Showing posts with label Schwartz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Schwartz. Show all posts

Friday, November 30, 2018

Remembering the Twins, 99 Years After Birth

My mother (Daisy Ruth Schwartz, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Helen Schwartz, 1919-2001) were born 99 years ago on December 4, 1919. Remembering them with love as their birthday approaches.

Their births were recorded by New York City, by county, as shown above in the index to 1919 births in the Bronx. Mom and Auntie were born in the family's apartment at 651 Fox Street, a walkup directly across the street from the elementary school they later attended.

Auntie Dorothy was always known as the older of the twins. Here's the proof: Above, the certificate numbers for Daisy R. Schwartz and Dorothy Schwartz are marked with arrows. Dorothy's certificate is 14223, and Daisy's is 14224. Clearly, Dorothy was born first!

The twins' older brother, Fred, was born in 1912. Like the twins, he was born at home, this time in the family's previous apartment at 202 Brown Place in the Bronx. That's a five-story walkup building that still stands, in the Mott Haven section.

So my aunt was actually the next-to-last child of her parents, Hermina Farkas Schwartz (1886-1964) and Tivador "Teddy" Schwartz (1887-1965). But only by about five minutes!

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors challenge of "next to last."

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.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Two Beards and a Mystery

This week's challenge in the #52Ancestors series is "bearded." I have two bearded ancestors in old family photos. One is positively identified, one is a bit of a mystery.

Above, my bearded great-grandfather Herman Yehuda Schwartz (b. 1850s?- d. in 1920s). Herman was married to my great-grandma Hani Simonowitz (1860s-1930ish). They raised their family in Ungvar, Hungary (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine), a bustling market town back in the day that is now a regional administrative center. Herman and Hani were the parents of my maternal grandfather, Tivador Schwartz (1887-1965).

The wonderful photo of Herman came directly from my 2d cousin on that side of the family. Although I wish I had more specific info, at least Herman has been positively identified by his granddaughter, who treasured this photo as a link to the past.

Now for the mystery man with the beard. The photo shown here and a similar photo have been in the hands of my father's Burk family for decades. It is probably a photo of my great-grandfather Solomon Elias Birck (late 1850?-1900s?), the husband of Nekhe Gelle Shuham (1850s?-1900s?). They lived in Gargzdai, Lithuania, a town known by many names in many languages.

I know the names of these great-grandparents because my grandfather (Isaac Burk, 1882-1943) and his siblings listed their parents and/or hometown on various documents.

This mystery man with a beard bears a very close resemblance to my father and others in his family. That, plus the fact that my 2d cousin has an almost identical photo of this same man passed down in her part of the family, is why I believe it is Solomon Elias (or Elias Solomon, depending on the document).

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52Ancestors prompt of beards.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Genealogist as Indexer-in-Chief

As genealogists, we should also be indexers-in-chief. Alas, family history rarely comes with a ready-made index, so we have to make our own. Here's a case in point.

My maternal grandmother Hermina Farkas Schwartz was the oldest daughter of the 11 children of Lena Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938) and Moritz Farkas (1857-1936). As the Farkas children grew up, married, and had children of their own, they formed the Farkas Family Tree to keep the family close-knit. Members met up to 10 times a year (taking summers off because relatives scattered to the beach or other cooler places outside the New York City metro area).

Five years ago, my 1st cousin once removed lent me his bound books of family tree minutes from 1933 through 1964 to scan, collate, and index. I included a "who's who" of the 11 Farkas children, their spouses, and their children.

However, the bound books didn't have all the months from 1940 to 1944, a dramatic period in the family's life because of WWII. Earlier this year, my 2d cousin kindly provided the 1940-44 minutes, saved by his mother for decades. Now that we have 600-plus pages of monthly minutes to read and enjoy, a detailed index is even more important. That's my specialty!

As shown at top, I like to start with a legal pad and pen, listing the names by hand along the left as each one appears in the minutes. Then I jot down the month and year when each name is mentioned in the minutes, such as 9/40 or 11/42.

Later, I type up the index alphabetically by surname and expand the dates a bit so they can be read at a glance. A typical entry in the final index would be:

         Farkas, Peter Feb 1940, March 1940, Oct 1940, Dec 1940 . . .

