How did you meet your spouse/sweetheart? How did your siblings or friends meet theirs? Most people I know met at school: college or high school. Of course there have always been more interesting and unusual ways to meet, and these stories usually get told and retold. I suspect there are more matches made these days by online or other dating services as well as fix-ups among people who have settled into a job and place to live without a significant other. As we wait longer to match up, the needs change for meeting a special someone.

For earlier generations I think it was a little different. Do you know how your parents met? Or your grandparents? I know for my parents and one of my two sets of grandparents, so I am doing well. My husband doesn’t know for his parents, and has a family myth for one set of grandparents (never confirmed or fleshed out as far as I know) and doesn’t know for the other set. The stories I know confirm that young people met at school or in a neighborhood, or sometimes through friends (but still in a relatively close geographic neighborhood).

How their parents met is a large question mark for my husband and his sister. Neither parent would talk about the past much by the time my sister-in-law was asking and my husband wasn’t as interested when he was younger. Now both of their parents are long gone, as are my father-in-law’s sister and her husband, who might have known some of the story. The problem is that Sarah, my mother-in-law, was born and raised in Milwaukee and was in school in Chicago (the furthest East I can place her) up until the time they married in Buffalo. Izzy, my father-in-law, was living and working in Buffalo having been born and raised in Syracuse New York. I don’t know that he ever traveled as a youngster or young man any further West than Buffalo. I was thinking about this mystery again, which inspired this post.

The couple who couldn’t have met

Here is what I know about Sarah and about Izzy, along with my thoughts and many speculations and questions about what might have led to their meeting. The basics are as stated in the previous paragraph. Sarah had been raised by her mother in Milwaukee, who was a single parent so life was difficult. At any rate, Sarah graduated from high school and went to college, finishing at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1932. Then in March 1937 she was admitted to the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration as a graduate student, taking one course per quarter (according to her transcript). She attended classes in the Spring and Fall Quarter of 1937, withdrew for the Winter Quarter of 1938, and resumed classes in the Spring and Fall Quarters of 1938. She left after the Fall Quarter of 1938 and did not earn a degree. In March 1939 she and Izzy were married in New York.

Izzy started high school in Syracuse and the family moved to Buffalo in his senior year. He finished courses in Buffalo but officially graduated from Central High School in Syracuse (because he didn’t meet the residency requirement to graduate in Buffalo he always said). He attended the University of Buffalo from about 1928 – 1932 when he graduated with a Law degree. He soon went back (this was the Great Depression) and since he had already completed some of the coursework, he graduated with a B.A. In 1936. There is some reason to speculate that by being a student, perhaps only part time, he was eligible for some student benefits and perhaps even some financial support. From 1936 to 1941 he worked in the Buffalo area but I don’t have an accurate picture yet of where or for how long. He told his children that he worked for the Water Department in what he described as a sinecure, and he had a small (?) private practice as a lawyer.

So how did a graduate student in Chicago and a young lawyer in Buffalo happen to meet and fall in love? That is the $64,000 question. On the face of it, their meeting seems so unlikely as to have been impossible. The first piece of evidence showing them to be in the same place at the same time is when they applied for their marriage license in the Buffalo clerk’s office in March 1939.

So far, I have come up with the following fantasy scenarios. Izzy went to Chicago for a union strike (or to visit a college friend) and they met. Izzy went to Detroit to visit relatives and Sarah was visiting in Detroit and they met. Sarah went to Buffalo for some reason (I’d say a professional conference but in the late 1930s I would guess that was very unlikely). As far as I know they didn’t have any common relatives or even friends. So, for now, while I struggle to think of ways to find out which one traveled and what the meeting circumstances were (?purely social, purely political? something else?), it looks like this is another documented case of ancestors dropped in place by aliens and their lives went on from that time forward. Unless it was just Sarah who was abducted by aliens and she found herself in the clerk’s office where you apply for marriage licenses and Izzy just happened to be there doing some other legal business and they decided it would be a great joke if they got married.

