Monday, July 7, 2014

Amanuensis Monday: July 4, 1943 - Africa

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

I began this project back on February 16, 2009.  (Recently the posts have been sporadic, but for a few years it was weekly.) Since I began, many others have joined in on the meme. I am thrilled that this meme I started has inspired so many to transcribe and share their family history documents. Why do we transcribe? I provide my three reasons in the linked post. You may find others.

***

This week I transcribe a letter my maternal grandfather sent home while he was stationed in Africa during World War II.

APO 606
July 6, 1943

Dear Sweetheart:

It had been raining very heavily for almost a week here until today, and finally the sun has come out in all its glory. Maybe it was the rain that caused it, the muggy weather, but my spirits have been just about as low as the clouds, which were touching the ground. And when I’m that way I just don’t care to write. You may have noticed an absence of mail for several days, and lack of enthusiasm, which you’ve noted before. I write in circles and don’t make sense. In reading you can tell that I’m very impatient to get to the bottom of the page and then stop. I don’t feel more like writing right now, but I will carry on.

We had a very good program on for the 4th of July but the rain cancelled most of the things planned. The program was put off until the 5th because of rain, but on the 5th it was no better. However, I went to the movie in the evening and stayed through the rain with hundreds of others. We saw Robert Taylor in some Navy picture the name of which I don’t know. The weather just seemed to fit with the picture because it showed a lot of rough weather and rain on the seas and you could get the effect very noticeably. I had my slicker on this time and thought I was well protected. A puddle or pool of water collected in my lap on the slicker and when I moved once it went through and made me all wet underneath, so that it wasn’t so comfortable after that.

Just prior to the movie I was in a gathering celebrating the birth of a new star, Col. Earl Hoag was just promoted from Executive Officer to Commanding General AMEW. Gen. Fitzgerald, our previous commanding officer, has gone back to the States on a new assignment. Gen. Hoag is well-liked and seems to have things on the ball. The CG AMEW is also CG of USAFICA of which I’m a member, as you know.

Christie, my roommate, had a mishap that was very funny. One evening a few days ago, he saw me leave the room and thought I went into the washroom adjoining. A few minutes later, after undressing, he went into the washroom to take a shower, and he saw me washing my face, bending over the washbowl. He thought he was being funny and gave a hard kick on the rear end, and when “I” straightened out and looked at him, he was very much surprised to find that it wasn’t I but Col. Sampey the Inspector General. Christie hardly knows Col. Sampey and he’s very much embarrassed, to say the least. After all, a major can’t go around kicking inspector generals in the rear end and get away with it without some embarrassment. Col. Sampey took it good naturedly and said he merely owes one to Christie.

Your letter of June 30th was handed to me just this minute. I’m writing this at the office at 1645 GMT.
I think too that you’re fortunate in having such good neighbors as the Franeys. I get a letter from Frank occasionally, but I put off responding as I can’t make any palaver after such a long absence. However, I finally got around to sending him a short letter.

Thanks very much for your efforts in getting a wallet for me. I’ll just hang on to the one I have until you send a new one. You probably can have it sent as official mail if it’s given by the I in C.
I’m glad to hear that ___ is interested in skating. She’ll probably learn to skate expertly by the time I get back. I hope she doesn’t get scuffed up too much. Youngsters learning to skate usually wear out their clothes very quickly, so you’ll no doubt have a job there. Ernie Pyle stayed around here quite a while and I had meals with him frequently. He certainly deserves that writeup that Time gave him. Everyone thinks he’s #1.

I have to mail this right away to get it into our outgoing pouch for the day. Most Love.

