Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Got Schmeelk?

I am looking for some help in solving another family mystery involving my 3x great-grandmother.

Her name was Katherine Maria Schmeelk, though the spelling could be Katherine or Catherine and the note on the back of the photo says Marta instead of Maria. She was born around 1834 and died in 1901. Katherine married my 3x great-grandfather Adam Arth, an immigrant from Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany. Within his lifetime the name Arth became Art. 

In with the photo were two obituaries for Schmeelks that must be relatives of hers. One was from the N.Y. Times in 1935 for a Herman Marcus Schmeelk from Hanover, Germany, who had settled in Rockaway Beach, NY and was referred to as a "pioneer developer of oyster and clam beds." At the time of his death only two of his children survived, son Garrett and daughter Kathryn. 

Sounds like Kathryn is our person, right? But no. The second obituary was for Kathryn G. Schmeelk, daughter of Herman, who never married and never left Rockaway Beach, NY. As Katherine/Kathryn/Catherine was a VERY popular name for German women at the time, it is my best guess that Katherine and Kathryn were cousins. 

Except that Herman would have been born in 1850, about 15 years after my 3x great-grandma Katherine. So they could have been siblings? Cousins?

Ancestry has not been much help. They keep trying to push her father as either Blume or Seibel, both of whom did have daughters named Catherine of a similar age and both hailed from Germany, but none of the records for Katherine and Adam that we have line up with their families.

I am left with assuming that my Katherine is related to the Rockaway Beach Schmeelks, and according to Herman's obituary, his parents John and Catherine (Piper) Schmeelk brought him over as an infant from Hanover, Germany. I am starting a search both assuming and hoping this is the right family and maybe I can find her if I trace a lineage down from John.

It is always possible that Schmeelk was her married name before she wed Adam Arth, but there is no evidence to support that theory. And then it would be strange, for the time, for her to keep tabs of her former extended family. But I am keeping my options open.

I can't find any definitive records on her except for this notation on the back of her photo. But I'm trusting the family notes until I learn I can't and I'm writing this post in the hope that maybe someone else is looking for her family, too.

If anyone has any tips or knows of any specific German immigrant sources to search, I would appreciate any and all breadcrumbs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

A Century from Christmas to Solstice

I am very blessed to have photos of my ancestors' decorated holiday trees from a century ago. How wonderful, right?!

This first photo was taken-- probably around 1920, based on the ties under the tree, by my mom's maternal Art family. George and Katherine worked as groundskeeper and housekeeper for the Kenan family in Lockport. It's hard to say who the family photographer was, as the whole family appear in front of it at some point. The two sons appear least frequently. My guess is the camera was a gift to the family from their wealthy employers.

This photo was taken in 1922 by my dad's maternal Wicker family. Minnie Wicker's father was pretty well-to-do and she had her own camera and was quite the photographer for most of her life, which is a blessing for us, as her daughter, my grandmother, died when my dad was quite young. We are thrilled to have photos that span her entire life, from birth to marriage, to children of her own. We're blessed to have many of Minnie's photographs, including this one of a Christmas tree on their front porch.

Third photo is my family's Winter Solstice tree taken on night-vision setting, 2021, almost exactly 100 years later. While our religious beliefs may differ, we honor our traditions in the same way; by lighting hope in the darkness.

A century ago, our ancestors would have just been recovering from the two years of flu that crippled the country, not unlike where we are now. I'm thinking about my family, across the miles and generations, gathering together, celebrating the importance of togetherness and fellowship.

However you bear witness to the holiday season, whatever it is you celebrate, know we are following in the footsteps of Those Who Came Before Us, coming together to mark the turning years, looking behind and looking ahead.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Lands of My Blood Ancestors

I am Sarah Lyn, 
last of my line,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Patricia,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Eliza,
daughter of Mary,
daughter of Betsey,
daughter of mothers of Ireland unknown...

My ancestor work has evolved over the last decade. I used to only climb the family tree via names and dates, hopscotching over holes and unverified truths. But I started getting a lot of e-mails from people who were adopted, thinking that it meant that ancestor work wasn’t possible for them. And, while I didn’t know any other ways of doing it at the time, I felt certain that the ancestral energy was available to everyone.

I spent time seeking new pathways, studying new ways of revering the ancestors. Only I didn’t want to just honor them. I wanted to work with them. And I found it easier to think of them as a stream of energy, like a highway anyone could get on.

