Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Toys For Girls and Boys

By Karen Utter Jennings

            Toys are always a big part of Christmas. Each year, Mother told my brothers and me to make a list of what we wanted for Christmas. Usually, we received two things from the list we wrote. While I reminisced about the old toys from our past Christmases, my curiosity led me to research the history of some of those toys.  
            The year was 1965 and I asked for a walking doll, which was a hot toy. Every girl wanted a doll that walked. Early on Christmas morning, when my brothers and I couldn’t wait a minute more, we jumped out of bed and rushed to the living room to marvel at the presents strewn around the tree.
            When I spied the huge rectangular box with my name on it, I knew. To my fourth grade stature, the doll was amazingly lifelike, standing three and a half feet high. I named her Tonie. She wore size 3 real girl clothing and during the months that followed, I quickly collected clothing for her, keeping the wardrobe in the doll box.
            Since I was the only girl in the family, my walking doll was the little sister I never had. I named her Tonie. Tonie had long red hair with poufy bangs and her blue eyes watched me marvel at her beauty.  She wore a red dress, white under things with white lace socks and shoes. By taking her left arm and guiding her Tonie walked everywhere with me except to school. I distinctly remember Mom telling me the doll was a Horsman doll and the emphasis she placed on the name meant it was important.
            In 1865, E.I. Horsman opened a toy company in New York City. In those early years of manufacturing, they produced a variety of dolls. A Horsman doll meant value and parents wanted quality dolls for their children. During the 1960s, the Horsman Company proudly distributed dolls that looked like celebrities and famous characters such as Cinderella, the Flying Nun, Mary Poppins, Patty Duke and Jacqueline Kennedy, and of course, the wildly popular walking dolls.
            As I marveled over my new doll, my brothers, Mike, Bill and Bob, got a Marx Fort Apache Play set that they shared. The fort came in a big box and included figurines of the U.S. Cavalry, the Indians, the walls and gate of the fort along with cannons, tepees and all the accessories. Along with the fort, the boys also got Johnny West and Geronimo dolls to accompany the theme of cowboys and Indians.
            Louis Marx & Company toy manufacturers made the Fort Apache Play Sets and the Johnny West and Geronimo boy dolls. The company began in 1919 and is known for producing the famous Yoyo in 1928.
            When I asked my husband about his favorite Christmas toy, with a twinkle in his eye, he spoke of his little blue pedal car. He was six years old in 1957 and all he wanted was a car. He got it.
            The house his folks lived in at the time allowed him to drive his car around throughout the house. He remembers pedaling the car as fast as his legs would go, bumping into anything and anyone who got in his way.
            Toy pedal cars were made after the automobile was invented. However, due to their expense to manufacture, usually only the wealthier families purchased them. Because of World War II, no pedal cars were produced during the 1940s. The miniature cars became increasingly popular and eventually, they were not just for the wealthier families. During the 1960s, plastic replaced much of the metal pedal car production, ending the era of true pedal cars.
            In today’s market, collectors vie for vintage toys. The little girls and boys have grown up and have turned the vintage toy market into a big business. The internet is full of websites with toys for sale. Search any of the sites and you are sure to find a replica of that exact toy you once owned as a child. Interestingly, the prices on most vintage toys accommodate everyone from those on a low budget to those who are able to spend thousands of dollars.
            And so, I bring you the memories of a few Christmas toys for girls and boys. I wish everyone a happy and safe Merry Christmas. May all your holiday wishes come true, no matter your age!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rocky Comfort: Little Town in the Missouri Ozarks

Rocky Comfort: Little Town in the Missouri Ozarks
By Karen Utter Jennings
            Rocky Comfort is a peculiar name for a town.  The history of the village tells about the rocky terrain descending into a beautiful green valley; hence the name.  I am fortunate to live not far from Rocky Comfort, so I take a little drive occasionally to visit the graves of my family in the cemetery and take a spin around the town. 
            The first seven years of my childhood were spent growing up in Rocky.  My parents, Ronnie and Emma Faye Utter and my brothers, Mike, Bill, and Bob, lived between the Prosperity Baptist Church and the Indian Creek Bridge downtown.  The property is known as the old Shipman Place.
            The property came into our Utter/Brier family in the 1950s when my paternal grandmother’s parents (the Blacks) bought it. Through the years, it was sold and resold to family members. When Mae Utter Martin bought it, she had a huge pond dozed out in the back near where Indian Creek Branch flows.
            I have many photographs of the house and property when we lived there. Finally, in the 1970s, Mae Utter Martin went to the Elmhurst Nursing Home in Webb City, Missouri, and the property was sold. Today the property looks nothing like it did. There’s a mobile home setting toward the back of the land.
            Our paternal great-grandmother, Ollie (Johnson) Utter Brier, lived just north of the elementary school and the playground.  Her property is known as the old Milligan house. A dirt road separated the place from the school grounds.
            In 1943, Ollie’s parents, Thomas and Nancy Johnson left Kings Valley and moved to Rocky. Tom and Nancy’s health continued to deteriorate and Ollie and her husband, Bill Brier, left Kansas and moved to Rocky to care for them.
            Bill and Ollie bought the place and the surrounding acreage right after that. I have photographs of the houses and land when me and my family lived there.
            My first and second grade teachers were Marie Goosetree and Lela Young, respectively.  I have old grade cards from those elementary school days.  I remember crossing the road to go to school wearing a dress with long corduroy pants underneath and carrying my satchel. A satchel is defined as a small bag often with a shoulder strap that one carries supplies in and carried to school.
            As time went by, we knew everyone who lived in town.  Ollie loved to walk and she would take my brothers and me for a “walk around the block.”  At each of the houses along the way, we stopped to chat with the neighbors.  Some of her neighbors were George and Julie Barnett, Ouida Lowe, Delores Lamberson, Ephraim Decker, Joi Blair, and Lyman Dabbs.
            The Rocky Comfort Methodist Church is still standing in the same spot, but under a different name.  Earl D. Young christened me in that little church.  As a youngster on Sunday mornings, Ollie slipped a dime into my chubby hand so I could contribute to the offering.  
            Many family members are buried in the old part of the Rocky Comfort Cemetery, located north of town near the Prosperity Baptist Church.
            The year before I was born, my paternal grandfather, Perry Utter, bought the Conoco Station located on the east side of  Rocky.  He, along with his two sons, Ronald and Wayne, offered complete auto service to customers.  Perry also coached the boys’ softball team, called the Conoco’s, of which I have pictures and newspaper stories. They were champion ballplayers.
            I am fortunate to own lots of photographs and memorabilia from my family during their Rocky Comfort days.
            In those days, the Stanley Ford home was still standing and Cecil Shewmake owned the grocery store.  The artesian well down at the four-way stop was full of water and my family got their mail at the little brick post office.  My brothers think of Rocky as their Paradise
            Lazy summer days spent at Grandma Ollie’s house meant listening to the whirl of the old window fan and the announcer’s lulling voices broadcasting the baseball games on television.  Iced tea with spearmint picked fresh from the garden, hamburgers on buns (not bread slices) and angel food cake was our favorite meal.  Those are just a few of the memories of days gone by.
            Rocky Comfort was once a large town boasting many businesses and residents. In 1907, when the railroad decided to take their train about 3 miles north and east of Rocky, the town eventually dried up. The new town of Wheaton was born with the railroad.
            Today Rocky Comfort is a village with several hundred residents. But it will always be my childhood hometown where memories carry me back to those glorious days filled with love, laughter, and family times.    

