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

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.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Independence for Canadian and U.S. Ancestors

My husband's Slatter ancestors and my Burk/Burke/Berk ancestors both have strong ties to Canada and the United States. For Canada Day and the Fourth of July, both days celebrating independence, I'm summarizing their moves to these adopted home nations. And, of course, doing a little extra research in case new records have become available for these treasured ancestors. Note: Long post ahead!

HUBBY'S SLATTER ANCESTORS

Hubby's paternal great-grandfather was John Slatter (1838-1901), who married Mary Shehen (1837-1889) in Christ Church, Southwark, England, in 1859. John left London for Cleveland, Ohio, in 1888. That struck me as unusual, because his wife Mary died in 1889. Then I found out about her being confined in an asylum and...well, the light dawned.

Of the six children that John and Mary had together, three sons settled in Canada after the turn of the 20th century. They were the "Slatter bandmaster brothers" I've written about in the past. Two daughters settled in Ohio before the turn of the 20th century, following their father to that state. New career opportunities and new family lives awaited them as they left the past behind in England.
  • Albert William Slatter (1862-1935) was a distinguished military bandmaster trained in England who married Eleanor Marion Wilkinson (1865-?). He came to Canada in 1906, joined by his wife and six surviving children one year later. Albert long served as bandmaster of the 7th London (Ontario) Fusiliers, rising to the rank of Captain before his retirement.
  • John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954) became a world-renowned bandmaster who popularized the kiltie band. He was the first of his family to settle in Canada, in 1884. A few years after his 1887 marriage to Sophie Elizabeth Marie LeGallais (1862-1943) in Montreal, John moved his damily to Toronto and was the founding bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders Regiment of Toronto. That's Captain John Slatter pictured above, in full bandmaster regalia. He was, by all accounts, both kind and thoughtful.
  • Henry Arthur Slatter (1866-1942) was trained in  England and served in the military there before going to Vancouver with his wife, Alice Good (1864-1914). He became bandmaster of the 72d Seaforth Highlanders and soon enlisted to serve in WWI, despite being widowed with three children. After the war, he resumed his high-profile bandmaster role with the 72d Seaforth and was lauded for his leadership.
  • Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter (1868-1947) came to America after arriving in Quebec in 1895. She paid her own passage across the pond and told border authorities she was going to see her father, with $2.50 in her pocket. "Aunt Ada" (as she was known in the family) wound up marrying James Sills Baker in Toledo, OH. Her two grown daughters, Dorothy and Edith, later moved to Cleveland and were guests at the wedding of my sis-in-law.
  • Mary Slatter (1869-1926) was the baby of the Slatter family. She went from England to Toledo, Ohio in 1895, the same year as her sister Adelaide, and got married in 1898 to James Edgar Wood (1871-1939). By 1901, she and James had moved to Cleveland, where her father John Slatter was ailing (he died in her home that August). Mary had four sons with James and was a soothing and loving presence. Her unexpected death due to heart problems in 1925 was a terrible blow to her family.
MY BURK/BERK/BURKE/BERG ANCESTORS

