Today I received notice from WordPress that It has been ten years since I started blogging. Where did the time go? I had thought that by now, I would have written a few hundred blog postings instead of still being south of one hundred. I enjoy researching my family’s history much more than writing about it. Yes, I realize that if I don’t tell the family story, all my research is worth very little. So on that front, I have started a family history book. Well, to be honest, I have started at least five different versions of a family history book.
I have made progress on organizing our family photographs. I am labeling, printing, creating photo books, and place many into albums. In addition, I have started to organize old family letters and papers. Finally, I have gone through my desktop family tree program and have sourced all my records. So at least I have made some progress.
I am re-blogging my first post here on WordPress. I still go to estate sales, as I mentioned in the post below, and yes, I still find unwanted family photographs and history. I hope you enjoy reading it and give it some thought. I am already working on my next new blog post. It is how Tuna fish sandwiches may have played a part in my family’s history.
Hope Cemetery. Waterbury, Vermont. Thorndike Family Grave Markers.
My wife, Sandy, and I like to go to estate sales. We have found many good buys for ourselves by doing this. I am an avid reader and have found many books and old magazines to read that I would never have obtained otherwise. Sandy collects old kitchen gadgets and tools that she displays on a shelf in our kitchen. Nightstands, desks, chests, dishes, jewelry, art, and more have found a place in our homes or our children’s from these estate sales. We have a pleasant time, and watching people haggle over a price can be very entertaining. Yes, I also like to negotiate a little myself. As much fun as an estate sale can be, one thing disturbs me. It seems at every sale, I find family pictures (at times boxes full), letters, scrapbooks of family memories, yearbooks, family bibles, military…
Katie Bonnett was a young woman of 18 years when she fell in love with Fred Frye, who was 11 years her senior when they married in 1893. It was the first marriage for both. Six years later, they welcome their daughter Luella into the world. Then in 1907, another daughter, Esther, made her appearance. The 1900 U.S. Federal Census shows Fred’s occupation as a farmer. It also indicates Fred’s widowed mother living with them in a house that Katie and Fred owned. According to family lore, Katie was an intelligent and very pretty woman. The newspapers of the day were sprinkled with society news about the Frye’s many family events. However, events were to take a very dark turn.
Reading the various newspaper accounts to learn the relationship between Katie and Abel Hartshorn precisely has been hard to determine. Whether Katie was having an affair with Able or he was making overtures that at first were tolerated or entirely unwelcome is most likely never to be known. But what is certain is Abel Hartshorn, who was 25 years older than Katie, had a very unhealthy interest in her. It ended in a deadly real-life shoot-out in the Frye family kitchen.
Not more than a week or two before the shooting, events were put in place that started a deadly chain of events. Apparently, Abel had showered Katie with gifts for perhaps as long as a year which reportedly included a horse and carriage. Abel, who also had a wife and family, began to pressure Katie to run away with him. At this point, Katie became alarmed and informed her husband. At this time, Fred had Katie return all the gifts that Abel had given her. Fred also consulted an attorney and brought a suit against Hartshorn for alienating his wife’s affection. When Hartshorn was served with the papers, he reportedly became enraged and threatened to kill Katie.
The facts of the shooting are challenging to put together. Still, from newspaper reporting and the inquest held by county officials, the following is the closest we can get to them. Soon after Katie’s husband left with their oldest child, Luella, age ten, Abel entered the house through the kitchen. It is believed that he was waiting for Mr. Frye to leave before he took action. Upon seeing Abel enter, Katie ran to the living room, where a pistol was on the mantel. It was placed there if Abel tried to make good on his threats. At the same time, Abel had his weapon out and pointed at Ray Taylor, a 15-year-old boy who did chores on the farm. Able told the boy to leave at once. Ray refused. At this point, Katie reentered the kitchen and was immediately shot. The shot shattered Katie’s jaw. Ray retrieved Katie’s pistol and engaged Abel. Ray fired three shots; one grazed Abel’s cheek. One Skimmed the top of his head, and the third shot went through his left arm into his body. Abel was to get off at least two more shots, one of which was the shot that killed Katie. Ray, at this point, grabbed Esther, the Frye’s two-year-old daughter, and ran, carrying her to a neighbor’s home and summoning help. While Ray was getting the baby to safety, Abel left the Frye’s home, went a short distance to a stone wall, climbed over to the other side, and sat down. At this point, he drank some poison and then shot himself.
