coverThe Family.  Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century.  By David Laskin.  Published by Viking Adult.  2013.  400 pages.

This is the story of three branches of one Russian Jewish family, the author’s maternal grandfather’s family.  Although we often think that such family lines cannot be traced back into the “old country”,  Mr. Laskin was able to track many of the individuals in this family back to early in the 1800s, to his great great grandparents Shimon Dov HaKohen and Beyle Botwinik HaKohen.  From a variety of sources which included much help from a couple of cousins, interviews with various family members, transcriptions of old letters, and the historical timeline, Mr. Laskin has pieced together the story of his mother’s father’s family.  With a family tree laid out for the reader right after the table of contents, how could a genealogist resist?

David Laskin started where many family historians begin: with some memories from his childhood, some few pieces of information, and a family rumor.  Although he grew up in a Jewish family, and knew his older relatives were immigrants, he knew little more.  As he described:  “I grew up hearing stories that my immigrant Jewish grandparents told about the “old country” (Russia) that they left at the turn of the last century. When I was a teenager, my mother’s parents began making yearly trips to visit our relatives in Israel, and stories about the Israeli family sifted down to me as well. What I never heard growing up was that a third branch of the family had remained behind in the old country – and that all of them perished in the Holocaust.“

One piece of information and one family rumor seem to have started Mr. Laskin on the road to tracing his family story.  The information was that an great aunt, Itel or Ida Rosenthal, had been instrumental in starting and developing the Maidenform company.  The rumor was that Lazar Kaganovich, the “wolf of the Kremlin”, was a relative.  In trying to track the truth of the rumor, Mr. Laskin re-connected with an Israeli cousin who was the family historian.  The cousin was able to say definitely that Lazar Kaganovich was not part of the family.  However, this left the question for the author of who was part of the family.

Mr. Laskin’s great great grandfather, Shimon Dov Hakohen,  was a Torah scribe as was his father before him.  His family lived in the Pale of Settlement which was on the western edge of the Russian Empire in the early 1800s, in a town between Minsk and Vilna.  The town was known for its yeshiva, institute of Talmudic study, and Shimon Dov’s sons were educated there.  For at least several generations the town was a center of Jewish life, religion and scholarship.  However, no one was exempt from the forces that shaped modern history.  Shimon Dov and Beyle and all their children felt the changes around them and responded in different ways according to their personalities and ages.  When the Tsar, Alexander II, was assassinated in 1881 it led to a round of ethnic cleansing against the Jews.  This in turn led some of the Jewish youth in the country to social activism and to join with others in the Bund.  By 1901 family members, led by Itel and her husband William Rosenthal, began migrating to the US.  The unrest in the Russian Empire, culminating in the 1905 revolution convinced more of the family to leave.   Oldest son, Abraham and his sons followed Itel to the US.  Two young cousins, instead of going to the US went to Palestine (or the Land as Mr. Laskin termed it) to help build a home for the Jews.  And the rest of the family stayed in place fighting for their freedom and lives in Russia.

This is not an uncommon family trajectory or story among many Jewish families, however, Mr. Laskin’s ability to piece together the various lines is less usual.  Using all the resources at his disposal and historical storytelling he was able to link the social forces to individual people and families.  His family’s story might have been my husband’s.

Disclaimer: I am not connected with the author or the publisher in any way.  I discovered this book via something online (a blog probably, but I can’t remember whose) and was intrigued enough to get my library to find it for me.  I learned many things about modern history and the Jewish experience from reading it.

2014-01-31 17.02

Research
* Earhart project:   I received the Civil War pension file for Margaret Earhart applying based on her son Tilford’s death.  This record was pulled and scanned for me by Pamela Loos-Noji at Kinwork Connections.  I found her by using the Association of Professional Genealogists website’s Find a Professional section.  Easy peasy.  Pam was very responsive and I had the file of 81 scanned pages in less than a month.  I’m still reading through this 81-page gem and getting ready to transcribe at least some of the affidavits, which look like they contain much useful information.  Unfortunately, so far I don’t see any reference to my Mary Elizabeth Hockman.  But hope springs eternal.  Realistically, reading through this file and transcribing is likely to be my major project for this short month.

