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May I Introduce to You . . . Celia Lewis

Come meet genealogy blogger Celia Lewis, author of the Twigs and Trees blog, in this interview by Tessa Keough at GeneaBloggers.

Come meet genealogy blogger Celia Lewis, author of the Twigs and Trees blog, in this interview by Tessa Keough at GeneaBloggers.

This week we travel up north (to Vancouver, British Columbia to be exact) and I have the pleasure of introducing you to Celia Lewis and her blogs. The first, Twigs and Trees, is a personal genealogy blog where Celia shares her family history research and stories with her family members and the genealogy community. The second, Terwilliger Souvenir Album is a project blog and Celia is documenting her great-grandfather’s souvenir album, 120 pages filled with cards and various ephemera, including political buttons. The album is a snapshot in time, combining a personal history with the times in which her great-grandfather lived. Celia started blogging in July 2012 after lurking on Google+ for a few months, while reading and then commenting on others’ blog posts (that is a great way to get starting – by wading into the blogging waters). Once Celia got started, she was hooked! Celia uses Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to advertise each of her posts. 

A Little Bit About Celia

“I was raised in Vancouver BC Canada, the middle child with an older sister and younger brother. My mother was a very nasty piece of work, targeting me for her sporadic, frequent personal attacks.  Who wanted to belong in that family, eh?!  It was significantly challenging to live with that level of emotional abuse.  I attended the University of BC and received a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in 1966, working for my first year in Leamington Ontario as a Victorian Order Nurse (home nursing), before eventually returning to B.C., marrying and having 4 children.  Not a good marriage, but wonderful children.  Divorcing after 14 years, I returned to the University of BC for more education, and received a Master’s of Arts in Counselling Psychology in 1987.

For many years I worked in a non-governmental agency in Vancouver BC, with families who had children with disabilities.  The last 10 years of my employment, I was one of two provincial coordinators providing short-term rehabilitation and support programs for children with recent brain injuries (non-automobile caused).  In almost every paid job or volunteer job I had, I wrote and/or edited newsletters, which I enjoyed immensely.  I retired in April 2008, and am enjoying retirement immensely.  My children are doing well, and my six grandchildren are fascinating to watch growing up.”

How Celia Got Started in Genealogy

“Our family never talked much about family history as we grew up.  My mother’s mother told many dramatic lies (so confusing) about herself and her husband’s family, and my father’s mother threw anything genealogical in the oil stove – including her sister-in-law’s professional genealogical report on the Gillespie line in Northern Ireland.  Yes.  She did.  All those pages which could have been so helpful (takes a moment to shiver).  Grandma G. seemed to think it was nothing but elitism and snobbery.

Around 2000, I helped my older sister clean out her basement storage space and came across my maternal grandmother’s old wooden trunk with a variety of boxes and papers, “stuff”.  She agreed I could take it home. When I finally started opening all the items in GrandPete’s trunk, I found a letter from her brother about a few ancestors clipped to pages photocopied from several surname and history books – Griswold, Buell, and others.  He wanted to join The Holland Society which required proving you were a descendant in the direct male line of an ancestor who lived in New Netherland before or during 1675. He was positive our Terwilliger line qualified.  He had sketched-out the names he had proven on a Holland Society application form.  Wow – we were in New Amsterdam in the 1600s?  And who were all those other people in Connecticut in the 1700s – with the surnames Graves, Treat, and Buell?  It was news to me … and I was hooked!  There were also a few photos of my mother’s family which I had never seen before.  I had almost no photos of my mother’s family, even fewer of my father’s, so these new photos were treasures.

I have had a computer since early mid-1980s and loved researching once the Internet began in mid-1990s.  It was so slow I could make tea as I waited for a good connection, but I simply loved the possibilities.  Research was a passion of mine, and I enjoyed trying to search out any details I could, as online genealogy took off!

My major reason for doing genealogy, however, was to experience a “larger sense of family.” I was able to see there were many families in my background and that “my family” was much more than my challenging parents. I have become friends with a previously-lost first cousin, several second cousins, and know of many other family members who continue to contact me, adding bits and pieces to our genealogy puzzles.  These past few years, I have interviewed several of my older first cousins. At the age of 71, I am the ‘kid’ cousin.  This spring or summer several of us will be tackling a number of boxes stored at two cousins’ homes.  I can hardly wait to see what we might find.

