Tuesday, May 31, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Secrets (What to Reveal and When?)

Spoiler: If you're looking for deep, dark secrets from my family's past, you won't find them here. Building trust with distant or newly-found relatives is hard enough without blabbing any "secrets" all over the Internet. But I do want to talk about how we, as genealogists, handle family secrets that might be painful or embarrassing to others.

From my vantage point here in the 21st century, it's no big deal that a child of the Depression was born 6 months after his parents' wedding (although both parents took the "secret" to their graves, carefully avoiding any discussion of their exact anniversary date). And it's hard to know whether a long-dead ancestor staved off bankruptcy by arranging a theft to collect insurance money. The situation can be interpreted in different ways by different people, and no one with direct knowledge is still alive to say.

What about the ancestor who died in an insane asylum? Early in the 20th century, chronically ill people were sometimes cared for in asylums because long-term care facilities simply didn't exist. This ancestor was in the asylum for at least 5 years, according to Census and death records, and may have had a heart condition or some other illness rather than a mental problem. Another ancestor died in a poor house, but I don't know any other details of how he came to be there and for how long, or why he wasn't taken in by a sibling who lived less than 200 miles away.

It's one thing to see such secrets exposed on Who Do You Think You Are (for the entertainment of all!). It's quite another thing to have a family member feel hurt, saddened, or betrayed over something in a family tree write-up or genealogy blog.

I want to respect the privacy and dignity of family members and yet, I want to tell the truth about my family's history. It's impossible to understand or explain what ancestors did if I don't know their circumstances. We genealogists are always speculating about the "why" of our family's movements and decisions. Knowing the real story can reveal a lot about the reasons behind an ancestor's actions and help us "walk a mile" in his or her shoes.


So here's my plan: I'm telling the true stories, as I know them, to selected family members who can be discreet, and leaving notes in the files. The genealogist of the next generation or the generation after can decide what to reveal and when. Use this knowledge wisely!

Meantime, I'm revealing my gentler "secrets" via this blog. So if you were only looking at official documentation, you wouldn't know about my brief motorcycle momma period. What other secrets? My shameful love of Chuckles (which I've sworn off for good, since sugar is toxic) and my quest to sew something for beloved family members and friends so in the decades to come, they'll always have something to remember me by. Paper turns to dust, and memories fade over time, but quilts can hang on a wall forever :)

--

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts (one for each week of 2011) that invite genealogists and others to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants. The "secrets" topic is week 22 (although Amy intended this to be about details no future generations will find in our official genealogical records, I used it as a springboard to discuss "secrets" in general).

Tuesday Time Travel: 1885, the year Great-Grandpa Came to Manhattan

Meyer E. Mahler, my paternal great-grandfather, arrived at Castle Garden in New York City in about 1885 (or as early as 1883). Born in Latvia in 1861, Mahler was already married to Tillie Jacobs Mahler and the father of 2 children when he came to America. He sent for his family (including his mother-in-law) just a few years later.

