Monday, March 15, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Poland, Mineral Wells Texas, and St. Louis

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, 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. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.

This week I continue a transcription of a family history tape recorded in 1987 between my grandmother, "Sissie" (Feinstein) Newmark, and a professional oral historian.


Interviewer: Well, let’s meet your mom. Her name?
Sissie: Anna Blatt Feinstein
Interviewer: And her dad?
Sissie: Morris Feinstein. Morris Blatt, I’m sorry. Oh boy.
Interviewer: Tell me about him.
Sissie: He was a wonderful person. He lived with us for a while.
Interviewer: So you knew him really well.
Sissie: Well, we lived on Ridge avenue he lived with us. He was married at the time, but it was his second marriage. His wife was very ill.
Interviewer: His wife being Belle.
Sissie: No
Interviewer: Belle was the first
Sissie: The first one. She was never here, she died when my mother was very very young.
Interviewer: All right, lets talk about that a little. Where did they come from?
Sissie: My mother came from Poland too.
Interviewer: Do you know where?
Sissie: I think it was Warsaw.
Interviewer: How old was she when they came to the US.
Sissie: She didn’t come to St. Louis. They flew to Texas when they first came. She was about I guess ten or twelve.
Interviewer: When was she born?
Sissie: She was four years younger than my father, so that would be 1890.
Interviewer: Alright, she was not such a baby when she came over.
Sissie: A young girl.
Interviewer: Did she talk about her trip?
Sissie: No. Never.
Interviewer: They went immediately to Texas?
Sissie: Yes, she and her sister.
Interviewer: Alright, did she come to the US with her parents.
Sissie: No, her father came first. He came first. Her mother had died in Poland.
Interviewer: That’s Belle, for whom you were named.
Sissie: Right. Her aunt raised her. I think her name was Toby.
Interviewer: In Poland?
Sissie: No. Yes. Then they came together. Now this
Interviewer: You assume.
Sissie: I assume, yes. My mother’s mother died from a bee sting on her lip. She was very ill.
Interviewer: A tragedy.
Sissie: Then he remarried when he came here. My mother came maybe ten or twelve years after he was here.
Interviewer: Oh, he came to see what he could do.
Sissie: Yes, and in the meantime he had married this other woman called Mollie.
Interviewer: Second wife was Mollie. A US person?
Sissie: No. I don’t know where she was from. We were never friendly. He married her here. My mother left two brothers in Poland, who she never saw after she left them.
Interviewer: She came with her sister only.
Sissie: With her sister, Blanche.
Interviewer: So, Blanche and Anna came to the US together to join their Dad.
Sissie: Yes
Interviewer: That’s how you picture it. The brothers stayed, maybe they were already working.
Sissie: Yes. Well, they were young, I don’t know who they were raised by. But my mother kept in touch with them
Interviewer: Best she could.
Sissie: Yes, sending them money and stuff like that, never saw them again.
Interviewer: And Toby was here, in the states, did she come with them?
Sissie: I don’t think so; I think she came later.
Interviewer: But she raised them in the beginning, back in Poland.
Sissie: Yes.
Interviewer: What did Morris do in Poland?
Sissie: Oh, I don’t know.
Interviewer: What did he do in the States.
Sissie: As far as I can remember he did nothing. I don’t remember, well I was so young.
Interviewer: They didn’t talk about a trade?
Sissie: No, and I don’t remember his ever working. I think he was President of their Shul on Page and something. And he was always over there.
Interviewer: He was a religious man. Alright, but the girls had to eat, how do you think they managed it if their Aunt Toby didn’t come with them.
Sissie: Well you have a point there.
Interviewer: What was in Texas, what drew them to Texas.
Sissie: I don’t know, I think at the time her father and step-mother were living there. I’m pretty sure that that’s where they lived and that’s where they went. And that was in Mineral Wells, Texas where they lived.
Interviewer: Is that a town?
Sissie: Yeah.
Interviewer: What was it like, have you ever been there?