That work led me to looking inward and backward while standing with my feet in the present. As I sank into my bloodstream, I wanted to know what ancestral DNA had passed through the generations into my breathing body.

What bits of my ancestors are alive in me?
What echoes of actual ancestral soil sing out in my blood?

If I didn’t have any names and dates, with the DNA tests I still have access to knowing the places some of my ancestors came from. I know what lands they lived on. I know where I descended from. It’s not exact but it gives me a place to put my gratitude, and allows me to offer culturally specific dishes and treats to set out on Samhain night.

What is remembered, 
even when still shrouded with things unknown, 
lives on within us.

[All photos screenshots from my results. The brighter colored area within the country is where my DNA most resembles deeply embedded generations of DNA, so is likely where my people most lived.]

Sunday, October 31, 2021

I Open to my Ancestors (A Photo Gallery)

Tonight is Samhain. It is All Hallows Eve. It is a night where the walls between this world and the next are thin. This is the night where the dead bleed through and if you wish to connect with them, you can listen to them, you can sense when they're present, and you can entice them to come. You can also make simple offerings to honor their place and presence in your life.

Because They Were...You Are.

I honor my beloved dead, those I knew in this world, and my ancestral dead, those who paved the way for me.

I pour water in the glass cup on my Ancestor Altar. I light a candle in my fossil candle holder. It is the lighthouse guiding their way to me. I light more candles for specific prayers. I take in a breath and as I exhale I open my heart. I open myself to spirit world. I am not the lighthouse.

I am the light.  


I open to my Grandparents:  

Richard James Riddle & Donna MacDonald, both my beloved dead
With her much-loved cat Bella.
Patricia Art, my beloved dead
Mark Dutcher Eaton, my beloved dead, & Ruth Emma Ruston

I open to my Great-Grandparents:

Harold Riddle & Elsie Elizabeth Durant, my beloved dead

With daughters Dolores & Biddy.
Robert Joseph Art & Margaret Loretta Burke

Frank William Ruston & Minnie Estelle Wicker
Royal Levant Eaton & Hattie Eva Smith

I open to my Great-Great-Grandparents:

Frances & Lafayette are in the center, front.
Lafayette Riddle & Frances Ann Gillette [NY]
George Frances Durant & Emma Louise Burnah [NY]

George Art & Katherine Pils [NY]

Frank Burke & Eliza Conners [NY]
Ruth & Charles are in the center back.
Charles Evan Ruston & Ruth Ireland [both from England]
Hiram & Emma are the center couple.
Hiram King Wicker & Emma Angeline Whitcher [NY]
Bennett Eaton & Theresa Cordelia Tenney [MI/NY]
Silas Parker Smith & Hattie Eva Dutcher [NY]

I open to my Great-Great-Great-Grandparents:

Marquise DeLafayette Riddle & Sarah Clickner [NY]
Levi & Jane are seated in the second row.
Levi Gillette & Jane Berry [NY]
Albert Durant & Rosella LaValley [both from Quebec]

Samuel Burnah [from Quebec] & Mary (unknown) [NY]
Adam Art & Katherine Maria Schmeelk [both from Germany]

John Pils & Mary Burzee [both from Germany]
Thomas Burke & Ellen (unknown) [NY]
David Conners & Mary Dowd [both from Ireland]
Richard Ruston & Anna Richardson [both of England]
William Ireland & Phoebe Lenton [both of England]
Thaddeus Rice Wicker & Cynthia Lusk [VT/NY]
Bailey Harrison Whitcher & Ordelia de Lozier [VT/NY]
Solomon Gould Eaton & Hannah Ann Treadwell [NY]
Philetus Tenny & Malvina H. Targee [NY]
Ammi Smith & Sophia Sears [NY]
Reuben Feagles Dutcher & Eliza Marsh Bird [NY/MA]

I open to my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandparents:

