Friday, January 7, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History - Winter

Week #2's challenge is to write about winter. Growing up in the Bronx, NY, nearly every December our parents took me, my twin, and our younger sister on the subway downtown to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and walk along Fifth Avenue gawking at the holiday displays.

Many years we went to Radio City Music Hall to see whatever blockbuster movie was opening and the main attraction, the Rockettes' Christmas show. (I think I recall seeing "The Sundowners" there.) It was thrilling to see the organ slide into view as the deep chords started the show. At intermission, the luxe bathrooms were a big attraction.

A real treat was going to the elegant Savoy Plaza (later the Savoy Hilton) Hotel, above, where my father Harold BURK and his brother Sidney Burk maintained their travel agency (see my father at his desk, below). The hotel had a Trader Vic's restaurant and we loved tiki meals! But once the GM building was built, it was goodbye to the hotel and the restaurant . . . and my father's travel agency. That's a story for another day.

In those days, we kids would drag our sleds over to Bronx Park after a big snowfall, spend an entire day going down the gentle hills, and return home positively encrusted with snow. I don't remember many times when snow forced schools to close, but this must have happened more than a few times.

The elementary school was 10 blocks away, no school bus, so yes, we really did walk 1/2 mile each way in all kinds of weather (and often we walked home for lunch and back again!). No wonder fitness wasn't an issue. No school cafeteria*, so anyone who brought a lunch (which we usually did during heavy rains or very cold weather) ate in the school basement, sitting on benches. *My sister says there was a cafeteria in the basement, and the food was (stereotypically) terrible and she preferred the bag lunches!

And who could forget my mother's beloved Persian Lamb coat? She's wearing in the above photo from her wedding day in November, 1946. For years, she'd wear that when the temperature dropped. We kids loved to run our hands through it, another winter memory.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - New Year's traditions and resolutions

Happy new year! First, a couple of resolutions for 2011's genealogy projects:
  • Learn all about my new Mac FTM software and move my files from the old PC version to the Mac.
  • Keep entering info and citing sources (this is one of my weak spots--I love to solve genealogy mysteries but don't find it anywhere near as much fun to write things up).
  • Label more of the family photos that I protected in individual sleeves last year.
  • Keep blogging as cousin bait! Can't wait to meet my newly found cousins this spring.
Now for traditions. Whenever my father and his brother and brothers-in-law got together (which might have been on New Year's Day but also one or two other holidays), they played pinochle. I still have the two-deck card set they used. Although I never understood the game, I know they were expert and enthusiastic about playing. So at the table would be my father, Harold Burk; his brother, Sidney Burk; and his brothers-in-law, Charles Lang (married to my aunt Millie) and David Bourstein (married to my aunt Miriam). Lots of laughter but also intense concentration.

The New Year's Eve I most vividly remember was when I was 17 and went to Times Square with my boyfriend, my closest girlfriend, and her boyfriend. Maybe we took the subway (who remembers? It was that long ago), or perhaps one of the guys drove us all from the Bronx. I remember the crowds and excitement, the cold, and the jubilation when the ball dropped at midnight. We all counted along (yes, just like on TV) and kissed at the stroke of the new year. Once was enough. I can say "been there, done that."

My husband's family had a quieter New Year's Eve in Cleveland Heights, because his father Edgar J. Wood always had a gig playing in a band that evening. Insurance adjuster by day, Ed was a professional piano player on the weekends and was booked for New Year's Eve by October every year. Photo above shows him in one of the college bands he joined while at Tufts. He and his friends worked their way across the Atlantic and back by playing on cruise ships, then picked up gigs in Europe to cover room and board for the summer between semesters.

May the new year bring you many family tree discoveries and reunions with long-lost relatives.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Family Recipe Friday - Grandmother McClure's Butterscotch Brownies

Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure, my husband's grandmother, made these not-too-sweet butterscotch brownies. You can see her below, reading to my husband (pre-TV days).

