Dec 05 2011

James Higgins and his wife, Luraner Becraft Higgins,
farmed for many years as did their descendants.

When I was a little girl, I went to the Higgins Family Cemetery with my grandmother. She was a Higgins and a direct descendant of James Higgins, Revolutionary War Patriot, who died in 1816. James Higgins was the first person buried in the once rural cemetery, that is now surrounded by urban metropolitan Washington, D.C. As the years went by, many family members and extended family members were buried in the Cemetery, located off of what is now Twinbrook Parkway in Rockville, MD.

In July 2011, the Higgins Cemetery Historic Preservation
Association, Inc. designed a new sign and replaced the old one.

When I remember visiting the Cemetery, I remember standing grave stones, a good number of them, so it looked like a cemetery. Eventually with development happening all around it, however, the reverence for hallowed ground was set aside as the Higgins Cemetery fell into disuse and then later abuse. Not only did the land become a dumping ground, but vandals broke headstones and some were even carried off, never to be recovered.

Historical objects get misplaced or lost quite often. People move, storage areas suffer destruction from wind and weather and sometimes, objects are stolen by the public that loves them. And so, museums and historically designated properties are proactive about protecting their collections. Accurate accession records provide a data base showing each objects’ provenance, acquisition means, physical condition and art conservation treatments through the years. This careful registry of items in the public trust can include thousands of entries depending on the size of the collection. But what happens when objects of historical value are not safely hidden away in museum storage areas where those who have access can be controlled and monitored?

Tombstones are sometimes carried off as a prank causing
a destructive loss of heritage and history. Here is where
Mary E. Higgins Gott’s gravestone was found in April, 2011.

Well, sometimes historical objects get “messed with.” Things get broken or stolen and historic documentation is compromised. This is especially true with the birth and death records found on tombstones. We think of tombstones as being solid memorials, with their information literally “carved in stone.” But, graveyards are sitting ducks for those who don’t respect their informational value and enjoy being malicious. Unfortunately, with the Higgins Family Cemetery falling into seeming abandonment, many stones became lost and are now missing.

And so it was with the stone of Mary E. Higgins Gott, a women known to be buried in the Cemetery, but whose gravestone had been missing for years, until one day this past summer when the Higgins Cemetery Board of Directors received a phone call from Carroll County, Maryland. The tombstone was found leaning against a foreclosed home after the occupants had been evicted. It was not broken, nor overly damaged even though it was many miles from its home in Montgomery County, Maryland. Through a chain of events set off by the foreclosure eviction, Ms. Higgins’ gravestone was brought to the attention of the Carroll County Genealogical Society and finally returned to its rightful place in Montgomery County. The details of the discovery and return of the stone can be viewed by clicking here to read an article from the Carroll County Times.

Members of the Higgins Cemetery Historic Preservation
Association, Inc.
worked together to return Mary E. Higgins
Gott’s memorial back to the Higgins Cemetery in June, 2011.

Because of the public nature of graveyards and the impossibility of keeping their grounds and tombstones absolutely secure, organizations have gathered to combat not only the physical loss of tombstones, but also the loss of the data found on their surfaces. Genealogical societies have organized themselves to record all tombstone information within their locale. In addition, the Association for Gravestone Studies formed in 1977 to further the study and preservation of grave markers, works internationally to save our historical markers and their sacred grounds.

If you appreciate the beauty and value of our cemeteries as places of reflection and store houses of genealogical knowledge, consider joining the effort, as it is a profound task that, one must realize, increases everyday. As with all historical endeavors, volunteers and the money to fund their efforts are always needed, so any contribution of time or money will be appreciated. Contact your local historical society and you’ll see that it’s easy to get bitten by the genealogical bug. An infectious appreciation for our nation’s graveyards soon follows!

Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery
is a remarkable book. If you have an interest
in cemeteries and their memorials, hover your mouse
over this link: Stories in Stone

NaBloPoMo 2011

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Aug 31 2011

Life as it was in Upstate New York circa 1845.

When I think of fall, I think of the Harvest Festival at The Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York. The Farmer’s Museum is a living history museum, much like Williamsburg, Virginia or Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In living history museums, the culture of another time period is faithfully represented by period interpreters who interact with visitors as they wander through period surroundings.

The Farmer’s Museum showcases our national agricultural
heritage, specifically that common to upstate New York.

The Farmer’s Museum is a part of the New York State Historical Association, NYSHA, complex located just north of Cooperstown, NY. This well appointed history of agriculture museum sits across the road from the Fenimore Art Museum, the NYSHA Library and the Cooperstown Graduate Programs. All of the visiting options at NYSHA are well worth the time and money for the delightful experiences, both intellectual and aesthetic. And, did I say, “FUN!?!” While the NYSHA library houses rich reference materials and the Fenimore Art Museum is renown for its American Folk Art and Native American Collections, the Farmer’s Museum is a hands-on experience in the farming “way back machine.”

Distinctive architecture from all over New York State
has been moved and reassembled at the Farmer’s Museum.

Agricultural technology from all aspects of a working farm in the 1840s is displayed and explained by costumed interpreters. Hard work inside and outside the home are depicted as well as the hard play of games and diversions. Merchant life, tavern life and the interweaving thread of religious devotion are readily experienced by every visitor to create a vivid image of rural living when our country was young.

