Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Friendly, Not Frightful, Halloween Cards

In the 1910s, my husband's father and uncles in Cleveland, OH, frequently received penny-postcard holiday greetings from relatives across the miles. These were friendly (not frightful) messages to let the Wood youngsters know they were in the hearts of their family.

Here are two of my favorites. Rachel Ellen "Nellie" Wood (1864-1954) sent these and other colorful greeting cards to the four sons of her younger brother, James Edgar Wood (1871-1939). Nellie lived in Chicago, James lived in Cleveland, but they were able to visit each other from time to time.

"Aunt Nellie" Wood was married first to Walter Alfred Lervis (1860-1897) at the age of 20. After his death, she married Samuel Arthur Kirby (1860-1939).

"Aunt Nellie" had a special fondness for these nephews, as revealed through the messages on her holiday cards. She remembered their hobbies, sent get-well wishes when one broke an arm, and urged them to continue their studies.

Some of the penny postcards were signed "Uncle Arthur" (in another handwriting), which made me smile even more. The Wood boys were being treated, not tricked, for Halloween!

Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors prompt for this week is "frightening."

Monday, October 29, 2018

Detailed Captions from Ninety Years Ago

My late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) was gifted with a camera for his birthday in 1917. He was immediately smitten with photography, which became his lifelong hobby.

Even before Ed became an insurance adjustor (circa 1930 in Cleveland, Ohio), he was careful about recording details. (He kept a pocket diary for decades, and I'm lucky enough to have 30 full years to mine for genealogical gold.)

Sorting through a box of old snaps and negatives shared by my sis-in-law, I found this neat album of individual negatives from Ed's 1928 trip across the Atlantic.

Ed's European trip from 90 years ago was aboard the Berengaria sailing out of New York. He listed dates, places, names (not always full names), and more. This album consisted of more than three dozen negatives!

Ed played his way across the Atlantic several times as the piano player for a "college jazz band." The band sailed for free, in exchange for playing during meals and perhaps at other times.

Someone in Europe arranged additional bookings in France, Italy, and other countries eager to hear the latest American jazz music popular during the Roaring Twenties. At the end of the summer, Ed and his associates would sail back to New York, playing instead of paying for passage.

I already had Ed's passport from 1928. He said he was a college student, but in reality, he dropped out before graduating in mid-1926--because his mother died suddenly, a few weeks earlier.

Thank you, Ed, for preserving your past for future generations. I'm doing my best to follow in your footsteps by captioning photos (old and new) so descendants will know who's who, where, and when.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

RIP, Bela "Bacsi" Roth

Bela Bernard Roth (1860*-1941) was married to my maternal great-grandmother's sister, Zolli/Sali Kunstler. I know Zolli died young because my wonderful cousin B saw her very worn gravestone while visiting the cemetery in NagyBereg (now in Ukraine) twenty years ago.

Bela and Zolli had three children together, Margaret, Alex (Sandor), and Joseph. After Zolli died, Bela married Bertha Batia Weiss (1885-1965) and they had three sons together: Hugo, Theodore, and Ernest.

Bela was affectionately nicknamed "Bela Bacsi" ("Uncle" Bela, in Hungarian) by my Farkas Family. Cousins still remember the family talking about him, and he is mentioned twice in the Farkas Family Tree monthly minutes.

First, he wrote to the tree in 1938, on the occasion of the death of his sister-in-law, Lena Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938--my great-grandma). The other mention was when the Farkas Family Tree sent a condolence gift on the occasion of Bela's death.

Sadly, Bela died on November 3, 1941, when he was hit by a truck on the street near his home in Queens, New York. He died the same day of internal injuries and was buried the following day in Riverside Cemetery, Saddle Brook, New Jersey.

If I could ask Bela one question, I would ask him to tell me how his son Joseph is related to the other Joseph Roths so I can untangle the Weiss and Wajman family branches of the tree! "Cause of Death" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt by Amy Johnson Crow.

*Bela apparently was born on 10 August 1860, according to his very, very delayed birth record documented in Hungary in . . . 1889. His wasn't the only delayed birth record documented on the same page in 1889. I'm wondering whether he recorded his birth so he could get married? His first child, with first wife Zolli Kunstler, was born in 1892, but I don't know their marriage date (yet).

