My Nana

No, I’m not repeating myself, nor getting addled. I did have two nanas growing up. Or so I thought.

I realized as a adult, going through some old letters, that I had a Nanna and a Nana.

It turns out that my mother’s mother, the subject of my last post,  signed her letters to me “Nanna.” But, for years and years, I wrote to her as Nana.

Kids. So oblivious.

However, my father’s mother was Nana with one “n.”. And, she, too, was a formidable, strong, determined woman.

I grew up, however, not realizing just what a treasure she really was. She and my mother had their differences, and unfortunately, it affected my relationship with her. I was rather in awe of her (not quite fear, but close) all through my childhood. And, again, because I didn’t realize until I was an adult that she really did love me, I missed out on learning more from and about her.

She was the second wife of my grandfather; he was a young widower whose wife had passed away just over a year into their marriage. He married my grandmother in 1912 in Massachusetts about two years after his first marriage.

My grandparents had six children in all, their birthplaces spaced out across the US from Massachusetts to California. The story goes that they would travel until they ran out of money, then my grandfather would find a job until they had enough saved to carry on west.

They didn’t begin the journey alone; my grandfather’s parents joined them. In 1919, while in Illinois, my great-grandfather died two days before my father was born.  My great-grandmother continued to live with the family for many years after they arrived in California, to the distress of my Nana.

But, as I said, she was a fierce little thing. She bore that burden and many more.

My grandfather was a chef, traveling with both the railroad and shipping lines. He was gone for long stretches at a time, leaving my grandmother with their growing family (and his mother, who apparently wasn’t much for help). Nana took in the neighbors’ washing, grew and sold vegetables, and sewed their clothes. She did what ever was needed to get by.

And, from all appearances, their family thrived. All the siblings grew up close to one another, and they all loved their mother fiercely.

My grandfather died when I was only 6 months old, leaving my grandmother a widow for the last 35 years of her life. But, I never heard her complain or feel sorry for herself.

You just did what you had to do, and that was that.

Nana lived to 102. And, a half. And, all except for the last few years she lived independently.


This is one of my favorite photos of her. Doesn’t she look fabulous? Just bit dangerous, too.

I think it’s perfect.


My Nanna

My mother’s mother, Vida Bula Gard Wells, known to me as Nanna, had a huge influence on me growing up.

She was a formidable woman in both body and spirit.

In body, she was a life-long corset/girdle wearer, so her hugs weren’t soft, but rather like hugging a tree trunk. In her later years, she permed and colored her hair into a curly red cap that didn’t move. I never saw her in pants; she was always in a dress with stockings and proper shoes.

In spirit, she was determined, strong, and smart. She attended normal school and became a teacher. She held a steady job through the Great Depression, while my grandfather was self-employed, and the family depended on her regular and sufficient salary. In 1935, she drove herself, her mother, and my 14 year-old mother across the country to Kansas at a time when most women didn’t have a driver license, let alone their own car.

She was born in 1896, and married my grandfather in 1920. She was 24; he was 19. I suspect this caused a bit of a stir.

She was a terrible cook, but thankfully, she often took us out to eat when we visited.

For lunch, we went to the five-and-dime, where I would get a club sandwich (Three slices of bread! Bacon! Little toothpicks with red, yellow, or green cellophane toppers! Bread cut into triangles!).

For dinner, we would all get into her big car and she would drive us to LA’s Chinatown, where we always went to the same restaurant. It was fabulous! A dozen or more different, and to this country girl, exotic, dishes arrayed out on the table. Egg drop soup. Chow mein. Little cookies with messages. Almond cookies with a single slice of nut in the middle of their crusty tops.

She was a life-long member of the Methodist church. On Saturdays, she would arrange the flowers for the next day’s service, and I often was allowed to tag along. Strangely, I don’t remember ever attending a service with her.


I loved her, but I do wish I had loved her better. I miss her now.

A Family History of Veterans

I come from a long line of military veterans. It makes me proud that there were men (yes, only men it seems) who were willing to lay down their lives for this nation. And, amazingly, it seems that all of them survived the various wars, engagements, skirmishes, expeditions, etc., that cover such a wide definition of military service.

Beginning with the Revolutionary War, on my mother’s side of the family, my great-great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Gard served with the militia in New Jersey and, later, in the ill-fated and ill-reasoned Sandusky Expedition. Through the near-perfect hindsight of 2016, I can’t say that the latter is exactly a matter of pride, but I can’t judge the motives and judgment of someone who was living in very different and perilous times.


The Sandusky Expedition Soldiers

His son, William Gard, served in the War of 1812 and was taken prisoner by the British in Detroit. He was released and sent home, only to arrive a few days before his wife died, leaving him with a toddler and a new-born. He quickly married his wife’s sister, which I’m sure was the act of a desperate, grieving man.

