Wednesday, August 14, 2019

What's So Funny About Family History?

Index to my maternal Farkas Family Tree
meeting minutes, 1933-1964
This week's #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow is comedy. Reading through 500 pages of Farkas Family Tree meeting minutes (index shown above), I found a few tidbits that made me smile.

The Farkas Family Tree was founded by descendants of my maternal great-grandparents, Moritz Farkas (1857-1936) and Leni Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938). It was active from 1933 through 1964. By the time I was old enough to be inducted as a member, the organization was inactive. Some of the incidents I'm going to mention here occurred way before my time, others just within living memory ;0

For instance, the minutes noted that "the twins" (me and my sister) at age four, "went exploring in their pajamas one morning. At 6 am, they walked out of the apartment and were on their way when Mom found them in the hall." Good thing she found us, we lived in a big apartment building in the Bronx! Another report was how one of us decided to scour the kitchen floor with cinnamon. Hoo boy. Funny now, but not funny to Mom at the time!

Serious About Food 

Each and every meeting included some kind of food, serious eating really, but often described with humor. In February, 1934, the minutes reported on a "Pickled Herring Party" that began at 6 pm and continued well past 9 pm. Let me quote: "Boy, oh boy, how those poor herrings suffered, being torn from fin to fin, not to mention the scads of pickled onions also consumed."

Often the snack or meal included quote "stinkin' cheeses" unquote supplied by one of the dairy grocers, most likely the bachelor great uncles, Julius and Peter. I found these mentioned, along with gefilte fish, stuffed cabbage, corned beef, and other delicacies, in the minutes of the 1930s and the 1940s. At a 1945 meeting, the secretary says, "The way we made that most delicious roast beef disappear, one would think we were the descendants of Houdini." In short, the hosts and hostesses seemed to enjoy trying to outdo each other with feasts at monthly meetings.

Funny About Money

From the beginning, paying membership dues involved nagging in a nice way. At one meeting, a trustee said he had audited "last year's swindle sheets" and found $5 missing. What happened? A member said he had paid his dues but the treasurer claimed not have received the cash. To keep the peace, a motion was passed to drop the matter entirely.

Then there were decisions (sometimes loud discussions) about what the family tree would and would not pay for. Regardless of the amount, bills were reported in the minutes. Quoting from the June 1944 minutes: "Bills, now as unwelcome as ever, reared their ugly heads, to the tune of eight dollars."

More than once, when a new treasurer was elected, the minutes observed that the old treasurer happened [wink, wink] to have acquired a new car while being in charge of the tree's money. Since the treasury rarely had more than $100, it's safe to assume coincidence only, right?

Genealogical and Biography Committees--No Kidding

Left unfinished by the tree association were two projects which descendants like myself would dearly love to have, all kidding aside.

Only a few years after the organization began, a "Genealogical Committee" was formed to put the family tree down on paper. After a few months of reporting to the meetings that the committee was "making progress," the idea was dropped during the 1930s. The project was unsuccessfully revived for the tree association's 25th anniversary in 1958. Alas, no written tree was ever given to members or passed down in the family.

Just before WWII, a great uncle had the idea to form a "Biography Committee." He tried for more than a year to collect biographies written by the founding members of the tree. Once again, it was a good idea that never quite worked out, because few members participated. Oh, how I would have enjoyed reading these biographies from the past, a kind of genealogical "mug book" of Farkas ancestors.


  1. These are good ones! Love to see how families tease one another - the very definition of Family.

  2. It's reassuring to hear that a very successful family organization did sometimes have projects that fizzled out. I've worried about that with my own family and also clubs that I've joined. "It seemed like a good, important idea at the time, but somehow people didn't want it enough."