Showing posts with label Burk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Burk. Show all posts

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Remembering Moms on Mother's Day

Daisy Ruth Schwartz
It's been a very long time since I was able to say "Happy Mother's Day" to my mother, Daisy Ruth Schwartz Burk (1919-1981). She is still much beloved and much missed, not just on Mother's Day. Above, a formal portrait of Mom as a young lady.
Marian Jane McClure
Alas, I never had the opportunity to meet my husband's mother, Marian Jane McClure Wood (1909-1983). An only child lavished with love by doting parents, she's shown above in her 20s. How I wish I could have gotten to know her. She's remembered with great affection on this Mother's Day.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Immigrant Grandparents: City (His) and Country (Mine)

           Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925)
Remember that Sesame Street song, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other"?

Well, one of our immigrant grandparents is not like the others. One was a city girl, the others were all from rural backgrounds.

This month's Genealogy Blog Party theme is "Immigrant Ancestors." This week's #52Ancestors prompt is "out of place." I've fit both into one post about his and hers immigrant grandparents.

His Big-City Grandma from London

My husband had only one immigrant grandparent. All the others were descended from families that had come to America long ago (some as long ago as the Mayflower). Others arrived in the 1700s.

At top, hubby's immigrant Grandma Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925). Born in the poverty-stricken Whitechapel neighborhood of London, she was the youngest of six children. In her youth, she was in and out of notorious poorhouses because her father wasn't always in the household and her mother (Mary Shehen Slatter) couldn't support the family.

Yet Mary not only survived her sad childhood, she became a doting and devoted mother in her 30s after arriving in Ohio and marrying James Edgar Wood (1871-1939). The photo above shows her soon after her marriage, around the turn of the 20th century. From hearing my late father-in-law talk about her, Mary was the bedrock of love for her four sons. Mary was born a city girl and she lived a city life in fast-growing Cleveland, Ohio.

My Eastern European Grandparents
Henrietta Mahler Burk and Isaac Burk
My immigrant grandparents, all four of them, were from the country, unlike my husband's big-city grandma.

Above, my paternal grandma, Henrietta Mahler, from Latvia. Her husband, Isaac Burk, was from Lithuania, and they met in New York City. Both lived fairly rural lives in Eastern European towns, but had to adjust to skyscrapers and concrete when they arrived in the Big Apple. After some years in Jewish Harlem, they moved to the Bronx--then considered almost suburban because of the many parks, not to mention the world-famous zoo and botanical gardens.
Hermina Farkas Schwartz and Tivador "Teddy" Schwartz
My maternal grandparents, shown here, were both from Hungary. Hermina Farkas Schwartz (1886-1964) and Tivador "Teddy" Schwartz (1887-1965) met and married in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before coming to New York City, he lived in Ungvar in Hungary, a bustling market town, and she lived out in the countryside in the small town of Berehovo. They raised their three children in an apartment in the Bronx, nothing at all like where they were originally from.

After the children were grown and gone, Grandma Minnie and Grandpa Teddy tried to spend a week or two each summer away from the city heat in "the country." I dimly remember visiting them in a bungalow in Spring Valley, New York, which is now a hop, skip, and jump across the busy Tappan Zee Bridge but was then quite a rural area, dotted with small summer rentals.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

From Gargzdai to Rotterdam to Ellis Island

My great uncle Meyer Berg (1883-1981), left his home in Gargzdai, Lithuania in the spring of 1903 and sailed from Rotterdam to New York City on the S.S. Ryndam, shown above in 1919.

Also known as the S.S. Rinjdam, this Holland-America ship launched in 1901, equipped to carry a few hundred first-class passengers, a few hundred second-class passengers, and 1,800 third-class passengers.

The S.S. Ryndam had a varied career, serving in trans-Atlantic transport convoys during WWI before returning to mercantile shipping until it was scrapped in 1929.

Two Brothers, Same Port, Same Ship

The May 16, 1903 crossing of the S.S. Ryndam from Rotterdam to New York City included my great uncle Meyer. According to the manifest, his passage to America was paid by his sister, who picked him up at Ellis Island. It has to be his older sister Nellie Block, since she was the only sister in New York at the time.

In 1906, Meyer's younger brother Max (Matel) Berk sailed from the same port, on the same ship, arriving on July 9th. Max was picked up by his brother (my future paternal Grandpa) Isaac Burk, who also paid for his passage, according to the manifest.

It makes me feel good to read these notations showing how family helped family to build a better future by coming to America, one or two siblings at a time.

Port Choices

Rotterdam (circle) and Gargzdai (red marker)
Notice from the map that Gargzdai is close to the Baltic Sea, at the far Western end of Lithuania. Meanwhile, Rotterdam is quite a distance southwest (see circle).