My maternal gggg grandfather is, I think, Captain William Blackman. He was the father of my ggg grandmother, Marinda Blackman who married John Denman in 1819. This “fact” has not yet been satisfactorily documented in my own research, however, the suggestion comes from a number of sources. I originally learned about this Blackman line from another researcher, about 15 years ago. She found me online through a Denman question I had posted somewhere, if I remember correctly. She seemed to have more information than I did, although she was actively searching at that time for more about William and his parents. There were several other researchers around the same time as well. To make my work a little more complicated, I also have a Blackman line (going back to New Jersey) on my father’s side. The two lines have not yet converged but I also know very little about the “other Blackman” family.

William was born around 1776 in Massachusetts, based on his report on the 1850 federal census (as well as other researchers). By 1775-1776, the Blackman family he was born into may have been in western Massachusetts. Family trees posted online show him as the next to youngest son of Samuel and Mehitable (Long) Blackman. This Samuel apparently moved on west to western New York state, where he died. If this is our William’s family, he and a number of his siblings also moved to western New York and then on to the Huron county area in northern Ohio. The 1800 federal census enumerated a William Blackman and another male (perhaps a brother?) between 16-25 in Northampton, Ontario, New York. In 1800 Ontario county was most of present-day upper New York state. Northampton was established in 1797 and was in the area of what is now Rochester New York.

In 1801, William Blackman, along with a Hiram Blackman and a Daniel Curtis were listed as settlers upon the Holland Purchase in Township 12, Range 1. And by 1803 there was a William Blackman listed in a book available at Google as participating in the establishing and governance of the town of New Amsterdam in the Holland Purchase (Buffalo area of New York state). William was named as one of the overseers of highways. By the time of the 1810 federal census, William was listed as head of a household including one male age 26-44 (presumably himself), 3 females under age 10, and one female age 26-44 (presumably his wife Philenda nee Curtis). Ggg grandmother Marinda was born in 1803 in this area. So, now I know that I need to find a marriage record in New York state, between 1800 and 1803, and birth records for at least 3 daughters between then and 1810. It also seems that William owned land, so that is another source of records for me to search.

The mystery I set out to try to solve was that William Blackman was generally referred to as Capt. William for most of his adult life, but there were no explanations to his title. So, until just recently I had no idea why he was Capt. William. What was he a captain of? Or in? The original Blackman family researcher who I had gotten much of my information from suggested he had been in the War of 1812. This made some sense at the time, but I thought little more about it. I vaguely thought about the location of his daughter Marinda’s place of birth, Niagara (I assumed county), New York. This county is in northwestern New York state and borders on Lake Ontario. This was presumably an area active in the War of 1812, and maybe William was a naval captain. You can tell I didn’t (and don’t) know much about the War of 1812.

William Blackman, captain

The resources at have provided the basic answer. William Blackman was first an ensign and then a captain in the local infantry of the New York militia (I think that is correct). The Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment of the State of New York, 1783-1821, list his service in 1806 as ensign and in 1811 as a Captain in the Niagara County brigade. I still don’t know for sure that he was active in the War of 1812, but it seems very likely. And since 2012 is the bicentennial of the beginning of that war, I want to learn more about it.

So, I have answered one small mystery and opened up a number of questions for future research. Having skimmed several local histories of the northern New York counties, I am more aware of how arduous life was for this young family. They, like many other pioneer families cleared and planted land, built a shelter, raised the next generation, and did not leave many clues to what they were like as individuals.

Is it just me, or is there something about this year, in particular? It seems there are so many 100-year anniversaries of note this year – already, and it is only April. What was it about 1912 as a time in this country?

