlefield Highlights…

While there are several points of interest at Antietam, I have decided to highlight the ones that affected me the most during my visit since It would be impossible to cover each location and monument properly in this short article.

Dunker Church

Built in 1852, this little church became the center of several attacks made by the Union Army against the Confederates. As if a battle breaking out around a church wasn’t odd enough – the use for it following the battle would put a chill up most spines.

Like most homes and buildings at the time, the church was used as a makeshift hospital looking after some of the 17,000 wounded soldiers. Some even believe the church was used as an embalming station by the Union Army following the battle of Antietam.

Bloody Lane

The three-hour battle, which took place on The Sunken Road is an unimaginable one. In that short period of time, 5,500 men were killed or wounded… earning the otherwise quaint, country road the name, Bloody Lane.

It was on this 1.5-mile trail that 2,200 Confederates did all they could to hold off 10,000 Union soldiers.

The survivor’s stories of the battle are horrific to say the least. Then there are the photographs that show the old farm road over flowing with the dead…

For a place that would otherwise be viewed as peaceful countryside – this location was once someone’s worst nightmare and final resting spot.

As I stood where 5,500 men once fell… I couldn’t help but get upset.

Antietam National Cemetery

Antietam National Cemetery was created to solve problems the large number of dead created for the living. Originally, soldiers were buried where they fell in shallow graves. Before long, the bodies started resurfacing.

Besides the fact this would be a horrific sight, this problem would lead to disease and death for those living in Sharpsburg. In order to solve the problem, money was raised to build a cemetery to bury the dead.

At first, the plan was to bury both Union and Confederate soldiers in the new cemetery. However, tensions between the North and South were still too fresh. To deal with the problem, Confederates were moved to three local cemeteries while 4,776 Union soldiers were moved to the newly created, Antietam National Cemetery.

Before it became a cemetery, this plot of land was used by Confederate artillery. Today, you can visit and pay respects to the Union soldiers who were buried here, as well as dead from four other wars.

There were a few things that hit me emotionally at this location…

  • One was knowing those buried here were just fraction of those who died during the Battle of Antietam…
  • Second, For every stone that bared the name of the dead… there were several markers that just displayed a number. The number of bodies that weren’t identified are heart breaking. Imagine how many families saw their loved ones off only to hear nothing in the end. I’m sure in their hearts they knew their loved one’s fate… but not knowing the how, when or where they were laid to rest must have been hard to deal with.
  • Finally, the statue of a Union private, which stood in the middle of the cemetery, was hard to miss. Encircling this statue were lines to a poem, followed by headstones… his comrades, that all seemed to be standing at attention.

The Antietam National Battlefield Illumination

Headed back to the Visitor’s Center with a new appreciation of Antietam, I was lucky enough to attend the Illumination Ceremony.

During the Illumination Ceremony, many people involved in the memorial including organizers, volunteers and state representatives spoke on the importance of the Memorial Illumination and what it has meant to them personally. There was prayer and song for those who died during battle. At one point TAPS could be heard from Dunker Church followed by Amazing Grace on bagpipes from the Visitor’s Center.

It was during this ceremony that I learned the Antietam National Battlefield Illumination was in its 27th year and 1,500 people volunteer annually to help setup the candles.

The fact that that many still people care today, about an event that happened so long ago, left me speechless.

There were several points during the ceremony that touched me, but the moment that stuck with me most of all came when a musician approached the microphone.

Taking to his guitar he began to play as he sang the words to Hallelujah. His voice and the words to the song eerily drifted over the battlefield and with it my heart sank.

The reality of my trip, of the whole experience had finally hit. With a fresh pair of eyes and a sun that was quickly setting, I stood surrounded by thousands of flickering little bags of light.

These flickering little bags of light stood in formation, stretching for as far as I could see in all directions.

23,000 luminaires.

23,000… each representing a husband, father, brother, son, uncle and friend who had died, had been wounded or had gone missing where I stood in a 12-hour battle.

23,000 men.

I stood imagining the shadows of these men standing beside me. I imagined the sounds and smell of the gun and cannon fire. I imagined the chaos, horror and fear that would come with battle. I imagined the dead, the dying and the wounded crying out for help.

To say I was overwhelmed with emotion would be an understatement. I wondered if it were strange to be so emotional over an event that took place long before I was born?

As the ceremony came to an end and the crowd began to disperse, I found myself left behind in the silence with a handful of others who had permits to photograph the memorial.

As I sat, surrounded by candlelight, I realized two things.

  • One was that numbers are cold and are incapable of telling the full story. Simply hearing or reading the number 23,000 does not make the same impression as seeing that number physically represented. I found the candles made it easier to grasp just how devastating Antietam was.
  • The second thing I realized, no distinction was made when it came to who was Confederate and who was Union. No one cared. The purpose of the memorial wasn’t to remember one side or the other. Who won or who lost. The point was… They were all American.

