Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Wild and Crazy Guy

I called my mothers father, "Maga".   In reality, his name was Edward Arthur Krings.  I remember a few things about him that are worth sharing.  I know that he was a "clerk" for Oppenheimer on Wall Street in the early 30's before the infamous stock market crash.  He may have had some anxiety because he was unable to travel into the city by bus, subway or train.  A driver would pick him up every morning and take him to work.  I have a photo of him at his desk in his Wall Street office. 

He was very kind to me but according to my mother, he had been a drinker in his earlier years and was known to have been physically abusive towards my very sweet grand-mother whom I referred to as "Nanny". 

Maga played the piano by ear.  He was very talented musically.  He smoked "like a chimney".  I thought he resembled Jimmy Durante. 

My mother told me that Maga had a habit of taking home the salt and pepper shakers from any restaurant they visited.  I remember opening a cabinet in their home one day and seeing what seemed to be hundreds of these glass salt and pepper shakers.  If there are any "kleptomaniacs" in the family, it must be in the one had any use for that much salt and pepper!  I have a pepper shaker that I'm sure came from my grand-parents.  It is made of cut glass.  I use it as a small flower vase now.  You may find it in the family chest one day. 

I loved my grand-father.  He danced with me at my wedding.   I have a picture of him holding my first child, his first great grand-child, Alex.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Status Report

Wow - time does fly!  Here we are in the middle of October and I haven't posted a blog since mid-September.  Well, actually I have - several in fact.  They are, however, in the "edit" phase meaning that I need to check some dates and other facts before printing them. 

I've been knee deep in photos and census records and passenger lists and other paraphenalia for months now, putting together my book.  My goal was to have it finished in time to distribute as a Christmas gift to family members.  Not surprisingly, and thankfully so, My Publisher decided to have a 50% off sale this month - most likely to prod people like me who have projects "hanging" to finish them off so that they won't be slammed in December.  Well, I took the hint and moved into "sprint" mode to finish.

I know there are some errors and certainly some things I wish I had gotten in, and some things I totally forgot to get in, etc. etc.  It's done though and happily, off to the publisher.  I'm very happy with the result.
Technology has enabled my generation to do what no other generation before us has been able to do....preserve our history.  All the boxes of photographs, birth, baptismal and marriage certificates, newspaper clipppings, letters....all these can be put together in one book that can be handed down for generations.  Genealogy has become very popular - it seems that Alex Haley set off an avalanche of interest when he published Roots. 

I've never traveled to Germany - my ancestral home - but if I did, I would want to know where my family lived, maybe go to that spot, maybe even to the cemetary where they are buried.  How would I know how to do that if it weren't recorded somewhere?  Now it is....or a lot of it anyway.  I may never get to go, but my children may.  My brother or his kids may.  Or maybe their kids....or theirs.  I want to rest assured that I did what I could to facilitate their interest - if they have any - in finding their ancestors. 

I would like my mother to know that I cared for her photographs and that I respected her efforts and sacrifices to keep her family afloat during those awful years of the depression.  I would like my dad to know that I cared enough about him to find things out about his biological mother that I'll bet even he didn't know. 
I was blessed during this process to meet a number of family members I didn't know before - some I didn't even know about!  I am thankful that I was able to make these connections and strengthen bonds. 

I'll keep posting here as I remember stories or vignettes about my own life.  I want to post the stories that my parents told me about their own lives.  I don't remember them all right now but they come back to me now and again. 

I hope that you find some value in reading all of this.  I couldn't fit these details into the book but perhaps I can print these out and they will serve as a sort of "appendix".  Stories are best when told aloud but you have to know them in order to tell them.  Here they are - read them, remember them and tell them to your own children.


Just a little addition that may be of some amusement. 
My mother told me several times that my grand-mother, Rose, had been "kidnapped" by gypsies!  According to her story, my grand-mother was missing for at least a week.  When she was "returned", her mother, Elsie, was not sure that they returned the right child.  No details were ever provided but there is no doubt that Rose was document that. 
Truly a "crazy" story that I wish I had listened to more carefully! 
Maybe that is the lesson she was trying to teach listen carefully to your elders....they know and hold the family secrets.  Now that they are all gone, it pains me to think of what I might know now if I had only paid more attention.  If I weren't writing this all done, none of you would know half of all of this.  And it's really interesting, don't you think?

Found! Facts about the Red-Headed Girl!

So, now I'm able to provide an update on the "red-headed" girl! 
My brother sent me a package last week.  It contained, among other things, an old address book that had been our mothers.  While looking through it, I came upon the name "Rita Turpin"....Aunt Rita!  Aunt Rita was the red headed woman that I remember from when my grandmother Auer lived in a "brownstone" apartment on 88th Street in Manhatten.  This was very near to Gracie Mansion - the home of the Governor right on the edge of the East River.  My mother and grandmother often took me for walks in the park along the river there when we visited.  I didn't put it together until just recently, but my mothers parents lived right above Grandma Auer.  Rita lived in the apartment across the hall. 

