Giving Life to Distant Ancestors

There is a picture that has moved from basement to garage and back again, and from rowhome to rowhome in Philadelphia.  It is a picture of a family, joined together in the family bakery in the late 1910’s.  I first saw this picture as a child and it was thought to be lost for the years since.  I’ve managed to scan it and take in the details amongst the water stains and torn paper.  My great-great-grandmother is in the picture.  It was taken in her sister and brother-in-law, Elizabeth and Michael’s bakery.  My great-grandma is there too, as a little girl.  More than just a photo, I recently learned it was a Baptism celebration for Elizabeth and Michael’s son, Nicholas.

I never met these bakery owners.  But I know they are the reason my great-great-grandparents chose Philadelphia when leaving Europe.  They made a home there and found employment doing odd jobs in the bakery.

More than finding dates and places of birth, I spend much of my time doing ancestry research, trying to put together a puzzle in my mind, trying to piece together what this person was like.  What kind of struggles did they go through?  What did they look like?  I was able to recently find a picture of Elizabeth and Michael recently, along with some records and pieces that give me an idea of who they were.  They came from Hungary, single, young and poor.  Michael was tall with dark hair and “deep blue” eyes.  He labelled himself a self-employed baker when he stepped on the shore of New York, at the age of 19.  He came from Hungary but spoke German.  Had several children, became a Naturalized citizen right off the ship, battled pneumonia in 1918 and had the highest appraised house on his block by the time he was 40.  By this time he filled out his draft card for World War II, he was gray, but still slender and still baking.  He spent the last sixteen years a widower.  He lived to 93, the year before I was born.  It makes the connection feel closer in the frame of time but there was a world of difference between our lives.  When I look at the picture of he and his wife though, I can’t help but feel like they are characters.  I like to think she was sassy.  I like to give them a story.  In a way, I wouldn’t be here today without them, distant relative or not.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unusual

Unusual.

Not much surprises me or strikes me as unusual.  So as I perused my photos, I came up with something that might be a little usual.  Us.  My husband and I have an odd habit of posing with manikins or any likeness of people really.  Not in a creepy way; at least I don’t think so, anyway.  Either way, I enjoy them because you can make up different stories about what is happening in each picture and add your own subtitles.  Hell, if anyone actually likes these, we might have a valid reason to continue embarrassing ourselves in public.  We really do get a kick out of it.  Here is just a sampling.

"Excuse me, do you know where the exit is?"
"Don't talk to me about exits, I've been locked in here for 10 years!"

Haunted By My Irish Great-Grandfather

I’ve written about my ancestry research before.  It’s something I love and hate, because it’s thrilling to find a piece of the puzzle and incredibly frustrating to find either nothing or to confirm your initial theories were false.

I found a crucial piece to our family puzzle last night.  I confirmed all the vitals of my Great Grandfather; a man I never met, my father never knew and his father barely knew.  His World War I draft card says he was 5’7 with red hair and green eyes.  He immigrated by himself at the age of sixteen from Ireland.  His ship ran ashore leaving Liverpool before coasting onto Philadelphia.  He was a steelworker and laborer.  He married an Irish girl here and housed her widowed father and two younger brothers; all of them laborers.  They lost a baby girl as an infant and died fairly young themselves.  The census says he could read and write, but the signature on his Naturalization paperwork leads me to believe he was not accustomed to holding a pen of any kind.

He left his family behind at the age of thirteen, to make a living in England as a coal miner.  After three years in the soot, he left for America.  I haven’t a clue what became of the rest of his family.  I’m having difficulty with his parents’ names and the time span of Irish records I need were either lost in a warehouse fire in 1922 in Dublin or destroyed by the Irish Free State purposely.

While in Ireland for our honeymoon, and I met with a county genealogist who gave me records from my family.  It seemed too easy.  I don’t want to say they tried to fool me, but I was fooled.  I have records for someone of the same name, in the same town but it doesn’t add up.  I’ve done this long enough to know that back then, records and dates were not consistent and often disregarded, but I’m dying to figure out the answers.  As a researcher and history buff by nature, I can’t feel settled until I can go further.  I don’t want to go harass any distant relatives; on the contrary, I’ve had Irishmen contact me in regards to possible connections.

