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, "Finding out about ancestors and connecting with cousins!"

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 searched for her grandfather's name and up popped a blog post I'd written about hoping to find out his story. Her grandfather 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. 2022 update: We are still in touch and it's a joy to know this part of the family.

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.

2022 update: The release of the 1950 US Census has been accompanied by a basic search function for name and location, enabled by AI/handwriting recognition technologies. For more about this Census, see my summary page here.

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.

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! Updated 2022 with fresh link. 

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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving - Parade Memories

Living in NYC, my family often went to the big Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which meant getting up early and riding the subway an hour to get downtown to a street where we could see the floats and bands pass by. Of course Spider Man wasn't in the parade then, but other cartoon favorites were fun to see. Santa in his sleigh arrived at the tail end of the parade, then as now, much anticipated as the high point of the whole show. The crowds were enormous but we usually staked out a spot where we children could sit on a parent's shoulders or climb on a nearby statue or fountain to get a better view. If we were lucky, we'd come home with a little balloon of our own! My honorary aunt Lee Wallace directed this big parade for a number of years.

In other years, we watched the Macy's parade on TV and flipped channels to see the Dayton's parade in Detroit (after the Macy's parade was over) and the Gimbel's parade in Philadelphia. I didn't realize that the Philadelphia parade had continued after Gimbel's went bust in the 1980s, but now it's the a sponsored parade by another brand. 

Happy Thanksgiving and happy memories. (updated 2022)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Thanksgiving 1956

My maternal grandmother (Hermina Farkas Schwartz) and her siblings and their families celebrated Thanksgiving (Nov 22, 1956) by gathering at the Hotel Gramercy Park in New York City for a masquerade luncheon. This was only one of many "Farkas Family Tree" get-togethers that I can remember over the years. The photographer spelled "Farkas" incorrectly (bottom right of photo, it's spelled "Falkas"). I'm one of the Hawaiian girls at left toward the back of the room, wearing a lei. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Amanuensis Monday - Wartime letters to Mom, 4/13/1944

War-time letter to my Mom from her friend Eleanor Weinberger, postmarked April 13, 1944. Eleanor's husband Monty was in the service and they moved as he was stationed in different places. One big problem for me, all these years later, is that I don't remember Mom ever mentioning Eleanor, yet Mom kept a big bundle of letters from her--kept the letters for decades. Who was Eleanor and why was she so important in Mom's life? Clearly she was a close friend but I wish I knew more.

[This letter was written on letterhead from the Hotel Buena Vista and Cottages, Biloxi, Mississippi, "overlooking the sparking waters of the Gulf of Mexico" - postcard, below, is from the Web site of Mississippi State University. 2022 update image]

Dear Daisy,

Received your letter and was happy to hear from you. Your letter was nice and newsy and I enjoyed reading it. If you’re interested in my impressions of Biloxi, for your information, I plan to write a book about the place after the war is over. Just keep my letters and each one shall be the basis for another chapter!

I have definitely decided that there’s one difference between Goldsboro and Biloxi. Goldsboro had no advantages—had nothing to do—so I went to work and tired myself out so—that I didn’t want to do anything. In Biloxi, there are advantages but there are disadvantages too, which far outweigh the advantages and makes it impossible the enjoy the place. Of course this is all my opinion. Some people I’ve met down here feel I’m wrong but of course, we all have a different idea of living and mine simply doesn’t coincide with what I’m faced with. 

We’re still living in the room we found the day after we arrived. After we took it we discovered we were on the wrong side of the tracks—I’m tickled pink when Monty leaves the car for me! Then, too, I’ve discovered that roaches are very unpleasant company to have around and have to be content with the retort “oh! They’re all over town—even in New Orleans" people say when I happen to mention it as a slight drawback to our room. Yes! They’re in N.Y. too, but not in every house! 

The worst thing of all though is the water. It’s sulphuric and sells that way. The smell seems to remain everywhere and it’s really very nauseating, when it’s as constant as it is. Both Monty and I refrain from drinking any and I usually have to wait about 3 hrs after any meal to take a bath. The water isn’t as bad in other parts of town—another reason for my wishing to move. 

All these things seem to outweigh by far, the glorious days, the Gulf, palm trees and basking in the sun, on the beach. By the way, our room is about a mile inland, that’s why it’s so cheap--$10 a month! Heck! I had my own furnished apt. in Champaign for $42.50 a month. We’d love to spend our time down here, living at one of the hotels on the beach, but it's far beyond our reach. Rooms are $5 or $6 a night and over a period of a month it just about amounts to what Monty’s making. But I do manage to make good use of the hotels’ facilities, like ping-pong, checkers, the sun-decks, etc. It’s fun and it helps a little, to bear the unpleasantries.