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Love and Marriage: Girls Marrying at a Young Age

I am writing a women’s fiction story of my great-grandmother based on her life. While I am having fun imagining scenes to fill in where there is no documentation, history must be written correctly. My paternal great-grandmother, Ollie Francis Johnson Utter Brier, married at age 14 to Dee Jay Utter, who was 23. When my brother read the first few chapters of my manuscripit, we discussed the issue of why would an early teen girl marry an older man? In today's world it is not as common for that to happen. That is the reason for the question I posed about why girls married at such young ages years ago. Of course, we must look at the era in which they married, 1909, Missouri. It's been fun listening to everyone who wanted to share a story or historical facts with me. To all who did, I thank you!

Disclaimer: This list is not all-inclusive. There are many reasons why girls married at a young age that may not be listed. Even if one of our ancestors married young for a reason that is listed here, each person has a unique set of circumstances that shapes the reasons they do something and the choices that they make. With that in mind, a list such as this may never contain every reason a female married young. 
By Karen Utter Jennings                        
Why did our female ancestors get married at a young age? Social & Economical reasons played a huge role in our ancestor’s lives. Prior to WWI, girls commonly married by the age of 14-16 & they sometimes married men 5-10 years older. As WWII began, many Americans rushed to get married. They also decided to have children as soon as possible. During that time, marriage and birth rates soared.

Here are a few of the reasons I gathered:
In the city, females usually were older when they married. By the end of the 19th century, girls who could afford it were getting an education, going through a full high school, a teacher "normal" school, or even college. Rich girls were going on grand tours of Europe and attending finishing schools there. Girls from poor families might have worked and saved money for a sort of dowry.
 In the rural & farming communities, men needed Men needed to marry and have children, especially boys, to work the land. It was the only way to get ahead if they wanted to make the land profitable.
The historical lack of ways for women to work and earn wages led to only two options: further their education or get married. Depending on the era, occupations for women were limited.  
Gender & Expectations:
Males were favored over females; it was thought female children had less value. Marrying off a girl was a way for a father to feed the remaining kids at home. Boys could help work the land, which meant they sometimes stayed at home longer. It was a man’s world and women had no rights, even to their own bodies and their children. Females were expected to marry and keep house & raise the children.   
 Geographical locations & the Era:   
The areas in which a person lived set the tone for social mores and values for the marriageable age. From the New England states, to the West Coast, to the prairies, the northern & southern states, to the Wild West, family beliefs differed significantly. It was also affected by the era in which they lived. For example, Victorian America held different views of marriage than the Roaring Twenties. From the book, “Marriage in the Victorian Era” by Jen Ziegenfuss, she states that marriage was not romanticized or fairytale-like as depicted in some books. Love played a minor role in marriages. Rather, they were looked upon more as a business-like deal. There were strict “rules” & etiquette to follow. After marriage, as in other eras, women belonged to their husband & owned nothing.
High infant mortality and women dying in childbirth was common, so the idea was to marry young to give a woman more childbearing years. This actually contributed to the high death toll because young girls were not fully developed.  
Owning land was and always will be the lifeblood of families. It gave families social and economic status. Many movies and books abound using land as the reason for feuds, murders, illicit marriages, and all kinds of immoral purposes.
Life expectancy:
Life expectancy wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. In different eras, life expectancy fluctuates. Due to the hardships of life, many children and adults died early. So many people married and started a family as soon as they could. 
Sometimes love was the simple reason for couples getting married. On the other hand, a girl might be looking for someone to love her.
Sometimes marriages revolved around money. One or the other needs it and the other one has it, so through some scheme marriage people marry.
Debatable purposes
Sometimes couples married because there was a baby on the way. Also through blackmail, abduction, and other disreputable schemes, marriages were used for evil purposes.
Sometimes the parents thought it was a good idea for their young child to marry for whatever reasons so they would arrange for their child to marry another child whom they approved.
Safety: Generally, a young woman was safer from unscrupulous men if she were married. She was also 'safe' from an unplanned pregnancy with a suitor if they married before their relationship turned sexual. If the girl was in an abusive home life, she might get married to escape the abuse.    
Security: sometimes girls needed a guardian and marriage was the safest way for her to have one. Families were quick to marry their daughters off thinking their daughters would be taken care of. If she was an orphan, she might marry for security purposes.
Social Interaction:
This was an important part of life, no matter the gender. Interacting with peers helped women grow, bond, share, learn and think for themselves. Women have formed groups centered around the community, school, and church for years.  
Widowers & Widows:
A widower would remarry quickly after their wife died because they needed someone to care for the children of the previous marriage. A widower looked for a young, unmarried, & hearty woman to have children, again, and to cook and clean the house. A much younger woman might marry an older man, 10, 20, or 30 years older.