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The Original Tombstone for William Gard

William’s son, William Perry, who was just a baby when his father passed away, served in the Mexican and Civil Wars.

gard-william perry-phebe stewart-july 1861-indianapolis-in

William Perry Gard and his Wife Phebe

On my father’s side, he, his brother, and his father all served in the military. My dad enlisted in the Army twice. Once in 1938, and again in 1944. My uncle, his brother, is also WW2 veteran, having served in the Navy,  and he is a Pearl Harbor survivor. Their father, my grandfather, was commissioned in the Merchant Marines.


Uncle George


My Father and Grandfather

So, to all these men, I hold a debt of gratitude for the freedoms and privileges I have today. And, to their families, especially their wives, who sacrificed, too.

Thank you.

My Norwegians


This photo is of my great-great-grandparents, Hans Tobias Olson and Tori Jakobsdatter,  and my great-grandmother, Theoline. It was taken in Norway, before they immigrated to the United States in 1879.

Finding out more information about this branch of my family had stumped me, as I’d always heard their last name was “Soland.” But, internet searches came up empty.

But, then a breakthrough! I was on Family Search and doing a search of Hans and Tori Soland, when I pulled up a marriage document with Hans and Tori as the first names, but they had quite different last names, Olson and Jakobsdatter. I had the wrong people, I was sure.

And, then I had an “Ah-ha!” moment.

Norwegians, until the 20th century, used patronymics. This is a naming system that uses a form of the father’s first name as the child’s last name.

So, Hans Olson is the son of Ole (Ole’s son).  Tori Jakobsdatter is the daughter of Jakob (Jakob’s daughter). This is actually a boon for me as a family historian, as I don’t have to go searching for the first names of the fathers of my Norwegian ancestors. They are right there, easy to see.

But, it’s not always that easy, is it?

Because of the ubiquitous nature of Ole Olsons, for example, in Norway (there could literally be thousands), there had to be another way to distinguish one Ole Olson from another. And, that’s where farm names come into play.

My Norwegian family adopted the last name of Soland once in America. Soland had been the name of the farm of Hans, his father Ole, and his father Haaken, a farm in the family for decades prior to that.

In Norway, the farm names became an important way to distinguish one Ole from another. So, my great-great-grandfather became known Hans Tobias Olson Soland. He married Tori Jakobsdatter Glenrange (pronounced glen-ran-geh) (approximately). Tori, though, became Soland and dropped the Glenrange when she married Hans and moved from the Glanrange farm to the Soland farm.

And, while this could be as confusing as those patronymics, it is also an unexpected benefit to the family historian. Now, when I see the name  of Tori Helene Hansdatter Glenrange (my 3x great-grandmother), I know her father’s name was Hans and that she lived on the Glenrange farm or area. That’s a lot of helpful information!

And, somewhere back in that twisted branch of my family tree, I share an ancestor with a cousin, Siri. And, we met up this summer. I don’t think I doubt my Norwegian roots any longer after seeing this photo of the two of us together.



I look forward to finding more of my Norwegians and one day, visiting the Soland farm.

‘Til next time.


We just returned from a short trip to Bavaria, Germany. Our goal was to visit the little town of Moosburg, which was the site of Stalag 7A, a WWII POW camp.

My husband’s father spent the last 6 months of the war in this camp, having been captured in the Saar River Valley, November 19, 1944. He was liberated by American forces April 30, 1945. He was just 20 years old, having had his birthday March 24 while in the camp.

I’m working on a book about his experiences, based on the many personal letters both to and from him and the government documents that were all saved and managed to make it safely to today. I just wish he were still here to tell more of his story.

The photos below are of the camp during the war. Stalag 7A was built to hold 10,000 people, but by the time of its liberation, there were an estimated 100,000-110,000 prisoners there.

Today, Moosburg is a prosperous, charming town, with very little remnants of what happened here 70 years ago.



About the only remaining vestige of the camp is the memorial plaza and fountain. The former barracks have been torn down, and new housing has been built where they once stood.

The memorial plaza is tucked away among neat and tidy single-family homes and small apartment blocks. It’s really rather difficult to find.



It’s a lovely, quiet corner that has been done with thoughtfulness and care.

South of the town is the site of the old camp cemetery, rather a more solemn place. All the remains have been re-interred in other cemeteries, but the city of Moosburg bought a small plot of land for a memorial.


Of the approximately 900 prisoners originally buried here, over 800 were Soviets. The American and British soldiers were treated, for the most part, under the Geneva Conventions, but the Soviet soldiers had no such protections. And, it shows in sheer numbers of those who lost their lives here.

The city of Moosburg has done a nice job of admitting the existence of this painful chapter in its past, while moving forward to become a lovely place today. It gives me hope for the rest of the world that is in turmoil today. Perhaps my grandchildren will one day sit and have dinner in likewise-peaceful place where war is raging today. One can only hope and pray.