So that, my dear, is Biloxi—you can have it—any day. They say, people pay thousands for sulphuric water. I’d pay thousands too, not to have it. Forgive me if I sound a bit unenthusiastic, but things do seem dark right now. They always do before the light and here’s hoping things become a little brighter.
Do remember me to Daddy when you next write. I’m really not in the mood to write very much nowadays. I’ll feel much better when I’m settled. My best to your parents. 

            Love to you—

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday - Meyer Mahler and Tillie Jacobs Mahler

Here are the tombstones of my great-grandparents, buried in Queens, New York. Meyer MAHLER's inscription, translated, suggests a connection to the famous Luria family (reputedly descended from King David):
Here lies the distinguished man from the branch of the fear of heaven, author of the sefer "Kanaf Ranannim," R' Meir Eliyahu son of R' Dovid Akiva, born in 5616 died 3 Shvat 5670.
The sefer mentioned here was written by Chanoch Zundel LURIA. 2022 update: This ancestor is mentioned in a footnote here, and his writings are available on antiquarian sites, among other sites.

According to Meyer's death cert, his mother was Hinde Luria. So far, I've found no other evidence of any direct link to the Lurias, but will keep looking. The Luria genealogist in Europe can't find a real connection, either (2022 update). 

Tillie JACOBS MAHLER's inscription, translated, says "Here lies Mrs. Taube Raize daughter of R'Yonah, died 11 Silvan 5712." Yonah might be Jonah, a clue to Tillie's father, Jonah Jacobs? 2022 update: Yes! 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday's Obituary - Isaac Burk

When paternal grandfather Isaac Burk died suddenly while visiting his wife's sister and brother-in-law in Washington, DC, the obit in the New York Times was quite terse, with nothing more than the basics. It read:
BURK--Isaac, on Oct. 8, 1943, husband of Yetta, father of Millie, Miriam, Harold and Sidney. Funeral 3:15 pm Sunday, Oct. 10. 1943.
This obit appeared on the day of the funeral service, which took place in New York City where Isaac lived, with the burial in New Jersey. "Yetta" was actually Henrietta (2022 update: Yetta was also her nickname in the family), and "Millie" was Mildred, Isaac's oldest daughter. Since Isaac's sons Harold and Sidney were fighting in Europe at this point, having enlisted for WWII, it must have been a very small group that attended the funeral, unfortunately. 

Isaac's name was recorded as "Birk" when he arrived as an immigrant, but he changed it sometime during his early years in New York City and Montreal, moving between the two places as a carpenter looking for work.

When Isaac married Henrietta MAHLER (my grandmother) in June, 1906, he listed his father's name as Elias (L. or S.) Burk and his mother as Necke (or Neche) Burk, although the "Burk" last name was clearly corrected on the marriage cert so it may have actually been spelled "Birk" or "Berk" the first time through the clerk's hands. Isaac said he was 26 and Henrietta said she was 19 at the time of their marriage. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Those Places Thursday - Ungvar (now Uzhorod)

Grandfather Teddy (Tivador) SCHWARTZ and his siblings (including Paula and Etel, above), came from Ungvar, then part of Hungary and now in the Ukraine. After Teddy, his older brother Sam, and their little sister Mary moved to New York, they periodically received photo portrait postcards like the above from the old country. Whether Grandpa sent photo postcards back, I don't know. Sadly, I also don't know for sure what happened to Etel Schwartz. 2022 update: Cousin confirmed that Etel was killed in the Holocaust, unfortunately.

Curious to see more about Ungvar, I located this site with vintage postcards of the city in the 19th and 20th centuries. Wow, it was more cosmopolitan than I expected. Even though Grandpa probably lived outside the city, it's interesting to see the skyline and buildings he would have seen in this market city itself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wedding Wednesday - 1946

The biggest social event of 1946 in my father's side of the family was the wedding of my parents (center, seated). Alas, Mom's gold lame wedding dress is long gone but it was quite glamorous!

Surnames: Burk, Birk, Schwartz, Volk, Mahler

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mystery Monday - Margaret Schwartz and son William

My great-uncle Samuel SCHWARTZ died in 1954, while married to his second wife, Margaret (his first wife, Anna, had died in 1940). According to family lore, Sam and Margaret drifted away from the family after their marriage and once Sam died, leaving nothing to the children of his first marriage, the rift was complete.

