It is possible to explore family history and understand it reasonably well, family, on the other hand, is always a mystery.

Alice, Ruth and Elinor

Alice, Ruth and Elinor

     The problem with trying to understand your own family is that you were a child when you first encountered these mysterious people.  Your views on each of them are colored by the nuclear family you grew up in and even that nuclear family had its secrets, lots of them.

      This is why family historians are always asking themselves, “Why didn’t I know this?’ or “Why didn’t I spend more time with this person?” or one of a thousand other questions usually accompanied by slapping the forehead and saying, “Duh!”

      I did some forehead smacking recently when I discovered a 1977 article from The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia about my cousin Elinor Brown.  Elinor is my first cousin, once removed, or put in language I actually understand; she was my grandmother’s sister’s kid.

      I knew Elinor when I was growing up.  We weren’t as close to my grandmother’s family, but we saw them from time to time.  They came to our weddings and Bar Mitzvahs; we went to theirs.  There was no estrangement that I know of, there just didn’t seem to be a lot of communication, but what do I know, I was a dumb kid.

Elinor Brown (top right) with her father and sisters, Alice and Ruthe

Elinor Brown (top right) with her father and sisters,
Alice and Ruthe

Elinor was born in 1898, so she was about 50 years older than I am.  As a child I suppose she was just another old person to me, but I knew Elinor when I was an adult in my twenties and thirties.  Why then did I know so little about her?

      The article from The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia is about Elinor’s career in the advertising business.  I knew she was in business of some kind and I knew she was successful, but I never thought about what it must have been like for a woman of her generation to be in business.

      Elinor began writing for the Yiddish newspaper, Der Tag, which was owned by her father.  After high school Elinor went to secretarial school in Syracuse.  Secretarial work, after all, was what women did until they got married.  Elinor came home for the summer and took a job in the secretarial pool at an ad agency.  She never returned to school and somehow made it from the secretarial pool to space and media buying.  She was the only woman in that area.

      She made the next big jump when she heard that the Contadina Company was looking for an ad agency.  She flew to Chicago and convinced Contadina’s parent company to hire the E.L.Brown Agency.  This was the birth of the agency.  When she arranged a banquet for Contadina dealers she ran into a bit of a problem.

      This from the Jewish Exponent, “I finished making the arrangements with the hotel management, went up to my suite to change, and decided to go down for a drink.  But they turned me away at the bar–unaccompanied women were not allowed in.

      I was furious!  Here I had just finished spending God knows how much money in that hotel, and I couldn’t go to the bar.  I grabbed the assistant manager and told him my story. He finally escorted me into the bar and sat with me while I had my drink.  But–imagine!”

      It was a problem that would persist so she dealt with it.  “I hired a man whose only function in the agency was to pick up the check.  He traveled with me wherever I went, all over the country, and that’s all he did.  Pick up the check.”

       What can I say, it’s brilliant, appalling, and yet awfully funny.

      There are a lot more stories I could tell about this interesting woman and her long and successful life.  She married twice, had children and grandchildren and worked into her 80′s.

      I am delighted to know more about this early feminist.  I’m just sorry I didn’t get to hear her stories from her.

 

 

 

The title of this post refers to my great-aunt, Gertrude Silver, and I struggled to decide if the title should be a statement or a question.  I think I need a new punctuation mark, because the answer is a bit of both.

I’ve written about Gertrude and her husband Sam before.  Here is a brief synopsis.

 sam dandy

Sam Silver was 18 or 19 when he fought in the Spanish-American War.  When he left the army he went to New Orleans where he met the very young Gertrude Eliach.  Sam was about 23 and Gertrude 14 when they ran away to San Francisco and may have married.  At this point in the story my unromantic, pragmatic sensibilities say, “Gertrude, young, foolish, believing she was in love.”  And what of Sam?  My best-case scenario is youngish, equally foolish, maybe in love.  Worst-case scenario, hm, I’d rather not go there. This is not a story I expected to end well.  But here’s the thing, Sam and Gertrude stayed together for 22 years, until Sam’s death at the age of 41.  They had four children, only one of whom, Joseph, survived until adulthood.  Gertrude’s father died a few years after the marriage and by 1910 Gertrude’s mother was living with the couple.  She lived with them the rest of their married life.  Even the cynic in me has to say, “If that’s not love, what is?”

