Kid Craft: Toilet Paper Tube Family Tree

If your kid has a family tree project for school (or maybe they just like to craft- it has to start somewhere!), here is an idea for something a little different:  A family tree made from toilet paper tubes.

What You Need:

  • 3 or more empty toilet paper tubes
  • print out of photos of family members sized to fit the tree
  • green construction paper
  • brown paint (optional)
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • black pen


Prepare the Parts
Each toilet paper tube represents one generation on the family tree.  The first tube is the children in your family, the next is the parents, the next is grandparents, and so on.

Each person in a generation gets one branch on the tree.  For example, if your family has three children, there will be three branches on the children’s tube; there will be two branches on the parents’ tube (unless you want to add step-parents); there will be four branches on the grandparents’ tube.  Feel free to make changes based on your own family structure.

To make a branch, using the scissors, carefully cut two slits about half-way down the side of a toilet paper tube.  The branch should be about the width of a little finger.  Fold the branch down so it sticks straight out from the tube.  Cut additional branches for each person in the generation.  You may want to write each person’s name on their own branch to be sure you have all the branches you need.

For each branch, cut out a leaf from the green construction paper.  They need to be long and wide enough to cover a branch completely.

On each leaf, write the name of one family member.  You may also want to add other information like when they were born or died, or where they lived.

Cut out each family member’s face in a circle with a “stem” on it so it looks like a cherry.  The stem will be used to attach the photo to a branch.  I used circles about 1 1/2 inches across.

Assemble the Trunk

Lay out all your tubes, leaves, and photos.

Gently insert the bottom of the parent tube into the top of the children tube.  If it does not slide in easily, cut additional slits in the tube so there is some give.  When you know it fits, take it back out, apply some glue to the base of the parent tube.  Put the parent tube back into the top of the children tube and push it down about half way.

Repeat this step, putting the bottom of the grandparent tube into the top of the parent tube.  Let the glue dry.

At this point, if you would like to paint the trunk of the tree brown, go for it.  You don’t need to paint the branches that will be covered by leaves.  Let the paint dry.

Attach Photos and Leaves

Arrange your photos in the order they will be attached to the branches:  a row of children, a row of parents, and a row of grandparents.

Apply glue to the underside of the photo stem of your first photo.

Press the photo stem on the correct branch (e.g. children on the children branches, and so on), with the top edge of the photo at the end of the branch.

Fold the photo down so it hangs in front of the branch.

Find the leaf with the name of the person in the photo.  Apply glue to the underside of the leaf.  Press the leaf onto the branch, covering up the branch and photo stem.

Repeat with all the branches and photos. 

Add extra leaves to the top for decoration.

Display your awesome new family tree!


Hereditary Stitches

My mom never sewed. I mean, she taught me how to reattach a button but honestly, my dad could sew better than her. My grandmas did though and I wish I had the opportunity to learn more from them before they died.

I don’t really remember my Grandma Doherty (nee. Smith/Schmidtke) sewing at all but I know she did and that she also did crochet. Unfortunately she died right around the time I started getting interested in that area of crafting.

My Grandma Heutmaker (nee. Szczech) was a wonderful seamstress and often gave the grandkids handmade pajamas for Christmas. She was who you took your jeans to get patched or your work pants to get hemmed. I honestly don’t think there was anything she couldn’t sew or mend. My Aunt Dianne inherited this talent but did I? Even though I didn’t have someone there to teach me?

After Grandma Heutmaker died, I inherited her handkerchiefs. Colorful and delicate, some were hand embroidered, these were very special to me. But I am not the kind of person to starch them and leave them folded in a box somewhere. I wanted the world to see them so I decided to make a quilt to hang in my daughter’s room.

I began by piecing together each tissue-thin handkerchief by hand. Here I am doing that on my bed. Side note: not sure if you believe in spirits showing up on film as orbs but check that out! Could that be my Grandma watching me work?

The process to quilt by hand is a slow one so this project took me years (of breaks and starting and stopping) to complete.

By the time I was finishing, my daughter was old enough to help a bit. I have to say, there were many times where I was sewing with tears in my eyes. Surly this is the perfect example of “full circle” – from grandmother to grand-daughter, and mother to daughter.