Yet these two immigrant ancestors, both brothers of my paternal Grandpa, choose Rotterdam as their port of departure.

On the other hand, Hamburg was the port of choice for Max and Meyer's brother-in-law.

Their sister, Jennie Birk (1890-1972), married Paul Salkowitz (1889-1957), a man born in Memel, in the KlaipÄ—da Region that has been both Lithuania and Germany. Paul sailed from Hamburg in August, 1911. Hamburg, not Rotterdam.

I keep thinking about these port choices, in the context of the steamship lines' marketing to potential immigrants in Europe, as well as whether these immigrants left their hometowns legally. Always something to think about with #genealogy!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Whoa, Nellie! Oh, Henry! Researching My Great Aunt

Center, Nellie Block. Right, Jennie Birk. Left: Which brother?
My great aunt Nellie Block was the oldest sister of paternal Grandpa Isaac Burk. She's the lady in the center of this undated photo. From the meager paperwork I've assembled, she may possibly have come to America from their hometown of Gargzdai, Lithuania, before her other siblings made the journey.

I haven't yet found her on a passenger manifest, so I can't confirm exactly when she crossed the Atlantic. She didn't travel with her brother Meyer Berg, who arrived in May, 1903, or her brother Max Birk, who arrived in 1906. She didn't travel with my Grandpa Isaac or his older brother Abraham, who both went to Canada first. She didn't travel with younger sister Jennie, who arrived in 1909. In each case, I found these siblings on the manifest without her, seeming to be alone in their trans-Atlantic crossing.

Here's what I do know. When my Grandpa sailed to Canada and later crossed into America in 1904, he listed "Sister Nella Block" as the nearest relative he was going to meet in New York City. At that time, the address for Nellie was the apartment where the Mahler family lived--their daughter Henrietta Mahler became the bride of Isaac Burk in 1906. So it seems there was a previous family connection between the Burk and Mahler families. (That connection continued, clearly, because Jennie was a boarder in the Mahler apartment in the 1910 census. More about that in a later post.)

Whoa, Nellie! Check That Date

Nellie Block's gravestone shows her Hebrew name as "Neshi, daughter of Solomon." (This tallies with what I know of the father's name.) It also shows her as 85 years of age when she died. Date carved in stone? Not necessarily correct.

Here's what two Census documents say:

  • 1905 New York Census, age 27 (census taken in June)
  • 1910 US Census, age 31 (census taken in April)

I am actively searching for her in the 1915 NY Census, 1920 US Census, 1930 Census, or 1940 Census, using variations on her name, because I am 99% positive she remained in New York City.

Based on what I have in hand, I believe she was born in 1879 and was actually 71 (not 85) when she died on December 22, 1950. Why the family would have her age as 85 is a mystery.

Oh, Henry! Where Nellie Lived

Two Census documents show Nellie lived as a boarder in tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where so many other immigrants began their new lives. Her address in 1905 was 62 Henry Street, a tenement building that no longer exists, where she was a boarder in someone else's apartment. Her address in 1910 was 46 Henry Street, boarding in a tenement just a one-minute walk from her previous address, as shown in the map above.

That area has been going through a resurgence; I found an article here about what Henry Street used to be like a century ago.

Oh Henry! was the name of a popular candy bar introduced about 100 years ago and still on the market today. Whether Nellie ever tasted one, I have no idea. It would be so sweet to learn more about Great Aunt Nellie!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Grandpa's Siblings: Researching Holes in Their Stories

My paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943), was born in Gargzdai, Lithuania, and had at least five siblings. Based on old photos in the family, there was probably a much younger brother who remained in Lithuania when Isaac and his siblings Max, Jennie, Meyer, and Nellie came to America and older brother Abraham came to Canada.

As part of my genealogy go-over, I'm reviewing the holes in their stories and doing more research to fill in. Today, I'm looking at Max (originally Matel) Birk (1892-1953), the youngest of siblings who left Lithuania.

Burke, Berk, Burk, Birk, Berg, Block

Grandpa Isaac (who died long before I was born) spelled his surname Burk. The other siblings went by variations: Abraham went by Burke or Berk, Max went by Birk, Meyer went by Berg, Nellie went by Block, and Jennie went by Birk. No wonder genealogists go a little batty. Yes, I know these fit the Soundex category for Burk, but I also have to spell creatively where Soundex isn't an option.

The Search Is On!

The July, 1906 passenger list for the S.S. Ryndam out of Rotterdam shows Max being met by his brother Isaac Burk (my grandpa) in New York City. That's where the paper trail evaporates for a while.