What was the world like when great-grandpa started his new life in the new world? I reread the wonderful Time and Again novel by Jack Finney, which takes place (partly) in the NYC of 1882, for a taste of the ordinary person's day.
  • He was part of a huge influx. The decade of the 1880s brought massive waves of immigration from Eastern Europe, in particular. Meyer was one of many Jews who flocked to America (especially New York) seeking work, as well as to avoid conscription and deadly persecution. Meyer didn't speak English when he arrived, but he said he could speak (not read or write) by the time of the 1900 Census. Not a problem: Many people in the tenements spoke his native language and his children (even the two born in Latvia) learned English very quickly in public school; they must have served as interpreters for their parents on many occasions.
  • The big city was getting bigger and busier. The Brooklyn Bridge (above) was only 2 years old when Meyer arrived, a triumph of engineering. A year after Meyer arrived, the Statue of Liberty would be dedicated. Elevated railways (with steam locomotives) were being expanded in Manhattan, but underground subways were still years in the future. Meyer and his family almost certainly walked everywhere, dodging horse-drawn conveyances (and detritus) all the way. It was noisy, dirty, and crowded. But he was his own man, and his family had new opportunities not available in the old country.
  • Tenement life was tough. In the early years, great-grandpa and his family lived in Lower East Side tenement apartments (later moving to 105th Street in Manhattan, a much better neighborhood). Until the turn of the century, many tenements had outhouses, and electricity and gas were almost luxuries.
  • Inventions? So what? Meyer was too poor (and too early) for the phonograph, the telephone, the automobile, Coca-Cola. Radio wasn't even a thought experiment yet. If he was lucky, he had an ice box and replenished the ice regularly. But one invention important to Meyer and family was the photograph. Like many immigrants, he had family portraits made for a few special occasions.
  • Long, hard work week. Meyer was a tailor and most likely worked six days a week in a small sweatshop, possibly in the front room of a tenement flat, cutting and sewing by daylight when available and candlelight when necessary. Sewing machines were available, and he probably knew how to use one (but didn't own his own, at least at first). My cousin Lois inherited his tailoring tools, including his fabric shears! During the 1880s, the US labor movement gained momentum as workers fought for better conditions. Although Meyer would have known about unionization, he was unlikely to have been a union member, at least in the early years.
  • Meyer wanted to live in a major city. Meyer saw New York as a place where he could practice his religion and be sure his children married within the faith. His oldest son (born in Latvia) never married but his oldest daughter (also born in Latvia) married in 1906, and she was my grandma. Just four years later, Meyer died of cancer. His widow Tillie outlived him by more than 40 years.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Military Monday: A WWII Officer Answers Mom's Note

On Memorial Day, my thoughts turn to family members who've served our country in the military. Looking for a photo to scan and post, I chanced across this letter written to my mother (the then-unmarried Daisy Schwartz) on April 17, 1945. 

The writer, Major A. Schn___(illegible), showed a return address of Northington General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Although the hospital no longer exists, it was a major war-time medical center specializing in plastic surgery. 

I don't know whether AS was recuperating or on staff, but he clearly knew Mom from an office job she had during the war. This is the only letter AS ever wrote her (if there were others, they haven't survived), but it speaks volumes about his longing for an end to the war and his knowledge that my mother hoped to settle down and marry some day soon. She was 25 at the time AS wrote, and her first date with Dad (Harold Burk) was still six months in the future.

Here's what Major AS wrote:

Dear Daisy,

What a pleasant surprise it was to read your most welcome note at the end of your boss' letter. And to learn that you still like me made the outlook in this war-torn world much brighter for me. Now wouldn't these words sound swell if they came from a single, unattached fellow? Trouble is there are too many men off to war, and the rest haven't been lucky enough to meet you yet. Perhaps at your new job there'll be plenty of eligible men around to recognize your charm. Then you'll need a bat to keep them in line.
     So you're really going to leave Charlie Phillips? He'll surely miss you, I know, and the office just won't be the same. But you must know what you're doing. So good luck! Let me know where you locate and what happens to you. Maybe I'll find your Prince Charming for you and I won't know where to send him.
     Best regards to you, Charlie, and Freddie. Here's hoping you have a swell vacation. Take a rest for me too. 

     Cordially,  AS

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Photos Put Me in the Mood for Genealogy

Researching the world in which my ancestors lived, I'm writing a series of "Tuesday Time Travel" posts. Next week's post will be about the 1880s, when my great-grandparents came to New York.

This led me to reread Jack Finney's classic novel, Time and Again. If you have ancestors who lived in New York City in the 1880s, you'll enjoy this work because it evokes the period (1882) and the place (lower Manhattan). A number of photos and sketches illustrate the main character's time-traveling adventures, including some well-known views of Central Park more than 125 years ago.

I've also been browsing period photos from the NY Public Library, including this one of Grand Central Depot. The library's digital gallery has many thousands of photos, not just of New York. Definitely worth a look to get a feel for what the world was like for our ancestors, wordlessly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Time Travel: 1919, when Daisy Schwartz was born

Daisy and Dorothy Schwartz, my mother and her twin sister, were born on December 4, 1919. This photo shows them with their older brother Fred and their mother, Hermina Farkas Schwartz, in 1923.

The photo was most likely taken in front of P.S. 62 on Fox Street in the Bronx, across the street from the apartment at 651 Fox St, where my mother grew up. Just a few blocks away was Teddy's Dairy, owned and operated by Theodore (Tivadar) Schwartz, Hermina's husband (my grandfather).