There is simply something to be said about learning where you come from and feeling that you share some sort of trait or identity with those who came before us.  I was the only one in my family with hair that glows red and though my eyes are often hazel, they shine green regularly.  I’d like to think somewhere along the way, it’s trickled down to me alongside my fondness for Ireland.  Maybe that is a bit too romantic, but whenever my husband comments on how red my hair looks a particular day, I can’t help but admit that I’ve been dreaming of the Galway Bay.

What Did New Jersey Do to You?

I was technically born in Philadelphia, but raised right over the bridge in New Jersey.  Despite popular belief, it is not the armpit of the country, it does not smell bad (outside of Newark) and there is a ton to offer, other than fodder for late night TV hosts.

Why does everyone hate Jersey?  What have we ever done to you?

There are some things that need to be cleared up.

  1. The Jersey Shore crew, yeah, they aren’t from Jersey.  They are from New York.  Don’t judge us on their characters.  Even the shore doesn’t want them there.  They did nothing but ruin our already ridiculed image and waste our tax dollars.
  2. New Jersey is the Garden State.  There is an abundance of agriculture and farming.  Though it is the most densely populated state, there is an array of pinelands, beautiful coastline, mountains, creeks, rivers and farms that add to the beautiful landscape.  As a matter of fact, bordering states know us for our delicious Jersey corn and tomatoes, and Ocean Spray uses our local cranberry bog farmers for their juice.
  3. North Jersey and South Jersey people have nothing in common.  This is a tried and true fact.  Though the state is only 170 long by 70 miles wide, South Jersey has no common traits or loyalties to North Jersey and vice versa.  They were originally two separate territories between 1674 and 1702 and they should have stayed that way.  South Jersey supports Philadelphia sports and clean air.  North Jersey houses New York fans and commuters.  I’m not sure if you’ve noticed that I’m partial.
  4. Don’t ask me who supports New Jersey major sports teams; I don’t know anyone who knows the answer to that.  There has to be somebody, I just have yet to find them.
  5. New York loves to make fun of us, yet they fail to recognize that Manhattan would not function without the assistance of New Jersey public agencies and our workforce.  Also, your beloved Giants play in Jersey, don’t forget it.
  6. Entertainment trends seem to define us.  We are also not all mobsters.  I won’t deny that they exist, but I also won’t admit to it.  I don’t want cement shoes.
  7. I realize I just said entertainment seems to define us, and I do somewhat resent that, but our state pumps out some of the greats to be proud of anyway; and many more.  They are in no particular order, but we’ll let the Boss believe otherwise.
  8. We love our diners.  We have the most in the world – how can you not love that you can’t get five miles without stumbling upon a place to chow down on an omelet at 3am?
  9. Thomas Edison did a lot of inventing here, while Atlantic City revolutionized gambling and leisure.  Light bulbs and slot machines are still important to our culture; I think you’ve heard of them.
  10. You can make fun of us all you want, but we’ve got hundreds of pluses and 8,821,155 people who tell you that you’re crazy not to appreciate our history and what we have to offer.  No, I don’t work for New Jersey, but if you visit, maybe you can drive my taxes down with tourism profits.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast

As an amateur photographer, I’m hoping these convey contrast properly, particularly with respect to lighting.  I took these inside a photography school in Philadelphia.  It was an old warehouse that was refurbished and converted into spaces for artists and their expressive institutions.

I fell for the old brickwork, the old glass windows and the beauty of the building which was restored out of a previously abandoned warehouse that at one time drew squatters and taggers.  The neighborhood isn’t great, but it appears the building has been respected since the rehab.  How they purposely refurbished the building around the graffiti reminds me of the new life it has taken on.  It encompasses the contrast between the stages of life this building and this area has seen over time; new to decrepit to repurposed.

The Most Honest Post I’ve Written

The only person in my family that knows about this blog is my husband.  He’s pretty supportive, though he doesn’t say much and even if his way of support is portrayed in the form of a challenge.  He challenged me that I couldn’t do this 365 blog when I first mentioned it.  I’d like to believe that what appears to be lack in faith, is instead his way to push me.  My Irish and Philadelphian roots are built with stubborn and defiant characteristics.  I used to think these were flaws, but they make me who I am, so I will not shy away from them if that’s what I need to survive.  In fact, those “flaws” are the reason I’m writing you.  He said I couldn’t, therefore I do.