During the breaks I would work on other projects. During one such project, I was complaining to my mom about having to iron so much, “It takes twice as long to finish everything but, if I had one tip for a beginning sewer, it would be to never skip the ironing,” I said to her.

“That is just what your grandma used to say,” She told me. So, even without them being here, I grew up sewing just like them.

Eventually, I finished the quilt and it now hangs on our wall as a reminder of family. I’m excited to pass this hereditary stitching onto my daughter and she is so excited to learn.

Beyond the Bisquick Box: The Suffrage Cook Book

The Suffrage Cook BookI must admit, I am a bit jealous of families that have one of those wonderful, messy cookbooks, passed down from mother to daughter, with notes in the margins and stained from use.  Though I have memories of Thanksgiving dinners with my grandmother, I don’t remember anything particularly unique, and no one taught me anything special about cooking techniques.  I joke that all the recipes my mom passed down can be found on the back of a Bisquick box.

So when I explore the culinary history of my family, the best I can do is learn about what kind of food was cooked in different eras and communities where my ancestors lived.

To start, I decided to search Project Gutenberg, a completely free database of old books scanned and posted on the internet.  In the search box, I just typed in “cook books” to see what came up.  Lots of wonderful books came up, but one instantly caught my eye:  The Suffrage Cook Book.

The Suffrage Cook Book was published in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1915, and edited by Mrs. L. O. Kleber of The Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania.  The Equal Franchise Federation was a network of organizations across the country working to get women the right to vote.  Cook books were a natural way to spread the word about women’s rights, as the kitchen was the province of women.  Putting messages in cook books would speak directly to women.

The cover of the book is wonderful.  Uncle Sam stands holding a set of scales.  On one side of the scale is a man, a woman on the other side, the two measuring as equal.  Inside, quotes from governors of the 13 states that had given women the vote.  Governor W. P. Hunt of Arizona noted, “Not only have the women of this state evinced an intelligent and active interest in governmental issues, but in several instances important offices have been conferred upon that element of the electorate which recently acquired the elective franchise. Kindly assure your co-workers in Pennsylvania of my best wishes for their success.”

In 1915, my grandmother was two years old and living with her family in Pittsburgh.  Her mother, Mary Effie Gloninger Barr, was raising four daughters and one son as the suffrage movement was gaining strength.  I don’t know if she participated in the movement or was inspired by it, but she would certainly have been aware of it.  And her daughter, my grandmother Margaret, was very independent, getting two Master’s degrees and choosing to work outside the home during the fifties and sixties, although she did not have to.  She also supporterd her friends who did not work outside the home, something I saw personally as I was growing up.  Whether or not my grandmothers considered themselves suffragettes, they represented the movement well.  Looking through a cook book created in their city, during their lives, to empower women, is a wonderful gift.

In my next post about the Suffrage Cook Book, I will try out one of the recipes:  chocolate caramels.


Unexpected finds: Learning about your ancestor’s life using the library and Google Books

An illustration from Children’s Stories of American Progress, circa 1889

One of the best parts of doing genealogy is the unexpected finds that bring your family history to life.  Genealogy is more than just birthdates and marriages.  It is also learning the things that made up your ancestor’s world, from food to music to school.

I recently had such a discovery.  I was at the Tacoma Public Library, hoping to find my grandmother in the high school year books from the 1920s.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find her (they only included photos of seniors, and she may not have graduated).  But another book caught my eye:  The Tacoma Public Schools Annual Reports, 1889-1894. 

I pulled out the book and discovered it was pamphlets that had been published by the Tacoma School Board during those years, and they shared wonderful information about the curriculum and reading lists for students.  My great grandmother Louise came to the Washington Territory in 1885, so the class lessons were just what she would have been learning!  I was able to read through the list of books she was likely reading when she was a fifth grader.  Some of the books I recognized, like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  It is fun to imagine that over a hundred years ago, my family was reading books I have read today.

Some of the other books looked intriguing, so I searched for them on Google, just to see what I might find.  One book, Children’s Stories of American Progress, by Henrietta C. Wright, I was able to find on Google Books.  I was able to read it online, because Google has made it available as a free eBook (you can see it here).

