Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts

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!

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.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

War Memorial Honor Roll Project: Woodbury, Connecticut

Memorial Day is only a month away, which means it's time to photograph and transcribe war memorials so I can participate in Heather Wilkinson Rojo's Honor Roll Project.

This year, I'm paying tribute to the service of men and women from Woodbury, Connecticut. The neat little town green is the setting for plaques honoring those who served during three wars.

At top, the memorial that honors those from Woodbury, CT who served in Vietnam. Their names, as inscribed above, are:

Alba, Louis G.                   Anderson, Mark E.            Bacon, William Jr.
Barry, Kevin G.                 Benjamin, John D.             Brown, Edward C.
Brown, Thomas M.           Brownell, Thomas D.        Burmeister, Richard R.
Cacy, Thomas E.               Carroll, Peter J.                  Cassidy, Brian J.
Castings, Walter J.            Churchill, James H.            Cole, Arthur R.
Cole, Donald E.                Connelly, Joseph F.            Coppola, Andrew F.
Creighton, David B.         Curtiss, Alan C.                  Daury, James P.
Eyre, Harry D., Jr.            Eyre, Stephen B.                 Faraci, William S.
Garrick, Edmund J.          Geraci, Joe L.                     Geraci, Richard J.
Green, Kenneth G.           Hoffman, Theodore A.        Hollister, Gordon E.
Hotchkiss, Berkeley W.    Hoxley, Martin D.               Huff, Harold C.
Jasper, Carl S.                   Jefferson, David W.            Jensen, Linda S.
Jones, K. Nickerson          Jones, Steven W.                Judson, David P.
Judson, Donald H.            Judson, Ronald P.               Kelleher, Robert D.
Koeppel, Robert A.          Leavenworth, Jeffrey M.    Leigh, David F.
Lonegan, Daniel P.           Marquis, Gene D.               Maxwell, Barry W.
Maxwell, Philip D.           Neal, Harris G.                   Neal, Leslie R.
Newell, Charles R.            Newell, Edward W.           Newell, Wales A.
Norton, Frank L.               Peck, Hiram W.                 Pond, J. Lawrence
Quint, Donald P.               Quint, Michael G.              Rehkamp, George M.
Rehkamp, Ronald D.        Richards, Donald W.          Roberts, Dennis A.
Rogers, Christopher C.     Rowell, James P.                Ryan, Robert F.
Scherer, Celester C.          Scherer, Martin A.             Seymour, Terry R.
Shanny, David E.              Taff, Frederick S.              Talarico, Thomas J.
White, John F.                   Winus, Richard J.              Woodward, Charles S.
Woodward, Lawrence S.   Woodward, Thomas M.


Nearby is the plaque paying tribute to the men and women of Woodbury, CT, who were in the Korean War. Their names are:

Abbott, Frank K.                                Clark, John E.
Cole, Norman F.                                 Cole, Walter H.
Cowles, Robert B.                              Creighton, E. Donald
Deschino, John J.                               Drakeley, George M.   
Fawcett, Edward F.                            Hardisty, Chester C.
Hellwinkle, Ronald F.                        Judson, Melvin P.
Metcalf, Fred L.                                 Phillips, Edward W.
Rehkamp, Dr. Charles J.                    Robinson, Kenneth L.
Robinson, Richard H.                         Terrell, Donald W.
Warner, Thomas H.


The plaque above is one of two honoring people from Woodbury, CT who served during World War II. This is A through N, with an asterick denoting those who were killed in action.

On this plaque are listed:

Abbott, H. Ellsworth                 Atwood, Gilbert               Atwood, Henry S.
Atwood, Kenneth                      Balch, George F.              Barnes, Randall C.
Bassett, George G.                    Bassett, Harold E.            Beauregard, Howard F.
Belz, Mary E. (nurse)               Bennett, Sherwood           Bergensten, L.J.
Bowker, Ruth N. (nurse)          Bradley, Kenneth A.         Brown, Charles E.
Brunet, Richard D.                   Brunet, William M.           Bull, David
Burdick, Elward C.                   Burdick, Harold              Burton, William J. Jr. *
Bynack, Joseph G.                    Cable, George                  Cable, Louis D.
Carlisle, David                          Cassidy, J. Donald           Cassidy, Joseph J.
Cassidy, Marjorie E. (WAC)    Cassidy, Paul F.                Chatfield, Robert E.
Churchill, Howard                   Coats, John E.                   Coey, Albert L.
Cole, Ferris E.                           Cole, Francis P.               Cooper, Ralph E.
Cooper, Earl D.                        Cooper, James R.              Cowles, Paul G.
Crane, Robert T.                      Crighton, David B.           Cunningham, Harold W.
Daury, Vincent P.                     Davidson, James H.          Dawson, John
Dawson, Richard                      Decker, E. Norton, Jr.      Decker, Robert S.
Dillon, James *                        Dillon, Richard                  Drake, Arthur W.
Drakeley, Robert I.,  Jr.            Duda, Casimir J. *            Duda, Peter A.
Dyer, Carroll L.                       Elting, Charles E.               Elting, Stewart E.
Eyre, Alfred G.                        Eyre, Harry D.                    Eyre, Stanley B.
Ferrell, John W.                        Fegen, Charles W. * .        Fleming, William P.
Fray, Ralph                            Fray, Robert                       Frazier, Charlotte (nurse)
Freeman, Arthur                    Gardiner, Shirley B.            Giggey, Kempton L.
Gillis, Carter E. (chaplain)    Goodrich, Ruth H.               Graham, Leslie W. *
Green, Ernest H.                    Green, George A.                 Green, Robert
Griswold, Hobart W.              Hahn, William A., Jr.          Harriman, Charles S. Jr.
Harriman, Ellen                      Hirsch, Arthur Z.                Hirsch, Charles E.
Hirsch, Clifford B.                  Hogan, Michael J.              Hohimer, Ernest
Hower, William D.                  Johnson, Clifford M.         Judson, Donald F.
Kalesky, John C. *                  Karagulla, Selim M.           Kenny, John *
King, Arthur C.                     King, Charles W.               Klatka, Catherine (nurse)
Knox, Delmar A.                  Koch, Edgar M.                  Kozenieski, Lloyd M.
Laukaitis, Anthony               Lavery, James                     Leach, John
Leesemann, Frederick W.     Lewis, Warren                    Lizauskas, Stanley
Lundin, David J.                   Lundin, Frank G.                Lucas, Frances A.
Lyon, Frank C.                      Lyon, James G.                  Macbeth, S. Alexander
MacCallum, John *               Mansfield, Paul H.            Manzi, Edward J.
Manzi, Roland                       Manzi, Vincent D.           Markham, Fred. A. Jr.
Markham, Hurlburt A.        Markle, Raymond D. MD  Martinson, William F.
Marvin, Everett D., Jr.         Mason, Howard F.R. Jr.     May, Russell C.
Michaels, Richard W.          Miller, Robert E.                 Miller, Vincent A.
Minor, Emerson *                Minor, Lewis R.                  Morgan, Addis W.
Morgan, Henry                   Morris, Hobart D.               Morris, Vernon H.
Mosevage, Anthony J.       Mosevage, George W.         Munson, Richard S.
Munson, William L., Jr      Murphy, Franklin                Nichols, Joel L.
Nutting, Parker B.


The WWII plaque honoring those who served from Woodbury, with surnames P through Z, lists the following servicemen and servicewomen:

Pagano, Anthony            Pastore, William E.            Pearson, James E.
Pearson, Robert R.          Peck, Hiram W., Jr.            Petruzzi, Marco
Petruzzi, Michael             Phelan, Robert L.               Phillips, John M.
Phillips, Thomas J.           Pinard, Alton H.                  Platt, Alfred H.
Pond, Sebastian L.           Quint, Carmen G. (nurse)  Quint, Carleton L.
Quint, Donald H. *          Quint, Franklin E.               Racenet, Amelie H. (nurse)
Racenet, J. Ernest           Reichenbach, Frank (MD) *  Reichenbach, Herbert I.
Rice, Roy E.                     Richards, David K.               Richards, James H. Jr.
Richards, Robert K.         Richardson, Phillip E.            Riese, Frederick K.
Robinson, Walter A.        Savage, David W.                  Schmidt, Clifford
Scott, Joseph M.              Sears, Richard A.                  Sharp, Charles M.
Shaw, Raymond W.          Sherwood, Albert C.          Sherwood, Charles C.
Shippee, Harold E.           Slattery, Frances P.             Slattery, James J.
Smith, Allen G.               Smith, Carleton E.               Smith, Edward
Smith, Robert G.              Smith, Walter E.                 Snyder, Melvin L.
Somers, Harold               Starr, Robert F.                   Stevens, Fannie P. (Marines)
Stockwell, Charles         Strattman, Dwight              Strever, Charles W.
Sturges, Edward B.         Sturges, George R.             Sweeney, Bernard J. *
Sweeney, Lawrence W.   Talarico, Joseph                  Talarico, Louis
Talarico, Thomas             Taylor, Raymond                 Thomas, Ferris F.
Thompson, David        Thompson, Louise J. (WAVE)   Titus, Howard
Tomlinson, James H.      Towne, Ernest H. Jr.               Travers, Sherwood W.
Underwood, H. Gilbert   Underwood, Homer R.         Voytershark, Frank P.
Walcott, C. James           Wallace, Raymond D. *      Walston, Harvey D.
Weeden, Willis M.           Weeks, Carnes, Jr.              Weeks, Robert
Westerlund, Charles H.   Westerlund, Harry F.        Weymer, Russell W.
Wilson, Herbert R.          Wilson, Robert L.            Wolcott, George
Wooden, Paul M.           Yurkunas, Kasimir           
Farrell, John J.
McConville, Marion
Weeks, Carnes
Cam, John H.
Coe, Albert B.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

History Gets Personal in Family History

Everyone's family history is influenced by (and can influence) the course of history. That's what makes history so personal in our family's history.

I'm struck by this again and again as I transcribe letters written by Farkas cousins to the family tree association during WWII. These cousins were in the service (some in the US Army, some in Army Air Corps, some in Navy, some in WAC) and their letters home are filled with observations that bring history alive and illuminate how the war experiences affected them personally. The letters also reveal personality and, often, a dry sense of humor.

Above, the letterhead from a cousin's letter written in January, 1943. Notice the words running along the ribbon at bottom of the image--"Prepare for Combat."

Cousin G enlisted to fly but he couldn't land the way the Army Air Force wanted, he wrote home in a 1942 letter. At that point, he chose to train as a navigator/bombardier.

In this 1943 letter, written from an Army Air Field in Monroe, LA, cousin G is "waiting around for shipment to Advanced [training] which will be in Coral Gables, Florida." He mentions that the school is run by Pan-American (Airways) and he has to satisfy a tougher standard. Why does he care which school he attends?
"The main reason I decided upon the Gables was that most of the navigation is over water and from what I hear that is pretty important when you have to pick an island out of the whole Pacific."
Cousin G understands that he has a role to play in history and takes it seriously, even when his letters make the family smile. His role in history affects his family history too, and I'm proud to document what he wrote to the family during these critical years. Plus I'm learning more about historical details as I add explanatory endnotes to the letters, ensuring that future generations will get the full picture of our family's contributions to and experiences in World War II.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Letters Home from My Aunt, the WAAC

My mother's twin sister, Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001), joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps on September 11, 1942. Her top-notch steno and typing skills earned her a spot in a cracker-jack admin company that supported Bomber Command. She became Sgt. Schwartz, honed her leadership skills, and won a Bronze Star in 1945.
Sgt. Schwartz

But Auntie Dorothy (as we always called her) never expected to be away from home for nearly three years. As World War II wore on, she felt pangs of separation from her parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, and many first cousins in the Farkas Family Tree.

Transcribing the wartime letters Dorothy wrote to the tree while in the service (see a sample V-Mail above), I learned that she loved her time stationed near London. She wrote home often about the historic places, beautiful landscape, and opportunities to meet people from other nations.

In fact, her January, 1944 letter written to her sister (living in the Bronx apartment building shown at left) states that celebrating the new year in England was a high point!

Yet Dorothy was acutely aware of what she was missing each month when the Farkas Family Tree gathered for its regular meetings and enjoyed holiday meals together.

Her letters mention being homesick a couple of times. Although family members apparently wrote optimistic letters about the war ending soon, Dorothy's answers indicate her realism, saying she didn't expect a quick end (no specifics, the censors were reading along).

Dorothy also made it clear that she felt remarkably "at home" in London, with its big-city atmosphere, subways, and theater--all familiar from her civilian life as an apartment-dweller in New York City.

This citified "Old Homestead" post is #13 of the 2018 #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow.

NOTE: Most of Dorothy's letters were handwritten, but those written at the end of 1943 and during 1944 were microfilmed and shrunk into the V-Mail format. To transcribe, I first had to photograph them and blow them on my screen, then print the enlargements so I could read them as I typed. Totally worth it! More soon on my plans for a Farkas Family Tree World War II letters booklet.

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!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saluting the Veterans in Our Family Trees

With gratitude for their service, today I'm saluting some of the many veterans from my family tree and my husband's family tree.


Let me begin with my husband's Slatter family in Canada. Above, second from left is Capt. John Daniel Slatter of the 48th Highlanders in Toronto. He was my hubby's great uncle, an older brother to hubby's Grandma Mary Slatter Wood, and he was a world-famous bandmaster in his time.

At far left of the photo is Capt. Slatter's son, Lt. Frederick William Slatter, who fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge during WWI. Third from left is John Hutson Slatter, grandson of Capt. Slatter, who enlisted in the Canadian military in the spring of 1940 for service in WWII. At far right is another of Capt. Slatter's sons, Lt. Albert Matthew Slatter, who served in Canada's No. 4 Company of 15th Battalion and then in the 48th Highlanders of Toronto. (Albert was the father of John Hutson Slatter.)

Grandma Mary Slatter Wood had two other distinguished bandmaster brothers active in the Canadian military early in the 1900s: Henry Arthur Slatter (who served in the 72d Seaforth Highlanders of Vancouver) and Albert William Slatter (who served in the 7th London Fusiliers of Ontario).


In my family tree, a number of folks served in World War II. Above, 2d from left in front row is my father, Harold D. Burk, who was in the US Army Signal Corps in Europe. His brother, Sidney Burk, also served during WWII, stationed in Hawaii. And I've recently written a lot about my aunt, Dorothy Schwartz, who was a WAC and received the Bronze Star for her service in Europe. My uncle, Dorothy's brother Fred, was in Europe serving with the Army, as well.

Meanwhile, my mother, Daisy Schwartz, was busy selling war bonds in NYC and corresponding with maybe a dozen GIs to keep their spirits up. When Mom wrote the historian's report for the Farkas Family Tree association at the end of 1943, she reflected the entire family's feelings about their relatives fighting for freedom.
For the coming year, the earnest hope of all is that 1944 will find the Axis vanquished and our boys home. All that is unrelated to the war effort must be sublimated to the present struggle to which some in our group have pledged their lives. The rest of us pledge our aid. The Allies will be victorious--God is on our side!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee: Ask an Archivist!






































In a recent entry, I told how I discovered that a letter written by my Aunt Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001) was included in With Love, Jane, a compilation of correspondence from WWII servicewomen edited by Alma Lutz.

As shown in the table of contents at right, Sgt. Schwartz's letter was on p. 104, one of more than a dozen contributed by "Indispensable WACS."

My aunt's letter began with the salutation: "Dear ____" and had a vague date ("1943").

Who, I wondered, was my Auntie writing to? And when did she actually write the letter that wound up being printed?

I did an online search to find out more about Alma Lutz, and learned that her literary notes and other papers were in the archives of her alma mater, Vassar.

You know what I did next, right? I picked up the phone and called the archives, leaving word about my request for more information about the author's contact with my aunt.

An hour later, I had a return call from the archives! They were delighted to do a quick search for materials from my aunt. And an hour after that, I received an email from the archivist, attaching the pdfs of two V-mail letters from my aunt to Alma Lutz. (Thank you, wonderful archivist! No lengthy wait, no fee.)

You can see the second of the letters to Alma Lutz at top, in which my aunt claims not to remember who she was writing to, not even the approximate date of that letter.

As the archivist said in his email to me: "So, while I can't solve the mystery of 'Dear Blank,' I hope that I can at least provide a little context for its inclusion in the final volume."

The V-mails did indeed give me more background about my aunt and her wartime activities. Now you know why I suggest that researchers go ahead and "ask an archivist."

NOTE: For more "Free or Fee" tips for genealogy, please see my special page here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Family History Month: Sgt. Schwartz, "The Woman Behind the Man Behind the Gun"

Excerpt from my aunt's published letter in With Love, Jane by Alma Lutz
The year was 1943, and my aunt Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001) was only 23 years old when she arrived in England as a WAC. She wrote home to a friend about her feelings as a servicewoman and her satisfaction at having a meaningful role in the war effort.

Auntie Dorothy's letter was one of several dozen included in With Love, Jane, a compilation edited by Alma Lutz, a "leader in the fight for woman suffrage and equal rights" (quoting Vassar College's biographical note).

Happily for me, the interlibrary loan system enabled me to put my hands on a copy of this 199-page book, published in 1945.

Carefully turning the pages, because the binding is a little wobbly after 72 years, I read my aunt's thoughts about being in the Army during WWII and her pride at being "the woman behind the man behind the gun." 

Here an excerpt from the first half of Sgt. Dorothy H. Schwartz's letter as printed in Alma Lutz's volume. And to borrow my aunt's words--you're darn right I'm proud!

Dear ___,

It is close to 0400, Army time; in anybody's time, when life is at its lowest ebb. I'm not writing because I'm unable to sleep. I'm writing during a pause in my work, for my shift is from midnight to 0730, and I'm writing because of a real desire to talk to you. This is the only way it can be done, for we are thousands of miles apart and I can't call you over the phone and hear your low, clear voice reaching me across the miles . . . But I can see you so well in your letters, I know you can read into these lines my own facial expressions, my movements, my very tones, and that you will understand full well what I am trying to say.

I don't know what it is like outside since I came on duty, for my job is to stick at this desk no matter what happens and not leave it. But probably it is deep, dark night with heavy, low clouds, and the thick mist which obscured everything more than a foot away is burdening the earth. You can believe everything you read or see in the movies about English mist and fog and rain--none of it can be exaggerated. It isn't always like this. I guess I've seen every kind of weather at every hour of the day or night by this time, and England would be beautiful to me whatever the weather.

England! Even now, when the initial excitement has long since passed off, when we have been here long enough to have settled down completely--even now, I say, to use "England" as a return address is still startling at times. And how I revel in this piece of fortune! To be able to visualize myself finally and easily as the woman behind the man behind the gun--could any dream come true be more satisfying? You're darn right I'm proud.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Military Monday: Is This Dad's WWII Jacket?

This morning I woke up to an unexpected surprise, in the form of an email from a gentleman in New England. He wrote:
"I recently bought an old military field coat with the name H.D. Burk and B4446 written in it. Some basic research tells me it's from a Harold Burk who was born in 1909 and enlisted in the Army in 1942. A quick Google search also returned a link to your blog...Does this sound like the correct Harold Burk?"
My Dad, Harold Burk (1909-1978), enlisted in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton, NY on March 7, 1942, 75 years ago this week. I took out Dad's dog tags and sure enough, the number matched!

I wrote back to say "yes," this sounds like Dad. The handprinted name looks like his writing, and I felt a pang just looking at it. I asked how this gentleman, Mr. G, went about researching the jacket. He sent me to the WWII US Army Enlistment website, which contains info on nearly 9 million people.

At left is the search box from the site, where I did what Mr. G did--I entered the laundry number (part of Dad's serial number) and his surname. Up popped a few details about Dad's enlistment. I had already documented his service, using his discharge papers, among other sources, but now I have another resource to try when researching other ancestors who served in WWII, thanks to Mr. G.

(Try it for any of your ancestors who served in WWII! Even if you don't have a serial number or laundry number, go ahead and fill in other details on the search form, then weed through the results.)

My Dad served in Europe with the 3163d Signal Service Company, as a clerk, and spent April of 1945 in Paris after the liberation. He's the serviceman on the right in this photo at a bistro.

Mr. G gave me more info about the jacket: It's an M-1943 Field Coat, which became standard for the Army during the war, especially for soldiers in colder climates. How my Dad's survived all these years, and in such great shape, I can't imagine.

What a wave of emotion seeing Dad's WWII jacket and handprinted name, and knowing that the collector, Mr. G, wanted to find out more about the man who wore it seven decades in the past.

I'm grateful to Mr. G for getting in touch, especially as this fits in nicely with my Genealogy Go-Over, reexamining documents and artifacts with an eye toward telling more stories about my ancestors. Thanks to Mr. G for permission to post his photos of Dad's jacket!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saluting My Family's WWII Veterans

During World War II, a number of family members served in the military. I'm proud and grateful for their service!

Above left, my father Harold Burk (1909-1978) was a personnel clerk and Technician 5th grade in the 3163d Army Signal Service Corps, supporting combat troops in Central Europe and Germany.

