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

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.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Chronicling the Ups AND the Downs in Family History

Hani Simonowitz Schwartz, mother of my grandpa, Tivador "Teddy" Schwartz
After reading this article from Time, about why adults shouldn't shield children from sadness, I decided to write about why family historians owe it to future generations to document both the ups and downs of the past.

Of course we love to trumpet the many success stories (like hubby's great uncles, the famous bandmaster Slatter brothers in Canada). And it's fun to tell younger relatives about the family traditions that we ourselves remember so fondly (like singing the Farkas Family Tree anthem at family meetings when I was a tot).

But every family also has sorrow, struggles, and losses in its history. We may have witnessed grief following a loved one's death or we may have learned about sad or despicable family events from relatives or newspaper articles or other sources.

As genealogists, we owe it to our descendants and relatives to honestly chronicle the lives of our ancestors, both good and bad. It's vital to show younger relatives what formed our family, let them begin to learn about the range of life experiences, and reassure them of the shared strength of our family.

Research shows that children actually benefit from understanding the difficulties faced by ancestors and relatives--and come to believe they can overcome obstacles themselves. Stories are a safe way to begin the learning process, portray ancestors as real people with real lives, and put the past into context for younger folks.

I've written about my husband's great-grandma Mary Shehen Slatter (1837-1889), and her truly heartbreaking tale of being confined in two notorious insane asylums due to a diagnosis of being "melancholy and demented." The cause of her insanity, according to the asylum records, was "misfortune and destitution." She was, it seems, driven insane by poverty and despair. And her children were placed in a workhouse while she was institutionalized.

BUT when I tell their story to my grandchildren, I remind them (with genuine admiration) that Mary's children all went on to live very productive lives. Mary was the mother of the three bandmaster brothers who built brilliant careers and were pillars of their communities, as well as being good family men. If only Mary could have known! Once I found out about Mary's sad life and death (from tuberculosis), I made it my mission to be sure her descendants are aware of the bad and the good in that branch of the family tree.

Another example: In researching my mother's family, no one ever mentioned the many relatives who stayed behind in Hungary when my grandpa Teddy Schwartz (1887-1965) left for America, bringing his brother Sam and sister Mary to New York within a few years after he arrived. All his life, Teddy kept one photo of his mother, Hani Simonowitz Schwartz (see image at top). It must have been painful for him to look back and think about his parents and other relatives he would never see again.

Only through Yad Vashem did I find out that grandpa Teddy actually had many more terrible losses to mourn. I was shocked and dismayed to discover that his other siblings (and their families) were all killed in the Holocaust, his niece being the only survivor. No mention of this tragedy in the family tree minutes, no family stories passed down.

In my mind, I believe the heartache of these losses was why my grandpa Teddy was so insistent that the family observe a moment of silence annually for all the relatives who had passed away in the previous year. That yearly moment of silence--initiated by Teddy and led by him year after year--were recorded regularly in the family tree minutes. Clearly, Teddy believed it was important for the family to at least acknowledge the downs as well as the ups in life.

I agree with my grandpa. Let's make the family aware of the downs, not just the ups. Do we have to publicly disclose everything negative in the tree? No. In fact, there are a couple of stories that I've written for my files only, and mentioned orally but not documented for distribution to the entire family, out of respect for living descendants. (These stories have nothing to do with secrets like "non-parental events," by the way.)

Notice that I'm putting the full stories in my files, to be passed to my heirs after I join my ancestors. The stories won't be lost, and at some point, the historian of the next generation may judge that the time is right to say more to more people.

What do you do with the negative stories you uncover in your tree?

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!

Friday, February 2, 2018

My Schwartz Ancestors Married for Love

Mary Schwartz and Teddy Schwartz (circa 1909)
My great aunt, Mary Schwartz (1891-1959) and her older brother, my grandpa Tivador "Teddy" Schwartz (1887-1965), both married for love after they came to New York. There were some bumps in the road to matrimony, but both stories (pieced together from family legends and official documents) ended with love winning the day, despite the family's initial feelings.

Teddy Schwartz met his future bride, Hermina (Minnie) Farkas (1886-1964), in a Hungarian deli on the Lower East Side. Both Teddy and Minnie had been born in Hungary and came to New York as young teens.(1) Although Minnie's family objected to the match (they thought he was a "peasant"), she insisted on seeing Teddy, then a clerk for steamship lines and insurance firms. Minnie used a signal (putting something on the clothesline) to let Teddy know that the "coast was clear" to meet.

Meanwhile, Minnie's parents tried to arrange a "more suitable" marriage. Minnie refused and threw the suitor's engagement ring out the window. After she wore her parents down, the couple was married at the Clinton Street Synagogue on Sunday, October 22, 1911. Teddy and Minnie couldn't afford a honeymoon until the late 1940s, when they retired. My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1961.

