Ancestral Dish: Stuffing Wars

Once I was a food section copy editor, and each year I fact-checked glowing Thanksgiving stories of the hallowed family traditions reflected in each cholesterol-busting side dish.

And I felt a bit left out. We make a fine Thanksgiving feast at my house, with all the proper things. But we really don’t have any truly unique ancestral side dishes.

The only noteworthy side dish was the stuffing, not because it’s unusual, but because it was the focus of a fierce tug-of-war between my parents. (Which is also not unusual. People are passionate about stuffing. Or dressing. Or whether it’s called stuffing or dressing.)

It was a face-off between Her Mother and His Mother, but indirectly, since my father’s mother, sadly, had died before Dad and Mom met.
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Cemetery trips: What not to do

If you stick with genealogy, eventually you’re going to end up in a cemetery. (As a researcher, I mean.) This post is about beginner’s luck, which is not always what it’s cracked up to be. On two very different cemetery trips, I learned some important (and basic) don’ts:

Don’t go without a friend (old or new) who’s been there before. I nearly missed my family’s monument in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Watervliet, NY. Pathetic, considering I had a cemetery map and a plot location AND the monument was big enough to have bit me if it wanted to. But I had no sense of the cemetery layout and quickly got disoriented, wasting much time and energy. By contrast, when I visited the much larger Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn with two knowledgeable genealogy buddies, things went just swimmingly– because they knew the ropes and the layout, not to mention the staff.

Don’t assume there will be a marker,
even for relatively recent burials. Sure, markers fade and sink in old rural cemeteries. But markers can also be missing for big-city relatives who died within living memory. Looking in Holy Cross for the grave of my gg-uncle William (d. 1930), I found only a blank space and a somewhat murky plot ownership record. I still need to learn whether the marker disappeared or never existed – common enough when families had enough money to buy a grave, but not a monument.

W. Haigney gravesite

Lots of markers here, but not THE marker. I think the grave I was looking for is next to the potted plant.

Don’t assume that everybody in the grave is on the headstone. I have two family plots that contain children who died very young but are not listed on the headstones. In both cases, though, their burial information is on their death certificates and is confirmed by the cemetery’s own burial records.

Don’t skip a visit with the staff, even if you think you know everything. Yes, the title says it all. I didn’t bother finding when the groundskeeping staff patrolled St. Patrick’s. I already had my grave location info, so who cared? Oh, well: St. Patrick’s isn’t nearly the size of Holy Cross, but it still managed to confuse me. I kick myself thinking how efficient I could have been if a human being had given me a quick primer on how the place was arranged. I never did find one tombstone I was looking for that day; I ran out of daylight. Which brings me to another point: In larger urban cemeteries, a visit to the office is just the prudent thing to do. The staff should know you’re there and what section you’ll be visiting – often, they’ll want to keep an eye out for you, which isn’t a bad thing.

I’m sure there are lots more favorite cemetery tips – and goof-ups. Any to share?

Ancestral Dish: Sludge? Stew? Slumgullion!

An update, 28 November 2013: Slumgullion has almost as many devotees as Anything f’Thanksgiving! And so I give thanks today to all who have posted comments below about their family memories of this ultimate clean-the-refrigerator-out dish. The variations continue to intrigue me. I cannot say why my family’s Slumgullion recipe is the way it is, but on the other hand, maybe that’s what makes it Slumgullion.


Yes, this workaday classic was going to be October’s Dish of the Month, but October ran away with us. Now here we are in November, when we’re all supposed to be arguing about the best way to roast the turkey.

Well, we can’t have Thanksgiving every day, my dears. On the other hand we could have slumgullion every day, if we dared.

What is slumgullion? If you’re Irish-American and you grew up in the pre-convenience food era, you probably already know.
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Seeking, finding, obsessing: an introduction

I am one of those genealogy addicts. You might run from us at parties. I understand.

Worse, the addiction has grown beyond mere family trees. In trying to uncover my ancestry, I’ve become addicted to uncovering history lessons on topics that fascinate me, if not the rest of my household.
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