I already found Max's WWI draft registration form, shown at top. He was a jeweler in Chicago in 1917, living at 3525 W. 12 St. He was naturalized in Chicago in 1923, I know from his naturalization papers, and then living at 3525 Roosevelt Dr.

But when did Max arrive in Chicago? When did he return to New York City, where he was married in 1936? The search is on for the missing years. So far, no luck finding Max in New York City directories, but that's another avenue I'll pursue shortly.

Census and City Directories

After no luck finding Max/Matel in the US Census for 1910 and 1920 (in Family Search and in Ancestry, plus Heritage Quest as well), I struck out looking for Max in the 1905 and 1915 New York State Census. These searches were via indexing, so shortly I'll try browsing the Census near where his siblings lived in NYC during those Census periods. He may have been mis-indexed and only by browsing will I find him, if he's in NY.

Heritage Quest has lots of city directories, but not from Chicago. That's why I used my Connecticut State Library card for remote access to Fold3 for free, from home, to look at Chicago city directories for the early 1900s. 

I found Max in the 1923 Chicago directory, a jeweler, right where he should be in the listings for Birk (see below), at the same address as on his naturalization papers. He's not in the 1915-6-7 Chicago directories, however. I'm still looking in the Chicago directories via Ancestry for a variation on Max's surname.

Max was living in Chicago in 1920, at 2525 W. 12th Street, according to his naturalization papers. My next step is to browse the 1920 census for Chicago in that area, and to look for additional Chicago directories from the 1920s to see when he stops appearing. UPDATE: Browsing Census images on HeritageQuest is going to take time, since the address could be in one of several wards.  I made a note of EDs and wards so I can stop and pick up in the same place along the way.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Farkas Family Tree Says: Go Fish!

My mother's Farkas Family Tree loved planning outings for the whole family.

I know this because I am lucky enough to have 30+ years of monthly minutes from their meetings. Also, even though I was just a tyke, I have memories of going on a number of these outings years after the traditions began.

Something's Fishy: A New Tradition

Formed in 1933 to keep the bonds strong between the eleven adult children (and many grandchildren) of Moritz Farkas and Leni Kunstler Farkas, the Farkas Family Tree began a new tradition in 1938 when one of the members suggested that a fishing trip be held on June 19th.

Faster than you can say flounder, the boat was chartered, to carry 50 passengers for a grand total of $50. The next set of minutes, on September 12, 1938, reported: "Our June fishing trip had been a huge success and all who attended requested an encore."

Encore Fishing Trips

Building on the momentum from the first year, the Family Tree decided to hold a second fishing trip on June 4, 1939. The minutes from one week later say it was "a wet success. A number of people disappointed us, owing to weather and illnesses. We were indebted for $50. The expenses came to $68, and collections amounted to $56." The tree association made up the difference.

During World War II, gas shortages and tire shortages forced the tree to suspend many of its annual outings, not just the fishing trip but also some summer picnics and/or summer beach trips.

The Entertainment Committee, charged with arranging fishing trips, reported in May, 1946, that no fishing was possible that year because boats were not available. A summer picnic was arranged, however.

Skipping ahead to 1949, the minutes of June 5th report "on a most successful fishing trip...Many fish and many kinds of fish were caught" not to mention all the eating and drinking on the boat. Dozens of fish were fried at a member's house that evening and "those who didn't realize how tired they were played gin [rummy] until midnight." The minutes even note who caught the first fish, who caught the most fish, who caught the largest fish, and who caught the first flounder.

Remember the Flounder

Sis and I went on several family fishing trips during the late 1950s and early 1960s. My father (Harold Burk) was brought up in the heart of New York City, and he loved these outings for the opportunity to feel the wind on the water. He was delighted to introduce his little girls to fishing, using a hook knotted onto a nylon line.

I remember catching a flounder using one of these hand-held fishing lines and being so excited I could hardly wait for Dad to pull it up for me. Sis actually caught more fish than I did, but we both had a fun time. Being a picky eater, I wouldn't even taste the flounder we caught when they were cooked up later. Some kids just don't know what's good!

As the tree meetings became fewer and farther between, so did the fishing trips. The last report of a fishing trip was in the Historian's Report of 1964, which was "successful both in the number of people who attended and the number of fish so skillfully wrested from the deep." That was the end of a popular tradition.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Uncle Sidney, the Bachelor Burk

Uncle Sidney Bernard Burk (1914-1995) wasn't born with that name, nor was he born in New York City like his three siblings. No wonder it took me a little time to find his birth record.

The breakthrough came when a local genealogy club hosted an expert on French-Canadian genealogy, who explained how to search the Drouin collection through Ancestry. I have no French-Canadian family, but I hoped to pick up some general tips. Then I remembered that my father's brother Sidney was born in Montreal. Maybe his birth is in the Drouin collection?