Looking for more on Margaret, I found a grave for someone with that name in the same cemetery where Sam & Anna are fact, Margaret's plot is in the same block and section as Sam & Anna, and the burial society (1st Hungarian Independent Lodge) is the same for all three. 2022 update: Cemetery is Riverside in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. Sam's Find a Grave memorial is here.

Now for the mystery: The next of kin listed on Margaret's cemetery info is "William Schwartz, son." Although I don't know whether this is the correct Margaret (I've guessed wrong before!), nobody has ever heard of Margaret and Sam having a son. Is William Schwartz a distant relative? Does he still have any of Sam Schwartz's family heirlooms?

Mystery partially solved! My cousin Bonnie just told me she remembers that Margaret had a child from her first marriage, so William must have been my great-uncle Sam's stepson. Where William might be and what he knows about the Schwartz family remains a mystery still. And in 2022, as I update this, it is still a mystery.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Talented Tuesday: Needlework Experts

My mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk) and my younger sister, shown above, were talented with a needle and thread or yarn. Mom did petit point and needlepoint when she was first married, but from an early age she had been crocheting afghans, doilies, etc. She never sewed her own clothes because her mother (my grandmother, Hermina Schwartz), was a proficient seamstress who made the family's clothes for many years--and when my mother was working and earning money, she wanted store-bought apparel, not home-made.

My younger sister embroidered, did needlepoint, crocheted, and was good at many different hand-crafts.

My mother taught us to crochet before we started school (I now quilt as well) and my twin sewed a lot of her clothes during high school and college. Now one niece is an expert crocheter and another loves to embroider. The tradition of needlework continues!

I still have some items embroidered by my grandmother and mother, which I treasure and take care of so the memories and stories of their talents remain alive.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Data Backup Day - Suspenders and Belt Edition

Having lived through several PC crashes that demolished my data in the bad old days, I now rely on the "suspenders and belt" strategy of ensuring that my stuff can be retrieved, even if my computer is a total loss.

First, I use and automatic backup that begins at 5 pm every day (this is my 2022 update).

Second, now that I've given up the PC world and become a Mac fan (remember, "fan" is short for "fanatic"), I have Apple's Time Machine backing up every hour to an external hard drive that sits right on my desk. Really worst case, I'll lose an hour. Who can beat that? This is the suspenders part, the extra bit of insurance that lets me feel secure about my data.

2022 update: I have another external hard drive for photos, videos, and other genealogical items I do not ever want to lose!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sentimental Sunday

 At left is my mom and below is her twin sister, a few minutes older. These are their high school graduation photos.

Remember those socks filled with chalk that children used to swing around on Halloween? Mom's Halloween memories weren't very positive because one Halloween she was socked in the mouth with a sock filled with rocks. Although she had a few sets of front teeth put in over the years, replaced as dental techniques became better, she always had to be careful what and how she ate. She even had to be careful how she kissed! 2022 update: letters written to her in 1940s mentioned her new teeth and the problem with kissing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Those Places Thursday - European Band Tour

Edgar James Wood, born in Cleveland, OH, spent his summers in between college semesters touring Europe with a band. They'd get hired to play on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic and then pick up gigs as they moved around Europe. This is a poster from 1926, when Edgar was playing in Dick Bowers' Band. Although they didn't make much money, they did have lots of adventures and see the world. Decades later, Edgar (my late father-in-law) was still talking about his summer band tours and cruise dates.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: James Edgar Wood

James Edgar Wood was a builder in Cleveland Heights, OH, around the turn of the century (the sign, at right of the bicycle, is the giveaway). This is one of the homes he built. The woman with him is his wife, Mary Slatter Wood. Anyway, James's proficiency in carpentry has been inherited by later generations--at least 4 generations at current count. (updated in 2022 to confirm that the photo shows husband and wife, James and Mary)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Black Sheep Sunday - Busted Because of a Coal Road

A Black Sheep Sunday story I remember my father telling. My dad, Harold Burk 1909-1978 (right, above), worked his way up to Sgt in the US Army during WWII, in charge of getting some supplies to certain Allied troops fighting in Europe. He was frustrated that he couldn't easily deliver coal to the barracks in a heavily wooded area, and with the weather getting very cold, and no official way to get the coal to freezing troops, he took matters into his own hands.

He ordered a tank (or heavy truck, not sure which) to knock down some of the smaller trees and create a narrow road that could then be used for transporting coal to the barracks! Higher-ranking officials weren't happy because they feared the narrow road would tip off enemy planes if they spotted the route, and my dad was busted, losing at least one stripe. But he always felt the men would not have survived the winter without some fuel for the stoves, so he made their day-to-day welfare his concern. 