There aren’t a lot of things that I think I’ve done necessarily right in my life.  I had so many dreams when I was a teenager and a surprising amount of adults to supported them, particularly people who had no real investment in me.  There is nothing they’d gain from my success.  They just cared.  I never thought about it before.  Teachers, co-workers, older friends all took the time to mentor me, without request and without agenda.

I’ve told you before that I’m an old soul.  My favorite memories are sitting with my Grandmoms and just talking.  These are some of my earliest memories and with two gone and one left, I see this part of my life slipping away.  I expected encouragement from them, but instead I got simple friendship.  I could actually consider them people I loved, respected and wanted to spend time with.  We’d laugh and talk about things that matter, not just superficial weather or sports talk.  When I think back though, even though they were incredibly important to me, they weren’t my motivators.

As I got my first job at a Hallmark store, I was enveloped by the family of people who owned and worked at the store.  They saw me through some of the harder times and though many were much older in experience and years, they counseled me without me even knowing it.  They encouraged the school-skipping and concert going city girl, and led me to believe anything was possible.  I continued to find people like this wherever I went.  Maybe I was a project or maybe I actually was as special as my parents said, but maybe I was just blessed with meeting the right people and accepting such unlikely friendships.  There I was, in California and my closest friends had children my age.

I didn’t sit down to write this blog, I had another vision in mind.  I started thinking about my plans.  I gave up so many plans to be logical when I was about twenty.  I gave up the steps I needed to take to fulfill my dreams, and instead kept dreaming with no real track to ever get there.  That’s changing.  Whether it’s logical or not, is not my concern anymore.  I’m going to be putting my husband and I in a financial situation that falls into a category of the unknown, possibly stupid.  I’m going to be leaping from a steady job to who knows what.  It’s scary.  But I can’t help but feel that I owe it to myself and to every person who gave me the reason to believe I was good enough to get what I want.  I’m doing something because I want to and for the first time, it’s not out of defiance.  Whether or not I find what I’m looking for, I can at least die saying that I tried, instead of feeling like a coward.

 

Photo courtesy of gettingsmartonline.com

The Leprechaun and the Pilot

Today is a day that I’m not feeling particularly inspired by anything.  To the picture files we go!

I found this picture, taken from one of those old razor phones, about four years ago.  It is the epitome of my husband and I.  You can almost sum up how much fun we have together by this picture, but I promise we’re not too weird.  We just like to have fun.  I think my Mom was the original recipient of this picture.  This pretty much seals the deal regarding whether or not our family knew we were meant to be.

My husband and I met in San Diego, before we reached the drinking age.  This meant that we were in that stage between high school and the San Diego bar (meat market) scene.  It also meant our dates had to be creative because we are both old souls who were far older than the candles on our birthday cakes.  He began taking me to “fun” places right off the bat.  We went to theme parks and ran around like kids.  It was good for us, particularly me, because I knew how to have fun but I can easily find myself becoming too serious and stiff if I’m not forced into playing.

I’d say within the first month, we started picking up silly hats wherever we went and posing in pictures with them.  The last time I checked, we had three Rubbermaid tubs full of hats and random costume gear.  Needless to say, we’ve since taken most holidays and definitely Halloween a lot more seriously since we met each other.  As a matter of fact, we’re currently in preparation of our favorite Leprechaun making his appearance next week.  Our friends tease us, but they agree they wouldn’t want us any other way.  I like that we are not so straight laced when we want to be, that we can loosen up and not take things so seriously.

We came across these particular disguises in preparation to our move to the East Coast, my original home.  You can tell by the fuzziness and randomness captured, that we never intended to actually publish this picture anywhere, but I can’t help but smile when I see it.  He’s wearing a couple key pieces to his famous Leprechaun costume, and I’m wearing a child’s pilot cap we bought in an airport.  The rest is just unfortunate, before my nose job and before I began waxing.  I love that hat.

Note for Philadelphians:   If you run into us on St. Paddy’s Day, and you’ll know who we are, do say hello.  If you are a slutty drunk girl who is pretending to be Irish, restrain yourself from asking to take kinky pictures with my husband.  You’d think I wouldn’t need to say that.

Generations of Inconsistency

Studying ancestry is one of the things I’m truly passionate about.  I spent the day yesterday at an Ancestry Day workshop in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Ancestry.com.

