Comments are welcome but please have the courtesy to sign your name. Unsigned comments will be deleted.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Recorder of Deeds

I attended the meeting of the Leesport Historical Society on Monday evening. I didn't know anyone but was drawn there by a notice in the newspaper which announced that the speaker would be Fred Sheeler, Berks County Recorder of Deeds. I thought maybe I could pick up some tips on finding things in Berks County deeds. The topic was very interesting and I did glean a few tips.
Mr. Sheeler took over as Recorder of Deeds about four years ago. Due to the slump in the housing market, the department is not as busy as it once was. To provide enough work for the staff and to preserve the old county documents, Mr. Sheeler is working on digitizing everything and making it accessible online. All of the deeds from 1752 to the present are now available. They are working on the indexes and are back to 1957. They also have scanned a lot of other documents such as chattel mortgages, manumission papers, and military discharges. 
The earliest military discharge found in Berks County records is dated 1778. Manumission papers are legal documents freeing slaves both before and after the Civil War. A lot of chattel mortgages took place in the Depression era. These were often small loans made to farmers. Their animals and farm equipment (chattel) are listed as security for the loan. Those lists can be very interesting. Every horse is listed along with gender, weight, and name. A survey of all the horse names in chattel mortgages shows that the top horse name was Dick and Bill came in second. The favorite name for a mare was Maude. 
Having these county records online is a great benefit. The old books will not deteriorate from handling and anyone anywhere in the world can see the documents from their own computer at home. It saves me time and money. I don't need to drive to the courthouse or pay to park. And the online indexes are much easier to use than those in the books at the courthouse. I hope Lancaster County follows their lead. Lancaster County deeds are online but not the indexes. It impossible to find a deed without the number and the only place to find a number is in the index.
I hope Berks County also makes marriage licenses available online too. At this point the indexes are online but not images of the documents. But that is a different department and a different staff. The Recorder of Deeds is doing a great job in his department. We can only hope the other departments follow his lead.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Grandma's Brag Book

Grayson is now eleven weeks old. I could easily convince myself the past 32 years didn't happen and this is my son. He sure looks like his daddy did when he was a baby. I never did too well at carrying a Grandma's brag book but here's one for the online version.

Someday soon he'll start telling us what is behind those shiny eyes and his personality will start to emerge. Then we'll see how much history is repeating itself.

Monday, March 19, 2012


The calendar says spring arrives tomorrow but we've been enjoying spring weather for nearly two weeks. Since March 7 the temperature has been in the 60s and 70s nearly every day. The daffodils are in full bloom and grass is turning green. I am certainly not complaining about the short, mild winter. Some comments I heard at a birthday party last night were also in favor of the early arrival of the spring season.
I have often been glad I live in a place where we have four distinct seasons. Each one has its own beauty. But there is something about spring that always intrigues me no matter how many times I see it. One good rain after a few days of warm weather and the world turns emerald green overnight. It could happen any day now. The green has been gradually increasing with all these warm days but it's been dry. We could get that rain within the next 24 hours and Bing!! Everything will shoot up and we'll be in mowing season within a week or ten days.
For lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone;
the flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shakespeare's Three Little Swine

Once upon a time, there were three little swine: Aragon, Barnardo and Caesar. They set out to seek their fortunes, and after journeying for many a day, became weary from their travels, so each determined to build a house.
Aragon, remembering the comfortable barn of his youth, built a house of straw. His brothers mocked him and attempted in vain to dissuade him from this foolhardy endeavor. Aragon resisted their arguments forthwith, saying, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."
"O, what swine dare to do!" exclaimed Barnardo to Caesar as they continued on their way.
Barnardo built a house of sticks, certain the jewel of the tree wouldst serve him well. Caesar scoffed at his brother's efforts, snorting with disdain, "What light through yonder window breaks? Thou shalt catch thy death before the morrow."

Barnardo's anger burned in his breast. "Is this a dagger I see before me?" he threatened.
"Cowards die many times before their deaths," said Caesar and left Barnardo to his own devices.
Caesar built a house of bricks. And though it was difficult work that required much patience, to Caesar it was a labor of love. After many days, the house was finished and the pig made merry with a feast of apples and pomegranates. But he had too much wine, and in a drunken stupor, climbed to the roof, raised his cloven hoof in arrogance and shouted, "A plague on both your houses!"
On the morn, Aragon heard a rapping at his door.
"Who is't?" he asked.
"It is I, Sir Beowulf, Lord of Gretel, Knight of the Red Hood and Duke of Earl. Open this door and let me in!"
"Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!"
"Then I'll huffeth, and I'll puffeth, and I'll bloweth your house in!"
Aragon anxiously paced back and forth, "Now is the winter of our discontent!" he moaned. And before he could say, "Beware the Ides of March," Sir Beowulf had blown down the door and gobbled him up.
Barnardo heard a rapping at his door anon.
"Who is't?" he asked.
"It is I, Sir Beowulf, Lord of Gretel, Knight of the Red Hood and Duke of Earl. Open this door and let me in!"
"Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!"
"Then I'll huffeth, and I'll puffeth, and I'll bloweth your house in!"
Barnardo fell to his knees to beseech his God, "My words fly up. My thoughts remain below; words without thoughts never to heaven go." And before he could say, "Out, out, brief candle," Sir Beowulf had blown down the door and gobbled him up.
Ere long, Caesar heard a rapping at his door.
"Who is't?" he asked.
"It is I, Sir Beowulf, Lord of Gretel, Knight of the Red Hood and Duke of Earl. Open this door and let me in!"
"Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!"
"Then I'll huffeth, and I'll puffeth, and I'll bloweth your house in!"
"Wherefore, thou roguish knave?"
"I've come to eat Caesar, not to praise him."
And with that, Sir Beowulf huffed and puffed and puffed and huffed, blowing with all his might, but he could not topple the swine's abode. He thus devised a plot, "Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie."
Inside the house, Caesar heard noises on the roof. Sir Beowulf must be trying to gain entrance through the chimney, so Caesar prepared a fire in the hearth and placed a large kettle on the heat, chanting as he stirred, "Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble."
With a loud splash, Sir Beowulf fell into the steaming kettle, screaming in agony, "This was the unkindest cut of all!"
And before Caesar could say, "He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf," the villain was cooked and ready for the dinner table.
It was a bittersweet feast as Caesar recalled the fate of his brothers and wondered, "When shall we three meet again?"
Nevertheless, the swine lifted his golden goblet and proclaimed, "All's well that ends well."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Daylight Saving Time

Did you remember to turn your clocks ahead last night or were you late for church this morning? I have often been glad that the change occurs on a Sunday. It is the easiest day of the week to get socked with the "jet lag" of losing an hour.
Daylight Saving Time was a practice that was implemented during World War I to reduce the amount of electric the country consumed. DST used to start the last Sunday in March and be in effect until the last Sunday in October. Since 2007 DST has begun the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. That means we are on DST two-thirds of the year. I wonder if it's worth the hassle of changing clocks back to Standard Time for the remaining one-third of the year. 
Now matter how you slice it, there are still 24 hours in a day. But now that we are back on DST we will have light longer in the evening again and we tend to go to bed later as a result. I like long winter evenings to curl up with a blanket and a book. But I like warm air, green grass, and fresh air blowing through the windows even better. According to the current forecast, the next two weeks will be in the 60s and 70s. If that holds true, spring is arriving a little ahead of schedule and I'm all for it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I'm Ready

Winter is winding down. According to the calendar, spring arrives two weeks from today. I'm ready! I just finished the last job on my winter list.
Every winter I have a list of things I hope to do before spring. This year it included crocheting, sewing, scrapbooking, spending two weeks in Mexico and California, and of course, a little writing. This winter the writing was limited to short stories and articles AND preparing three workshops for two writer's conferences.
The first one was easy. It was on writing children's stories and is already history. I gave that one on Saturday. The next two were more difficult. I will give them in Virginia on April 13 and each one is 90 minutes. It takes a lot of material to speak for three hours AND say something worthwhile. It was not a rush to get them done but I do not do well with cramming at the last minute. I'd rather have them ready a month in advance than rushing to finish the last week.
The first of those workshops is Effective Techniques for Interviewing and the second is Literary Latitude with Limited Facts. In other words, how far can a writer go in creating material to fill the gaps between known facts in a true story? I spent the whole month of February preparing these workshops and just finished the third one this morning. I will let the two for Virginia simmer and go over them again in April.
Now I'm ready to shift into spring gear. There are definite signs of spring in the air. Snow geese are passing through, I've seen a bluebird and robin, crocus are blooming, and daffodils have buds. The temperatures are forecast to soar into the upper 60s the next two days and I say "bring it on!" I've conquered my winter list and am ready to start on the spring jobs list---housecleaning, yard and garden work, and all the joys of life returning to the earth again.