Sunday, May 23, 2010

Here's to Cousins

This week I've talked with two of my cousins. One is the genealogist of my maternal grandmother's family, a smart researcher who gets things done through a combination of online resources and helpers at the local FHC. She's recuperating from a broken hip and has had to put genealogy on hold for now, but we've been enjoying our discussions about the process of genealogy, not just the vital information she uncovers. We learn from each other and laugh a lot at the twists and turns in the genealogical road.

The other cousin has been a wonderful source of details that helped me investigate new branches of the family tree. She's not involved in genealogy but she welcomes the opportunity to talk about our common ancestors. Unfortunately, she has no photos to share, but she does remember family stories and has a very keen mind. If not for her, I would know nothing about my grandfather's siblings. And I'm delighted to get to know her and hear about her daily life.

So here's to cousins! Long may we be connected and talk about all kinds of things, not just family history.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Bronx, Then and Now

Today's New York Times has an article (and online slide show) about the Wakefield section of the Bronx, where my family grew up many decades ago.

The caption for this contemporary photo says it's on "Carpenter Street" but I bet it's really on Carpenter Avenue, which runs from 233 Street to 222 Street.

PS 103, mentioned in the article, is on Carpenter Avenue, a residential street (as you can see) with homes and apartment houses. From the school it was possible to watch the construction of Misericordia Hospital, which was built in the late 1950s. In those days, a school field trip to a local dairy was a treat.

At the time, the neighborhood was filled with small businesses such as bakeries, butcher shops, delis, pizza places, dress shops, drug stores, and ice cream parlors, all of which beckoned to commuters walking home from the elevated subway after a long day working in Manhattan, an hour's train ride away. Commuters in the know tried to catch the "through express," subway trains that skipped certain stations during the morning and evening rush hours to cut 10-15 minutes off the ride to and from "the city." Remember?!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Who Holds the Genealogical Treasures?

I know several family researchers who are grappling with the question of who is the "keeper" of original treasures such as birth certs, death certs, photos, etc. More important, who keeps the originals once we, the genealogists of our generation, are no longer willing or able to continue the research?

Some of the families have given specific items to different family members, knowing that one son might be particularly attached to a certain photo or another daughter might be more interested in her mother's side of the family tree. Some circulate copies and keep all originals in one place (the genealogist's choice).

At times, the people who want the treasures may not be the best stewards of these often fragile items, even if it's "all in the family." I've also heard about family situations where no one is interested enough to want to safeguard the treasures--they might hold onto the items but not put them in particularly dry or safe places, know what I mean?

My family's next generation genealogist has already raised her hand. I plan to get things in good shape for her. Ancestor photos are now in plastic sleeves but not yet fully labeled. And those little scraps of papers with scribbles that litter my files will have to be transcribed and put into the database so no one has to reinvent the wheel and start the hunt all over again. Looks like all the treasures will be hers to hold for future generations. What about your treasures?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The California coast by Daylight

Transcribing letters to my Mom, I came across one from Ruby, who was stationed in Shoemaker, California and awaiting his discharge from the Navy. He brought his wife and baby from San Francisco to Los Angeles on January 18, 1946, on this famous train, the Daylight.

Here's what he writes:
We had a very pleasant trip for we traveled on a very good train, the Southern Pacific "Daylight." They've named the train very aptly for the entire trip is made in the daytime. We left San Francisco at 8:15 in the morning, and arrived in L.A. at six that day. The train is entirely air-conditioned and has two dining cars attached. The meals were very reasonable, but not very satisfying. They are just about enough to keep one from starving, but what more could one ask.
Sounds like a long but comfy trip. The food--well, as long as he was with his wife and daughter, who had only arrived in November after months and months of separation, he could tolerate anything.

On February 23, Sarah (Ruby's wife) sent Mom this postcard of the Daylight, raving about the train. Just a day or two earlier, she and the baby had taken the Daylight from L.A. to San Francisco, on their way to Sebastapol to live with cousins on a chicken farm. Quite a change for a girl from the Bronx.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Surname Saturday: McClure and Steiner

Above is Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure, my husband's maternal grandmother. She was born in Nevada on March 30, 1878 (according to her obit) and married Brice Larimer McClure in Upper Sandusky, OH, on June 10, 1903. She died in November, 1948. In this photo from the late 1930s, she's holding her oldest grandson, Wallis (my hubby), on her lap.

Floyda had many siblings, including Carrie Steiner Traxler, Blanche Etta Steiner Rhuark, and Minnie Estella Steiner Halbedel. So far as I know, she had only one brother, Orville J. Steiner, 1856-1936. Any Steiner relatives out there?

