There are lots of ways to display your family tree, but here’s one I bet you never heard of.  My father, Nelson Jonnes, had the idea 20 years ago to create a fireplace mantel that displayed the key surnames in his ancestry.  He asked his good friend, Rick Wente – a local Stillwater carpenter – to make it.  Rick chose walnut and had to manipulate the wood in some fashion to get it to bend.  A laser engraving shop across the river in Wisconsin etched the surnames into the wood, based upon a stencil my Dad and Rick worked on together.

It came out beautifully!  It is so unique; people always comment on it.  I remember being very impressed the first time I saw it.

There are a total of 50 family names carved on the mantel: 25 from my father and 25 from my mother.  My father’s ancestral names are displayed on the right starting with Jonnes and including Lukemire, McMullin, Blalock, Smith, McIntosh, and so on.  My mother’s ancestral names are on the left starting with Bonn and including Vermilyea, Aaberge, Mead, Miller, Houghton, and so on.  The pattern was intended to somewhat resemble how a family tree would look absent the branches.  Here’s a full-on frontal view.  Click on the image to zoom in:

Full view of ancestry mantel (Photo by author 10 Sep 2020)

The surnames on the mantel cover all my ancestors through the second great-grandparent level (2GG) except one.  We didn’t discover the Dalum surname from Eidsvoll, Norway until two years ago.  (See post here.)  Likewise, 3GG names that have been discovered in the past 20 years include Chapman, Mork, Aalborg, Venjum, and Green.  There is one 3GG family name that was known 20 years ago that is not etched on the mantel: Whaley.  I’m not sure why that was missed.  That’s our Alsatian line.

The only error that bugs me is that our Meads never spelled their name with an “e” at the end.  Dad probably didn’t know that since it was on Mom’s side, not his.[1]My Mead line goes back to Roxbury, Delaware, New York, in the Catskill Mountains, where they moved in the late 1790s.  It is almost a certainty that we are ultimately descended from the … Continue reading  Also, the Baldwin and Breed surnames are not genealogically proven; Dad thought they were definite, but my research has raised questions.

However, I really like that my mother’s Norwegian heritage is proportionally well-covered.  The surnames Bonn, Aaberge, Lad, Vikheim, Gorvin, Vatsli, and especially Bohnsmoen, are all listed.  Larsdotter is Norwegian too, but it was a patronymic not a surname.  Well, none of these were real surnames until they came to America.  They were all farm names, indicating where our Norwegian ancestors lived – but that’s how we currently designate them in family trees.

The mantelpiece hung in my parent’s TV room on Little Carnelian Lake in Stillwater, Minnesota, for over a decade and then was moved to Mom’s new house after Dad died.  I inherited it when she died last year and Lucia and I brought it home this summer.  It fit in the SUV surprisingly well despite the length.  It stuck out a little bit over the console between the two front seats, but nothing too bad.  When you’re driving with someone else for 1,100 miles, it’s nice to have that separation anyway!  :)

Filling the SUV for the drive home (Photo by Steven Jonnes, 4 Aug 2020)

Once home, we thought we would have some fun with the mantel.  We restaged the featured image at the top of this post, replacing Dad with yours truly.

Ancestry Mantle 2020 with Steven Nelson Jonnes (Photo by Lucia Jonnes, 10 Sep 2020)

(Pay no attention to the fact that the mantelpiece is blocking the back door!  We placed it there momentarily just for staging purposes.)


1 My Mead line goes back to Roxbury, Delaware, New York, in the Catskill Mountains, where they moved in the late 1790s.  It is almost a certainty that we are ultimately descended from the well-documented Mead family that figures so prominently in Greenwich, Connecticut history, one branch of which ended up in Roxbury after a stay of a generation or less in Dutchess County, New York.  This is a long-standing brick-wall project that I hope to tackle at some point.  In any case, it is eerie how consistently the family maintained the “e“-less spelling through the centuries.