Now it was left for the people left behind to somehow deal with the trauma of this event and how to best carry on in their own lives. Mrs. Mary Hartshorn, the 58-year-old wife of Abel, was one of those people. Mary was to stay on and operate the family farm for many years. The 1910 U.S. census shows her running the farm while caring for her 91-year-old father-in-law. She was to live there until she moved in with one of her sons three years before she died in 1931 at age 80.
Ray Taylor, who did his very best to try and defend Katie Frye and managed to get little Esther to safety, was to live to the ripe old age of 88. He was a farmer for most of his life, retiring in 1976 at 82. Unfortunately, I was not able to confirm any more facts about Ray.
Fred Frye, Katie’s husband, was never to remarry. He was left to raise his daughters and provide for them the best he could. I am sure very few days passed without reliving the heartbreaking events that shattered his family. He would be a laborer or farmer for the rest of his life. In 1921 he saw the marriage of his eldest child Luella. At the time of his death, Esther was still living at home and in high school. Fred was to die in 1925 in a fire at 62.
Esther Frye, The youngest child who was carried to safety by Ray Taylor the day her mother died, was never to marry. She was to hold office jobs throughout her life. Her positions were listed as a clerk, bookkeeper, and, perhaps at the time of her death, an insurance agent. Esther was 63 at the time of her death in 1970. All I could find was a short death notice to sum up, her life. She lived in the same locality all of her life. With the murder of her mother and the death of her father trying to save her horse in a barn fire, I can’t help but wonder how these tragedies affected her during her lifetime. She had lost her parents in separate horrid events, all before she finished high school.
Luella Frye, who was ten years old at the time of her mother’s death, was to live to what appears to be a full life. Luella married Arthur Clary, a veteran of World War 1. They were married in 1921 and had a son and a daughter. At different times in her life, she was a housemother at Castleton State College and Champlain College. She also served as a guide at the Shelburne Museum. Luella was 78 years old at the time of her death in 1978. Among the survivors listed in her obituary were six grandchildren and a great-grandson.
I want to thank Mary Patterson, who gave me so much information on this branch of the Bonnett family. She contacted me after reading my blog post on the daring Professor Bonnett, a brother to Katie Bonnett. As a result, I plan to do a few more posts about the Bonnett family. This proves that you never know what you will find when doing family research. But the best part is when you meet great people like Mary who share the joy of family history.
I have been reviewing the numerous photographs which were given to me on a thumb drive. The photographs are of people on my wife’s maternal side of the family. They were given to me by Carl Gonya, who has for years studied that side of the family. I am having many printed and also working to organize them into a photobook that I hope to get printed. The book will cover ancestors from my side and my wife’s side of the family. By doing this, the pictures will be on a printed page and identified as to who they are. I thought I would share a few of these pictures with you. I selected these particular pictures because, for the most part, they were all in uniform.
I will start with our mystery man. Carl told me that it is believed that the above picture is of Patrick Hart (Hunt?). Patrick would be my wife’s 2nd great-grandfather. On September 11, 1863, Patrick married Hannah Sanford Ladd. She was the daughter of Ulysses and Electa Hazen Ladd, who had, according to family lore, very strong objections to the marriage. Patrick and Hannah had one daughter then it seems he disappeared from the family. It is believed he joined the Union Army perhaps in a Zouave regiment if that is him in the picture. Hannah went back to using her maiden name Ladd for the rest of her life. One story about Patrick was that he died on the USS Maine when it exploded in Havana Harbor, which sparked the Spanish-American War. However, this story was easy to disprove. I have spent many hours hunting for Patrick to learn his story. So far, I have no real hard facts about him, but the search will continue. With more and more records being placed on the internet and opened for public view, my big break may be just around the corner
The above photograph is that of Edward Monty Kirkpatrick, my wife’s first cousin twice removed. The picture was taken sometime after January 1899, when Edward first made the rank of corporal. One of his duties during World War 1 was guarding New York City’s water supply. Edward spent 38 years in the service of his country and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. His service was a combination of active and reserve duty. He retired from the military in 1936. He also worked for the National Biscuit Company of New York for many years as director of security. Edward died in 1979 at 102 years old. The beautiful woman pictured below is Edward’s daughter Muriel Kirkpatrick MacPherson
Muriel was the NBC weatherperson for the Today Show in the 1950s. This may explain why my wife is always studying a weather map, but I doubt that is the case. Muriel was to show she had talents well beyond reading the weather. She was to receive a Masters Degree in English from Fairleigh Dickerson University. Muriel put that degree to good use as an adjunct professor of English at Fairleigh Dickerson and William Patterson University before retiring in 1986. Muriel’s marriage lasted 52 years, ending with her death at 83 years of age in 2008. It is not every day you find a television personality from a major show in the family.