Next to Aunt Rita's name in the address book,  "Mary Wade-daughter", was written along with a phone number.  It is not uncommon for people who are ageing to record the names and phone numbers of their friends children in order to have a contact should the person they are trying to contact, not respond.  I must admit, I do it myself now. 

Anyway, I waited a few days and dialed the number having no idea what state I was calling.  Turns out, Mary Wade of Middlesex, New Jersey answered.  She seemed to recognize my name immediately and most graciously talked with me a good hour or so.  Mary and her brother had also been working on a geneology project and while they have information I need, I have some that they need as well.  How nice that I can be of some help to them too!  And I've found and gained some new cousins!

Mary explained that Rita had been her mother and was one of two children born to Josef and Marguerite Auer.  When Rita was only 9, Marguerite had been hit and killed by a car while leaving church.  Mary said that this was about 1923 but that doesn't fit with the 1920 census.  I have to find an obituary or some other record.   Marguerite was of Irish descent and sported red hair- hence the mysterious red hair inherited by Rita, herself!

After Marguerites death, Josef sent his two children, Rita and John to live with other family for awhile - presumably while he recovered from the loss of his wife.  According to the 1920 census, Josef moved in with Charlie Chaplin who is listed as an "in law".  Shortly after, he returned to claim his children and introduced them to his new wife and their new step-mother, Marie Boehm Krings Auer.  Marie, AKA Anna Marie, had been married to William Krings and the two had had three sons; Eddie, William and Walter.  Marie and Josef set about to merge their families.  Mary told me that Rita had told her at some point that she (Rita) had treated Marie poorly and that as she matured, she had felt terrible about the way she had treated her step mother.  Who would expect a nine year old to understand a father's re-marriage and tolerate a new step-mother as she continued to mourn the loss of her mother?  What is important is that as Marie aged, Rita, although by now married with children of her own, was there to provide care for my great grand-mother, Anna Marie Boehm Krings Auer.

Two Degrees of Separation

How much credence do you give old family legends?  You know, the kind that you've been told over and over for years but that always seemed a little too hard to believe.  But if the story never changed, could there be some truth to it?

Take the legend of Arthur Flegenheimer.  He was a German-Jew born in 1902.  Could he have known my maternal grand-father?  Could he really have been close friends with the family?  Was he really God-father to my mother at her baptism as she claimed?
Arthur was well known at the time but not in the best of circles.  A "rum-runner" and a "gangster", he served time in prison, was accused of tax evasion, was a feared mob boss and was murdered in cold blood at the age of about 35. 
Never heard of Arthur Flegenheimer?  He was AKA "Dutch Schultz". 

How about the tale of Charlie Chaplin?  Why are there several pictures of him with family members?
Who was he?  What did he have to do with the family?
According to the 1920  census, Joseph Auer - second husband of my maternal great-grandmother, Anna Marie Boehm Krings Auer, lived with Charlie Chaplin and his family, listing himself as "brother in law" to Mr. Chaplin.  So, if Charlie was his brother in law, would that make Grandpa Auers wife, Charlie Chaplins sister?  Had she died?  I know his first wife was from Ireland and named Marguerite and she did die - or was killed actually, hit by a car while leaving church.  Have more work to do on this one.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Was That Red Headed Girl?

My great-grandmother Auer lived in a brownstone walkup apartment.  It was a "shotgun" type of arrangement.  The rooms were arranged in linear fashion from the front of the house to the rear.  If you were to drive by and shoot a bullet through the front window, it would go straight thru the house and out the back door.  It was a duplex meaning that there were "units" on either side of the stairs which were located in the very center of the building.  "Grandma Auer" lived on the left.  Aunt Rita lived on the right.  Who was she?
Why was she always around?  Why did I call her Aunt Rita and where did all that red curly hair come from?
She seemed nice and she seemed really nice to grandma.
As I remember, Grandma lay in a hospital bed in the center room.  The room you entered from the central hall.  The bedroom must have been to the left, overlooking the street because the kitchen was to the right.  There was a rear door which was usually open whenever I was there.  It led to a small walk out yard/garden.  I was allowed to play there during our visits.  There was a little step up from the kitchen to the outdoors.  I remember that it was a very small yard and surrounded by brick walls on all sides.  I had to look up beyond the walls if I wanted to see the clouds in the sky above.   We never stayed long but we went often enough.
That's pretty much the extent of my memory of my great-grandmother Auer.  She was my mothers' fathers' mother. Years later, my mother, (who kept in touch with nearly everyone she had ever met,) stayed in touch with Rita. By the time mother moved to Wilson, Rita had re-located to Truth and Consequences, New Mexico. Long after Grandma was gone, they continued to stay in touch....why?  Who was that red headed girl?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who's your mama, little runaway?