This part of the Bronx was NOT Fort Apache at the time. Later, it developed a reputation for violence and crime. However, in 1919, it was an enclave for families, with good schools and neighborhood shopping, plus access to public transportation such as trolleys and subways. The public library was in easy walking distance ("a twice-weekly jaunt we made in the summer time," my aunt Dorothy remembered in a 1984 letter). 

What was the world like when Daisy and Dorothy were born? Think pandemic, patriotism, prohibition, and more.
  • The pandemic was over but parents worried. Millions of people worldwide were killed by the 1918 flu pandemic, which by spring of 1919 was no longer the terrible threat it had been. Still, parents were afraid for the health of their children, especially in crowded NYC areas such as the Bronx, where all kinds of contagious diseases might spread quickly. No wonder Mom made sure that her children got vaccinations for everything.
  • Patriotism! The Great War was over and homecoming ceremonies abounded. WWI had ended in 1918 but parades, memorials, statues, etc were commonplace in New York City as most troops returned home in 1919.The League of Nations was formed. Patriotism was in the air, and immigrants such as my grandparents were excited about and proud of their adopted nation.
  • Prohibition?! The 18th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed alcohol but especially in New York City, this didn't seem to stop many people from drinking. Although my family wasn't big on alcohol in any case, widespread disregard for this law of the land influenced how people regarded "authority" when my mother was a child. She once told me, matter-of-factly, how NYC political party bosses routinely canvassed neighborhoods with offers of coal or something else in exchange for votes. Nobody batted an eye at these shenanigans.
  • Skyscrapers were a NYC wonder. The race was on to build taller buildings in Manhattan, where real estate prices were sky high. The Woolworth Building, finished in 1913, was a marvel and President Wilson personally pressed the button to turn on its new electric lights. Before Mom graduated high school, many of the most famous buildings in the world had opened in NYC (the Empire State Building, for instance, opened when she was about to enter high school). Later, my mother worked in the Chanin Building, one of the iconic skyscrapers built when she was a child.
  • Vote! My grandmother and mother always emphasized the importance of voting, which makes sense, since the 19th Amendment passed in 1919 and was ratified in 1920. Grandma was an independent lady anyway, working alongside her husband in the dairy store while bringing up three children. Daisy absorbed those values and exercised her right to vote. Me, too.

Friday, May 20, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Commercials (Winky-Dink!)

The entire Winky-Dink show was a commercial! Remember? It was the early days of TV and on our little black/white console we could get channels 2-13 from New York City (thanks to the big antennae on top of the Empire State Building). Winky-Dink was on CBS, channel 2.

I still remember my parents' frustration that we twins would take our crayons and write on the TV screen to help Winky-Dink get out of a tight spot by drawing a bridge or some such. They ultimately bought us some cheapy version of the product so we wouldn't ruin the TV. I bet they heaved a sigh of relief when the show finally, finally went off the air in 1957.

Speaking of TV, because my father was a travel agent with a desk at the Savoy Plaza Hotel across from the famous Plaza Hotel at 57th Street, he got various freebies, including tickets to TV shows that aired from New York City. My twin and I saw Howdy-Doody live (I remember the "kid wrangler" was a bit testy since we studio audience kids were rowdy). Also we were in the audience of the local Wonderama show, starring Sonny Fox.

We saw Ed Sullivan live at least once, but sadly never when the Beatles were the guest stars. Sometimes rock groups would stay at the Savoy Plaza or nearby Hampshire House and Dad would bring us home a 45 rpm record (not autographed) given to him by the manager of Gerry and the Pacemakers, for example. He looked like a hero to his teenaged twin girls!

Growing up, we thought going to see a TV show was just something all NYC kids did.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Treasure Chest Thursday: Siblings in Ungvar, 1915

I've been trying to learn more about the siblings of my maternal grandfather, Tivadar/Tivador (Theodore) Schwartz, born in Ungvar, Hungary (Uzhorod in Ukraine today, see map).