Martin

Notes:

1) I continue my habit of editing out the names of living individuals. Though depending upon their age at the time, it is possible some of his fellow servicemen are still alive.
2) During the war, those in the service were often not allowed to include their location in letters home -- they were only allowed to indicate their Army Post Office. The identification of those post offices has since been released. APO 606 was Accra, Gold Coast. [Source: Numerical Listing of APOs January 1942-November 1947 - I originally found this pdf at the 7th Armored Division website]
3) AMEW – Africa Middle East Wing
4) USAFICA – United States Armed Forces in Central Africa
5) I in C – Inspector in Charge (I think)
6) My grandfather doesn't provide a lot of identifying information for the film he saw, and I don’t know how soon films were shown to troops after release date. Bataan, starring Robert Taylor and George Murphy, and including Desi Arnaz, was released in June of 1943. Stand By For Action, starring Robert Taylor and Charles Laughton, was released in December of 1942.
7) I grew up in the house my grandparents lived in at that time. I never knew Frank Franey, as he passed away a year before I was born, but I did know his widow, Adele. Mrs. Franey would often let my siblings and me play in her backyard.
8) I have many of the letters my grandmother and grandfather sent each other, however, the letter my grandmother wrote on June 30, 1943, is not in the collection.
9) Ernie Pyle was a well-known journalist.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Toast to the First and the Fourth of July (repost)

A Toast to the First and the Fourth of July
for David Van Every (1757-1820)
©July 2009 - John Newmark

For two years my fourth great fought
for the creation of our nation
then in seventeen seventy seven
he deemed his disloyalty a disservice
and joined the other side.
Finally, he and his family fled to Canada.

His motivations are unrecorded.
Beyond his appearance on muster rolls,
a few brief mentions elsewhere,
we have nothing. No inkling
of the wherefores behind his decision
either in seventy five, or seventy seven.

In July’s opening barrage
of national celebrations
I honor both of his decisions -
whatever the reasons, and his willingness
to fight for what he believed
even when those beliefs changed.

***
July 1 is Canada Day
July 4 is Independence Day

This poem was based on information I'd found on the web, citing The Records of the Van Every Family, by Mary Blackadar Piersol, 1947.  After writing this poem, I discovered the muster rolls for David Van Every on Footnote that put the information somewhat in doubt.

The muster rolls suggest he enlisted on July 4, 1775, and deserted on Sept 12 (or Sept / 2) 1775. And re-enlisted on May 23, 1777, and redeserted in June of 1777. So in total it would have been for three months, not two years.

Also, since writing the poem, I obtained a copy of The Records of the Van Every Family, by Mary Blackadar Piersol. She only mentions David joining and deserting in 1777. So she didn't know about the 1775 muster roll. Somebody else must have found documentation that he joined in 1775, and an incorrect interpretation was made that he remained in service between 1775 and 1777.

It's impossible to assign motivation to the enlistments and desertions. David was 18 and 20 years old in 1775 and 1777. He may have just been a very confused young man.

While McGregory Van Every and his children ultimately joined the Loyalist camp, and fled to Canada, there were many Van Everys who fought as Patriots throughout the war.  They just aren't my ancestors.  As one researcher notes concerning David and his brother, Benjamin:
David and Benjamin Van Every perhaps had decided to join the New York Militia, as it was in this Regiment that the cousins of their father, McGregory Van Every had been serving: Martin as a Lieutenant, Cornelius (1730 - 1815) as an Ensign and later as a Lieutenant, and Rynier as a Captain. However, soon after deserting from the New York Militia, both David and Benjamin transferred themselves to Butler's Rangers, within which they fought for the duration of the American Revolution, David as a Sergeant and Benjamin as a regular soldier.

---
 "Warner Cemetery: an important piece of Canada's heritage worth preserving," Robert Collins McBride, The Loyalist Gazette, March 22, 2000. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

June 28, 1914

100 Years ago today, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot by Gavrilo Princip.

Where were my ancestors on June 28, 1914?

Newmarks/Cruvants - St. Louis, Missouri

  • My grandfather, Melvin Newmark, was born in 1912
  • His father, Barney Newmark, had immigrated in 1909
  • His mother, Bertha (Cruvant) Newmark, was likely born in Missouri in 1886. (The Cruvant family was definitely in the US at the time.)
  • Three out of four of Melvin's grandparents were alive in 1914 - all living in the greater St. Louis area.

