Category Archives: Genealogy

A Memory of Christmas Past

A Memory of Christmas Past


This was a common occurrence around the dining room table in La Canada, CA (abt. 1957)


My mother, Jean Marie Burnham (1914-2012), was a prolific writer.  Writing was an important part of her life and she was probably one of the last letter writers since the art of pen to paper is rapidly becoming a lost art.  In addition to her letter writing, she would write to the local newspaper editor and create poems filled with her often strong opinions and feelings.    She wanted to leave her thoughts and recollections for others to read so she not only wrote her memoirs, she actually penned her own obituary, not wanting to leave her life story to others (which tells many in our family where the “control-freak” originated).  In her later years, she composed poems for the holidays and included them in family Christmas Cards.

Christmas 2009

        I had a dream the other night.

It was Christmas.

All the family was there

From the eldest to the least.

None were missing.

We were sitting at a long table

In La Canada

In the living room.

We were so happy

Eating, laughing, talking.

I woke up

And reminisced of Christmas’s past.

Then I thought of the time

We would all be in heaven.

The circle would be unbroken.

What a day of rejoicing that would be.

It would be Christmas

Every day.


The Little Rascals

The Little Rascals

Helen, Bert, Neil McKinnon - Revere, MA on Grandmother's doorstoop         The McKinnon children, Helen Kathleen (1909-1990), Herbert James (1913-1996) and my father, Neil John (1910-2000)   Not pictured, William Sylvester(1913-1996)
Revere, Massachusett 1913
On the stoop of their grandmother’s home,
Katherine O’Brien nee Lanigan

Doesn’t the above picture remind you of the Little Rascals TV series?   Not the full colored movie that was released in 1994 but the black and white TV series that was started in 1955 and had morphed out of the short ‘Our Gang’ comedies from the 1920’s.  I grew up with those rascals and all their escapades.  If you haven’t seen this series, you must.  It takes one back to a time that was innocent and fun for children, when kids could run the streets with their friends, be relatively safe instead of consumed by technology.  It was a time when adventurous and sometimes naughty children were call ‘rascals’.

little+rascals 2

Here are some of the Rascals’ characters, Alfafa, Buckwheat, Darla and Spanky (courtesy of Photo Bucket).  See the resemblance with the McKinnons?  William (Bill) looks like Alfafa, Helen (Nell) looks like Darla and my father Neil looks just like Spanky.  The other character pictured above is Buckwheat whose name would surely be politically incorrect today but was a fan favorite and introduced many young viewers to another ethnic group that they were probably separated from in their daily lives.

Unfortunately for the McKinnon rascals, their young lives would be met with many challenges as they grew up in a household with an alcoholic father, William Peter McKinnon ((1884-1951)  and a fiery-tempered, Irish-descent mother, Mary Ellen O’Brien (1889-1960).  My father shared the story of the numerous arguments between his parents which ended in dishes that flew across the room and smashed against the walls.  This always was the result of his inebriated father returning home after a night out spending what little money he had made.  William Peter McKinnon finally left  his home for good in 1918 when my father was only 8 and he never saw him again.  The youngest three children, Helen, Neil and Bert eventually ended up in a Home for the children of single parents and the oldest, Bill stayed with grandma Kate O’Brien since he was 15 and too old for the home.  Their mother couldn’t afford to support them and couldn’t find their father but one might ask where their mother ended up.  Well that is a story for another time.  Yet, through all the McKinnon Children’s challenges, as you can see,  the Little Rascals turned out all right and for the most part, happy and somewhat successful in each of their own ways.

Bill, Neil, Helen and Bert McKinnon 1937

L-R: Herbert James, Neil John, Helen Kathleen, William Sylvester 1937

Piece of Work

Piece of Work

Celia Grace Overholtzer

September 22, 1872 – August 5, 1976

Daughter of Samuel Ashton Overholtzer and Mariah Harnish

Revised Celia Overholtzer, Grandma at 12..her first picture

My sister and I have a saying that we use sometimes to describe certain people in our family that seem to have no sense of the scope or magnitude of what they are doing in certain circumstances.  If you are wondering if you might be one of those people that are a “piece of work”, you aren’t, because the designated recipients of that title never even imagine they are and would never even question it.

“Piece of Work” came to mind as I started going through my grandmother’s, Celia Grace Overholtzer,  primitively-carved, wooden box that held some of her most cherished items.  My mother also had one such box by the time she had passed away and I always find it fascinating what people who have lived as long as my mother and grandmother see as their most cherished possessions after multiple downsizing and reevaluations of those items. My mother’s box held treasures such as notes and letters from her children; a minuscule porcelain doll that was her only toy as a child; a letter from her father after he had left following a divorce which he had sent to her when she was 12 but her mother had withheld until she was an adult.

In contrast, my grandmother’s box was filled with pictures of herself and then I recalled how she would often have her Brownie box camera in hand at holidays and events but somehow always ended up with a picture of herself at each of these times.  Those pictures were in her box and it became apparent that she had created a ‘ME’ monument in that wooden box.  Of course, I will never know for sure what her intent was but as I looked around my office, my eyes rested on a picture of my grandmother when she was 12.  As chance had it, I came upon a hand-written story by my grandmother of just how that picture that came to be.  This is what she wrote:

“I seemed to be the available girl of the family to go help women with their children.  My first job, I was 10 years old and my mother let me go home with a cousin whose wife was sick and had 2 little children to take care of.  I got homesick and only stayed one week.  Too many children at home to play with.  The next time Mother let me go was about like it but 2 older boys had a sick mother but they had to be cared for and looked after.  I stayed through the 3 months of summer vacation and my brother took me home to start school.  I used the money they paid me to have my picture taken (12 years old).  That was just the start of being  “another Mother” and helper and it didn’t end there.”

It certainly didn’t end there.  She did go on to spend almost a lifetime of taking care of other people’s children and homes but evidently her love of having her picture taken didn’t end there either as we have hundreds of pictures of her throughout her life.  Celia Grace Overholtzer, you’re a piece of work!

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