L loves Loch Fyne and Loch Awe

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).  Today I get to talk about some of my favourite L places.

L is for Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne near Inveraray © P Cass 2010

Do you think there’s a statute of limitations on how time-distant a place can be and still tug at your heart strings and speak to your DNA? Although I’ve visited lots of my genealogical heritage places and walked the land, there are only a few that truly make me feel like I’ve come home. Dorfprozelten in Bavaria comes close because the history is so close to the surface, but language and cultural difference stand between me and that feeling of home-coming.

Loch Fyne in Argyll is that home-place where I can truly feel my roots deep into the land and scenery, and as I stood on its banks one day, that realisation came to me so clearly. I may identify more with the Irish people and love its scenery but it’s the sparseness of the Scottish highlands that call my name.

Strachur on Loch Fyne on a wintery March day. © P Cass 2006

Scattered along the shores of Loch Fyne are family places: Ardkinglas and nearby Strone where James McCorkindale and family lived; Cairndow where Isabella Morrison McCorkindale is buried; and Strachur where my Morrison ancestors lived back into the C18th. Inveraray, home of the ruling Campbells, is pivotal to anyone who lives in the vicinity, including my McCorkindales (earlier aka McCorquodales, various spellings). I love that when I feel the smoothness of a timber egg from the Ardkinglas Tree Shop I have a long-distant link to my ancestor who worked on this estate.

L is for Loch Awe

View over Loch Awe from Kilchrenan side © P Cass 2010

Loch Awe is another place which calls to my heart. Just over the hills from Inveraray my earlier McCorquodales lived along Loch Awe for what was probably centuries, later apparently moving from the parish of Kilchrenan on what is called the northside (though I think of it as west) to Inishail on the southside. There is something soothing about being on either side of the loch, despite what I know of its blood-thirsty history. In fact this northern end of Loch Awe was traditional country for Clan McCorquodales, centred on nearby Loch Tromlee, land-locked in Kilchrenan parish. I’m quite sure that my own McCorquodales are minor members of the clan, but equally I’m reasonably confident that they lived hereabouts for many years.

The history of Laufach is told on the carvings on this pole (don't know its correct name). © P Cass 2003

L is for Laufach

My love of ancestral places doesn’t quite extend to Laufach, pleased as I was to visit. Its railway role should have made me feel at home but it didn’t, making the town feel rather industrial. However I’m certainly indebted to the local historian from Laufach, also a descendant of the Kunkel family, who provided me with an ancestral pedigree stretching back many generations into 17th century. Our language barriers proved a challenge to real communication as he spoke little English and my German really wasn’t up to what was needed.

L is for Limerick

Although my O’Brien family were from Broadford in east County Clare, they belonged in the Limerick Union. Had the Famine driven them to a workhouse, which mercifully they weren’t, it would have been to Limerick Workhouse they’d have been admitted. As part of my east Clare research I spent some time looking at the early 1850s Board of Guardian minutes to learn more about emigrants to Australia who may have left the workhouse. Murphy’s Law being at work, these records are now online and you can read more here.

I think it’s almost certain that Mary O’Brien and her sister Bridget would have visited Limerick at some point and may even have transited through Limerick on their migration to Australia.  The Silver Voice blog has a wonderfully descriptive tour of Limerick here. My own photos of Limerick have vanished somewhere so no pics from me I’m afraid.

L is for London

We loved the interior of St Saviour's, Southwark where my husband's Cass ancestors married. It seemed quite simple despite the decoration. I know, makes no sense. © P Cass 2010

At different times I’ve had quick flits into London to read old census microfilms, or pull down the BDM registers in those pre-digital searching days, or a one-day visit to the National Archives. However the horrendous pound-dollar exchange rate ensured these were never going to be long stays.  Thankfully on our last visit the Aussie dollar was strong so a visit of a few days was possible. This time we played the tourist and were able to investigate some of my husband’s family history sites on the south bank of the Thames including St Saviour’s at Southwark. While I know I have some London ancestry, I’ve not found much about the specific locations so I gave myself permission to just go out and have fun!

L is my wish for a winning Lotto ticket…

It’s a bit of an Aussie pastime to plan what you’d do if you won the Lotto. Imagine the fun that could be had in all these heritage places, visiting the sites and spending days weeks in archives. Oh well, one can but dream!