The news is always reporting about one or another anniversary. The sinking of the Titanic is a big one, getting a lot of coverage right now. And in my area, Boston, it is also the One Hundredth Anniversary of Fenway Park, home of our Boston Red Sox. It is also the one hundredth anniversary of the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence Massachusetts. Textile factory workers, many young immigrant women, went on strike for more than 2 months looking for higher wages in response to a new law shortening the work week. Massachusetts had passed a law limiting the work day to 8 hours. And the first cherry tree saplings which inspired the annual Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival were presented by the City of Tokyo to the City of Washington one hundred years ago.

So what does all of this have to do with Aunt Freda?

Freda as a baby

In thinking about 1912, I went looking to see who in the family was born that year. It turns out, of the birth information I have, the closest relative in our family born in 1912 was my father-in-law’s younger sister, Freda Greenberg. She was born in January 1912, in Syracuse, New York. There is no family history that I have yet found that mentions who she might have been named after. My current favorite notion is that her father wanted her named after his mother, Feige. Sounds reasonable – not a shred of evidence.

Freda started school as a five year old, speaking only Yiddish and being left-handed. This was probably the Fall of 1917. The teacher tied her left hand behind her back — all the while speaking English to her. What an introduction to formal education!

Nevertheless, she must have liked school, and she was a good student. When she was about 12 years old, the family moved from Syracuse to Buffalo, New York, in about 1924. So she went to high school in Buffalo.

Freda's high school picture

We think she finished high school in 3 years. Her high school quote was: “And still they gazed and wonder grew that one small head could carry all she knew.” We know she had aspirations to more education, and she went on to college, even though it was the Great Depression.

Her brother, Iz, remembered this disruption during her college days: “When she was in college, we were subject at University of Buffalo to a tuberculosis check. You know, they gave everybody this tuberculosis check and they inject it, stuff under your skin and if you showed a positive reaction, then you were told to go and get x-rays, have your lungs x-rayed. Well some crazy x-ray specialist in Buffalo sent her a written report to the effect that he had never seen one so young with so much infection, TB infection in her lungs. Now you can imagine how horrified my parents were. And the family doctor read that report and said, “Look, she’s got to drop —” She was majoring in chemistry. She’s gotta drop out of college right away and, you know, rest in bed for months. Maybe we can forestall having to go to a sanitarium.” Well, we found out that night that the Arbeiter Ring, which had a great deal of strength in New York City among the garment workers, and TB was rampant among them and they worked in sweat shops and there was all sorts of lint flying around. The Arbeiter Ring had established a TB sanitarium in Liberty, New York, in the Catskills and he got the bright idea of sending my mother and my sister up to the Catskills for vacation. And in the meantime — somewhere near Liberty — and in the meantime they would make an appointment to have her examined at the TB sanitarium. I remember I drove up there, I drove them up. And I went to the sanitarium with my mother and my sister and there was — the doctor in charge of the sanitarium was extremely understanding and very nice and said, “Well, now, don’t, don’t get too upset, Mrs. Greenberg. I have had TB myself. That’s why I am in this work. I’m going to take your daughter away and give her some x-rays and so forth.” He came back in about a half an hour and said, “The guy was all wrong. She doesn’t have the slightest case of TB. What she has is some calcified spots on her lungs.” And he said, “Everybody over the age of 21 — practically anybody — cause we all come in contact with some TB germs, bacilli. And what happens in the normal body is that, as a defense, the lungs form calcified spots around there and that’s the end of it. That’s all she’s got.”

Freda, college graduation

There was no more family history about this possible disruption to her college days. In fact there is some thought that she managed to finish in 3 years rather than the usual 4. We do know that she graduated in June 1932. (I wrote some about this a couple of years ago – click here if you want to go back to the first post about education in this family.) She was just 20 years old. Freda had aspirations to medical school – she was the scientist in the family. But because it was the Great Depression (and perhaps because she was expected to help support her brother’s additional schooling) the family could not support her in this. No matter the reason, it was a bitter disappointment to her.

