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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When I'm not in the office...

I work from home, or rather from wherever my laptop is.  One of my clients asked me what my office is like.  It actually doubles as a fiber art studio, but I have a window by my desk, so I can look outside in the winter and watch the birds at the feeder.  In the nice weather, I go out here and sit by my pond.  If you look closely, you can see a couple of my goldfish.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Where genealogy and sewing collide

I have been on a sewing binge.  I was inspired this spring to make a 1920's theme summer wardrobe, and I was adding a chambray dress today when I ran out of light blue thread.  I did not buy matching thread because I was sure I had several spools, but the full spool is buttonhole thread, so too thick for the sewing machine.  I looked in my thread basket and in the box of student supplies for a class I want to teach, and nothing...  Not wanting to trek back to the fabric store, I was ready to quit for the weekend when I remembered one other place.  I inherited my Grandma's sewing box. 

It isn't really a box; it is one of those 1950's cocktail boxes.  She didn't drink cocktails and she didn't sew, but there were two spools of cadet blue thread in there!  I remember when I was a little girl, and already sewing that she told me she took millinery instead of sewing in school, and regretted it.  So why did she have so much blue thread?  I realized it was for my Grandpa's uniforms- he was a bus driver for RTS his entire working life, and his father did the same before him on trolleys and then buses.  A couple of weeks ago I bought a commemorative set of RTS tokens in honor of them. 

Now I will also be wearing a piece of my heritage!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Dress, Part 2...

The poor dress was in such bad condition, but at least now it looks like a dress and not a dishrag.  There is a label inside that says "Oppenheim & Collins, Co."  This was a women's clothing store established in New York city in 1901, and in Buffalo, NY in 1905.  (

This is the front of the dress, I believe.  There is an underlayer of silk that has completely disintegrated, and the brown net trim is very fragile and is staining the cream color.  But the beading is fairly intact.

This is the dress from the back.  I don't know if the low V was possibly lined.  I am also guessing about the placement of the beaded belt around the waist.  There are several snaps and hook and eyes that I cannot match up.  But there was some mending done on the dress before I did any, so it is possible someone else moved things around.

The dress is really too fragile to hang up, let alone wear, and I think it will be placed back in the dresser at the museum for the next person to discover. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Historic Wedding Dresses

I spent the day volunteering at Historic Palmyra Museums, helping set up an exhibit of wedding dresses.  I have always been partial to historic costume and to lace.  We found this dress stuffed in a drawer in the museum, seemingly beyond hope.  It made me sad- it was kind of like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  This was once a beaded lace dress, maybe about 1910.  After we sorted through the rest of the items in the dresser, I pulled it back out, and asked the curator if I could take it home and attempt to restore it a little.  She agreed, as I really can't make it worse!  Here are the before pictures....  

This is what it looked like when we found it:

Now I have to figure out where the front and back are (and the sleeves, waist....)
Stay tuned for the afters!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman

This is more of a public service post.  It is not about genealogy per se, but it is about friends and family.

I was 2 years ahead of Phil in high school, and although I did not know him personally, several of my close friends acted with him in school plays, and I distinctly remember his performances in The Crucible, M*A*S*H, and Death of a Salesman.

I was angry when I first heard the news, and then very sad and nostalgic as I heard old classmates and friends express sympathy and shock. We all need to learn 3 things which will make Phil's death less of a waste: 1) There should be no stigma to seeking treatment for addiction, addiction can happen even if you use just once- the chemistry of these drugs will cause you to need more each time to get the same high. 2) Treatment has to be available to anyone who needs it, without financial or legal barriers. 3) Talk with your children, friends, etc about addiction. Even if they would not even think about using or even experimenting, they will run into someone who does.  Look at us this week.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My handwriting is bad, but...

While in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, I did some research into my husband's family.  I was able to solve a couple mysteries.  His cousin had put together a wonderful family tree, and I found the answers to two remaining questions.  But, of course, came home with another mystery!  I believe this excerpt holds the key, but we cannot decipher it.

This is from a parish register in Loikum, Germany in the 1850's.  Normally the godparents names are in this slot.  Because of other information, I believe the mother and possibly the baby died at birth.

The third and fourth lines are "kind ist bald darauf ganz" which means "child is soon quite". 

If anyone has ideas, please let me know!

Monday, January 27, 2014

How I spent my summer vacation

We went to Amsterdam, New York to buy a painting.  This even sounds strange to me and those who know me best. 

I have always been drawn to Amsterdam, New York.  You can see it in a valley from the NY State Thruway, driving between Rochester and Albany.  My sister had the same draw.  We knew our great-grandfather was from there, and we remember him as "Big Grandpa", as our only living great-grandfather when we were babies.  My sister and brother-in-law were returning home from vacation, and decided to stop in Amsterdam, where they discovered Amsterdam Castle and more importantly, the Book Hound, a treasure trove of old books.  Anyone who knows my family knows about the draw books have...

Family Sherlock on Willow Street in Amsterdam

We arranged to have a family weekend there, booking rooms at Amsterdam Castle, and meeting up at the Book Hound.  I did some research prior to the trip, and this was the precursor to becoming a professional genealogist.  I found that this part of our family immigrated from Augsburg, Germany to Amsterdam, New York in the late 1880's.  So, we drove around the city looking to see if any addresses our ancestors were listed at still existed.  They did not.  We also had an ill-fated search for graves in an abandoned cemetery, where the warning of deer ticks came too late.   Despite the lack of new genealogical discoveries, we found the people in Amsterdam to be incredibly helpful and friendly.  While looking for someplace to eat lunch, we asked at the Lucky Mini Mart, and the proprietor was so concerned that he offered to make us sandwiches!  After a stop for cookies and directions at the Dolci bakery, we had lunch at Shorty's Southside Tavern, where my teenaged nephew claimed the bacon cheeseburger the best he had ever eaten, and I agreed!  The family atmosphere at Parillo's Armory Grill at dinner also appealed to our Sicilian heritage.