The picture above is Luman C Holcomb Jr. in the uniform he wore during World War 1. Luman is my wife’s second cousin, and I have already written about his father, Dr. Holcomb, in a previous blog. Luman Jr. was a letter carrier for 40 years before his retirement. During World War 1 Luman was in the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) at Norwich University, in Vermont. The S.A.T.C. was formed to educate student draftees in various trades and skills needed for the war effort. The military and the individual colleges jointly ran the program. Luman was inducted on October 23, 1918, and was discharged on December 12, 1918.
The photograph above is of Glenn (Glenwald) Kirk Otis, in his World War 1 uniform. Glenn was to see action in the Signal Corps unit of the Seventh Division. My wife’s first cousin, twice removed, was to die at an early age of 52 after suffering a heart attack. He still put in 30 years working for the D&H Railroad as a telegrapher then later as a train dispatcher. His son Glenn Kay Otis was picked from the ranks to attend the United States Military Academy, WestPoint, from which he graduated in 1953. He had a 42-year career in the army and rose to the rank of General.
These are just a very few of the photographs I have yet to go through and study. Most of us have family photographs just waiting to be appreciated. Take some time to rediscover their story and record it so it will become part of your family’s history.
While researching my Bonnett family line, I came across an interesting news article about a daredevil performer who jumped from great heights from a hot air balloon. His name was Professor C.C. Bonnette. While the last name was spelled a little differently, that in itself was not unusual for my French-Canadian family lines. Since he was not found in my Bonnett family tree, I made copies of the articles I found and put them aside for a future lookup. This past month or so, I have been researching Professor Bonnette, and I am pleased that I have discovered him. Not only is he my second cousin three times removed, but I also found that he lived an unusual and exciting life well worth knowing.
Clarence Clement Bonnett (Professor Bonnette) was born November 25, 1871, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. His parents were David Clement and Luella Ayer Bonnett. It had to be a mixture of joy and sorrow when he was born. His older brother, the first Clarence born in 1857, died most likely within a year before the second Clarence was born. While doing my research on Clarence, I corresponded with Mary Patterson, who is Clarence’s grandniece. Mary supplied me with many items for use in this blog post and much information. In one email, Mary gave me the following information.
When he was young, he attended a circus and became fascinated with some of the acrobats who performed! He went back to the farm and used an umbrella to jump from the barn hayloft to the ground. Needless to say, he got injured as the umbrella turned inside out and did not break his fall, but the wheels of fortune and adventure had captured his young mind, and his daredevil actions knew no limits nor bounds! He also used his mother’s clothesline as a tightrope, which broke many times… Clarence became famous in New England, attended the World Fair in Paris, and was in England at the Crystal Palace. He was quite clever and capitalized on his ancestors’ birth, claiming to be French and changing the spelling of his last name to Bonnette, and elevating his status to Professor. He made his own parachutes and hot air balloons and did many ascensions in a multitude of places in this country!
In the mid-1890s, I found Clarence working with a woman named Minnie Wilson. Minnie would do many of the dangerous stunts right along with Clarence. Minnie would have been in her early to mid-twenties when she started performing with Clarence. To say the very least, she was brave, and I would guess an unusual woman for her times. In 1897 the hazards of their trade would take a dreadful toll. In a mishap described in the news article below, Minnie was severely injured.
Minnie was never to recover from this accident. She was to spend the rest of her life mostly confined to a wheelchair. I have wondered how difficult it must have been for her. She was as much the daredevil as Clarence and led an exciting life now to be so inactive without the thrill of performing before large crowds. While being confined in a wheelchair is never easy, it had to be much more difficult over a hundred years ago.