To my knowledge, Teddy was second of five children:
  • Sam Schwartz (came to NYC and married Anna Gelbman)
  • Teddy Schwartz (came to NYC and married Hermina Farkas)
  • Paula Schwartz (stayed in Ungvar, married, and had one daughter, Ibolyka, pictured in yesterday's entry)
  • Paula Schwartz (stayed in Ungvar, family status unknown)
  • Mary Schwartz (came to NYC and married Edward Wirtschafter, had two children)

The postcard photo here is a treasure, just unearthed in a box of newly-discovered family photos and documents. It shows Etel and Paula (back left and seated, right) and others, unknown, from the Schwartz family.

It's dated August 15, 1915 and inscribed to Tivadar, my grandfather.

Clearly the young man is in uniform, but I don't know what country he's serving.* The young lady in front, at left, is a mystery as well. More mysteries than solutions, but a treasure in any case!

*Thanks to Greta Koehl, whose husband identified the uniform as Austro-Hungarian. Yes! This link shows such uniforms and hats. Another confirming detail. Thank you!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Ibolyka Schwartz in Folk Costume

Here's a newly-discovered photo of Ibolyka Schwartz--my first cousin once removed, daughter of my great-aunt Paula Schwartz. The handwritten name at bottom looks like it was added by my grandfather, Theodore (Tivador/Tivadar) Schwartz.

I wrote about Ibolyka (Violet) and her mother earlier this year, including a photo of Ibolyka as a child in 1930 in Ungvar (which was then part of Czechoslovakia but earlier and later, part of Hungary. Today, Ungvar is in Ukraine.)

This photo is undated, but she's wearing (I believe) a Hungarian folk costume and looks to be a teenager. Here's a translation of the Hungarian inscription on the back, with my thanks to John Kemeny for his assistance (see below for a scan of the original inscription): 

For Uncle Tivadar and family, memorabilia.
Respectful handkisses,    
                                                Ibolyka

This postcard was probably sent between 1938 and 1940, given Ibolyka's age and the internal political situation in Ungvar at the time. I'd dearly love to know what became of Ibolyka. I'm certain that Paula perished in the war, unfortunately.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday Time Travel: 1909, When Marian McClure Was Born


This is the first in a series of "time travel" entries, looking at what was going on when/where my ancestors were born or at other significant points in their lives.

This entry is about my late mother-in-law, Marian Jane McClure, born in 1909 in Cleveland, Ohio. Here she is in May, 1955, with husband Edgar James Wood. Marian made the ceramic bird pin she's wearing.

I know from the Census that in 1910, Marian was living with mother (Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure) and father (Brice Larimer McClure) at 567 E. 115 Street in Cleveland, Ohio. This was a quiet residential neighborhood with modest homes, off of St. Clair Ave, a major street. Her father, an expert machinist, worked as a wire weaver, making wire cloth.

Here are some of the influences on Marian's world in the Cleveland of 1909:
  • Exploration was all the rage. Shackleton thought he'd arrived at the South Pole in early 1909 but he was actually nearly 100 miles away when he turned back. Peary and Cook were vying to "discover" the North Pole. Such travels of exploration captured the public imagination during the years leading up to WWI. Marian would have picked up some of these tales of undaunted courage. Her granddaughter is very interested in Shackleton, as it happens!
  • Everyday life was changing. The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company was wiring many neighborhoods. Even if Marian's home wasn't wired when she was born, it would be very shortly. Radio was the coming thing (Marconi shared the Nobel Prize in 1909); Marian would have grown up with radio programs in the background all her life. Air flight was in its infancy, but as an adult, Marian liked ocean-liner trips with her husband, Edgar. 
  • No car? No problem. The interurban light rail system and streetcar networks were well-established ways to get around in Cleveland and beyond. Marian and her family could pay a few pennies to hop on a streetcar and visit friends and relatives. Her father, Brice, probably rode the streetcar to his job as a wire weaver. Cars were still expensive and rare, and not really needed (yet).
  • City girl. With a population of more than 500,000, Cleveland was the 6th-largest U.S. city and by far the largest in the entire state. The Industrial Exposition of 1909 attracted more than 200,000 visitors, who were impressed with Cleveland's manufacturing might. Although Cleveland was spread out, residential neighborhoods like Marian's were only a few streets away from small shops (drugstores, bakeries, grocery stores, etc.) Marian lived in Cleveland most of her life. By the time she left Cleveland to move closer to grandchildren, the city's pollution had been mostly cleaned up and the Cuyahoga River no longer caught fire as it had many times before, starting in 1868.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Military Monday: What Dad Did in the War, 1942-1945

Second from left in the front row is Harold Burk, my father. He enlisted on March 7, 1942 at Camp Upton, NY. Maybe this is his basic training photo?

