Ready For a Soap Opera

I’ve been ruminating on the good ol’ days as I did this card — you know, the America we’d like to return to, when every man had a job and came home to his wife, to whom he was happily married with 2.5 children, and she’d made him dinner. Except that I’m a grownup and I realize that that America existed for almost nobody almost never. In this particular case, we have some disruptive evidence about the sanctity of marriage way back when.

In this “way back when,” which is 1907, Clifford went to Atlanta, and he sent a card back to a lady named Maude. It says:

I am afraid you will think I am a poor correspondent but never mind, that letter will come yet. Now see if it “don’t.” I do most of my writing on cards. Hello, Opal, how are you? Thanks for all the pretty cards you sent and come again real soon. Sincerely, Clifford.

So this is the context in which I learned that the City of Sacramento had street-by-street telephone directories all the way back in the 1880s and they’re all online with some degree of OCR. I was therefore able to find Mrs. Maude E. pretty quickly, and the street directory listed her middle initial, which is O. So I read this card as being weirdly written to a woman named Maude Opal to whom Clifford referred as “Opal” alone. Then I started trying to find out a bit more about Maude and realized they’re two people.

Maude was born in 1881 in Indiana, the first of five children to long-time Indiana farmers who moved to California sometime before 1889. In 1900 she married Hjalmar E., the son of Swedish immigrants who came to Sacramento from Sweden via Kansas. But by 1909 she…

Okay, the other day, my mother told me that one of my blog posts was hard to follow. And this gets hard to follow. Which is my point! These people were marrying each other right and left. Maude was married a grand total of three times, unless she remarried Hjalmar when she moved back in with him in 1926 in which case it’s four. Hjalmar (that appears to be pronounced “Yalma” or “Yalmar,” as he’s known in most U.S. documents) was married at least twice, the second time to a woman who’d been married before and was married twice thereafter. Maude’s sisters were married multiple times. And unlike if you go a bit further back in history, these aren’t deaths causing this rearranging, it’s straight-up divorce, because the spouses were all remarrying too, and there are a host of children listed in various places with various last names.

Here, tidied this up for you:

And this is just these three. You’ll have to trust me that their various spouses and siblings were marrying and divorcing all over the place. And the craziest part is that they all lived within the same several-block radius, sometimes in the same building, for all their lives… and then they were nearly all buried in the same graveyard! Sacramento in the early 1900s was apparently a happening place, y’all.

How I actually did this one is a little bit interesting, I think: Maude has a very comprehensive Social Security death record with her several married names and the middle name “Oriole.” So who the heck was Opal? I went back to the directories and looked up everybody living at Maude’s various addresses, and bingo, there was an Opal.

Searching the general records for an Opal R. got me some family. I was pretty sure this was a family because c’mon, Opal and Pearl living at the same address? Cheesy but helpful.

And then the 1910 Census sealed the deal: Opal living with a woman named Maude who was listed as her sister. So I built them a family tree with sisters Maude, Opal, and Pearl and father William (that was a guess; he could have been a brother), and the rest was downhill.

So that leaves one burning question about this card: Who’s Clifford? I’m not sure. There’s a Clifford of about the right age, living down the street, who worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, as did Yalma and all his brothers. But he appears to have been happily married (the only one!) and I can’t find a reason he’d have been in Atlanta. There are a couple Cliffords in the family tree, too, but they’re mostly the wrong ages. I may never know!

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Aunt Charlotte’s Old Face, Twice

I don’t have enough postcards to do two a week for long, but this one is brand new (to me) and I like it as a way to go into the weekend. So happy Friday, from Charlotte S., who sounds like she was a character.  She wrote this postcard in 1910, when she was 62 years old, and sent it to her 19-year-old niece. It says:

This is your Aunt Charlotte’s old face. With love to all. Your Aunt C.S. I am looking for Ma to come and visit me.