Samuel B. Berk in the Drouin Collection

When I got home, I searched the Drouin collection for "S. Berk" because that was the way the family's surname was spelled at the time. (Of course, being flexible with spelling helps in any search.)

Up popped a record for "Samuel B. Berk" born on April 26, 1914, recorded by a rabbi from a Montreal synagogue. Who was Samuel?

The parents were listed as Isaac Berk and Henrietta Mahler (allowing for a little of that creative spelling thing). Those are my father's parents, so Samuel must have been the name of my Dad's little brother. Most likely the name Samuel was chosen to honor Isaac Berk's father, Solomon Elias.

Naturalization Confirms Birth
Next, I looked for Uncle Sidney's naturalization. As shown above, his birthday is April 26, 1914, and all the other facts match what I know about him. Now I was sure that Samuel B. Berk was Sidney Bernard Burk.

My guess is that my uncle's Hebrew name was Samuel, honoring some ancestor of his parents, and so the rabbi used that name in recording the birth. Still, his English name was always Sidney. All Census documents, all border crossing documents, all official documents other than his birth cert show him as Sidney (or Sydney, that creative spelling thing again).

Travel Agent Who Loved to Travel

My uncle served in WWII and later became a travel agent. For years, he worked with my father in the Burk Travel Service based in New York's swanky Savoy Plaza Hotel, later known as the Savoy Hilton Hotel. After the hotel was torn down and the agency closed, Uncle Sidney worked for a commercial travel agency.

A lifelong bachelor, Uncle Sidney enjoyed visiting his paternal cousins in England and going on agent junkets near and far. At top is his postcard to Dad from Rome, part of a fast-paced agents' trip to encourage tourism to key cities.

Sidney was always close to his brother Harold (my Dad) and his sisters Millie and Miriam, who all married and had children. He outlived his siblings and died in Florida at the age of 81.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this #52Ancestors prompt of "Bachelor Uncle."

Friday, February 22, 2019

Happy Twin Birthday!

So excited to be celebrating another twin birthday! Happy birthday to my special Sis. And many more!

Here we are in our twin bonnets, out for an outing in the twin baby buggy. Lots of blonde hair sticking out of those bonnets.

This photo was taken alongside the Bronx apartment building where we grew up, one block from a big park. It felt like suburbia back in the day.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Paula & Etel Schwartz in Ungvar, Hungary
On this day of remembrance, I want to show photos of some ancestors of blessed memory who died in the Holocaust.

Schwartz Ancestors Died

Above, Etel and Paula Schwartz, two sisters of my maternal Grandpa Tivador (Teddy) Schwartz (1887-1965). Grandpa came to America from Ungvar, Hungary as a teenager and soon brought over one older brother (Sam/Simon Schwartz). Together, the brothers brought over a younger sister (Mary Schwartz).

Alas, their siblings all remained in Hungary, including Etel and Paula, and were killed in the Holocaust. This confirmation comes from Paula's daughter, who lived through the Holocaust and recorded testimony of their early life and harrowing, horrifying wartime experiences.

A Burk ancestor
who lived in Gargzdai, Lithuania

Looking for Birk Ancestors 

Above is a photo of a young man I believe to be the youngest brother of my paternal Grandpa Isaac Burk (1882?-1943). Around 1900, Isaac and his older brother Abraham left for Manchester, England, to stay with relatives and then continue to North America. Their sisters Nellie Block and Jennie Birk, along with brother Motel (Max) Birk, also came to the United States.

It seems this younger brother stayed behind at home in Gargzdai, Lithuania, and most likely he and/or his descendants were killed in the Holocaust. So far, I've found no proof, or even a hint of his whereabouts after his siblings left, but I'll keep looking.

It is my honor to keep their memories alive for future generations. Never forget.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Heirloom Story: My Parents' Bedroom Set

My parents, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) and Harold Burk (1909-1978), married on Thanksgiving weekend in 1946. They had gotten engaged on the last day of 1945, following a whirlwind courtship after being set up by his aunt (Mary Mahler Markell) and her aunt (Rose Farkas Freedman). Harold had returned from more than three years in the Army during WWII and wanted to settle down...Daisy wanted to marry and raise a family. Love blossomed!

Due to the post-war housing shortage, however, they had a long wait to find an apartment in New York City. They began married life in a basement apartment of a private home in Queens, more than an hour's subway ride away from their relatives in the Bronx. Daisy was most unhappy in this dark, cramped apartment, and they continued to look for something larger, something closer to family.

