Henrieta Silver

Marian Cole













This week would have been my mother’s 101st birthday.  She died in January, 2010 at the age of 99.  My mother-in-law died six weeks later at the age of 95. I have written about them before on this blog.

It would take a dozen posts to cover all the changes these women saw in their lives, but the past few weeks of the silly season have brought some national attention to vaccines and my attention to the role of illness and vaccination in the lives of my mother and my mother-in-law.

One of my mother’s earliest memories was of the 1918 flu. This worldwide pandemic killed 75,000,000 people.  Philadelphia, where my mother lived, was an epicenter of the flu with 300 people dying in a single day.  My mother was an 8 year old child, but she remembers the bodies being taken away as in this account by a survivor, Louise Apuchase:


”We were the only family saved from the influenza. The rest of the neighbors all were sick. Now I remember so well, very well, directly across the street from us, a boy about 7, 8 years old died and they used to just pick you up and wrap you up in a sheet and put you in a patrol wagon. So the mother and father screaming. Let me get a macaroni box. Before, macaroni, any kind of pasta used to come in these wooden boxes about this long and that high, that 20 lbs. of macaroni fitted in the box. Please, please, let me put him in the macaroni box. Let me put him in the box. Don’t take him away like that. And that was it. My mother had given birth to my youngest sister at the time and then, thank God, you know, we survived. But they were taking people out left and right. And the undertaker would pile them up and put them in the patrol wagons and take them away.”

Digging mass graves for flu victims

Attempt at flu control at the Philadelphia Naval Yard


Sprague Washington, where my mother-in-law was a child of 4 was also hit by the flu, as told in this article from the Lincoln County Citizen.


“Whereas, the spread of Spanish influenza in Lincoln County has created an emergency, and it appears to the County Board of Health that it is necessary to establish a quarantine coextensive with the limits of the county, it is therefore ordered: 1. That all schools, churches and theatres shall be closed, and that no public meetings or gatherings of any nature shall be held. 2. That no private meetings, parties, dances or any other social gatherings shall be held in any private house or elsewhere; that there shall be no visiting between families. 3. That persons shall not loiter about any place of business, or in any post office or other public place. 4. That children of different families shall not play together or congregate, and children shall not be on the street except when upon some necessary errand. 5. That all pool and billiard rooms, both front and back rooms, shall be closed; Provided, that pool room proprietors may sell their merchandise from an open door to persons on the street who shall not be admitted to the inside. These regulations shall take effect immediately and shall remain in full force and effect until such time as they may be vacated or modified by order of this Board. Any person violating these regulations is guilty of a misdemeanor, and will be prosecuted therefore. Done in open session this 3rd day of December, 1918. Board of Health of Lincoln County, Washington. By J. E. Furgeson, Geo N. Lowe, F. A. Hudkins, Dr C. S. Bumgarner.”

The advent of modern medicine has not eliminated the flu, but it has greatly reduced the sweep of epidemics and the number of deaths.  In this country improved sanitation, better and more widely available medical services, and, yes, the flu shot have changed both the incidence and the fear of this awful disease.

Two more diseases affected my mother as a young wife.  In the interest of brevity I’ll only touch on these.  Just before my mother was to be married my father came down with the mumps.  This was a serious disease in adults and could lead to sterility.  Obviously, my father survived both the disease and the threat of sterility.  There were 100,000 or more cases of mumps each year in the 1930’s; now, thanks to an effective vaccine there are fewer than 800.

When I was just a few weeks old my brother developed scarlet fever.  Our house was quarantined.  My father needed to work and lived with my grandmother who would leave food for my mother the front door.  A sign like this one was slapped on the front door and only the doctor went in or out.  As a parent now myself  I can imagine her fear, alone in the house with a newborn and a five year old with a deadly disease.  Widespread use of antibiotics to control strep throat has greatly reduced the occurrence of scarlet fever.  I am so grateful that my children never had to face mumps, scarlet fever, or the other deadly diseases that were regular occurrences in my childhood.


The disease that was the true terror of a parent’s life in the 1950’s was polio.  Many, many families experienced polio and everyone knew someone who had survived it.  In my case it was a cousin who survived, but walked with heavy leg braces for the rest of her life.  This was a contagious disease that primarily struck children.  It usually arrived in the summer, making our parents particularly vigilant during our school vacations.  We wanted to play with our fiends and especially to go to the local pool, but during a polio epidemic the pool was off limits, widely believed to be a “polio pit”.  Survivors of polio were left with varying degrees of disability.  In its most extreme form the muscles that control breathing were affected. This required the use of an “iron lung” to assist breathing.  For some only a few weeks were required, but some people spent the rest of their lives in these contraptions.  I believe the last of these unfortunate folks died around 1970.

