Thursday, August 6, 2015

Dear Brother: The Civil War Letters of William A. Harding to his brother Palmer

I have published the transcribed Civil War letters from William A. Harding to his brother (and my great-great-great grandfather) Palmer Harding.  The book is available on Amazon; the paperback edition for $5 at and the Kindle edition for $1.50 at  I have blogged about these letters, and transcribing them has been a work in progress for years.  I am happy to finally have them out there for others to read!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The 150th Anniversary of William A. Harding's Death

One hundred and fifty years ago today, William A. Harding, my 4x-great-uncle, was killed in the Civil War, at the Battle of Hatcher's Run in Virginia.  He was a Union soldier, 23 years old, and had no wife or children.  But he did leave a legacy of sorts.  During the war, he wrote letters to his oldest brother, Palmer Harding, who was my 3x-great-grandfather.  We still have those letters; I was given some of them as a graduation gift from my cousin, and my grandma had others.  These letters, and the family history that was likely written by Palmer, are what started my interest in genealogy as a child.  I am annotating the letters which I have transcribed, and I plan on publishing them.  Thank you William, not only for your service to our country for a righteous cause, but for making my ancestors "human" rather than just statistics.  Thank you for telling part of their story.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sneem, Ireland - It's a Small World

In October at The Genealogy Event, a lady, Patricia, came up to my exhibit table.  After hearing that I was located in Rochester, NY, she told me her ancestor lived in Rochester briefly before going back home to Ireland, and that he worked on the trolleys.  My great-grandfather also worked on the trolleys, and we both followed up with details to see if they might have been colleagues.  Unfortunately, her ancestor was there while mine were still in Amsterdam, NY.  But I did mention to her that my great-great grandmother was Irish and born in Sneem.  Although I had been in Kerry and on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, I did not know I had roots there at that time, and I was not in Sneem.  Patricia was, and she sent me this picture:

The boxer is not John L. Sullivan, but it does reinforce the legacy of the sport in Ireland.  Patricia also told me that Charles de Gaulle's wife's governess was from Sneem and was a McCarthy, as was my great-great-grandmother.  I have to do further research to see if they are indeed related.  And to see if Patricia and I are related...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Life in Tenements

I was thrilled to be able to stay in a real tenement in New York earlier this month.  However, I purchased the book, How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob A. Riis, at the Tenement Museum, and found how sad life in these buildings really was.  I almost did not buy the book after glancing at the photos he took over 100 years ago to illustrate his points.  The filth and poverty is unimaginable.  The Blue Moon Hotel is built in a "newer" tenement, dating from 1879.  There had been reforms by then, the most important was providing air ducts into the bedrooms.  I realized my hotel room had two of these, one in the now shower.  Here is the other:

So my room would have had two small bedrooms and a living room/kitchen that looked out on Orchard Street.  The beam in the ceiling is likely the divider between these.  The "inside" windows may have let in a bit of stale air and virtually no light, but this was an improvement on the closets which served as bedrooms in the older buildings that had no air or light. 

History can be very sad, and thinking about the lives of immigrants who came to this country with high hopes of escaping poverty and starvation, only to live in these conditions is heartbreaking.  It is no wonder some turned to lives of crime, and it is no wonder children died at such a high rate.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Staying in a Tenement

Last weekend I was an exhibitor at The Genealogy Event in Lower Manhattan.  I needed a place to stay, and while searching for a hotel I ran across the Blue Moon Hotel in the Lower East Side.  Built in an old tenement building and directly across the street from the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, I knew this was the dream location for a genealogist (especially one whose ancestors were poor immigrants and surely stayed in a similar building)!  

The Blue Moon Hotel is a perfect blend of the good sides of both worlds- my stay there was like stepping back 125 years but with all the modern amenities.  My room probably housed a family of 12 in 1880, but was huge for just me!  In the evenings I could open the window and sit on the wide sill and watch the bustle on Orchard Street, yet the new windows were sound-proof at night.  Much of the old wood trim and tiles have been salvaged to decorate the hotel. 

The view from my window.
The neighborhood is filled with little restaurants and shops.  I was able to attend the Lower East Side Pickle Day, too, and sample all sorts of pickles including a pickle cupcake and a pickle ice cream sandwich! 

For any historian or genealogist, or just someone looking for a unique hotel, I would recommend a stay at the Blue Moon Hotel.  It is a little piece of history.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The War to End Wars

My family has had an ongoing interest in WWI.  Maybe it is watching so much BBC, starting with "Upstairs, Downstairs", then "Brideshead Revisited" and most recently "Downton Abbey".  The interest also extends to books.  We avidly read all the Charles Todd mysteries, and more recently, Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel.  This morning I read this article, and found the archives with the digitized journals- what a treasure trove for historians!

As a genealogist, I have found that one of my great-grandfathers served in WWI, but in the Italian army, even though he lived in the US.  We have a photo taken of him in Palermo, Sicily, in full uniform.  My grandmother remembered him going to war, leaving behind a wife and two young daughters.

More interesting is my great-grandfather-in-law, who was inadvertently key to the creation of Bletchley Park in WWII...  His story is told in David Kahn's Seizing the Enigma.  Because the story of his war service and adventures are not told beyond this even, I should record it to preserve it for posterity.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Family Recipes

Many families have recipes that have been handed down, and dishes that evoke childhood.  My family memories revolve around food too.  Grandma Nellie making chicken cacciatore (which as a child I was really disappointed in but now love), Grandpa Eddie's veal cutlet (no dish even in Austria comes close), Aunt Elinore cookies, Aunt Kathryn's vegetable soup... but one recipe my cousins, aunts, sister, mother and I still think about are Grandma Elsie's pickles.

Grandma's recipe box got lost at some point- she may have thrown it away herself accidentally, and my mother and aunts have most of the recipes anyway, but no one has the pickle one.  These pickles were a big production.  She got a big crock from a yard sale or something like that.  I don't know if she ever made them before she was retired or if it was a nostalgic food memory of her own, but I remember she had to hunt down little cucumbers at the farmers market, and I remember all the grandchildren looking at the scum-covered crock in horror.  We would go down in the basement and peek at it as a dare.  But most of all I remember the sharp spicy taste of those pickles.  Last summer a new friend mentioned making pickles, and I asked her about them.  She said that type is called "crock pickles" and she had never made them.  I did some research, and the longer they ferment, the spicier they become.  One of my aunts thought Grandma might have put horseradish in too.  So this morning, I bought some little cucumbers from a farm market and I made a batch of crock pickles.  I am using a big glass jar, and the cucumbers are bigger than the ones Grandma used, but it is an experiment.  Next summer I will grow little cucumbers in my garden, and if this batch comes even close, I will also buy a big crock to ferment them in. 
My crock pickles in the basement on the first day.

It would be fun to write a cookbook that gathers these family recipes along with the stories about the relative it came from.  We even have some cards still written by the original great-aunt or grandmother.