Okay, so I spent a good part of the day scanning more photos and researching my maternal great-grandmother, Elsa Spaatz Kerner Haegermann, whom I remember well and loved deeply.
     The tale that had been told was that Elsa came to the US when she was 14 years old.  According to the story, she traveled alone.  This sounds pretty implausible.  Further, she was supposed to have run away from her home in Germany, stowing away on one of the many ships that sailed across the Atlantic. 
Why would she run away?  Something must have compelled her to leave the supposed safety of her home and cross an ocean to a land where she knew no one and had no relatives. 
     Try this on for size - the story that I was told was that the woman who had raised her, decided for some reason, to tell her that she was not her biological mother but that the woman whom she had thought of as her aunt, was in fact, her real, biological mother.   In those days (the late 1800's) in Germany, it was most likely most scandalous for a young and unmarried woman to give birth to a child.  Enter a loving older sister who presents the baby as her own and proceeds to raise the child for 13 some years.  Who knows what precipitated the unveiling of the secret.  Did her real mother tire of acting as "auntie"?  Did the teen-aged Elsa act out and cause her "mother" to wash her hands of her?  Did another family member "spill the beans?"  Regardless of how the truth was "outed", it was enough to disturb Elsa enough that she managed to find her way to the docks of Bremen and board a ship to the US.
So far, I've been unable to locate Elsa on any of the passenger lists that have been so carefully preserved by the Ellis Island historians.  Perhaps, in truth, she was a runaway.  She does, however, appear in the 1910 census and according to what is recorded there, she was born in 1879 and immigrated to the US in 1892.
That would have made her 13-14 when she made the crossing.  At the time of the 1910 census, Elsa would have been about 31 years old.  That particular census listed her as married to Leon Kerner with two children; Rosie born in 1898 and Martha born in 1899.   Leon Kerner, listed as a "button maker" was born in 1865 so he would have been about 15 years older than Elsa.  This is congruent with what my mother had told me...that Elsa's first husband had been considerably "older" than Elsa and that eventually, he "let her go" to be with the younger George Haegermann whom she later married.
     So, what is the dilemma?  Well, the pictures of Elsa are numerous.  She was a most beautiful young woman.  But there is one photo, a large portrait.  On the back of this is written in large script; "My Mother".  It is a picture of Wilhelmina Spaatz.  In referring to her as "My Mother", did Elsa mean that this was her biological mother or the woman that reared her?  When leaving home, did she keep this picture as a way to remember what was true or what she thought was true?  Would she want to keep a picture of the woman who raised her but in effect, lied to her?  Or, would she want to keep a picture of the woman who bore her but gave her up to avoid scandal?  Which photo would I want, which photo would you want?
     A popular slang phrase around 2005-2009 asks  "who's your daddy?" this family history, it has a whole new meaning...."Who's your mama, Elsie? Who's your real mama?".  I'm not sure we'll ever know for sure.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sleepless in Salem

Sleeping fitfully, images flashed in and out of my mind like "olde tyme" movies on a screen.  Dialogue, real and imagined, punctuated my rest.
Who were these people?  Strangers to me, yes, but relatives just the same.  What a stern looking bunch this group was!  Did they have any fun?  What a contrast to the other half of the family - my mothers line still waiting to be entered into its place in my little but ever growing collection. 
What have I left out?  Most data is coming from census records, birth certificates, obituaries and baptismal/confirmation records - not unusual sources.  In fact, the most typical sources of information for a genealogist.  Some, the best, from a second cousin I located off a message board on the internet some years ago.  Strange that I got to meet and correspond with a first cousin of my fathers whom he had never met and probably had no knowledge of.  Victim of a family littered with cut-offs and disconnects, her grandfather and mine had "fallen out" of touch as they did with their third brother.  Some one hundred years later, their grandchildren, drawn by whatever yearning they had to search for family, became connected once again.  Females this time and less prone to the sort of falling outs that characterize competitive brothers, the three of us exchanged what little we knew of our own grandfathers and compared notes on what we had head about the others.  This association, while loosely formed, proved timely as one of the three, Joanie, "Fritzs" grandchild, passed away soon after.  It was an honor to have gotten to know what little I did about her.  A very private woman, she called frequently and talked for long periods of time from her home in Chicago, Illinois.  We had made tentative plans to meet but were never able to finalize them.  Ever thankful for having found her, I'll ever regret not having pushed harder to meet in person.  Time wasted and an opportunity lost.