Doctors and nurses tending patients in iron lungs

Lining up for vaccine in Chicago

I was about 8 years old when the news of Jonas Salk’s discovery of an effective vaccine for this horrible contagion hit the papers and the radio.   Both my husband and I remember standing in long lines at the local school waiting to be vaccinated.  Our parents were jubilant.  There was no complaining about waiting; there was only joy that their children would never have to deal with this horror.

I try to keep politics out of this blog.  I love our strong national discourse even when it gets a little nutty.  I believe it is what keeps my country strong.

Common sense and the ability to do rudimentary arithmetic will tell you that parents with children of vaccinating age are considerably younger than I .  I know that there are those with questions about vaccine safety.  Having to make decisions for little people who depend on you is a fact of parenthood.  I do not presume to make those decisions for anyone, but I do think that this is a case where family history can be useful to young parents.  Before you make a decision not to vaccinate find someone who was born before 1957 and ask  about  contagious disease or a least look at that picture of people in the iron  lungs.










I wrote recently about my grandfather’s brother, Sam Silver.  Sam was a handsome man who served in the Spanish-American War and disappeared, both from our family history and from the census and other written documents until reappearing in the 1920 census in Colorado.

During my recent trip to Washington, D.C. I was able to visit the National Archives and have a look at Sam’s pension file.

Sam moved to Los Angeles in early 1925 and died there on December 12, 1925. Shortly before his death he applied for a pension based on his military service.  His wife, Gertrude continued the application after Sam’s death.  There were bureaucratic problems as Sam was enlisted under the name of Silverin and applied for a pension as Silverin, but all of the other documents in his life correctly list him as Sam Silver.

I have many more bits and pieces of Sam and Gertrude’s story, but for now I think it is best to let Gertrude speak for herself.  Here is Gertrude’s affidavit written for the Pension Office of the Veteran’s Administration and received by them on October 25, 1930. I have corrected grammar and sentence structure for ease of reading.  A scan of the original document is on the right..  A fold in the paper obscures one line and I have filled it in as I remember it.


” I Gertrude Silverin, age 41 years old.  I am the wife of the late Samuel Silverin or as everybody called us, Mr. and Mrs. Sam L Silver for short. [Sam] passed away Dec. 12, 1925 at the Kasper Kohn Hospital.

In October 1903 Samuel Silverin and I ran away from my home which was in New Orleans and came to San Francisco .  We went to a Jewish rabbi whose name I do not remember now and we went through what I though was a legal Jewish marriage.  The rabbi gave me a Jewish certificate.  At the time of my marriage I was 14 years old.  During the great fire of San Francisco in 1906 we, like countless others, lost everything including my Jewish certificate.  We the moved to Denver Colorado and never thought of the certificate anymore until our children arrived.  Then Mr. Silverin tried for a number of years to locate the rabbi that married us but was unable to find any trace of him.  Then Mr. Silverin tried to find out if our marriage was ever recorded, but to my sorrow it never had.  But as the children were getting older Mr. Silverin and I decided to go through a civil marriage which we did at Golden, Colo on Aug. 27, 1919.  Of our union 4 children were born, 3 died and only one son, Joseph, 19 years old living and is self-supporting to the best of my knowledge.  My Samuel Silverin was never married to anyone before he married me.  My maiden name was Gertrude F Eliach.  I was never married to anyone before or since I married Mr. Silverin or as we were always called Mr. and Mrs. Sam L Silver.  I have tried to get affidavits from  parties that knew Mr. Silverin from the time he became of marriageable age [but both his parents are dead and Alex Silver his] brother died 3 years ago.  The soldiers name is Samuel Silverin.”


A few things stand out for me.  Both Sam’s mother and his brother were very much alive in 1925.  Was there a family rift or was it simpler to say that everyone who knew Sam was dead?  Sam’s brother, Alex, and his family were living in New Orleans at the time that Sam and Gertrude eloped.  There must be a connection that brought both the brothers to New Orleans, but I don’t know who got there first or why.

Whatever the complete story is, and I am certainly still trying to track it down, this much appears to be true.  Gertrude Eliach ran away with Sam Silver to a place over 2000 miles away.  They remained together for 22 years until Sam died and left her a widow at the age of 36.