Less than two years after the accident, Clarence and Minnie were married. While traveling the country before the accident, they were billed as Professor and Mrs. Bonnette. They cemented that relationship in a marriage ceremony in Boston, Massachusetts, in January 1899. Clarence was always hopeful that Minnie would recover or at least walk. These are the words Clarence wrote to family in letters that Mary Patterson sent me copies of. In a letter written in 1900, Clarence wrote in part Minnie will stay with Aggie this winter. She is not walking yet. But I think she will by spring as she is improving slowly all the time… In a letter dated 1901, he wrote Minnie is got so she can get around on crutches with help. It makes it much better for her. She does a lot of practicing every day. I do hope she will walk again some time. If I have a good season, I shall buy us a home up this way…
Season after season, Clarence worked his dangerous trade. He was to makeover 4700 balloon ascensions during his career. His act included everything from being blown out of a cannon while high in the air from a balloon. He would do a trapeze act while dangling from the bottom of the balloon, and of course, without the use of a safety net or parachute. He would dangle from the balloon by holding on with just his teeth, and many other acts of daring-do that he could dream up. It was challenging work, and accidents were a constant companion. I found many newspaper accounts of his accidents and unbelievable escapes from death. Below is just one of the many I found.
In an interview with Clarence, I read that he stated that he worked so hard because he needed the money to take care of Minnie. He said that in one week, he could make $500. However, in 1921 Minnie died. Clarence was to say over twenty years later that he still can’t get over the loss. Clarence never remarried.
From what I could find, there was no slowdown in his work schedule after Minnie’s death. Clearly, this was a man who enjoyed his work and the high risk that came with it. Clarence was to spend his last few years in what could be called forced retirement as he struggled against the march of time. He wanted to make the 5000 mark in balloon ascensions, and each year he told himself that he would be physically able to perform again. On March 28, 1948, his old adversary death, who he had evaded with each of his thousands of performances, finally caught up with him, when he had both feet firmly on the ground.
I found Professor Bonnette a fascinating man and certainly one of the more colorful people in my family tree. As I said earlier, I am indebted to Mary Patterson for furnishing me with so much rich material about his life. I have only scratched the surface of his life story in this little blog posting. I found out that he made and flew the first plane in Vermont and made his own balloons and parachutes. I could not even get into the story about the sabotage of his balloon in an attempt to murder him and the arrest of a family member for this crime. Mary told me she was thinking about writing a small book about her great uncle but has not gotten around to it yet. I hope she does as I would be one of the first to purchase a copy from her.
I have been working on old photographs for some time now. I have a great collection that was given to me on a flash drive from my wife’s cousin Carl Gonya. As I was working on these and having them printed, I discovered the above photograph. It is remarkable in several ways. In one way, it is remarkable is that my wife’s Great -Great Grandmother Celinda Hall Craft is holding her Great Grandmother Emma Craft Monty. The other thing that makes this an exceptional picture is that it was taken sometime in 1867, just two years before Celinda’s death due to Consumption.
Celinda grew up in a large family, at least by today’s standards, where she was one of at least seven children born to Simeon and Betsey Cochran Hall. Celinda was to live all of her life in Isle La Motte, Grand Isle, Vermont. Celinda was married to Stephen Craft on April 16, 1864. This was Celinda’s first marriage and Thomas’s second as his first marriage ended in divorce. On June 15, 1866, they became the proud parents of Emma Linda Craft. Emma would be the only child that they would have that would survive infancy. Pregnancy had to be very difficult for Celinda as she was suffering from Consumption or as we know it today by the name Tuberculosis.
When Celinda was alive, Tuberculosis was not understood. The cause was not to be discovered until 1882. In an article that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1869, one theory was that soil that was damp most of the time caused Tuberculosis. People were encouraged to only live in sunlit houses on dry soil. Also, many believed it was something in the air. However, it was not thought to be contagious, so no precautions were taken when a person was suffering from Tuberculosis. Most likely, Celinda caught this disease from her father, Simeon Hall, who died of Tuberculosis at the age of 60 in 1858.
In 1869 Celinda was pregnant and suffering from Tuberculosis. On August 8, 1869, she delivered a baby girl who was named Elizabeth (Lizzy). Lizzy was to die on August 19, 1869, having spent only eleven days in this world. No doubt weakened by her pregnancy, Celinda succumbed to Tuberculosis on August 23, 1869, just four days after her newborn baby. Celinda’s husband was to remarry in 1873, but Emma was to remain his only living child.
