I’m going to Ireland! and genealogy project notes

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Irish people originally faced some discrimination here in America some 200 years ago, so I find it pretty awesome that being Irish is now something to celebrate (though it likely has something to do with the drinking…).

I am a typical European mutt when it comes to my heritage, though it’s obvious from looking at my red hair that I have a good chunk of Irish blood in me.  That comes from my mother’s side: of my mother’s great-grandparents, 2 were Swiss-German, 2 were Irish, and 4 were born in the US.  Of those 4 Americans, their parents included 7 Irish people and 1 German.

My most "recent" Irish ancestors, John Garrity and Bridget Murray.  They came over in the early 1880s (probably too late to be a result of the Great Famine),
My most “recent” Irish ancestors, John Garrity and Bridget Murray. They came over in the early 1880s (probably too late to be a direct result of the Great Famine),

SO!  For those who don’t like to do math, I will tell you that I am 34.375% Irish…let’s call it one-third.  My mother is about two-thirds Irish.

I know all this because we recently started a family genealogy project using the free 2-week trial at ancestry.com.  My mom and I are planning a trip to Ireland this summer and wanted to know more about where our ancestors came from.  Hopefully I will soon have more details about both my family history and what we’ll be doing on our trip.

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten

??????????From Santa Cruz.

Of all the photos I took in the Galápagos, this one is my favorite.  I don’t even know what kind of flower this is.  I love this photo because I was trying to emulate my grandfather’s photography.  He was a nature photographer and my family still has boxes and boxes of slides and prints of photos he took at various national parks.

I am not a very “artsy” photographer, and I don’t generally find plants as interesting as animals, but here I was trying to see the world as he would have through his lens.  My grandfather passed away several years ago, but I still remember him through his photographs, and I never fail to think of him when I look at this one.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten

Learning to Make Springerle Cookies

EDIT 12/2020: Springerle Joy has since gone out of business, but you can still find the recipe and molds we used at the new company’s site, Gingerhaus Springerle.

Isn’t it amazing how cultural identity and family history can be tied into something as simple as cookies?

Anise flavored springerle

My mom remembers her Swiss German grandmother making springerle, a traditional cookie in the Bavaria-Austria-Switzerland region known for its puffy shape (“little pillows” my mom called them), intricate raised designs, and anise flavor. My mom learned several Swiss recipes from her grandmother, but springerle was not one of them. The “family recipe” died with my mom’s cousin. The whereabouts of the molded rolling pin used to shape them is unknown.

We have been meaning for years to add springerle to our repertoire of Christmas cookies. Last year for Christmas, I did some Googling and bought my mom a springerle kit from a lovely little website called Springerle Joy. We planned to try it well in advance of next Christmas so we could totally screw up the first time.

Imagine our excitement when I got an email from Springerle Joy saying that this fall they would be offering hands-on classes! My mom signed us up almost immediately.

So last weekend we traveled to Pittsburgh, just a two-hour drive for us in NE Ohio, and met Patrice Romzick, owner of Springerle Joy, who taught us how to make springerle cookies. It was the best thing we could have done, because with springerles there is no substitute for experience.

The class was only 4 people, so there was plenty of room, and plenty of individual attention. We started with making dough, which has a very simple recipe: eggs, sugar, flour, and a flavoring. However, to get the right consistency you sometimes need to tweak the amount of flour you add. It was raining that day, so we all had to add several extra cups of flour to the dough.

The cookies still rise with out any kind of leavening agent; the trick is to first beat the eggs very very well, until they are frothy and bubbly, then add the dry ingredients quickly to keep all the air trapped in. The air bubbles expand when heated, making the cookies puff up and lift off the sheet on a “foot.”

Next is the fun part. We rolled out the dough, pressed the molds in, and cut out the cookies with either cookie cutters or a ravioli cutter.

We were allowed to use any molds that Patrice had in stock…I got a little carried away with the number I picked out. All her molds are made by a Swiss company called Änis-Paradies; some have been carved in recent years, but others are reproductions of old traditional molds. I love these because they have been replicated with the cracks and warp of the original still included. It really makes me feel connected to the old traditions.