To make it easy for later generations, I list married women by their married surnames AND include an entry for their maiden names, with the notation "see ___[married name]." Here's why: Younger relatives, in particular, may not know an ancestor's maiden name, but they will recognize the ancestor's married name. (I don't list dates twice, only next to the married name). The goal is to make the index as intuitive and reader-friendly as possible.

Also, I think it's very important to indicate when someone is NOT in the immediate Farkas family.

  • If I know the person's exact relationship, I include it. My listing for Roth, Bela indicates that his first wife was Lena Kunstler Farkas's sister. He was known as Bela "Bacsi" or "Uncle Bela" by Lena's children. 
  • If I don't know the exact relationship, I say what I do know. My listing for Hartfield, Jenny notes that her maiden name was Mandel and she was always referred to as a cousin, possibly related through the Kunstler family.
Sometimes the minutes include names known only to one particular family. Good thing one of my cousins clued me in that "Tommy" was a canine, not a kiddie. But if I don't say so in the index, how will future generations know?! That's why a genealogist should also be the indexer-in-chief, with explanatory notes. It doesn't matter what system you use, as long as you index with your readers in mind.

PS: Cousins, the full index will be completed soon!

Friday, October 19, 2018

My Farkas Family on December 7, 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 29, 2018

Sgt. Schwartz, Teacher and WAC


Back-to-school time makes me think of my auntie, Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001), a long-time teacher of steno, typing, and related business subjects at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, New York. Not only was her steno speedy and accurate, she was a superb touch-typist and she authored one or two user's manuals for dictating machines.

As a teacher, Dorothy was nicknamed Sgt. Schwartz. Yes, she was demanding. Yes, she expected a lot of her students (and her family). Luckily for me, I didn't have her as my typing teacher, although Sis did.

Dorothy had been a real-life sergeant in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later shortened to WACs). Enlisting during World War II, she trained for Army administrative duties and was soon sent to England and France. Dorothy and her colleagues would listen in as military leaders outlined plans for bombing raids, then they would quickly type out the orders for distribution to those who carried out the missions.

I know, from reading her letters home, that she felt intense pressure on the job and had a strong sense of personal responsibility as well as a very patriotic spirit. Lives literally depended on the typed orders being correct, complete, and on time. Dorothy really did earn her Bronze Star for "meritorious service" in wartime Europe. Bear in mind that she enlisted at the age of 22 and left the service as a seasoned veteran at the age of 24.

To her high school students, she was "Sgt. Schwartz," but I knew her as "Auntie Dorothy."

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Kossuth Society, 1909: Part 4, Supporting Suffragettes

This is my 4th in a series of posts about my Farkas and Schwartz ancestors helping to found and lead the Kossuth Ferencz Hungarian Literary Sick and Benevolent Society in New York City early in the 20th century.

Here, my great aunt "Miss M. Schwartz" (Mary Schwartz, 1891-1959) is included in the list of Officers as a "Guide." One of Mary's older brothers, Tivador Schwartz, became my maternal grandfather.

Listed as "Inside Guardian" is "S. Farkas," better known to the family as Sandor (Alex) Farkas (1885-1948). Alex was the older brother of my maternal grandmother, Hermina Farkas.

I'm particularly interested in the welcome statement from Herman Feldman, shown on the left of this page. Bear in mind that this booklet was distributed on December 4, 1909.

The welcome letter addresses "Guests" and goes on to exhort attendees to enjoy the revelry, patronize the program advertisers (see part 2), and continue to support the society's mission of helping the sick.

One of the most interesting parts of the letter comes in the third paragraph. Thanks to a Hungarian genealogy group on Facebook, I found out that the letter talks about "the current suffragette movement" . . . saying that women have the right to come in male dress to the ball and, equally, it would interesting to have men come in women's dress. In a light-hearted way, the Kossuth Society was supporting suffragettes 10 years before the US Congress voted to give women the right to vote!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Kossuth Society, 1909: Part 3--Event Committee

My mother's Farkas and Schwartz families were involved in the Kossuth Ferencz Hungarian Literary Sick and Benevolent Society, as I wrote in parts 1 & 2 of this series.

Above, the event leadership for the Mask and Civic Ball held on December 4, 1909, to mark the Kossuth Society's 5th anniversary. Attendees (including my ancestors) danced the night away!

My mother's maternal uncle, Sandor "Alexander" Farkas (1885-1948), was the Treasurer for the arrangement committee of this special event. Sandor was the older brother of my mother's mother, Hermina "Minnie" Farkas Schwartz (1886-1964), who was a member of the Society.

