Ancestry Research, Again

Once again, I’m in the midst of ancestry research, after being contacted by a relative in Arkansas that wanted to share information on my father’s family.  Each of us has done quite a bit of ancestry work, and it makes perfect sense for us to collaborate and share what we have done on this particular line in the family.  I’ve also been working on some other family lines, too.

I first began ancestry research in earnest after my brother died in 2007.  Some events during that sad time pointed to the fact that we really needed to get our family history documented somewhere, and I realized I had the opportunity to leverage my aging mother’s memory of such things, especially since she had some old family photos that we needed to preserve.

I created a family tree at Ancestry online for the first time in 2007 in memory of my brother, and I will never regret that decision.  My sister scanned the old photos, and I edited them as best I could and even learned how to “rebuild” some areas in a few photos in the process.  I bought a six-month research membership, and I used it almost daily for that entire time.

I was honestly quite surprised at how much good information I was able to glean at Ancestry.  Many times, I would find a piece of information and ask my mother about it, which would jog her memory to confirm the details.  I learned of family members that I never even knew about and new details about others as well.  It was such a fascinating experience, and it was a great way for me, my mother and my sister to honor my brother in the process.

Finally, at the end of that initial six month period, I felt that I had exhausted the available resources at Ancestry for the paid membership, and I mostly put it aside for several years.  On occasion, I would purchase a single month membership, just to check to see if any new information popped up.

After being contacted by this relative a couple of weeks ago, I have once again purchased a research membership, and my goodness, there is so much more information available now.  I have already made some great updates to many people in the tree, and I’ve also been able to work through some “dead-end” tree issues through other member trees that were not available a few years ago.  The 1940 census information is also available now and was not available the last time I did research online.

I’m once again “hooked” on this little project, at least for a while.  The standard membership is a somewhat limited membership, but it is all I need for now.  Having access to other member trees, grave site records and the available census data will get me the information I want at this time, and I can always go back later on to add public records and other information that is available with a more expensive membership.  Over the years, I have also found plenty of errors, especially in the transcription of census data.  It is certainly understandable, and I try to file corrections online when I find them for the benefit of future researchers.

Hubby's great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother!
Hubby’s great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother.  They are buried, along with most of hubby’s other grandparents, in the same cemetery in a remote location in another part of the state.  That cemetery is now has a state historical marker, and it was a truly fabulous find, especially the fact that this photo is such a good one, considering they were both born in the early 1800’s.

The biggest score in this most recent round of research has been tracing my husband’s family back to his great-great grandfather for certain.  And of all things, I even found a good photo of him and his wife!  If you’ve ever done ancestry research, perhaps you can appreciate what a great find that was.

My grandmother (right) and her sister (left) as young women, most likely taken around 1910
My grandmother (right) and her younger sister (left) as young women, most likely taken around 1910.  I spent quite a bit of time restoring this photo a few years ago.

I also found the burial site of my dear grandmother’s younger sister at last.  They were very close but were separated after their mother died at a young age from a ruptured appendix.  I actually had to call cemeteries in California in the area where she lived at the time of her death to locate it, since that cemetery has not yet acquired volunteers to catalog their sites online.  My grandmother and this sister were very close, despite the long distance between them for many years, the distance between west Texas and northern California, which I certainly understand these days myself.  As it turns out, she lived and was buried with her husband in a cemetery that is not too terribly far from where my daughter now lives.  I sent that information to my daughter, and she was excited to know there was some close family history in her area.  She said it “made her day” and plans to go check it out sometime when she is in the area.

If you’ve ever considered ancestry research, I highly recommend subscribing at Ancestry for a month, just to give it a try to get a basic tree online.  You may provide some missing links for someone else, and you will find that you can make a lot of progress quickly, too.  Just *be very careful* and review all records for accuracy before attaching them to an ancestor’s record.  If in doubt, just throw it in your “shoebox” there.  The little green leaves are just suggestions.  I open every census document and review it myself.  Your tree and all information you find will be kept there permanently, and you will always have access to it, even when you no longer pay for a research membership.  It has been a fabulous tool for us, and our wonderful tree is something that I will always treasure.

