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Some of My Paternal Family Mysteries Solved, But Not All

18 Jul

For more years than I care to share, I have been searching for answers to my paternal grandfather’s many family mysteries.  My grandfather did not want to talk about his family.  My grandmother, his wife, was the one who told me the little bit she knew, with a caveat,
“when you marry, check out the family, because you marry them as well.”   ( See links to blogs below.)

Before I go into details, I have to thank Evan Wolfson, my, I think, fourth cousin on my father’s side, for his help!! He had sent me a copy of my great grandparent’s marriage license and said he was doing research at the Family History Center run by the Mormon Church.  On a serious whim, I asked if he could help with my mystery. Over two days he sent me record after record.  I am forever grateful for his help in working on my mystery!!!

What we all thought we knew and what I know now:

Grandpa Harry was born in 1888 or 1889.  No he was not.  He was actually born in April 20, 1890, in New York.   I know this from his registration papers for the military in 1914, where he claimed he was, (and I wrote from what he wrote) “the mostly supporter of my father and mother.”  He was an operator and cutter in his own business, as a pants maker, at 90 Attorney Street in New York.

By the way, his brother Jacob also filled out his registration card for military service then.  But since he was employed as a stenographer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he did not go, as he was working in ‘home support.’

Grandpa was the oldest of six children.   No he was not.  He had an older brother, Samuel, who was born in Russia and came to the USA as an toddler.   He also had an older sister, Celia, who was born in the USA, but died when she was about 24 years old of pneumonia and pulmonary edema.  She worked making shirt waists and was single when she died.  She is buried in Montiefiore Cemetery in New York.  We will have to find her one day.

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Standing: Great Uncle Lenny, Great Aunt Hady, Grandpa Harry, Grandma Esther. Seating are my great grandmother and great aunt from my Grandma’s side.

He was the oldest of the other children.  Grandpa Harry, born 1890; Jacob, born about two years later; Bertha, five years younger, and never married; Edith (Yetta), born 1898 and also never married; Hatti/Hady who was born in 1901 and married to Lenny Greenberg; and finally, Minnie/Miriam/Muriel, who married and had two children.

The other item I now know is that his mother gave birth to 12 children, of which 8 survived.  There is a child who was born in 1904 named Rosie.  But no other listings of her.

The story we all heard was that when Grandpa was in his early teens, his father abandoned the family and went to Seattle. And Grandpa then became the provider for the family, and also traveled to Seattle to find his father.   Probably, maybe for a while, then went back?  Not quite sure.  Here’s what I know.  Grandpa did go to Seattle, we have the photos and the story.  But it was not that early.   Did he find his father?  I am not sure.  Did his father come back for a bit?  Well he was in New York at least till 1915, so who knows what was happening. Perhaps he became ill as he was no longer working then.

I did go to Seattle and did research at the library.  I did find a Abraham Rosenberg there in 1906 who was a tailor, but I could not find the same man again.   I also now know that my great grandparents were still having children in 1901 and 1903.  Hattie was born in 1901 and Minnie/Muriel was born about 1903. And the child born in 1904.

I also know that when my grandfather registered for the military in 1914, he listed the sole support of his mother and father and siblings as the reason he could not serve.  I had heard for years that my grandfather supported all his siblings, many of whom went to college on his dime, while he was just a tailor.

I know they were living together at least until 1915 because they are on a census together.  But by 1920 Sarah is the head of her household, and Abraham is gone.   I wonder if he had gone to Seattle in 1905 after his last child was born, but then came back after my grandfather found him.  Grandpa would have been 16 in 1906. So that is possible.  Then after they got divorced, he left again?  I am only thinking this, I have no proof.  The only fact I know for sure, is that my father always said the only time he met his grandfather we when he showed up the day of his bar mitzvah in September 1941.   He had vague memories of his grandmother. But then she died when he was 8.

My other mystery was knowing nothing about my great grandmother Sarah.  Well I now know her maiden name was Ritt/Writt.  I first saw this last name on my grandparents’ marriage license.  They married on February 25, 1922. Grandpa was 30 and Grandma was 23.