My paternal great-grandfather was Solomon Elias Birck and paternal great-grandmother was Nekhe Gelle Shuham. To my knowledge, both were born and died in Lithuania (probably Gargzdai). I think they had seven children, of whom one remained in Lithuania (fate unknown) and the other six came to North America, seeking better lives and fleeing religious persecution.
  • Nellie "Neshi" Block (1865 or 1875?-1950) seems to have been the first in the family to arrive in North America, which surprised me. My grandpa Isaac said, on crossing from Canada to America in 1904, that he was going to see her in NYC. How Nellie got here, and when, I don't yet know. She was a fur operator, according to the Census, and the only Burk who never married.
  • Abraham Berk (1877-1962) and his brother Isaac left Lithuania and stayed in 1901 with an aunt and uncle in Manchester, learning English and earning money for the trans-Atlantic trip. A skilled cabinetmaker, Abraham married Anna Horwitch in Manchester, England, 117 years ago this month. He sailed to Montreal in 1902 while Anna remained behind to give birth to their first child. Abraham stood in as the patriarch of the Burk family when my father (his nephew) was married.
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) married Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) in 1906. The photo at right shows them in 1936. I think their relatives in the old world knew each other, since Isaac and his brother Meyer "boarded" in the NYC apartment of Henrietta's family in 1905, and the surname "Shuham" is in both family trees. Isaac first went from Lithuania to Manchester, than to Canada, then crossed the border and took a train to New York. His sister Nellie was living in the same apartment building as the Mahler family. Isaac and family crossed from Canada to US numerous times before settling in the Bronx, NY. My quest to learn when and where my grandpa Isaac died started me in genealogy 20 years ago!
  • Meyer Berg (1883-1981) and his brother Isaac were "boarders" in the Mahler apartment, says the 1905 NY census. I learned more from Meyer's wonderful granddaughter, found via genealogy. In America, Meyer married Anna Peretz (1888-1981, maiden name might be Paris or Peris), and they had five children. One of Meyer's children was named Harold Berg, and he was the first cousin of my Dad, Harold Burk. Two Harolds in one generation, most likely named after the same dead ancestor, following Jewish naming traditions! Meyer died days after his 98th birthday.
  • Jennie "Shayna" Birk (1890-1972) was only a name in the Census, "boarding" in the Mahler apartment in 1910, until Meyer Berg's granddaughter told me more about her life. It looks like Jennie arrived in NYC from Lithuania in 1909 and worked in the garment industry. She married Paul Salkowitz (1889-1957) in 1919. They had no children together but were always loving and generous to their nieces and nephews. 
  • Matel "Max" Birk (1892-1953) was a complete mystery until recently. He arrived at Ellis Island in 1906, saying he was going to his brother Isaac Burk c/o M. Mahler (there's the Mahler family connection again). Tracked via the Census, Max was in the jewelry business, in Chicago and then in New York, where he married Rebecca Simon Chaiken (1897-1984) in 1936. They had no children but, like Jennie and Paul, were an affectionate aunt and uncle to their nieces and nephews.
Thanks, as always, to Amy Johnson Crow for this "independence" #52Ancestors prompt.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Father's Day: Where Dad Lived (and Why)


For Father's Day, I'm telling stories of where Dad lived, and why, and stories he told me about everyday life. Harold Burk (1909-1978) was born in Jewish Harlem, 77 E. 109th Street in Manhattan. That's the address on his birth certificate and the address where he lived at the time of the 1910 Census. It's just a short walk from the Northern end of Central Park.

Thanks to the images in the New York City Public Library's digital collections, I can see tenements similar to the building where Dad lived and read about conditions there. These East Harlem buildings were not quite as cramped and dank as tenements in the Lower East Side. Another plus: They were "uptown" and therefore more desirable, with less-crowded streets and within reach of greener pastures (literally) in upper Manhattan and lower Bronx.

The reason Dad's family lived uptown, rather than downtown in the Lower East Side where so many immigrants lived, has to do with family connections as much as infrastructure. When my grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943) got to New York City in 1904-5, he boarded with the Mahler family at 1956 Third Avenue in Manhattan. That's where Isaac married my grandma Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) in June, 1906.

The bride and groom may have been cousins, a possibility I'm still researching, because documents show Isaac's mother's maiden name as Shuham and the maiden name of Henrietta's grandmother as Shuham. Both of those families had roots in Lithuania. Strong possibility of family connections, but no proof (yet).

By 1909, when Dad was born, his parents Isaac & Henrietta were living only a seven-minute walk from Henrietta's Mahler family apartment on Third Avenue. By 1915, according to the New York City Census, the two families were living in separate apartments in the same tenement house at 7 East 105th Street in Jewish Harlem. Built-in babysitters for a growing family: Dad was 6, his older sister was 8, and there were two more siblings under the age of 4.

Both the Burk and Mahler families found it convenient and desirable to live uptown in East Harlem because workers could commute by "el" (elevated trains) to jobs located in midtown or downtown. The Third Avenue El, as it was known, was fast and affordable.

This elevated train line stopped running during my lifetime as other mass transit options took its place, and the car culture took hold. In the early 1900s, however, the el and later underground subway lines enabled working people to escape the dirty, noisy, crowded Lower East Side. The NYPL has some atmospheric photos of the "el" at various periods.

Dad told stories of playing stickball in the streets as a youngster (maybe ducking the few cars that passed). He also told of boys daring each other to jump from one tenement rooftop to another. Even though the tenements were often butted up against each other or barely a few inches away, it wasn't at all easy or safe. Dad admitted he was just plain lucky to live through those escapades. Bet his parents never knew what he was doing!