Pooch Finds a Home

A while ago, my mom gave me a stack of yellowed note papers, clipped together. It was the beginnings of a story that her mother, my grandmother, scribbled down years and years ago, the story of their dog Pooch.

I knew right away that I wanted to make this into another book for my grandchildren, so I was eager to get home and begin. The first chapter told the story of how Pooch came to live with my mother’s family; the second chapter had only scant beginnings, but was about the friends Pooch had in his new neighborhood.

There was plenty of story in what was Chapter One to round it out to become a single story/picture book. So, that’s what I did!


I came away from writing this book with a MUCH higher esteem for children’s book illustrators. Go take a quick gander at the artwork in a random illustrated storybook, and then think about the work, imagination, skill, and dedication it took! Amazing!


The photo above is my mom, Bula Helen Wells Keene, with her beloved Pooch.

‘Til next time!

A Quick Update

And, here it is: my long-wanted DAR certificate.

I am so happy with this, as it wasn’t easy to get. But, more so, I’m so pleased that my mother and my daughter joined with me. We have consecutive national numbers, three more generations in this family where each generation, as far as I can go back, has served this country and its military. The freedoms we enjoy today came at a cost to someone’s family and loved ones. I don’t want to take that lightly.

And, it fulfills my homage to my Nana, who influenced me greatly as I grew up. She was an amazing, strong, rather fearless woman. I loved her deeply. I only wish I had done this while she was alive. I know it would have meant much to her.

vida wells, 1966

So, thank you, Nana, for helping me to see that who my people were in the past is what has shaped who I am today.



Seaman 2nd Class George Keene: The Morning the Bombs Fell

I’ve just finished up another children’s book, my third. I love writing these!

This time, I’ve gone over to my father’s side of the family, to his younger brother, George. My Uncle George is a Pearl Harbor survivor, one of the last few remaining. I was shocked to realize that for even my children, World War II is in a galaxy far, far away. I felt the need to write a story for the next generation, hopefully in a way that makes history interesting, and most importantly, personal.


I’ve ordered enough copies for my grandchildren, and also copies for my uncle and his two daughters, my cousins. They, like me, are now grandmothers, so these books for those young ones will be about their grandfather. I can’t wait to give my uncle’s book to him. My dad is gone, so he’s the closest thing to a father I have these days. I hope to honor him while I can.

A Father’s Letter, Part 3

Today, I’ll finish up with William Gard’s letter to his eldest son, Jesse, my great-great-uncle, and half-brother to my great-great-grandfather, William Perry Gard.

“In the next place, from the very time you come to do business for yourself, always bear in mind the disadvantage of being in debt. That so long as you are in debt you are laboring to a fourfold disadvantage and living on the mercies of your creditors.

Be not in haste to contract marriage for perhaps it may not prove so great a blessing as you may think, for, if so, the longer time in procrastination the less time you will have to live in trouble. For you must remember it is for life. This advice you must communicate to your sisters and brothers, of whom you are the older, and attend to their welfare as far as circumstances will admit of. This advice with that you you can get from good authors and that of your aged friends, who will be willing to advise you for your good, may suffice to take you through this world by making use of good economy yourself. 

Therefore, I must leave you, hoping that the God of Heaven may smile upon you and the balance of the family, is the sincere wish of a father and friend to his children.

William Gard”

Upon William’s death in 1827, Jesse, who was away working in another town, returned home to take care of the family, just as his father wished. He would have been proud.

Now, I will leave you  a photograph. This is Nora Gard Cummings, 1871-1941, youngest daughter of William Perry Gard and Phebe Stewart. There is no date on this photograph, but she looks to be late teens. She seems a very composed young woman.


A Father’s Letter, Continued

Welcome back! I am picking up where I left off in in my last post in Part 1 of William Gard’s letter to his eldest son, Jesse.

“In the next place be very cautious not to keep company with those of bad character for you will be branded with the same, marked by those who stand and look on, that is of a better character. Avoid making use of bad language for it is an evil habit and mark of bad breeding and disgusting to good company. 

In the next place, for the good of your health and the good of society and a comfortable living, make use of common industry, so that you may live without being dependent of strangers with whom you will be left, and let your life be marked with strict honesty and benevolence should you be blessed with this world’s goods, in plenty never withhold your hand from helping the needy for you know not how long prosperity will last with you, and if adversity crowds upon you, bear it with fortitude, like a man, always keeping the golden rule before you and by so doing you will find friends in a strange country, whether in prosperity or adversity.” 

I’ll finish up this missive in my next post, but for now I will leave you with a little treasure I found. This is a photo of William Gard’s youngest son, William Perry Gard, and his wife, Phebe Stewart, my great-great-grandparents. William Perry was only a year old when his father, William, passed away, so he never had the benefit of knowing this truly wise man. This was taken in July 1861, in Indianapolis, IN, right at the beginning of the Civil War.

gard-william perry-phebe stewart-july 1861-indianapolis-in

Until next time!