This family was easy to find because there was only one family with that last name in that city at the time, and then the family tree demonstrated the correct names and cities very quickly. Recipient Amelia grew up, stayed local, got married, and doesn’t appear to have had any kids. And she made it easy for me to find her aunt.

Aunt Charlotte lived near her family’s original homestead in the town where I went to college. She married a man who had come to the US from Germany as a child and was a good bit older than she was, and they had five kids of their own. One of those kids was a mail carrier but also moonlighted as a photographer. I have no idea if he took the picture that became this postcard, but he had a little studio in their town, so I like to think he did.

And I don’t know about you, but I think Aunt Charlotte looks good for early 60s!

But the really fun part of this one, for me, is that I was able to find another photograph of Aunt Charlotte’s old face… when it wasn’t old!

Check out this picture of Jacob and Elizabeth B., who both emigrated from Germany as children and met and lived in New York for a while,  where Charlotte (the oldest) and the next of her nine siblings were born. Eventually they moved to Minnesota and set up a farm, and their children and grandchildren appear to still be well-represented in the area.

I don’t have a source on this photograph, or a date. But that oldest child is a girl, and their oldest child was Charlotte, and if she was born in 1848, this age and this fashion work out. So I’m going to go ahead and pretend that this is Aunt Charlotte’s young face, seated on her father’s knee.

(The baby, incidentally, would have been card-recipient Amelia’s mom!)

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It’s Grandma Who’s Interesting

Today I’d like to share Postcard 8, an image of Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow, although it is postmarked from Leningrad. Because this isn’t 100 years old and because I’m only sort of confident all the named characters are dead, I’m going to blur-and-initialize to minimize the searchability of this post.  (But I fully acknowledge that there’s so much information on this family it would take a half-sober monkey five minutes with Google to find them.)

This postcard came from eBay in 2014. It’s dated July 25, 1938, is addressed to a person with a clear name and address, and features the following tender words:

My dear little Herzchen, Aunt Jeannette & I send loads of love to your Mommy & Daddy. Grandma Johanna

From a research perspective, this card had a lot of potential. Los Angeles city directories from the 1930s are online. Of course, this card appears to be addressed to a child, and a female child at that, so it wasn’t going to be a slam-dunk to find either the recipient or her grandmother. But I was pretty sure I could do it.

There are a couple hundred people in the Los Angeles directory of 1938 with this last name, and in the end, Miss Jo Ann’s family were actually not among them. I don’t know why they’re not listed in the directories anywhere; maybe they were renters. I finally found them by hoping they were at the same address in the 1940 Census.

That too was a little complicated because their house was right after a street change and the online catalog had the address wrong. But I finally found them with a little playing around and learned that Jo Ann was barely a toddler when her loving grandmama sent her this card. She is listed as just over 2 years old in 1940!

From there it was mostly downhill: father Fred was a hotel manager in LA, and he and mother Maxine traveled a lot during their marriage. They had two kids, and Maxine remarried before Fred’s death, so I’m guessing they eventually divorced. Their son (also Fred) died recently; I can’t find much about Jo Ann. A nice, normal family, upper middle-class enough to have a live-in servant. Nothing very exciting.

It’s Grandma who’s interesting!

I mean, first of all, it’s 1938 and Grandma’s rocking out in Leningrad.

The American part of this family’s saga starts in 1846 when Salomon S. arrived from Germany with at least one of his brothers. The woman who would be his wife, Sophie R., arrived in 1854, and I have absolutely no idea how they met, but they got married in Ohio just months after her arrival, so perhaps they knew each other back home. They immediately set about having a bazillion children in Chicago. Salomon is described several places as “not wealthy” and “a grocer,” but like many immigrants, his kids did better than their father. Son (and relative hotty) Moses was a lawyer, notably representing the Central Labor Union and some of the anarchists involved in the Haymarket Bomb cases in Chicago in the late 1880s. He later became a state senator. Grandson Irving was a business tycoon, Roosevelt crony, and United Nations Ambassador. And the family as a whole seems to have been heavily involved in the steel industry in New York and Chicago, at least according to various criminal and civil complaints filed on their behalf and against them.