Dad also told stories of taking horse-drawn buses from his Harlem home north to the Bronx for a daylong picnic outing. Sounds like the children would eat and then play while the adults shmoozed and snoozed before returning to their tenements. By the time I was old enough to hear these stories, it was hard to imagine the Bronx as a bucolic collection of farmlands and rural picnic vistas--but entirely true, as photos in the NYPL collection demonstrate.

Happy Father's Day to my Dad and I'm delighted to keep his memory and his stories alive for future generations, in the spirit of #52Ancestors and the #GenealogyBlogParty's Dynamite Dads.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

More June Weddings - My Side of the Family

Here are some of the June weddings on my side of the family and what I learned about them during my research:
  • June 3, 1934: Above, an invite to the wedding of Rachel Chazan and Solomon Ash in Manchester, England, 84 years ago. The invitee, "N. Block," turned out to be Nellie Block, older sister of my paternal Grandpa Isaac Burk. In 1901, Isaac had lived in Manchester with the parents of the bride, en route from Lithuania to his new home in North America. Once a cousin unearthed this invite, I quickly connected with descendants of this family in Manchester (hi, cousins!). And only last year, I connected with more descendants of Grandpa Isaac's other siblings (hi, cousins!).
  • June 7, 1930: My mother's uncle Fred Farkas married Charlotte Chapman 88 years ago in Chicago. His career and growing family meant he rarely returned to New York City, where the Farkas Family Tree association was based. Staying in touch, Fred and Charlotte wrote letters to be read out loud during these family meetings. WWII letters indicate that some Farkas family members serving in the military were able to visit Fred and Charlotte on leave during the 1940s.
  • June 10, 1906: Happily for me, Isaac Burk married Henrietta Mahler on this day, 112 years ago, in the NYC apartment of the bride's family. (Hi, Grandma and Grandpa!) Interestingly, the 1905 NY Census shows Isaac as a boarder in the Mahler apartment in Manhattan, along with Isaac's brother, Meyer Berg. Could Isaac's family have put him in touch with Henrietta's parents to arrange a place to stay, and then love bloomed within close quarters? 
  • June 14, 1932: Morris Mahler, brother of my grandma Henrietta Mahler,  married Carrie Etschel 86 years ago in New York City. Both bride and groom were in their 40s when they married, against the wishes of my father's Mahler family (because of religious differences). Relatives told me they were happy together, which makes me happy.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Remembering Ancestral Mothers with Love

A tribute to the ancestral mothers in my family . . . 
And in my husband's family . . . 

They are loved and remembered, not just on Mother's Day!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Remembering Little Sis with Love





On what would have been my youngest sister's birthday ...

 ... remembering her with love.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Do the "Write" Thing for Genealogy: Set the Stage

Harold Burk proposed to Daisy Schwartz on the last day of 1945 - a wintery, snowy day!
When writing family history, we can help our readers envision the lives of our ancestors (and what influenced their actions and decisions) by "setting the stage."

This week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge by Amy Johnson Crow, about "storms," is a perfect prompt for setting the stage. I've been researching how weather affected my ancestors, to make the everyday lives of my ancestors more vivid and add drama to my family history.

Setting the Stage for My Parents' Engagement

I wanted to know what the weather was like on the final evening of 1945, when my parents (Harold Burk and Daisy Schwartz) got engaged. They had been dating since mid-October--just a couple weeks after Harold got out of the Army. Daisy hoped and believed that he would pop the question soon, and he chose that special night to propose.

Because both my parents were living in New York City, I researched the weather by clicking on Weather Underground's history tab. I entered the location (you can enter any city) and then the date of December 31, 1945. The result: It was a cold day (low of 28, high of 39 degrees F), but not windy. Just under a quarter-inch of snow fell that day. I can use this info when writing about my father proposing to my mother on a wintery New Year's Eve, with a dusting of snow all around. Sounds like a romantic setting, doesn't it?

Who Lived Through the Blizzard of 1888?

Another way to "set the stage" in family history is to consider who might have been affected by a terrible storm like the Blizzard of 1888. It came on suddenly, and dumped lots of snow on my ancestors who lived in New York City on Sunday, March 11, 1888. In fact, the city was paralyzed. Who in my family's past got caught in this snowstorm?

My paternal great-grandparents, Meyer Elias Mahler and Tillie Jacobs Mahler, were then living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in a tenement on Chrystie Street. Their second son, Morris Mahler, was born on Sunday, February 27, 1888--exactly two weeks before the Blizzard.

Did the heat stay on as the snow piled up? Did the family have enough food? How many days were they forced to stay inside until the city got the streets cleared? I don't know the answers to these questions, but raising them is a good way to show how ancestors were real people coping with real (and very challenging) situations.

The Hail Storm That Brought My Family to New York

Moritz Farkas
My maternal great-grandpa, Moritz Farkas, supervised farmland and vineyards for his family and in-laws in Hungary. One year, he saved money by not buying crop insurance. That was the year a big hail storm destroyed the crops. Financially ruined, Moritz left for America and never returned. His wife followed him to New York City a year later, and they sent for their children to join them.

So a huge hail storm in Hungary set the stage for my family's journey across the ocean. If not for hail, I might not be here today to keep these family memories alive for the next generation.

For more ideas about bringing family history to life and sharing with relatives, please see my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback and Kindle

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Search for Maiden Aunt Dora Leads to New Discovery

For years I tried to identify every single person in the dozens of photos taken at the 1946 wedding of my parents, Harold Burk (1909-1978) and Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981).

However, one tall and elegant lady wasn't familiar. She appeared in all the photos of my father's Mahler family, but neither I nor the Mahler cousins I knew could identify this lady. Then I was lucky enough to hear from another Mahler second cousin interested in genealogy! He immediately recognized this fashionably-dressed lady as a favorite maiden aunt: Dora Lillie Mahler.

Now I'm trying to pinpoint Dora's birth date. Here are her ages as recorded in each Census:

  • 1900 US census: 6 years old
  • 1905 NY census: 11
  • 1910 US census: 15
  • 1915 NY census: 20
  • 1920 US census: 24
  • 1925 NY census: 30
  • 1930 US census: 35
  • 1940 US census: ?? - FOUND! 45 years old 

Where was Dora in 1940? I tried several sources for the 1940 Census, knowing that each site indexes records differently. Tillie was long widowed and Dora was unmarried and had health problems. I'm certain they were sharing an apartment in the Bronx. Well, I haven't yet found the records I expected, but I'll search by location and expect to find them very shortly.**

Meantime, in researching Dora, I did stumble across a surprising discovery:

As this transcription shows, great-grandma Tillie and great-grandpa Meyer Elias Mahler seem to have had a son named Wolf who was born in 1891 and died, sadly, at the age of 3 in 1894. I've just sent notes to two cousins, asking whether they ever heard any family stories about this boy who died so young.

I might not have uncovered this clue to a previously unknown Mahler child if not for my research into Dora's background! (Of course I'm going to send for little Wolf's death cert to learn more.) So the lesson learned is: Keep plugging in the names of key ancestors (such as those in the direct line) because new records are posted and indexed every day.

Honoring Dora, here is the death notice that appeared in the New York Times on June 11, 1950 to announce the funeral of this much-loved maiden aunt:

Mahler, Dora Lillie, devoted daughter of Tillie and late Meyer Mahler, dear sister of Henrietta Burk, David Mahler, Sarah Smith, Morris Mahler, Ida Volk and Mary Markell. Services Sunday 1 pm, Gutterman's, Broadway/66 St. 
My "Maiden Aunt" post is #14 in the 2018 #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow. Thank you to Amy for a fun and rewarding #Genealogy challenge.

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** Unable to find Dora and Tillie in 1940 Census using Ancestry, Family Search, or Heritage Quest's indexes, I used Steve Morse's ED Finder for 1940, which listed 15 Census Enumeration Districts into which the address 1933 Marmion Ave., Bronx, NY would be categorized. Then I clicked through to manually search each page, address by address, until on the 6th ED I tried, I found Tillie and "Dorothy" at their Bronx address (see excerpt above). They were indexed as "Tellie Mehler" and "Dorothy Mehler" in Ancestry. I submitted corrections right away.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The "Write" Way to Write Family History

Thinking about writing your family's history? Here are the two most important words to remember: Start writing.

That's the "write" thing to do.

Maybe you feel you're not a writer or you haven't done enough research or you need more details or photos. Please keep in mind that as the keeper of the family history, you know more than your relatives. And your relatives and heirs don't expect Shakespeare--they will be delighted just to find out who their ancestors were!