Pat and I are preparing to go to Washington, DC for the International Association of Jewish genealogists (IAJGS) meeting.  We’re leaving on the 13th and we are happily looking forward to great talks, meeting new friends and seeing some family.  I should be making lists, spiffing up my database and deciding what sessions I wish to attend on Sunday, but instead I find myself looking backwards, lost in memories of my Jewish childhood.  Since the next Carnival of Genealogy topic is about places of worship I will post this now, perhaps as the first entry.

When I was a girl my family was moderately religious.  My parents attended synagogue every Friday night and often on Saturdays.  My brother and I and many of our friends walked from public school to religious school two afternoons a week and our teachers tried with varying degrees of success to teach us something about many subjects,

What I remember most is Yom Kippor, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  On this day adults would fast from sundown to sundown.  People came and went from the synagogue all day, but everyone would be there for the reading of the Torah, for the recitation of the Kaddish, the prayer said in remembrance of the dead, and for the end of the day and the end of the fast marked by the blowing of the Shofar.  The Shofar is a ram’s horn, difficult to coax sound out of, especially after a day of fasting.   It makes an eerie sound in a silent room.  You can click here to hear the sound.  The silence is followed by joy and cries of “shanah tovah” (have a good year or happy new year) and hugs and kisses.  We would all walk home together feeling at peace and taking pleasure in each others company.

As I grew older I became less and less involved in things religious.  I married a man who is not Jewish and whose family didn’t follow a religious tradition.

As the years passed I would occasionally go to services with my mother or go to family Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, but generally speaking, I was rarely found in synagogue.  When she was 90 my mother moved to an assisted living facility here in Connecticut.  She joined a synagogue and with transportation provided she regularly attended services without my help.  She remained mentally alert, but grew increasingly frail and finally the day came when she could not attend services without my assistance, and so I found myself in synagogue on Yom Kippor for the first time in years.

The service wound on and finally we came to the recitation of the Kaddish.  Although the words of the Kaddish sanctify the name of God and do not speak of mourning it is known as the Mourner’s Prayer.  At weekly Sabbath services only those who have lost a loved on that week or those who are recognizing the memorial of a death that occurred in that week recite it, but on Yom Kippor everyone recites the Mourner’s Prayer.  It is traditional in many synagogues for those who still have two parents living to leave the sanctuary before the Mourner’s prayer.  In every synagogue I have ever attended before the Kaddish is recited the Rabbi explains that leaving is not law, that it is in fact rooted in superstition, and that we will be remembering the six million who died in the Holocaust.  They implore everyone of all ages, parents living or not to remain, and every year large numbers of those whose parents are still alive leave.  Even a rabbi can’t fight tradition.

It had been years since my father’s death and I probably had been to Yom Kippor services in some of those years, but somehow, lost in childhood memories, when the Kaddish was announced I stood to leave.  I was halfway out of my chair before I was hit hard by the realization that my father was gone.  I sat down, overwhelmed with emotion.  I watched young people leave the room and then I rose again to recite Kaddish with my mother.  As I stood,  a group of older people moved to the front of the room. It is a tradition in this synagogue to have survivors of the death camps lead the congregation in the recitation of the Kaddish.  We all join them in remembering those who have no family to remember them.  The survivors are growing old and there are fewer of them each year, but what I saw that year was a dozen healthy, vital older people walking solemnly down the aisles of the synagogue.  Your heart would have to be made of stone not to be moved by this.  I was reduced to tears, the survivors of course remembered and moved on, back to the good lives they had struggled to build, sharing the day with their families.

Eventually the shofar was blown and my mother and I said, “shanah tovah”, and returned to my home for a traditional light meal.  I have been to Yom Kippor services sporadically in the years since that day.  My mother is gone now too, but that one year remains large in my memory.  I am sure it always will.


Credit for the shofar picture here



Kerry Scott at Clue Wagon asked, “What is the one thing you would grab if your house was on fire?”

The question assumes that loved ones (I include pets here) are safe.

My guess is that I would approach this problem the way I approach my genealogy research.  I have to save the photos, no wait there’s the computer, oh, the kids baby bracelets, Just a minute, I’m almost ready….until being dragged from the house by a worried and more focused spouse.

The real question here then is “What objects are most meaningful in your life?”

