Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A New View of Ancestors' Lives via "The Golden Age Shtetl"

Having read a recent review of The Golden Age Shtetl, I dove in for insights into my ancestors' lives in early 19th-century Eastern Europe.

Fiddler on the Roof is one way to look at shtetl life--but not the only way. This book shows the shtetl in its heyday, decades before pogroms drove many (including my ancestors) to leave for good. Although it focuses on shtetls in what is now central Ukraine, its observations apply to a great many shtetls that ultimately came under Russian dominance.

As other reviews and interviews have noted, I was surprised to learn that many shtetls were not impoverished, shabby, shanty towns. In the mid-1800s and earlier, they were often thriving settlements with the right to hold lucrative market days at regular intervals. Some shtetls were quite large, others rather small. The homes weren't dark and dingy--many were brightly colored, as suggested by the book jacket above (picture painted by the book's author).

For family and business reasons, marriages were planned between wealthy merchants when their children were quite young--sometimes only 11. Ordinary families, however, had few assets to consider and could afford to let love make the match. Because of tax consequences, such families might wait a long time to register their children, which of course complicates present-day searches for ancestors who were children in the early and mid-1800s.

The photos and sketches of shtetl homes and synagogues were eye-opening. The sketch on p. 245 is, in my mind, a smaller, wooden precursor of the larger, more solidly-built restaurant that our family long ago operated on the market road to Ungvar (a bustling city then part of Hungary, now Uzhorod, Ukraine). The main floor was where guests were served, the upper floor was for family use, and the lower levels and outbuildings were for supplies and storage. The family also had a mill and cows to supply the restaurant.

The Golden Age Shtetl goes into considerable detail (both a plus and a minus) but it also gave me several ideas for further research into the daily lives of my ancestors in Hungary, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Try, Try Again--New Clues Come Online Every Day

My most recent research has been looking for Rose Lebowitz Markell (abt 1877-1909, married to Barney Markell), the beauty who died young after having a son who grew up and married my matchmaker aunt. My latest discovery about Rose reminds me to keep searching, keep trying--because new clues come online every day.

Just last week I found Rose's death certificate--only because Ancestry and Pennsylvania have a new arrangement for scanning and making these documents available online. It would have been difficult to find her otherwise, so my timing was good.

Months earlier, I had sent for the death cert of her sister Ella Lebowitz Markell (1886-1965, married to Julius Markell) the old-fashioned way, starting with a Pennsylvania death index and paying $9 (a relative bargain) to receive a paper copy f-o-u-r months later.

But here was Rose's complete death cert, freshly posted on Ancestry! She died in Pittsburgh and was buried in New York City. This makes sense because Rose's mother lived in New York City. Next challenge: There are a LOT of potential burying places around the city. Where to start?


I went to Find-a-Grave, of course, where I've searched in the past. This time I had a death year so I could do a more specific search.

I plugged in the last name, Markell, and the year 1909, and searched in New York only.

Up popped a result that was posted at the end of May by a kind volunteer: Rosa Markell [sic], buried in Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. This cemetery has more than 52,000 burials, but only a small percentage have been photographed or posted online. If I'd checked in early May, I would have found nothing.

Of course some things have to be done the old-fashioned, pre-Internet way. I picked up the phone and called the cemetery. The office personnel had a lot of info to share: Rose was buried one day after her death, in an "independent" plot. A year later, presumably when her gravestone was to be put in place, Rose was moved to the Markell family plot in another area of the cemetery. They also gave me the (new to me) name of the relative who was in charge of that plot.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Who knows what new info will be posted online today or next week or next year?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Military Monday: RIP to Harold Burk of the 3163d Signal Service Company


On this anniversary of Harold Burk's death, I want to look back at his WWII experience. Dad enlisted in 1942, at the age of 32, and after basic training, he was assigned as a teletype operator. Because he could type, he then served as a personnel clerk in the Signal Corps, the Army unit responsible for communications.  

In 1944, he and his unit (the 3163d Signal Service Company) were sent to the heart of Europe to prep communication lines for the Allies' major ground offensives. After Paris was liberated, his unit advanced to a position close to the city in preparation for the final weeks of the war. He spent the spring of 1945 in Paris and sent home photos of himself with famous landmarks.

When Dad was honorably discharged in October, 1945, he held the rank of Technician, 5th grade. I've told the story before of how he was "busted" from sergeant back to private because he wanted to keep the men in his company warm with deliveries of coal. RIP, Dad (1909-1978).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

52 Ancestors #31: Beautiful Rose Lebowitz Markell Died Young

For years I've tried to find out what happened to Rose Lebowitz Markell, wife of Barney (Barnhart) Markell and mother of Joseph Markell. Joseph married my great-aunt Mary Mahler, who is one of the matchmaker aunts responsible for introducing my parents.

Earlier this summer, I spotted an Ancestry family tree that included the name of Rose's sister Ella, and I contacted the tree owner. He responded and now that we know he's my Left Coast cousin, we've been exchanging info. The family story was that Rose was quite beautiful and she died young. Details were sketchy, however.