Doing the "write" thing is, in fact, an excellent way to identify gaps in research and missing leaves on the tree. If something is wrong or incomplete (incorrect spelling, inaccurate dates, missing details), you can always fix it later. Really.

Case in point: In 2012, I printed a small photo book about my parents' wedding, which united the Burk and Schwartz families. The main purpose was to reprint the many family photos with captions, for the sake of future generations. Cousins helped me identify nearly everyone in every photo. But there were some "unknowns" and I simply called them that in the captions (see above). Better done than perfect. 

Fast-forward to 2017, when I smashed a brick wall and found second cousins who--wonder of wonders!--are descendants of the "unidentified cousins" in the photos. Needless to say, I immediately hand-wrote the new names into my printed photo book. Remember, the goal is to share family history with future generations, not to have an immaculate book. Earlier this year, when I saw a big sale, I reprinted the original photo book with corrections and additions.

So go ahead and do the "write" thing. Some ideas to get you in the "write" mood:
  • Pick a person or a surname or an occasion, spread out your research, and jot notes you can then flesh out into sentences and paragraphs. I wrote about one set of grandparents at a time, since their lives were intertwined, but I had a separate page or two about birth/early childhood of each individual.
  • Pick a photo and list the people in it. Then write a bit about each person and the relationships between some or all. Include what you know about where and when, or other details to "set the scene" for descendants who never knew these people. I found some photos so evocative that the words poured out almost faster than I could type.
  • Ask your audience (children or nieces/nephews or any other readers) who or what they'd like to know about. My family asked for a booklet about Mom and her twin sister. I'm making notes already. My sis-in-law wants a book about her parents. I'm scanning photos in preparation.
Our ancestors had real lives, personalities, hopes, problems. It's up to us, the genealogists of our generation, to get the next generation interested in tales of the past and keep alive the memory of people no longer with us.

You don't have to start at the beginning as you write. Sometimes the best way to get yourself going is to begin with something dramatic or humorous or characteristic of the person. My blog posts often serve as a rough draft of a family history booklet.

There's no one "write" way to write family history. You can write one page about one person, or a pamphlet about a couple, or a book about a family. You might decide to tell the stories in photos with captions, rather than using a lot of text. The important thing, as I said at the beginning, is to start writing. Enjoy the journey, and your family will enjoy what you write.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Twin Birthday Wishes

Happy birthday to my sweet twin sis and many more!

Who's who in this photo? Sis, what do you think?

When we were young, our birthday was a national holiday . . .

No class party at school, but a family celebration with cake and candles. Sometimes we had friends over, put on party hats, and played Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Remember that game?!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Young Man with the Mustache

Young Man from Gargzdai, Lithuania - probably a Birck relative
Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Challenge on Genea-Musings this week is: Men with Facial Hair.

As soon as I read the challenge, I knew exactly who to feature: The Young Man with the Mustache.
Studio info on back of Young Man's photo

At top, the Young Man in question--probably a younger brother of my paternal grandfather Isaac Burk (1882-1943), born in Gargzdai, Lithuania.

When grandpa Isaac and five other siblings came to North America, they left behind their parents--Solomon Elias Birck and Necke Gelle Shuham Birck--and the Young Man, if we're interpreting the photos, stories, and records correctly.

Alas, I don't know the handsome Young Man's name, but I have his face in two photos. He was a boy in one photo, and a young man here. At right, the studio info on back of the Young Man's portrait.

The Young Man appears as a boy in a photo shared by my 2d cousin, the granddaughter of Isaac's brother, Meyer Berg (1883-1981), who also came to America.

We don't know the fate of the Young Man, I'm sorry to say, but we can see the strong family resemblance to my father and his first cousins. More research is in my future. Perhaps I'll find some clues when I attend #RootsTech as a #FirstTimer and go to the Family History Library?!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Learning from Valentines Sent in the Last Century

In my husband's Wood family, staying in touch was a high priority. Cousins and aunts and uncles sent penny greeting cards to the children for every conceivable occasion. Above, one of the pretty postcards sent to Wallis W. Wood, hubby's uncle, for Valentine's Day in 1912. The sender was Wallis's aunt Nellie (Rachel Ellen) Wood Kirby, who lived in Chicago with her husband, Arthur Kirby. Nellie never spelled her nephew's name correctly on these cards, for some reason.
Thanks to the greeting cards, I can trace the movement of the Wood family from one Cleveland neighborhood to another in between Census years. The head of the family, James Edgar Wood, was a home builder who would construct a house on spec, move his family in, and finish the interior while simultaneously framing another home on spec.