At some point, I will have to hand off administration of this tree, hopefully to a family member that loves ancestry research as much as I do now.  Much time and effort has gone into it, and much more will go into it over time, too.  It is truly a priceless treasure.

Making progress in my research has also been a great way for me to honor my mother in a personal way right now.  She was all about family, and it seems quite fitting to now continue this project in her honor.  Researching my ancestors has brought back many fond memories from 2007 when she helped so much with this project.  That was a very meaningful time with Mom, one that I will forever cherish, and it is giving me a good deal of comfort right now to return to this project once again.

Note:  If you would like to look for the burial location of a family member or friend, check out Find A Grave.  It’s totally free to use anytime.

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Twister Weather

Twister weather.  That is what my beloved grandmother called it, and it is that time of year here once again.

We have been twister watching and twister dodging all of our 50+ years of life.  I have many harrowing stories to share, but I won’t bother with those today, with one exception.

My most recent experience in twister dodging was in 2013.  I even wrote about that terrifying experience here a few days later.  My nephew and I made a quick road trip to Oklahoma City on the very day of the El Reno tornado that was so deadly and devastating, and if not for checking the NWS Norman Twitter feed as we sat down for a late lunch there that day, we likely would have been right on that very interstate west of town when the twister crossed the road and killed so many people, including some storm chasers.  We got out only an hour before it hit that area, and it gives me chills every time I sit and think about it.

The lesson I learned from that experience in Oklahoma is that Twitter is your friend in severe weather when following the local NWS office in the area.  They know before anyone else what the story is, and it is a wise decision to follow their Twitter feeds closely during severe weather, if possible.

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The first Tornado Watch of the year was just issued for my area about an hour ago.  Time to review tornado preparedness steps again.  I really wish we had a storm cellar, too.

Tornado Safety Tips

In more recent years, my mother was the “weather-bird” of the family and never failed to keep me informed of the weather, both here at home, and at our travel destination if we were headed out-of-town.  Now that twister weather is back, I’m finding that I’m missing the concern she had for our welfare, too.  I miss my Mom calling me to make sure I’m aware of the weather update.  She would already have called me by now.

Nobody loves you like your mom.

Isn’t it strange the things we miss when our loved ones are gone?  It just hit me big time.

Tis the season.

Update:  My immediate area missed out on yesterday’s storms, but counties to the north and east of us got clobbered with large hail (baseball size) and two tornado touchdowns.  My PYKL3 Radar app on my phone showed it all and even rotations that never touched down, and I saw it there even before it was reported on the news.  That is a truly great app to have.  Only $10 for Android phones.

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Heading West

Mostly, I want to encourage you to just drive from Alpine to Fort Davis to Balmorhea, as it is some of the prettiest and most unique scenery in the state.

West Texas Route

I just put this suggested itinerary together for a fellow RVer who was interested in a possible alternate route as they are planning to leave south Texas soon, but thought I would also share it here for others as well.

I have nothing against I-10 once you leave Kerrville headed west, but there is really nothing all that special to see on the way either.   If taking I-10, though, I recommend a stop at South Llano River State Park for a night or two.  It is a small but very scenic state park on the Llano River and is quite popular for RVers.  If you have the time and take I-10, stopping in Fredericksburg would be nice.  The Nimitz Museum and Becker Vineyards are great places to visit.  Becker is a few miles outside of town.  Fredericksburg is just a neat place.

Here is the route I would personally take, though.  (Additional information: If you plug the route in from Harlingen to El Paso, Google Maps will show about a five hour time savings by taking I-10 vs the route I shared.  However, there is a good stretch of I-10 leaving the hill country and into far West Texas that is 80 mph on I-10.  No RVer is going to drive that fast, I hope, so there really is not that much time savings by taking I-10.  It’s great if you’re driving a car, though, and as far as interstates go, it is pretty nice, although remote.)