Sissie: No, I’ve never been there.
Interviewer: Did your Mom talk about it?
Sissie: She used to, the only thing she used to talk about, it was a crazy thing, how she rolled cigarettes for her step-mother, and that’s all I ever heard.
Interviewer: What other stories?
Sissie: That was it.
Interviewer: Did she go to school in Mineral Wells?
Sissie: I don’t know where she went to school. I remember through the years of when I was young of tutors coming to the house where my mother learned to read. I don’t know if she ever went to school or not.
Interviewer: After you were born?
Sissie: After I was born, yes.
Interviewer: So you think she was furthering her education then
Sissie: Yes, well, I hope so.
Interviewer: In other words, she was improving on what she had gotten.
Sissie: I don’t know that she – she spoke perfect English, while her sister didn’t, Blanche did not. But she spoke good English, but not perfect. My mother never really learned how to write good. She could sign her name and that’s about it.
Interviewer: So you think that possibly she wasn’t educated at a public school in the states.
Sissie: I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
Interviewer: Just maybe in Poland.
Sissie: Yeah, I have no idea if she was ever really educated. I recall people coming to teach her to read and try to teach her to write when I was about four or five years old.
Interviewer: All right, did she talk about her life in Poland?
Sissie: No. Never talked about it.
Interviewer: Never said it was hard.
Sissie: I wonder if she was too young when she came. She never mentioned it.
Interviewer: Her life in Texas, were they comfortable.
Sissie: Evidently, I don’t know.
Interviewer: How did she get to St. Louis?
Sissie: I don’t know
Interviewer: Or why I should say.
Sissie: Unless her father moved here, I don’t know.
Interviewer: But he was here.
Sissie: He was here, yes.
Interviewer: We know that.
Sissie: Yes.
Interviewer: Blanche was here too.
Sissie: Blanche was here with my mother. They were always together.
Interviewer: So we assume they made a move for some reason.
Sissie: Right, I have no idea what he did.
Interviewer: And they lived then on Burd, no no that’s your other family, where did they live?
Sissie: I’m trying to recall, and I think I can go back as far as Ridge avenue. They moved away from Ridge when I was about 9. But that’s about as far as I can go back.
Interviewer: Your early years.
Sissie: I can go back…I barely remember Burd, but he didn’t live with us there.
Interviewer: Was he a fun Grandpa.
Sissie: Oh he was gorgeous, yes, a gorgeous man. And very loving.
Interviewer: Family man.
Sissie: Yes.
Interviewer: And you weren’t too crazy about Mollie?
Sissie: No, we didn’t get along too well. She had been married before, and she had children, and then they had children together.
Interviewer: Oh, they did?
Sissie: Oh, yes. Mollie and my grandfather had children together. There were too.
Interviewer: Who were they?
Sissie: They were Henry and Pearl Blatt Dankner.
Interviewer: Are they alive?
Sissie: No.
Interviewer: Ok. So they lived in St. Louis.
Sissie: Yes
Interviewer: And you did know them
Sissie: Yes, very well.
Interviewer: Was your mother friendly with those kids?
Sissie: Yes
Interviewer: Who were her half-brother and sister…
Sissie: Yes, that’s right.
Interviewer: But they didn’t grow up together. Your mother was already married.
Sissie: They didn’t grow up together. While they were friendly they were never really close.
Interviewer: But they were a greater family.
Sissie: Yes.
Interviewer: Were they much younger than your Mom?
Sissie: Yes.
Interviewer: Like another generation?
Sissie: No, not that much.
Interviewer: Eight, ten years?
Sissie: Possibly.
Interviewer: But did you know them
Sissie: Oh, sure, very well.
Interviewer: Your Mom has arrived in Texas she is in St. Louis, we know that. And. you don’t know she went to school here.
Sissie: No, I do not know.
Interviewer: The first thing you know is how she met your dad?
Sissie: I know how she met my father, yes.
Interviewer: Describe that to me.
Sissie: Well, he was the laundry man. He delivered the laundry; he picked it up. He was in the laundry business all his life.
Interviewer: Was he?
Sissie: All his life. And that’s how she met him.
Interviewer: He came to her house?
Sissie: I don’t know whether he came to her house, or he came to where she was visiting somewhere, I don’t know. But that’s how she met him.
Interviewer: And they started going out?
Sissie: Yeah, and the next thing you know they were getting married.


1) My grandmother seems confident that her grandfather, Morris Blatt, his second wife, Mollie, and his two daughters from his first marriage, Blanche and Anna, spent some time in Mineral Wells, Texas. (At least confident enough to have a name of the town. Mineral Wells is about 50 miles west of Fort Worth, and about 225 miles north of where my maternal grandmother was born in San Marcos.) Morris and Mollie were married in St. Louis in 1893, and their two children, Henry and Pearl, were born in St. Louis in 1898 and 1903 respectively. I have their birth records, though Pearl's was an affidavit that was filled out in 1968.

It's not clear when sisters, Blanche and Anna arrived in the US. They were supposed to have been born in 1887 and 1889 respectively. If my grandmother is correct, and Anna was about 14 when they made the trip, it's possible the move to Texas occurred in 1904 immediately after Pearl's birth. They remained in Mineral Wells for an unspecified period of time, and then returned to St. Louis.

Obviously, despite my grandma's words, they didn't fly there. Commercial airflight didn't really begin until the 1920s. But if they met up with their father in Texas, this might explain why I haven't found them in the records at Ellis Island or Castle Garden. They might have arrived at a Southern port.

2) I was unaware that my second great grandmother, Belle, who died in Poland, had any known siblings. I'm not sure who this 'Toba' was that raised my great grandmother Anna. There was a Toba (Dudelsack) Oberman on my grandmother's paternal side, and it occurs to me my grandmother may have gotten some stories confused.

3) Morris Blatt was a tailor. This is confirmed through appearances in city directories. It's also known that the Blatt family came from Losice, Poland.

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