Abundant Genealogy Week 10: A collage of genie journeys

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy.  Week 10: Genealogy Roadtrips. No two genealogy road trips are the same but they’re always fun and meaningful. Describe a memorable trip in your past. Where did you go? What did you find (or not find)? Did you meet any new cousins? What did the trip mean to you and your family?

A Tagxedo word cloud of genie journeys.

When I saw this topic I ran a mental scan of the genealogy trips I’ve done over the past 26 years. There have been so many that in truth I simply don’t remember each in detail –just the highlights. Many have been genealogical flight trips to places far away, either within Australia or overseas, though usually with a road trip added in. I decided on a collage of memory highlights over the decades from our genealogical journeys at home and away. The memories here focus on my Kunkel/O’Brien ancestry but I could list just as many for other ancestral families of mine, or my husband’s.

Murphys Creek and the Fifteen Mile, Queensland

Murphys Creek cemetery circa 1987/88. The Kunkel grave is on the right nearest the trees.

  • Learning my Kunkel ancestors had lived and died there we visited the cemetery. Set aside in one corner was the grave of my 2xgreat grandparents and their son, my great grandfather. It was a thrill to see it standing proud in what was probably once the Catholic part of the cemetery. It’s telling that theirs is the only gravestone in that area –presumably other Irish Catholics were too poor to manage a stone.  (Have I mentioned that my daughters have adverse memories of Queensland cemeteries with dry crackling grass and high temperatures?)
  • Driving along a gazetted roadway that felt like a private access path to other farms, so that I could see my Kunkel family farm (at a distance). Having heard that the then-resident was rather fond of his shotgun when it came to visitors I was mighty glad to have a long telephoto on my camera and wished that the cows would stop announcing my presence.

    The old property circa 1988.

  • Learning about the place through genie-visits with the Kunkels’ granddaughter in Toowoomba and finding out about their life on the farm and much family history.
  • Taking a steam train ride with a couple of my kids along the very line that my 2xgreat grandfather worked on (we all loved that trip).
  • Many decades later, being invited to see through the old farm property and walk the land.

    The steam train arrives at Murphys Creek station.

In Australia

  • Visiting St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich to see the original registers (in those days) and finding my ancestors’ marriage entry. Being able to see the second register which had more detail and gave me the clue to George Kunkel’s place of birth.
  • Meeting my third cousins in Sydney who shared wonderful family knowledge and photos, enabling me to link the Irish O’Briens.
  • Visiting Drayton &  Toowoomba cemetery and seeing the unmarked grave of my 2x great grandmother and her daughter, my great grandmother. Putting a marker on their grave remains one of my Bucket List items.
  • Holding the first reunion of all the Kunkel relatives in Toowoomba –what an experience for all of us! What a noise we made with our conversations!
  • A second reunion a few years later introduced many family members to family places they hadn’t know about before.

Dorfprozelten, Bavaria

One of the old buildings in Dorfprozelten.

  • A laborious train/walking day trip to visit the Kunkel home village of Dorfprozelten –and being told by the priest to come back another day. Protestations in German that we’d come from Australia fell on deaf ears, as had letters sent before and after the visit.
  • Convoluted conversations in churches and cemeteries in my poor German as I tried to learn more about my family. A similar experience with a later priest who was Polish-born: a multi-lingual challenge for both of us.
  • Some years later being shown the church registers by the then parish priest as he pulled them out of a metal compactus in the sacristy and nodded sagely at the various illegitimate births. We readily found my George Kunkel’s baptism entry.
  • Meeting local historians in Laufach and Dorfprozelten who shared their family and local knowledge with me. The Laufach historian was something like a 5th or 6th cousin!
  • Walking the streets of the village and getting a feel for the historical continuity of many of the buildings.

Broadford, Clare

A work colleague and friend had bought me these green socks to celebrate the ancestral trip to Ireland.