Organization

I see that once again I have a set of goals that mostly aren’t getting accomplished.  I will try to do better this month.  Honest I will.
* Pick a family group in Evernote that is tagged To-Analyze and enter into my database.  The information isn’t going to jump in all by itself (drat!). I actually did get started on this one in January. I got some of the Boothby information transferred and organized but then, as usual, got distracted by searching online for the details to fill out the picture. So now I have images of Boothby certificates or registers sitting on my desktop along with a couple of Earharts and a couple of Justices. So back I go to try again.
* Pick a group of census records and really learn how to enter them in Clooz – a program which I really like my early experience with but which I need to learn to be more proficient using.
* Type notes from Maine trip and file information.  Figure out next steps.  Since this is my Boothby family line, I will make the family group from my Evernote files to start on the Boothbys. Also since I can travel pretty easily to Maine, even doing a day trip for some places, I need to keep myself focused on this goal.

Education
* I am registered to watch a webinar titled “Find Your 17th-c. New England Ancestors with NEHGS” which I am looking forward to.  I recently seem to be reading and listening to books set in the colonial period of the U.S.  Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower was a good listen as an audiobook and I’m still listening to Woody Holton’s Abigail Adams.  I am addicted to podcasts and audiobooks to make my hour-plus each way commute pleasant.  It makes a huge difference.

I’ve been thinking about my Earhart/Hockman question and trying to figure out what difference it makes anyway.  Why do I care whether Mary Elizabeth was a Hockman or an Earhart child?  I know, from my sister-in-law as well as my professional training,  that your adoptive parents and their families are your own, and they have a huge influence on your experiences and tastes and opinions.  They play a major role in making you who you turn out to be.

So why is it that I find myself not doing much to trace the families of John Earhart and Margaret Shotwell?  (I do actually have some information on each of them and their family lines, a fair amount on the Shotwells, much of it acquired before I focused on Mary;s origins.)  Every time I see something that would lure me in the direction of tracing one of those lines I make a decision to postpone doing it, waiting to finally figure out what family my paternal great grandmother really came from. 

This leads me to the question: what is it about researching my family tree that gives me such a kick?  Why do I do it?  One answer is that I *really* want to know where it all began.  Where did I come from?  What roots anchor me to my particular place in this great big world?  For me, these desires mean knowing my direct ancestral roots (along with all the collateral ones).  I want to know the stories of each person, and that may well include being part of a family not biologically related (or perhaps biologically related on one side and not the other).  However, I have a strong need to know who each of the biological parents was as a starting point.

Thus, for now anyway, my solution is to list Mary as unknown in terms of her relationship to John Earhart and Margaret Shotwell.   Given the time period of her life, and the place, I may never be able to tease out the information about her family of origin. 

The searching I have done to try to answer my questions about Mary raise intriguing questions about the John Earhart-Margaret Shotwell family. Did they really adopt (at least informally) two children? Was it the middle two (William S. and Mary E.)? If so why the 20+ year gap between their two biological sons? Were either of the adopted children related to one or the other parent’s family? So far I haven’t found any evidence that Mary was related, but I also don’t have any evidence of her birth other than that provided on her death certificate where the information came from Mary’s daughter. Likewise I now have a death certificate for William Samuel Earhart which says that his father was John Earhart, mother was unknown, and that he was born in Bethel, Ohio. The information on this death certificate came from William’s wife who he met once he left his parents’ home and Ohio. So was John Earhart fathering children in the next county west, and then taking them in? Or is this a case of multiple people with the same name (John Earhart was not an uncommon name, there were several in the area during this time period, and they were probably all related in some way.)

Happy New Year!new year 2008-5

Research
* Earhart project: I received the death certificate and an obituary for William Samuel Earhart from the Wyoming State Archives. The death certificate lists John Earhart as his father, mother unknown, and birthplace as Bethel, Ohio. These pieces of information raise further questions about the Earhart family I’m searching. I need to continue to look for vital records for Margaret (Shotwell), John, Tilford, William S., and John Charles Earhart. I have marriage and death records for Mary E. (Hockman), but no birth found yet under either name. I do not have birth records for any of the other children either. The records I do have for John and Margaret show them recording their marriage in Clermont County, Ohio in 1840 but by the 1850 census they were in Clark Township, Brown County, Ohio and stayed there through the rest of the censuses they were alive for.
* I’m still procrastinating on getting the pension file for Tilford Earhart that was filed by his mother Margaret. Unfortunately this file is not yet available on Fold3.com, except for the index card, so I am going to have to send to NARA for it.
* Go back to Evernote To_Analyze tagged items for one family and transfer the information to RootsMagic and add the source or note.
* Having trouble with my use of the photoduplication service at FamilySearch. I think it is my email address or how it handles certain kinds of emails coming in. Frustrating.