Little else is known about Celinda. This is due in part to the more than 150 years that divides us from when she was alive. Also, as many of you know, researching female relatives that live a century or more ago is difficult to get much information about, and her short life hinders research. The positive part of Celinda’s story is how her life and sacrifices have echoed through time. I have 32 direct descendants listed in my family tree (I am sure there are more) that have walked or are walking on this earth because of her. She has brought to this world farmers, teachers, nurses, law enforcement, soldiers, town justices, social workers, and much more. This is not a bad accomplishment for someone who was very ill and lived only 28 years.
We all have these pictures in our families. You have to power to add a little color to them by telling their story. If you do not, who will?
Karen Harrison first contacted me in August of 2015. Karen had a mystery she was trying to solve, and since her husband and my wife had a DNA match, she thought I might be of some help. In short, I was of no help. But let me back up a little and give you some detail on what Karen was searching for. It might just be you will have the key or that helpful suggestion she needs to open the door that is between her and the information she is after. Karen’s husband, Paul, and my wife Sandy share a common ancestor Francis (Francois) and Marie J Bergevin Monty. Marie, my wife’s 4th great grandmother, was to give birth to 16 children, most of whom lived well into adulthood between 1763 and 1782. To say there are many Monty descendants today would be an understatement. My wife’s line is through Francis and Marie’s son Joseph born in 1768, and Karen’s husband Paul is through the family line of John born 1774. It seems John’s son Lewis married Harriet (Sears?, Leware?, Lewave?, Wood?) whose last name is a mystery. We are reasonably certain that Harriet came from the Canadian province of Quebec when she married Lewis in 1838 in Clinton County, New York. The 1900 U.S. Census states her father was born in Germany and her mother in Canada, and that she came to the U.S. in 1830. I will not go into the list of records checked and research done by Karen, but it was exhaustive. I, however, had no new information I could give her. Below is the obituary for Lewis Monty Harriet’s husband, which shows her maiden name as Lewave.
After we exchanged emails in 2015, I did not hear from her until earlier this year. She had acquired a photograph album, which she believes to be possibly of the Lewis Monty family line. It has 33 photographs, of which only one was identified. Let me break from this story here to remind everyone to get their pictures identified and save future generations the task of trying to figure out who is who. She was trying to put names to these pictures, which are shown at the beginning of this blog post. She wondered if I could identify any of the people. I could not be of help but sent an email with an attachment of the photographs to my wife’s cousin Carl Gonya who has an extensive collection of Monty photographs. Unfortunately, neither of us could be of any help. Below you will again find these photographs broken up so you can have a closer look.
The one photograph that was identified is Lillis Monty, born 1854 in Clinton County, New York, to Lewis and Harriet Monty. She was to marry Samuel Parker Hayward in Massachusetts and eventually make their way to Bellingham, Washington, where Lillis died in 1936. I realize some of you know the frustration of having an album with just one or two photographs identified and the rest just one big question mark. I hope this blog post helps Karen if even a little in that regard.
One quick note on the marriage record below for Lillis and Samuel shows Lillis’s mother Harriet’s maiden name as Sears. Lewis and Harriet had 12 children. That would give anyone enough aunts, uncles, and cousins to research. Perhaps one or more of them will have those very same pictures or the proof of what was Harriet’s real maiden name.
As I was getting this ready to write up for my blog, I found in the records a Mrs. Freeman Bury. Mrs. Bury turns out to be the youngest child of Lewis and Harriet and, of course, Lillis’s sister. She was born Marie E Monty in 1866, Plattsburgh, New York. I did find her marriage record in Michigan, but the mothers’ maiden names were not asked for. As you can see from her obituary below that at the time of her death in 1946, she had one daughter, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Perhaps one of those families has some of the answers.
Finally, below is part of a letter from Karen outlining her research and some of her problems.
The Missing Parents of Harriet LeWave Monty
Harriet LeWave was born in Lacolle, Quebec, on October 27, 1819, per online trees.