The Civil War wasn’t some far off battle fought between two foreign lands. It was fought in our own backyards and pitted our ancestors against each other. It tore families apart, leaving in its wake hundreds of thousands of dead and left a generation of Americans in shambles.

At a time when our country couldn’t be more divided, there are many lessons to be learned at Antietam that couldn’t be more important.

I would encourage everyone reading this article to visit.

From the history of the Antietam Battlefield itself, as well as the buildings and memorials that stand as reminders of the past, to the 1,500 volunteers that give up countless hours to thoughtfully place each candle and the hundreds if not thousands who wait to enter the memorial each year…

The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is an experience I will never forget.

I will be forever grateful to the Holiday Inn for helping me check this must see destination off my list and – I look forward to returning one day.

Posted on 21 Comments

Genealogy: What’s the Point?

Usually when I mention my genealogy addiction what I get in return from others is sincere interest. They wish they knew how to get started, they ask me for advice on how to get started or the genealogy bug has also bitten them and we trade stories.

Every now and then though, I’ll meet someone with zero interest. I mean… zero. Not only do they not have any interest, they don’t see the point or why it’s important.

“Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

This is usually when I try to keep my head from exploding. What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with you? One word…

Everything.

If you are one of these people-I ask you to bear with me and hear me out. If you are someone who’s interested in researching your family-let me give you another reason to be interested. And for those of you who already get it… let me give you a reason to smile today (because you’ll get where I am going).

So, let’s get started….

I’m going to have you use your imagination for a second… don’t fight it! Just roll with me here… Let’s say your 10th great grandfather’s name is Noah Washburn and just for fun… let’s pretend this is him…

dennis hughes

Again… obviously the photo isn’t that old-nor is the guy in the picture named Noah Washburn (pretending).

Back to your handsome, 10th great grandfather, Noah Washburn…

Let’s think about Noah’s life for a second. Like our lives, there would have been everyday things that happened in his life that would have been out of his control. Things he would have needed to overcome or survive. Such as…

  • Natural Disasters: tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, wild fires, mudslides, hurricanes, bitterly cold winters, floods, avalanches, droughts, and the list goes on.
  • Epidemics: Influenza, Tuberculosis, Smallpox, the Black Death, etc.
  • Famines: The Great Famine, Bengal Famine, Chalisa Famine, etc. (wrong time periods but you get the point)
  • War: Millions to choose from…
  • Work Related Accidents: shipwrecks, mining accidents, hunting accidents, shepherd trampled by a heard of stampeding sheep…

…Just making sure you’re still awake.

The point is-there would have been a TON of things Noah would have had to survive long enough to have his children. If he did not survive the above, your behind wouldn’t be sitting comfortably in your computer chair, sofa, etc. reading this blog.

You would never have existed.

Now let’s take it a step further. Think about all the decisions we make on a daily basis that change the course of our lives. Sometimes they are big choices-Will I pick up and move to another state? Will I quit my job and start my own business? Other times the choices you make seem small and not worth remembering. However, in the grand scheme of things, those little choices can lead to major changes in our life. Will I stay in tonight or will I go to my friend’s party where I will meet my future husband?

So let’s look back at Noah for a second.

  • Maybe he decided to take on a job other than the one he chose?
  • Maybe instead of working on the family farm he decided to join the military?
  • Maybe he decided to move to another town, village or country instead of staying put?
  • Maybe he decided to marry another woman before getting the chance to meet your 10th great grandmother?
  • Maybe he did marry your 10th great grandmother but instead of them having 5 kids they decided to have 3…and your 9th great grandfather would have been their 4th child?

The point being-if Noah made any choices differently (major ones or little ones that added up to major change) it could have put his life on a completely different path which may have ended with you never existing.

 

Now lets take this even further…

You have two parents…

2 Parents

Four grand parents…

4 Grandparents

Eight great grandparents…

8 Great Grandparents

Sixteen 2nd great grand parents…

16 2nd Great Grandparents

And 32 3rd great grand parents…

32 3rd Great Grandparents

Stopping there for now, that’s a total of 62 people you directly descend from.

62 People

Had any one of those 62 people not survived the uncontrollable or made decisions other than the ones they made-any ONE of them… You would not exist. And let’s not forget-the same is true about the hundreds of thousands of others I didn’t have the space to represent in restroom symbol people.

So, for those who insist on asking, “Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

One word…

Everything.

 

Are you one of the guilty people who found genealogy to be pointless and have a change of heart? Are you a newbie and hadn’t thought of the above? Been at it awhile and have something to add?! Don’t be shy-comment below! I love to hear from you guys.