Thursday, October 6, 2016

They Want to be Found!

Recently a set of circumstances has given me more time than usual to spend searching for ancestors. (Yay me!) I have had to marvel at how the information began to roll in as I dug a little deeper, and also just because I had done something.
The first example was being contacted by a cousin on my husband Howard’s side; the surname is Wressell, from Yorkshire, England. I thought that we had the research pretty well wrapped up on that line – but can we ever say that? When Carol contacted me, I ran the name through to see if I could help her with her part of the family. Quite by accident (not really), I found an article on Percy Wressell, who had fought with Canadian troops during WWI and been killed. 
The Winnipeg, Canada Tribune, 16 June 1917

Of course, that meant I had to determine where he fits in the family, and that research led to finding his mother, Mary Jane, as well as four siblings. The deeper I dug, the sadder the story became. Every record that listed an occupation for her was either as “servant” or “domestic.” You don’t need to have watched every season of “Downton Abbey” to know that female servants were not only the lowest rung of the social ladder in late 19th century England but also the most vulnerable.

The 1871 Northowram, Yorkshire, English Census

 In all of the vital, church and census records I found for Mary Jane or her five children, I found no reference to a husband/father; in fact, I located two baptismal records for two of the children where the space for the father’s name had a line through it and under the children’s names was written “privately baptized.”

West Yorkshire Church of England Baptismal record, 1879

 I found the eldest child, Walter, on a list of “Lunacy Patients Register” at age 17, and then a later record of his death in the same institution in 1913 at age 41. 

UK "Lunacy Patients Admissions Records," 1879

Mary Jane's daughter Amy died before she was two years of age. Mary Jane died, as listed in the “Nonconformist” records, at age 47 in 1892.

The website can be a great tool for researching ancestors, but it is a bit tricky, as it relies on the computer’s ability to read old newsprint. Further, if you have a name that is very common or is a noun in everyday use, there may be just too many hits to be able to narrow down. But another of Howard’s surnames is McTaggart, which is a much simpler name for which to search. In a typical migration pattern, the McTaggarts came from the British Isles to Canada and some filtered down into Michigan, where one of them, Louisa, married my Howard’s great-grandfather’s brother. The search for McTaggarts in revealed a notice in the Port Huron (MI) Times Herald that “A message received by Mr. and Mrs. David McTaggart Thursday evening told of the sad news of the death of Captain Harold Ross, killed in action…” 

Of course, I couldn’t just note that fact down and go on my way. It turns out that Captain Ross was the only child of Harold and Nellie Ross, and that Nellie Ross and Florence McTaggart were sisters from the Peter and Agnes (McCorkendale) Wright family of Ontario. Normally an officer is pretty easy to locate in one of several family history sites, but somehow, Capt. Ross has slipped through the cracks and it seems to be up to me to make sure he is not forgotten.

Another name easy to search is one from my side of the family: Alberghini. A broad search revealed that one of my Alberghinis from Renazzo, Italy married an Irish girl from Boston, Mae Nugent. She had seven siblings, including a little brother who died when he was only four years old.

Finally, the saddest story of all comes from my mother’s husband’s family, the Wheelers. His was a fairly prominent family in Newport, RI and one of the branches of the family was the Knowe family. The headline from 1943 read: Janet, Susan Knowe drown in Maryland.” According to the news article, the two girls, 8-and 4-years old were “wading on a sandbar while the mother was on the shore tending her 10-months-old baby.”

It is difficult to imagine the enormity of the pain suffered through so much sadness. I was contemplating this recently while attending our local LDS (Mormon) Atlanta Temple. As I pondered, I felt as if my spiritual eyes were opened, and I felt as never before the infinite depth and breadth of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His healing power – and not just in this life, but for families throughout all eternity.

I will keep searching and finding them. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ripples in a Pond

When I go to a cemetery, I just want to be able to photograph every headstone to post on the website This does a couple of things: it preserves the images of the stones, many of which are slowly wearing away and will one day be illegible. It also makes it possible for family researchers everywhere to find information for their family tree. Often, for people who lived more than one hundred years ago, that headstone may be the only record they left behind.

When I arrive at a cemetery that is clearly to big to photograph at one time, I try to focus on the older stones, as well as the military stones and those that memorialize little children, two groups that hold a special place in my heart.

I especially love New England's old cemeteries, and when I'm visiting my Mom in Rhode Island, I love to tag along with her on her visits as she works with the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission.

On one such trip, we visited the Rockland Cemetery in Scituate, Rhode Island, up in the northeast corner of the state not too far from Connecticut. One of the headstones I "randomly" photographed was that of Alvin Leroy Church, who had been a member of a Coastal Artillery Regiment during WWI. I also have a cousin who has that surname in her family tree. That was in November of 2011.

Fast forward to last March, 2016. A woman contacted me through findagrave to ask about the Rockland Cemetery, as she found my name attached to the photograph and memorial on the website. Here's what she said:

"My mother has decided she would like to be buried with her parents in Rockland cemetery which also her infant sister, grandparents and aunts and uncles are buried rather than in the veterans cemetery with my father. I have been trying to reach someone to speak to but have not been successful. I was wondering if maybe you had some information that would help me to be able to speak with someone at the cemetery.  My mom is 88 yrs old and she is worried about not being able to be buried there. We would like to be able to put her mind at ease regarding this change in burial plans.  Thank you again for the photos , my mom was very happy to know that someone took the time to take them."