  • I visited Broadford first with my mother and daughter in the late 1980s. We drove in constant fog from our B&B wondering whether this was all we’d see after travelling half way round the world. A visit in the church and a prayer to my 2x great grandmother to plead our case – as we walked out the church door, the fog lifted like a blind rising. It remains one of my strangest family history experiences. My daughter celebrated her birthday that day, receiving her presents near the Broadford Catholic cemetery and then touring another one at Tuamgraney in the half dark with the owls hooting. A birthday she hasn’t forgotten! On this trip the attempt to pin down the right O’Brien family was unsuccessful.
  • On a subsequent visit we were taken by the visiting missionary priest to meet my relatives. Strictly speaking they weren’t blood relations but they had inherited the various properties and were so incredibly generous and hospitable to us with Paddy taking us to see the original farm at Ballykelly. Returning all muddy and damp Nancy, his wife, helped us clean up and then fed us. The memories of this trip and subsequent meetings with them are treasured ones.
  • Meeting third cousins in Broadford, over a pint and a whisky in the local pub. Great craic.

These memories are the tip of the iceberg of our genealogical road/air trips. We’ve had such great times, seen wonderful places and met hospitable people off the beaten track. Some places immediately give a sense of homecoming, others are special but don’t tug at my heart strings. It’s been worth every dollar and every moment that we’ve spent on these adventures. I’m rearing for more adventures as time and money permit.

Fearless Females: Day 16 – Lunch with Catherina Kunkel in Das Goldene Fass in Dorfprozelten

My ancestor, 3x great grandmother Eva Catherina Kunkel nee Happ, was a descendant of a family dynasty which owned an inn in the Bavarian village of Dorfprozelten for at least 200 years. I would love to have lunch with her in her own inn, Das Goldene Fass. (I’m working on the whole time-travel-is-possible thing as the inn was demolished in the mid-20th century). She’s not really famous but in my family tree she is pivotal as she links the Australian branches and the Bavarian branches and could answer so many questions for me.A postcard of Das Goldene Fass mid-20thC. Kindly provided to me by Georg Veh, local historian.

It was Catherine’s son, Georg Mathias, who emigrated to Australia in the 1850s and started our Australian line. I would love to get her insights into so many things that affected her family. Why did her son leave home? Was it truly because of the risk of military service? How did she feel to see him leave the village, knowing it was likely she’d never see him again? Was he jealous perhaps that his step-brother inherited the inn? Did Georg’s brother Philip Joseph Kunkel really emigrate to the United States? Or was that after her sudden death? Did Georg write to her after he left home and did she know that he had married an Irish woman and had a big, healthy family. Did he tell her if he was happy in his new country? I really hope he didn’t regret giving up so much and making his life here.

In Bavaria, the family inn regularly hosted tourists to their village and I wonder if her son spoke some English before he left home. I wrote a hypothetical story of his last day in the village. I’d love to ask her if this was just a romantic view of what might have happened or if he did any of these things? She was there when the 60+ men, women and children left Dorfprozelten for Australia.  I wonder how the loss of these people affected the small village: she would be able to tell me this, and the gossip about all those who left.

I’d have so many questions she might regret that we were lunching together, but I hope not. Would she see any physical resemblance between me and her own family. My daughter says I have “big German hands”, so perhaps she would.

The local history of the village tells me something of the menu for the inn at other times, so I’d expect we’d drink the local white wine from its distinctive Bochsbeutel wine bottle. We’d likely have fresh pike cooked with cardamom and mustard, salmon prepared with lemon, special beer, home-made apple-wine, bacon, roast pork and varieties of home-made sausage.[1] I’d love to tell her that George had brought those traditions with him, and that some had become part of his Australian family’s Christmas celebrations.

After a meal like that, and our lengthy conversation, I hope Catherine would let me stay overnight. It would be wonderful to sleep in the deep beds with their fluffy eiderdowns and feather pillows! And in the morning it would be wonderful to awaken to the smell of the freshly-baked bread and pastries from the neighbouring bakery. Or perhaps I’d awaken to discover it was all just a wonderful dream.

This post is inspired by Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog and her Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month.


[1] Veh, G. Dorfprozelten Teil II. pp. 193-195.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 7 – Historical documents

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 7 – Historical Documents: Which historical document in your possession are you happy to have? How did you acquire this item? What does it reveal about your ancestors?

I have few actual historical documents though my family archive holds many copies of historic documents from archives or registry offices. My grandmother’s Scotch (sic) education book and my grandfather’s original, oversized and much stuck-together, birth certificate are valued originals but they are not the pivotal historic documents on which my family history turns.