Hubby's father, Edgar James Wood, was a child at the time. He recalled that period in an interview 70 years later, remembering that in one spec house, "the first two floors weren't finished at all, we were living in the attic!" A vivid and not particularly happy memory for him, apparently.

In my family, Mom (Daisy Schwartz) preserved the first Valentine sent to her by Dad (Harold Burk), in February, 1946. It was a traditional, romantic card with ribbon embellishment.

Daisy and Harold had had a whirlwind courtship after he came home from WWII in October, 1945. They were set up on a date by two "matchmaker" aunts, fell in love, and became engaged on the last day of 1945.

Although Daisy and Harold wanted a short engagement, the post-war housing shortage prevented them from finding a convenient, affordable New York City apartment. They had to settle for a wedding date in November, 1946. With so many months to plan, there was enough time for both families to gather in force.

The wedding photos are, 70 years later, a treasure trove of clues to family history. When I asked three of my mother's first cousins to help me identify people in my parents' photos who were unfamiliar to me, they assumed these "unknowns" were "family friends."
They vaguely remembered the names and faces of the "unknowns" but knew nothing else, even though they had been at the wedding in 1946.

When I dug deeper into the names and marriages of the "unknowns," in every case, these wedding guests turned out to be cousins. Cousins of the parents of the bride or groom! These connections led me to finding a lovely group of 2d cousins 1x removed. Now, any time I see a group wedding photo from my family's albums, I don't assume that unfamiliar faces are "family friends." Maybe they're cousins in disguse!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Family History Lesson From My Maiden Aunt

My paternal great aunt Nellie never married, had no children. But lately, I've been thinking about her importance in my family's history. She was the older sister of my grandpa Isaac Burk, born in Gargzdai, Lithuania. Nellie, Isaac, and four other siblings came to North America around the turn of the 20th century. Researching them has taken me 20 years, in part because I began with nothing except Isaac's name--and in part because there were so many different spellings of the family's surname.

Five of the six siblings married within a few years after they left Lithuania. Only Nellie never married. Here are the six siblings, listed in birth order.
  • Abraham Burke (1877-1962) (aka Berk) - later married, had children
  • Nellie Block (1878?-1950) - never married, no children
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) (aka Birk) - later married, had children
  • Meyer Berg (1883-1981) - later married, had children
  • Jennie Birk (1890-1972) - later married, no children
  • Max (Motel) Birk (1892-1953) - later married, no children

Nellie is the lady in lace, shown in the center of the photo at top with one of her brothers, probably Meyer, and her younger sister, Jennie. Below, Nellie's obit has Grandpa Isaac's name incorrect, but it's definitely hers. (I'm still looking for her burial place.)

Why is Nellie's story important to the family history? She seems to have been the first of the Burk siblings to come to North America, before 1900. (I'm still looking for her name on a passenger list.) I don't know how many unmarried young ladies were the first in their families to cross the Atlantic and live in a big US city. (Nellie was a boarder in other Jewish families' apartments, usually, not living on her own.) Why and when did she leave home?

Nellie was already in Manhattan by 1904. Grandpa Isaac listed her as the relative he was coming to see when crossing from Canada to New York. He had left Lithuania and gone to Manchester, England, then sailed to Canada, and finally entered America, saying he was coming to his sister Nellie. Yes, chain migration.

I believe I've found Nellie in the 1900 Census, 1905 NY Census, and 1910 Census. I have her as the addressee of a 1930s wedding invitation sent by a cousin in England. And I see her face in my parents' wedding photos, circa 1946. She was wearing a corsage and standing next to her brother Meyer and her brother Abraham, an honored guest at the marriage of her nephew--my father.

The lesson I draw from my maiden aunt's life is that every person in the family tree has an influence on the family's history. She was present at family gatherings, she touched the lives of parents/siblings/nieces/nephews/cousins, and she influenced the course of family history in ways I may not even know about.

Was Nellie responsible for blazing the trail out of the old country? I don't know for sure, and it seems a bit of a stretch to assume she left first. But I do know she was part of her brother Isaac's decision to cross from Canada to America--and, ultimately, that decision led to his getting married, raising a family, and my parents getting married. I owe this maiden aunt a great debt of gratitude!