I have a vase that sits in my living room.  My mother remembers her father bringing the vase home when she was a little girl.  My mother was born in 1910.  That puts the date when the vase enters our life at  1918 or 1920.   For as long as I can remember it sat on a sideboard in my mother’s house.  It came to live with me when my mother moved to assisted living here in Connecticut. A few years ago Antique Roadshow came to Hartford, Ct and I took my vase.  The expert told me it was a post-war piece made in Japan for the export market. I assume he meant WWI.  There were a lot of exports to this country around 1920, so maybe my vase was one of them.  He valued it at $350. It is priceless to me.


It is a simple inanimate object.  Many would not consider it beautiful.  Certainly, most would consider it silent, but it speaks volumes to me.

My grandfather worked as a leather cutter in a factory that made ladies’ handbags. He was not a sentimental man and there was little money for useless extras.  Yet he saw the vase in a pawnshop and he needed it. He needed it in the way we all sometimes need something beautiful that we cannot afford and have no earthly use for, but that continues to yell at us, “Buy me!”  We are fools if we do not listen.

I have been in homes of people who live in soul crushing poverty, both in this country and others and I have never seen a home without at least one object that is there just because it is beautiful.  It might just be a picture ripped from a magazine, but it is essential to that house.  I am always amazed when we are involved in a local or national conversation about what is necessary for our children’s education.  Art is always high on the hit list, yet it is art in all its forms that fully expresses our humanity.

I don’t know what that vase said to my grandfather. I know it meant the world to my mother.  To me it says, “You are connected through time to people who understood beauty and knew its meaning even when times were difficult and a secure future was hard to envision.”

Sam Silver

Sam Silver was my grandfather’s brother, my great-uncle. Unless he is the oldest man in the world, in which case he probably would have been in the newspapers and I would know where he is, he is long deceased by now.  I’m fairly certain that he is buried in either Colorado or California, more about that later.

Why am I looking for Sam?  Yes, there’s the usual stuff about finding the relatives, especially the close ones, but that’s not really it.  Sam fascinates me because he seems to have been absolutely different from the rest of my family.

Look at this picture. 

He is so dapper, so debonaire, so Fred Astaire. No one in my sober, nose-to-the grindstone family ever looked like this.  Honestly, how could any family lose track of this man?

When Sam was a young man my father remembers a visit to my grandparents home in Philadelphia.  Sam and his wife Gertie were stopping by on their way to Colorado.  Here’s another thing my family didn’t do–move.  They made the long journey from Russia, got off the boat and rooted themselves firmly in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. My grandparents did move around a bit, but they had the good sense to come back and nest among family.  Not Sam.  Sam was on his way to Colorado.

My father told me that Uncle Sam went to Colorado to be a cowboy.  If you’ve read any of my blogs about my family you will know that we are completely urban people.  When I moved eight miles outside of New Haven, a city of 100,000, my mother declared that I was living in the middle of nowhere.  There were no cowboys in our family.

As it turns out Sam wasn’t a cowboy either. The 1920 census finds the family living in Denver.  Sam was the owner of a soft drink parlor. He and Gertie had two children, Joseph and Lillian. What I can’t figure out is if my father was having a joke with me when he told me the cowboy story or if his Uncle Sam had the joke on my Dad, who was 8 or 9 at the time of the visit.

I have no other census information for Sam, not 1900, when he was about 20 years old, not 1910, about the time he got married.  In 1900 my grandfather and his wife and one year old daughter were living with Sam’s parents. Where was Sam?  He may have been in the army.  This is another thing my family didn’t do.  After a narrow escape from 25 years in the Russian army military life was not so appealing. Family lore says Sam fought in the Spanish-American War.  It is virtually impossible for me to picture one of my very urban family, the man who owned the soft drink parlor, charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt.  There is, however, a picture of Sam in uniform.  The picture was taken in Chattanooga.  I don’t have any details about his service.

So, I guess that Sam came home from the army, got married and struck out for the west.  That same 1920 census says that Sam’s wife and daughter were born in Louisiana.  Did they go there before Colorado, after Colorado? I don’t know.

Here is another photo of Sam.  A tourist photo from Arkansas.

I know that Sam and Gertie’s daughter, Lillian, died in Denver at the age of 11.  I don’t know what became of their son Joseph. If he is alive he would be 99 by now. My mother said that Sam retired to California.  Perhaps his son was living there.

In the final analysis I think Sam and his family in Colorado were not really lost to my East Coast family.  I don’t remember letters or phone calls, but I was probably young when Sam died and not interested in letters from people I didn’t know.  Visits were too expensive for families with little money, so I think no one on my side of the family saw him after he moved to Colorado. I expect there are grandchildren around my age.  I would love to find them and learn  what they know about Uncle Sam, the cowboy.


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