On various census records, when she gives her age and place of birth, it does align with this information, but I have not been able to find a baptism record in the Quebec records. I have her immigration date as 1830 at age 11, as she stated this in the 1910 census. The next important date is her marriage of December 26, 1838, to Lewis Monty, who was the son of Jean/John Monty, the son of Lt Francois Monty.
There is no documentation of the marriage in Clinton County records. I personally went to NARA and pulled her Civil War pension file, and Harriet attests to the fact she was married on that date and was never given a certificate of marriage. She also says her maiden name is Harriet LeWave!
Lewis and Harriet migrated to Berrien County, Michigan, after the Civil War (Lewis served in the 118th N.Y. Infantry).
Lewis died there in 1910, and Harriet passed December 27, 1914. Her death certificate also gives her maiden name as Seels, but I think the son in law informant meant Sears. He gave the wrong place of birth (N.Y.) also, so typical wrong information on a death certificate by an informant who is guessing.
1. The surname of LeWave: There is absolutely no such name in any
Quebec French record of a name like LeWave. In the 1800’s many people were illiterate and did not know how to spell. Based on the pronunciation of LeWave in French, searches were made under Lavoie (used first name possibilities also like Marie Henriette).
Then I looked under Sears/Cyrs because that name appeared in the marriage and death records of some of her children, the DAR records, and a county history. I also looked under dit names like Cyrs dit Lavoie or the reverse like Lavoie dit Cyrs/Sears. Harriet reports on census records her parents were both born in Canada also.
2. Census records: there should be a census records for 1830 prior to her marriage in our U.S. records, and I can’t find one. They may have migrated after the census was taken that year, so maybe that is easily explained. However, I would think there would be a census record with other siblings still at home for the 1840 census. Maybe she had no siblings, or she was the youngest child? I can’t find any parent candidates in Chazy area where the Monty family lived, and I have looked a bit further into Vermont and Maine even as I don’t know where she was living between 1830 and 1838. Many boys from Chazy and adjacent areas married gals from the neighboring states.
3. DNA: since she is the great-great-grandmother, she would only share 6.25 %, so that is getting more difficult to find matches to determine her parents probably. It is not impossible, but no definitive matches so far have contributed any good clues.
4. Legal documents like land deeds and wills have proven to be very difficult to obtain without knowing the actual names of her parents or location.
5. Burial and obituary: the obituary did not give any clues on her parents and no mention of any siblings.
She is buried in Berrien County, Mi with Lewis and no other older relatives in that cemetery plot/area are likely candidates.
There was never any indication anyone else migrated with them except Lewis’ brother Hiram Monty.
If anyone has suggestions, please comment below. I am sure Karen will be reading and hoping for a breakthrough.
Where does the time go? I know I purchased this book a few months after it came out. The copyright date says 2016, and here we are in 2020, and I have finally read the book. PacificStreet is an excellent read and well worth your time. The author Amy Cohen writes about the early life of her grandparents Gussie Brotman and Isadore Goldschlager, leading up to their marriage. While written as a novel, many of the events are true, and many of the people encountered in the book are real. To say the book is a result of a great deal of research would be an understatement. While written as a novel, the author let her grandparents take on that human quality that better served the telling of their story.
Amy opened her book with an actual event in Isadore’s home town of Iasi, Romania, in 1899. What exactly happens to Isadore during this event most likely will never be fully known and or understood how this affected him. In the year 1899, a Pogrom, which in simple terms means violence against a particular group of people for the most part Jewish, took place. Perhaps a little context may help. In 1866 Romania Jews were declared to be stateless, and only Christians can be citizens. After widespread Jewish support of the army in the 1877 war of independence, it was decided that Jews could become citizens but only on a case by case review of their merits. By the time of the Pogrom in 1899, Jews are almost five percent of the population. In 1898 students at the university in Isai started a hate campaign against the Jewish people. They started preaching hatred of the Jews and strongly encouraging a boycott against them economically. Speakers were openly calling for the extermination of the Jews and the destruction of their institutions. This all came to a boiling point in 1899 when the riot broke out. Jewish stores were destroyed as well as many private homes. Beatings and looting were to continue throughout the night in which several synagogues were destroyed. In some sections of the town, there were pitch battles between the Jews and rioters. Peace was not restored until the government brought in the army.