Salomon’s fifth son, Joseph, is the tie to my postcard. Joseph was himself a bit of a macher, involved in the family’s steel ventures and filing at least a couple patents for pretty things made out of steel. He served a little time after mishandling the estate of a hotel magnate who may or may not have been married to a woman who may or may not have authorized the estate transfer; his brother Moses (also named in the suit, and with more than a whiff of impropriety about the whole thing) appears to have fought valiantly on his behalf.

At some point in the late 1800s or early 1900s, a German fraulein named Johanna K. immigrated to the United States. I can’t find much about this, but she ended up spending a lot of time with two men I assume were her brothers, so the family came over together or reconnected in Chicago. Johanna’s family was also well-connected or very entrepreneurial and also involved in the steel industry, so I assume that’s how she met Joseph. They married in 1906 and nine years later Joseph, Johanna (yes! a woman listed on a business document!), and Johanna’s likely-brother Max put up $50,000 and incorporated the Royal Metal Manufacturing Company of Chicago. I’m not sure exactly what that means, legally speaking, because the RMMC existed before 1915, but it’s an interesting side note. The RMMC ended up being a pretty big deal in the art deco art world and was the money behind nephew Irving’s career pre-diplomacy.

Not just a random chair: an RMMC art chair!

Joseph and Johanna thrived and made enough money to be involved in several seriously major lawsuits, including one against the city of Chicago that I can’t read because it’s sealed. They had three kids, one of whom was Jo Ann’s mother Maxine. And they loved to travel. After Joseph died in 1930, Johanna traveled with her daughter Jeannette but also, as far as I can tell, by herself, including months-long stays in the UK and Puerto Rico.

And then, of course, there’s the 1938 expedition to Leningrad, about which I can find absolutely nothing…

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I’m Nancy Drew, Is How I Did It

Yesterday’s post has generated an interesting conversation on Facebook, so I’m going to write a little post here about how I did the research. [Also, for the record: I’m blurring a lot of stuff for now because some of these people are still alive, and just reasons. But I have the info, and I’m relatively confident in my assertions and will note when that’s not the case.]

Here’s the card I had to start with.

The information I had for sure was:

  • The author’s initials (H.E.)
  • The author resided in Stevens Point in 1922
  • The recipient’s address, at a rural route and box number in a township in Wisconsin about 90 miles away from Stevens Point
  • The recipient’s marital status and a very, very vague guess at her name (it looked like her first name started with E and her last with either R or K)

Things I concluded that were probably, but not definitely, facts:

  • H.E. was old enough to have married and moved out
  • H.E. grew up in the place her mother continued to live and therefore would have been on older census/other records
  • H.E. had a sister named Marie

I started out learning about the rural route, where it was, and if it had any other names (they often do). I like Historic Map Works as a source for old maps, but in this case they didn’t help all that much. So it was off to the 1920 and 1910 Census data I went. I love Steve Morse’s Enumeration District tools — he’s done the world an incredible favor with that page, and I’ve used it more than once to solve family mysteries. (His other research tools are impressive, too.) Basically, you use city/state data to figure out which pages of the census cover your areas. It’s still a lot of needle-in-haystack digging, but it takes it down to one haystack instead of a field full of them.

1910 Census for Family K.

So this was the long slog part of the research. I just started guessing. I worked through the relevant enumeration districts in the 1920 census, looking for families with last names starting with R or K, mothers’ names starting with E, and possibly daughters with initials H.E. or named Marie. I didn’t find any. So I started comparing families in the area in 1920 to families in the area in 1910, thinking that maybe H.E. and Marie had moved out before 1920.

Every time I found a potential family, I did a quick family tree research session for them to see what I could find. For example, if I found Leon Rutabaga and his wife Emily living on Highway 6 in 1910 with daughters Harriett and Marie, I then tried to find marriage records for a Harriett Rutabaga to a man who lived in Stevens Point by 1922. It’s a complicated back-and-forth between census records, city directories (Stevens Point — not their rural township!), and even newspaper records.