Dad served in the Army's 3163rd Signal Service Company, as a teletype operator and then as a personnel clerk, rising to the rank of Technician, 5th grade (insignia at right) by the time of his discharge in October, 1945. In all, he served for 3 years, 6 months, and 28 days.

The pinnacle of his advancement was becoming a sgt, but he didn't hold that post for long (see earlier blog post about his story about that experience).

Dad's military paperwork shows that he served in Central Europe and Rhineland (red/blue insignia above left), leaving for Europe in November, 1944 and returning to the US in July, 1945. At left are three photos of him, marked "Paris, April, 1945."

He received a "European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal" as well as a good conduct medal. Sadly, I don't have either of his decorations, and he told precious few stories of his time in the service.

After his service was over, Dad didn't waste any time looking for the right gal to marry. Three weeks after his discharge, he met Mom (Daisy Schwartz) and kissed her on the first date, according to a letter she wrote to her best friend. By New Year's Day, 1946, they were engaged, and because of the severe post-war housing shortage, they didn't get married until November, 1946. My father wooed my mother endlessly during that time, sending her cards and letters when separated, many of which she saved for decades (and passed along to her daughters). He was 10 years older than my mother and eager to make up for lost time by settling down right away!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

52 Weeks: Fame--I Danced on Broadway with Rum Tum Tugger!

Terrence Mann--yes, that handsome star--was my partner in an impromptu dance to the stage of New York's Wintergarden Theatre on the last Monday in February, 1984. Cats was still one of the hottest tickets in town.

At the time, I was an executive with a retail trade organization and was running a New York meeting for 300 credit managers from department stores around the United States. The committee head had arranged for the tickets on a free night during the meeting--it was his third time seeing Cats--and he made sure that I sat in K 120, an aisle seat mid-way up the orchestra section. (My twin sis was there too--her tx is above.)

When sexy Rum Tum Tugger (played by Mann) pranced off the stage in Act I during his big musical number, he ran up the aisle and stopped right next to my seat. He held out his hand to me, I grabbed on, and he pulled me up and into the aisle. Then he spun me around in a circle and we flew back down the aisle. He propelled me onto the huge stage, at the very center of the spotlight, in front of the cast and chorus (who kept singing and dancing in the background). Good thing I was wearing a nice outfit and my best makeup!

Astonished, excited, and blushing--but playing along--I mimicked Rum Tum Tugger's dance steps for a minute or two onstage. He then did something even more surprising: He reached down to the knee-length hem of my skirt, picked it up ever so slightly, and said to the audience, "Great legs!"

Rum Tum Tugger finally danced me back to my aisle seat, blew kisses to me, and went back to the stage. Throughout Act I and into Act II, every time this hunky guy left the stage to sing or dance in the aisles, he moved near me and blew me kisses. Again and again. I was so flustered that I couldn't pay any attention to the show itself. (In fact, I got tickets again the next year so I could enjoy the performance as part of the audience. I didn't sit in an aisle seat, and anyway, Terrence Mann had left the show by that time.)

I had no idea that dozens of the credit managers from my meeting were sitting in the mezzanine at that Cats performance! The following day, when I walked into the meeting, I was cheered (ahem, not jeered). The managers assumed that I had arranged my Broadway debut specifically because they were in the audience. I sheepishly admitted that I didn't know they'd be there and I certainly didn't expect to be dancing with Rum Tum Tugger. The committee head surely knew when he gave me the aisle seat--but he stayed mum before, during, and ever after.

So that's how I came to dance on Broadway with Terrence Mann. Want to see him as Rum Tum Tugger? Click here for the video snippet!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Bedroom (Three's Company)

My two sisters and I shared a bedroom in our family's 2-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. (At that time, everybody we knew--everybody--lived in an apartment.)