Blatts/Feinsteins - St. Louis, Missouri

  • My grandmother, Belle "Sissie" Newmark was born August 14, 1914, so she wasn't quite born yet.
  • Her father, Herman Feinstein, had immigrated in 1890
  • Her mother, Anna (Blatt) Feinstein, had immigrated, I believe, in the late 1890s
  • Three out of four of Sissie's grandparents were alive in 1914 - all living in the greater St. Louis area.

Van Everys/Denyer - Caldwell County, Texas

  • My grandmother, Myrtle Van Every, was born in 1900
  • Her father, Melvin Van Every, and mother, Margaret (Denyer) Van Every, were both alive in 1914 and living in Texas
  • None of Myrtle's grandparents were alive in 1914

Deutsches/Lichtmans - Chicago, IL

  • My grandfather, Martin Deutsch, was born in 1907 in Nagyalmas, Hungary (Almasu, Romania)
  • The Deutsch family had immigrated to Chicago from Hungary between 1912-1913.
  • They were the last of my ancestors to arrive in the US.
  • Both of Martin's parents were alive in 1914, and living in Chicago
  • All four of Martin's grandparents remained in Hungary. Their dates of death are unknown.

On our honeymoon in 2012, my wife and I visited the jail cell where Gavrilo Princip spent the years 1914-1918. It was Cell #1 at Terezin, which was renamed Theresienstadt by the Nazis during WWII. [Not Your Usual Honeymoon Destination]

Several ancestors and kin registered for the draft during WWI, but I am not aware of any who actually served.

Friday, June 27, 2014

How do I find out if they're dead or alive?

A relative my mother has been in contact with for a few years hasn't responded to emails recently. When she tried the phone number she had, it was disconnected.

A year ago, I would have simply gone to one of the several websites that provided access to the Social Security Death Index, and checked if the relative was there. However, Congress closed that method at the end of last year, creating a waiting period of three years before someone's information is accessible on private websites. Their rationale was that the SSDI permitted people to steal the Social Security numbers of dead people for fraudulent purposes. Of course, the SSDI was created to prevent such fraud. If anyone was getting away with using the SS#s of the recently deceased, it was not the fault of the SSDI being easily accessible, it was the fault of those who were supposed to be checking the numbers against the database not doing so.

Now if you have a "legitimate fraud prevention interest, or have a legitimate business purpose pursuant to a law, governmental rule, regulation, or fiduciary duty", while you are entitled to access the database, you have to pay for a certification program, which I am sure will encourage everyone who should be using it to do so, right? Sigh. That battle was lost last year, but it is still upsetting, because there was no good reason for Congress to do what it did.

So, without the SSDI, I checked Legacy. No obituary published within the last year for the relative, and Legacy does include the primary newspapers for the city and county of residence. However, the relative's spouse is deceased, and there are no children. Someone has to write the obituary.

I checked the online news archives at the local newspapers on both the city and county level without finding any information one way or another.

The relative was an amateur radio operator. I was able to find out that their license was renewed in February of last year, and it's a ten year license. QRZ provides online logging. The last time somebody logged that they had spoken with our relative via amateur radio was in December of last year. But that's meaningless since there are logs from the 1990s on the list of 'most recent' logs. Our relative didn't log their calls on this website, so it would be pretty random who logged on their end.

1) Can anybody think of any other resource I can check. (The state of last known residence is California.)

2) Is there anybody reading this who has paid for the certification program, has access to recent deaths in the SSDI, and would be willing, and legally allowed, to check the database for me? I don't know what the restrictions are for those who do go through the certification program, and I don't want anyone entering any gray areas for me. (If the relative is deceased, I wouldn't be interested in any information from the database beyond their date of death.)

Websites/Search Engines I've checked
Legacy
QRZ
Google
Whitepages
California Digital Newspaper Collection

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to my father, grandfathers, great grandfathers, great great grandfathers, etc


LtoR: Melvin L. Newmark, Barney Newmark, Herman M. Feinstein, Samuel J. Newmark, Moshe Leyb Cruvant, Morris Blatt, Martin Deutsch, Melvin E. Van Every, Samuel Deutsch, Samuel Van Every.