Above is Brice Larimer McClure, born Dec 25, 1878 in Little Traverse, Indiana to William Madison McClure, a farmer, and his wife, Margaret Jane Larimer. I want to trace this branch of the McClure family. Based on Census records, William Madison McClure's father is Benjamin McClure (married to Sarah). Other children of Benjamin (a farmer, born in Ohio) and Sarah were: Mary A. McClure, John N. McClure, Train C. McClure, Elizabeth McClure, and Addison McClure. Any McClure relatives out there?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thanksgiving, Nov 22, 1945 in Shoemaker, CA

Ruby Wasserman, who wrote dozens of letters to Mom while in the US Navy, sent her this menu from the U.S. Naval Training and Distribution Center in Shoemaker, California.

Ruby was a little doubtful before dinner . . . he wrote: "Many a time when we were told that the food was going to be exceptionally good, it turned out to be terrible. I hope that it is not true in this case." Later he continued in this long letter: "It was delicious in all respects. I had some of everything, and right now I am still eating some of the nuts I got. Next year I hope to be eating turkey as a civilian."

For anyone doing genealogical research, the names of the top officers listed in this menu are:

O.M. Forster, Commodore, USN, Commander
J.M. Bloom, Captain, USNR, Chief Staff Officer
H.V. Moon, Lt. Comdr., USNR, Commissary Officer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"The less said about it, the better"

I've been transcribing letters sent to my Mom during the 1930s and 1940s. It's been exciting to read about my father's whirlwind courtship of my mother, from the viewpoint of friends writing in response to Mom's letters about the developing romance. Sarah, a close friend since the 1930s, was a good correspondent, and her letters to Mom are full of everyday stuff that we descendants wouldn't otherwise know about. The latest movies, a bit of politics, how's the family, etc.

I'm working on letters from late 1945. WWII is over, and we all know that the men returning from service were eager to get back to regular life again. Dad, ten years older than Mom, was certainly ready to settle down. Meanwhile, Mom had been saying that all the best guys were in the service--and finally they were home! Apparently an aunt set the two of them up, they hit it off, and then...

Dad is first mentioned in letters to Mom in mid-October, 1945. They had a few dates and eventually kissed, and things got really serious on both sides. A letter from friend Sarah, dated December 18, 1945, says: "The fact that he's really falling in love with you is the best news yet."

A letter dated December 21, 1945, refers to Dad negotiating a big business deal, and Mom's friend Sarah adds: "For I am sure that it will not be long after that wedding bells will be ringing."

Finally! A letter dated January 4, 1946 refers to Mom and Dad being engaged. Enclosures haven't survived, which is especially sad since the February 2, 1946 letter from Sarah to Mom starts out:

Darling! I was so thrilled to get that announcement. Even though I already knew, and expected the card, when I read "engagement of," I was thrilled to the core.

On the other hand, Sarah was such a close friend and confidant that in her letter of February 9th to Mom, she writes:

I was quite taken aback by your news regarding the wedding. I guess I don't have to tell you how I feel about it. The less said about it, the better.

Wait a minute! Here's where speculation sets in. I suspect that Mom's friends were urging a quick wedding, but my parents set a wedding date for late in 1946. One letter mentions something about "can you wait till April?" and another says "if the event takes place in June..." Is that why "the less said about it, the better"?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Aunt the WAAC (later WAC)

Thanks to my niece Katie, who found a letter and some newspaper clippings in a cookbook, I know when and where my aunt was training to be a WAAC: Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Photo above is from the Fort's web site, now a historical and educational monument.

The letterhead reads: Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The date: Sunday, November 29 (checking an online calendar, I see this was written in 1942). The letter was written to my grandparents.

My aunt complains of the cold because winter uniforms aren't yet available ("we're still in seersuckers"). And she talks about getting the baracks and the WAACs in shape for a formal inspection. Her closing words: "Well, let me hear from you. It's a boon and blessing to get mail, you know!"

I knew my aunt, a sgt., served in England and received the Bronze Star for "meritorious service in direct support of operations against the enemy." She was the historian for the WAC detachment, 9th Air Force, having joined the company in spring, 1943 and left it in summer, 1945. Her photo is on p. 91 of the history. Sadly, the copy in my hands was water-damaged years ago and as a result, many of the pages are stuck together.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ancestor Approved - Humbled, Intrigued, Surprised, Enlightened

Thanks to Lisa, who bestowed the Ancestor Approved award on me, I'm going to list the 10 things I learned about my family that surprised, intrigued, enlightened, and humbled me. Look for my list of 10 Ancestor Approved blogs at the end of this post!