Three's company in one crowded bedroom: Three beds, a standing closet, a bureau, and three active girls.

On a rainy day, we'd push all the beds against the walls and march around to the music of "Zulu Warrior" blasting from the record player. Stomp, stomp, stomp, it's a wonder our downstairs neighbors didn't go ballistic!

On summer nights, the windows would be wide open to let in the breeze. This also let in night-time sounds, such as the distant rattle of trains on the elevated subway line, one l-o-n-g block to the east. Although there was a bit of street noise from the occasional car driving along Carpenter Avenue, where our windows faced, traffic was pretty sparse in those days.

Our bedroom was painted one of two colors: Landlord beige or landlord green. Every three years, the landlord was required to repaint, and those were the "standard" colors for everybody. (Want something different? Tip the painter privately for paint and special treatment.)

This photo of we three sisters in the summer of 1960 is unusual because my twin and I (I'm on left, she's on right) are wearing matching dresses, and our younger sis is in a special dress, as well. Usually we all wore pants so our tomboy antics wouldn't ruin our clothes. Plus, my mother--a fraternal twin who, as a child, was often dressed exactly like her sister--was determined to dress us as individuals. That's why I think this was some occasion when matching twin dresses were in order. Wonder what it was...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: My Farkas Family

In 1932, my great-aunt Jeanne (Regina) Farkas (third from left in front row) married Harold Marks (third from right in front row).

The matriarch and patriarch, my maternal great-grandpa Moritz Farkas (second from left in front row) and great-grandma Lena Kunstler Farkas (fourth from left in front row), were in their early 70s.

My mother's parents, Hermina Farkas Schwartz and Theodore Schwartz, were married about 20 years at that point. Hermina (known as Minnie) is second from right in front row, an honored sister of the bride. Theodore (Teddy) is third from right in back row. In later years, Minnie came to look very much like her mother Lena, including the trademark natural waves of hair on the forehead. Minnie kept her white-gray hair very long, in a bun at the nape of her neck. It's difficult not to wonder where, in the Depression years, the family found the money for what looks like a formal wedding.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Motivation Monday: A Secret Gift (Book Review)

Over the weekend, I read A Secret Gift by Ted Gup, the story of the author's quest to learn more about his maternal grandfather. For any family genealogy nut (like me!), this is fascinating reading. It's wonderful motivation, as well, because of the satisfaction of following along as Gup puts the pieces of the puzzle together and reconstructs the past (very vividly).

What drew Gup into the quest was a dusty suitcase. By the end of his years of research, Gup had uncovered most of his father's secrets--and his father's secret kindness in his adopted hometown of Canton, Ohio.

It all started when Gup's mother, 80 years old, was clearing out her attic and gave him a suitcase of letters and other family memorabilia. Inside was a large envelope with the mysterious inscription: "Pertaning Xmas Gift Distribtion." (Yes, bad spelling and all.)

The letters were dated December 18, 1933, one week before Christmas, in the dark days of the Depression. Also with the letters was a sheaf of canceled checks, each for $5 and each signed by "B. Virdot." Gup puzzled over the envelope until he pulled out a folded piece of newspaper and read the story of a mysterious benefactor, B. Virdot, offering money to locals who were down on their luck. B. Virdot, it turned out, was Gup's grandfather, Sam Stone, acting anonymously to help families in his community.

Why would Sam hand out money to Canton residents? That's what Gup wanted to find out. He also wanted to know who got the money, why, and what it meant to them. So he not only applied his genealogical tracing skills to Sam and family, but to the people who had written the letters found in the suitcase. Once Gup tracked down descendants and read them the words of their parents or relatives, he got their side of the story and showed what the $5 gift meant to each family. (Gup reminds us that $5 then was like $100 today.)

Sam's story, as told by Gup, reveals his dreams and fears, his ups and downs. Highly recommended for the genealogy as well as the writing and the heart-wrenching, heart-warming picture of his family and the families he helped.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sentimental Sunday: Matriarchs--Daisy, Minnie, and Yetta

My mother and grandmothers are gone, sorry to say, but they live on in my heart and in my blog! Happy mother's day to these matriarchs of my family.