It seems likely that the family hoped/expected that she would go to work as soon as possible and help support the family. I was told by the registrar’s office at University of Buffalo that it was not uncommon for young adults to stay in school as long as they could due to the scarcity of jobs during this time. Her first job out of college was at DuPont in Buffalo. She had competed with a huge group of people for one of two jobs they had available. She worked in a lab testing the permeability of what was to become cellophane. We don’t know exactly how long she held this job, but it was a major feat that she got it.

Judy and I didn’t make it to Hartford this week, so I’m writing about something else. Since it is Women’s History month, and only a couple of weeks since St. Patrick’s Day, it seems appropriate to write a little about Nora Hunt and my searching for her maiden name.

I recently pulled “Angela’s Ashes” off my to-read pile and read it. At about the same time I was going through the emails in one of my research folders, trying to add sources to my husband’s family tree and clean up that pile. I ran across a series of emails back and forth with his cousins about their grandmother, Nora, on their father’s side. Ok, so no direct relation of my husband’s, but an interesting collateral line. Nora and their grandfather John were Irish, Catholic, and had their own life stories – mostly only known to us as bits and pieces, but which surely contributed to what Uncle Jim’s early life was like.

The couple’s life story started, as told by their son, when Nora got pregnant and John escaped back to Ireland only to have her brother come after him. He was brought back to the US and they got married. Maybe not until after the baby was born, since Jim told people he was “illegitimate”. (This sounds a lot like the beginning of “Angela’s Ashes”.) Nora had been married before, and had a son from that marriage. Story went that this son was put in an orphanage or otherwise put out of the family after John and Nora married.

We had other tidbits of information. I was originally told that Nora’s maiden name was McNamara. She had a brother Thomas and a sister Mae, who later lived in Buffalo too. She was said to have came from Quilty, County Clare, Ireland. John was said to have came from Kilmorna, County Kerry, Ireland. Not a lot to go on, but some hints. I think these places were what John and Nora actually said about where they came from.

When I started looking into this family, I started with the censuses. And the 1910 census provided some interesting information. There was the family, living in Buffalo where I

John Hunt family, 1910

expected to find them, and the household included a 16 year old stepson and a boarder named Thomas Fitzgibbons. Could the boarder be her brother Thomas, and a clue to her maiden name? The stepson’s name certainly provided a clue about her previous married name. His information also suggested that the marriage had been in Canada, where he was reportedly born. In addition, Nora had borne 3 children 2 still living as of the 1910 census.

The next thing I found was a World War I registration card for John McGowan in Buffalo that looked like the right one. He was 24 in 1917, and had a wife and child. He also listed a birthdate and place: Hamilton, Ontario. So I looked on for McGowan listings in that location. And I found the indexed record of his birth, listing both parent’s names, including Nora’s maiden name of McNamara. With his father’s name in my pocket I looked for their marriage record in Canada

McGowan-McNamara marriage

and minutes later had it. As soon as I saw it I knew why I hadn’t been able to find anything under Nora’s name; she was listed as Leonora not Nora. Not a variation I would have thought of. Better yet, both of Nora’s parents were named, including her mother’s maiden name. You have to love good recordkeeping!

The most recent searching I have done was also on – looking for children born to John and Margaret Madden McNamara, Nora’s parents. I have found five so far, all daughters except for one. And the son I have found is named John, not Thomas. So I clearly have more searching to do. I did find the daughter I think is our Nora: named Honora, and born in September 1867. That would have made her about 37, for the New York State census of 1905, where she was enumerated with her father and mother and listed as 32. And about 42 for the 1910 census, on which she was reported to be 35. On the 1920 census she was listed as 45. And on the 1930 as 50. My theory of the moment is that, in a time-honored tradition for women, Nora shaved years off her age each time she gave information for an official record, and a few more years each time. It will be interesting to see what age is listed for her when the 1940 census comes out in just a week.

In the past week my social life has been busier than usual (being a quiet home-loving type).  We had two graduation parties and I had a wedding shower, plus a day with Judy and Ann which is in a category of its own.  The graduation I am thinking about today is actually one that took place in June 1932.