Organization
* Pick a family group in Evernote that is tagged To-Analyze and enter into my database. The information isn’t going to jump in all by itself (drat!).
* Pick a group of census records and really learn how to enter them in Clooz – a program which I really like my early experience with but which I need to learn to be more proficient using.
* Type notes from Maine trip and file information. Figure out next steps. Since this is my Boothby family line, I will make the family group from Evernote to start on the Boothbys.

Education
* Watched the webinar about how to get around lost records by Karen Clifford, which was helpful. For January I need to go back to the webinars for my two pieces of software, RootsMagic and Clooz and work on learning to use them better. I know I’m missing things in each program that would be helpful.

[This post is preempting my usual beginning of the month to-do list. The one for December is likely to be pretty sparse since with the short amount of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas I don't expect to accomplish much this month. I will have a short list probably by next week.]

DSC_0009Ok, I admit it.  I am one of the few people in the world who likes fruitcake. There must be others of us but I’m hard pressed to name any of my current family or friends who will admit it, except for one.  I like pretty much any fruitcake – I’m not very particular although it does need to be moist.  I don’t know where I got this apparently rare taste, although I remember my mother eating fruitcake.  She would get a round one in a tin box around Thanksgiving and parcel it out in December.  Maybe my grandparents sent it to her from Texas.  Some years there was fruitcake left to be eaten on New Year’s Eve.  One of my favorites.

Anyway, I do like it.  Years ago a friend discovered this and suggested we make our own.  I was in, although I’d never thought about making it myself until she suggested it.  She comes from a Southern family on her mother’s side, and has great recipes from the Southern ladies who had to learn to cook/bake certain things as part of their upbringing.  There are great cheese straws, for example.  And in her family fruitcake was another required specialty.  So we started Salt, Patricia - XXXX-XX-XX - making fruitcakeour own tradition of making fruitcake the weekend after Thanksgiving.  You have to make them far enough in advance to let them age, and add the cider (or rum or bourbon or whatever) to keep them moist.  We learned through doing that we could make little muffin-fruitcakes and small loaf fruitcakes and bigger loaf fruitcakes.  They were all good.  We also had both a dark fruitcake recipe and a white fruitcake recipe (I think the white one was the more traditional Southern one but I may be wrong).  The dark is my favorite; it’s the one I grew up with.

Louise’s notes say that the recipe we used was developed by her grandmother in the 1930s and is unusual in two ways.  First it doesn’t include any fruit rinds, only candied fruits.  And second, while it does include a small amount of rum for flavor, you age it by seasoning it in apple cider.  It comes out nice and moist but not overly “spirited”. We’d get together on IMGP3789the Saturday after Thanksgiving and with a very large roasting pan or soup pot start the process of mixing up the batter.  The goal was to make enough for each of us to have some for ourselves and some for gifts.  The batter is a very stiff, heavy one and you can’t use an electric mixer to stir it – unless maybe you have an industrial size mixer but neither of us did or does.  So we would take turns putting our muscle into it, until the batter was fully mixed and ready to put into the baking pans.IMGP3791

Then while the cakes were baking, and they take a long time in a slow oven, we’d do something fun.  This usually involved a trip out for lunch and to look at stores someplace like Rockport or Marblehead, MA (wonderful little towns on the ocean) since we had the time.  Now I’m talking about 30 years ago, before shopping Thanksgiving weekend became a competitive sport.

Then somehow we lost touch with each other for a number of years and the fruitcake tradition was lost.  Jobs and where we were living changed.  Happily, a few years ago we reconnected and last year the fruitcake tradition was re-instated.  Or at least she let me come help her.  We made enough to fill 4 loaf pans and the resulting cakes were beautiful.  Unfortunately our timing was bad, and I had to leave before they were finished baking, so she sent me a picture of one later so I’d know they came out as good as ever.  (And she was the one who had to keep basting them with cider until Christmas!)

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