Yeah, I know, I’m a dork.  I spent the day with hundreds, actually, I’d say at least over a thousand old people.  I mean ancestry enthusiasts.  And I say they were old, only to add to my point that I’m an old soul, because honestly, I got along with them swimmingly.  We laughed, we joked and discussed how young people just don’t get it.  They must see me as old too; I’m only 28 mind you.  It was a swell day.

(“Swell” by the way, is a fine word to use but apparently even though I’ve tried to revive its popularity, even Microsoft Word is unsure of how I’m using it.  I’m not letting them stop me or change it to “swelling”.  That just doesn’t make sense.)

The main point of this post however, is that I’ve realized the inconsistency of my ancestors and maybe that’s why I’ve lived such with such colorful stories so far myself.  When I look around though, I have friends who have done the same thing, gone to the same church, same school, same, same, same as their parents and their parents before.  I don’t mock this, because I honestly admire tradition and all it represents.  Instead, I come from people who never really seemed to know who they were or what they wanted.  Even if they did, what they relayed the family about themselves was untrue anyway.  Despite that, I’ve found so many pieces to our family’s ancestral puzzle, but they were not the type to play along and do as you’re supposed to.

The numerous speakers gave ideas on how to further genealogical research; where to search and what kind of odd records could be of assistance.  I realized how neither side of my family had ever consistently practiced religion, stayed in the same place and joined organizations for any extended period of time.   They really didn’t leave a paper trail of any kind unless it was required for the government every ten years in a census.  Even then, like most families, the data is screwy.  The most consistent thing about my family, as found through records, is that they were inconsistent.  I realize the times were different long ago, but for research sake, sometimes I do admire the people who had boring families.  But then again, when I find a truly fascinating puzzle piece, man am I glad the people in my past were interesting.  I wonder if they were inconsistent out of choice or out of circumstance.  Still, I hope one day I leave generations sifting through my records saying, “Wow, that Shannon was a swell character”.

That’s right; I’m bringing the word “swell” back.  One day, it’ll be “cool” again.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Distorted

A professional photographer, I am not. Amateur? Maybe. When I took these? Not at all.

Four years ago, with our little Sony in my pocket, my husband and I shamelessly wandered and played in Independence Hall Park, adjacent to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. We had just had dinner and perused the street artists and galleries that are open the first Friday of each month in Old City. I’d say we were feeling goofy rather than inspired, as we attempted to take pictures of us eating each other’s head.

Distort: misinterpret, falsify, fudge, misrelate, misrepresent, and slant

We did all of that, without any actual consideration of the camera but all in fun, and clearly without any legitimate idea of spatial perception. My credibility factor is drastically diminished with this post, but I’d be lying if I didn’t laugh hysterically when I look at the fifty or so pictures from that night.  I’d also be lying if I said we never tried this again.  We did get better at it, but those pictures aren’t nearly as fun.

An Ode to Past Presidents

In remembrance of past and important Presidents in our US history, I had a beer. Ok, I had a couple beers, but I didn’t celebrate with John’s cousin Sam Adams.

Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia makes a fine selection of beer, but my favorites are amongst the Ales of the Revolution. We first tried these at City Tavern in the Old City section of Philadelphia, where a replica of a past tavern now stands. Our Founding Fathers sought an ale and political banter at the old City Tavern before and during the country’s quest for Independence and they have appropriately served original and historic recipes brewed and re-mastered down the road by the Yards Brewery

Though I could’ve sworn I remembered an Alexander Hamilton brew in years past, the current selections of Revolutionary choices are as follows:

    The Poor Richard’s obviously represents traditional ale by Benjamin Franklin, who was not a President, but a Founding Father none the less.  This is my personal favorite. There is no doubt that his mind led to the formation of not only the United States, and thus American Presidents but also many of the institutions that still hold functional and historic places in our lives today.

    In addition to keeping the recipes traditional, Yards even finds their location to be relatively close to actual historic precedence: Our new brewery is located just blocks away from the site of Robert Hare’s brewery, where Washington’s favorite Philadelphia Porter was crafted.

    These are not your standard and typical beer selections.  Beer connoisseurs will appreciate not only the original recipes and unique ingredients that are traditional to the late 1700’s, but the flavors that rival consistent micro-brews. You’ll also find flavors that you would never find in the watered-down light beers, but this is true with all of Yard’s selections.

    If you’re in the Tri-State area and have a chance to either stop by City Tavern for a sampler or find the variety pack option at one of the local liquor shops, I highly suggest liberating yourself.