Sources used to write this article were taken from several authors’ comments from the 19th Century Writers online group; “Women Making America” by Heidi Hemming & Julie Hemming Savage; family & friends from Face Book; “Marriage in the Victorian Era” by Jen Ziegenfuss; “Marriages & Families” Second Edition, by Constance L. Shehan; and other online sources.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Turn of the Century Marriages

Turn of the Century Marriages
by Karen Utter Jennings
My great-grandmother, Ollie Francis Johnson Utter Brier was born in August, 1895 and died August 1975, during her years she witnessed a lot of history. I've thought her life story is interesting and so I've taken on the task of writing it ~ I'm writing chaper 27 now.She married in 1909, barely at the age of 14 to my grt-grandfather, Dee Jay Utter, who was 23. When I spoke with my brother Bill, who's reading my first draft, he
just can't come to terms with WHY a little girl would marry an "old" man...

Believe me, I struggled with that very question & put off writing the chapter for a very long time. Just the other day I knew I had to plunge ahead and write it or it would never get written. So I forged ahead giving the feeling in the story that she was in love and that Dee Jay, was also in love.

Still, my brother just can't buy it. So it got me to thinking that maybe I need a more plausible reason for her to marry at that age? Maybe I need a good plot device to make the story more interesting. Marrying for love? Hmmmm, I know people marry for many other reasons besides being in love.

So, I put it to my friends and I'm gathering their thoughts while researching it on the web. Not much turned up on the websites. But answers from my friends are flowing in about why young girls married so darn young way back then.

But, even my mother married my father when she was only 15; Dad was 20. However, there is a very good reason for mom marrying at that time....and that's HER book!  ;)

Anyway, when I finally decide about the plausible reason for her to marry so young, I'll post the answer coming up.....
Karen Utter Jennings

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Veteran's Day and Genealogy

By Karen Utter Jennings
            In honor of Veteran’s Day, let us remember those who have and who are serving to protect our country. For all of the wars, my family has documented those who served in the military. I have done some, but not all, research on the military side of my families. Other family members are continually searching and finding information that we share with each other.
            If you want to research the men and women who served in the military, following are good places to do so.
            According to evidence, there are at least 25 Utter men who served in the Revolutionary War. A good website to search for the Revolution is Liberty’s The American Revolution. It offers teachers guides and resources and chronicles the war. Another site is Revolutionary War Sites: A Guide to the Battlefields. This site arranges the battlefields by states.
            During the Civil War, our family has many who served.  My mother’s side of the family documents Confederate Cherokee Mounted Volunteers. A few websites you might search are: The Civil War Archive: United States Colored Troops, Grand Army of the Republic, Cyndi’s List: US Civil War, and United States Military Records on the Family Search site.
            World War I is also known as the Great War.  I have the pictures that my great, grandmother, Ollie, saved of her husband during the time he served in France.  Some websites for WWI are The Great War, World War I Trenches: On the Web, and the First World
            For World War II websites, search U.S. Airborne During World War II; The National World War II Memorial; and the World War II U.S. Veteran’s Website.
            Transitioning to a more current time, my husband, Stephen Jennings, served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.  My cousin, Charlie Beam, served in Japan with the Air Force.  Presently, Cousin Sonya has twin grandsons serving in Iraq and Afghanistan
            The National Archives Record Administration (NARA) offers a huge database filled with military information.  You will find links to genealogy, how to request military service records, historical documents and much more. has a nice military database, but you must subscribe to use Ancestry. 
            I hope these websites will help you find your military ancestors.  

Friday, October 28, 2011


Karen Utter Jennings
            The harvest season is a season of gathering crops from the fields and getting together with family and friends to celebrate the harvest. Gathering family stories is a fun and tantalizing aspect of genealogy. With the holidays approaching, now is a good time to prepare for big family gatherings. 
            Collecting family stories includes letters, oral stories, photos, cards, interviews, Bible records, published materials such as books, etc.  Each piece of memorabilia contributes to a rich family history.
            Many folks write holiday family letters to their kinfolk.  These letters can sometimes be full of family information, so keep them with your research.  Not long ago, my cousin, Shirley Bell Utter Grout gave me photos and old family keepsakes from her side of the Utter family: Zim and Sarah Utter. In the batch were several letters written by Sarah’s sister. The sister writes of news from their hometown in Indiana and of family still living there. The sister gives details of a friend’s wedding and all she received as wedding gifts. What a wonderful documentation!
             When you have old letters, somewhere on the letter, perhaps at the top or bottom, include the date, who the writer of the letter is and how they are kin to you.  In fact, always save all letter and cards as they document and preserve that person’s handwriting and their words. 
            This year, during your annual Christmas card sending, why not try your hand at writing family letters to your kinfolk.   Explain that you are doing genealogy and include family information that you have found.  Ask them if they can supply answers to the missing information and if they have pictures they will share.  You may be surprised at what you will get in return. 
            Another suggestion for this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings is to ask your guests to bring a few family photos to share with everyone. Then prepare for the event by writing down questions you may have or memories, which will be great conversation starters.
            Interviewing relatives at the family gatherings is another great way to learn bits and pieces of days gone by.   An informal interview can be as simple as sitting together asking and answering questions.  Beforehand, write questions on paper so you will not forget them during the excitement of the day. Keep the paper and pen with you.  While interviewing, think about using a small cassette recorder if you have one.  I have learned that when our family members get to reminiscing, I cannot write fast enough to catch every phrase and word!  You may want to ask your relatives permission to use a recorder beforehand.    
            Another great way to gather family stories is to use the photos you have with no identification on them.  Place the photos in archival-safe clear sleeves and assign a number to each photo.  During the get-together, pass them around and ask if anyone recognizes the people, places, events, and dates.   Write the information you learn about the photos on paper corresponding with the assigned number of each photo.
            Please, never write on the backs of the pictures and if you must, use pencil.  If you use an ink pen to write on the backs, over time the ink will bleed through onto the fronts of the pictures ruining them.  
            Family dinners and get-togethers are opportunities to discover missing pieces of your research.  The holidays are coming: gather your family history stories.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