One of our graduations was a young cousin (first cousin once removed to be specific) who graduated from high school this week.  She is a wonderful young woman who we are enjoying watch grow up.  As part of the festivities her parents held a small dinner party for the family and we had a mini-reunion.  Her father and his two sisters were there (my husband’s first cousins), one sister’s husband and their adult daughter, and a second cousin.  Along with all the talk about college, and the graduation ceremony, and what our young cousin will do this summer, there were many conversations about “how did they meet?” and “when did they move to?” and “where did we all sleep?” and the priceless (from one cousin to another) “remember when I took the scissors to your hair?”.  The kind of conversation that you hope for when getting family together.  And pictures got brought down from the walls and the upstairs cache.  Including a number that we don’t have copies of, that I am plotting to get my hands on long enough to scan.

Iz and Freda, graduation June 1932

The best one (and most appropriate to the graduation) was a picture of the two siblings who were parents to my husband and the three cousins, in graduation robes and hats.  The back says Iz-Law School, Freda-B.A., June 1932.

These graduations were significant for several reasons.  The most notable is that Iz and Freda were the children of recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, neither of whom had any formal education.  Iz and Freda not only graduated from high school but from college, and in Iz’s case also from law school.  Iz described his father Nathan as never having gone to school a day of his life but that he was “ to tutor his kids here in America in biology and math when we were in high school. And where he acquired that knowledge, I don’t know. But it’s confirmed by the kids. My father also became literate, read the Yiddish papers and he read the English papers.”

Iz and Freda also grew up speaking only Yiddish until they started school, only learning English at age 5 or 6.  I am also told that Freda was left-handed and forced to switch to her right by having her left hand tied behind her.  What an introduction to education!

Iz’s progress through school was not the path I expected.  He graduated from high school in 1925.  The family had moved from Syracuse to Buffalo during his senior year of high school and although he finished the year in Buffalo, the school there wouldn’t grant a diploma because he hadn’t been there for the full year.  So he had to return to Syracuse to get his diploma from Central High School where he had started.  Then he apparently worked for about 3-4 years, and entered University of Buffalo in the Arts and Sciences program in about September 1928.  It looks like he may have taken a year of basic courses and then entered the law school probably the next year.  He graduated from the law school in 1932.  In those years the law degree was a Bachelor of Laws, not the Juris Doctor that it is today everywhere in this country, so it is possible that he originally entered as a law student directly from high school or after only a year of college level courses.

Between 1932 and 1936 he went back to school and did a Bachelor of Arts in History and Government.  My theory is that during this period of time, which was during the Great Depression, he had difficulty finding work and going to school made sense.  He could have gone part time and kept student benefits, or may have had a scholarship of some sort which was fairly common in those years I have been told.

Lena with Iz's sign

Lena with Iz's sign

We know that he hung out a shingle as a lawyer from a snapshot of his mother standing proudly beside it.  He also worked for the city water department at some point.  And I have been told by one of the relatives that he may have taught history after college for some period of time.  These occupations should be verifiable, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.  He was admitted to the bar in New York in August 1933, so couldn’t have practiced privately until after that time.

Iz’s sister Freda graduated with a degree in chemistry at the same time Iz graduated from law school.  She was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Buffalo in chemistry.  After graduation she succeeded in getting a highly competed-for job with DuPont, working in a lab.  She later taught high school chemistry in Buffalo until 1942 when she was pregnant with her first child.  She had married in 1937, and presumably married women were allowed to continue teaching as long as they weren’t pregnant.  She had to hide her pregnancy to avoid being fired.  I have been told that Freda had wanted to go to medical school, but given the Depression (and perhaps to help keep her brother in school) she went to work instead.  There has been a strong thread of interest (and ability) in science in the family (among the women as well as the men) although none of the older generation went into careers using science except for Freda.

This generation, the children of immigrants with little or no formal education, was highly educated one and all.  And they passed on the love of learning and the valuing of education to their children.  So we will continue to have graduations to celebrate for some time to come.