But her certificate of death gave much more.  Her parents were Hirsh Ritt, who was born in Poland and Flora, also from Poland.  Hirsh makes sense as that is my grandfather’s Yiddish name.   Flora is unusual. It also states that Sarah was born in France, which was the first time for that announcement.  In other places she is listed as was born in Russia or Germany.  Still the woman of mystery.

When she died at age 68, on January 28, 1936, she was divorced and suffered from carcinoma of the pancreas.  She was only sick for one month and seven days and died at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn on 555 Prospect Place.

My Grandfather was the one who provided the information about his mother.

Thus some mysteries are solved.  And others now stand out.  What do the divorce papers say?  I still cannot find those.  What happened to Samuel?  And Muriel?    And where and when did Abraham go to Seattle or did him?  And where did he live after he and Sarah got divorced?  I had heard he was with another woman?

I knew Hady/Hattie and her husband, Lenny (see blog below.). Edith and Bertha, I never met, but I knew of them as the two maiden sisters. They went to college, but never married. However they gave my uncle the middle name, Prim; and my aunt the middle name, Gwendolyn.

As for Jacob. That will be another blog. Previously, I had found some information about him, and my cousin Evan was able to find a bit more during his research.

Once again, thank you Evan for helping me with my mystery! And a thanksto Tracing the Tribe Group, where I first encountered my cousin.

 

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2015/06/14/the-sad-scandal-that-forever-scarred-my-grandpa-harry/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/10/25/the-missing-link-in-my-family-history-or-my-biggest-genealogy-block/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/11/16/epiphany-excitement-discovery-disappointment-hope/

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2015/02/18/the-littlest-gambler-learning-about-horse-races-in-the-catskills/

 

My Military Mystery (In honor of Memorial Day)

27 May

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Pine Camp, Jefferson County, NY, July 1924, presents me with a major mystery.  I have two photos that were taken there and are clearly marked:  Pine Camp, Jefferson C. N.Y. July 1924.  They are part of the many unknown photos in my Grandmother’s album that we found hidden in the attic of her home, 35 years after she passed away.  (See blog link below.)

The handwriting is not my grandmother’s handwriting.  But I think it was her cousin’s Katie’s handwriting, because in many of the photos Grandma and her first cousin are together.  Additionally my Grandmother lived with her Aunt’s Family from 1922 until 1925 when she married my grandfather.  Grandma and Katie became life-long friends, besides cousins..

I have to think that maybe they were visiting one of Katie’s brothers, she had three.  Or perhaps one of four brothers who Katie’s mother helped raise, and later Katie married into that family.  But I also have to assume that they knew someone who was there, and who sent them this photo.   I cannot imagine that they were allowed to visit them while they were on maneuvers.

Pine Camp was a military site.  The New York National Guard trained there in the summer time during the early 1900s.   Eventually, during the Second World War, Pine Camp was enlarged and became the training grounds for three divisions of General George S. Patton’s 4th Armored Division.  But that happened much latter.  It served as a prisoner of war camp and eventually was renamed Camp Drum in 1951.

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So who is the person they knew in this picture of six young men? And who is that commanding officer?  I have no idea.  But perhaps someone can help me solve my military mystery?

Great news! A distant cousin who I connected with several years ago, thanks to help from Tracing the Tribe members, said that one of the men is her great uncle who was Katie’s first husband!!! Thank you!!

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/08/19/old-photographs-bring-memories-to-life/

New York State Military Museum:  https://dmna.ny.gov/forts/fortsM_P/pineCamp.htm

My Grandmother’s Mysterious Black Notebook

13 May
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The black notebook.

I have a book.  It is small.  About eight inches by nine inches.  It has a black cover.  Inside are 33 lined pages, so total of 66 pages that can be written on.