The Farkas Family Tree (my mother's family tree association) minutes from the meeting of May 2, 1948, includes a sentence in which my mother is quoted as saying to the "Good & Welfare Committee" that "for her good and welfare, she must find an apartment."

In the family tree minutes from June 13, 1948, the secretary says my parents "got a telephone but now want an apartment to put it into."

In the family tree minutes from October 10, 1948, my father is listed as having won at a "bazaar--a radio, meat slicer, Mixmaster, and several other things." But still not the apartment they truly wanted. By the end of 1948, no luck: "Daisy and Harry Burk are still looking."

Yippee! By March 6, 1949, my parents were reported to be in their new apartment, according to the Farkas Family Tree meeting minutes. This was on Carpenter Avenue in the northeast Bronx, corner of E. 222d Street. Not coincidentally, it was an apartment building in which my father's sister, brother, and mother were living. Surely that's how they heard of the vacancy of the apartment on the fourth floor of this building one block from a big park.

And the Farkas Family Tree minutes of June 5, 1949 crow: "Daisy & Harry Burk finally ordered furniture!!!" Yes, the exclamation points are in the original. It was now 2 1/2 years after their wedding.

At top, a photo of the high-boy bureau from this original mahogany bedroom set. The set was carefully crafted in the Bronx. I had it refinished in 1990, nearly 41 years after it was made, to restore it to its original beauty. The restorers admired the dovetail corners and the fine wood quality.

The high-boy, along with the vanity dresser and bench, hanging mirror, low bureau, and a night stand are in my bedroom, cherished family heirlooms that I use every day. Some lucky descendant will inherit this heirloom set, along with the story of how long Daisy and Harry fell in love, waited to marry, searched high and low for an apartment, ordered furniture, and then started their family.

PS: It's important to share our ancestors' stories now, before we join our ancestors! For more about safeguarding our family's past, please take a look at my affordable book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback or digital edition.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Preview of My Year in Genealogy - 2019

2019

I'm looking forward to a busy and rewarding year of #genealogy challenges, fun, breakthroughs, and connections in 2019.

As mentioned in my previous post, I went happily down the rabbit hole of unexpected family history developments in 2018 (including the very welcome surprise of receiving Farkas Family Tree documents, related to my mother's family, to scan, index, and share with cousins).

That's why I didn't accomplish all I'd planned to do when I previewed my 2018 agenda at the end of last December, so these two items are carried over to 2019.
  • I have two new family memory booklets in the planning stages. One will be about my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Helen Schwartz, 1919-2001). The other will be about my husband's parents (Marian McClure Wood, 1909-1983 and Edgar James Wood, 1903-1986).
  • I was planning more intensive investigations of my DNA matches, beginning with color-coding matches to see who fits where in the family tree. Then I heard about DNA Painter at RootsTech2018. Still, this went to the back burner in 2018. Not sure whether DNA will be a front-burner activity in 2019, but I will follow up the most promising of my DNA matches.
Another "resolution" for 2019 is to continue my genealogy education through attendance at Family Tree Live (London) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference (Washington, D.C.). It will be wonderful to meet other genealogy buffs, chat with speakers, and connect with blogging/tweeting friends in person at these conferences. 

Most of all, I am excited about staying in touch with my cousins--perhaps even making contact with cousins I didn't know about. The family tree is alive with leaves representing cousins of all ages, all over the world, connected by our #familyhistory. I am so grateful for you, cousins, sharing what you know about our ancestors and forging new bonds that we hope will endure into the next generation.

--

This "resolutions" post is the final #52Ancestors challenge for 2018. As always, thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for a year of thought-provoking prompts. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Year in Genealogy - 2018

Time to look back at 2018, an exciting and also a satisfying year for genealogy.

One of the high points was attending RootsTech 2018 and meeting so many of my genealogy blogging friends in person! (I'm in the center of the front row in this photo, wearing a white sweater.) It was a joy to say hello and chat with you, genea-folks. Also I attended the New York State Family History Conference, learning from experts and enjoying the company of genealogy friends from around the northeast.

I came away from both conferences with new ideas and new techniques to add to my momentum. Leaving RootsTech, I crammed into my suitcase specially-priced DNA kits, a new genealogy T-shirt and socks, and several of Nathan Dylan Goodwin's genealogy mysteries. Joining VGA, I learned a lot from watching webinars and lurking in VGA discussions.

Alas, not a single family history breakthrough during a day's research at the fabulous Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Still, ruling things out counts as some progress in the Wood, Steiner, Rinehart, and Burk/Birk trees.

Another high point was hearing from a second cousin who had a set of "missing" monthly minutes and letters related to my mother's Farkas Family Tree. These were all from the WWII period, and were long thought to be gone. Receiving these to scan and index was a gift beyond measure.