Above right, Harold's brother, my uncle Sidney Burk (1914-1995), was (I believe) serving on staff for the Judge Advocate General in Hawaii during WWII.

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001), shown in the news clipping at right, was a sergeant in the Women's Army Corps and received the Bronze Star for supporting bombardment forces in Belgium, France, England, and elsewhere in Europe. The story of her harrowing wartime voyage across the Atlantic with hundreds of WACs and British military is here.

Her brother, my uncle Frederick Shaw (1912-1991), was an Army staff sergeant who trained troops in a number of Southern installations from 1943 to 1945.

In addition, cousins on both sides of the family were in the military. Thank you!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Treasure Chest Thursday: Edgar James Wood's WWII Newspapers

My late dad-in-law, Edgar James Wood, held onto several newspapers with historic WWII headlines. Above is one of my favorites: On August 15, 1945, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced PEACE across its entire front page.

Another issue he saved is from the Chicago Sunday Tribune of August 26, 1945, as U.S. forces prepared for the occupation of Japan.

As we prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, I'm glad Ed saved these papers in such good condition for decades and decades.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Treasure Chest Thursday: Who's the General on This War Bonds Wallet?

The Gen Do-Over is a great time to look at every artifact related to the family tree.

My late father-in-law Edgar J. Wood kept a number of items from the World War II era. In addition to items like war-time fuel limit posters (donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society earlier this year), he held onto this handsome leather war bonds wallet.

It was given away by the Carnegie Body company of Cleveland, Ohio, whose name is stamped on the back. Since Ed was an insurance adjustor, he certainly had a lot of contact with such companies in the course of his work.

On the front is an image of what looks like a four-star U.S. general.

Who is he? - SEE BELOW!

I imagine his face was familiar to the men and women of America some 70 years ago.

Any ideas?* Two answers came right away, including one from the WRHS: This is almost certainly General MacArthur. Makes sense, doesn't it? He's so young in this image. By the end of the war, he looked a lot older...

UPDATE: This wallet has been donated to the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA, where it will become part of the artifact collection related to General MacArthur. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: From the In-Laws' Attic in Cleveland

My late father- and mother-in-law (Edgar James Wood and Marian McClure Wood) held onto this WWII poster for decades, and it remains in excellent shape. Hubby remembers it being stored in the attic of their Cleveland Heights home during the 1950s. They took the poster with them when they moved in the 1970s and moved again in the 1980s. We just asked the Western Reserve Historical Society if it would like this as a donation.*

*UPDATE: The historical society said yes, and it is getting the air raid poster above and the fuel ration notice at right. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 3: Clues Are Everywhere

This is the week for conducting research and I'm doing a bit of it even as I continue inventorying those 19 archival boxes of family photos and documents sitting in my home office.

Tonight I inventoried one of the boxes holding papers and photos of my father, Harold Burk (1909-1978).

For instance, I picked up this photo of Dad in WWII, given to me a few months ago from my first cousin, who got it from our uncle, Sidney Burk (1914-1995). Research shows that Sidney enlisted in the Army a few months after his older brother Harold enlisted in 1942.

I turned the photo over. No caption, no writing. Dad did write on the backs of some photos, just not this one.

Still, I pulled out my trusty magnifying glass and checked the back more carefully. There, in the upper left corner, was a very faint impression of an old-fashioned postmark. See the photo below. By turning the photo this way and that under strong light, I could make out the year: 1942. The photo had been mailed to someone in the family, and the strength of the postmark penetrated the envelope and left an impression on the photo!

Research shows Dad enlisted at Camp Upton, NY on March 7, 1942. I also have his $10,000 National Service Life Insurance policy, issued on April 1, 1942.

Looking at the uniform and the place, I conclude this is Dad in basic training somewhere in the south.** He must have had the photo taken and mailed it to his brother, either at home in the Bronx or wherever his brother was in basic training.

Clues are everywhere. When I log this photo in my inventory list, my source for dating it will be the official government stamp showing the year :)

** Further inventorying in same archival box turned up a different photo of Dad in same uniform, same time--with a studio name stamped on the back. It was taken in Miami, FL.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Military Monday: "650 WACs Defy the Subs"

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz was one of 650 WACs in WWII who sailed aboard the RMS Aquitania from New York City on July 8, 1943, arriving at dusk a week later in Gourock, Scotland. It was a risky voyage because the ship sailed alone, without a convoy, under absolute secrecy. They never knew when a German submarine might follow or attack.