Garner State Park – one of the oldest and most scenic state parks we have visited in Texas, on the beautiful Frio River.  Just avoid it on the weekends, if possible, especially in the summer months.  It is extremely popular on weekends but very nice any other time.  We camped right on the river, and I am more than ready to go back there again.  Lost Maples State Natural Area is nearby, but I don’t recommend driving a large rig there from Garner.  It is akin to driving over a steep mountain pass on a two lane road with no shoulder.  Just take your car over from Garner instead, if you have time to drive over there.  Garner is one of the few state parks that allows winter Texans in the winter months because it is a huge park as far as RV sites, and visitation is much lower in the winter.

Amistad Reservoir and National Recreation Site – this is still on our “to visit” list, but since it is on the way to the mountains of far West Texas, it would be a nice stop.  There are boon-docking sites in the national recreation area or RV parks in town nearby.

Late addition: Seminole Canyon State Park –  Mona Lisa of The Lowe’s RV Adventures also recommends a stop at Seminole Canyon State Park on this route, too.  I have not yet visited this unique park, which is located west of Amistad Reservoir, but she highly recommends it and enjoyed their visit there recently.  She recommends camping here instead of Amistad, too.  Thanks for that recommendation!

Alpine – The Museum of the Big Bend – yet another place on our “to visit” list after we visited Alpine on our most recent trip to the area.  There are also several RV parks in town, but I recommend heading on to the state park in Fort Davis to camp, if possible.  This is a good place to refresh groceries, gas, etc., too.  Far West Texas is a remote place.

Mostly, I want to encourage you to just drive from Alpine to Fort Davis to Balmorhea, as it is some of the prettiest and most unique scenery in the state.  You will be just fine in a large rig, as it is good two-lane road the entire way.  Please don’t drive this as night and miss this pretty scenery.  Watch out for “suicide pigs” – javelina that sometimes can be found on the road in morning and evening hours.

Note: While not on this route, the eclectic little town of Marfa is a very popular tourist destination these days, and the official Marfa Lights viewing platform is located on this same highway between Alpine and Marfa.  Marfa may or may not be for you, though, so before traveling there, just do a little research ahead of time.  Prada Marfa is also much further out past Valentine and probably not worth the long drive there and back.  But, if you should continue directly on this highway to Van Horn and El Paso, you will see these sights.  I highly recommend taking the scenic drive listed above from Alpine to Fort Davis to Balmorhea instead.  The drive between Marfa and Fort Davis is just not as scenic.

Davis Mountains State Park – obviously one of our favorite places to visit each year in any season!  50 amp sites are highly coveted but the 30 amp sites are also nice and are often available when the 50 amp sites are booked.  We have stayed in both.  Fort Davis National Historic Site, 75 Mile Scenic Loop, McDonald Observatory, the neat little town of Fort Davis, the historic Indian Lodge (built by the CCC), and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center are just some of the things to see here.  The 75 miles scenic loop is especially impressive.  Bird watching and hiking are big activities here, but it is also just a beautiful place, even in the RV sites.  In town, there is a decent grocery store where you can also buy gas.

Balmorhea State Park – a nice place to camp or to just make a quick stopover to see the world’s largest (and very historic) spring-fed pool, built by the CCC.  Only 45 minutes from Fort Davis.  There is one nice convenience store for gas.  Recommend having a full tank when you leave Fort Davis or Balmorhea headed west.

Cattleman’s Restaurant – on the way to El Paso, one of the most memorable places we have ever dined.  I remember the views are just extraordinary at sunset.  It is about 30-45 minutes east of El Paso, just off of I-10.  It’s been quite a while since we’ve dined here, but I believe it is still as good as ever.

White Sands National Monument – if you’ve never been here, it is a must see at least once!  I can’t help with a recommendation as to where to park the RV, though, since we have not RV camped in this area.

We have spent a lot of time in the Ruidoso – Cloudcroft – Alamogordo area (especially Ruidoso) and have RV camped in the national forest at Cloudcroft.  If you have more time in this area, it’s a great area to visit and spend some time.  You cannot drive the RV directly between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft, unfortunately.  There is another way to get there that circles up closer to Ruidoso, then cuts back into Cloudcroft.  You can drive a car directly between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft, though, and it is a great drive as long as your brakes are in good shape.