It seems to be a diary.  Most of the pages, about 40, have entries that are dated in 1921.  So my book is almost 100 years old.  Two of the names I recognize.  My grandmother and her first cousin, Abraham, who perished in the Shoah.  The other names I am not sure about.  But these entries, even though they have different names, seem to be written by the same person.  My grandmother perhaps?  Or are they really two separate handwriting.  Now that I look at this page below, it seems as if two different people wrote. But many of the pages have the same writing and not changes like this one.

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Entries from March 1921 with my grandmother Tala Szenk and her cousin Abram Prentki’s names.

Some of the entries look like they could be poems.   Did they write these poems, or did they just copy them from some book?  It does show how my grandmother was educated in Poland.  Her father was a teacher. Grandma could read, write and speak in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish.  After she came to America, she went to night school to learn English.

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See Lipka, her relatives she stayed with when she arrived in America.

In the middle of the book are names and addresses in English.  Names of people living in New York and New Jersey.  Hidden, I think, in the middle of the book.  Her escape plan?   My grandmother came to the United States when she was 16 in 1922.  I see the last name of the aunt and uncle who allowed her to live with them in the United States.  They must have sponsored her as well.  The name is Lipka.

It is all written in Polish.  But I can understand the names, because I recognize them.  And the name of my grandmother and her cousin jump out at me.  Especially since I have written about this cousin and not knowing who he was at first.  And then here he is embedded with her in this book.

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Who wrote these pages?

After the journal entries, if that is what they are, comes some blank pages, and then six pages written in a different handwriting.  It looks like a poem.  But I am not sure.  I am not sure what any of it is.

The last four pages are in Yiddish. Those I have had translated.  We think it is a story, perhaps not true, perhaps yes.   About a girl who meets non-Jewish man and how it ends in sadness.  The beginning reminds of the story of Tveye and his daughter Chava.  But this story does not end happily.  Did she read a book and decided to write that story?  I don’t know. I don’t know if she is writing about someone she knew or making up a story.   Perhaps the other entries would give me information. Perhaps.

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Why did she save this receipt as well?

Inside the book is a receipt for registered mail sent on November 16, 1922.  Did she send something back to her father and her siblings after she arrived in America?  I wish I knew.

My grandmother passed away 38 years ago.  I wish I had seen this book when she was alive so I could ask her what all this is!  We found it long after she died and my parents died.  It was hidden in the bottom of a box in the attic of their Catskills home.  Not thrown away, but saved for me to one day find.

This book is a mystery to me.  I need someone who reads Polish and can translate this book for me.  I love a mystery, but even more, I love the solution to a mystery!

 

Two blogs about Abraham Prentki:

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/04/the-mystery-of-abraham-prantki/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/26/amazing-what-information-two-photos-can-provide/

Adventures in Mathematics at the National Mathematics Museum

29 Apr

After a losing hope about the state of mathematics in the world, I was delighted to learn about and visit the National Mathematics Museum (MoMath)in New York City. Located at 11 East 26 Street, it opened to the community in December 2015. It is worth the trip!

From the Pi symbol door handles to the hologram engraved art work, each inch of this museum is filled with interesting sites and many interactive activities! I loved riding a bicycle with square wheels. It was a little hard on the rear! But fun.

We three adults were having as much fun as the children. There are two floors of activities that parents and children can work on together. Some are math and logic problems to solve. Others are just fun activities like watching your arms branch out into fractals in a living tree exhibit.

I wish I can tell you my favorite activity, but I cannot since so much of it was great fun.

There is also a room where temporary exhibits are housed. When we were there it was unbelievable math art that has to be made through 3-D printers. And fantastic origami art.

The gift shop is packed with educational games and activities to buy. More important this museum is open every day except for Thanksgiving! Need something to do with your children school age and older, go here! There are events and activities listed on its website which I put below.

It is an easy walk to Madison Garden Park where you can sit for a bit and people watch, take great photos of the flatiron building and buy lunch or a snack.

Being there gave me hope. There are parents and children and grandparents interested math and learning. I did not see one frown while there, I just saw adults and children intrigued by what they were seeing and learning while having an adventure at the MoMath!