Friday, October 19, 2018

My Farkas Family on December 7, 1941

Last year, I wrote a three-page memory booklet in which I used genealogy research techniques to confirm my husband's memory of being a tyke sitting around the family radio, hearing the news of Pearl Harbor being attacked on December 7, 1941.

Thanks to the kindness of a second cousin, I now have monthly minutes from my mother's Farkas Family Tree meetings during the early 1940s. The tree consisted of adult descendants of Moritz Farkas and Leni Kunstler Farkas (my maternal great-grandparents) who lived in and around New York City. To have the largest possible attendance, meetings were held on Sunday evenings.

As I was scanning minutes and indexing the names of those present each month, I wondered what happened in the family tree at the time of Pearl Harbor. Sure enough, I found a page of minutes from December 7, 1941 (excerpt above), when the meeting convened in the Bronx.

By dinner time on that Sunday evening, almost certainly tree members would have heard the news of Pearl Harbor. Washington announced the attack in the afternoon, East Coast time, well before the family-tree meeting started at 6:05 pm. News accounts say many New Yorkers were suddenly nervous, feeling the city was a possible future target, due to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and other operations in the five boroughs.

The minutes never mention the December 7th attack as such.  The minutes do say, almost in passing, that a 16-year-old male first cousin of my mother was in the Pershing Rifles Auxiliary, and a 14-year-old female first cousin had joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Minutes from earlier in 1941 say family members were learning Air Raid procedures and making things to donate to the Red Cross for overseas.

Even without the words "Pearl Harbor" or "war" being mentioned, I believe the tree was well aware of what was happening that day. My aunt Dorothy Schwartz was secretary for the evening, because her twin sister, Daisy Schwartz (hi Mom!) was ill. Auntie Dorothy writes later in the minutes that for the January, 1942 meeting, "family members who have uniforms should wear them."

Genealogy research indicates that family members (male and female) quickly began to enlist. My aunt, in fact, enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps on September 11, 1942. Some of her female first cousins held "Rosie the Riveter" jobs while a number of male first cousins joined the Army Air Corps or Army (no Navy or Marine men) in the months after Pearl Harbor.

During Family History Month, I am thankful for the sentence (shown in excerpt above) that says: "It was especially recommended that all surnames be mentioned in future minutes." The minutes are filled with multiple relatives and in-laws having the same given name. My mother was Daisy, and so was her sister-in-law. The tree included multiple Roberts and multiple Georges, among other names. Happily, it is usually clear from context who's who in the minutes. And so the scanning and indexing will go on and on.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Historical Fiction Reveals Real Conflict in Ancestral Town

If you haven't checked out both fiction and nonfiction to understand the lives of your ancestors, give historical fiction a try. Historical fiction is often (but not always) based on historical fact. The characters aren't real, but in many cases, the daily lives and family ups/downs described in a period novel or short story will provide a compelling sense of time and place.

Five years ago, while I was attending FGS 2013, my husband spent time in Wabash, Indiana, where some of his mother's ancestors were pioneering farmers. The local historian recommended we read a young adult book loosely based on a real family that lived in the area at the same time as Benjamin McClure and Sarah Denning McClure, hubby's 2d great-grandparents.

The book is The Wild Donahues by Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood. In an author's note, Friermood says "Years ago my father told me about a house he lived in as a boy, and about the rascally family that had built it long before his time, in pre-Civil War days."

Rascally is an understatement. Friermood read through actual news clippings from the time and learned a lot about the family's "dishonest dealings." She transformed the real family into the "wild Donahues" and wrote about the many conflicts caused by this family in rural Indiana in 1860. The human story (of a young orphaned girl coming of age) plays out against the backdrop of slavery, hostility toward Native Americans, and the rise of Abraham Lincoln. Not to mention the villainy of the Donahue family (murder is just the start).

Author Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood was born in Marion, Indiana, and grew up to be a librarian in the Marion Public Library and, later, in the Dayton, Ohio library. She heard stories from her parents and grandparents about the Indiana of their childhoods--and, with additional research, turned those stories into YA books that bring Indiana's past to life in a dramatic way.

So if you're interested, ask a historian or librarian to recommend historical fiction of the time and place where your ancestors lived. My brother-in-law read and enjoyed The Wild Donahues for the setting and atmosphere of the period as much as (or more than) the twists and turns in the heroine's life. The cover art, at top, suggests the bit of light romance that runs through the book, rather than the day-to-day realities and dastardly deeds depicted in the chapters.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow's #52 Ancestors for this prompt.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sports: Leaping Rooftops, Bronx Bombers, and Skating

Leaping across rooftops, no safety net in sight. That was my big-city-born-and-bred father's childhood "sport."