The molded cookies have to dry for a day or so before baking, so we practiced baking some that Patrice had cut out the previous day. She then showed us options for decorating including painting and added some melted chocolate to the back. They really looked quite professional!

Painting was fun...it involves Triple Sec...
Painting was fun…it involves Triple Sec…

We brought our cookies back home with us and baked them the next day. Our first batch we had the temperature too high, and instead of rising nicely, they puffed up into domes. We turned the temp down to around 275 for the later ones and they came out beautifully, although some stuck to the cookie sheet a little. The really big cookies I let dry another day before baking.

I took a plate into work (lemon, hazelnut, and raspberry flavors) and they were gone in a day. But any food left in the breakroom is gone in a day, so…

My mom and I were really pleased with the class and how much we learned. We are ready to try springerle at Christmas this year!

If you want to sign up for springerle-making classes, you can find more info at the Springerle Joy website (the Oct 11 class still has openings!) You can also browse all of the hundreds of molds and other supplies available for purchase.

EDIT 12/2020: If you want the same help making springerles that my mom and I got, check out Patrice’s YouTube video for tips.

Medical history: WWII, vaccines, and my grandfather

My parents recently cleaned our my grandmother’s garage, and found a stash of family photos and other memorabilia that my father didn’t even know existed.  We were looking them over during a cook-out on the recent holiday weekend–there were several fascinating things, including buttons from an ancestor’s WWI uniform (and a picture of him in said uniform).

There was also my grandfather’s immunization record from his service in WWII:



I know extremely little about “Pa’s” time spent in the army; I think he was in the Pacific Theater at some point.  He never talked about it, and I’m not sure my dad even knows all that much.  But I do know he was proud of his service, and when he passed away a few years ago, he wanted to be buried in area of the cemetery reserved for veterans.

Pa received vaccines for smallpox, typhoid, typhus, tetanus, cholera, and “inf,” which is presumably influenza.  He also apparently did not receive yellow fever, and the form does not mention his glasses.

Looking at the dates of the vaccines, it’s not surprising that he got multiple doses of nearly every one.  That’s how many vaccines work; sometimes in stimulating an immune response to a pathogen, it takes multiple doses of the weakened or inactivated pathogen, or a booster shot later, to build up a sufficient response.

What is interesting, though, is some of the dates of the doses.  Why, for example, did he get two doses typhoid of only 6 days apart? Why did he get typhus and cholera years after he had started his other vaccinations? Was he changing locations in between some of these shots?  And notice the last ones are dated 1946–after the war ended.

I myself have been vaccinated for many diseases, including tetanus, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, yellow fever, and HPV (aka Gardasil).  Some of these are due to my trip to Ecuador seven years ago.  I am now a pro at getting shots.  Basically, the only other vaccines I could need would be rabies (for some types of animal work) and shingles when I get older (because I actually had chickenpox, not the vaccine).  Of course, I will continue to get boosters for things like tetanus, etc.

Some diseases from my grandfather’s list are noticeably absent from mine: smallpox, which has been eradicated (yet is still popping up in the weirdest places…), cholera (the vaccine for which is not even available in the US currently), and typhus.

Typhus is in many ways a quintessential wartime disease.  The bacteria that causes it is transmitted by body lice, and so epidemics break out when lots of unhygienic people are grouped together, like refugees or soldiers.

The typhus vaccine was relatively new during the Second World War.  Interestingly, one of the first men to try to make a vaccine (by grinding up infected lice) was a Polish scientist named Rudolf Weigl in the 1930s.  Under Nazi occupation in the 1940s, Weigl was ordered to set up a vaccine production plant, which he did, and then employed and protected many Polish Jews and intellectuals, and smuggled his vaccine into Polish ghettos.

A better method of vaccine production was later pioneered by H.R. Cox, and the vaccine itself has been rendered fairly unnecessary by better antibiotic treatments and widespread use of pesticides to control lice (such as DDT).

Working in medial research, this kind of stuff is fascinating to me.  And being a nerd, history in general is always fascinating to me.  But I’ve always believed that history becomes more meaningful when we make a personal connection to people in the past and their stories.  That’s exactly what my grandfather’s immunization record did for me.  Typhus isn’t just a wikipedia article anymore.  It’s part of my grandfather’s story, and therefore part of my own.