Is this a Black Sheep story? My husband doesn't think so, but maybe that's because all ended well. 2022: No way to prove whether the story was true, but I'm retelling it anyway with the caveat that this is a "family legend" I heard directly from Dad.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grandma, Upper Sandusky, and McGuffey's Reader

Years ago, my husband's parents gifted him with a beat-up old book, McGuffey's Sixth Eclectic Reader (revised edition). These days, McGuffey's is available for free, online, from the Gutenberg Project.

The book itself is too fragile to scan, unfortunately, so no picture here. The book has huge sentimental value because it belonged to my husband's grandmother, Floyda Steiner McClure, who used it in school in Upper Sandusky, OH, about 1890-91.

Interestingly, Floyda practiced her shorthand on the endpapers at the back of the book. She also scribbled some math sums back there. No highlighting in the book, of course. This is a family treasure because it connects us to older generations in a tangible way. How else would we know that Floyda read Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron, and more?

2022 update: New image of cover.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cousins--More Than Names on My Family Tree

I suspected that there were more 2nd cousins out there: In my great-grandmother's obit, I counted the number of great-grandchildren, of which I'm one.

One big reason I started this blog is so that cousins and other relatives could find me--and now Cousin Lois has done just that. We're excitedly exchanging family stories and talking over old times. I'm delighted to catch up with Lois's news and learn, through her, about more cousins scattered around the country. Wonder of wonders, Lois even has some treasured heirlooms that belonged to our great-grandpa.

So many cousins to meet, so many stories to tell, so many family connections to make. Here's to great cousin connections! 2022 update: I'm now in touch with descendants of Mrs. Sarah Mahler Smith, and have been in touch with Mrs. Mary Mahler Markell's descendants. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

The McClure Family - Ohio Branch

I'm researching my husband's family at the are two photos of his grandparents. Above is Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure (1878-1948), of Nevada, Ohio (d. Cleveland).

And here's Brice Larimer McClure, (1878-1970), affectionately known as "The Old Gentleman" in the family. He was born in Little Traverse, Michigan (d. Cleveland). He's named after Brice S. Larimer, his maternal grandfather. 

We're not sure where the name Brice comes from or why it was chosen, since the family tree doesn't yet reflect that name, but we're not very far into this family's research. 2022 update: An ancestor in the family was Brice Smith, clearly the reason why Brice was passed down in multiple generations.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Looking for Louis Volk

Louis VOLK (father Samuel, mother Celie Leboff) was an important part of my father's family. He married my great-aunt Ida Mahler in 1920. When Louis's brother-in-law (Isaac Burk) died unexpectedly while visiting him in 1943, Louis gave info for Isaac's death certificate. 

Born in Sukian, Russia, around 1891 or 1892, Louis lived in the Bronx in the 1930s and somehow got to the ritzy Rodman Ave Street NW section of Washington, DC by the 1940s. His children were Myron and Sylvia. Hope to connect with Volk descendants! 2022 update: Connected with Volk descendants! 

PS Thank you to cousin L for correcting the Rodman St. info. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Isaac Burk was Lithuanian, Henrietta Mahler was Latvian

How do I know that my grandfather Isaac Burk was Lithuanian and his wife Henrietta Mahler Burk was Latvian? How do I know for sure that he appears at left in this photo (with my grandmother Henrietta Mahler Burk at right, taken at the wedding of their youngest daughter, in center)?

Because his Declaration of Intention to apply for citizenship has his nationality AND a photo! It also has his terrible signature--clearly writing English was still a struggle, after all his years away from his homeland.

Isaac came from "Kovna" according to these documents. He and Henrietta married in New York City, but where, when, and how they met is a mystery (at this point). More research is in my future. UPDATED 2022: This is definitely Isaac, with his younger daughter Miriam, her new husband David, and Isaac's wife Henrietta. Photo from 1937.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Speedy NYC Marriage Cert

With unprecedented speed, NYC has sent me my grandparents' marriage license from 1906. It's some help with genealogy but has less detail than I'd hoped.

I didn't know where Isaac Birk/Berk/Burk lived at that time, and now I do. Below is a photo--the tenement is still in existence, although the storefronts have obviously been updated (not necessarily "improved") since Grandpa's time.

