Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Sewing Table

One of my most prized possessions is an old sewing table that once belonged to my great-grandmother.  The poor old thing has a long history, but has lovingly been restored and now resides with me.  The table has a drop leaf which extends outward to create work space, but I close the leaf and it becomes a nice end table by my stitching chair.  

My mother remembers it sitting in the corner of  her grandmother's dining room.  It was always open and had a sewing project in progress laying on top. 

 Katherine (Hochstein) Albrecht was born in 1862 in Dane County, Wisconsin.  She was the oldest of seven daughters of John and Susanna (Lenz) Hochstein.  She married Joseph Albrecht at age 16 and 7 children were born in Wisconsin.  The family then moved from Wisconsin to Butler County, Iowa where 4 more children were born.

We believe the table originated in Wisconsin and made the move to Iowa along with the rest of the family in 1892.  Possibly it was a wedding present or perhaps a gift from her husband.

The table only measures 26 inches tall.  Katherine was a tiny woman barely 5' tall, so it was probably just the right size for her use.  Was the table made especially for her?  We don't know at this time.

I'm also a seamstress like Katherine, but my new modern sewing/craft table measures 36 inches tall which is perfect for my 5'6" frame.  When I stand at Katherine's table, I feel her presence and realize how small she was and to think she gave birth and raised 11 children!  Her last child was born just 6 months before her first grandchild.

This picture of Kate was taken about 1906.  She would have been about 44 years old.  Her youngest child was about 4 years old and her oldest son was 28. 

Katherine died in 1943 and the table was given to her daughter, my grandmother, Matilda (Albrecht) Noss.  She was the first of Katherine's children to be born in Iowa in 1893.  Matilda also had 11 children so the old sewing table was put to good use.  Tillie, as she was known, was also an excellent seamstress and had worked  for a department store in Greene, Iowa before her marriage.  In those days, all dresses were not bought off the rack.  A woman could come to the store, choose her pattern and material. Then a seamstress employed by the store would make the dress to her specification.

Shortly after Katherine's death, Tillie, her husband and younger children moved to California.  The old sewing table was packed up and made the long trip over the mountains far away from it's Midwest origins.  When Tillie died in 1984, the table was given to her daughter, Julia, who is my mother.  Mom packed up the old table in California and drove it back over the mountains to Iowa. 

The table was now approximately 100 years old and starting to look it's age.  Mom didn't know what to do with the table as it definitely needed some loving care.  She gave the table to my sister, Eileen, who enjoyed restoring furniture. Eileen lived in Wisconsin, so the rickety, well-used table returned to it's original location after all those years.  Eileen took that old table and brought it back to it's original glory.  It was beautiful.

In the late 90's, Eileen decided to make a move to California to be closer to her grandchildren.  She would be living with her son's family and have no room for the grand little table.  She offered it to me as she knew it would be cared for with the love it deserved.

So this precious table now resides in Iowa with me.  I use it to hold embroidery and knitting supplies.  It sits near my stitching chair.  Somehow I think great-grandmother Katherine would like that.  As I slide open the old drawers and reach for another skein of yarn or a spool of thread, I think of all the women before me who used this table to hold their own handwork supplies.  Especially I'm reminded of my dear sister whose hands restored the old table with love. I lost my sister to a devastating stroke last year and this table is a forever link between the two of us.

Someday the table will be passed on to my daughter and it's journey will continue. I only hope she will treasure all the memories it holds within its drawers.  Now if I could only teach her how to sew on a button !!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Outhouse

Anyone who does family history research has a favorite story.  Mine revolves around little Levi Pecht of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.  This is the newspaper article that caught my interest:

  "Levi Pecht, fifteen month old son of Alonzo Pecht, fell into a privy at the rear of his father's jewelry business on Market Street.  The privy was a new one, being twenty-one feet deep with about a foot of accumulation at the bottom which saved the child.  A young son of Samuel A. Walters was left [sic] down and brought the boy up with only a little scratch.  8/24/93".   Dan McClenahen, "People In The News In Mifflin County, Vol.II (1886-1899)"
You can't read this without seeing the humor, but imagine the terror of that little boy to be doused in a foot of "accumulation"? 