Harold Burk (1909-1978), my Dad, grew up in New York City's Jewish Harlem, on 109th Street near Fifth Avenue. As a teen, he and his friends would dare each other to leap across the rooftops of the 6 story tenements built close together in the neighborhood. When he told me this story, he seemed a bit amazed that he had survived--me too! No net, and no cape (it was before the invention of Superman).

Dad became a travel agent (at right, in his lobby office at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York City) and soon after marrying Mom, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981), they moved to the Bronx. Only a short subway ride away from Yankee Stadium! No wonder Dad loved the Yankees as his spectator sport of choice. Every summer, he'd take his daughters to a few ball games. We were lucky enough to see many of the Yankee greats of the 1960s, stars like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. When not at the stadium, he would listen on those tinny 1960s transistor radios.

Of course, I still root for the Yankees (in vain, recently). But my personal spectator sport of choice is figure skating. Note I said "spectator sport" (meaning I don't actually skate, just attend skating events or watch on TV). Now you know why Winter Olympics, not Summer Olympics, are my favorite. 

#52Ancestors - Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's prompt.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

10 Generations Back: Last Wood Generation Born in England

This week's #52Ancestors challenge is 10 and there is no way I can go back that
far in my mother's or father's family trees.

However, my husband is a Mayflower descendant four times over and we can go back beyond 10 generations on his father's side. The Wood family intermarried with the Cushman family (Cushman of the Fortune married Mary Allerton and that's the basic Mayflower connection). Thank you to cousins Larry and Mike for uncovering new details tracing the Wood tree year after year after year...

The tenth generation back is John Wood Jr. (1620?-1704). This was most likely the last Wood generation of my husband's family to be born in England. I hypothesize* that John Jr. was christened in St. George the Martyr Church, Surrey, England, on March 10, 1621, as shown at top. I was amazed to discover that this church was built in the 12th century.

John Jr.'s exact birth date is a mystery. His cemetery stone is not legible, and 1620 is the "calculated" birth year. We do know he married (for the third time) to Mary Peabody (1639-41?-1719) around 1656 in what is now Newport county, Rhode Island. John Jr. died in the same part of Rhode Island, as did his wife. Both are buried in the John Wood cemetery plot.

On my husband's mother's side, we can go back 9 generations to James Andrew McClure (1660?-?). In checking for anything new on this ancestor, I came across a fairly new (June, 2018) memorial on Find-a-Grave, saying that James died "at sea, on trip to America" in 1732, age 71-2.

Of course I wrote the originator of this memorial to ask about the source and any details. We already knew the McClure family left Donegal and sailed together to Philadelphia, Halbert with his wife Agnes and numerous children. I didn't realize Halbert's father James was with them. Maybe this will open up more research possibilities.

*Updated to reflect cousin Mike's comments about clearly noting hypotheses. Thank you! I don't want to perpetuate unproven info as "fact." And so far, no response from the Find-a-Grave contributor about James Andrew McClure.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Family History Month: Start Writing About Ancestors Now!

Family History Month is a good time to start writing about our ancestors. Genealogy research is never complete, in my humble opinion, but we can make headway on writing about family history if we focus.

This is not about the big picture--it's about sharing one specific aspect of our family's past with relatives and descendants. Not a formal genealogy, but something that conveys both the facts and the human face of our ancestors.

Here are some quick tips to prepare:
  • Choose one of the above to focus on. Maybe you want to write about your maternal grandparents or about a set of siblings in your father's family. Or you have an heirloom, like the ceramic zebras above, created by my late mother-in-law, with a backstory of interest to children and grandchildren.
  • Gather your info (documents, photos, etc.) and your memories.
  • Write bullet points of what you currently know. 
  • Rearrange the bullets into a logical organization (chronological order, for instance).
  • Make notes about each bullet and also jot notes about what you want to double-check or ask other relatives.
  • Create a quick timeline if it will help guide you through the story and help readers understand what happened when. Or use a timeline as the basis for writing about a couple or an event.
Now . . . start anywhere in the story and write. Really, it doesn't matter where you begin to write because you can move sentences and paragraphs around after you get words on paper.

