Do you ever try to trace something in your present life back to the one thought that began it all? Following the web of synapses as your mind jumps from thought to visual to thought (in reverse) often uncovers associations and influences picked up along the way that you never knew had any effect on you. The one thought or object that connects the beginning and the ending of this maze is often quite surprising.
Enter a bright blue dish that caught my eye from my Aunt Anita’s mother’s home in Florida. Back in 2007 my aunt flew down to Florida in order to help her mother sift through decades of living so that she could move in with one of her daughters. Among other objects I gratefully inherited, there was this pretty light blue pitcher that I could not take my eyes off of. It was given to me that day, and I kept it during my 2008 move to Houston. Upon seeing this dish in my home several years later, my grandmother boxed up her mother’s dishes and gave these to me because they were the same set. Last year after we redecorated our kitchen, we dedicated two shelves to permanently displaying my great grandmother’s dishes.
A Catalyst to My Curiosity
This dish set became a fixture to our kitchen and to my wandering thoughts over the last year or so. What was my great grandmother like? What was that Hungarian prayer that my grandmother used to say at our holiday gatherings? Why do we eat things like Turkta Cobbasta (later found out this is Töltött Káposzta) at Christmas and something that phonetically sounds like Yedosh Kenyed at New Year’s? Why did my great-great-grandparents—only four short generations ago—decide to come to America?
My own maze of thoughts began when I picked up that original, eye-catching pitcher, and ended in a large genealogy project.
Our Hungarian Genealogy Project
My grandmother is 100% Hungarian. Her parents were both 100% Hungarian, and the parents of each of her parents actually came over from Hungary. I think it’s such a rarity in these times to have 100% of anything in the United States, let alone of an ethnicity, and this motivated me to permanently commemorate our heritage. After much thinking I came up with the idea to create a genealogy recipe scrapbook to include our history, our recipes (both Hungarian ones as well as Mom-Mom’s good ole’ recipes I want to make in my own kitchen), and photos of my grandmother’s life.
My grandmother and I embarked on this big genealogical project in the fall of last year. I’m sure she thought I was a little crazy when I first asked if she’d be a willing participant. However, I think we’ve both had fun working together. Once the project took shape I came up with various needs from my grandmother. She took the time to answer all of my questions, go through her belongings, and carefully write down a small book’s worth of information and recipes. After each task completion I received a wonderful package in the mail. One package contained all of our Hungarian family recipes, another contained 50+ photos of relatives, and a third contained memories Mom-mom had surrounding the various recipes.
Then I planned an Easter trip home to spend time with family and friends as well as to conduct some genealogical research. Over the course of two weeks my grandmother and I cooked several of her recipes together, talked about her past, recorded lots of information, and found a treasure trove of documents and photographs dating back to our family’s life in Hungary. We were even able to corroborate what I had found with my genealogy research online with newspaper clippings, stories, and photos that she had in her home. It was deeply satisfying, and a huge success!
There are several tools that I used that would be very helpful to pass along in case I have planted a seed in your brain about embarking on a similar project.
- Free Pedigree Chart: I had a few issues finding a pedigree chart that I could type onto. In the end, I settled on this one. While it did not make it into the photo book (I have some more research to do before I feel comfortable about a few pieces of information), I am going to include it in the end by affixing an envelope to the front or back page and including it inside.
- Free Photo Scanners: It turns out that to have someone hand-feed photos into a photo scanner at places like Office Depot is really expensive ($2.99 per page!). So if you can source a photo scanner to use for free, then you will save yourself a lot of money. I was fortunate enough to be able to use several family members’ printers to complete this task.
- Photo Book: If you missed my article on 10 Unique Ways to Use Photo Books, you may want to check it out for information on how to score one for free. Also, see below for a photo book giveaway sponsored by Shutterfly.
- Free PDF to JPG converter: This free service was monumentally important to our project as it enabled me to convert any file into jpg format, which is the format photo book companies use.
Be careful what you surround yourself with, what you read, and the things that catch your fancy—you never know where they will take you. For me, I was fortunate to have that beautiful blue pitcher cross my path. The 100+ hours or so my grandmother and I have dedicated to this project has been well worth the time, effort, and potential early-onset carpal tunnel syndrome (she has handwritten around 50 pages, some front and back). We’ve lost our Hungarian language. But now we will never lose our recipes. And these preserved recipes will taste all the sweeter with our background story intact.
Come back on Wednesday for an article on lots of free genealogy resources.