Tag Archives: World War II

A toe in different sand

Last week I had the opportunity to explore something completely different in genealogy. The hunt was to identify when and where a family came from to the U.S. The information was minimal and second-hand, but since this was the paternal ancestry of my grandnephews and grandniece, I had a little background already.

The family name now is Solhan and they have been in Indianapolis for three generations. The family traditions that I had heard over the years were that their origins were in Lebanon and/or Syria. There also was the old “name changed when they arrived” story floating around. I had the names of a number of the family members, in particular that the immigrating grandmother was Matilda. Continue reading A toe in different sand

‘An iron will’

View of a ceiling in the Palazzo Ottolenghi. Courtesy of La Stampa

Immigration case records from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) often involve siblings, parents, spouses, children, or other relatives, but in some circumstances people reach out to whomever they can, asking for assistance from anyone they know. Anetta Ottolenghi Cavalieri was from the Piedmonte region of Italy, and had deep family roots there; she had no family or even close friends in the United States. But when Fascism began to make inroads in Italy, she reached out for help to pen pal Bessie Buxton of Peabody, Massachusetts, with whom she had discussed horticulture on and off for several years. Continue reading ‘An iron will’

Effectively stateless

Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Josef Izsack’s case in the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) collection only spans one year, but it highlights an interesting tale spanning a longer period than twelve months. Deported after entering Boston as a stowaway in 1946, Izsack came to the United States again the following year, working as an engineer on  the Norwegian liner S.S. Fernglen. He was denied the ability to come ashore, though, owing to that previous attempt at entering the United States. An old shrapnel wound became infected and Josef Izsack was forced to spend several months at a marine hospital on Ellis Island. Continue reading Effectively stateless

ICYMI: A Bronx tale

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 30 August 2016.]

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 ICYMI: A Bronx tale

Institutional stigma

Persistent family genealogists will eventually encounter a relative who died in a state hospital, city shelter, or mental institution. In many instances, that fact may have been hidden, disguised, or made more palatable for public perception. The death of my grandmother’s only brother, John P. Cassidy (1887–1934), presented me with my first “alternative version” of a vital statistic. After Pott’s Disease crippled him and terminated his career as a pharmacist, John spent the last years of his life in the tuberculosis ward of Fall River’s City Hospital. There he dabbled in trick photography and tinkered with his superhetrodyne radio. Continue reading Institutional stigma

Alternative facts

I recently read one family historian’s method for gleaning her father-in-law’s stories: she would write questions on slips of paper and put them in a Mason jar. When her father-in-law visited, he’d choose one slip and question from the jar, and she would write down whatever story he told. It’s the kind of method I wish I’d thought of to entice my reticent family to talk!

We are always encouraged to ask our living family members about their personal stories, and in so doing we must take what they choose to tell. In recording these stories for posterity, however, we often must weigh the truth of what we’re told against what facts we might have, realizing that those facts might completely change the color and substance of the story and our perception of the teller. Continue reading Alternative facts

War stories

Jerry and Merry Athearn and their friends on board the S.S. President Grant.

A previous Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather[1] went to sea after college and eventually became a station master for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. It concluded with my family dropped off in Gladstone, Australia, after being evacuated from Noumea, New Caledonia, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At least a couple of folks wondered what happened to them after that, so here’s the rest of the story, plus a contemporary epilogue. Continue reading War stories

Dead Fred

Fred and Nellie Hayward

Many of our long-sought ancestors remain elusive despite our best efforts to find their hiding places, creating those inevitable brick walls. “Usually if the spirits want you to find something, you do. And if they don’t want you to find something, they don’t let you into the secret. Trust me.”[1]

One such “spirit” is my father’s step-grandfather, Fred A. Hayward.

Born in Vassalboro, Maine about 1860, one of six children of William C. and Margaret Fletcher (Lynn) Hayward, Fred in 1903 married my widowed great-grandmother Nellie (Ellen Frances Cony Church) as her second husband. I know little about Fred, and most of what I know I draw from what Fred left behind. Continue reading Dead Fred

It’s good to get divorced

The New York Times, 12 June 1942. Click on the image to read the article.

As those who have applied to hereditary societies may already know, several groups have a policy of requiring every birth, marriage, and death certificate for the most recent three generations of the lineage, with like information for their spouses. While this may not be difficult for everyone, some may not not know where all of these events occurred, especially for the generation of their grandparents. Legal access to these records varies from state to state, and not every state has readily available indices to such records. The following is an interesting example of utilizing records when your ancestors eloped.

In this case, my friend’s wife was applying to the Mayflower Society and trying to locate the marriage of her father’s parents (both of whom are deceased, as is her father). The announcement at left appeared in The New York Times on 12 June 1942 announcing a marriage that had occurred on 23 March 1942. No indication of the place of marriage is given, and no formal announcement of the couple’s engagement had appeared before this notice. The bride was a resident of New York City, and no record of their marriage was found there, nor back in the groom’s native Ohio. Where they got married appeared to be a mystery, and no one alive in the family knew either. Continue reading It’s good to get divorced

Lost but not forgotten 2

We’re so sorry Uncle Albert ….”  – Paul and Linda McCartney

“Tablets of the Missing” at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines. Courtesy of lostatseamemorials.com

In the fall of 1978, shortly after our marriage, I was introduced to various members of my bride’s family. While our families were different in many ways, they were inherently the same, causing the young family historian in me to take note about who was who with regard to my wife’s relatives. One of the relatives to whom I was introduced was “Uncle Albert.”

I should mention that have I never actually met Uncle Albert. I never shook his hand or spoke with him. However, Uncle Albert was to become one of my most poignant and memorable “brick walls.” Continue reading Lost but not forgotten 2