Freeborn Moulton Riddle & Abigail Chaffee [MA/NY]
William Clickner & Mary Ann Hayner [NY]
Ezra Wheeler Gillette & Mary Ann Boots [VT/NY]
Francis Berry & Elizabeth Ann Hill [NY]
George Durant & Safrona (unknown) [both of Quebec]
Francois Xavier Lavalle & Rosella LaRoche [both of Quebec]
George Arth & Wilhemina Wernersbach [both from Germany]
John Burke & Ann (unknown) [both of Ireland]
(unknown) & Betsy Conners [both of Ireland]
Barney Dowd & Betsey (unknown) [both from Ireland]
Edward Ruston & Jane Brooks [both of England]
Thomas Richardson & Mary (unknown) [both of England]
John Ireland & wife (unknown) [both of England]
John Lenton & Mary Wilson [both of England]
Pliney Wicker & Chloe Morgan [MA]
Elizer Lusk & Rebecca (unknown) [NY]
Simon Whittier & Dorcas Kittredge [MA/VT]
Peter DeLozier & Lucy Raymond [CT/NY]
Joshua Eaton & Lucy Gould [CT/NY]
Solomon P. Treadwell & Fannie (unknown) [NY]
Hiram Tenney & Esther or Sally (unknown) [NY]
Thomas Targee & Ellen (unknown) [RI/NY]
David Smith & Betsy (unknown) [NY]
Heman Sears & Clarissa Debois [CT/NY]
Martin Dutcher & Cynthia Ann Feagles [NY]
Amanly Bird & Irene Pond Marsh [MA/NH]

I open to my ancestors, known and unknown. 
I open the front door. 
The air is cold and tinged with winter. 
I invite all who wish us no ill to enter and celebrate this night.

I ask my Ancestors to welcome in the spirits of the Recent Dead, of my beloved and missed Liz Seib. I ask them to watch over our friends Michael Maxwell Carter Davidson, Peter Blakeslee, and grumpy old Oliver. 

Who do you honor and wish peaceful passages to?

Leave offerings of food and liquor, of earthly things that smell strong and potent, of coffee, tobacco and candies. Leave them fresh, filtered water. Listen to the whisperings of the shadows. Feel peace fill your heart.

Let the candles burn low. Pay attention to your dreamings. The dead have things they wish to say. If you have any divination tools, ask the dead to speak through them. 

Lay the cards out. Draw a rune. Throw the bones.

Blessed Samhain. 
Happy Halloween.

George Durant and wife Louise Burnah, their daughter Elsie Durant (who I knew until I was 17), her husband Harold Riddle (who died nine months before I was born on their wedding anniversary). In the front are their children, my Aunt Donna, my Grandpa Dick, and my Uncle Sonny. All are deceased now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Ancestor of the Red Delicious was Actually Delicious

It is Decidedly Not Delicious

    The Red Delicious apple, with its deceptive bright red hue and distinctive shape has been a popular apple in America for 128 years. Most of us remember getting one on our lunch trays in elementary school. But let’s face it, delicious it is not.

    I love apples. I have a special place in my world for each one. Each of them, but one.

    As I child I was not terribly picky about which apples I ate. My other classmates were though. They would hand their apples off to me and I would eat them all on my walk home at the end of the day. But the truly mealy, gritty ones—you know what I mean—would never survive more than a bite before getting chucked into a bush for the animals.

    Unless it was February. And winter. And I would eat the better bits around the mealy bits just for a taste of the fruit.

    I don’t feel so bad for my great distaste for the red delicious. Even Tom Burford, author of Apples of North America, whose ancestors planted seeds in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1713, and who grew up with over 100 species of apples in their family orchard refers to the popularity of the Red Delicious as a “ramming down the throats of American consumers this disgusting, red, beautiful fruit.”

    Turns out, it wasn’t always disgusting.


Colonial Apples

    America had its own native apples, but the common varieties we know today are descendants of imports from Europe. Apples were important to colonial life. It was not only used for food, but hard cider, a safe beverage to imbibe, as the village water was usually unfit to drink.

    Apples were one of the earliest crops planted by colonists and each family would have a few trees of their own in their backyards. In the 1800s and the early 1900s, the popular apple was the Ben Davis, a reliable crop for growers. It was a pretty apple, and a crop with a reliable yield, but touted to be pretty bland.


What Jesse Hiatt Let Grow

    A Quaker farmer named Jesse Hiatt of Peru, Iowa found an unwanted apple tree growing within his orchard of Yellow Bellflower trees, in the 1870s. He tried to cut it back for several seasons but it came back up every year. History says that he decided something that tenacious deserved a chance and he let it grow.

    Ten years later the tree produced its first fruit, a red and yellow striped elongated globe. The flesh was said to be crisp, fruity and sweet, but it wasn’t pretty to look at. Hiatt named the perfumed apple the Hawkeye, after his home state. Amy Traverso, author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, says, “The [Hawkeye] was a chance seedling, and I like to imagine what a revelation it was to come across this apple tree that you hadn’t even planted. To taste the fruit for the first time and realize it was just incredible.”