By Karen Utter Jennings 
            As the holidays near, if there are genealogists on your gift-giving list this year, here are a few ideas for finding that “just right present” for them.  Sometimes with the hurry and bustle of life, my mind goes blank when I try to think of something unique for my loved ones.     
            Magazine subscriptions are always nice.  Genealogy magazines to consider might be   Family Chronicle, Ancestry Magazine, Everton’s Genealogical Helper (I have not read this one), and Family Tree Magazine.  Remember history magazines for the history lovers in your family. 
            Every genealogist will appreciate genealogy books.  My friend, Myra, recently became interested in her family history search, so I bought a genealogy book for her birthday. Remember the Genealogy Friends of the Library’s books that are for sale in the genealogy room at the library.  The Genealogy Friends of the Library are a group that promotes family history research in Neosho, MO. They offer books pertaining to local history and genealogy as well as cookbooks, too.
            Our local authors have new books available, too.  Kay Hively and Larry James just published a book about the Neosho Fish Hatchery.  Frankie Carlin Meyer offers her latest book about our area and her family history.  Contact the authors to purchase their books.   
            Genealogy software such as Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic are popular.  There are software programs for writing your family history and scrap booking, also.  Check them out in our local stores.  A gift subscription to might thrill your genealogist. is one of the best websites for your money.   They offer several different plans.  Go to their internet website for more information. 
            For the genealogist who has a collection of pictures and memorabilia, scrapbook supplies are great gifts.   Family heritage is a popular scrap-booking topic and you can buy complete kits to make the project easier.  During the cold winter months, genealogists can scrap a beautiful family keepsake album.
            I found Family Tree Lagacies, a hardbound book from the creators of Family Tree Magazine.  This book has sections to help you document all aspects of your family genealogy and keep it organized. From the usual vital information such as births, marriages and deaths, to memories and traditions, this book uses dozens of fill-in pages to record information. There is even space for mounting photographs. The questions that are included in each section helps the writer remember what to include for a well-rounded family history. The book includes a reference guide to help you delve deeper into family history research and it comes with a DVD. It makes a nice gift.
            For the writer in the family, journals make great gifts. There are memory books and journals available with questions and space to record your family stories and information.   These books will easily get someone writing in no time.
            Digital cameras and laptop computers are handy for genealogists who are on the go. The little netbooks are something to consider. I’d love to have one!  Photo Editing Software makes a wonderful and useful gift, also. During the holidays, watch the store ads and catch these expensive items at a great price.  
            Remember the stocking stuffers.  CDs, flash drives, mechanical pencils, erasers, printer ink, paper clips, and batteries are just a few items you can sneak into a stocking.    
            I think I’ll leave this wish list near my husband’s chair just in case he needs a few ideas for me… 

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I love the movie, "Serendipity" about a man and woman who cross paths in a department store at Christmas time and find the last pair of black gloves, whom both want to buy. From that lone encounter comes a story of hope and love. I've watched it time and time again. Serendipity happened to me and my brother one day in a cemetery! This is the serendipity that happened to us:
Serendipity and Sonya
By Karen Utter Jennings
            I love finding something unexpectedly or something happens to surprise me.   Some might call it luck, some may say it comes from a Higher Power, or some call it serendipity.  The dictionary describes serendipity as a seeming gift of finding something good accidentally or having luck or good fortune in finding something good accidentally.    
            Serendipity happened to me on Memorial Day, 2009.  I took two of my grandkids, Kendal and Kynsey, to meet my brother Bill and his wife, Peggy, at Rocky Comfort Cemetery.   We decorated the Utter, Johnson, and Black family graves and we went to the graves of other lines of the Utter and Johnson families.   
            While Bill and Peggy continued to putter around that area, the kids and I crossed the road to search the newer part of the cemetery for a family grave.  After searching vainly, we went back and found Bill and Peggy where we had left them, but they had company.  Bill introduced me to our second cousin, Sonya Allison, her 2 daughters and their children.  We chatted about our Utter sides of the family and before we left, exchanged information.   A few days later, I wrote Sonya a letter and included a few family pictures.  Within a short time, she wrote back and included some of her family pictures.  A fantastic friendship was born.
            Over the summer, Sonya and I have enjoyed our time together. Our correspondence includes family information, tons of pictures, and stories.  Sonya set up a meeting with other cousins and one Tuesday we met in Joplin for lunch then journeyed to meet distant cousins Fred, Waple and Sue Ferguson for the afternoon.   
            Fred shared pictures of my great-grandfather, Dee Jay Utter and a beautiful old picture of my great, great-grandparents, David and Christina Utter.  In return, I gave Fred pictures of my grandfather and father and other assorted pictures.  Fred and Sonya chattered happily, catching up on family matters as it had been a while since they last visited together. 
            Our host for the afternoon was Waple Ferguson.   Waple is 93 years old and he remembers my great-grandfather, Dee Jay Utter.   While Waple talked and told stories, I wrote.   I came home with a wealth of family history, pictures and a warm and loving feeling.
            Genealogists dream of finding relatives with information and pictures!   And it happened to me.   I like the word serendipity, the way it sounds, the meaning of it, so I choose to call meeting Sonya just that.  But whatever it is, through the contact in the Rocky Comfort Cemetery, it led to Sonya: who is another treasure to cherish.
            You never know when you will cross paths with someone who is kin to you and what family information they may have. Be a bit bold and approach that person who you run on to, introduce yourself and see if serendipity happens to you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Organize Your Genealogy