Of course, diverting down into Big Bend National Park is certainly another possible addition, if time permits.  Driving Big Bend is a great road trip in the car, and you could leave the RV in Marathon, Alpine or Fort Davis for the day and take a picnic lunch along.  We’ve considered doing that many times while in Fort Davis and will probably do it at some point ourselves again, hopefully soon.  Big Bend is just an amazing place.

Hope this helps, if you’re interested in possibly taking a more scenic route west and seeing some great sights!

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A Weekend in Point Reyes

I made a solo trip to see our California kids last weekend, since my hubby had to make a long trip to Europe, and it was a good weekend for me to visit them.  My daughter mentioned the possibility of us visiting the Point Reyes area together for the weekend, so after spending a little time exploring options for lodging on the internet, I found a great place for us to stay on Saturday night.  It was also one of the few hotels that did not require a two-night minimum on that weekend.  Lodging is quite limited in this entire area, so an advance reservation is definitely required on a weekend, or a least a spring weekend when so many people seem to be in this area for wildflowers and whale watching at the point.

On Wednesday, I shared some of the many beautiful flowers I saw on this trip, both at the hotel and inside the national park, Wordless Wednesday – The Flowers of Point Reyes National Seashore.  We saw some gorgeous flowers, to be sure.

I included details of the entire weekend in this post, making it a bit longer than what I normally share.  I haven’t been on much of a writing roll lately, so I felt it better to share the entire trip here while I had the time to do so, rather than possibly dragging it out.

This was my first time to fly out of a different airport in my part of the state.  I saved over $200 to simply drive two hours to this airport, and I was able to get better connections as well, even though it is a smaller airport.  On my second flight on Friday evening, I flew into the Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose, and it was a beautiful sunset flight across some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.  I always love the flight from Denver to the bay area, but it is especially scenic from the air with snow still on the Rocky Mountains.  Seeing this sight just before sunset on this trip was extra special, too.

Flying Over Denver at Sunset
Flying over Denver at sunset
Flying Over the Rockies at Sunset
The Rocky Mountains at sunset

Daughter picked me up at the airport, and we enjoyed a few hours together before her hubby got home from a late meeting.  We also discovered that my airbed had a small leak in it, so after debating some options, we found ourselves at Target just before midnight buying another airbed.  It was actually a delightful and fun time, and we “made some memories.”  They are now the proud owners of a brand spanking new Coleman airbed that has a built-in electric pump for added convenience.  I have to say it was very comfortable, too.

On Saturday morning, we all dropped by a local Starbucks for a quick breakfast and coffee before hitting the road to Point Reyes, and I always enjoy visiting some of the stores that they frequent.  That may sound odd, but it’s just interesting to see these places that are a regular part of their daily lives now.  The drive to Point Reyes took about 1.5 hours, and many people were out on their bicycles as we arrived in the area on a perfect weather day.

The Point Reyes Seashore Lodge was a nice place for us to stay.  It is only a few miles from Point Reyes Station, and it is one of very few lodging options in the area with close proximity to the main areas of the national seashore.  We found it to be a delightful little place with a good restaurant on the property where we dined on Saturday evening.  The grounds were immaculate with a beautiful stream on property, and we were able to just hike to the Bear Valley Visitor Center in the national park, which was only about a half mile away on a nice trail.  We also enjoyed a good complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel on Sunday morning, too.  The rooms are heated and cooled through radiant heating and cooling in the floor.  Yes, the floor.  If this might not be for you, think twice prior to staying here.  I only got a bit warm late in the afternoon when we had full sun on the windows, and I slept with one window cracked open just a bit for some fresh air.