Grandpa was 26 and Grandma Henrietta Mahler was 19 when they married, the first time for both. This license may be where some of the confusion about Grandpa's name came about. The official who wrote out the info calls Grandpa "Isaac Burk" but he signs himself "Isaak Berk." He gives his birth place as simply "Russia" and writes that his occupation is "carpenter." His father's name was Elias S. Burk (but the last name has been clearly corrected in some way). His mother's name was Necke Burk (again, both names heavily corrected, suggesting that they didn't translate well?). 2022 update: Necke Gelle Shuham Burk, possibly. 

PS Here's where my Grandma lived at the time, another address I never knew (here we are between the US Census years, so they may have moved every year for all I know). Another tenement still standing but with changed storefronts.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not MY Rachel Jacobs

Wonder of wonders, the NYC authorities turned my death cert request around in only one week, a new speed record. And now I know that I was wrong about my g-g-grandma Rachel Jacobs being buried in the cemetery plot devoted to patients from the Montefiore Home for Incurables in NYC.

The death cert I received shows a Rachel Jacobs dying in 1904 and being buried in that plot. It can't be my family's Rachel Jacobs because this one was just 56 yrs old, married, and born in US. None of that fits the profile of MY Rachel Jacobs.

I feel sorry for this Rachel Jacobs, however, because she had a cerebral hemorrhage in 1902 and finally died in 1904, having been at the Montefiore Home for 21 months, according to the death cert.

Lessons learned: (1) just because someone with the same name as an ancestor is buried within walking distance in the same cemetery as a known relative, doesn't mean he or she is in my family; (2) if the known relatives have expensive headstones and paid $ for perpetual care, but the mother of one of those relatives has a nearly impossible-to-see, insignificant headstone in a charity plot, chances are that mother is not a relative.

I'm going to have to take a different approach to finding my Rachel.

2022 update: I finally did find Rachel Shuham Jacobs in Mt. Zion Cemetery, Queens, NY. Her Find a Grave memorial is here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where Great-Great Grandma Is Buried

If I'm correct about where the mother of Tillie JACOBS is buried, I have more clues to my great-great grandma's life in New York. The cemetery shows her in a plot set aside for the Montefiore Home for Incurables, an institution founded in the 1880s (shown below). I was wrong, this is not MY Tillie JACOBS, see later post!

Again, thank you to wonderful, friendly cemetery personnel who are willing to help family researchers like me!

The gravestones were, alas, too worn to be read, and I searched for her a good long time before giving up. Once her death cert arrives (4-6 wks), I'll be able to confirm that this is indeed my great-great grandma. She came to the US in 1886, was shown in the Census of 1900 as living with her daughter and son-in-law and their children. Unfortunately, she died in 1904, apparently of a chronic disease (cancer perhaps?).

The 1900 Census shows great-great grandma as widowed and having 2 children, of whom 2 were living. One was obviously her daughter. The other, I think, was a son who lived in another apartment in the same tenement house. In those days, small families were rare, so my conclusion is that she was widowed early and rather than be left behind when her 2 children moved to the US, she came along. That must have taken courage, IMHO, knowing that she might never see her other relatives and friends again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tracing My Mahler Ancestors

Today I visited the graves of great-grandparents Meyer and Tillie MAHLER--thank you for responsive, caring cemetery staff members! They helped me locate the graves in the middle of very crowded plots and photocopied the cards on file. Although I had their death certs, I never knew the middle names of these ancestors, so this was helpful. Although they died decades apart, their stones were side by side.

Feeling like Peter Falk's Columbo, I turned back to the cemetery office before leaving and said, "Just one more thing..." This cemetery has a searchable online database and I had previously searched for Tillie's mother, Rachel Jacob (or Jacobs). I found a Rachel Jacob, but not in the same cemetery section. Almost didn't ask but as long as I was in the office, I did. All I knew was her name and that she died after 1900 (because of her appearance in the 1900 Census).

The cemetery staff checked a big ledger book and there was Rachel JACOBS, along with her death date which I would never have found otherwise. Sadly, it was impossible to find her grave stone (must have weathered away since her death in 1904) but as soon as I arrived home, I searched out and found her NYC death cert number. Yes! In approximately one month, I'll know her full name, parents, place of birth, and anything else that NYC records on death certs from that era. This was a very good genealogy day for me!

2022 update: This was NOT my Rachel Jacobs, sorry to say. But I did upload headstone photos to Ancestry, Find a Grave, and into my genealogy software.

Friday, July 30, 2010

New Citizen 110 Years Ago Today

Exactly 110 yrs ago today (July 30, 1900), my ancestor Mayer Mahler became a US citizen.

