Tag Archives: Smack Down!

Tree begone

As a custodian of Our Old House, I’m always conscious of how to maintain it and still make twenty-first-century changes without drastically altering or (gasp) destroying the historic integrity of the property. Making those decisions is not always easy, especially when there is clearly no choice in the matter. Cue the drafty ancient windows, the continually-aging floorboards, the old garage with the “waving roof,” and the 90-foot rotting maple trees.

We still deal with the windows and the floors (not a level inch anywhere in this house!), but the garage is gone, and so are the trees, those huge maple trees that graced the front of the property, blocking dust, noise, snow, wind, and the hot summer sun while shading the front rooms. They provided sap for maple syrup and sugar for even the earliest generations of my family, bushels of leaves for mulch, and perches for multiple varieties of birds. Continue reading Tree begone

A case of mistaken identity

German Evangelical Home in 1925. Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1974.001, courtesy of the Brooklyn Historical Society.

My grandmother, Emma Mueller, never really knew her father. Her mother, Marica Michelic Muhvic, a widow – born in Stari-Tsg, Slovenia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1873 – had emigrated alone to New York in 1903 to seek a better life.[1] Marica changed her name to Mary and found a job working as a housekeeper in the German Evangelical Home for the Aged in Brooklyn, New York, where she was living in 1905.[2] Here she could interact with people that made her feel like she was in her home country, since they shared a common language and culture. Continue reading A case of mistaken identity

“Miss Winters in the drawing room”

The drawing room in question.

Several months back, Chris Child and I started playing a game we’ve dubbed “Genealogical Clue.” Playing a good game of it can be quite fun and challenging. Largely, it’s a game whereby we attempt to locate an individual in our respective family trees with a first name that resembles or is near identical to their surname. From this jumping-off point, the post or story is then titled by how we “place” those individuals in a Clue game-like situation. Keeping up with a master player like Chris hasn’t been easy, though. I’ve really had to dig deep to find some of my better “game board connections.” Sadly, most of my potential protagonists never seem to quite cut the ‘Colonel’ Mustard. (lol) Continue reading “Miss Winters in the drawing room”

Peart’s Elixirs

The rasp of her son’s cough hadn’t stopped for a fortnight, and it seemed (as Mrs. Hatton would later write) that there was “no medicine on earth that could reach his disease.”[1] It was terrible to watch him wasting in his struggles. There certainly was no ease or comfort for the boy. There appeared to be no cure.

The doctors the Hattons had called upon at Baltimore lauded the Playfair method for flushing his lungs.[2] Good Lord, his mother had thought, he is but two years old! Continue reading Peart’s Elixirs

Still relevant today

The conversations at my family dinner table usually center around daily activities: what the kids did at school, which beach are we going to this weekend, whose pool can we finagle an invitation to – normal things. Recently, while my kids and I visited with my older brother, we showed them some pictures of the two of us growing up in the 1980s. They were particularly interested in the pictures seen at left (and below), of my brother and me at the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Questions flew, such as: “Wow, dad, is that a real cannon?” “Does it still work?” and “Can we go there someday so I can sit on the cannon?” Continue reading Still relevant today

‘Pruning the tree’

The Misses Ogle and Long

With all of their ‘lives’ so scattered about, I really had nowhere to run and certainly nowhere to hide. There were papers and pictures everywhere, and in the midst of the fray of utter ancestry I caught my grandmother “Miss Ogle” (no pun intended…) staring back at me. Carefree and young in her photograph, she ‘watched’ as I rifled through my great ‘genealogical reduction.’ Her gaze appeared to crisscross over all those lives, and over the hodgepodge of paperwork connecting me to a host of pilgrims and witches … and other assorted knuckleheads. From her grainy Kodak vantage point, Miss Ogle seemed to smirk in humorous disbelief at my genealogical disarray as if to say “Well, isn’t that just the living end…”[1] The only thing I could think in reply to the memory of her long-ago voice in that near-forgotten photo was“Sorry grandma. I need to. It’s time.” Continue reading ‘Pruning the tree’

Good neighbors

The Pacific Bank on Nantucket’s Main Street. The entrance to the cashier’s dwelling was accessed through the door with fan-light, at left, and the building as originally constructed ended at the downspout one window down from that door.

Two years ago, I described several gifts that Genealogy Santa had brought me for Christmas. In that post, I hinted at a forthcoming, very juicy story about a family member, but I have failed to follow through thus far. Then a few weeks ago, Jeff Record virtually threw down the gauntlet in search of family bank robbers … and tagged me in his post to boot! Challenge accepted.

First, a little backstory. Continue reading Good neighbors

Into the ether

Ether Day by Robert C. Hinckley. Courtesy of Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University

Back in 2018, when I had the good fortune to be added to the Vita Brevis family of writers, one of my first posts was about my maternal grandfather, John Joseph Osborne, and the seven-year journey I had taken to learn about this man who had, we were always told, grown up an orphan.

Because I was starting with nothing more than my grandfather’s death certificate (which, fortunately, included his birthplace and parents’ names), I knew that my research would likely be a journey of discovery and, indeed, there were many revelations. Continue reading Into the ether

Not a gangster in the bunch

Recently, I wrote about the search for my great-great-great-aunt Minnie (Hickok) Wilcox, and the rewards and pitfalls of what I like to call those Delayed Messages from “beyond.” While I was happy to put the mystery of Minnie to rest (and to collaborate with my new almost-a cousin-in-law Tom), the rest of my family didn’t seem all that enthused to learn the tale and final resting place of Aunt Minnie.[1] Heck, even my clan’s most ardent family history aficionados seemed numb to the small cache of findings about Minnie. The only thing I can say here is that I’m hopeful that their nonchalance about Minnie was just in deference to (and disapproval of) her curmudgeon of a husband, Horace G. “Billy” Wilcox. My great-great-great-uncle Billy probably should have been a 1920s-style “poster husband” for spousal abuse. This isn’t to say that I didn’t hear from “da folks” with regard to Tom’s and my discoveries about Minnie (or Billy). Only to say that by and large I heard from those polite branches, and they for the most part, are distant from ye olde trunk. Continue reading Not a gangster in the bunch

View from the dog house

Our family has an historic heirloom, a microscope that originally belonged to [Heinrich Hermann] Robert Koch (1843-1910), the famous German bacteriologist, who won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discoveries related to the causative agents of anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera. The microscope came into our family by virtue of his cousin, my great-great-grandfather, Ernest Wilhelm Eduard Koch (1827-1903), who was born in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, about 30 miles from Clausthal, the birthplace of Robert Koch. After moving to the United States, great-great-grandfather went by “Edward,” but usually was referred to by the family as E.W.E.

E.W.E. was a highly educated man and was an “1848er,” one of many who emigrated from Germany after the 1848-49 revolutions there. Continue reading View from the dog house