Go to The Farmer’s Museum and celebrate the bounty
of the harvest on September 17 & 18th, 2011.

My two favorite visits to The Farmer’s Museum are the Harvest Festival in September and Candlelight Evening during the Christmas holidays. Look for a Sunbonnet Smart post on the Candlelight evening in December, but  focus on the Harvest Festival now, because it’s just around the corner! Saturday and Sunday, September 17th and 18th, 2011, should find you in Cooperstown, ready to ride on a buckboard wagon, spin a hoop across the village green, enjoy old time refreshments or shop at a well stocked general store. If you like penny candy, want to play a game of checkers on a barrel or ride a carousel, then The Farmer’s Museum is for you and the Harvest Festival is a great time to enjoy it. For more information go here.

This family enjoyed their visit to The Farmer’s Museum’s
2010 Harvest Festival so much, they shared it on YouTube.

If you have ever been to Cooperstown, NY, you will remember it as a small village with one traffic light. Cooperstown is located at the base of Lake Otsego, the spring-fed mouth of the Susquehanna River. If you haven’t been to Cooperstown, then try watching the following video to take a tour of a most beautiful and engaging vacation destination:

Cooperstown was named after the family
of James Fenimore Cooper.

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Nov 06 2010

Hello to Marilyn in South Carolina!
Thank you for sending this great tribute to Grandma’s Apron.

The History of Aprons

I don’t think our kids know what an apron is. The principal use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold Grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables.  After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that ‘old-time apron’ that served so many purposes.


Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill to thaw.

People now would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron. I don’t think I ever caught anything from an apron – but love…

Lots of heartwarming thoughts with that e-mail circulating about. Although it’s one of those anonymous postings that’s traveled around the world because it strikes a chord with so many people, this one seems to have a beginning. I found what appears to be its origin here. And there are many links to enjoy in that on-line article, so set time aside to browse.

One thing, though, that needs to be updated from this article is how aprons are making a come back. The warmth and love that comes from the kitchen and good, nutritious food is not lost on the present generation. People are turning in droves to healthier lifestyles and eating at home with a seated meal at the dinner hour. Homemade biscuits and the aprons worn to catch the airborne flour are the natural accompaniments and it is a blessing they are showing up more and more. Just think of the memories waiting to be made! The old Pillsbury ad that said, “Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven” did say it best.

Welcome an apron back into your life, if they ever went away. Looking into the future of Sunbonnet Smart, I can forecast a great many apron patterns coming along. Cooking like your grandmother will get that much easier the minute you put one on and tie the strings around in back.

If you love aprons, the styles and the colors
like I do, then preview this book by hovering
your mouse over the link:

  The Apron Book: Making, Wearing, and Sharing a Bit of Cloth and Comfort

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Sep 25 2010

John Hamilton Higgins, resident of Rockville, Maryland.

Captured by Confederate Soldiers on June 28, 1863.

One of the most peculiar experiences of my life happened in the summer of 2009 when I was keeping up with the local news. Here, in Rockville, Maryland, we have a weekly, local newspaper called the Gazette. It arrives, every Wednesday, delivered to our doorstep, or close enough, thrown onto the driveway.

One Wednesday, I was sitting on the back porch slowly turning the Gazette pages, when I realized I was eyeball to eyeball with a photograph of my great, great grandfather, John Hamilton Higgins in a display ad for a new on-line exhibit, Montgomery Connections. There he was, employed as a spokesperson from beyond the grave for the Montgomery County Historical Society located over a couple streets on West Montgomery Avenue.

Great, great grandfather Higgins was part of the Historical Society’s fantastic multilingual outreach program, Montgomery Connections. The story of his capture by Confederate soldiers when they marched through Rockville on their way to Gettysburg was being profiled by the Historical Society. What was really amusing was a phone number in the Gazette’s display ad that said I could call up the Society and listen to Sophia Barnard Higgins, who was John Higgins’ wife and my great, great grandmother. As we had never spoken, I hurried to the phone to see what she had to say. Dialing in to the Historical Society, I heard a reenactor reading a letter my great, great grandmother had written. She wrote her mother after her husband, John Higgins, was captured, then released and after she knew he had lived to tell the story.

You see, my great, great grandmother, Sophia “Dora” Barnard Higgins, wrote a letter to her mother, Sophia Cropley Barnard who lived in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., telling her about John’s capture and forced march out of Rockville to Brookeville, Maryland, twelve miles away. “Dora” didn’t know John’s fate until he came walking back through the gate at their home on Adams Street, but she had had her hands full herself, guarding their Higgins Hardware Store in town center Rockville. She stood out front and kept soldiers from raiding their store for supplies for six hours, all by herself. All of this real time action is told in Dora’s letter to her mother and you can listen to ‘Dora” read her letter by going here.

The Confederates soldiers that went through Rockville on June 28, 1863 were on their way to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in preparation for what would become the Battle of Gettysburg, fought just days later on July 1, 2 & 3, 1863. If you are interested in learning more about the Battle of Gettysburg, you can do your research by clicking here.

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