At the time of the 1909 ball, Minnie was not yet married to her future husband, my grandpa Theodore "Ted" Schwartz (1887-1965). But Minnie and Ted knew each other, from the neighborhood and, clearly, from being active in the Kossuth Society.

Minnie's future brother-in-law, Sam Schwartz (1883-1954), was also part of the program, serving on the reception committee. (Minnie's future sister-in-law, Mary Schwartz, was a member of the Kossuth Society, as well.)

Attendees had 24 dances to enjoy at this special event, as shown on the "Order of Dances" printed above, followed by "Home Sweet Home" at the end.

More Kossuth Society posts to come!

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, June 9, 2018

V7a Mitochondrial Results and Next Steps

Finally, this week I received the results of my FamilyTree DNA mitochondrial test purchased at RootsTech 2018.

As shown above, my mother's mother's line is haplogroup V7a and its origins are in Northern/Eastern Europe and beyond to Russia. Apparently, this is not a common haplogroup, and it explains the odd trace of Iberian DNA mentioned in my Ancestry results.

My mitochondrial DNA traces back through my mother, Daisy Schwartz, to her mother, Hermina Farkas, then to Hermina's mother, Leni Kunstler and Leni's mother, Toby Roth. 

Toby is my 2d great-grandma, who was probably born early in the 1800s. She married Shmuel Zanvil Kunstler, who died in 1869 and is buried in a tiny cemetery with other Kunstler ancestors. My wonderful genealogy-minded cousin B ventured to the town (in modern-day Ukraine) to see the headstones 20 years ago. Only because of her trip have we been able to understand our tree's connections with Roth cousins and Kunstler cousins today.

Now what? Here are my MtDNA next steps, which are in progress:

  • Completed FTDNA pedigree to include mother's family tree as far back as I know it. This was a high priority because others who find me in their list of matches will instantly be able to compare surnames and locations. If only every DNA match in my list had a Gedcom or pedigree linked to their results!
  • Updated my Gedmatch profile to show V7a haplogroup and check matches for that haplogroup. So far, no family trees for the very, very few mtDNA matches...and the matches are for small chromosome segments, with most recent common ancestors more than 4 generations back. Also checking for matches in common with my matches. These may offer me clues to focus future searches.
  • To do: Use the MtDNA tools on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy site to learn more about interpreting the data and extending my research.
  • To do: Scrutinize the V7a matches on FTDNA (shown on map above), which are mostly concentrated in Europe with a few in other areas. Compare with matches on other sites (Ancestry and Gedmatch, for instance) to see whether I can get more specific when I do contact solid matches.
  • To do: Formulate a new, brief "query" note to send to DNA matches, mentioning my MtDNA as well as surnames/locations on my tree. The more concise and specific, the easier it is for matches to read and -- hopefully! -- respond with a synopsis of their genealogical backgrounds.
Looking forward to new genealogical adventures in DNA land!


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saving WWII Letters for the Next Generation

One of my 2d cousins was kind enough to lend me a scrapbook of letters written by my mother's 1st cousins and her sister serving in World War II.

The letter-writers were the American-born grandchildren of Leni Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938) and Moritz Farkas (1857-1936). Leni and Moritz, my great-grandparents, were born in Hungary and came to New York City at the turn of the 20th century. Their children (my grandma and her generation) formed the Farkas Family Tree (the FFT) association during the Depression to keep the family close-knit.

One by one, as these grandchildren of the matriarch and patriarch joined the military in the 1940s, they wrote letters to be read out loud during the family tree's monthly meetings. In all, five men and one woman wrote home about their WWII experiences. They were dedicated, patriotic, and often quite candid about their military experiences.

Above, a letter from my mother's first cousin Harry, who trained as an X-ray technician after enlisting in the Army in 1943. He was stationed at Camp Grant (Rockford, IL), Lawson General Hospital (Atlanta, GA), Fort Lewis (Tacoma, WA), and Fort Jackson (Columbia, SC), among other places.

While being shipped cross-country every few months for additional training, Harry wrote about wanting to finally, finally work with patients, which he eventually did. After the war, he went to medical school, set up a practice in a small town, and was sorely missed when he passed away at age 89.