Organizing Your Genealogy With Binders and File Folders
 Karen Utter Jennings
            Is your desk or workspace overflowing with family genealogy materials?  Can you find exactly what you are looking for without digging for it?  The next step on your genealogical journey is to organize.  There are many ways to organize, but this week we will focus on using three-ring binders.   
            When I began my family research, I found information on my great, great-grandfather, David Jefferson Utter and his siblings.    Soon into the research, I knew I had to organize the notes, the papers, and the newspaper clippings that were piling up before I misplaced them.
            I chose three-ring binders.  Binders come in varying sizes and colors.  Depending on the size, they can hold a lot of information.  My favorite is the white binder with a clear view front.   If you choose the largest binders, they are capable of holding upwards of 500 sheets.   Along with the binders, you will want to purchase a set of archival safe clear sheet protectors to hold small items like newspaper clippings, pictures, and notes.   
            I purchased a binder for David Jefferson and two others for his siblings.  I set up each binder with the protective sleeves and tabbed dividers.   I sorted the family group sheets and other materials on each person and put them into the appropriate binder.   As my research grew, I bought more binders until I had binders for several family members. 
            Binders are handy to take along when I go to libraries or other institutions to do research.   Once the binders are set up, you can pull a particular binder for the people you are researching and have the information beside you.  
            When approaching a method to organize your family history research, you want to use what you are comfortable with and can afford.  Starting out small and adding to it as you collect your information may be the way you want to start.  As you continue on your genealogical journey, your collection will grow and grow and grow.  If you choose binders to organize  research, you won’t be disappointed.  Always remember to use archival safe materials to store your precious research. 
            Another method genealogists and writers use to organize their notes, research material and family information is using  file folders in filing cabinets.  Before we begin, I will tell you that I like simple and easy things.  So, regarding using file folders to organize my research, I try to keep it simple.  I file alphabetically and group materials together.  I write fiction and nonfiction, so I have my fiction in one file cabinet and nonfiction in another. 
            To begin organizing your family research with file folders you will have to gather your gear.  Purchase a box of file folders and file labels if you do not want to write directly on the folders.  You will need a place to store the file folders, so choose an upright file cabinet (they come in many sizes) or a crate that will hold file folders.  Accordion files are available, also.  There are many ways to store file folders, so check it out in the office supply store.     
            Sort through your family group sheets and pedigree forms and file them in your file folders.  Write the names directly on the file folder tab or on a file folder label and apply it to the folder.  The easiest way to file is alphabetically, but that is your own personal decision.  You may devise a system that fits your needs.    
            As I do my family research, I run across useful information that I print out to keep as reference material for my writing.  I place that information in file folders and file it alphabetically.  Since I am a writer, I have several large upright file cabinets that are handy for this purpose.   I also have the space for them, so remember they do take up space in a room.
            There are other methods to filing and it can become complicated.   Some researchers use proof files.  Proof files are the originals and master copies of all the information you accumulate.  Examples include birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, divorce papers, photographs, copies of secondary sources, correspondence, etc.  The originals are copied, then stored in a safe place.  The copies of the originals are used in research.
            Remember, if you choose to use file folders as a filing system, keep it user-friendly and uncomplicated.  I use both methods: three-ring binders and file folders in filing cabinets. That's because I am a writer, too. Genealogy is supposed to be fun, not complicated.  Have fun researching your family history!  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pedigree Charts in Genealogy

By Karen Utter Jennings
            This week I want to talk about using pedigree charts.  These charts focus on your direct ancestral line.  Picture a tree with the central trunk and branches leading from the trunk.  Pedigree charts resemble the tree; the branches represent family members stemming from the leading family member.  Only each person’s mother and father are listed on the charts.  Pedigree charts differ from family group charts because they focus on direct lines  and only birth, death, and marriage dates.  Group sheets provide space for a family group and much more information on them. 
            Begin filling out your pedigree chart with yourself, then your father and mother, your father’s parents, and continue on displaying the line of your direct ancestors back in time.  The standard pedigree chart measures 8 ½ by 11 inches format and displays four generations.  Larger pedigree charts are available that can hold more generations, but they are not used as much as the standard size. 
            When filling out pedigree charts, assign the number 1 to yourself or the family member you are tracing on the first line.  The information on your father (or ancestor #1’s father) is entered as number two on the chart, with your mother being number three.  The male line follows the upper track, while the female line follows the bottom track.  Male ancestors are assigned the even numbers and female ancestors are assigned the odd numbers.
            When you have filled in the four generations on the chart, you will need to create additional charts for each of the individual family members on the first chart.  Pedigree charts offer an easy-to-read format that helps you keep track of your family members.  Genealogy software programs generate pedigree charts in the same standard format.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011