While the Pogrom is only briefly mentioned in the book, the story moves along with the telling of Gussie’s story in America. Gussie was very proud to be the first generation born in America. Her life was one of hard work from an early age. She was to take on many adult responsibilities while still being a child herself. While reading her story, I wondered if I could have done as much and as well as she did. Gussie’s story gives you a peek of the hardships many low-income families faced in the early part of the twentieth century. At about age thirteen, Gussie moved out of her mother’s house and moved in with her married sister to help with the children while her sister and brother-law worked in their little grocery store. This was to prove a significant turning point in her life.
Isadore was to immigrate from Iasi, Romania, in 1904. Amy brings us into the experience of the voyage and the arrival of Isadore to America. You could feel that you were experiencing the journey and especially the landing on Ellis Island. Through Isadore, you felt the excitement and the apprehension as the methodical process to enter America slowly unwinds. Amy was able to put you into the same place with Isadore and, by doing so, allowed you to have a greater understanding of what millions of people felt as they entered our country for the first time. Isadore was to find that life once here would be hard and very tasking even after making it into the country
What Amy has written in reality, is a love story. But it is much more than the love story between a man and a woman but of family and country. It is a love that had to withstand war, the Great Depression, and many personal hardships. Isadore was to find employment in the dairy field, never having an easy time with finances. Amy stops the book with the marriage of her grandparents. But I sense their story contains so much more. How did Isadore and Gussie raise their family on lower-paying jobs in such a way that each succeeding generation built on the foundation of the last for a better life? Perhaps Amy is busy writing her second book to answer these questions, much better than her one-page Epilogue.
The book consists of short chapters that make the reading of this story easy and moves the narrative right along. I liked the back and forth between Gussie’s story and Isadore’s story. By writing the book this way, it is easier for the reader to better understand the main characters and place them in their proper context. This book would make a great summer read, and perhaps after reading it, you may want to explore your own family history.
The one thing I can say about the current state of shelter in place is that unfinished projects seem to be all around and calling out to be completed. In that vein, I have been working on family photographs and getting them organized, so in the future, there can be no doubt about who, what, where, and when a particular photograph represents. It is a large task, and unfortunately, in the case of many of my family photographs, not all those questions will be answered. However, that does not mean that we should not try.
The picture shown above is of my mother and father. I had not looked at this picture for a long time, but how the memory did rush back. I recalled things I did not know I even remembered. The picture was taken in the Spring of 1965. I had been taking pictures around our home, and my parents had come out to the front porch. I had just returned from the corner store (remember those?) with a nice cold bottle of Pepsi to enjoy. In just over a year from this picture, my father would die, and my mother would not smile for many years. Life is funny in that a photo taken on the spur of the moment can bring so many feelings front and center even 55 years later.
Time it was,
And what a time it was,
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago…it must be…
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories,
They’re all that’s left to you.
Bookends Theme Simon & Garfunkel (1968)
If not you, then who? The time is now to get your family story organized so future generations will at least have the opportunity to learn about their family’s past and perhaps come to a better understanding of other family members and possibly even themselves. Just start and don’t worry about the perfect way to do it. Just get started and do the best you can.
I have just finished the book No Surrender by Chris Edmonds and Douglas Century. The book is about Chris Edmonds quest to learn about his father’s Roddie Edmonds World War Two experiences. While he knew the broad-brush story, the real story with complete details was a hidden and almost lost story. It is a story that could have been lost forever, if not for a school project his daughter was assigned. She was to make an oral history of a family member about a notable experience in their life. She was to pick her deceased Grandfather, Roddie Edmonds. In his efforts to help his daughter with the oral history project, he came to realize how little he knew about his dad. Confessing to his wife about his lack of knowledge, he said, “I feel like I’m letting Lauren-and her sisters-down. I should know more, but I just don’t, and I can’t even tell you why I don’t. Had I not cared enough to ask him? I hardly know anything about Dad’s childhood during the Depression or what he was like in high school. Or even his military service. It was like Dad lived an entire lifetime before I was born.”
Chris started to discover his father’s story and learned that his father had faced an angry Nazi POW camp commandant who had held a pistol pressed to his forehead. He also was to learn much more about his family, that he never knew. All of this information was just one generation, and in reality, only a few short years from being lost forever. The steps and methods used by Chris to research his father’s story are what genealogists use every day in their research. I was struck how, in many ways, this captivating story was almost a textbook on how to do field research on our family history. Also, it is a good insight into how he put his father’s story together and put real flesh and blood on the few bare-bone facts that he had at the start of his journey.