Now my Farkas cousins and I have documents spanning the entire life of the family tree association, 1933-1964. I'm still integrating the index from the 1940s into the index for the complete set of minutes, with completion scheduled for very early 2019. Work on the Farkas family tree (including collaborating with cousins who helped identify all ancestors/relatives in large family portraits) was a very satisfying way to end the year.

During 2018, a sad discovery: the early death of a boy born into my Mahler family, a child who was previously not known to me or any of my cousins. And a happy gift: the full anniversary booklet of the Kossuth Society, a group in which my Farkas and Schwartz ancestors were active. Their photos are in the booklet!

In my husband's family, I finally learned the truth about the long-standing mystery surrounding his grandfather Wood's divorce from wife #2. Also I gained a deeper understanding of the poverty endured by his Slatter and Shehen ancestors, using the Charles Booth maps of poor areas in London. Through contact with a Gershwin expert, I received a detailed news clipping that explained the background behind a prize-winning song written by my late father-in-law Wood.



Another exciting moment was when my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Pastwent to number one on the Kindle genealogy best-seller list in the middle of June!

This year, I made 15 genealogy presentations and led two hands-on workshops, with my husband, about writing family history.

Next year, I'm thrilled to be leading two sessions and participating in a panel discussion at Family Tree Live in London, April 26-27.

Quite a year in genealogy. Yet I didn't actually accomplish all I planned to do when 2018 began. More in my next post!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

New Home for A Childhood Stamp Collection

My father, Harold Burk (1909-1978) always hoped that his daughters would come to love collecting postage stamps.

Dad was a travel agent, and often received cards and letters from abroad. Stamps were readily at hand and if not, there were easy ways to fill in the collection. Inexpensive armchair travel!





Dad knew a stamp dealer, and he would bring home colorful pages of stamps in an attempt to intrigue my sisters and me. Sorry, Dad, we never caught the bug, although we enjoyed looking at stamps from far-off places.


Now this childhood stamp collection is going to a new home, to a girl who's expressed a real interest in collecting stamps!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thankful for My Family's Past and My Family's Future

Family is a precious gift, the gift that keeps giving. Above, the Farkas Family Tree Thanksgiving dinner and costume party held at the Gramercy Park Hotel in 1956. Descendants of patriarch Moritz Farkas and matriarch Leni Kunstler Farkas formed the tree association in 1933. I'm one of the two young hula twins in the top left corner. This large, fun-loving family celebrated together on many occasions, beginning in the Depression years.

On Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for the Farkas cousin who first inspired me to begin my genealogy journey 20 years ago . . . and the many Farkas, Mahler, Burk, Schwartz, and Wood cousins I've met or reconnected with during my family history journey.

As the descendant of immigrants, I'm especially thankful for the courage and determination of ancestors who left everyone and everything they knew to begin again in a new country. Thank you for the forever gift of my family's past and my family's future!

And thank you to Elizabeth O'Neal for the November "thankful" theme of the Genealogy Blog Party.

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.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Remembering Harold Burk, 1909-1978

Elementary school graduation photo of Harold Burk (1909-1978)
My Dad, Harold Burk, was born at home in Manhattan on a Friday, the 29th of September, 1909. He was the son of Isaac Burk, a cabinetmaker from Lithuania and Henrietta Mahler from Latvia. They married in New York City in 1906 and Harold was their second child, first son.

When Dad was born, automobiles were already on the streets of New York. William H. Taft was the 27th President of the United States. The whole world was riveted by the race to reach the North Pole. And the year's top song hit was Shine On, Harvest Moon.

He was a big fan of the New York Botanical Gardens and introduced his children to the joys of smelling the roses at the Bronx Botanical Garden. And he loved the Yankees, taking his girls to see Maris, Mantle, and other superstars at Yankee Stadium every summer. In later life, Dad loved baking traditional apple pies every fall, complete with "sky high" home-made crusts. Always a city dweller, he enjoyed walking in the city and seeing the sights.


Dad's business, Burk Travel Service, is listed in the Manhattan (NYC) directory from 1948-1960. It was located at the ritzy Savoy Plaza Hotel. When the hotel changed owners, it was listed in phone books as being in the Savoy Hilton Hotel (see above).

By the time Dad died on the 18th of August in 1978, technology had revolutionized travel in many ways, including speed and convenience--an important development for him, as a travel agent.

Missing you and remembering you with love, Dad, on your birthday.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Fidelity Bond "Story" - A Reliable Source?

On December 5, 1931, Harold Burk (my Dad, 1909-1978) applied for a Fidelity Bond. Or at least, his application is in my possession. It's a most unusual source and I only believe some of what he listed on this form. Here's the story.