Www.momath.org

The Day My Brother Save My Life, And Other Stories About the Best Brother Ever

29 Nov

Today my brother turns 65.  I find that a bit shocking as we are just 14 months apart, and where he leads I follow.  I cannot believe we are nearing the end of our working careers.  He tells us he is retiring in December 2019.  But I am glad that we are aging together with friendship and love.

I had not intended to write a blog about my brother.  He is a somewhat private person, so I will not put in a photo and I will not give him a name here.  But I am going to tell some of my favorite memories.

First important memory.   We are about 8 and 9 years old.  It was a Sunday and we had just completed a visit to my grandparents in New York City.  With three of us, only two could get window seats.  And it was my younger sister and my turn to have the window seats.  My brother was in the middle.

It was a time before seat belts, so as the car moved, we moved.  Sometimes if we bumped into each other, we would scream out, “He touched me!  She touched me! Don’t touch me!”  Car rides were not always fun!

On this day, when we got into the car, the driver’s side passenger door would not close properly, but my Dad forced it closed and locked it.  Or so he thought.  And he took off driving back to our home in North Bergen, New Jersey, across the river.

I remember it in slow motion.  As he went around a big curve going onto the highway to the George Washington Bridge, that door, right where I was sitting and leaning up against, flew open.  I started sliding out of the car with the force of the movement.

I heard my brother yell.  I felt his hand grab my hand and pull me toward the center of the car. There was no teasing, not pushing, just a warm grabbing arm pulling me up against him as my dad pulled to the slide and stopped the car.  It was a scary moment.  But I was fine. Dad got the door closed properly this time. And we went home.

I always think of it as the time my brother saved my life.

Do not think it was always like that. Being just 14 months apart, we had our moments of fighting and our moments of companionship.

We often united in either protecting our much younger sister or wanting to rid the world of her.

But as we grew up, we grew together in our parents’ words, “Brothers and sisters stick together.”  (See blog below.)

Over the years, as we faced the deaths of our parents and other close family members, my brother has been the rock.   He continues to call us “Sisters” whenever he has something to say.

Like, “Sisters, sisters, let’s calm down.”  I think it is his own way to remind himself that we are his sisters and we must stick together.

But it is my brother who would pick me up at the airport many times I came in to see my parents in their last illnesses.  It was my brother who called to tell me my Dad had passed away.  It was my brother and I who cleaned out their apartment together, sorting through the things to keep, throw out and give away.  His strength made it doable.

It was my brother who dropped everything to be with my sister when her husband became deathly ill. Getting there as soon as he could, while I made plans to fly in with my nephew from Kansas. It was my brother who taught my niece how to drive after her own father died so young.

My brother’s adult calmness is so opposite his younger self.  However, his kindness was always there.  It was my brother next to me in a movie theater when a strange man sat next to me.  And it was my brother who got me away.  (See blog below.)

It was my brother who said to his friends, “Do not bother my sister.  Only I can do that.”  It did protect me a bit from his teenaged buddies.  But we still could drive each other crazy.

Of course, my sister and I love him in return.  We know that it is our brother who keeps the peace between us when we have a bit too much time together.  His laughing questions, “Are you two still speaking to each other?”  “Did you kill each other yet?” After I spend a week with my sister, are always answered truthfully.  Thankfully we are both still alive.  We give him the run down, only one or two fights so far. But we are okay.

I have seen many siblings stop speaking to each other after their parent’s passing. Not in our family.  We have affection and fun together.  And we have my brother’s words:
“There is no item worth fighting over, they are only things.”

And he is right.  He is the Best Brother Ever.  And he did save my life.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/01/19/brothers-and-sisters-must-stick-together/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/10/10/hidden-memories-they-do-exist/

 

Mass Transit: A Traveler’s Delight

22 Nov

Kansas City metro only has one really good accessible mass transit for tourists: the KC Street Car, a free light rail that circles 2.2 miles downtown, featuring Crown Center and the City Market.  Yes, Kansas City does have a bus system, but living in Johnson County, on the Kansas side, I recently realized how cut off we can be without a car.  Our daughter’s brother-in-law was traveling through the USA and wanted to use mass transit whenever possible.  My husband took him to work one day and dropped him off at the Street Car. That gave him an entire day of adventure.