RMS Aquitania in Southampton, England
Before the trip, the WACs were held incommunicado at Camp Shanks in New Jersey (guarded by MPs) until they were taken by train to the ship. As historian of the WAC Detachment of the 9th Air Force, Auntie wrote that the WACs "enacted an Ellery Queen radio mystery drama concerning the importance of being security-minded."



Doris Fleeson's article is the cover story


Famed war correspondent Doris Fleeson sailed along with Auntie and her fellow WACs, as well as hundreds of British military personnel. Later that year, Fleeson's long article about the voyage was published in Women's Home Companion as "650 WACs Defy the Subs."

In reading Fleeson's article, I was struck by her mention of "gangplankitis," which she says is "the fear of boarding a ship that might be attacked. Men soldiers have succumbed to it. Sometimes they are hospitalized. Sometimes they are carried aboard. The Wacs entirely escaped gangplankitis."

Once the Aquitania docked and the WACs disembarked, they were met by dignitaries including US Army Captain Sherman, who told them: "You are here safely. The safety of the troops to come depends upon your discretion." Quite a solemn welcome to WACs who would help the Air Force coordinate bombing of enemy targets.

The oral history of Mary Williams Elder was another good source of info about what it was like to be aboard the Aquitania as one of the 650 WACs.

NOTE: This is my "Uniqueness" post for the April 2018 "Genealogy Blog Party" by Elizabeth O'Neal.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thanksgiving, Nov 22, 1945 in Shoemaker, CA





Ruby Wasserman, who wrote dozens of letters to Mom while in the US Navy, sent her this menu from the U.S. Naval Training and Distribution Center in Shoemaker, California.

Ruby was a little doubtful before dinner . . . he wrote: "Many a time when we were told that the food was going to be exceptionally good, it turned out to be terrible. I hope that it is not true in this case." Later he continued in this long letter: "It was delicious in all respects. I had some of everything, and right now I am still eating some of the nuts I got. Next year I hope to be eating turkey as a civilian."

For anyone doing genealogical research, the names of the top officers listed in this menu are:

O.M. Forster, Commodore, USN, Commander
J.M. Bloom, Captain, USNR, Chief Staff Officer
H.V. Moon, Lt. Comdr., USNR, Commissary Officer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

September 1945: Big Strikes in Big Apple

One of the letters written to my Mom comments on her apparent mention, in her letter, of the big elevator operator strike of September, 1945. According to the book Working-Class New York, this was a huge strike of elevator operators, maintenance people, doormen and others, a strike that brought business in the Big Apple to a virtual halt. Time also covered the strike, quoting both NYC Mayor LaGuardia and New York Governor Tom Dewey on their successful efforts to get labor and management back to the bargaining table.

In those days, self-service elevators were practically non-existent, so having the operators go on strike meant no elevator access to offices and showrooms on high floors in tall NYC skyscrapers. On the other hand, because of mandatory wage freezes during WWII, many workers were anxious for raises, and the strikes reflected this pent-up frustration.

The Empire State Building, having been accidentally hit at the 78th floor by an airplane in July, 1945, was just getting back to normal when the strike posed new problems for commercial tenants and their visitors (not to mention mail carriers). I wonder how many office workers climbed 20 or 80 or even 90 sets of stairs to go to work every day? One story tells of a big group of stockbrokers (on the 31st floor of the Empire State Bldg) ordering sandwiches and giving the delivery person a $75 tip for walking up all those stairs!

Interestingly, my Mom's friend in the Navy writes that there are plenty of strikes in San Francisco, the big city closest to where he is stationed. He also mentions major fires in the area, the result of prolonged drought. "You will probably see pictures of the fires soon in the newsreels" he writes, since at this time the major news outlets were newspapers, radio and newsreels shown in movie theaters.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Idle Gossip Sinks Ships

Over the years, Mom saved dozens and dozens of letters from a few close friends and relatives. I'm still transcribing a few every day. Just looking at the envelopes is an education in history. The envelopes of letters sent by one friend, writing from an Air Corps training camp in Goldsboro, NC, are stamped "IDLE GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS." The dates are late 1942 through mid-1943. The stamps are purple with an eagle holding its wings high and the phrase "WIN THE WAR."