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001) enlisted as a WAAC in 1942. She was keenly aware of what she was and wasn't permitted to say in her letters, describing where she was stationed without actually naming the place or revealing other details. In the letter above, she reassures her family by mentioning the beautiful countryside in England (no town mentioned) and gives the latest news about a WAAC controversy over wearing "overseas hats" when out and about.

At the same time, my aunt didn't mince words when expressing her outrage about German prisoners of war being allowed to stand and watch while U.S. servicewomen handled jobs like cleaning mess halls that could and should have been performed by the POWs. She was also realistic about the dim prospects for an early peace in Europe, from her vantage point of being the administrative support for military officials.

On this Memorial Day weekend, I salute my cousins and all the men and women who have defended our country over the years. This military post is for week 21 of #52Ancestors.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

So Many Ancestors, So Many Languages

For #52Ancestors #20, I'm trying to identify the different languages spoken by key ancestors in my family tree and my husband's tree.

My paternal grandparents (above) probably spoke three languages apiece. Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954) was born in Latvia, and surely spoke Latvian as well as English and, I'm guessing, Yiddish. Possibly she spoke Russian too, although I don't know for sure.

Her husband, Isaac Burk (1882-1943) was born in Lithuania, and spoke that language plus Russian and maybe even Yiddish in addition. Isaac certainly picked up some English when he stopped in Manchester, England, to stay with family in 1901, en route from Lithuania to North America.
My maternal grandparents also spoke multiple languages. Grandpa Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965), shown above escorting my mother down the aisle at her wedding, had a way with languages. His native Hungarian tripped off his tongue, but he could also speak several other languages, including English--which is why the steamship lines employed him in NYC as a runner around Ellis Island in the 1910s.

His wife, Hermina Farkas Schwartz (1886-1964), was fluent in Hungarian, having been born there, and learned Yiddish in the Lower East Side of NYC as an immigrant. Also she learned English in NYC night school.

In my husband's Wood family tree, there are three adult Mayflower ancestors (Degory Priest, Isaac Allerton, Mary Norris Allerton). Therefore, in addition to English, they may have learned some Dutch when the Pilgrims fled to the Netherlands prior to sailing to the New World. Once in Plymouth, perhaps they learned a few words to talk with Native American tribes? Photo above shows my late father-in-law (Edgar James Wood, 1903-1986) at left with two of his Wood brothers.

Also in my husband's McClure line, his ancestor Halbert McClure (1684-1754) was born in County Donegal, and sailed to Philadelphia with his family in the 1740s. Because the McClures were originally from Isle of Skye, hubby's ancestor may have spoken Scottish Gaelic or Gaelic (or both). On arrival in the American colonies, however, the McClures would most likely have learned English, because they walked from Philadelphia to Virginia. They would probably need to speak English to buy provisions along the way. Once in Virginia, they bought land--again, a transaction that probably required English.

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!

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, 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.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Leni Kunstler Farkas, Immigrant Woman in the Land of Dollars

My great-grandma Leni Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938) was the prototypical strong immigrant woman. Just look at her, posing for a photo in the mid-1930s, and you can see her determination.

Until I read Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars, I didn't realize that Leni's strong-willed matriarchal tactics were typical of immigrant women running households in the Lower East Side of New York City.

Leni (Americanized as Lena) married Moritz Farkas (1857-1936) in Hungary. They raised a family of 8 children while he leased land and supervised farming. When Moritz's crops were destroyed by hail in 1899--the one year he failed to buy insurance--he escaped his creditors by sailing on the S. S. Spaarndam to New York City, leaving wife and children behind with her mother.

After a year, Leni sailed alone to New York to be with Moritz. Four of their children joined them a year later, and the remaining four were finally reunited with their family 18 months after that--having been forced to wait for forged documents so the boys could avoid conscription in Hungary.

In America, Leni and Moritz had three more children, making a grand total of 13 mouths to feed. Finding herself in a dollar economy rather than a farming community where barter was common, Leni had to find a new way forward for the family.

Leni was a strict disciplinarian, giving orders, assigning chores, and tolerating no backtalk. She sent the older children out to find work and made sure they went to night school to learn English; the youngest attended P.S. 188 on Lewis and Houston streets. On payday, she demanded the pay packets from all her working children and handed back some nickels for carfare (bus or subway) plus a bite of lunch. The older boys got some carefare but had to walk home many days.