Happily, another second cousin, Barbara, (seen above with her husband, Don, me and my mother, Elly) is an excellent correspondant and an experienced genealogist, volunteering her expertise to the LDS church near her home in Ridgetown, Ontario.  She has been an enormous help and support to me and I am truly grateful to her.  She and her husband visited me in Wilson several years ago and brought boxes of photographs I had never seen before.  Spread out on my dining room table, they looked like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, just waiting to be put together.
Even my mom was impressed by this collection of photos and information with details she never knew.
My dad, having died some years before, had never known this, his charming second cousin nor her mother, his first cousin. What fun they might have had together.  Perhaps there might have been some photographs of smiling faces to link to these somber countenances.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

To Whom It May Concern

Posted a letter this morning to Osterhout Free Library.  While googling my grandmother last night, I found that her obituary might be available in their records.  I'd never have guessed.  Osterhout is in Pennsylvania but she died in Detroit, Michigan.  I'm thinking now that she may have been buried in Pennsylvania.  She was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre.  She is listed in the 1900 and the 1910 census there.  I've been unable to find an obituary in Detroit records.  Since she met my grandfather in Wilkes-Barre, I requested that they look for a marriage announcement as well. 

My grandmother, Mary, is listed in the 1910 census as a "fore lady" in a Lace Factory in Wilkes-Barre.  She was 22 years old at the time.  I assume that "fore lady" would be like a "fore man"....her younger brother, Robert, worked as an apprentice there.  Interestingly enough, she had another younger brother named Henry.  Years later, she named her second son (my father) Robert Henry.  Not to hard to figure out where she got the name from.

                          ( Photo of home in Wilkes Barre circa 1900's taken from Wikipedia )

I never knew my grandmother.  My father didn't know her well either.  She died of tuberculosis at the age of 48 when he was in his mid teens.  She had been divorced and was raising her two sons alone in a city far from her home.
I'm hoping that finding her obituary will lead me to other surviving siblings perhaps.  I have no photographs of Mary.  I hope to locate someone who may be able to provide me with one.  Right now, her appearance exists only in my imagination.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stacks and Stacks of Photos

I wonder if I'll ever live long enough to go thru all the photographs I've collected over the years.
Today, I went into the storage room and tried to locate pictures of my dad, his parents, my mom, and her parents. 
A word of advice to any that read this....write (with pencil) on the back of every photograph that you think is important, the name of the people and the location and most importantly, the year the photo was taken.
How frustrating to have a lovely sepia toned picture of a loved one but not really know which loved one it is.
Thankfully, I am able to figure most of the old photos out but I've not been good about marking the photos that I've taken.
There are stacks and stacks, boxes and boxes, envelopes and envelopes of photographs - all in no particular order.  The old ones I took out of my mothers house after she died but the newer ones, mostly taken since having my children in 1976, are all over.  In the early years, I was good about labeling and putting them into albums but as the years progressed, I just stashed them into boxes thinking I'd get to them one day.
Well, that day is now and it is not a pretty picture to say the least. 
It is hard to know what to do with them now.  Todays technology enables one to scan them onto a computer but what for, who for?  Who is going to look at them?  Who is going to keep the albums?  Do the children want them?  Do they need all these photographs?  Should I divide them up?  How should I do that?  Do I put all the photos of one child into a box for him and all the photos of the other child into a box for him?
What about photos where both children are in the same photo - who should get that one?  Why am I agonizing over this?  Does anyone care?
What I have decided to do is to compile photos of ancestors, organize them (how to do that is another matter) and make them into a book.  If no one wants them, at least I will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have been carefully collected, compiled and printed.  If nothing else, it is fun and intriguing to compare "now" photos with "then" photos and note the facial and body language similarities between the generations...features that have been passed down and carried on in subsequent generations.  And we think we have nothing in common with those folks! 

Monday, August 16, 2010

How Did I Get Here?

A blog....who would have thought I would start a blog?  How did this happen? 
How did this start? 
I am an amateur genealogist embarking on a project to leave a record of family history for my children.
I've been working on the data for several years (this is not a "couple of weeks" project), have recently begun adding photographs and had intent to complete it by Christmas of 2010 (this year).

I attended a book club meeting today and the leader was excited about having sent an email to the author.  She was surprised that the author responded within minutes.  At home tonight and working on my own book club presentation, I had the idea to email the author of my book.  Why?  One of his characters had the very same name as many of the women in my husbands family.  It occured to me that it was possible that his character (non-fiction) and our family could have had a connection.  I wondered how much genealogical research he had done on this womans line.  Could there be a connection?  Could we uncover it?

He responded within hours.  He did not know of a connection but was able to put me in touch with a group that specializes in recording data on this particular surname family.  I went to the website and was amazed at the information there. 

When you think you are at a dead end doing your research, something new presents itself!  I hadn't been researching this branch for some time but reading my book club selection renewed my interest in this part of the family line. 

What is my point?  I guess it is just that you never know what will catch your eye or peak your interest.
Attending a book club led to an idea which led to a contact which led to a connection that will help me in my research. 

Guess I'll just see where it goes from here.