Tag Archives: World War II

Serendipity

The author with the late Mary O’Mahony, Dreenauliff, Sneem, Kerry, Ireland, in August 2001.

Inspired by the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, Horace Walpole gave us the word serendipity. The following three tales shine among my past treasures as extraordinary encounters that would have been lost to history had I not been in the right place at the right time.

In the fall of 1983, I drove to West Wareham, Massachusetts on a mission to find my great-grandfather’s grave. As I searched in vain for the stone, an elderly man who lived across the road from the cemetery spied my Vermont license plate and asked for whom I was searching. “Millard Morse, father of Emory,” I said. He retorted, “Who ARE you?” Continue reading Serendipity

An unexpected discovery

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Children and staff at the Chateau de Mehoncourt near Le Mans (detail).

Recently, the New England Historic Genealogical Society participated in “Free Fun Friday,” a yearly summer event sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation for no-cost admission to cultural venues in Massachusetts.  A couple who attended the event at NEHGS on August 19 sat down at the “Archivist for a Day” table that I was manning with co-workers and asked if they could quickly write some notes before their consultation with Research Services. The husband inquired about my department, the Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) at NEHGS, and mentioned that his family was Jewish and that his uncle had actually been a rabbi. Continue reading An unexpected discovery

Friendly rivalries

Don and Rosser and query 7 September 1944
“Boy, did they ever embarrass me right after that [picture] was taken. That’s Don and Rosser doing the honors.” (7 September 1944)
My photography collection recently took a decided step into new territory when I started acquiring vernacular photographs – images characterized, generally, by their lack of provenance and offering limited opportunities for identifying the subject. When I bought one large lot, though, I was surprised and pleased to find quite a lot of information on the reverse of the prints, enough that I am hopeful more can be learned about the people shown.

For starters, the (presumably female) scribe who wrote neatly on most of the prints dated them precisely: most are from 3 September 1944, with one or two from four days later. The focus of her interest is clear: Wayne Ehler, whose gymnastic endeavors she much admires. Two photos are marked in another hand, and perhaps this one is male, since he subtly denigrates Wayne and boasts of his own comparable accomplishments (not shown). Continue reading Friendly rivalries

A Bronx tale

Young boys playing stickball in vacant lot next to apt. bldg.
Boys playing stick ball. Photo courtesy of formerdays.com

My maternal grandparents were born in 1932: they were just nine years old at the beginning of World War II. They grew up blocks from each other in the Bronx: Nana in The Alley, and Papa on the other side of the tracks (literally; train tracks separated their neighborhoods) on Elton Avenue. When I come to visit, they often talk about their childhood – and I always listen. And while I am a wonderful and attentive listener, I am terrible at recording our conversations. My most recent visit, however, I was determined to conduct a proper interview. Continue reading A Bronx tale

Overseas military naturalizations

Bernard 1For a recent research case, I was trying to locate a naturalization record which had been listed in an index to the Declarations of Intention, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York 1917-1950, at FamilySearch.org. However, when searching through the actual records, I found that the file number for this record was attached to a record with another person’s name. Continue reading Overseas military naturalizations

“Brought to ‘attention’”

FJB and Barbara for VB
My mother and her father, Frederick J. Bell, in Falls Church, Virginia.

The recent gift of some family photos reminds me that, well as in some ways I knew my maternal grandfather, there will always be things one cannot know, save by lucky chance. My grandfather was a career Naval officer, one who later went into business and then, in retirement, was ordained an Episcopal minister. A native of Norfolk in Virginia, Frederick Jackson Bell (1903–1994) was appointed to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1919, when he was 16, and for the next 28 years he led a peripatetic existence, from Scotland and the Mediterranean to California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War. Continue reading “Brought to ‘attention’”

Transformations

Recruit vs. soldier (1)My ancestry is replete with American patriots, soldiers – veterans. From Anthony Morse Jr., a lieutenant in the militia at Newbury, Massachusetts, in the 1660s, to Samuel Morse, a soldier in the War of 1812; from Thomas Morse, a patriot in the American Revolution, to Colonius Morse, a private in the 19th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War,[1] I have ancestors who served in most major U.S. conflicts from the colonial period to the 1970s. I often wonder what life was like for my family in these times of turmoil. How did war affect the young men who served? How did it change them? Continue reading Transformations

A sojourn in California

Adrian Todd
Adrian Sidney Todd (1918-1959)

When I contemplated the subject of my first post, I decided that I should write about the person who sparked my genealogical interest in the first place: my paternal grandfather, Adrian Sidney Todd. Adrian died young, and I never had the chance to meet him, so I thought I would use genealogy to see what I could find out for myself. He was born 6 February 1918 in Georgia to Adrian Sidney and Susie (Stanley) Todd, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps in both World War II and Korea. Continue reading A sojourn in California

A garden of red, white, and blue

Photo by Walt Doyle
Photo by Walt Doyle

On this Memorial Day Weekend every city, town, and village in America will have its commemoration. At NEHGS and AmericanAncestors.org, we are continually inspired by the annual Memorial Day installation that takes place on the nearby Boston Common, just blocks from our headquarters in Back Bay.

On a slope of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, more than 37,000 flags are waving in a garden of red, white, and blue in tribute to the active duty military casualties from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recorded since the start of the Revolutionary War. It’s a dramatic reminder that here in the U.S. we’re privileged to be living in “the home of the free – because of the brave.”

Whether in Massachusetts or throughout the nation, undoubtedly there’s someone on your family tree who will be remembered in gratitude on this Memorial Day. Continue reading A garden of red, white, and blue

Crossing Paths: Two Stories of Buchenwald

U.S. Army troops in Germany, 1945. Photograph by Herbert Gorfinkle. From the Papers of Herbert Gorfinkle, P-904 at the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archives.
U.S. Army troops in Germany, 1945. Photograph by Herbert Gorfinkle. From the Papers of Herbert Gorfinkle, P-904 at the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archives.

April 11, 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. In commemoration of this day, the American Jewish Historical Society–New England Archives (AJHS–NEA) is honoring the memory of two men who were present at Buchenwald for the liberation, and whose papers are in our archives.[1]

As an archive with a very specific mission (to collect and preserve the records of the Jewish communities of Greater Boston and New England), AJHS–NEA has many collections that are connected by family relationships. Continue reading Crossing Paths: Two Stories of Buchenwald