To work with transportation tickets and ultimately attain his goal of becoming a travel agent, Dad had to be bonded. In those days, a blank train or plane ticket was like a blank, signed check--ready to be filled in (by hand, of course) and used for transportation. Therefore, anyone who sold such tickets needed to be bonded, providing insurance in case of theft or fraud.

As you can see on the right, Dad wrote that he was born on 29 September 1909, which is correct.

Also, he listed his home address as 1580 Crotona Park East (an apartment building in a nice section of the Bronx, NY). I confirmed that with the 1930 US Census. In the Census, and on the form, he's shown as living with his parents. Correct so far.

At the bottom of p. 1, Dad lists three personal references. The instructions say not to list any relatives. In fact, the first name listed is a neighbor of Dad's family, living in the same Bronx apartment building. Believable. And confirmable via the 1930 Census.

Names #2 and #3 are his uncles by marriage. Louis Volk was married to Dad's aunt Ida Mahler. Joseph Markel [should be Markell] was married to Dad's aunt Mary Mahler.

In both cases, Dad says he's known these two references for four years, suggesting around 1927. Uh, no. Dad had known Louis Volk and Joseph Markell since they married into the family during the very early 1920s. Very likely these uncles were happy to be used as references and not mention the family connection. They were living at the same addresses in 1931 as in the 1930 Census, by the way.

Then on the back of the document, Dad listed his parents' net worth, separately. He said his father, (my grandpa) Isaac Burk (1882-1943) was a furniture maker (true) and was worth $250. Maybe...

His mother, (my grandma) Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) supposedly had a financial net worth of $350. Huh? I can't imagine where this figure came from. Maybe the Mahler family would be willing to pool their resources in case Dad had to prove this part of the application. They were known to help each other out with money on many an occasion.

This application was filled out during the Depression, so it's a stretch to think my grandparents had liquid assets of $600 between them. Never did they own a car or a home. Maybe they had a savings account, but it was probably not very fat. Now you know why I needed more than a grain of salt as I looked at this document.

Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for her #52Ancestors prompt "unusual source", which prompted me to to reexamine this document yet again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

How Our Grandparents Made a Living (or Not)

For this week's #52Ancestors prompt, "Work," I'm taking a look at how my grandparents and hubby's grandparents made a living. Both of us had one grandfather who worked with wood. That's where the similarities end. And this is another case of "don't believe everything in the census."

His grandparents (one immigrant, three grandparents with families long established in America)
  • Maternal grandpa Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970) was a master machinist. When he married maternal grandma Floyda Steiner in June of 1903, Brice was working for the "big four" railway shops in Wabash, Indiana (see newspaper clipping). His skills were in demand--especially during World War II, when he lied about his age to seem young enough to work in a Cleveland, Ohio machine shop vital to the war effort. 
  • Maternal grandma Floyda Mabel Steiner (1878-1948) was a full-time mother, but also supplemented her husband's income during the Depression by working in a Cleveland-area store and stretching the family's income as far as possible. 
  • Paternal grandpa James Edgar Wood (1871-1939) was a carpenter and builder in Toledo, Ohio and, after his marriage, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Alas, this grandpa was a good builder but not as good a businessman, according to his oldest son. In fact, most of the homes he constructed are still standing and solid after more than a century. James was the last of this line of the Wood family to be a carpenter. None of his four sons worked in carpentry or wood, nor his grandsons.
  • Immigrant paternal grandma Mary Slatter (1869-1925) was, according to the London workhouse admission register, a servant at age 19 in 1888. My guess was it was more of a low-level maid's position. She lived in Whitechapel and came from extreme poverty. Her mother had been confined to an insane asylum for years at that point. How Mary supported herself after arriving in America in 1895 and before marrying grandpa Wood in 1898, is a mystery.
My grandparents (all four were immigrants from Eastern Europe)