            Every summer I watch two of my grandchildren, Kendal and Kynsey, ages 11 and 10 respectively.  On the eve of the first day of school, we decided we needed to go somewhere before our summer vacation from school ended.  We decided to go to   George Washington Carver, as it had been a while since we were there together.
            As we drove, the kids chattered about what they wanted to do when we got there.  Kynsey hoped the lab was open so she could make peanut butter and Kendal looked forward to looking under the microscope at the cool specimen slides.    
            After we poked around inside the building, it was time to hit the walking trail.  The afternoon was sunny and hot, but we were dressed in light clothing and summer shoes.  A slight breeze ruffled our hair and sent the leaves raining down on us as we walked.   
            Winding through the woods on the trail, we enjoyed our time together.  The pond was alive with critters.   A line of turtles were enjoying the sun too much to move off the log when we passed by.  Monstrous bullfrogs leaped for the safety of the water, though, when we made noise.
            When we reached the cabin, I reminded the kids about the log cabins our Utter ancestors built and lived in down in McDonald County.  They inspected the cabin with great curiosity.  We talked about gathering wood for the fireplace and hauling water from the nearby stream.
            At the Carver Family cemetery, we talked about death, burial, graves and cemetery stones.  Kendal and Kynsey compared the elaborate stones to the simple ones.  They know how to do rubbings, as we’ve done that on our family’s headstones. 
            The trip to Carver National Monument turned into a mini lesson about how our ancestors lived and worked.  Every chance I get, I share genealogy with my four grandkids.  They know about the research I do and they go with me to cemeteries and libraries.
            I feel it is my duty to teach children about our heritage.  To help them understand where we came from and to cherish our ancestor’s way of life.   Until next week, I wish you well on your genealogy journey. 

NOTE: Dear Readers, this was written for September 16, 2009 edition of THE POST newspaper. Since fall is in the air at our house and the days are wonderfully in the 70's, I thought it would be nice to republish this right now.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ollie's BD, Beginning Genealogy, & Slowing down, oh my!

Happy Wednesday, everyone!
Today my paternal great-grandmother, Ollie Johnson Utter Brier would have been 116. She died in 1975 and I miss her just as much as the day she left me. She was an important person in my life as well as my mother and brothers' lives. She cared for us like no other could have done. And now I know why...she was our grandma!  Grandparents and grandchildren are very special people. My grandchildren are like blocks of gold to me. I'd rather have them than the gold! And Ollie was my block of gold ~ stories abound from her and about her. I miss you Grandma! Hugs and kisses to you.

FROM THE INKWELL: This Genealogy Journey column was written in September, 2009. I hope you enjoy it.

            Let’s start our genealogy journey.  As with all journeys, there is much to discover and learn.  The rewards are never ending.  During my journey, I have found pictures of my Utter family in days gone by and bits and pieces of information to add to what I already knew about them. 
            So, how do we begin our genealogy journey?  How do we find relatives, amazing facts, pictures, records, and mementos?  Begin by focusing on only one surname.  This is important so you do not get overwhelmed.     
            Here are the first steps to begin researching your family history: 
1. Decide on one surname to focus your research.  
2. Gather pencil/pen and paper or if you prefer to type, go to the keyboard.
3. Start with yourself and record your information: when and where you were born and your parent’s names.  Next, if you are married, write your marriage information and your spouse’s information.  Be as complete as you can.  If you have children, continue writing each of your children’s information.  If the children are married with children, write that information down as well and continue until you finish each person in your line. When you finish, set this information aside.
4. Next, begin to record the information about your parents, but remember to focus on the surname you chose. Record everything you know about them.  When you finish, set this information aside. 
5. Continue to record the information about your parents’ parents, and so on.  Do this until you cannot go any further because you do not have information on that set of grandparents.
6. After you have worked to produce information, you need to organize it.  Place your work in a folder or if you worked on the keyboard save your work on the computer. 
            In the weeks to come, Genealogy Journey will explore genealogy, families, and history.  Until next week, I wish you well on your genealogy journey.  WORD OF THE WEEK: Family unit: a husband, wife, and children.  

I'm working on #2 Slowing Down from the 3 things God said I needed in my life. Slowing down has been fairly hard for me, especially while driving the car in TRAFFIC. I've hit most lights turning red, had to wait! Or there's been mega traffic, had to wait! Or even walking down the halls at school with a child following along, had to wait! But, it's been a week since I began slooooowing down and I'm doing pretty good now. I actually enjoyed my day working with a first grader, so that's great for ME!  Maybe it won't take 12 years for me to accomplish #2. I'll keep you informed!

I'm reading Joyce Meyer's book, "Beauty for Ashes." It's a good one. I just finished  "The Matrimony Plan" by Christine Johnson. It's set in the 1920s and deals with bootlegged whiskey. It's a short historical romance and while it ttook several pages to get me interested in the plot, it ended pretty good. I bought it mainly for the 1920 historical elements.

My to be read pile is SAFE HAVEN by Nicholas Sparks, MARRYING MISS MARSHAL, by Lacy Williams, MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs, EVERYONE'S GUIDE TO SPIRITUAL WARFARE by Ron Phillips and THE VISITATION by Frank E. Peretti.   I enjoy reading Christian books or "sweet" books and inspirational romance. No sexual content for me. Life's too full of that garbage; TV is saturated with it now.

I'm taking a book to work with me while I'm on my lunch break. I need an escape and a good book is the perfect way to go for a few minutes in my hectic day.  Can't wait for the weekend, 3 days at home. Woo Hoo!  I'm planning a trip to Books A Million Saturday. My reading pile will surely grow.

Have a happy week, until next Wednesday, blessings to you!
Karen Utter Jennings


Sunday, August 28, 2011

2 Weeks Later...

Here I am, 2 weeks later from my last posting...can you guess why? I've returned to school (work) and coming off summer vacation is not easy. Those lazy days that stretched before me stopped and I found myself once again on a schedule with not much time for homelife. The older I get the harder it is to recuperate and my energy level is becoming less and less! I'm going to try to get back on track...

Our 2011 Utter family reunion was yesterday; my brother Bill and I coordinate it, so that's been something else that's taken some time away from me. It was a success and although the attendance was down from last year, we saw new faces and familiar faces. More family photos were shared and those who brought their scanners/laptops/flash drives went away with a bunch more family photos to add to their collection. Someday I'm going to count, I imagine we may have over 1,000 family photos already!