The Next Big Apple

    The Ben Davis apple was the widely-seeded but bland apple in production at the time. In 1983 the Stark Brothers’ Nursery in Lousianna, Missouri, opened a contest to farmers, seeking a new strain of apple. Jesse Hiatt brought his Hawkeye apple to the contest. It was love at first bite and the Stark Brothers bought the production rights to the apple.

    The first thing they did was change the name.


The First Delicious

    It became the Stark Delicious.

    Rowan Jacobsen writes, in Apples of Uncommon Character, that “the fruit kept well and had an inoffensive, pleasantly aromatic taste. Most of all, it was very sweet. What it wasn’t, was solid red; instead, it had a light pink blush, reddish stripes, and a less pronounced strawberry shape, making it a pretty generic apple.”

    Over the next twenty years, the Nursery promoted the Stark Delicious in a manner that changed the business of apple production. The Brothers spent $750,000, sending salesmen to farms all over the country. They even sent it out as free gifts to their existing customers and exhibited it at the 1904 World’s Fair.

    The Stark Delicious became a hit and the Nursery was bombarded with requests for more trees from customers. As its population expanded, and it was propagated widely, it became less and less like the original Hiatt’s Hawkeye.


What’s in a Name?

    In 1914, when the Golden Delicious was discovered in West Virginia and bought up by the Nursery, the Stark Delicious apple became the Red Delicious. The Stark Brothers’ aggressive promotion of the breed meant that by 1922, the annual Delicious crop was valued at $12 million.

    A year later, one of the Delicious growers in New Jersey found one single branch on one of his trees that was producing a mutant variant of the apple. It had ripened earlier than the others and had turned a deep, solid crimson hue. One of the Stark Brothers’ sons travelled from Missouri and bought the branch, also known as a sport, off the tree for $6,000.

    “Traditionally, growers were paid based on the redness of the skin of their apples. Flavor was not evaluated,” Rowan Jacobsen wrote. “Red Delicious earned a premium over other apples, and the reddest Red Delicious earned the highest premium.” It wasn’t long before farmers all over clambered to get their hands on their own clone of the deep crimson variant.


Pros and Cons and Poor Taste

    Amy Traverson likens this as the problem. “It turns out that a lot of the genes that coded for the flavor-producing compounds were on the same chromosomes as the genes for the yellow striped skin,” she explains, “so as you favored the more consistently colored apples, you were essentially disfavoring the same genes that coded for great flavor.”

    This new breed of Red Delicious came with a thicker skin that disguised the bruises that came during long shipping routes. The “coke-bottle bottom” of the fruit and the uniform shape made them perfect for storage and transport, prizing them for a long shelf life over taste. The deep red fruits continued to ripen after harvesting, so it could be picked prematurely and left to ripen in cold storage as it travelled.

    As soon as an apple is picked from the tree it begins to produce ethylene gas, which is what causes fruit to either ripen or rot. According to Simon Thibault, author of Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food, it enabled the Delicious apple to be stored for a length of time before being shipped.


Why So Popular?

    The Red Delicious was the most popular apple in production by the 1940s. But the skin was tougher than other apple skin, hiding an open-celled texture that consumers would consider mealy or gritty. It had a tough and bitter skin hiding mushy flesh. Have you ever wondered why that is?

    Thibault also says that if the Red Delicious is left on the tree long enough, something called watercore develops. “What that means is the starches and sugars get converted to sorbitol, or unfermentable sugar. They’re very sweet, but they don’t last long. If you let the Red Delicious do that, even the cardboard ones can become nonoffensive.” But then their shelf life for transport is severely shortened. As people left the farms and more people moved into the cities and shopped at grocery markets, and they were not getting their food from the farm stands, transportability became more important commercially.

    By the 1980s, seventy-five percent of the crops produced in Washington State were Red Delicious apples. They are responsible for two-thirds of the apples produced in America.


Who’s Buying Them?

    Now, the majority of Red Delicious apples are not bought by consumers. Instead they are sold to schools and health centers, hospitals and hotels; places where people don’t have a lot of choice in what they eat. For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture sends the fruit out through its food distribution programs, most of which comes from farmers’ surplus. The Red Delicious is usually one of the last crops standing, as far as American demand goes.