Thanks to Ancestry posting and indexing thousands of Pennsylvania death cert images, my search this morning turned up Rose Lebowitz Markell's death certificate. The informant was Barney and he didn't get everything correct (Rose's father was Samuel, not Solomon) nor did he know his wife's exact birth year.

Still, this is undoubtedly our beautiful Rosie, who left behind a husband and a school-age son. Barney remarried in 1914 to Esther, who had a teenaged daughter from a first marriage. When Barney and Esther had a daughter in 1918, they named her Rose.

Unfortunately, teenaged Joseph didn't get along with his step-mother (according to family lore) and he ran away. As soon as he was old enough, he joined the Navy, serving on a ship that was anchored off the coast of Mexico during the "Tampico Affair" right after WWI.

Happily, Joseph didn't lose touch with his Lebowitz relatives. My Left Coast cousin says that his wife Mary made sure their children got to know their Lebowitz cousins.

My next task is to locate where Rosie the beauty was buried. She's not in Find-a-Grave, but I'll keep looking!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

52 Ancestors #30: Alfred Olando Wood of the Wood Bros. Carpenters in Toledo

If name influences destiny, then hubby's Wood ancestors were following their name by working in wood.

Hubby's great-grandpa Thomas Haskell Wood and great-grandma Mary Amanda Demarest Wood had 17 children. Their fourth-oldest son was Alfred Olando Wood, born in 1855 in what was then Cabell County, Virginia* (and is now Huntington, West Virginia).


Alfred Olando Wood was a carpenter, part of the "Wood Bros. Carpenters" family business in Toledo, Ohio.

Above, an excerpt from the 1891 Toledo directory, showing Alfred O. and several of his Wood brothers (Frank E.--really Francis Ellery--plus Charles A.--really Charles Augustus--and Marion E.--really Marion Elton).

The Wood brothers who were not carpenters were painters, according to Census records and city directories. Robert Orrin Wood was a painter. William Henry White Wood was a painter. Marion Elton Wood, shown above as one of the Wood Bros, was also listed as a painter in several Toledo directories.

Poor Alfred died at age 39, in 1895. I know the exact date because it's in the 1895 Toledo directory. And that's where I learned his widow's name, Mary A. [maiden UNK].


*When Virginia voted to secede from the Union at the start of the Civil War, Cabell County stayed in the Union (with the exception of one town). 


Sunday, August 3, 2014

52 Ancestors #29: Cousin Jennie Hartfield and the Roth-Mandel-Farkas Connection

The gentleman second from left is "Hartfield." That's what my mother's Farkas family always called him, never by his full name--Isidore Hartfield.

His wife (next to him, in the white hat with black trim) was "Cousin Jennie." They lived in Brooklyn and often attended Farkas Family Tree meetings, even hosting on a few occasions.

This photo was taken in November, 1946, at my parents' wedding. The Hartfields are seated with members of my Farkas family and with Margaret Roth Mandel (in dark hat, third from right) and her husband, Herman Mandel (just visible behind the lady with a spoon in her mouth).

Margaret is definitely a cousin, but I wanted to learn more about the Hartfields.

I read through Isidore Hartfield's Declaration of Intention to become a US citizen and learned his marriage date and place: November 26, 1916 in New York City. (Isidore and Jennie celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary two days before they attended the wedding pictured above.)

Look at the above screen shot, and you'll see why I just sent for this marriage document. It shows Isidor Hartfield's bride's name as "Jennie Maudel." Very likely this is actually "Jennie Mandel." When this cert arrives, I'll know Jennie's parents' names.

Since Jennie was born in NagyBereg, Hungary, where my Roth relatives were born, it seems that she must be related through the Roth and Mandel cousin connection. More cousins!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

52 Ancestors #28: John Slatter, Son of a Cook at Christ Church College, Oxford

John Slatter (1837-1901) was hubby's great-granddaddy. He was third of six children born to John and Sarah Slatter in Oxfordshire.

Great-great-granddaddy John Slatter Sr. was a cook at Christ Church College in Oxford, England, I know from the baptismal records at St. Ebbe's Church.

Thanks to the kind folks at the Woodland Cemetery Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, I now have John Slatter's exact birth date, which is carved on his grave stone. And with that confirmation, I was able to send for his birth cert.

Now I know John Slatter was born on Blackfriars Road, St Ebbe, Oxford, to a cook, John Slatter, and his wife, Sarah Harris Slatter. Although the birth was on January 31, 1838, it wasn't registered with authorities until March 7th.

Great-granddaddy John married Mary Shehen (or Shehan) and they had six children (five lived beyond childhood). After the children were grown and gone, Mary seems to have died. John Slatter left for North America and remarried, to Louisa M_____ [maiden name unknown]. She died before him, in February of 1895, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery. So far, no luck getting her death certificate...but I'll try again.

John died at the Cleveland home of his daughter, Mary Slatter Wood, in 1901, and he was buried beside Louisa. Only then was a gravestone erected. John's stone includes the honorific "Father" but Louisa is recognized only as "His wife, Louisa M." Maybe Mary didn't know her step-mother's maiden name? That's a surprisingly plausible explanation because Mary only arrived in Ohio in 1895, the year Louisa died.