By the way, the title “Twigs and Trees” comes from a common nickname for Terwilliger men, Twig.  It seemed apropos as a title!”

Celia’s Thoughts on Blogging

“I never write anything without deciding on a title first – the title comes first and provides a focus for the rest (whether that is a blog, a poem, an article or a novel).   When I decided to start blogging, I came up with the title, and began with the first thing on my mind: “Who will pick up after me?”  After all, I was getting older, and wondered who would care about my photo albums, blog posts, and research once I was gone.

I enjoyed the first few months blogging, although I wasn’t very organized about it.  Thankfully I found the themes from GeneaBloggers very useful and other genealogists (Jill Ball, Randy Seaver and Judy Russell, to name a few) had intriguing suggestions as well. I kept reading, trying out new things, analyzing what I liked and didn’t like, and tweaking my blog as I learned something new.  I learned more and more about blogging as I went along, stretching my usual behaviour of acting like a turtle with my head pulled in!  I don’t mind commenting on people’s blogs – that just seems polite and friendly. However, putting my own writing out there – that was, and still is, a huge step (it does continue to be a confidence builder!).

Recently I completed the year-long challenge by Amy Johnson Crow, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – oh my, what a challenge that was.  I enjoyed it tremendously. From Zerubbabel Jerome to Reverend Christopher Youngs, I managed to find interesting people to write about and review the many gaps in my research.  It was a fabulous learning experience, and I’m continuing the 52 Weeks challenge this year.

I am also a fiction writer, and will soon need to have a blog/newsletter/platform as an author.  I think all the work I’m doing in genealogy blogging will help me immensely when I become published.  I have three related books finished which are in the edit/revision stage before they hit any agents/publishers.  Blogging is a fun writing journey for many varied reasons.”

Celia’s Tips for New (and Not So New) Bloggers

  • Think carefully about your purpose in blogging. There are many reasons for blogging, and all are valid.
  • Read a number of genealogy blogs to see what you enjoy and what you don’t and then analyze why. Is it the visual aspect of the blog?  Is it that the layout is plain or busy? Is it the content, the style, the images, the length of the posts, or something else?
  • Be willing to learn and tweak as you go. You can change anything so be willing to make changes.
  • If you are concerned about starting a blog, know that you can keep it private – that is an easy way to begin, so why not try it?
  • Whether you use Blogger (which I use with my Google account) or Weebly or WordPress, all of these platforms are easy to use.
  • Be willing to play with your blog (different backgrounds, layouts, widgets and plug-ins). It’s a learning process. I had been blogging for a while before a fellow blogger pointed out I could use “labels” on each blog so that Google and other search engines would be able to find my blog (thanks Christine Woodcock)!  Oh yeah, on the right hand side, “Labels.”
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help, but also don’t hesitate to do your homework. Read all the detailed notes on how to do each part of setting up a blog. I dashed in and started as if time was running out!
  • Once you have published your first post of your blog, send the details to GeneaBloggers so that Thomas MacEntee can let others know about your blog. He lists new ones each Saturday.
  • People seem to love seeing photographs to illustrate your blog points – but check to make certain those photos are actually yours to post publicly– copyright issues are quite a problem on the internet. Learn about copyright – it’s your responsibility.
  • Be polite and friendly when you comment on people’s blogs. And be polite and friendly when you write a reply to someone who has taken the time to comment on yours! Even if you don’t agree with their point of view, thank them for taking the time to comment.
  • Over time, you will find you have made new friends of the genealogy bloggers you get to know. I haven’t been able to travel to any conferences outside of BC but, if you are able, attend a conference.  Once there, take your list of genealogy bloggers and find them, introduce yourself, and talk with them.  It is so wonderful to be able to talk genealogy with someone whose eyes don’t glaze over!

Celia’s Favourite Blog Posts 

“These four posts were favourites of mine for many reasons – some because I had many views and/or responses on them, some because they were simply precious rare photos I could discuss and examine at my blog.