For a little Christmas family bonus, we gave out copies of this recipe held in a cute glass recipe holder clip, along with specialty toppings to be attached with icing.

Grandma McClure's Butterscotch Brownies

7/8 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter (or margerine)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" or 8" round or square pan.
  2. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream butter and add sugar gradually to blend thoroughly.
  3. Stir in eggs and vanilla to butter/sugar mixture. Then stir in sifted ingredients. Add nuts if desired. Batter will be fairly smooth and thin.
  4. Spread batter in greased pan, bake at 350 for 20 min. Check for doneness with a toothpick. If toothpick is clean/dry, remove brownies from oven.
  5. Cool, cut into squares, dust with powdered sugar, and serve with ice cream for best taste!
Sharing recipes from ancestors is one way to keep family history alive--as discussed in my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sorting Saturday - Christmas Tradition

The origin of this family Xmas tradition is lost to the mists of time, but we have an annual Silly Sox contest. The goal is to make the youngest child (who's the judge) laugh and choose which pair of socks is the silliest. Not ugliest, not cutest, but silliest.

Years later, we're still laughing at the ridiculous socks family members presented in an effort to win the biggest laugh from the youngest child. (Last year's winner had a hawk head on a chicken body, which only an 8-yr-old would think is sillier than the pirate sox I entered, right?) Today the competition is cut-throat :) And although it's not the kind of competition that fits neatly into a Family Tree Maker category, it's fun to remember and even more fun to enter.

I've been runner-up for 2 yrs in a row. But this year, in sorting through the possibilities, I believe I have sure-fire winners. Take a look (above) and let me know what you think. I'll post other people's entries another day. This is a sneak peek of mine (the contest begins in a few hours). Note that I went to the scrapbooking section of the local craft store and gussied up my chosen sox just a bit. Skulls aren't silly unless they're doing something silly, right?

UPDATE: Nope, I didn't win (again). The judge disqualified sox that had been "customized." So all my wonderful creations were pushed to the side. This year's winners were the penguin slipper-sox wearing red hats (at 12 o'clock to 1 o'clock on photo above). The rest of the sox paraded on family tootsies were pretty silly too.

Next year's rules, according to the judge: The winner will be the pair that's most surprising. Hmm. Better get busy. Only 364 more days to go! Happy holidays to all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday - "Cousin Bait" Blog

Over on "West in New England," Bill West posted a message he called "What is the worth of a genealogy blog?" Some of the people who commented on Bill's post mentioned genealogy blogs they called "Cousin Bait."

That's my theme for Treasure Chest Thursday--Cousin Bait.

I'm not a professional genealogist nor is my blog intended as a scholarly recitation of my family history. The real reason to maintain my blog is, as my masthead says, "Ongoing adventures in genealogy...finding out who my ancestors were and connecting with cousins today!"

In other words, the true treasure (for me) is in connecting with cousins. Thankfully, I've been blessed with quite a treasure trove of cousins to connect with. Most recently my 2nd cousin Lois "found" me when she Googled her grandfather's name and up popped a blog post I'd written about hoping to find out his story. Her grandfather, Louis Volk, was my great-uncle by marriage to my great-aunt, Ida Mahler, and in trying to learn about them, I've now connected with her.

Cuz Lois has lots of stories to tell about this line of our family! And she's delighted to share her stories with me. Just as important, she's introducing me to my other 2nd cousins--cousins that, thanks to Lois, I'll be meeting in person in just a few months.

So I like the idea of a Cousin Bait blog because it brings me closer to my treasured family connections. Yay for Cousin Bait blogs! And here's hoping that 2011 will bring more cousins together, in your family and in mine.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Numbers tell the story


That's the number of days until the 1940 Census is released. And I can hardly wait! For one thing, the Census asked everyone 5 and older where they were living on April 1, 1935, filling in some blanks for where my ancestors were living between the 1930 and 1940 Census periods.