FROM THE INKWELL: I'm going to post some of my Genealogy Journey writing. I've written newspapper columns about genealogy for the past 2 years and thought it would be nice to share some of the writing on my blog. This week, I'll share my very first column with you:


            Working on genealogy is an obsession with me.  While gathering information on several family surnames, I try to focus on my Utter family.  I come from a family of fishermen/women.  Daddy said he took me seining for minnows when I was three weeks old.  I waited in my basket on the creek bank while they harvested their bait.  Family photos show my relatives proudly displaying the catch of the day.
            Genealogy is a lot like fishing.  You go on a fishing trip armed with all the gear and pick a spot that looks like it might produce a stringer of fish.  When you throw in your line, you might get a bite, or you may have to wait for a while.  You might fill your stringer quickly, or you might not get a nibble all day.  The art of fishing instills patience.  Genealogy is the same way. 
            My genealogy journey started a few years back when a niece from my great, grandmother’s brother, Otis, sent an email with information about that side of the family.    She also sent a picture of Otis sitting on the banks of Mike’s Creek in McDonald County fishing with a cane pole.  I was hooked (pardon the pun)! 
            As time goes by, I jump into the genealogy pool and swim through the ins and outs, the internet sites, the hours of writing family information, filling out genealogy forms, calling or emailing family members, writing letters, sorting through photos and safely preserving my catch of the day.  Some days I find information, some days I do not. 
            Genealogy covers broad subjects.  In the weeks to come I will include topics of interest about the many areas of genealogy.  I invite you to come along with me on this genealogical “fishing trip.”  Gather your genealogy gear and let’s get going on this amazing journey.  I guarantee in no time you will be hooked.
            Until next week, I wish you well on your genealogy journey.  WORD OF THE WEEK: Genealogy: 3. the study of family pedigrees.

I hope you enjoy reading about my genealogy adventures each week...and of course, I'm still writing other things. In one days time I wrote a romantic contemporary short story with elements regarding the May 22 tornado in Joplin, Missouri. I'll post that one of these days.

Gardens in our area of SW Missouri did not "make" this year. That's how my grt-grandma Ollie used to say about gardens not doing well in the summer. My tomatoes are still alive, but their vines look pretty bad.  I want to visit the farmers market downtown Saturday morning to see if they have any green tomatoes ~ we love fried green tomatoes! Yummy! 

The Naked Ladies surprised me one morning when there they were in all of their pink glory standing proud and tall in different places in my front yard. They are also known as surprise lilies, but Grtgrandma always called them naked ladies.

I have something personal to share today. It's about God and Me. During the summer of 1999, one day God whispered in my ear, "1. Believe 2. Slow Down and 3. Listen."   As I pondered them I knew that those 3 things were the things I needed to learn. It was awesome to hear from the Lord, but when He said, "Oh ye of little faith," I thought: What!? I do BELIEVE in You, God!  At other times I thought I needed to change the order of the 3 things, for instance, make #1 slow down, etc, but that would not work because if I didn't believe first, I sure wasn't going to slow down to listen!

BELIEVEING goes a lot further than just professing your faith, reading scripture and praying. It's the little things in life that you must BELIEVE in! It's believing in yourself! True believing goes deep into your soul and you must embrace it and live it!

Through the years I've kept working on those 3 words of what I now call my "Tri-level Learning." I found scripture with the word believe in it, I heard profound things people said about believing, and even sometimes there would be a book or a sign about believing! I finally thought I had learned to believe and so I moved on to the other two.  I was wrong.

It's been 12 years since that summer when God put that message in my heart. And I've been going through 12 years of life's adventures while God was working on me...Oh what joy I've felt since August 24, 2011, just 4 days ago, God suprised me by revealing that I had done it! I reached the level of Believing!   It's taken 12 lyears for me to walk through some fires, learn valuable lessons, and learn to believe that God is my father and I'm His Daughter! My believing spirit has awakened and I know "I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength" ~ Phillipians 4:13

And now, God told me I can move on to the 2nd level: SLOW DOWN. I'm learning to write Devotionals; and I'm praying that God leads me to publish some of them. I love Devotionals and have several little books of them.

So, here I go on to #2: SLOW DOWN.  This is gonna be a hard one! I've always been a whirlwind kind of girl ~ going at things as if I were killing snakes (like Grtgrandma used to say). If I'm not doing something I think I'm being lazy. So, God, put your hand on me and teach me to SLOW DOWN and enjoy the rest of my life.

I'll keep you informed as to how I'm slooooooowing down. I pray that God whispers in your ear.

Blessings to you ~
Karen Utter Jennings

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pioneers Writing Class and Using Genealogy in Writing

I'm behind on my weekly posting; had to take my desktop computer to the computer hospital. It had slowed down and I knew it needed cleaned. Just got it back.

The Pioneering Women of the West online course is going great. Lots of information and lots of websites to get lots of information. In the weeks to come we will learn about the mail-order brides, teachers, doctors, and women with unusual occupations. Right now we are learning about the pioneering women who travelled from their Eastern homes along the trails west.

Through working on my family history genealogy, I found accounts "Left By the Indians" by Emeline L. Fuller and "Massacre On the Oregon Trail" by Carl Schlicke. They tell about the Elijah Palmer Utter family and members of a wagon train journeying west who were attacked by Indians on September 9 and 10, 1860 near Castle Butte, Idaho, on the Snake River. Not all of the wagon train members were killed, but the massacre was a bloody and brutal one. (I would think all massacres would be horrific.)

As time goes by, an author will mention that she is using her ancestor's real-life stories as a basis for a particular book they wrote. I've decided to use genealogy in just about everything I write. I have so much history on our ancestors that I will be able to write lots of stories; some short stories and some full length books. My signature line is: "Ozarks Stories with a Tough of Genealogy." I love the Ozarks and our little corner of the Missouri.