Unpictured: my father, Selig Feinstein, Abraham Deutsch, Israel Lichtman, Ebenezer Denyer, etc.

For Father's Day my sons created some art for me. (Pretty good handwriting for 15 months! I think they may have had some help.)



Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

A post on what Memorial Day is for, besides barbecues.

The above image comes from a past version of the Memorial Day page at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, explaining that Memorial Day is a day for remembering those who died in the service of their country.  [Read the full text of the poem.]
Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the civil war), it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action. [source]
[More on the history of Memorial Day]


Unnamed Remains the Bravest Soldier - by Walt Whitman (From 'Specimen Days')

OF scenes like these, I say, who writes—whoe’er can write the story? Of many a score—aye, thousands, north and south, of unwrit heroes, unknown heroisms, incredible, impromptu, first-class desperations—who tells? No history ever—no poem sings, no music sounds, those bravest men of all—those deeds. No formal general’s report, nor book in the library, nor column in the paper, embalms the bravest, north or south, east or west. Unnamed, unknown, remain, and still remain, the bravest soldiers. Our manliest—our boys—our hardy darlings; no picture gives them. Likely, the typic one of them (standing, no doubt, for hundreds, thousands,) crawls aside to some bush-clump, or ferny tuft, on receiving his death-shot—there sheltering a little while, soaking roots, grass and soil, with red blood—the battle advances, retreats, flits from the scene, sweeps by—and there, haply with pain and suffering (yet less, far less, than is supposed,) the last lethargy winds like a serpent round him—the eyes glaze in death—none recks—perhaps the burial-squads, in truce, a week afterwards, search not the secluded spot—and there, at last, the Bravest Soldier crumbles in mother earth, unburied and unknown.

The cartoon above is by John T. McCutcheon - published circa 1900

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Caution is needed with obituaries

Obituaries can be great resources for filling in both recent and past generations of branches of your family tree, but one has to be very careful about the assumptions one makes when reading them.

[All names below have been altered.]

I read the below obituary of a distant cousin

SCHWINN, ROBIN (nee Goldstein) … dear mother of Penny Ann (Edward) Molloy, Ethan J. (Marcia) Johnson and the late Alice First; dear grandmother of Lana (Louis) Spalding, George W., Jack C., Rachel A. Johnson and Melissa Steinway; dear great grandmother of Matthew and Michael Spalding...

From this obituary I entered three children for Robin Goldstein and __ Schwinn
  • Penny Ann Schwinn – (married Edward Molloy)
  • Marcia Schwinn – (married Ethan J. Johnson) (daughter Rachel)
  • Alice Schwinn – (married ___ First)
I was unable to assign the other grandchildren to their parents without further information. I suspect there are a number of genealogists who would fill in the blanks as I did, carefully noting where they got the information, naturally.

Then I found Alice Schwinn’s obit

...Mrs. Schwinn…She is survived by her father, Ethan Johnson; mother, Robin Schwinn; sister, Penny Molloy; brother, John Johnson; grandmother, Opal Johnson; and close friend, Patricia Marie.

I knew something was wrong somewhere. There was no way Alice's father was her sister’s husband. And here was a brother not mentioned in the first obituary.

After a little thought I redrew the tree.

Robin Goldstein (Spouse 1: Ethan John Johnson) (Spouse 2: ___ Schwinn)
Children:
  • Penny Ann ___ (married Edward Molloy)
  • Ethan John Johnson, Jr. (married Marcia ___) (daughter Rachel)
  • Alice Johnson (married ___ First)
This information fits both obituaries, but contains some new assumptions. In order to confirm these, I could make a trip to the library and look up some marriage records in the microfilm. Or I could try to contact the cousins.

It is common for individuals to be better known by their middle name than their first, especially when they share a name with a parent. It is also common for half-siblings and step parents to be referenced without the modifiers. This leads to ambiguity that sometimes doesn't appear ambiguous.