The 1940 Census will include a special series of questions--more data! In addition, there will be extra info about housing, although Dr. Weintraub (see comment below) says this is unlikely to be released for individuals.

Looking forward to April 2, 2012! But first, happy 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - Family Song Traditions

Holidays have their own song traditions in my family tree. When the Farkas Family Tree used to gather (and we did gather during the past decade, at cousin Peter's house), we would sing our family song, loud and strong.

Here are the first stanza and chorus (song written by my great-aunt, Ella Farkas Lenney):

The Farkas clan has now all gathered
One and all are here
Time for all cares to be scattered
Faces bright and clear,
Jokes and puns and smiles and fun,
Are ready to begin,
The clan has gathered now!
Farkas, Farkas is the password.
Sing on high that it can be heard
That we all are here and now cheer:
The Farkas Family Tree!

The song goes on for two more stanzas, including married surnames of the Farkas sisters who came to America, plus married surnames of their children. The final stanza says: A proud family tree as the Farkas Clan grows on!

My sister and I and our families have a different song tradition. At the end of each family gathering (as long as our ace piano player, Andrea, is with us!), we gather around the piano and sing to "The Rose" (you know, popularized by Bette Midler). It's a roller-coaster song, mentioning downs and ups of life, but in the end, in the spring, the rose emerges. We sing it loud and try for harmony. Here's a YouTube with the song and words (NOT by us) if you want to sing along.

What are your family's song traditions?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ancestors in the Newspaper

Sometimes we find out something about our family tree because a distant relative or ancestor is mentioned in the news--often because of something bad that happened. My friend Mary's ancestors made the newspaper because they were involved in mysterious illnesses and death.

My grandfather Theodore SCHWARTZ made the newspaper because he was robbed.

His lone news coverage was in a New York Times article of Dec. 17, 1937, titled: "Band Robs 3 Stores; Three Armed Men Get $300 in Series of Bronx Raids."

Grandpa's grocery store at 679 Fox Street in the Bronx (above, with Grandpa at the counter) was robbed, he was hit on the head with a pistol butt when he resisted, and robbers stole $50 from his store.

That $50 represented a lot of money for my grandparents, especially during the Depression, when customers had difficulty paying their monthly tab.

So now, with Dec 17th just a couple of days away, I'm paying tribute to Grandpa's bravery in trying to resist...and then having to go home to tell Grandma that they were out of pocket by $50.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Was Really Important to My Ancestors, the Journey Takers?

Leslie Albrecht Huber asks this question in her new book, The Journey Takers. It's a really interesting question to think about as I delve into my family's history, trying to figure out not only where my ancestors came from but also why they left on their journey to America, how they left, and what they expected in their new lives here.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Leslie spoke to the local genealogy club last night, and her presentation was both inspiring and informative. Her ancestors' immigration experiences were entirely different from those of my grandparents and great-grandparents, and so it was especially intriguing to follow along as she discovered her family's hometowns and pieced together a picture of what their lives were like before and after their decisions to come to America. I also got some new ideas for immigration research and for understanding the social and historical context of my ancestors' challenges and successes.

Be sure to check out Leslie's "Understanding Your Ancestors" site for lots of great links to more info and suggestions about researching Western European immigrant ancestors. Don't miss her book, which tells the fascinating story of her decade-long search for ancestors in Germany, Sweden, and England--with some unexpected twists along the way! And while you're at it, bookmark her genealogy blog too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - family gatherings

Every summer for years, the Farkas Family Tree (my maternal grandmother's side of the family) gathered for a weekend at a summer resort or bungalow colony to talk over old times, let the cousins get to know each other, and just plain have fun. This photo was taken in June, 1958 (I'm a twin at far right). My grandparents had just retired and this was a chance to relax with kin. Since we had no car, I'm sure we carpooled with my aunt (Mom's twin).

This photo was taken at the Pines, a long-abandoned resort in upstate New York. Sad to see the current photos of what was once a comfy summer getaway area.