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Take It with a Grain of Salt

Published on Wed, 12/19/2018 - 09:18am
Christmas ornaments

I’ve seen them in stores, but I’ve always really wondered why anyone would want to decorate their Christmas tree with pickles! Someone shared with me that it is an old German tradition where someone hides a pickle on the tree. The first person to find it on Christmas morning would get an extra present. The whole idea made sense until I did a little more research.

Most people in Germany have never head of the Weihnachtsgurke (Christmas pickle). So how did the pickle tradition become so popular? It could have begun when Woolworths started selling glass vegetable ornaments in the 1880s. Another version credits a starving Civil War soldier begging for a pickle as the origin of the tradition, while some say it was the miraculous story of St. Nicholas saving boys in a pickle barrel.

In genealogy, we come across many common family myths such as great-grandpa’s name changing at Ellis Island (immigrants often changed their names after arriving in their new country). How do you discover the truth about your own family history stories and traditions? Begin by keeping an open mind and understanding that the stories passed down may not be true.

Find out details about where the family story began. Then begin with yourself and work backwards using genealogical records―especially ones associated with the story. Check out Family History Detective: A Step-by-step Guide to Investigating Your Family History for some good tips on genealogy research. Start the New Year by taking a free genealogy class at the Midwest Genealogy Center.

Even if you do deflate some family myths, you will find interesting information about your ancestors along the way. Just remember, if you ever hear that great-grandpa had to change his name because he smuggled that prized family pickle ornament through Ellis Island, take it with a grain of salt (or a lot of brine).

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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