At left, smiling broadly, is my mother, Daisy Ruth Burk (nee Schwartz), on her wedding day in 1946 in New York City. She's wearing her fave Persian lamb coat and getting ready to go to Bermuda on her honeymoon with Dad (Harold Burk). Daisy married at 26 and had three much-loved children. She had a passion for reading, was an ace typist, enjoyed crocheting. Cooking wasn't her strong suit but she had a few signature dishes that we children relished (like junk soup and blintzes).  

At right is my maternal grandma (Daisy's mom), Hermina (Minnie) Schwartz (nee Farkas), on her wedding day in 1911 in New York City. She married Theodore (Teddy) Schwartz, who was then selling insurance (?) to immigrants, and after her son Fred and her twins Daisy and Dorothy were born, she and Teddy opened their own grocery store in the Bronx. Minnie was an expert seamstress and the back of her embroidery pieces looked just as good as the front. She was also a great cook: Her native Hungarian dishes (like strudel) were legendary in the family.
 

At left is my paternal grandma, Henrietta (Yetta) Burk (nee Mahler). Yetta, born in Latvia, married my grandpa Isaac Burk in New York City in 1906. Yetta had four children: Mildred, Harold (my Dad), Miriam, and Sidney. She crossed the border to and from Canada following Isaac for about five years as he got carpentry work in Montreal. Thanks to my cousin Lois, I know a bit more about Yetta: She was a lively woman who knew how to laugh, she had a dog named Blackie, and she was particularly close to her sister Ida Mahler Volk.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: "Father's Consent on File" for Elizabeth Rinehart

The probate court of Crawford County, OH is surely the most genealogy-friendly place in America. Less than a week ago, I sent for the marriage record of Edward George Steiner and Elizabeth Jane Rinehart, my hubby's maternal great-grandparents. Here's their application for a marriage license, received in my SASE just a couple of days later!

This application, dated 6 August 1851, was written out one day before the actual marriage on 7 August 1851.

Although it doesn't tell me who Edward and Elizabeth's parents are, it does say that Elizabeth was under the age of 18 (confirming birth info I found in later Census records). Her father had to consent to the marriage, which he did, as you can see from the notation at bottom left.

Best of all, this document puts to rest the question of how to spell Elizabeth's maiden name, sometimes shown as Reinhart.

The "marriage license" itself is a handwritten note in which P. Flack, M.G., certifies that he "solemnized the marriage of Edward G. Steiner with Elizabeth Rinehart." Wonder what "M.G." stands for?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Weather--Hot Town! Summer in the...

City. Both my mother (Daisy Schwartz) and my father (Harold Burk) grew up in New York City. They never owned a car and never lived anywhere but a city apartment.

New York was and is a hot town, in more ways than one. Summer in the city meant trying to get OUT of the city heat!

Of course air conditioning was a thing of the future, so they used box fans to cope with summertime heat. And they never slept on the fire escape, not once (nor did I, growing up in a Bronx apartment).

Sometimes my grandparents (Hermina Farkas and Theodore Schwartz) took a week or two off from their Bronx grocery store and rented a room in the "country" (upstate New York, anywhere from Spring Valley to the Catskill mountains). This photo shows my mother and her twin, Dorothy Schwartz (both in front row), with family members at a casual summer resort during the 1930s.

During the 1940s, when she was working as a secretary or typist and living with her parents in the Bronx, my mother made enough money to go to the Catskills or Adirondacks for a week or two to escape the blazing city heat. One year she made enough to go to ritzy Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, NY, partly to relax and partly to meet eligible bachelors. (I know this sounds like a typical genealogist's interpretation, but it's actually based on letters written to her by friends, asking about her vacation and any date possibilities.)

My father, who lived in Manhattan until he came back from WWII and met and married my mother, told of spending a summer day as a teen, picnicking with his family in the Bronx. This was in the 1920s, when the Bronx was "country" with farms, dairies, etc. It was an all-day outing to get from Manhattan to the Bronx, unpack and enjoy the picnic, pack everything up, and get back home. My memory of his memory is that the family made the day-journey in a horse-drawn conveyance of some sort. I suspect they used public transportation to get to the outskirts of the Bronx and then picked up a horse-drawn streetcar from there. Summer in the city? Get out (of town)!