Sometimes people say that since they have no descendants, their family history isn't really important to anyone. I disagree. Nellie (and her brother Max and sister Jennie) prove the importance of every story to the family's history. Each person played a role in family dynamics, each story adds texture, detail, and context to the overall family history.

Because Nellie, Max, and Jennie had no descendants, it's up to me as the self-appointed family historian to keep their memories alive. My second cousins have filled in a lot of the blanks. As the months pass, I hope to discover even more clues to their roles in the immediate family and in other related families.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

52 Ancestors #3: Which Grandparents Lived to Meet Their Grandchildren?

For week 3 of Amy Johnson Crow's latest #52Ancestors challenge, titled "Longevity," I'm looking at which grandparents outlived the other, and who in each couple got to meet their grandchildren.

At right, my maternal grandparents in 1911, the year they married: Hermina Farkas (1886-1964) and Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965). Although Grandma Minnie and Grandpa Teddy both died at the age of 77, Grandpa Teddy had longevity on his side: He passed away just a few days short of his 78th birthday. Minnie and Teddy got to meet all five of their grandchildren.


At left, my paternal grandparents in 1937, at the wedding of their younger daughter. They were Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) and Isaac Burk (1882-1943). Grandma Yetta died at 72, while Grandpa Isaac died at 61 (well before my time). Isaac never met any of his five grandchildren; the first grandchild was born the year after his death, and named in his honor. Yetta knew all but one of their grandchildren, missing the youngest (named in her honor) by only a year.

At right, my husband's maternal grandparents:
Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970) and Floyda Mabel Steiner (1878-1948). Granddaddy Brice died just shy of his 92nd birthday, while Grandma Floyda died at 70. Brice's longevity meant that he got to meet all three of his grandchildren but not all of his great-grandchildren.
At left, my husband's paternal grandparents: James Edgar Wood (1871-1939) and Mary Slatter (1869-1925). Sadly, Grandma Mary was only 55 when she passed away, and none of her children had yet married. Grandpa James died at 67, having met two of his three grandchildren--who were then tiny tykes.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

It Was a Busy Genealogy Year in 2017

This has been an incredibly productive and rewarding year for genealogy--and it's not over. A recap of the year to date:
  • Thanks to newly-discovered ephemera, I smashed a long-standing brick wall on my paternal Burk tree, identified my great-aunts and great-uncles, and met lovely new cousins, who were kind enough to share photos and memories.
  • With the in-person help of one of my UK cousins, I learned the sad truth about hubby's ancestor, Mary Shehen Slatter, who died in a notorious insane asylum in 1889.
  • Cousins I found through genealogy have been taking DNA tests to help in the search for more connections with outlying branches of our mutual trees. At the very least, we've proven our family ties and, sometimes, pinpointed the common ancestor.
  • I've made a lot of progress on writing family history. I updated one family history booklet for my side of the family, based on the new Burk information. I wrote two brand new booklets for hubby's side, one based on his Slatter-Wood roots and one based on his McClure-Larimer roots.
  • I'm about to complete a booklet about my husband's Wood family during World War II, based on interviews with relatives, documents and photos saved by the family, and genealogical research to fill in the gaps.
  • Also, I've written detailed captions for key photos, so future generations will know who's who, when, where, and why.
  • I was a speaker at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference and the International Jewish Genealogy Conference. So many wonderful sessions to attend, excellent speakers, friendly audiences, and a chance to meet blogging buddies in person.
Already this year, I've written more posts than at any other time in my 9 1/2 years as a genealogy blogger. At top are the stats showing my most popular posts of 2017. If you missed them, here are the links. Thank you for reading--and stay tuned for more posts before the end of the year.
  • Beyond Google Your Family Tree (practical tips for online genealogy searches using five specific search operators)
  • Tuesday's Tip, Genealogy, Free or Fee (try free sources first, but don't hesitate to pay for a Social Security Application if it will show a maiden name you don't have or otherwise move your research forward a leap)
  • Junk or Joy? Think of Future Generations (downsizing or just simplifying your life, consider the significance of family artifacts before deciding to donate, give away, or keep)
  • The Case Against Paperless Genealogy (Why I print everything, file everything. Technology changes rapidly but paper, stored properly, will live on for future generations)
  • Tuesday's Tip, Free or Free Genealogy (Learn to record strip: check every detail on every document or photo, analyze it in the context of what else you know, wring everything you can from the research you have and what you acquire)