Leni's husband, Moritz, had weak lungs; he found work intermittently as an apple peddler and a presser. As a result, the children's wages were needed to cover household expenses. Still, there were some years when Leni put aside enough cash to vacation by herself in the Catskills for two or three weeks during the stiflingly hot New York City summers!

The family thrived under Leni's control and as the children grew up, married, and had children of their own, all returned to Leni and Moritz's on a regular basis. The children formed the Farkas Family Tree to continue their close-knit relationships. The patriarch and matriarch were honorary members. Every March after Leni and Moritz died, the family tree would hold a moment of silence in their memory--a tradition started by my grandpa Tivador Schwartz, who married Leni and Moritz's oldest daughter.

This post honors my great-grandma as a strong woman, the focus of week 10 in Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors series. And a big thank you to my Cousin B, who began collecting family stories and cranking microfilmed Census records more than 20 years ago! She saved the memories of her mother's generation and now I'm passing them along to the next generation via my blog and in many other ways.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Found: Farkas Family WWII Letters

In 2013, I first learned about the existence of written records covering most meetings of my mother's Farkas Family Tree stretching from 1933 through 1964. This family-tree association, which met 10 times a year, consisted of all the adult children (and their spouses) of patriarch Moritz FARKAS and matriarch Lena KUNSTLER Farkas. I remember attending meetings when I was a tiny tyke, but of course I had no idea of the elaborate administrative framework created by the family.*

Once a cousin kindly let me borrow the meeting minutes and annual historian's reports, I scanned all 500 pages. Then I indexed and identified each person as a relative/in-law (by relationship) or as a family friend. Indexing helped me solve several family mysteries!

However, the World War II meeting notes were mostly missing, as were letters written by family members who were in the service during the war. Five years I've tried to find these missing documents, with no luck. I feared they were lost forever.

Until a lucky break last month. I reconnected with a 2d cousin, who mentioned his search for some of the minutes and records I'd scanned. And lo and behold, he has in his possession the missing family-tree minutes and letters from the war years!

We swapped. Now I'm scanning (and indexing) all the new-found minutes and letters from the 1940s. At top, the title page of the scrapbook he lent me. At right, a letter written by my Auntie Dorothy Schwartz exactly 75 years ago this month--when she was a WAC in training, prior to being posted overseas for World War II service.

Lucky, lucky me to be able to assemble a complete set of minutes and letters for the Farkas Family Tree and keep them safe for the next generation (and beyond).

Thanks to Elizabeth O'Neal for the Genealogy Blog Party prompt "As luck would have it" for March.

*One of Mom's first cousins had bound books of meeting minutes and documents and when he and I got together for the first time in decades, and I began to ask him about the family, he casually mentioned having those books. I then volunteered to scan and produce a spiral-bound book. He thought it would take me years. It took less than 3 months, including indexing, because another cousin volunteered to retype anything that was illegible. So remember: Always reach out to cousins and let them know of your interest in anything even vaguely related to family history!

Friday, February 23, 2018

52 Ancestors #8: Did They Ever Think These Would Be Heirlooms?

Over time, so many of the items left to me or given to me by relatives and ancestors have become treasured heirlooms, valued not for financial value but for emotional and sentimental reasons. This week's #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow is a great opportunity to think about accidental heirlooms, not just those intended to be special.

Above, the silver napkin ring awarded by my mother's Farkas Family Tree association to each newborn child, male or female. For years--seriously, years!--one of my aunts tried to get the tree to give a different gift to baby boys (like her son, my 1st cousin R). She was voted down every time. This napkin ring was an honored gift tradition for decades.
Above, another item that was an heirloom even in its own time. My grandma Hermina Farkas Schwartz kept this cut glass bowl close to her heart because, if I got the story straight, it came with the family from Hungary to America in the early 1900s. My mother inherited it and now I'm the lucky custodian, keeping it safe for the next generation.

But other heirlooms were surely not intended or appreciated as such. At right, a velvet banner used by my late father-in-law Edgar James Wood to promote his piano trio during 1950s/60s gigs in Cleveland. Did Ed ever imagine this would be an heirloom in the 21st century? I bet the answer is no.

We can never predict exactly what future generations will consider to be heirlooms. So we need to take good care of all these family items, just in case. And--most important--we need to tell the stories of why these are (or should be) heirlooms, so that information is passed down along with the items themselves.

For more about sharing family history with future generations, please check out my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback and Kindle.