Teddy's sister Mary Schwartz also married for love. It seems Teddy's Farkas in-laws were arranging a marriage for Mary with one of their cousins. Late in 1913, before any formal engagement, Mary met a handsome furrier, Hungarian-born Edward Wirtschafter (1889-1958). Since he was living on the Lower East Side and she was living in Jewish Harlem but working as a shirtwaist maker, I imagine they met in Manhattan's garment district (or possibly in that Hungarian deli where Teddy and Minnie met?).

Mary and Edward fell in love and within weeks, they decided to elope. On Christmas Eve of 1913, just two days before Mary's 22nd birthday, they went to City Hall and signed all the paperwork. That night, even though they were married, they went back to their own apartments and told no one. At least that's what their daughter told me.

What she didn't tell me (maybe she didn't know) was what happened four days later. On December 28, 1913, Mary and Edward had a second wedding ceremony.(2) This time, they were married by a rabbi. And this time, Mary's older brother Sam Schwartz was one of the witnesses. Possibly my grandfather Teddy was present, as well. But I don't know whether my grandma Minnie was there. She might have been miffed that Mary married a man of her own choosing rather than the Farkas cousin favored by the family. Mary, like Minnie, was determined to marry for love!

This post celebrates the Genealogy Blog Party's February theme of LOVE.

(1) According to City of Dreams by Tyler Anbinder, the Lower East Side neighborhood where Teddy and Minnie lived was a particular enclave of Hungarian Jews in the early 1900s. Teddy was from Ungvar, Hungary, and Minnie from Berehovo, Hungary. No wonder they met in a Hungarian deli.

(2) I only know about the 2d wedding ceremony because I sent for the complete set of marriage documents after learning about their availability through Reclaim the Records. Read all about it here. Well worth the $15 fee to know the full story!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Testing Ancestry's "We Remember" Site

Ancestry has a new site in beta, "We Remember." A few days ago, I gave it a try. First I had to log in (using either Ancestry or Facebook user/password combo). After several aborted tries with Firefox, I switched to Chrome as my browser and was able to proceed. The interface was sluggish in both browsers, but presumably this will change over time.

At top, the memorial after I entered the requested info:

- Name of person (Dorothy Helen Schwartz)
- whether MD, Ph.D., etc. (this info doesn't appear on the memorial, not sure why)
- full birth and death dates (NOTE: only birth year and death year appear on the memorial)
- city and state/country of death (doesn't appear on memorial, not sure why)
- 250 words about her (plus an obit, if available)
- indicate whether she was family, friend, etc.

Next, I was asked to submit an obit if desired and write a "memory" of my aunt, including a photo of my choice. Alas, my first "memory" and related photo disappeared. The next memory was successfully saved and appears on Dorothy's public memorial page.

What do I think of "We Remember" so far? This will be my only attempt unless and until the interface is speedier and more reliable. Also, I believe all the requested info should appear in full on memorials. Why not show full birth and death dates rather than simply truncate to year only? Why not show MD or Ph.D. on the page? My aunt was justifiably proud of her Ph.D., and I had to mention it in the memorial text since it doesn't show after her name in the title.

Why the 250-word limit for the bio on the memorial page? This isn't Twitter--it's supposed to be a memorial, and no meaningful bio can be squeezed into so few words. In some views of the memorial, no middle name or initial appears--which can make it tough to locate just the right person. Again, I can't imagine the reason for this limitation.

I'm not sure that setting up "We Remember" memorials will do anything more meaningful genealogically than my Ancestry trees, my Find a Grave memorials, and my blog posts. But I'm willing to be convinced if the interface improves, the presentation of details is expanded, and a chorus of other genealogy enthusiasts find some value in this site.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: The Schwartz Family of Ungvar

My grandfather (Tivador "Teddy" Schwartz, 1887-1965) was the first in his family to come to America from the family's home in Ungvar, Hungary (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine). The next to arrive was my great uncle (Samuel Schwartz, 1883-1954). These two brothers saved their nickels and helped pay for one of their younger sisters to come in 1906 (Mary "Marushka" Schwartz, 1891-1959).

Their parents, Herman Yehuda Schwartz and Hani Simonowitz Schwartz, stayed behind in Ungvar, along with a number of siblings. Separated by thousands of miles, the family stayed in touch with letters and photo cards like the one at top, which shows four Schwartz siblings in Ungvar in 1915.

By the time of World War II, the parents had passed away but the siblings who remained in Hungary all were grown and had families of their own. None but Tivador, Sam, and Mary ever moved to America.

I'm very sad to say that those who remained behind were killed during the Holocaust, with one exception: my grandfather's niece, Viola Schwartz. According to her video testimony, found through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum among other repositories, she was an eye witness to the tragedy that everyone else from the Schwartz family had been rounded up and sent to concentration camps, where they--like so many Jewish families-- perished.

On this international day of remembrance, my post honors the memory of my Schwartz ancestors and all others who were killed during the Holocaust. I feel a great sense of loss for who they were and who they and their descendants might have become. And I want to pay loving tribute to the Schwartz survivor, my cousin Viola, a strong and courageous woman.

Never forget!