1. I am humbled by the way my maternal grandfather teamed up with his brother, both recent immigrants from Hungary and still scratching to make a living, and paid for their baby sister to come from the old country and make a new life here. It must have been quite a hardship and yet they did it, changing her life forever.

2. I am intrigued by my husband's McClure ancestors in Wabash. Are Benjamin M. McClure and his wife Sarah, parents of William Madison McClure and Train C. McClure (among many others), related to the famous Samuel McClure, one of the early settlers? I think not, but it's intriguing to wonder how distantly or closely they're related.

3. I am enlightened regarding the history of Bridgeport, CT. Turns out my great-uncle Sam Schwartz and his bride Anna lived very close to where P.T. Barnum wintered his circus. Certainly they would have seen the occasional runaway animal. Who knew Connecticut could be that wild?

4. I am humbled that so many people are so willing to help. Queries posted on Rootsweb and other surname message boards have led to incredible breakthroughs because people took the time to answer me and put me in touch with relatives or people who knew relatives. I found several second cousins in this way. Thank you! You made a real difference.

5. I am surprised that some distant relatives never answered or acknowledged my letters. I wrote to two of my husband's distant cousins, enclosing family documents and even photos, but never heard back. It's possible they weren't actually related to him, of course. However, I'm very certain of the connection in one case. Maybe the letters didn't reach the intended recipients? Or maybe these folks didn't want to be found, for some reason? Or could it be that they were suspicious of getting a letter from people they never heard of, claiming to be long-lost relatives? I would have invested a stamp or a phone call, if a genealogy researcher had contacted me, to at least pursue the inquiry.

6. I am humbled that some distant relatives are willing to trust me with information, photos, and confidences. Personal lives are very complex and every family has all kinds of undocumented "secrets." Now I know some (and no, I won't blab them here). Some of these "secrets" weren't actually volunteered without prompting; at least one appeared in the news section of a major metropolitan newspaper! But it was "news" to my part of the family. You should hear the explanation my distant relative gave me when I asked about that story. Quite a doozy.

7. I am enlightened by the geography lesson I get whenever I try to figure out where my maternal and paternal grandparents came from. Ungvar, home of Theodore Schwartz and his brother Sam, used to be in Hungary. Then it was part of Czechoslovakia, back to Hungary, taken over by the Germans in WWII, and finally part of Ukraine. No wonder Grandpa kept changing his answer when official documents asked "country of origin."

8. I am surprised by the twists and turns I found in my brother-in-law's family. His ancestors were early settlers in the area of Stockton, CA, having come across the country in wagon trains. In fact, one of his ancestors led wagon trains, bringing settlers into the area. The obituary read like a Western adventure story. One time the wagon train was surrounded by a tribe in full war paint. The leader stood up on top of a wagon (according to the obit) and spoke, in Native tongue, eloquently arguing for peace. And got it! The train continued to California without further incident. How many of us will be remembered for heroism like that?

9. I am surprised at how well some branches of the family tree are documented and how rarely others appear in official and unofficial records. My wonderful cousin Betty recently located a distant relative in Europe who has his father's correspondence from before WWII! And, wonder of wonders, a few letters mention my uncle and other relatives. I've been transcribing letters written to my mother during the late 1930s and mid-1940s. If only I knew all the players. But at least she kept them, for decades, and they came to me intact. They form a record of my parents' courtship, from the viewpoint of my mother's friends writing to her in answer to her letters to them.

10. I am humbled by the amount of work it takes to document families and get the info right. It's a lifetime of work to explain the lifetimes of my ancestors. Since I'm more than a year behind in entering data in my Family Tree Maker, you can see why I'm impressed by my cousin Betty, who has done a great job tracing the family, and my unofficial cousin Art, who in the course of writing up his family's info has helped me learn more about my great-uncle Sam.

And now, for the 10 bloggers I think deserve the Ancestor Approved Award (originated by "Ancestors Live Here" by Leslie Ann Ballou).

John of the Wandering Genealogist
Jen of ShawGenealogy
Sherida of TwigTalk
Sandy and Linda of Cemetery Divas
Donna of Another Day with Donna
Paula of Paula's Genealogical Eclectica
Deci of Wild Rhododendrons
John of TransylvanianDutch
Elyse of Elyse's Genealogy Blog
Granny Pam of Granny's Genealogy

Thanks for all the ideas and inspiration!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

That's my Dad, at left. Who are the other people? And where on earth are they? Readers, any ideas?