A little over a year later, I had started my genealogy business, and was researching further into my own family.  I have been captivated with the story of my Swiss great-great grandmother, who immigrated to Amsterdam, New York also.  The Book Hound posted a photo of a painting for sale by a local artist, Brian Jacobs.  The subject, a Victorian woman tying her hair back, could have been my ancestor.  I had to have it.  

So, my husband and I drove out there for my birthday.  This time we stayed at Halcyon Farm, the most peaceful place I have ever been.  There were fireflies galore outside at night and spring peepers singing.  We did purchase the painting at the Book Hound, in addition to other memorabilia and books, and had a nice conversation with Dan, the owner.  Unfortunately Brian, the artist, was away that weekend, but I hope to meet him in person next time we are in Amsterdam.  We again bought cookies at the Dolci bakery, where the owners feel like family, and we ate dinner at Parillo's Armory Grill again.  We visited Riverlink Park that evening, also.  We do plan on returning so we can hike around Halcyon Farm.

Amsterdam is in the midst of a renewal, and although it has been depressed by the shutting down on industries, it is a surprisingly welcoming place for tourists, whether they are genealogists or local historians or not.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

More about the dream

My heritage:

I am a third-generation Rochesterian- all four of my grandparents were born in Rochester, New York.  Further back my ancestry is early colonial British settlers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, lots of  German, Irish, Swiss and Sicilian.  And Amsterdam.  Amsterdam, New York.  Despite my Dutch surname, I am not from Holland.  My husband may have Dutch ancestry from way back, but so far it looks like it is all German and Danish.  More about Amsterdam, New York- stay tuned!

My projects:

In addition to doing research for clients, which is a great learning experience for me and adds to the variety of my research, I am also working on a couple of projects about my family.

Those letters I was given as a graduation gift?- I am annotating them (along with  the rest of the set which my uncle inherited) and hope to publish as a genealogical and Civil War memoir. 

The other project is a book about my great-great grandparents and their exploits.  Truth is better than fiction. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I had a dream...

I had a dream last night about work, and it was not a nightmare!  I was searching through census records, and that is what genealogists do.  How did I get here?

My education and former career:

I spent 25 years in quality assurance in the printing and publishing industry in Rochester, NY, proofreading, researching, testing software, web development, reporting.  I also studied social sciences and foreign languages, and I have degrees in psychology and international studies.  It took me a few months to pull the skills and hobby together, but I established my genealogy business about 10 months ago. 

The logo:

When I was working on my business plan, etc, I asked my family for ideas for a name.  My mother had the winning entry- Family Sherlock.  I always wanted to be Sherlock Holmes when I was a child, and only did not pursue this when I discovered a modern-day detective was usually a police officer, and at barely 5 feet tall, even if I did pass the physical requirements and tests, I do not think anyone would want to work with this tiny recruit on the streets!  So I became a proofreader instead.  Then a legal researcher.  Then a software test engineer.  Then a web and e-mail developer.  I had been studying my family history since I was a child also, and my cousin gave me a set of letters for a graduation gift- these are the background of my logo, along with my old Sherlock magnifying glass:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Salt Lake City Trip - part two

Friday morning I returned to the Family History Library to do more research.  Then on to lunch at Nauvoo Cafe in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.  The building used to be an old grand hotel:

and it had great views of the city from the top floor:

The Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference started Friday afternoon.  I met many fellow genealogists, and discovered that professional genealogists are not competitive with each other; rather they are very collaborative, sharing tips, ideas, and experiences.  I learned a great deal about running a genealogy business, specializing, creating interesting end products, and other educational opportunities.

When I travel, food is one of the important parts of the trip.  I was given some good tips on eating in Salt Lake City.  Unfortunately, because of the slippery sidewalks due to the snowy weather and time constraints, I was not able to follow up on all the tips.  However, I was able to try what is supposed to be the best Mexican food at Red Iguana by eating at A Taste of Red Iguana.  Even though this is in the food court, City Creek Mall is beautiful, with a creek filled with fish running through the center, and the food was very good!
The next two evenings I ate at  Crown Burger, reputed to be the best burgers in Salt Lake City.  I did not have burgers, but the gyros were excellent and the blackberry milkshake was a decadent indulgence.  And it was a quick walk, as I could see the flashing neon light from the hotel room window.

I was disappointed not to have time to try Greek Souvlaki, but they have a location at the airport, and it was way too early on my way home for lemon chicken soup, but I did purchase a couple pieces of baklava, and they were fantastic.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Salt Lake City Trip - part one

I returned home from Salt Lake City Sunday night.  It took a while to get there, due to the polar vortex... my original flight Tuesday was cancelled, I rescheduled for Wednesday, and then had a long layover in Chicago because the original plane was frozen.

I arrived Tuesday night in Salt Lake, too tired to even eat dinner, let alone do any research.  So Wednesday morning I treated myself to a big breakfast and then spent the day at the Family History Library.  It is 5 stories of microfilm, books and reference materials, with many very helpful volunteers to guide you through the process.  I could have spent weeks there!  But by late afternoon, my head was spinning from so much information, so I decided to call it a day.

Temple Square is right across the street from the Family History Library, so I walked over there in the snow.  It was beautiful.

That evening I attended the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal, here at the Tabernacle: