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Honoring Our Ancestors
May 17, 2017


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Happy May, Everyone! In this month's issue, I decided to take a dive into my archives and share a fun honoring-our-ancestors tale involving diapers. Yes, diapers.You'll also find the usual tour of a wide variety of genealogical topics, including Angel Island, the Book Man (a fellow who repairs old Bibles), and Victorian Slum House. And of course, a reminder that my 200th grant is coming up soon!

Until next time!



RIP, Marge Rice

I'm very sad to announce that the genealogical community lost one of its finest on April 11th. Marjorie L. Rice, known to most of us as Marge Rice, was an officer of the Fox Valley Genealogical Society in Illinois for many years. But she was also known for being a prolific orphan heirloom rescuer.

Way back in 2001 when my grants program was in its early days, Marge was one of the early recipients. Her request? Funding to purchase precious family photos that had gone astray (that is, found in antiques stores, on eBay, at flea markets, etc.). She took these photos and did the work necessary to generously return them to family members, and was remarkably consistent over the years. So much so that I started a Marge-O-Meter on my website.

Periodically, she would update me on her stats, and as the figures steadily climbed, we had to keep readjusting the scale of the Marge-O-Meter. As of the last time she checked in - in early March - Marge had returned a stunning 2,284 photos to 1,562 people!

What a legacy! Think of all the families she gifted with her talents and a piece of their own past! She is a role model for all of us.

To learn more about Marge, her family, and her other endeavors, please read her obituary. And should you feel so inspired, please consider leaving a comment/condolence in appreciation for Marge and all she did for so many.

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From the Archives: Posterity for Posteriors

I decided to delve into the world of ancestral tribute and was rewarded with countless examples that demonstrate our endless well of creativity. I quickly realized that there is no "right" way to honor our ancestors, but rather, as many approaches as there are people with an inclination to do so. For instance, who would have ever thought of centering a family tradition on a diaper? Fortunately for James H. Culbert of Virginia, his great-grandparents did.

Posterity for Posteriors by James H. Culbert

Many families have traditions and heirlooms they pass down through the generations — tall tales, jewelry, reunions, Bibles, and the like. In the Freas family, we’ve created a tradition and heirloom of an unexpected sort: a diaper.

To date four generations of Freas descendants have had their pictures taken at the age of six months wearing the same cloth diaper. No one in our family knows exactly how or why this tradition was started, but we intend to keep it going. It serves as a reminder of our heritage, helps us bond with our ancestors, and gives the now dispersed Freas descendants a reason to stay in touch with each other.

The originators of this tradition were both born in Pennsylvania. Frank Dudley Freas was born in 1868 in Hazleton, the fourth child of Dr. Henry Leigh Freas and his wife Amelia Gearhart Messenger Freas. Accounts of the Freas family in the late 1800s indicate that the family had a flair for the dramatic. Frank’s oldest brother, Mordecai, was a magician known as the “Great Voxie,” and Frank himself studied for the stage in Philadelphia following his graduation from Berwick High School in 1885.

It was in Philadelphia that he met Mary Agnes Sheahan. The story, as related to me by my great- aunt Jane Freas, is that Frank came to the Sheahan home to pick up the oldest Sheahan daughter for a date, but was smitten instead with Mary. Two years younger than Frank, Mary had intended to enter a convent, but changed her mind after making his acquaintance. She eventually convinced her somewhat reluctant parents to allow her to marry him, and Frank wed his “Irish rose” in Camden, New Jersey in May 1889.

In November of that same year, Frank and Mary experienced the sorrow of losing their firstborn, a premature infant who survived a mere ten weeks. Their second child, Agnes (my grandmother-to-be), followed in June 1891. Perhaps it was the joy of seeing Agnes thrive that caused her parents to celebrate the arrival of the six-month anniversary of her birth by having a photograph taken of her wearing only a diaper. Unbeknownst to them, the seed of a tradition had been planted.

Frank and Mary subsequently had similar pictures taken of each of their other four children – all in the same diaper and all at the age of six months. This collection of five photographs was later mounted together and shows the diapered derrières of Agnes Amelia Freas (born 22 June 1891), Lois Gearhart Freas (born 21 February 1896), Betty Viola Freas (born 9 July 1899), Henry Leigh Freas (born 4 May 1901), and Jane Kitchen Freas (born 23 August 1904). Apparently by the birth of the second child, the diaper had already been retired from its customary purpose and retained just for the use of these half-year milestone photos.

You would think that the diaper would have been misplaced during the 15-year dormant phase following the births in this first generation, but not in the Freas family! In 1919 when the first grandchild of Frank and Mary was born to their daughter Agnes and her husband, Thomas Hale Keiser, the peculiar family habit was resurrected. They also mounted their Freas diaper shots together, but with a two-generation twist: the frame contains photos of the Agnes Amelia Freas – the very baby first photographed in 1891 - and both of her children, Thomas Hale Keiser, Jr. and Mary Lois Keiser.

Still more Freas babies had their charms captured for posterity. Betty Jane Stahl, the only child of Leo Stahl and Lois Gearhart Freas Stahl, and Nancy Jane Waters, the only child of Frank Waters and Betty Viola Freas Waters, were next in line.

My generation made its contribution when my parents, Walter Maurice Culbert and Mary Lois Keiser Culbert, used the sexagenarian diaper to photograph their 1950s crop of Freas children: James Hale Culbert, Elizabeth Leigh Culbert, and Daniel Freas Culbert.

More recently, my wife, Kathleen Marie Mahoney Culbert, and I have kept the tradition alive with our own late-1980s trio of daughters and, of course, the durable Freas diaper. Clarissa Janes Culbert and twins Loralee Cummins Culbert and Annalisa Mahoney Culbert were the fourth generation photographed in the by then nearly century-old diaper.

Incidentally, while I have detailed the diaper’s journey down my own direct line, I should point out that it is well-traveled, having crossed various state lines to grace the assets of various other sibling and collateral lines of Freas descendants.

The original framed photos of the children of Frank and Mary Freas were passed down to their youngest child, Jane. When Jane died, I was fortunate enough to receive them. I assembled them with the three more recent generations, and the four frames now hang together at my house as a constant reminder of the strength of family tradition, even if it is in the unconventional form of “diaper duty”!

This excerpt is from an article originally published in the July/August 2002 issue of Ancestry magazine and the book Honoring Our Ancestors: Inspiring Stories of the Quest for Our Roots

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Seton Shields Genealogy Grants

Watch for information about the next grant recipient (my 200th!) shortly. And then, I'll be considering applications for the third quarter of 2017, so here's a reminder to get yours in if you've been intending to. Submissions remain active candidates for six months from the date I receive them.

To apply for a Seton Shields grant, fill out and submit the form here. To see the types of cool projects I've had the opportunity to contribute to over the years, look here.

Coming soon: As a way to mark the 200th Seton Shields Genealogy Grant, which I'll be awarding shortly, I'll be publishing an article that will give you a behind-the-scenes peek into my grants program and the woman who continues to inspire my life and work. Stay tuned!

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Genealogy Round Up, May 10

Photo Credit: sandwich

Angel Island station redone as site to tell story of immigrants

Group looks to open access to genealogy records – "Never risk the ire or doubt the power of genealogists." And I would add to that: especially if you're talking about Brooke Schreier Ganz and her amazing Reclaim the Records initiative!

A Wayback Machine for Early 20th Century Tunes – saving sound

Who Do You Think You Are? Live event to cease – RIP, #WDYTYALive

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Genealogy Round Up, May 3

Photo Credit: Ron Cogswell

National Building Museum – This is the grand building where Civil War pension files - a boon for genealogists - were processed.

How eBooks lost their shine: 'Kindles now look clunky and unhip' – I've got lots of both physical and ebooks, but this makes me happy.

PBS's 'Victorian Slum House' takes family history to a new level – I remember when they were casting for this. Curious to see.

Underground Railroad Memorial at McDonald's

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Genealogy Round Up, April 26

1839 Bible reunited with descendant of original family – orphan heirloom rescue!

Pfister artist Margaret Muza processes love of history through tintype photographs – Cool find by Tara Penelope Calishain!

Son of world’s oldest woman dies at 97 at home in Jamaica – I imagine Violet Brown is the first person to ever lose a 97 year-old child, no? I'm simultaneously sorry for her loss and impressed by this family's gene pool.

Remembering the World’s Oldest Person, in the Objects She Left Behind – Such an interesting peek into the world of a woman who lived to 117. Reminds me of when my dad told me one of my great-grandfathers lived in one room and only had a small suitcase of possessions when he passed in the 1940s.

Liv Tyler Discovers Her Musical Ties Date Back Centuries on 'Who Do You Think You Are?'

Aerosmith frontman, family explore roots

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Genealogy Roundup, April 19

Wallet discovered in downtown Spokane building belongs to Women’s Army Corps veteran, dates to 1950s – Orphan heirloom returned to family thanks to genealogist Barbara Brazington!

Jersey Boys: Irish Soldiers in World War I

Centuries old genealogical records of Bihar’s Mithila region to be digitised – Happy to hear this! And slightly nostalgic for me since I once worked in Bihar.

Michael Gannon: Champion of St. Augustine’s history dies at 89 – RIP, Dr. Gannon, a role model historian. “By the time Jamestown was founded in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.”

Meet Your Ancestors (All of Them)

The Book Man – Have not tried out his services, but wanted to share because I thought this fellow would be a useful resource for genealogists since so many of us have old Bibles.

Opening of UN files on Holocaust will 'rewrite chapters of history'

1902 Vaught's Practical Character Reader: A beginner's guide to phrenological madness – I'm so glad I wasn't around in 1902.

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Upcoming Events

After traveling around and speaking in 40 states and half a dozen countries, I decided to take a breather from the road to tend to some projects. That said, I'm sharing exceptions here. And by the way, you can see if I’ll be in your area any time by checking my Events Calendar.

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