Mayer married his wife, Tillie, and had 2 children in Russia before leaving the Kovno region (see above map, now Kaunus, Lithuania) to arrive in America in 1885. He renounced his citizenship as a subject of the Emperor of Russia, and with Adam Adler as his reference, became a new US citizen in 1900. Tillie and Mayer had 5 more children in America, where he lived for 25 years before his early death. His wife Tillie lived to be 99 years old!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

California slang, circa 1946

I'm once again transcribing letters sent to Mom. One of her friends (temporarily living in California) mentions local slang, circa spring 1946. Lush means luscious, as in "that coat is lush." Icky means, well, icky--but apparently that wasn't slang familiar to a young lady from the Bronx. This was interesting enough to merit a paragraph in a one-page letter. Who knew?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Auntie" and Other Family Honorifics

In our family, calling an aunt "Auntie" was (and is) a mark of respect and affection. My sisters and I had a few aunts, but only one Auntie, our favorite (my mom's twin). No other name was needed--she was just Auntie. Now, as an adult, I'm delighted to be one of the Aunties of my generation.

It's the same with "Cousin" or "Cuz," which in our family are affectionate terms rather than being formal honorifics. I enjoy calling one of my cousins and saying, "Hi Cousin, it's Cousin Marian" or just "Hi, Cuz." And if you get called "Sweet Cuz," you're really the top!

I'm certainly going to note these honorifics in the family story. What are your family's honorifics?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Genealogy Research in Hungary

2022 update: No longer relevant. Thanks to the 100 Years in America blog, I found out about a site for Hungarian genealogy. It doesn't have my ancestors' names as yet, but I'll be submitting data this summer in the hope of connecting with other family researchers. Aren't genealogy bloggers wonderful? I really appreciate the ideas, the inspiration, and the information I get from reading other blogs.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Eastern European Genealogy

Last month, Matt Bielawa presented a talk about Eastern European to the local genealogical society. Matt is extremely knowledgeable about the area, knows his way around family research, and is incredibly enthusiastic--just listening to him makes me want to grab my files and spend the next six hours researching my Hungarian and Lithuanian ancestors! 

I also found out that Matt's an Internet fanatic who constantly updates genealogical links on his web sites. By going to his, and clicking on the links he's assembled, I can instantly access dozens of useful genealogy sites. Which I intend to do as soon as I have a couple of hours to dive into my family research again. Can't wait! 

UPDATE in 2022: hasn't been updated in some time. But the basics on the site are still relevant!

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?

2022 update: I've written a concise book on this topic, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

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. 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 Denning). Other children of Benjamin (a farmer, born in Ohio) and Sarah Denning McClure were: Mary A. McClure, John N. McClure, Train C. McClure, Elizabeth McClure, and Addison McClure. 

2022 update: For more about the McClure ancestors in my husband's family, see the ancestor landing page here.

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 Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001) was training to be a WAAC: Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

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. 

UPDATE in 2022: Sis and I have donated Sgt. Schwartz's items to the U.S. Army Women's Museum to keep them safe and have her included in the museum's archives/database.

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. 2022 Update: Lisa is not blogging regularly any more, sorry to say.

Look for my list of 10 Ancestor Approved blogs at the end of this post! (2022 update at end)

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. 2022 update: I found out years ago that these Schwartz siblings who came to America left behind parents, who they never saw again, and siblings as well.

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. 2022 update: Seems no direct connection.

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. UPDATE: Message boards aren't used as often in 2022 as FB pages! 

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 (2022 update: I know more of the names/relationships now). 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. 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). Update in 2022: Only TwigTalk and TransylvanianDutch blogs are current. The others haven't been updated in months or years.

John of the Wandering Genealogist 
Jen of ShawGenealogy 
Sherida of TwigTalk 
Sandy and Linda of Cemetery Divas 
Granny Pam of Granny's Genealogy 

Thanks for all the ideas and inspiration!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

That's my Dad (Harold Burk, 1919-1978), at left. Who are the other people? And where on earth are they? Readers, any ideas? 2022 Update: Still no breakthroughs on this photo, but it always makes me smile. Dad hadn't gone into the US Army for WWII at this point, so the date is most likely in the 1930s.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday--Madcap Dora

This photo is marked "Dora" and others are marked "Madcap Dora, Grandma's friend." Asked about the nickname, my mother said (long ago) that madcap was an affectionate term for someone who did slightly zany things. The only Dora I've ever been able to find in the family is Dora Mahler, my paternal grandmother's younger sister, who was just 56 when she died. UPDATE in 2022: Dora Mahler is NOT Madcap Dora. Dora Mahler is in fact my grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk's daughter. 