  • Maternal grandpa Tivador Schwartz (1887-1965) was a "clerk" in 1909-10, working as a runner for the steamship lines and working with immigrants like himself (according to census and his naturalization papers). By 1915, he listed his occupation on the NY census as "steamship agent," technically a correct interpretation of what I suspect was commission-based sales of tickets or insurance or both to immigrants. By 1917, he owned his own grocery store in the Bronx, work he continued until he finally retired in the late 1940s/early 1950s. His grandchildren have exhibited some of his entrepreneurial drive!
  • Maternal grandma Hermina "Minnie" Farkas (1886-1964) used her sewing skills to help support her family after arriving as a teenage immigrant in late 1901. A Roth cousin "did her a favor" (according to my Mom) and found her paid work as a necktie finisher (census backs this up). She continued to work on "gents' neckwear" until she married grandpa in 1911. Once her husband owned his own grocery store, she worked alongside him--long hours on their feet, which hurt their health in later years. Minnie passed her love of needlework, as a hobby, to a daughter and granddaughters.
  • Paternal grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943) left his hometown of Gargzdai, Lithuania with training as a cabinet maker. He and his older brother, Abraham, made their living through carpentry. The UK census of 1901 shows them both living with family in Manchester, England, occ: cabinetmakers, true because I've seen Isaac's work. The 1910 US census lists Isaac as a "storekeeper, candy" but I'm not sure how true or long-lasting that was--maybe a quick stopgap in between his carpentry work. Isaac's 1942 WWII "old man's draft" card says he was a manufacturer of dress forms, but again, I'm not sure this is strictly accurate. One of Isaac's brothers-in-law had a dress-forms business. Isaac might have worked there part-time, especially to qualify for what was then a fairly new Social Security program.
  • Paternal grandma Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) is shown as being employed as a "stenographer," according to the 1900 census. Mind you, she was in the country for 14 years. She was 19 at the time of that census and, I gather, a quick study, but I'm not sure she really took dictation. Probably she worked at some office-type clerical job (typing) to help support the family. Very likely she did some work in the garment trade, because her younger sisters worked in lace, millinery, and garment factories, cousins tell me. After she married grandpa, Henrietta took care of their growing family and transported the kids back and forth between New York City, where her widowed mother and siblings lived, and Montreal, where Isaac sometimes worked with his brother Abraham.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Looking for Youngest Brides and Grooms Reveals Gaps

Thanks to the #52Ancestors prompts from Amy Johnson Crow, I'm learning more about the features available in my genealogy software of choice, RootsMagic7. Only with the help of the various reports and lists in this software can I identify the "youngest" of anything, which is this week's prompt.

At top, the "statistics" list I generated for my father's Burk Mahler family tree. Here, I learned that the youngest age at marriage of anyone in that tree was 18 for a female and 19 for a male. This is only for marriages where I know the birth dates/marriage ages of bride and groom, so the software can calculate statistics. As shown at top, there are 184 people with marriage ages included in this tree.
Directly above, the statistics list I generated for my mother's Schwartz - Farkas family tree, showing 117 people with marriage age noted in the tree. The youngest age for a woman at marriage was 15 1/2, compared with 17 for a man. Since some of these marriages took place in Eastern Europe in the mid-1800s, it's not too surprising that a bride would be this young.

Learning to use the reports is going to help me find anomalies and correct mistakes. For instance, a statistics list I generated for my husband's Wood family indicated that the minimum age for a male at marriage was 17.41. That's such a specific number. It could be correct, but I want to double-check. And I need to look more closely at missing marriage ages to see whether I can fill some of the gaps in my records. More research is in my future.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ancestral Travels to America

How much distance did my grandparents and great-grands cover in coming to America from their homelands in Eastern Europe? All apparently sailed in steerage, never telling descendants very much about what must have been a difficult and uncomfortable trip. None lived near a port, so their travels also included a journey by foot or wagon or train to the port where they boarded a ship to cross the Atlantic.
  • 4430 miles. Above, my maternal grandfather's "as the crow flies" route from Ungvar, Hungary (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine) to New York City in 1902. Grandpa Theodore Schwartz was a teenager and the first in his family to leave for America. With his encouragement (and probably his financial help), an older brother and a younger sister also came to America. Happily, I'm in touch with their grandchildren, my 2d cousins.
  • 4460 miles. My maternal great-grandparents, Morris Farkas and Leni Kunstler Farkas, left for America as adults, coming separately from where they had married and lived in the area of modern-day Berehovo, Ukraine. Morris arrived first, with Leni arriving later (and their first 8 children joining them afterward in two groups). Morris missed his homeland and longed to return, but Leni wanted a better life and more opportunity for their growing family. 
  • 4200 miles. My paternal Grandma Henrietta Mahler arrived from Riga as a preteen. She sailed past the Statue of Liberty in the year it opened (1886). I'm still following up on the possibility that Henrietta was a cousin of some kind to her husband, Isaac Burk, connected through the Shuham part of their family trees. 
  • 4670 miles. My twenty-something paternal Grandpa Isaac Burk took the journey to North America in two hops. First, he left Gargzdai, Lithuania for Manchester, England. After staying with relatives and learning some English for a year or more, he sailed to Canada but got very seasick. He got off the ship at the first stop in Canada and continued to New York overland. Of all my ancestors, Isaac Burk had the longest journey from his home town to America.
Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's "Travel" prompt in her #52Ancestors series.