There are two historic documents (of which I hold copies only), which broke through “brick walls” and enabled me to pinpoint my ancestors’ home place. Without them I’d never have been able to trace “Mary O’Brien from County Clare” or George Kunkel from Bavaria.

Their marriage occurred at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich, Queensland in 1857. The church’s marriage register is the only place where I’ve ever found George Kunkel’s place of birth documented: the details are not on the official civil registration. Without that church document I’d never have known where George was born and never been involved in researching his fellow emigrants from Dorfprozelten. I wrote about this document discovery in the 2011 Australia Day meme hosted by Shelley from Twigs of Yore.

You might imagine that finding “Mary O’Brien from County Clare” would have been nigh on impossible without some substantive clue. She doesn’t appear in any shipping record I’ve searched (and believe me I’ve searched a lot, the old-fashioned way as well as the new). Oral history gave me her sister’s name and married surname. I then ordered Bridget Widdup’s death certificate which gave me her place of birth and confirmed Mary and Bridget as siblings. It was then possible to search the Kilseily parish registers, Broadford, Co Clare, in person and on microfilm. This confirmed the links by virtue of the rich oral history I’d been given. I wrote more about finding Mary O’Brien here.

So these two documents, one a church register entry and the other a civil death registration, have been documents critical to my overseas family history. It really doesn’t matter at all that what I hold are copies, not originals, as I’ve personally sighted both.

From Dorfprozelten to Australia – new blog

When I started this blog two years ago, one of the pages tabbed under the image was “Dorfprozelten, Bavaria”. This has easily been the single biggest “hitter” on my blog, no doubt aided by the unusual name bringing it up in Google searches. It’s attracted quite a number of people with ancestry from this little village in Bavaria and it’s been a means of connecting up those researching the same families.

In the greater scheme of Australia’s migration, they are a small group – some 62 individuals in 23 family groups or alone. However the loss of these individuals, mainly over a couple of short years, must have been severely felt in their home town. They are also a little different from the general Australian perception of German immigrants, as they were Catholics not Lutherans. The majority of them were family units who arrived under New South Wales’s vinedresser assisted migration scheme. A smaller number arrived as individuals mainly contracted to work as shepherds before they arrived here.

I’ve been researching these emigrants from Dorfprozelten to Australia for about 10 years, initially in the hope they’d lead me to my George Kunkel’s arrival information. I’d also I noticed that land owners around his property in the Fifteen Mile near Murphys Creek, Queensland shared some of the same names as the Dorfprozelten immigrants. Over the years I’ve managed to confirm the connection between these families, which was largely lost to the descendants of these families. Even my reliable oral history from George’s grand-daughter suggested the families were just neighbours.

Also over the years I’ve slowly accumulated quite a bit of information on these families. I have more on those who came to Queensland (then called Moreton Bay and part of New South Wales) and less on the New South Wales immigrants. This is mainly an access issue – I’m more often in Brisbane near the Queensland archives than I am in Sydney.

For all these reasons I’ve launched another new blog called From Dorfprozelten to Australia where I’ll draw these stories together. Although the focus is on Australia I would certainly be keen to hear from anyone whose ancestors emigrated from Dorfprozelten – I know that over the years many emigrants left the village for “America”, be that USA or Canada.

One of these immigrants may be my ancestor’s brother Philip Joseph Kunkel, or perhaps Joseph Philip Kunkel, born 1840. Family stories throughout all the branches say a brother went to America and I think it likeliest he was the emigrant as he disappears from the church records. I’d really love to hear from anyone who might be descended from him.

I suspect the new blog will mainly be of interest to those with Dorfprozelten ancestry but may also interest researchers with a Bavarian background though I am unable to help with that in any specific way.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 24th December – Christmas Eve

How did you, your family or your ancestors spend Christmas Eve?

Christmas Eve is an interesting day because depending on which day it falls can affect what happens for much of the day. Unless Christmas was on a Sunday, Christmas Eve has usually been spent at work and as this was a peak admin workload period in universities it meant working flat out for a good deal of the day with little opportunity for an “early mark”. Our work Christmas party started on the stroke of midday except for the elves who set up before hand and of course the end-of-party clear up. Then a quick dash home and get into the serious business of family Christmas preparation. It was only in years when Christmas was on a Sunday, as in 2011, when the Christmas Eve preparations could be more leisurely.