If you like, pick a detail that seems particularly dramatic or interesting, write a few sentences, and then fill in the story around it. Every family had high points, low points, times of happiness and times of sorrow. Try to tell the story to show who these ancestors were, beyond mere facts of birth-marriage-death dates. The important thing is to share what you know now.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Family History Month: Top Priority Is Captioning Old Photos

If you, like me, inherited a batch of family photos without names or dates, you'll understand why my top priority this month is captioning old photos. We may be the only people who still know the names of these people and can tell a few of the stories. This is the time to put names to faces so the info is not lost, and future generations will know something about the family's past!

Above, an example of an old photo I scanned, showing my Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk and three of her four children. My Dad is "Harold," the toddler with curly hair at bottom right. I kept a version of this digital image with no names and a version where I added names and a date. No last names (because no room) but this is in the Burk/Mahler archival box with a more detailed explanation of who's who.

There are many ways to caption, including (but not limited to) these ideas. You can write a caption on plain paper, lay it on a scanner above or below the original photo, and scan or copy both together for a neat, easy-to-read version that can be stored with the original. Or simply photocopy the original and write, in colored ink, each person's name on the copy, then store the copy with the original.

Another way to caption is to put each photo in its own archival sleeve. Then handwrite the caption on an adhesive label and stick it to the outside of the sleeve, as shown at right.

Ideally, explain the relationship between the person in the photo and yourself. Don't just write "Mama" (as on the back of one photo I inherited). Turned out that wasn't a Mama in my direct line, but it was the mother of a cousin in England!

Even after 20 years of research and asking cousins for help, I have some mystery photos. I've stored them in an archival box labeled by side of the family. The box called "Unknown photos, Marian's family" is separate from a similar box for unknown photos of my husband's ancestors.

Happy captioning!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Family History Month: Why I Love Archival Boxes

I really love archival boxes for storing family history materials like photos, original documents, and more. Some of my genealogy buddies love three-ring binders, others love file folders.* All have their strong points, I know because I've tried 'em all.

Twenty years ago when I began my genealogy journey, I created file folders with surname labels. I still use them for photocopies of originals, research notes, and assorted stuff that doesn't need special protection. One half of my file drawer is devoted to folders for "his family" and one half is devoted to folders for "my family."

I organize my folders according to family groupings. This means husband-wife surnames with separate folders are together inside one big accordion hanging file. For instance, my father-in-law Wood and mother-in-law McClure have separate folders inside a single hanging file for that family unit. In the same accordion file I have another file folder for Wood siblings. Yes, this accordion folder holds a lot of folders and papers!

But archival boxes are my preference for everything that's original and precious, important enough to protect for the long term. Why?

First, take a look at the photo at top. Which looks more valuable to the next generation, a bunch of stuff in a torn envelope with a scribbled label or a stack of neat archival boxes with proper labels? This alone might save family artifacts from a fate too horrible to contemplate (after I join my ancestors).

Also:
  • Archival boxes come in various sizes and shapes. I bought one especially for my father-in-law's college photo album, another for the big family wedding portrait from 1925. 
  • My father's WWII dog tags, insignia, etc. are in an archival box because they are odd-sized and enclosed in his old leather pouch, which I wanted to preserve as is.
  • Old movies and CDs can go into one archival box, marked by surname. (Remember to separate negatives from prints and store separately, to avoid deterioration.)
  • Documents and photos lay flat for storage, in individual sleeves for extra protection, inside each box. 
  • Archival boxes with metal corners can be stacked several high without crushing the contents.
  • Boxes are easy to label by surname and number. You can't see in the above photo, but I have a pencil-mark #1 and #2 next to the WOOD label on those two boxes. Other WOOD boxes have more descriptive labels like "WOOD negatives 1940s-1960s" so I can keep track of what's where.
  • Some day, when I join my ancestors, my heirs will know exactly which box has which family's materials. Everything is neat and ready to be transported to a new home. For now, I can easily shift boxes around and find what I need without a lot of fuss.
For more on preservation and storage ideas, see the links at Cyndi's List and the National Archives. And please take a look at my Amazon best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, with details about keeping your genealogy collection safe for future generations to enjoy. Thank you!
* Whether you love folders, binders, or archival boxes, gotta have a label maker for easy-to-read labels that jump out at a glance!