We have more than half a dozen photos of Madcap Dora, and she does appear in a few photos with this gentleman at her side. Who is he? Who is Madcap Dora? 2022 update: no news about who this Dora might be, yet.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Finding Uncle Sam

I was looking for Uncle Sam in early February. Well, I guessed correctly about which Samuel Schwartz (born in Ungvar, Hungary) was MY paternal great-uncle Samuel Schwartz (see my Searching for Uncle Sam post from February). I just received the death certificate and it's clearly the right Great-Uncle Sam, not some  other person unrelated to my family. Sam was a brother to my maternal grandpa, Theodore Schwartz.

Now I know exactly when Sam died and where he was buried. His second wife, Margaret, didn't give any details such as birth date or home town when providing info for the death cert, unfortunately, but I'm not surprised about that. 

What was a surprise is that he's buried in the same cemetery as his first wife, which  is the same cemetery where my paternal grandparents are buried. Is it a coincidence? Well, I have a plot plan for where my paternal ancestors are buried and Uncle Sam's name doesn't appear on it. I'll check with the cemetery for more about the area in which Uncle Sam is buried. Maybe other relatives are buried nearby? 

What I learned: Pay attention to the stories that relatives tell. One cousin said she this relative had a heart attack while mowing his lawn on a hot summer day--and it turns out she was right, he died in June. Another cousin was able to narrow down the range of years for when my great-uncle died, and he was right. Otherwise it would have been impossible for me to take an educated guess. I would have spent much more time and money searching for Great-Uncle Sam.

2022 update fixed links.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

My mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Helen Schwartz, 1919-2001) - fraternal, not identical twins, according to my mother. 

Which is which? No clues on the front or back. At the suggestion of my "cousin" Art, I've started slipping old family photos into plastic sleeves and will label the outside of the sleeves with names, dates, any memories that come to mind. First step is nearly done--getting them into sleeves. Now the hard part is writing labels. That's next!

UPDATE in 2022: Labeled, and in archival sleeves, within archival boxes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Who Do YOU Think You Are?

I decided to watch this week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are--featuring the background of producer Lisa Kudrow (above)--because (1) Ancestry sent me a reminder notice and (2) I was flat-out curious. What genealogical secrets would be revealed? What researching tricks would be mentioned? 

As Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter points out, any show about genealogy that gets millions of viewers to watch has to be considered a success. This week's show looked, to my eyes, like 30 minutes (tops) of content stretched to the usual 60 minute slot. At a crucial moment, Lisa uses Ancestry to look up the name of a long-lost relative, and presto! She finds out just enough to locate him in Poland and have a reunion (one that was actually touching, especially when Lisa's father ultimately has a long-distance conversation with this cousin). Seriously, Ancestry is a great tool (2022 update: I've had a World subscription for years). 

This show is a wonderful intro to genealogy for those who have done little or no family research. If, like Roots in the 1970s, it prompts people to ask relatives about stories about their parents/grandparents and other ancestors, it will have done its job. And the show did reinforce an important genealogy lesson: Do your homework so you can recognize ancestors' names in their native languages. If Lisa's researcher had not been able to recognize her great-grandmother's name, all tracing would have stopped. 

 My niece Katie has been kind enough to explain how the Russian alphabet works and show me a site with common Russian names in Cyrillic and English letters. Now when I search for my Schwartz relatives in old microfilmed records of Eastern Europe, I have some idea of what their names might look like. 

UPDATE in 2022: My must-watch genealogy show of the week is Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Genealogy and music

One of the strongest musical memories of my early childhood is the stirring march of "Zulu Warrior" from Songs of the South African Veld by Marais and Miranda

We children would sing and dance around our apartment as these South African songs played over and over and over. Wish I had that song to listen to again! My parents had a surprisingly eclectic (if small) record collection, including the Ink Spots and Mitch Miller, plus some Broadway soundtracks, Readers Digest albums of popular songs and classics, and at least a few very old Caruso opera records (alas, long gone). 