However, it was the start of the Labor Day Weekend.  On Sunday he wanted to take the bus downtown to experience the Irish Festival.  We told him it was impossible. He said,
“No there is a bus a mile away.  I can walk there and take it.  We laughed. My husband showed him on the website that yes there was a bus to downtown, but it would not be running again until Tuesday.  No way to get to the Irish Festival.  (Don’t worry, we arranged for friends to take him.)

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Ferry from NJ to NYC.

It started me thinking about my experience with mass transit.  To begin with, I grew up in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.  I spent many hours on busses, trains, subways and taxis.  It was a part of life if you wanted to go anywhere.  Many people who live in New York City do not even own a car.  Of course my mass transit of choice going from New Jersey to NYC is always the ferry!

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Mass Transit tickets

Since moving to the Midwest, I have experienced exciting weekends in Chicago, Illinois, using the mass transit system.  Chicago, like NYC, is another mass transit haven.   Using the Chicago subways is a no brainer.  Going from the airport into the city is so much faster, cheaper and easier than taking a taxi. And getting around to the different areas makes sense on the subways.

In major cities, I try to use the subways to avoid traffic. In Philadelphia we used the Philadelphia Transit Vehicles (PTV), and in Washington DC, using the METRO Transit System is a must to beat the traffic.  I will always remember the very long escalators down into the system when we traveled from a relative’s home in Maryland to downtown DC. Boston also has a mass transit system, the MBTA, that helps college students and travelers get around

I realized that my husband and I use Mass Transit whenever we can.  In Atlanta, the MARTA took us to and from the airport to the downtown hotels.  In California: we adore the Cable Cars in San Francisco. While staying in San Jose, we used the light rail to go the Winchester Mystery House in San and the Tech Museum from our hotel.

We used the light rail in Denver, Colorado, to explore the historic area and travel to and from our hotel. In one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, I used the street car with my children to get from our hotel to the French Quarter!

I have even used the mass transit in St. Louis!  Although I drive there all the time to see family, when I went to a graduation at Washington University, I was told parking was not available. I drove to the nearest MetroLink Station and traveled to the ceremony. What a delight to avoid all the traffic.

One of my favorite ‘mass transit’ rides was on the People Mover ride in Tomorrow Land at Disney World, and of course we love the mass transit success of the Monorail in Disney World.  Does that count?  I think so.  I thought of it recently when we were in Seattle.   I had the opportunity to use the one-mile monorail down to the Sky Needle and the Seattle Center, an area developed for the 1962 World’s Fair.

But it wasn’t only the monorail that had our patronage in Seattle, we also used the light rail system of SoundTransit.  The underground area was so clean!  Currently buses run through these tunnels in downtown Seattle, but I was told that would end in January 2019, as the city prepares for the expansion of its light rail.

I have also used mass transit in other countries.  Vienna, Hungary, we took our children on the subway.  I will admit there was one very loud and screechy turn.  We all held our ears.  In Israel, I have changed my allegiance from the busses to the trains. They are great and have free wi-fi.

The most interesting subway of all was in Athens, Greece. When they dug down to build the subway, the workers kept finding antique treasures. Now in the stations are displays of these lovely objects.  You get a history lesson, while waiting for the subway.

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Funicular in Quebec City.

Another favorite is using a funicular to get up and down a hill.  That was great fun in Quebec City, Canada.  I have used them in other places as well, like the Carmelit underground Funicular in Haifa, Israel, and the one at Marvel Cave in Branson, Missouri (this was my first funicular.)  But the one in Quebec City stands out in my mind.  I have seen them in Valparaiso, Chile, but did not actually need to use one.