Christmas Eve dinner chez Cassmob

I don’t know why but procrastination most often affected present wrapping so that would often happen on the family room floor while we listened to the Carols from the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on TV. If there was one cooking chore that was a list-minute one it would be making shortbread, and true to tradition, it’s on my list for today.

A postcard for Das Goldenes Fass, owned for 200 years by the Happ then Kunkel families, but not by the time this photo was taken, it was in other hands. However I doubt much changed over the years..

During their teenage years in high school and uni, our children worked part-time in hospitality and often seemed to have a roster on Christmas Day. Over the years we adopted the tradition of having Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve – a bit more suitable than midday on a hot summer’s day, and I think we all enjoyed the festivities leading into Christmas Day too.  It occurred to me writing this story that there’s a link between our children working Christmas Day in hospitality and the life of my ancestor George Kunkel in Bavaria as a child and young man. His family owned one of the village inns which had visitors from far and wide, so it’s quite possible that he and his family spent Christmas Day providing a wonderful meal for visitors. Some of their culinary treats included fresh pike cooked with cardamom and mustard, salmon prepared with lemon, special beer, home-made apple wine, bacon, roast pork and local wine.[i] I’m assuming that in a small village like Dorfprozelten, most of the local residents would have spent Christmas with their families and friends. Perhaps the Kunkel and Happ families had also celebrated their family Christmas on Christmas Eve? Looks like another research activity to learn more about what might have happened.

Traditionally our family’s Christmas Eve finale was attendance at midnight Mass. It always had such an atmosphere with candles sparkling through the darkness, little kids (and big ones!) yawning, and then the music throughout culminating in the rocking carols belted out by the band at the end of Mass.


[i] Veh, G. Dorfprozelten am Main Teil II, pages 193-195.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 22nd December 2011 – Christmas and Deceased Relatives

Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas? How did your family honour deceased family members at Christmas?

Our family didn’t visit the cemetery at Christmas nor was any mention made of family members who died around this time. I guess when family members die at this time, the ones remaining just want to reflect on it themselves and don’t want to air their feelings.

The beautifully tended cemetery in Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.

This is in direct contrast to my Kunkel family’s Bavarian heritage where the local cemetery and the deceased family members are honoured throughout the year with seasonal decorations and candles on the graves.

A couple of branches of my ancestry also arrived in Australia within days of Christmas so really I should celebrate them as well on Christmas Day.

My grandmother died on 19 December and as we were in Brisbane from Papua New Guinea at the time it was very sad even though she was in her eighties. Dad was very close to his mother so he didn’t want to talk about it at all, and there was a general injunction not to mention the “D” word even in relation to inanimate things like trees. However that Christmas my daughter was also an infant on the crawl,and as the first grandchild whom they saw infrequently due to being in PNG, she provided a great distraction in what was otherwise a sad time for Dad.

My grandmother with me as a child.

My paternal grandfather had good reason not to talk about deceased family on this day. His father, George Michael Kunkel aged only 43, died on Christmas Day 1901.  Just six weeks earlier George and his children had lost their wife and mother, Julia. As the eldest son and child, my grandfather would have been at the forefront of all the impact of their being orphaned. On that Christmas Day the message was sent to my great-great grandparents, George and Mary Kunkel, that their son had died of a heart attack at Grantham, about 14 kilometres from the Fifteen Mile at Murphys Creek where his parents lived. What a horrible time they would have had on that Christmas Day. It was always going to be a sad day with the loss of Julia being so recent, but to lose George as well was truly a tragedy – about which I knew nothing until I started doing family history. As far as I know my father knew nothing about this event either – my grandfather kept his own counsel.The Kunkel grave in the Murphys Creek cemetery.

George Michael Kunkel was buried in the Murphys Creek cemetery on 26 December 1901 in the grave where his sister had already been interred and where his parents would later lie at rest. The restoration of this grave has been completed in 2011, as a memorial to their people who founded the family, and their descendants.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Advent calendar of Christmas Memories: 11 December 2011: Christmas traditions from Bavaria in Queensland

The old kitchen on the Kunkel farm c2001. Photo © Pauleen Cass

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did your immigrant ancestors have holiday traditions from their native country which they retained or perhaps abandoned?

