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The Real Story of DearMYRTLE
Let's Make It Another Ten
Awards | Bio

Its my honor to note that this is the tenth anniversary of DearMYRTLE.

Myrtle is the given name of my Dad's mother. I certainly was blessed to have two wonderful grandmas, but Grandma Myrtle was the one I got to stay overnight with more often. She was not working full-time by the time I was big enough to notice.

Grandma Myrtle lived in Puyallup, Washington in the years I knew her. Granddaughter of Mormon pioneers, she was born in Utah & educated as a nurse at St. Luke's Hospital there. She married Grampa Shirl Player and lived on the West side in a home he and his father, Alma Oades Player, built. Myrtle became the mother of three children - my aunt Beverly, my father Glen and my uncle Jack. They moved to Seattle where Shirl had the first parking lot and filling station. Dad says one of his Dad's lots was where the Olympic Hotel now stands. He wishes his mother had been able to hold on to the property after Shirl's death. But it wasn't meant to be.

Grandma taught me to play Solitaire (with real cards!), make open-faced tuna fish sandwiches and prepare apricot preserves. I spoke with her in 1972 as she was in the last stages of Lou Gherig's disease. I asked her to divulge the secret family recipe for those wonderful preserves, (not JAM, mind you!) She scribbled on her pad "its on the back of the CERTO label -- don't tell!" (You won't tell, will ya?!)

Grandma Myrtle immaculate two bedroom bungalow had a detached garage, where my cousin and the neighbor kid like to go sneak a smoke. She had a large, square garden out by the back fence, where among other things she grew brilliantly colored dahlias, which towered over my head as a little child.

She had richly carved Victorian furniture, including a coffee table with a glass insert to protect the carvings from dust. I remember a 78 rpm Victoria/radio set between the door and the front window. I thought it a great treat to be allowed to eat dinner at a folding "TV tray" while watching Lawrence Whelk with Grandma Myrtle. She let me play dress-up in her open-toed, wedge heeled shoes. I used grampa's woolen mufflers as mink stoles.

Grandma Myrtle had books on her shelf about famous sayings (Bartlett's I presume?), and how to keep a neat house. Downstairs she had a "new fangled" wringer washer, a stereoscope, old glass oil lanterns, and very dark room known as "the coal bin" not far from the furnace. I marveled at shelf after shelf of preserved vegetables and fruit concoctions. She even canned raspberries in water for eating during the winter. Blackberries and red raspberries grow wild in Washington state.

Grandma Myrtle took me to the Daffodil festival in Puyallup, the rodeo and sometimes over to Sumner to see her sister, Aunt Grace. Uncle Harley had an auto dealership. She'd send me across the street to visit the 90 year old woman who lived there. Grandma worried as this elderly lady still liked to deep fry her own donuts. I was to run back quickly if anything happened -- but, luckily, nothing beyond the joy of eating those fresh pastries ever did!

I'll just bet Grandma Myrtle gets a kick out of the fact that I use her name as a Nome de plume for this daily genealogy column. Here's why:

When I was about seven or eight, I was visiting Grandma Myrtle in the fall or winter. The weather was rainy, which sometimes happens in the Pacific Northwest, as you may know. She said we were going to Redondo beach for the day, which excited me no end. My distant cousin's parents had a beach house on the water there, and I told her I was really looking forward to playing with all the kids as we had the previous summer. Those get-togethers were a blast, we played hide and seek, while the adults had water-skied and made gooey-duck (a type of clam) chowder.

"Oh, the kids won't be there. Just Aunt Grace, Uncle Harley, and a friend. We're going to play bridge," Grandma Myrtle explained.

"Then I don't want to go with all those old people!" I replied stubbornly.

Surely now, as she looks down from heaven Grandma Myrtle laughs again at that comment -- for NOW all I DO is worry about old people... our ancestors!

Over the years, folks have come to call me MYRT, and I love it!

When I first decided to do this column, I thought it should be anonymous, hence the choice of the screen name "DearMYRTLE". I figured no one person could be an expert on genealogy, and that if I cited my sources, I could find answers you seek from the best in our field of study. What I've learned is that "where there is a will there is a way." No pun intended. Genealogists do find answers in probate packets, in addition to census enumerations and parish registers. Anyone with an honest desire can make progress climbing his family tree.

Ten years ago, in 1995, DearMYRTLE started on AOL. The Genealogy Forum leader, George Ferguson, and I discussed the possibility of this column, and worked to find an appropriate logo. We settled on the one you see in the upper left corner of every page at The column first appeared on AOL, under the DearMYRTLE byline. It wasn't long before Terry Morgan, George's trusty co-worker in the Forum figured out that I was the behind-the-scenes writer. She had known me since the early days (1984-85) of Q-Link's Your Family Tree chat room and message boards. I had begged Russ Kyger, the YFT coordinator to "hire" Terry on as a volunteer message board manager. It was all volunteers and those chat rooms were a jumpin'. I still communicate with "BerthaElen" who lives in Texas, and occasionally hear from "Romary" who come once to visit from Arkansas.

When AOL offered internet sites for free, I ventured out there on the web at what was then a site called:

We began to exchange email between the various service providers. The kids now days wouldn't believe that in the "olden days" of being "online" we could only share email with those who belonged to the same service. I had previously joined CompuServe for the free 30 days just to read Dick Eastman in those days. debuted in late 1998, and really took off in 1999 as a place to archive special columns for access by anyone on the net. Myrt's The Everything Online Genealogy Book was published in Nov 2000. Its in it's 4th printing. DearMYRTLE's articles have been published in Heritage Quest Magazine and Everton's Genealogical Helper. Ol' Myrt wrote the chapter on church records for Family Chronicle's Introduction to Genealogy.

In 2000 I begin internet radio broadcasts, first with a co-host, then venturing out alone doing DearMYRTLE's Family History Hour. It was my joy and privilege to interview genealogy authors, researchers, archivists and software producers from all over the world. The stats showed people tuned in via computer from all over the world as well. The 2004 hurricane season impacted us so greatly in Florida, it took the wind out of our sails and damaged equipment, so new broadcasts have been put on hold. People keep writing to ask me to get back to this. I will make a decision by March.

In March 2003, I began writing the series of "DearMYRTLE's little books", including Getting Started with Your Family History and Internet Research: Top 20 Things to Do Online. I just finished Journals & Personal Histories: A Weekly Plan for Success. I am currently working on a larger work, The Joy of Genealogy: African American Roots with co-author James Rose, Ph. D.

I often get to go visiting -- when your local genealogy societies invite me to speak at an annual seminar. I travel thousands of miles annually and I just love it! I jump at the chance to meet more of you in person. Those who have invited me know that I don't just stand behind that podium. I love to get out into the audience with a wireless mike, ask questions, and weave it into the topic at hand for that hour or two. The breaks between classes are especially precious, because I can speak with more of you one-on-one.

Its always a pleasure to receive your responses to these seminars and columns. It lets ol' Myrt here know if her work is on target. The purpose of all this DearMYRTLE stuff is to engage our minds in a conversation of sorts - stimulating thought and jogging us out of our respective genealogy research ruts. So keep those emails comin'! While I cannot answer each of you personally, I do notice trends which prompt me to do columns on topics YOU suggest. Let's continue discussing research problems and unusual documents. Let's keep on top of what the internet offers family historians. Let's figure out how to use the latest software updates together.

And to you especially loyal readers, thanks for your kind support when I've been discouraged by irreverent queries, or worried over the birth of preemie grandchildren. This has been an interesting journey.

I'm up for another ten years, how about you?

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy


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