I have a long history with outhouses.  I did not live in a house with indoor plumbing until leaving home at the age of eighteen.  We had running water in the basement which included a sink and shower stall, but that was it.  All water for kitchen duties was carried upstairs in a bucket. 

I grew up walking the long path out the back door, past the pump with the tin drinking cup, around the old garage, past the strawberry patch to the little wooden building in the back.  Actually, my dad built the Cadillac of outhouses.  It was a three-holer!  Two large holes and a smaller one for my sister and I.  Mom always bought real toilet paper though so we never had to use the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs.  Although they made good reading material.

The terror of the dark kept me holding my breath on that dash down the path during my younger years.  I would beg my older sister to walk with me, but you can imagine how high that was on the list of things she wanted to do.  If Mom insisted that Sis take me to the toilet, then she would tease me the entire way ... stories of the boogyman, animals in the bushes, making scratching noises as I sat inside, etc.  She relished her job as Big Sister, I can tell you.  In the summer there were always spider webs and assorted insects to worry about.  My favorite was to make the trek in the dark, and sit down on a spider web.... still makes me catch my breath.  The bumble bees and wasps liked to visit while you were sitting there.  A job is finished quickly to the tune of a wasp circling the premises. Then, of course, in the wintertime you had to wipe the frost from around the seat before you delicately sat down in -20 degree weather. 

A time-honored tradition in my hometown was the game of tipping toilets which usually occurred the week of Halloween.  If you owned an outhouse, you expected the worst as it was considered fair game. Our outhouse was never a victim as Dad was a champion "tipper" in his day so when he built our super duper model, it was made to withstand outside forces. 

Do you know how many kids can pile in an old 1949 Packard? 

Oh, about 8-9.  We would drive quietly up and down the side streets searching for outhouses that were tucked away in backyards or near an alley.  By the late 50's they were becoming few and far between.  One dark night we found a likely target sitting on a small hill.  We all piled out of the car in a tangle of legs and arms, trying not to giggle and make too much noise.  We decided to roll that bugger down the hill.  How much fun is that!!  We all started to push and heave to no avail.  Then one of the more intelligent members of the group noticed that the clothesline was up against the side of the outhouse and prevented us from fulfilling our dirty deed.  So, we proceeded to lift the wire up and out of the way, gave a huge push, and down the hill it rolled.  Oh my Lord, you have never heard such a racket.  We realized later the owner of the outhouse no longer used it for it's original purpose and had chose to store his storm windows inside.  Holy Crap!! (no pun intended).  Do you know how fast 8 kids can pile into a car and skedaddle?  I think we set a record. That was the end of our "tipping" days.  We never did it again. 

So, I'm having a conversation with my 10-year-old grandson one day and I'm explaining to him that in my day we didn't have cell phones, ipods, and all that fancy stuff.  Heck, we didn't even have an indoor toilet.  His eyes got really big and he says, "You mean you had one of  those blue things in your back yard?"   Well, no, it wasn't a port-a-potty.  Those things are just tin cans.  A wooden outhouse has character ... and sometimes a foot or two of accumulation.

At this time in my research, I am unable to link little Levi Pecht to my husband's line.  But I firmly believe that anyone who can survive a drop of twenty-one feet into a foot of "accumulation" belongs in my family tree.

I'm just sayin' ..........

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I've received several warm welcome messages in the past couple of days.  Thank you all for the wonderful encouragement.  Guess it's time to swallow the butterflies and jump in.