I highly recommend this book. It is one of the best reads I have had in a while. It is a story of human strength and endurance in the face of evil in its worst manifestation. It is, at the same time, a story of love, faith, and family. It is well worth your time to read this book, and when you do, you will soon be lost in the story.
As family historians, we all should be digging for our own family story. While the story we find may not be as grand as the one in “No Surrender,” I am willing to bet many could come close and may even surpass it in many ways. Some of your stories could be just under the surface just waiting to be discovered, just like Roddie Edmonds’s story, while other stories are buried deeply and could take great effort to find and bring to life. But finding these stories and researching the details, and then writing about them is what we should be doing. Anything less on our part is not doing a complete job. So, dig deeper, ask more questions, learn the history of the events you uncover. Be prepared to find stories and new information that may both delight and shock you. Whatever the outcome, shine a light on it and tell the story.
In her book, The Secret Life of Objects, author Dawn Raffel shows how seemingly everyday objects found in people’s homes hold stories about family history. It is pointed out in the book that the stories these objects hold must be told and recorded; otherwise, they will be lost all too soon with the passing of time. In many of our homes, the objects that have some of the oldest and most tender stories can center around special occasions and holidays. Perhaps no holiday can pack more of these emotions and stories than Christmas. Each year countless millions of homes unpack these objects so full of memories and set them in places of honor where they will decorate our home and warm our hearts. Then when Christmas has come and gone, they will be taken down and repacked and stored in their keeping place until they are brought out once more to bring back our cherished remembrances.
In our nearly fifty years of marriage, my wife and I have managed to make a few memories around Christmas and to preserve a few from our childhood. It was among our first Christmases that we put together a nativity scene. In the first few years, they were very small, cheap, and disposable, as they did not hold up very well. The one pictured above we have had now for about forty years and has been on display in our many homes for most of our Christmases. The village pictured below has been a very long prosses to obtain. It has many parts from a park, churches, one Catholic, and one we believe is Methodist. This is for the two main religions in our family, but trust me, we have more. We have shops and places of businesses that mirror our family’s interests and areas of work. You can see a little bit of our family history by looking over our village. The village has grown over the years, and our personal dwelling has gotten smaller, so it is rare when the whole town is on display.
We also have a few Santa’s that make it out of the boxes each year. Pictured below is a ceramic Santa that my wife made sometime in the 1970s.
However, we have a much older Santa that is also pictured below. I do not remember a Christmas without this Santa. It is made out of plastic, and as you can see from his damaged foot and the bandaged hand, he has served long and well. He used to be in the thick of the action right under the tree, but he is now retired to a much safer and quieter place. In the second photograph below taken in 1954, you can see him on the floor in the lower left-hand part of the picture.
When my wife and I had to close up her parents’ home, one of the few things we kept for ourselves besides pictures were the ornaments that were used on her Christmas trees when she was growing up. A few were all that we managed to save. One of them is pictured below.
My wife, over the years, has made each member of the family their very own Christmas Stocking. The front part is pieced and quilted with a solid fabric for the back. These stockings are very sturdy, with many over twenty years old. Pictured below is the newest stocking, which was made this year for our great-grandson, the newest member of the family.
Also pictured below is one of the many quilts my wife has made over the years. This Christmas quilt was pieced together to look like an old fashion tree ornament with the light being reflected off it.
Many things of value and family history cannot be packed and unpacked from a box. That will be a blog for perhaps next year. However, two I would like to share at this time. Below is pictured the inside of St. John The Baptist Church, in Plattsburgh, New York. I cannot begin to tell you what an oasis the Christmas Midnight Mass was for me during my mid to late teens. In those years, this was my Christmas.
But as everyone knows who truly understands genealogy and family history, it is the people that count. All those that have come before us and those with us now and those to come is what this is about. This year when you gather tell some stories, write them down and take a few pictures of your objects and write their story’s down. So, when you pack things away, you will also pack away for safekeeping a part of your family’s story. So that long after we are gone, our story and those of others that we have preserved will still be with the family. Then the laughter we share at Christmas and other family events will echo for generations.