I checked with my Mom, gave the woman some suggestions, and forgot all about it. This afternoon I received this email:

"I would like to thank you and your mother for your help in granting my mother her wishes for her burial .  We did contact the funeral home and made her arrangements with them.  She did pass on July 9, 2016 and was buried with her parents at Rockland cemetery.  all the arrangements for her burial were made ahead and she was very happy that she was able to be buried with her parents.  thank you again for your help , it was very much appreciated. I don't think we would have been able to make this possible without you and your mom. we were lost at how to make these arrangements and getting in touch with Rockland cemetery. thank you again."

Ripples in a pond.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Grandma Dot and her Recipes

My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Mae (Irving) Wenz lived in Miami when I was growing up, so I didn’t know her as well as my Gramie Smith. We knew her as Grandma Dot. You could call her Dot – but don’t ever call her Dotty! I did get to know her better when I lived with her for a year after high school. Because I was a busy single adult (or at least I thought I was!), we didn’t share too many meals, but there are some dishes that I remember her for.

One I’ve already featured in a blog post: because of their significance in our family history. Grandma Dot made them pretty regularly.

Another is one I remember from school lunches as well as Grandma Dot’s: American Chop Suey. It’s a great combination of economic/food storage meal with its basic ingredients of canned tomatoes, ground beef and elbow macaroni; and comfort food – especially on a cold New England night! If you’re interested in the recipe and a little history of the name, Yankee Magazine has a great blog post on it here:

One of my favorites of hers was Lemonade Pudding, which you can make with pink or yellow lemonade or limeade. Great dessert for a hot summer’s night!
Grandma Dot’s Lime/Lemonade Pudding
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ cup cold water
1 8-oz package cream cheese
½ cup boiling water
1 can frozen lime or lemonade concentrate
¼ cup sugar

Soften gelatin in cold water, let stand. Blend cream cheese with sugar, then gradually add milk, beating until smooth. Add boiling water to gelatin, then add to cream cheese mixture. Stir in thawed (but NOT diluted) concentrate. Pour into cups or mold and refrigerate until firm.

Grandma Dot and my Grampa Ted (Theodore Anthony Wenz) moved to Miami around 1958, so I only saw them about once a year, mostly during the summer when they came up for Wenz family reunions. It looks like this photo was taken in Florida, and I'm sure THAT dinner was delish!

Unfortunately, I can’t ask her, so I’ll just have to assume it was because she lived in Miami that she got good at making citrus preserves. This is one of her recipes. Yummy!

I asked my Mom what she remembered about Grandma Dot’s cuisine, and she added the fruitcake that was made with a spice cake recipe that had a nice, frothy sauce. That recipe is in my Great-Grandmother Wenz’s cookbook, which is a whole ‘nother blog post – because I’m the proud owner of that cookbook!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Family Recipes: The Italian Traditions

Recently I heard author Valery J. Frey discuss her new book “Preserving Family Recipes:
How to Save and Celebrate Your Food Traditions.” What really struck a chord with me was when she talked about a particular dish being like a time machine. How true that is! When we savor a mouthful of something we loved as a child, it can zap us straight back to our childhood.

Over the years, I’ve collected personal favorites, but I’ve noticed a mysterious phenomenon that occurs every time I’ve made them: no matter how scrupulously I follow the recipe, they never seem to taste quite as good as they did when the original cook (usually my grandmothers or my mother-in-law) made them. I’ve come to suspect that they added a secret, intangible ingredient: L-O-V-E.

I determined during that lecture to put together at least one blog post to highlight some family favorites both from my past as well as my children’s past. What a special exercise down memory lane, and it gave me great pleasure to know that these culinary memories were special to them as well.

My earliest memories of culinary delights are from my Gramie Smith, my father’s mother. Her parents, Onesto Guidetti and Adelcisa Tassinari, came from Italy in 1907, and she was an excellent cook. Bean soup, cabbage soup, goulash, and cherry pie, oh my! She also made great brownies, but imagine my shock when I learned that they came out of a box!

She and my Grampa Smith lived in Whitman, Massachusetts, the town where I grew up. As Gramie’s only female descendant (and still was until my cousin had a daughter about ten years ago), I got to spend most weekends at Gramie’s. One of my favorite memories was helping her make pies and she would let me play with the excess pie crust.

The goulash recipe has a conversational tone to it because I wrote to her (in the days of long-distance phone calls) to ask directions, and I got them!

Another traditional family dish was served every Easter, just before the ham. To me, they were known as “tootlings,” a delicious cheese-filled pasta cooked in chicken broth. After I moved away from New England, I always searched for them, but no one had ever heard of tootlings, until one day I spotted them in a bag in the deli section of a grocery store: Tortellini! But the ones we had in the chicken broth at Easter time were made by hand at an Italian delicatessen in Plymouth, and the plastic bag ones are just not the same.

Gramie’s Bean Soup
¼ pound of salt pork
2 onions, chopped
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 quart water
1 can shell beans (I use navy beans)
1 cup elbow macaroni

Brown salt pork and onions. Remove salt pork. Add tomato paste, dilute & simmer. Add water, ½ can beans, ½ can mashed beans, macaroni. Simmer until cooked.

Her cabbage soup recipe used the same base, except the macaroni was replaced with rice, and the beans replaced with shredded cabbage. Then load the hot soup down with grated Parmesan cheese, and you've got the best winter comfort food anywhere!

As hard as I've tried, I can't find words to describe what my Gramie meant to me while she was on this earth; I wish I'd taken more time to record her history, but so thankful for what I still have that connects me to her. 

I’m proud of and love my Italian heritage!