All my experiences with mass transit makes me wish that my home town would invest a bit more in helping people move around.  I will admit that recently citizens voted to expand the light rail a bit further south to the shopping areas of Westport and the Plaza, as well as the University of Missouri Kansas City campus.  But it still doesn’t help those who live in my area.  But my dream lives on that eventually the entire city will have an operating, useful light rail system.

Grandma’s Crystal Debacle

1 Oct

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Recently I had a women’s event at my home and I decided it would be nice to use some of my nicer, crystal pieces to serve the desserts. So early in the day, I went to my breakfront to remove the items I wanted in order to rinse them off and plan my settings.

I have to admit, whenever I open the door to my glass-shelfed cabinet, I feel a sense of dread.  Will something fall and break?  Will the shelf break?  Will all my crystal pieces — Waterford, Mikasa, Lenox — and other family heirlooms fall to the ground in a giant glass, crystal and ceramic mess?

Sounds a bit bizarre and as if I am over reacting, I know I do.  But I have a strong evidence that this type of disaster can happen in an instant.  It happened in my family.

Many years ago, when I was young and married, but not yet a mother, I received an extremely stressed out phone call from my mother.  It seems my paternal Grandma had decided to clean all her crystal and china in her curio cabinet.  I know that cabinet well.   It had glass doors and shelves, so you could more easily see all lovely pieces. Many piled one on top of the other.

Grandma was in her 80s, I cannot tell you her exact age.  Grandma lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with my grandfather in Co-Op City in the Bronx. I cannot remember if my Grandpa was still alive.  And I don’t know why she decided to clean on her own, without any help, I don’t know. Except I will say she was an extremely independent person. I assume a holiday was coming, so she wanted everything to shine!

No matter the reason, the crux of the story is that after she had cleaned all her pieces and put everything away, the very top glass shelf fell!  It must not have been put back in properly.   Does not matter.  What does matter is as it fell, everything under it was destroyed in an instant.  It was probably one of the most agonizing moments, which she watched in horror. She could do nothing but watch.

Grandma was hysterical.  These family heirlooms that she had purchased over the years, and a few that were her mother’s (my great-grandparents always lived with my grandparents) were destroyed.  They could not be fixed. They were just shards of glass. Grandma was distraught.

I believe my aunt, went over as soon as Grandma called.  But there was nothing to do but to clean up the mess as carefully as possible.

Eventually everyone knew about the great disaster.  When my mom found out, she called me and told me to call Grandma.  That Grandma needed emotional support now!  It was at a time when long distance phone calls cost money.  But Mom told me it had to be now. As soon as we hung up!

I did as ordered. But I did not mind.  I spoke to my Grandma weekly anyway.  I called Grandma.  I acted as if I knew nothing.  That I was just calling to say hello.  Usually we would speak for about 15 or 20 minutes, as I told about what was going on. And she told me about her week and gave me wonderful advice.

That tactic did not last long. As soon as Grandma heard my voice she started to cry.   I heard the entire horrible story.  She had planned to pass her crystal on to her grandchildren. Now there was NOTHING LEFT! NOTHING!  (Grandma’s emphasis.).
“Grandma,” I said.  “We don’t need anything.  It is not like someone died.  You are fine.  It is fine.  We have you.”  I thought that would help.  But it did not.  The crystal items all had memories attached to them.  Each piece had a story that needed to be told.  And memory of loved one to never forget.  But now with the destruction of her crystal was the loss of these memories. These pieces that when held brought back the essence of a person.

I just cried with Grandma. There was really nothing else to do.

Years later, when Grandma died, my parents selected a set of six glass plates for me to have from Grandma.  I have them on the bottom shelf of my breakfront.  I do worry about Where they are placed.  In fact, I worry that my children will have no idea what memories these crystal and ceramic and glass pieces have intertwined in their existence.

I have decided to tell the story of my breakfront and all its many heirlooms.  Then,  even if a crystal debacle occurs in my home, at least the memories attached to the items will not disappear. Their memory, tied up with the memories of loved ones will continue.