Point Reyes Seashore Lodge
Point Reyes Seashore Lodge
My room with a view
My room with a view
Grounds at Point Reyes Seashore Lodge
Beautiful garden at Point Reyes Seashore Lodge
Stream at Point Reyes Seashore Lodge
Pretty stream on property

We also dined twice at the Station House Café in Point Reyes Station.  We ate lunch there when we first arrived in the area on Saturday, and we also ate appetizers and dinner there on Sunday evening.  That proved to be an especially fun experience, too.  We arrived at the restaurant too early for dinner on Sunday, so we started with appetizers in the bar, then decided to just stay for dinner when we saw a band setting up to play live music.  The group was a fabulous blue-grass band, and the longer they played, the more the locals and visitors started streaming in to hear them.  By the time we left, our table was quite coveted and was quickly grabbed by another group.

There are so many great hiking trails in the national park, and we made three nice hikes in the short time we were in the area.

Our first hike on Saturday afternoon took us on an informal trail from our hotel to the Bear Valley Visitor Center, which was a .6 mile hike with only a small incline.

A short hike to the visitor center from our hotel
A short hike to the visitor center from our hotel
Bear Valley Visitor Center
Bear Valley Visitor Center

We looked around the visitor center for a few minutes, then we opted to hike the Arch Rock Trail for a while.  It is a long trail, and it is also now closed further down the trail after a tragic collapse that killed one person about a month ago.  We hiked to beautiful Divide Meadow, and it was a steady uphill climb most of the way to that point.  Restrooms were available at Divide Meadow, and it would be a great place for a picnic while on this hike.  From this point, the trail starts to go back down toward the ocean, but we opted to turn around and head back to our hotel and get ready for dinner that evening.

Hiking the Arch Rock Trail
Hiking the Arch Rock Trail
Divide Meadow on the Arch Rock Trail
Divide Meadow on the Arch Rock Trail

After dining at the hotel that evening, we decided to play pool in the game room at the hotel.  Daughter beat her hubby in the first match, then I took her on in the second match.  She was amazed that I knew how to play pool, and I regaled her with the story of how I met her dad and smacked him good in a game of pool on that first meeting, long before we ever started dating.  She was pretty fascinated by it all, and I will need to brush up on my pool game for future matches, as she beat me quite soundly.

On Sunday morning, we ate a quick breakfast at the hotel, then drove to the Ken Patrick Visitor Center in the national park.  This is where we were required to catch a park shuttle bus to the drop areas for the two trails that we planned to hike that day.  The shuttle is also $7 per person and exact change was required – good to know if you plan to go at some point and plan to pay with cash.

Unlike the Bear Valley Visitor Center, which was located in a more wooded area, this one sat on a beautiful beach.

Ken Patrick Visitor Center
Ken Patrick Visitor Center
Beach at Ken Patrick Visitor Center
Beach at Ken Patrick Visitor Center
Beach at Ken Patrick Visitor Center
Beach at Ken Patrick Visitor Center with Chimney Rock in the distance
Pathways on the beach
Pathways and flowers on the beach
Shuttle bus
Shuttle bus to the Point Reyes Lighthouse and Chimney Rock trails

Our first hike on Sunday morning took us to the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse.  No doubt, this is the primary sight to see in the national park, too.  While I’m not sure this is technically a hike per se, the trek to the lighthouse is certainly a hike unto itself, since it is a half-mile hike uphill from the shuttle bus stop area to the lighthouse visitor center, as well as an additional walk via 308 steps down and back to the lighthouse, covering a 365 foot vertical drop/climb each way.  A sign nearby shows this to be the equivalent of descending and ascending a 30-story building.  Fortunately, this was our first hike on Sunday morning.  My legs definitely felt that climb back up, but I made it just fine with a few rest stops along the way.  It was worth the effort, too.  The historic lighthouse was a special sight to see, especially for me as I love lighthouses and seldom get to see them in person like this.  I will always remember and treasure seeing this special historic lighthouse, for sure.

The lighthouse area here on the point is also one of the foggiest and windiest places on the west coast, but we were fortunate to have a calm and beautiful day.  This is likely the exception rather than the norm here, too.  I’m not sure how I would have made the steep climb down to and up from the lighthouse if the wind had been blowing hard.  If the wind is blowing 40 mph or higher, the steps to the lighthouse are closed for safety reasons, and I totally understand why.  Whale watching is a big activity here in the spring months, but unfortunately, we did not see any while we were here, even though several had been spotted earlier that day.