That’s what I knew until recently.  I put Gertrude and her son Joseph on the back burner and moved on to other genealogical challenges, but Gertrude was always on my mind. Her story seems so moving and so sad.  An elopement that seemed likely to end quickly turned out to be the story of a couple who lived, loved and struggled together through hard times and so much sadness until Sam’s early death.  I needed to know what became of Gertrude and Joseph.

Here’s what I learned.  Gertrude’s mother, Libby, died in 1935.  Gertrude and Joe buried her in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.libby eliach grave

In 1934 Joseph married Beryl Reilinger. According to the 1940 census Joe and Beryl lived in a guesthouse run by Beryl’s parents.  Their block in Los Angeles seems to be a long row of boarding houses and guesthouses.  The couple had a son, Stanley, who was four years old in 1940.

Gertrude married again in 1966 at the age of 73.  She married Louis Philipson, also 73.  The California Marriage Index lists the marriage twice with Gertrude listed as Gertude Chertin and Gertrude Eliach, her maiden name.  There is an asterisk next to the last names. Was Gertrude married three times?

Lou and Gertrude had seven years together.  Lou died in 1973, leaving Gertrude a widow once more.  Gertrude died in 1980, she was 93. Sam must be gone by now too, but their son Stanley is likely still alive.  There are lots of avenues for me to explore, but I doubt they will answer my real question.

I want to know if Gertrude was happy.  No, I want to know that she was happy, but I suppose I can live with the answer no matter what it is.  I need to find Stanley Lee Silver or I need him to find me.  I need to hear about his grandparents.  I know Stanley was married for a few years.  Are there children, Sam and Gertrude’s great-grandchildren?

Stanley Silver was my father’s name too. Stanley, where are you?

 

 

We have the boat out of the water, the bathtub filled with water and everything off the deck.  There’s enough peanut butter to survive on and the flashlights are ready and so we sit here in coastal Connecticut watching the winds pick up and hoping for the best.

We hope that our friends who live directly on the shoreline and who have already evacuated will return on Wednesday to find their homes intact.  I hope that this is not the storm when I lose the perennial argument with my spouse about taking down my favorite backyard tree.  He sees it as a menace to health and safety and I see it as the beautiful, iconic sheltering maple that everyone wishes they had in their backyards.

Our little town is already 25% out of power.  We are tiny and have no industry or healthcare facilities, so we are always the first to lose power and the last to be restored.  I am hoping to get this up today, if not you will see it next week.

Of course, all this makes me think of the weather events our ancestors survived without benefit of three days of constant updates from the weather channel.

In Sprague, Washington the Costellos and their kin survived the flood of 1909.

Our Martin relatives first survived the storm that sank their Great lakes schooner, the Jessie Martin, and then the 1894 flooding of the Willamette River in their new home of Portland, OR.

This from  the Oregan History Project,    “In late May and early June of 1894, the Willamette River rose well above 30 feet, flooding the central business district of Portland.  The water remained for days, inspiring some Portlanders to accept the situation with the humor as displayed in this shot of “hunters” taking aim at decoys floating down the street. ”

My Silver relatives got through the blizzard of 1914 in Philadelphia , not to mention the more recent “snowmageddon”.

We do our best to create a safe environment.  Architecture, communication, and law have greatly reduced the loss of life from weather events, but mother nature still decides to do massive damage every once in a while.  I’m sure we will get through this year’s hurricane.  I mourn the loss of lives in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas, and hope everyone on the East Coast has heeded the warnings and reached a safe place.  See you after the storm.

 

On September 17, 1787 the final draft of the United States Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. We moved from being a Confederation of states to a nation with a strong central government.  An election was scheduled on January 7, 1789 and the fun began.

Here we are 223 years later still trying to figure out how to do it right.

In that first election only 10-15% of the population was eligible to vote.  Male, white, property owners were the only ones to have that privilege. My husband has a few ancestors who were in the country by then and fit that description and a few that did not.

Francis Blood a revolutionary war general and prominent citizen of Temple New Hampshire probably exercised his franchise.  Ephraim Bate Bigelow a runaway from indentured servitude certainly did not.

By 1850 property ownership had been eliminated as a voting requirement.  Now many of our white, male relatives could vote if they had obtained citizenship. William Martin and Francis Blood, grandson of the revolutionary War general probably voted.

Francis Blood

But in 1855 Connecticut adopted the first literacy test, quickly followed by Massachusetts.  These literacy tests were designed to keep too many newly minted Irish-American citizens from voting.  They would later be used to discriminate against other groups, most notably African-Americans

The newly arrived Irishman John Costello would not have voted.

The Coles, the Silvers, and the Bublicks had yet to arrive in the United States.