I remember the bulky albums of scratchy 78s and the mono LPs (Andre Kostelanetz, anyone?). Looking back, knowing how tight money was in our family, I wish I had asked my parents what prompted them to buy these particular recordings. I'm going to add a few details about music to my genealogy write-up so future generations can get a bit of insight into my parents' personalities. 2022 update: fixed links.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

This photo was in a box of old family photos from my mother. Probably these are distant relatives of my grandmother's, who came from Hungary, but who knows? No names, no info. That's why I resolve to label my photos for the benefit of future generations.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Five Genealogy Things to Do Before I Become an Ancestor

Our culture seems obsessed by life lists. Here's my list of 5 things every family researcher must do before he or she becomes an ancestor. If you think of additional "must do" items, please add your comments.
  1. Label all family photos. Start early--in fact, start now! How many family photos have you puzzled over during your research, trying to tease out a clue to which relative or what year or what place they depict? I'm easing into this by putting a label on the back of every family group photo from Xmas, birthdays, etc. "Xmas 2009, at ___'s house in ____ city. Front row, L -> R: Janey, Joey, Jan, Jen, Grandpa Joseph holding baby Jock." If we don't label our own photos and the old photos we found in the closet, our descendants may never figure out who's who. And don't forget to explain strange things in photos (such as unusual outfits on adults that, in the future, might not be recognized as Halloween costumes).
  2. Document key dates. Birthdays are easy, but what about wedding anniversaries, death dates, and other key milestones? Even if I don't get to updating my Family Tree Maker for a while, I need to jot down the dates of newly-found ancestors and put the notes into the appropriate file for later. Also I'm writing down recent family dates. The next generation will have an easier time continuing our research if we get the dates right. Don't fudge--even if Aunt Gertie wants outsiders to think her age is 49.95 plus shipping and handling, our family deserves the truth.
  3. Tell the stories. Genealogy is about more than names and dates--it's about the lives our ancestors lived. Who were they? Why did they do what they did? Those stories bring our heritage alive. I'm making a conscious effort to tell the snippets I remember about my grandparents and parents and their siblings. Like the fateful time Grandpa's horse ran away and made him late to his wedding to Grandma (supposedly true story from a century ago). Ultimately, I'll write down as many of the stories as I can remember and circulate them to siblings and cousins, asking for any additional memories they can insert.
  4. Stay in touch. This is one of the joys of genealogy: Getting to know cousins and other relatives I hadn't met or even knew existed. Not a one-time deal, staying in touch means e-mailing or calling or even putting pen to paper every once in a while to say "how are you?" and pass along some family news of my own. I also stay in touch with family researchers who aren't, strictly speaking, part of my family but who're fun and who share the "genealogy gene" for solving ancestor mysteries. Who else cares about our battles with stubborn town clerks or recalcitrant health department authorities over getting birth and death certificates for our late, great relatives?
  5. Think long term. Genealogy is our passion now, but we need other family members to carry on the tradition and keep the search and the documentation going into the future. One of my nieces is interested in being the next generation's genealogist. It's up to me to be sure she knows where the files are kept, where the photo boxes are, what I've been researching, who's missing, who's found, and so on. Otherwise, she'll reinvent the wheel again and again. To make it easy for those who come after me, I will (1) label all photos, (2) document key dates, (3) tell the stories, (4) stay in touch with relatives and put the next generation in touch, and (5) think long term!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Teddy's Dairy

Hidden among 1970s photos (stored in a Clairol electric roller box) was a large brown envelope with a Macy's logo and the address "New York 1, New York."

Inside that pre-Zip code envelope was the above photo of my grandfather Teddy (right) in front of his grocery store, Teddy's Dairy, in the Bronx. He was 47 at the time, since the back of the photo includes a hand-written date of 1934. I didn't realize he was a notary (see window). At the left margin of the photo is a bit of dress, which it's tempting to think is being worn by my grandmother Minnie.

This is a wonderful find; we suspect my aunt put the photo into one of her friend's envelopes (the friend worked at Macy's) and stashed it away. What else is hiding in the boxes in my sister's house?!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Searching for Uncle Sam (Really!)

Actually, he's my great-uncle Sam Schwartz from Ungvar, Hungary, and I've been trying to find out where and when he died. During yesterday's expedition to a nearby Family History Center, I looked at microfilms showing NYC death indexes for the 1950s. Lots of Sams and Samuels. Now I've narrowed the possibilities down to 15 or so entries.

Which one is the real Uncle Sam? The "informant" would have been Sam's second wife Margaret, in all probability, and she may not have known Sam's actual birth date or place. (I only know what he reported on his WWI and WWII draft forms, which may or may not be accurate.)  

Also, I don't know where in New York City he was living in when he died. I've been assuming that he stayed on in the house he owned while married to his first wife. He probably owned it clear and free by the time he died. I'll check land records at another point. 

My 1st cousin (once removed) remembers that Sam had a heart attack while mowing his lawn, so that suggests he died in a warm month (roughly May through September). Only one of the entries matches all of these criteria. I'm going to go for it--spend the $15 to find out whether that's the Uncle Sam I've been trying to find. Stay tuned! 2022 update: I guessed correctly and received the correct Sam Schwartz death cert.