In the Joplin Globe the other day a writer talked about the old Southtown Sporting Goods Store in Joplin being blown away by the tornado in May. The store had a hanging bass fish outside near the sidewalk that had hung there almost 50 years. That story spurred me to write my own romantic contemporary short story using the bass loosely in my story the very next day!  And, of course, it has genealogy in it. The heroine is a genealogist and the hero has his mother's research along with old letters and diaries. Now, what to do with it? There's not a lot of short-story markets for writers. Woman's World magazine is not accepting any new authors at this time. I may post my story next week on my blog.

My tomatoes burned up. The rain came way too late. I did buy a couple the other day that were very good homegrown ones. We had bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches that night. They were excellent. My husband ate 4 of them.

Schools are starting all over our area next Wednesday, August 17. I pray the children have a wonderful learning year and they are all safe and sound. Jesus was a teacher and children gathered round Him wherever He went.

Hope you have a great week!
Karen Utter Jennings

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing in the Ozarks

Let's pray for our United States government. They need to set their sites on God. That's how our country was founded, the men had their eyes on the Lord and it was a much simpler time back then. Today money rules!  What about us little guys who are working every day to make ends meet? Why focus the budget cuts on our Military, our Social Security system, Medicare, and the little guys? Look to those programs that can be cut and that will make headway to a better country. Quit blaming the Republicans and the Democrats ~ they are all involved in this. They need to set their eyes on God.

I'm taking an online writing course, "Pioneering Women of the West" from the Hearts Through History RWA chapter. It started Monday. Oh my, it's gonna be a good one and I'm gonna learn a lot about those women who made the West what it is. They were strong. They were pioneers. They were our ancestors! My great, great-grandparents came by covered wagon in 1880 from Indiana to SW Missouri. Grt, grt-grandma Christina was pregnant with her 11th child. Can you imagine that ride all those miles that took 34 days? She had to be tough to endure those hardships.

I saw a quote the other day that made me giggle. "Well-behaved women rarely make history" ~ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. My great-grandmother's story is coming along. I just started chapter 10 and this chapter will be where she gets married at age 14 in 1909. I can't believe that, either. Marriage at age 14?

My latest read is "The Girl In the Gatehouse" by Julie Klassen. It's a great story set in Regency England. The heroine writes novels for a living, but has to hide that fact, as it was not accepted in those days for women to have careers. I'm about half-way finished.

Happiness & Blessings ~
Karen Utter Jennings

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Writer's Voice, Insane Asylums, and Favorite Authors, oh my!

Today I want to start my writing with a quote: "Writing a novel is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum" - Gracie Harmon.

That says it all to those of us who have stories, characters, settings, conversations, and ideas for books running around in our head!  I get distracted easily because I can't filter out background noises - I struggle with focusing on the issue at hand.  Some writers can write while listening to music...not me, I have to have silence. The writing schedule I made has helped keep me focused. With writing a newspaper column, working on genealogy, writing nonfiction stories and working on a fictional story of my great-grandmother's life, and now a blog, each day of my schedule is geared to what I need to be writing. And it's working.

Speaking of insane asylums.....

I finished 3 books over the past 2 weeks. JILLIAN KENT'S "Secrets of the Heart" is a Regency romance set in 1817 Yorkshire, England. The plot takes readers into the world of old time insane asylums and medical issues. I plan to buy book two of Kent's series coming in 2012. 

MARGARET BROWNLEY'S "A Vision of Lucy" is a great read about 1878 Texas. The heroine is a photographer who gets into trouble every where she goes. Ms. Brownley does a great job feeding readers historically accurate accounts of old time photography.

Sadly, the last book I started reading....I can't stand! I will refrain from mentioning the author (man or woman) and anything about the book. I've never bought a book by this author and when I saw the book cover and the title, it grabbed my attention and I thought it would be exactly what I love to read. I started reading it but by the end of the first chapter I was done. The author uses choppy sentences and the author's voice interferes with the flow of the story. I hung tight and kept reading, but closed the book by chapter six. I tried to like it, but I'll never buy anything the author writes again.

That proves that an author's "voice" is important. A writer's voice is the style and tone in which he or she uses words, sentences, ideas and themes to write a story. Sometimes a writer uses lots of humor in a light-hearted manner to tell a good story. Sometimes they may use a straightforward, journalist approach to tell the story.

If you read books, then I'm sure you have favorite authors. That's because that writer's voice speaks to you in the perfect way while telling their stories. There are many ways in which to tell a story and every writer has their own unique way of telling it. To find your voice as a writer you must write, write, and write some more. As you do, your unique "voice" will shine thrugh in the stories you tell.

My favorite authors? NICKOLAS SPARKS is one who can tell an emotionally-charged story & bring tears to my eyes or shouts of joy every time! Gee, I'd love to write like he does.

In the world of historical inspirational romance, VICKIE MCDONOUGH, a writer in Oklahoma, and whom I've had the pleasure of meeting, is another one of my fav authors. She can tell a story! Through her voice she uses humor and an array of likeable characters to tell a great historical romance. Also, SHARLENE MACLAREN, DEANNE GIST, KAREN WITEMEYER, CARA LYNN JAMES, and KIM VOGEL SAWYER write wonderful historical inspy romances. I buy them every time they pub a new book.

For women's fiction, my favorite author is SARAH ADDISON ALLEN. Oh my, in the world of magical, spellbinding charm, she brings it on! I'll buy every book she writes. And for paranormal books, of course, I love the STEPHENIE MEYER books ~ her Twilight series is wonderful. I have many fav authors who writes Christian self-help books as well as historical reference books. This is just a taste of those who write books that stay on my keeper shelf.
I hope you read one of your favorite author's books while staying out of the heatwave.
blessings ~ Karen Utter Jennings