One of my fondest memories growing up in small town Iowa revolves around my Grandma Kornegor.  She lived just about 3 blocks away and I loved to walk down that dirt road to her house and spend the afternoon.  She had a great playroom upstairs filled with old dolls, small china dishes and assorted girly things that her youngest child and only daughter, my Aunt Genevieve,  had played with years before.  Many of the doll furniture pieces had been handmade by my Grandpa.  It was a lovely, quiet room tucked away beneath the eaves where a small girl, with a vivid imagination, could wile away the afternoon. 

She also had a great old piano that I would pound away on.  Of course, I could not play a note, but I would sit on that bench and sing, "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine" and pretend.  Now I realize why Grandma would also pick that exact time of day to work outside in her garden. 

One of my least favorite things was when she would send me out to the hen house to gather eggs.  Oh, how I hated those darn chickens!!  They would squawk and peck at me when I put my hand up to gather an egg.  Then I would run back to the house, crying and whining that I couldn't get the eggs.  Grandma would sigh and walk out with me, gruffly telling me to quit crying and she would show me how.  She would push those nasty hens off their nest and gather those eggs with no effort whatsoever all the while telling me how easy it was.  I tried to do it many times, but just could never overpower those hens and they knew it!!  They would lay in wait for me.  Finally, Grandma quit asking me to do the eggs.  She knew it was futile. 

She always wore a huge apron over her housedress.  It wrapped completely around and buttoned in the back.  She would use that apron for everything.  It made a perfect basket to carry the eggs back to the house, wipe a tear from a little girl's face, and even a quick dust of a table if company pulled into the yard.
Around the house, she always wore her stockings rolled to the knee with a garter to hold them in place along with the standard oxford shoe with a 2" heel.  I think all grandmas wore those shoes in the 40's.  In her later years, she had an old pair of trousers she wore in the garden.

Grandma always called a bicycle a "wheel".  She would stop by my house and say, "Evelyn, will you take your wheel and run to the store for me?"  Usually it was for a loaf of bread.  She would give me a quarter and since bread was only .20 that would give me a nickle to buy a candybar.  Big money in those days!

Grandma was born Isabel Stockman in March of 1884 in Boone County, Iowa.  She was the third child of William and Kate (Birmingham) Stockman.  She had a 6th grade education as was normal in that time.  I found her on the 1900 census of Boone County. She was 16 years old, listed as a servant, living with a widowed lady. She is listed as "Bell" which gives me the image of a vibrant young lady who enjoyed a bit of fun.  This photo was probably taken about that time.

She married my grandfather, George Kornegor, when she was 19 years old and they raised a family of four sons and a daughter.

In all the time I spent with my grandmother, I don't remember ever asking her about her parents or siblings.  I knew she had a siblings and once in a great while, one of them would visit; but they lived several miles away and people did not travel as they do today.  Now that I'm nuts about family history, I kick myself for not asking her a thousand questions while following her around the house and yard.  I now know her father came from Denmark.  What could she have told me about him?  I would love to have heard the story about why he came to the US when he was only 16 years old.  Her mother's family were all Scottish coal miners who emigrated to Ohio and then on to the coal fields in Boone County.  What glorious stories she might have told me if I had only asked. 

And then there was the day she caught me and my cousin Marge smoking ... but that's for another day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jumping in

Well, I'm jumping into the world of blogging.  After attending a terrific workshop at the Omaha Public Library by Susan Petersen (, I've decided to give it a whirl.  We shall see how it goes.  I hope to post about my genealogy research and my love of stitching, reading, and family. 

I've just returned from ten days of research in Salt Lake City and have a mound of data to enter into my database.  This year I spent the majority of my days verifying information gleaned from various undocumented sources found on the internet over the past couple of years.

Genealogy has changed so much in the 25 years that I've been digging.  No more cranking through census films by the hour.  Now everything is indexed on the internet and it's just a quick click of a mouse and it's all there in front of you.  You don't even have to leave the house or plug the parking meeting.  Heck, I do most of my searching in my jammies with a cup of coffee at 5:30 in the morning. 

I'm hoping this little journey into blogging with be successful.  Susan assured us that it would be easy peasy.  We shall see.