Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day - 2010 - Water

Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion around an important issue that impacts us all. (BlogActionDay.Change.Org)
The theme for 2010 is Water.
Right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us who are subject to preventable disease and even death because of something that many of us take for granted.
Access to clean water is not just a human rights issue. It’s an environmental issue. An animal welfare issue. A sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and it affects all of us.

Blog Action Day 2010: Water from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

For more on the current global issue of water, visit the Blog Action Day site.  However, this is a genealogy blog - and as such - my concern is less on how water currently impacts me, or others, but how it has impacted my ancestors.  You might ask, "how would you know?"  I know my ancestor, Barnard Goldfinch, was a sailmaker, and every one of my immigrant ancestors arrived in America by ship.  Those are obvious connections, but not exactly what Blog Action Day is about.

Since February of 2009, every Monday I have posted a transcription of some document in my family history collection.  I have also transcribed many documents that haven't been posted.  One of the reasons I give for my transcription project is that it makes searching for documents that mention a particular person, place, or thing much easier.  So I put this into action.  I searched for the word 'water' on my computer.

If I had done this prior to this week, my choice for this past Monday's transcription would have been different.  Back in January I mentioned my Great Aunt Minnie's letters to the Happy Hammers (a 'youth club' sponsored by the Houston Post, where children throughout Texas submitted weekly letters.  Often challenging the youth to write letters on specific themes.)  Here's a letter of hers from when she was 13 years old.
November 21, 1897
Maxwell, Texas
Dear Haphammer: ...
What historical man deserves the most honor before 1900? Well, I have studied some time about it and it’s a hard thing to decide. I think Christopher Columbus, the great sea voyager, deserves the most honor. He was the first man that crossed the Atlantic. He didn’t really discover America, but it is claimed that he did. Still, he had very much courage to make such a daring attempt. When he started he did not intend to discover any such land as America. He wanted to set a new route by water to Asia and the West Indies. I know more about him, but it doesn’t seem interesting to most of the Haps.
... I will close with love to all. A true Hap,
Minnie Van Every
I think it's great that Minnie at age 13 in 1897 knows Columbus did not discover America.  Of course, her grandmother professed to be part Choctaw.  Minnie had reason to know that what everyone claimed wasn't so.

While this jumped out at me due to Columbus Day, one of the suggested themes for Blog Action Day is the impact of water on global conflict, and Columbus's arrival in American waters might be seen as applicable in a way.

However, this isn't the only appearance of water in my transcriptions.


When my grandfather, Melvin L Newmark, was interviewed he discussed the living conditions of his grandparents in St. Louis around 1910-1920.

Melvin: I remember my grandmother’s tenement on 15th and Carr or something in downtown St. Louis. Without indoor plumbing. I went there frequently as a child, I recall…
Interviewer: Describe it. 
Melvin: Horrible! 
Interviewer: Tall buildings? 
Melvin: Well, maybe three stories, walk-up steps, with a porch. Squalid. 
Interviewer: Outdoor plumbing? 
Melvin: Outdoor plumbing 
Interviewer: Did they have water inside? 
Melvin: I think they had running water. Yes they had running water inside. 
Interviewer: Electricity or gas?
Melvin: I don’t think, no, I think it was gas. Later they got electricity…

[Image note: The caption reads, "The back wall of this privy vault is the wall of the oven of the adjoining bakery." Source: Housing Conditions in St. Louis: Report of the Housing Committee of the Civic League of St. Louis, The Civic League of St. Louis, 1908, p. 22.  The photograph may have been taken only a few blocks from where my grandfather's grandparents lived.]


My maternal grandfather, Martin Deutsch, and his brother, Ted, also mentioned water when discussing their childhood in Romania. 

Ted: ...Dezur and Feri, those are the two brothers I met that I know of in Margitta, because I was there, and I visited them. I used to go when I visited them, I went out to the marketplace, I used to sell water over there. Fresh water. 
Martin: Sell water? How did you get the water? 
Ted: Well, we had a well. They had a well. 
Martin: Oh, you wouldn’t get it from the river? 
Ted: Grandfather had a well. And they had a little container that I put on my back. I was about 10 years old. We’d go to the marketplace, and sell fresh water. We made money that way. 
Martin: You had goatskin probably. 
Ted: No, we had a little container. I don’t recall what kind, made out of wood, that’s all I know.

[Image note: This photograph of a well was taken in 2000 by my mother in Almasu, Romania - formerly Varalmas, Hungary - the birthplace of my maternal grandfather.]


A couple other posts from the past come to mind when I think about this theme.

When my great great grandfather, Selig Feinstein, came to America he was a blacksmith for ten years. As a blacksmith he had to have ready access to a fire hydrant in case of emergency.  He even came up with some improvements to the hydrant which he patented in 1898.

My 2008 Blog Action Day post  on poverty focused on the 1908 Civic League of St. Louis report on housing conditions from which the above photograph of the privy and bakery came.  The report discussed the lack of indoor plumbing in the neighborhood, and what that meant for the residents.


Finally, at times I've wondered what the reasons were for my paternal ancestors who settled in St. Louis upon arriving in America.  None of them seem to have had relatives here beforehand.  One commonality is that they were all in similar trades -- 1 blacksmith, 2 tailors, and a shoemaker.  In the late 19th century early 20th century, I believe those trades may have still thrived best in cities that were fed by a river economy.  That's just a guess, and may not be the real reason.  But it's certainly a possibility.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. Wish I'd read it on Friday so I could have done the same.