I’ve already spoken about my Melvin and McCorkindale ancestors and the trail of shortbread crumbs that followed them from Scotland to Australia.

A dazzle of decorations in the Christmas markets Nuremberg, Bavaria 1992.

The ancestor I feel for the most, in terms of traditions lost, is George Kunkel from Dorfprozelten. Bavaria has a centuries-old tradition of the most wonderful Christmas markets and it’s most likely he’d have visited one in the neighbouring towns. The lights, smell of chestnuts and sausages, and all the special crafts would surely have been such an enormous contrast to his life in the bush at Murphys Creek. I wonder if he was nostalgic at Christmas time for the old Bavarian traditions? The tragedy that would befall this family one Christmas Day would only have added to his sadness.

However, thanks to the memories relayed to me by one of George and Mary Kunkel’s grandchildren, Anne Kunkel, in 1988, our family knows a little more about how Christmas was celebrated by them out in the rural area of the Fifteen Mile in Queensland. This is an extract from my book Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel Family. Anne talked first about how her grandfather would prepare the pig for slaughter and make sausages and black and white pudding after cleaning the skins in the nearby creek. He had a big wooden packing case about the size of the table top, square, and salted the pig down in that. Every morning he turned the sides over, resalted it then we’d eat it for Christmas. There was the brawn to make and the lard to render. The brawn was lovely. Anne said Gran (Mary O’Brien) was a good cook and she thought George could cook too….she didn’t know he had worked as a pork butcher, a tradition which ran in his family along with running an inn in his home village. I talked on 2ndDecember about our own family tradition of eating roast pork, well before we knew of this ancestral connection.

Mr Cassmob following my ancestor's tradition of drinking gluhwein at Christmas in the town of Miltenberg near Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.

In Anne’s early years the family would return to Murphy’s Creek for Christmas, six families at least, and it was a happy time. “Of course the tradition with the hot meals and everything still existed, plum pudding and all that. We had our poultry and our own ham and we’d get whatever meat we wanted and whatever vegetables we wanted, we grew. There was always fruit that had to be stewed and that sort of thing. And you could have milk puddings and always had plum pudding and white sauce.

The Kunkels grew peaches and apricots in their orchard down near the creek. The grandfather also grew Isabella grapes from which he also made his own wine. They were champagne coloured grapes, a sort of big pink grape, and a lot of it would have come from the old country, the fruit trees and everything. There were grapes growing all around the orchard – big trellises of them. It was nothing for us to give away a kerosene tin of grapes[i]. Christmas (summer) is grape, melon and stone fruit season in Australia –some compensation for not having gluhwein, chestnuts, fires and sparking lights.

The Kunkels also used to have a sugar melon, they were sweeter than a watermelon. You’d wet a sugar bag and put it over the melon and put it in a cool place where it would get the breeze on it. With freshly churned butter, and no doubt fresh bread from the open fire in the kitchen, and if true to Mary’s heritage, lots of potatoes, it would have made quite a Christmas feast.


[i] Anne’s description doesn’t quite fit with the online information, however I’ve heard of a few of the Bavarian immigrants growing this grape.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 3rd December – Christmas tree ornaments

Decorating the tree with our youngest daughter -many years ago. The satiny baubles are from our very first tree.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did your family have heirloom or cherished ornaments? Did you ever string popcorn or cranberries? Did your family or ancestors make Christmas ornaments?

We did have some special glass ornaments on the tree when I was a child and also some hand-made decorations –probably like most kids at school, you come home with paper chains and the like. In particular we had a lovely china Christmas crèche which we set up with care each year, along with tinsel and streamers.

Our granddaughter discovers our tree on her first no-longer-a-baby Christmas.

We have been collecting ornaments for our tree over the decades and with various household moves each year is a revelation when a remembered ornament is revisited on one of the other family trees. Over the years we’ve occasionally travelled overseas in the winter months (northern hemisphere) and brought back special decorations as reminders of where we’ve been. The most exciting was visiting the Christmas markets in Nürnberg (Nuremberg) with all the lights, gluhwein, and decorations…heavenly. Each of us is prone to buying ornaments for the others when travelling.. a family tradition I suppose. It’s a strange thing but I’ve always loved the heart-shaped decorations so common in Bavarian design…long before I knew of my own Bavarian ancestry.

The cat has his own ideas for Xmas decorations.

But why is it that the one you love the most is bound to be the one that hits the tiled floor with a smash, or the one the cat most loves to pull off is your favourite? And then there are the ones that just get tattier each year until you just have to dispose of them…we’ve kept one or two of our very first decorations even though successive cats have done their best to shred them, and some of the children’s handmade items have just become too battered to put up.

We still have some Christmas ornaments our kids made decades ago including some crafty ones from The Gnomes Book of Christmas Craftswhich we spent time making one Xmas. Not to mention the year when it seemed half the neighbourhood children were on our family room floor making presents and decorations from Fymo. They had a fabulous time, and really the mess wasn’t that bad;-)

We put them on the tree- the cat takes them down! It's a pretty good haul for a cat with claws.

Decorating the tree is a family event – whoever is home participates (including the cat!) and we play carols while we’re setting it up. There’s a timeline issue too –bookmarked by birthdays….unless the cat is too persistent and there are more ornaments off the tree than on!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 2nd December: Holiday Foods

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Holiday Foods: Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?

Formal dinner on Christmas Eve.

I think our Christmas holiday foods were fairly typical of our times. The main meal was chicken which in those pre-battery days was quite expensive perhaps with some slices of ham. Sometimes I think we had a prawn cocktail for entrée (prawns, lettuce, orange seafood dressing). We always, always had Christmas pudding for dessert and Dad when offered custard, cream or ice cream would always, always say “yes please”. The table was always set with a lace cloth, best china and cutlery and crystal. It was a quite formal meal, often with just our nuclear family. Shortbread was always made (often on Christmas Eve) from a recipe belonging to my Scottish grandmother. The Christmas cake, like everything else, was homemade with quality ingredients. It’s a very moist cake which I too made for my family. Nuts, ginger and lollies always decorated the table as well as summer fruit like cherries, apricots and peaches. Dad sometimes even had a beer!

Lebkuchen stand at the Christmas markets, Nuremberg, Bavaria.

Since we’ve had our own family, our Christmas meals have changed a bit. For a long time we had a hot meal but with pork as a centrepiece instead of chicken. I was intrigued when I learned that my great-great-grandfather was a pork butcher and how they prepared their pork in the bush. It seems like a nice link to our own tradition of roast pork which was commenced knowing nothing about family history.

Over the years, like a lot of Aussies, we’ve changed to accommodate the summer temperatures. Now we have a ham and prawns fresh from the trawlers at the Duck Pond. We might have a hot pork roast on Xmas Eve and then have it sliced cold with lunch. In the lead-up to Christmas we all raid our gourmet magazines and cookbooks trying to find a new and delectable salad or two, or three, to go with the meal which is always very casual.

Christmas treats linked to my Bavarian ancestry.

Years ago I found an unusual Christmas cake recipe from the Women’s Weekly which included green peppercorns and Cointreau – delicious if different and not to everyone’s taste. The family shortbread is still a must-have item. My mother’s Christmas pudding remains a tradition and on occasions when we’ve not been together it’s even been sent around the country to missing family. Around the time of my 40thanniversary of pudding-making I passed the baton to my middle daughter who has taken up the tradition. My youngest daughter has started a new tradition with her homemade tiramisu. We have lots of cheese and tasty homemade nibblies in the lead-up to the meal. Eldest daughter often takes on responsibility for the innovative treats given her love of cooking and food. Perhaps one of the innovations to our sweet treats is the lebkuchen (German gingerbread) which I buy at the local fancy deli. We adopted it after visiting the German Christmas market and is another nod to my Bavarian ancestry.

Mr Cassmob and the blue dog (a canine "grandchild") having a go on Christmas Day.

The meal itself is a rather fluid affair, spread across hours and interspersed with dips in the pool and when our daughter had acreage, a game of cricket for the energetic amongst us. Whatever happens we all contribute to the culinary splendour and always, always have too much food and each family goes home with a stack of snacks for the coming days.