    Orchardists couldn’t just switch out their long-standing crops and the seemingly sudden shift in consumer demand took them by surprise. Tom Burford pointed out that people had been “eating with their eyes and not their mouths.” Now shoppers were not satisfied with poor flavor when there were other savory apples on the market like SweeTango, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Snap Dragon.


The Decline

    Red Delicious apple growers lost almost $800 million between 1997 and 2000 because consumers weren’t buying them. In 2000 the government spent $138 million to bailout the apple farmers of Washington state. It was the largest bailout in the history of the apple industry.

    Production of the Red Delicious dropped forty percent over the next seventeen years. It is the parent of the Empire and the Fuji apple varieties, among others. It’s still one of the most commonly produced apples, by twenty million bushels, and in 2014, the Washington Apple Commission began focusing on exporting two-thirds or more of their Red Delicious crop to other countries. Most of our Red Delicious apples wind up in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

    (Did you know that China produces a full half of the world’s apples, about eight times as much as the United States. Seventy percent of the apples they grow are Fujis.)


A New Cream of the Crop

    For the first time in fifty years, the Red Delicious was dethroned by the juicy and mildly sweet Gala in 2018. The Red Delicious came second—due to the production demand, Granny Smith was third, Fuji fourth, and the Honeycrisp fifth… though if they were correct, by the typing of this article the Honeycrisp should have moved up the list.


    Lots of farmers are slowly replacing their Red Delicious trees with new popular varieties and no one is planting new ones. Somewhere out there, some farmers still grow the original heirloom variety Hawkeye. Which means there is a chance to taste the fruit that was the Red Delicious’ ancestor, and experience where its name originated.

    I sense a road trip in my future.




Sourced with information from:

A.C. Bright, author of Apples Galore!

Tom Burford, author of Apples of North America

Rowan Jacobsen, author of Apples of Uncommon Character

Erika Janik, author of “Apple: A Global History”

Simon Thibault, author of Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food

Amy Traverso, author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook

LeAnn Zotta, author 200 Years and Growing: The Story of Stark Bro’s Nurseries & Orchards Co

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Cleansing my Ancestor Altar


I had to stop counting the number of the dead. I have spent a year watching the numbers and my soul is weary. My beloveds have lost beloveds to covid-19. We have lost people who could not get adequate services because the medical field is saturated.

When I am overwhelmed I stop and go back to the beginning, I go back to breath. I had been praying for so many people, for so many lives, that it became hard to focus my intention. So I went back to my altar, I stripped it bare, and I rebuilt it again.

Starting Anew.

I scrubbed the surface. I touched everything. Did it still have energy? Did it still feel sacred? 

Some items evolved into better, newer pieces. Some items felt finished and moved on to other homes.

The surface was bare. It was fresh, both new and familiar.

Adding in Ancestors.

I bought a second photo tree and added new photos. I have one tree for my maternal line and one for my paternal. There are items that belonged to my grandparents and stones I treasure. I have my candle holder made of fossil stone. I have my water glass for offerings.

My father's mother: Ruth Ruston, her parents Minnie Wicker and Frank Ruston, Minnie's parents Emma Whitcher and Hiram Wicker, Frank's parents Ruth Ireland and Charles Ruston.
My mother's father: Richard Riddle, his parents Harold Riddle and Elsie Durant, Harold's parents Lafayette Riddle and Frances Gillette, Elsie's parents Albert Durant and Louse Burnah.

My father's father: Mark Eaton, his parents Royal Eaton and Hattie Smith, Royal's parents Bennett Eaton and Theresa Tenney, Hattie's parents Silas Smith and Hattie Dutcher.
My mother's mother: Patricia Art, her parents Margaret Burke and Robert Art, Robert's parents Katherine Pils and George Art, Albert Durant's parents Rosella LaValley and Albert Oliver Durant

Preparing to Pray.

When I prepared my altar that first night, on the first of May, the balance point to Samhain, when the spirit energy is also thick, my heart felt a measure of peace. My thoughts were stronger and clearer, and I picked up my prayers, for my loved ones, for my community, for the world.

I called to my ancestors who had known struggle and disease, plague and famine. I ask them for guidance. I ask them for strength. I ask them to watch over those who are passing over and those who are left behind.

I call to my ancestors, names known and unknown, and I light my altar.

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