Wind and fog at the lighthouse
Wind and fog at the lighthouse

One point of interesting trivia about the Point Reyes Lighthouse is the fact that the movie, The Fog (1979), was filmed here.  That movie is one that my family enjoyed and my hubby still likes to watch on occasion even today.  For more information on those filming locations, check out Film Location for The Fog.  I’m not much for scary movies, but The Fog was a good one.

Point Reyes National Seashore at the lighthouse
Point Reyes National Seashore at the lighthouse
Point Reyes Lighthouse Hours
Point Reyes Lighthouse Hours
Hike to Point Reyes Lighthouse
Hike to Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes Lighthouse National Register of Historic Places
Point Reyes Lighthouse National Register of Historic Places
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes LIghthouse
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Fresnel Lens - Point Reyes Lighthouse
Fresnel Lens dates back to 1867 – Paris, France – Point Reyes Lighthouse
308 Steps - Point Reyes Lighthouse
308 Steps at Point Reyes Lighthouse – a challenging climb

After hiking to the lighthouse, we then caught the shuttle bus to the trailhead for the Chimney Rock trail.  It was the easiest trail of our trip with only a slight incline on part of the trail.  While the Arch Rock Trail was wooded with quite a bit of shade, the Chimney Rock Trail was wide open on a peninsula with ocean on both sides of us, and it was so neat to see a large group of elephant seals sunning on one of the beaches along the way.

Hiking is such a great activity for the body and soul, especially when you have the opportunity to hike in such beautiful places as this.  Hikes like these inspire me to stay in good shape so that I can try to keep up with my kids on such fun adventures in the future, too.

Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals sunning on a beach near Chimney Rock
Historic Lifeboat Bay
Historic Lifeboat Station
Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock
At Chimney Rock
Near Chimney Rock
Beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore
Beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore

After our hiking was done, we took the shuttle bus back to the visitor center, ate dinner in Point Reyes Station and started our drive back to San Francisco via a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.  My hotel for the night was near SFO, so it made sense to take this route on the way.  Garmin also surprised us by taking us on a new little road that was populated with some beautiful redwoods, which was quite a surprise for us.

Surprised by a patch of Redwoods on our drive

I always enjoy seeing the Golden Gate Bridge again.  It is such an awesome sight.

Golden Gate Bridge, driving into San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, driving into San Francisco

While my quick little weekend trip was too short, as always, I’m glad to have spent some quality time with the kids again, seeing some of God’s fabulous handiwork and enjoying their company, especially right now.  We had some really deep conversations, such as why some eggs are white and some are brown, and what exactly the distinction is between a brook, a creek and a stream.  We coined a new word to just make it easy and cover them all – a brook-creek-stream!  You heard it here first.

Sadly, my times with them are few and far between, for sure, but this quick visit definitely helped to brighten my spirits as I continue to maneuver my way through this first hard year after losing my mother, our last living parent, back in January.  I found myself fighting back tears on a couple of occasions on the trip, especially as I recalled bringing Mom along on our first trip to the bay area a few years ago.  I’m so glad we took her with us on that memorable trip now, too.  While memories can be a little hard at times like this, they are still bright lights that make our lives better if we look for them and treasure them.  They are kind of like lighthouses, I guess.  That is one reason I like to photograph and write about times like this now.  I want to hang onto these special, beautiful memories that are such blessings in my life.

In a post just a few weeks ago, I lamented on how I needed Spring to get here.  I got a great big dose of it on this trip, not just in the sights I saw but especially the company I had with me.  I also got a beautiful dose of it a couple of weeks ago in the Texas bluebonnets, too.  I am blessed – so blessed indeed.  Life goes on.

I highly recommend visiting Point Reyes National Seashore, but keep in mind that the lighthouse is closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.   Just be sure to keep that in mind and visit on a day that it is open, since it is the primary sight to see here.  Visiting on a good weather day with calm winds would be a bonus, too.

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Wordless Wednesday – Flowers of Point Reyes National Seashore

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California Poppies

California Poppies



Wildflowers of Chimney Rock

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