The 15th amendment to the constitution was passed in 1870.  It gave all male citizens the right to vote, including former slaves.  It was the beginning of a long road to real voting rights for African-Americans.

I don’t think we have any African-American ancestors.  We certainly had some ancestors who could not pass a literacy test.

In the 1890′s poll taxes and literacy tests were adopted throughout the South.  The literacy test presented a problem as it excluded many white voters along with the African voters for whom it was intended, so grandfather clauses were adopted, allowing those who could vote before 1870 to continue to do so irrespective of literacy or tax qualifications. In 1915 the Supreme Court outlawed literacy tests.

At the turn of the twentieth century the Western states started granting women the right to vote in state and local elections.

And–ta-da– in 1920 the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution is passed and women get the right to vote in national elections.   Lots of people in my family gained the right to vote in 1920.

Rosa Cole

Celia Mason

Pauline Silver

 

So now all U.S. citizens can vote, right?  Well, not quite. That would happen in 1924, when Indian Citizenship Act grants all Native Americans the rights of citizenship including the right to vote in federal elections. Of course, residents of the nation’s capital couldn’t vote in presidential elections until the 23rd Amendment was passed in 1961.

This of course, doesn’t stop states from attempting to block some of the people from voting. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally put an end to the poll tax.  Somehow literacy tests had made their way back into law and were finally banned in 1970.

And finally in 1971 the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

The national argument over who can vote continues of course, with cases about voter ID requirements moving through the courts as I write this.  We all want our choice to win.  I think the best way to achieve this is not to stop others from voting, but to get off your behind, even if it’s raining, and get to the polls on November 6, 2012; unless you’re voting for the other guy, then you can stay home.

 

On this holiday we celebrate the American worker and his or her contribution to our American life, but the holiday was actually born as a way to appease workers after a brutal crackdown on the workers and the union during the Pullman strike of 1894.

The people who made the Pullman railroad cars lived in a company town. They were paid by the Pullman Company, lived in company housing and had their rent automatically deducted from their paychecks. When the economy crashed in 1893 there were layoffs, and wage cuts, but no decrease in rents.

The workers walked out.  They were soon joined by railroad workers led by the young Socialist leader Eugene Debs. Train service was disrupted.  The mail could not get through. There was rioting and destruction of railroad equipment, sometimes by mobs of non-union workers. 80 million dollars of damage was done and thirty people died.

The strike became a national issue.  Unable to resolve the labor dispute President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and sent troops to disband the strike.

Pullman Strikers Confronting the National Guard

Eventually the workers were overpowered and forced to sign a pledge never to unionize again.  Eugene Debs, defended by Clarence Darrow, saw the charge of obstructing the mail dropped, but spent six months in prison for violating a federal injunction.  He continued to organize. When he ran for President in 1920 on a Socialist ticket he won a million votes.

Labor had long pressed Congress for a Labor Day holiday.  The bill was passed by both houses and hit Cleveland’s desk six days after the end of the strike.  The bill was signed into law as a means of appeasing the labor movement.   The new holiday was seen by labor not just as a holiday, but as a day for organizing.

Today we see Labor Day as the holiday that marks the end of summer.  Kids go back to school, parents breathe a sigh of relief, we grill things and try not to think about cold weather and heating bills.

Of course, genealogists think about their ancestors and I am no exception.  Here are some of our great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and their labors.

Samuel Bublick opened a candy store, what we might consider a convenience store in New York City.

Joseph Mason

 

Joseph Mason worked as a leather cutter making ladies handbags.  He was a wiry little man with arms of steel.

Morris Silverman was a capmaker in New York City.

Morris Silverman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His son Alex would organize for the capmakers union.

Alex Silver

Alex’s son, Stanley would work for the Signal Corp and then as a salesman.  He would be a union steward.

Stanley Silver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Stanley’s daughter.

 

John and Annie Costello homesteaded a farm in Sprague, Washington.

James and Sophie Cole

James and Sophie Cole homesteaded a farm in Primrose, Nebraska.

Edwin Cole

 

 

 

 

Their son Edwin would cook in a lumber camp, pour cement for the WPA and work as a janitor in a hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edwin’s son Merwin would become a union organizer, a carpenter and a contractor.

Marian and Merwin Cole

 

My husband is Merwin’s son

 

 

 

 

 

Stanley’s daughter and Merwin’s son got to go to college and now work at jobs that leave them trying to figure out how to get enough exercise. Wow!

Merwin’s son and Stanley’s daughter post exercise

 

 

 

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