If you would like to search for a book that was printed before 1937, here is how to use Google to find them.

1.  Go to in your web browser

2.  Type in the full name of your book, along with author.  Click the search button.

3.  On the list of results that comes up, look at the title of each link.  If the name of your book is in the title, there is a good chance you may have found it, or at least information about it.

4.  Next, look at the website address listed underneath the title of the link.  There are several website addresses you will commonly see in searches for old books:

  •– this link would probably allow you to buy the book.  Wait on this one, as you may be able to read it online
  •– this link will probably connect you to an online version of the book.  This is a good one to click.
  •– this link will probably connect you to an online version of the book.  This is a good one to click.

Once you click on one of the links that takes you to an online version of the book, you will be able to flip through the pages and read what your ancestor may have actually read.  You can sometimes save a copy of the PDF version of the book to your own computer for later use.  You may also do screen shots of the book to put into your family history narratives.

Genealogist’s Bag-o-Tricks

What do you need to get started with your family tree? As it turns out, not much. Really, a computer with internet connection and a few names might get you surprisingly far. If you start delving deeper, like Lexie and me, you might want to add a few more items to your bag-o-tricks.

As I added more and more names and dates to my family tree, I started to get a little confused. Is Mary Dressen from my German side or my Dutch side? Did I come across a Hoen with my family tree or my husbands? So I decided to put everything into binders. Each branch of our family tree (meaning, each grandparent) has their own tab in the binder. I did have to split my Irish side into it’s own binder because I have a lot of stuff on that side. I’d like to think that, eventually, I’ll have eight binders for each of the branches of our family tree and they’ll all be overflowing with stories and pictures and everyone will think I’m amazing! Oh, sorry…

Anyway, I have those clear protective sleeves behind each tab for photos or anything else I do not want to punch holes in. I stuck a note book in the front of one of the binders too.I always have to have a heavy-duty stapler and 3-hole punch nearby so that I can add pages into the binders. Of course, a pencil, pens and a highlighter are tossed in there. Sticky Notes and a camera are great to have to.

Finally, I have my genealogy books that I am currently reading. Sometimes there might be a magazine or newsletter if it had an article that might help me understand life way-back-when (like National Geographic’s May 2012 issue featuring the Civil War).

Now, if I could only figure out how to carry around a printer, I’d be set.


Puzzling it out

When my daughter was born seven years ago, I thought about how she was like a braiding of my history and my husband’s history.  All of our ancestry is tied together in her.  That is when I became interested in learning more about our family trees.

In the beginning, it was all about names and dates- this grandfather was born in that year, and so on.  Gradually, though, it changed.  I became more interested in the lives behind the names.  What was it like to travel in a covered wagon?  How did she feel when her mother died?  What does it mean to choose sides in a war?

Now, genealogy is like a scavenger hunt, but the treasures I find are snippets of real people.  I learn a little bit more with each census or death certificate, and every person in our tree becomes more a part of the people who are still living.

Genealogy is a puzzle, an addicting, amazing puzzle.  I love searching pieces and I look forward to sharing those pieces with you.


Painting a Clearer Picture

Being only the 3rd generation in my family tree to be born in the United States, I’ve always felt less American than others, though it never bothered me. Growing up I always had a strong sense of culture and background. With strong European roots and tradition, it was never a question to feel closer to my European background than to my American one. But that was the way I was raised and it’s always surprised me when I would ask people, “What is your ethnicity?” and they would tell me American or they didn’t know.

I thought it to be so outside the norm to have generation upon generation born in America that I never even considered it. Even more so was the idea that someone would be raised without knowing their cultural background. That is, until I met my husband.

And he was the one to ignite my passion for genealogy because I want our children to have a strong sense of cultural self, just as I did. I want my research to allow them the tradition and story that I’ve grown up with and I want them to know who they are and where their families have come from.

I hope, as I build our family tree, that is not just filled with names and dates of unknown people. I want to paint a clearer picture of life for those people: through song, food, art, books, history – anything I can get my hands on.

I hope you’ll join us as we explore the art and craft of the family tree.

~ Liz