  • WORDLESS Wednesday – Baby Betty – This very sweet 1911 photo of my grandmother interacting with her 3 month-old first baby was a surprise find in the trunk I mentioned.  She died before one year of age, apparently due to complications from a severe milk allergy (which runs through our family).
  • TERWILLIGER – That SOUVENIR ALBUM – When I posted this and received many comments and suggestions, I realized I had to make a separate blog for it.  That way I would be able to permanently save the album and share it with family members as well as others interested in history and genealogy.  I have found a number of cousins and several other genealogists who have helped me understand some of the items on pages.  Genealogists can be so helpful!
  • WW2 – Canada, Dad on leave at home – A photo of Dad in 1943 with my one-year old big sister.  Taken in early 1943, this photo shows the area where we grew up until I was 10’ish years old.  I loved all the details one could enjoy in this photo.  Every time I look at it, I find more to remember and think about.  The horse-drawn delivery wagon in the background is priceless.
  • TERWILLIGER FAMILY – early 1900s Photo, Roselle NJ – This is the one and only photo of the Terwilliger family I have in my possession. It includes all three children with their parents and grandparents.  It was taken before any of the adult children were married, and is quite precious to me.”

Celia’s Time with her Ancestors

“I could – and sometimes do – spend hours a day researching the details of my ancestors’ lives.  Because of my challenging budget, I do most of my research online, but I love every minute of it!  I think about my ancestor’s life as I’m searching (how did you get through the day – what games did you play with your children – who else did you know in your community – what was it like being widowed with no support around you so that you were married once more within a year – how did you manage all those children – or, alternatively, how on earth did you manage having lost so many children – and, Charlotte Bortle, where on earth did you come from?) So many questions, so few answers.

I don’t have a specific time to work on genealogy, mainly because of my other passion of fiction writing, and then I also have other responsibilities with my genealogy society and with my writing chapter group. I kept track at one point, and realized I normally spend about 30 hours or so each week on the computer, most of it on genealogy; some weeks, more.  Occasionally I find a new resource, and I go full-tilt-boogie to get as much as I can out of that resource for the various ancestors who might be affected.  It is very exciting and satisfying.”

How Genealogy/Family History has Improved or Changed Celia’s Life

“My ancestors have helped me immensely over this past decade or so.  They may not talk directly to me, but finding them, looking at their personal details, the history, and maps of where they lived and when, has been a very positive experience.  I have also been able to share details with my children – stories on Facebook, showing photos to my children, and talking about those ancestors. Specific knowledge about my ancestors provided a positive balance in what was originally a very unhappy sense of what constituted “my family”.  I am immensely grateful they were in my past, helping me become “me.”  I’m not sure I’m able to articulate what a positive influence genealogy has had on my life.  Emotional abuse on the level I experienced – as a child and into my teens – can be extremely challenging, and I’m pleased that with the help of my psychiatrist in the past, and genealogy in the present, I am feeling truly balanced now.  Genealogy research allowed me to be very direct with my own children about the abusive cycle which had continued through the Kuhn line in our family.  And may I say, that abuse cycle has not continued onward – my children are very wonderful adults, in long-term supportive relationships/partnerships, and my six grandchildren seem happy, creative, intelligent, loved.  Whew!  Life is good.”

Celia’s Time Capsule Message

“I have a secret to tell you.  You are the most unique wonderful person on the planet.  Why is that true? Because of all the incredible people who contributed to YOU.  Your parents, your grandparents, even past your 10th great-grandparents – they all added something truly unique.  Honour that uniqueness by learning more about those ancestors of yours.  Play one of their odd-to-you games.  Read one of their stories.  Find a history book about what it was like during their life – the events, the music, the writers, the soldiers, the dancers.  And start to write your own life tory, adding photographs so that others will be able to see and know who is who, when, and where.  Your unique story is so valuable.  My dream for you is that you will understand how much we all helped to make you unique, and therefore you will decide to live and write your own best story on this foundation. Know how much you are loved and cared for, every day, every year, every generation.  This is a secret you can share.  Share it.”

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Please take a moment to head on over to Celia’s blogs. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. I appreciate Celia’s honesty and willingness to share her personal family history with the rest of us and I am in awe of her positive outlook and the steps she took to change the learned behavior from her childhood and improve her life and that of her family. Continuing to learn, research and write, as well as embarking on a writing career reminds all of us to set new goals, have new dreams, and continue to reach beyond our comfort zone. Welcome Celia, it’s great to have you here!

© 2015, copyright Tessa Keough. All rights reserved

Tessa Keough divides her time between Arlington, Virginia and Portland, Oregon. She got hooked on researching her ancestors after seeing a pedigree chart at a family reunion. She shares her paternal genealogy at The Keough Corner, her maternal genealogy at Scandia Musings & More, and technology and methodology tips at her YouTube channel TessaWatch. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Tessa via email