Finally, I found them. I got lucky, and they lived in the exact same place in both 1910 and 1920, so I could determine that Louis K. and his wife Emma had four kids in the 1910 census, and only two in 1920 — Helen and Mary had moved out by then.

So then I had a last name to work with, and things really sped up. I quickly found Helen K.’s obituary, which was extremely helpful. And from there it was just a downhill Ancestry.com project to fill out the whole family history. This town and this era has a lot online, so I was even able to find a picture of little Mildred Marie.

Interesting side note: this picture also includes my great-aunt Jeannette. So that’s two postcards off eBay that ended up tying into my own family!

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“Oh Ma you can’t guess”

This card is one of my favorites because I really had to wrestle with it. When I first read the back I thought it seemed so forlorn, but I hoped I could find a happy ending for its author, so I bought it off eBay. In the end it was really hard to “solve” because at some point someone had erased the addressee’s name, leaving behind only the vaguest scratches, and the writer only used her initials. So I knew this card was mailed to a married woman at a rural route postal box in Wisconsin in 1922, by a person with the initials H.E. who lived in a different city. I am proud of figuring this one out! Continue reading

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Parks & Rec 2-23: Blazing Chemistry

Plot: Leslie has to charm the local police into donating security for the fall festival. Ann is in love with Chris. Ben is in love with Leslie. And Ron, bless his pointy head, is in lust with his ex-wife Tammy 2.

Deep Thoughts: Seriously, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman have amazing chemistry. They’re one of the couples who will irrationally devastate me if they ever break up. Also, OMG, Nick Offerman really does woodcrafts and has a shop.

Your Related Link For The Day: Cops like pizza. They also like donuts. Here’s a tiny little history of the cop-donut relationship.

Ann is Finally Having Character Development: But it’s not great. She’s subsuming her own personality (such as it is?) in Chris’s. Even though I know where this is heading because I’ve already watched the series, you can tell where this is heading. Continue reading

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“Me Too” and Once Again

Off the cuff, I’m gonna once again go with “let’s stop censoring each other.”

Two (and a half) major issues here. The second is the more important and the one I’d like to hash out a bit more, but since I know how much we all like nitpicky stipulations, I’ll start with #1.

1) Should this conversation be about all harassment/assault, or just those events directed at female-presenting persons? I shared me thoughts on that yesterday. I think they’re both valid and important conversations. I think one of them is more pressing because of sheer numbers. I think the meme we’re seeing today was created to address the latter. I think co-opting it to address the former is another example of a bigger problem. I’d like to see that stop.

1(b)) The wording of the meme. Yes, I concede this point entirely. We’re trying to normalize the concept of a gender spectrum, and “women” is too simple right now. My cousin used “women, femme, and trans/feminine-persons” and I like that. Other suggestions welcome, with the constraints implied by point 1.

2) Is saying “me too” helpful? For me, this evokes the same feelings I have when I watch the reactions to liberal white awakenings among nonwhite friends. Is it super obnoxious when white people discover that racism exists? I can’t even imagine how much. Is it a massive, possibly unwieldy burden to be asked to educate white people? ditto.

Should men already know how many of us are “me too”? Hell yes. But do they? Apparently not. Really, truly, apparently not.

And while it shouldn’t be on us, the fact remains that there are so many men who don’t know, and I believe that among them there are potential allies and supporters who could be useful in the kinds of microchanges that build into bigger systemic change.

It’s obnoxious. And possibly an impossible ask for any individual person. And that’s why I have started to think of it like this: It is not okay to ask any one individual person in a minority/subordinate power position to educate ignorant beneficiaries of privilege, in general or in any specific situation. We don’t know where burdens are heaviest and we should not shame each other for any particular failure to act or speak up.

But neither should we shame each other for actions that feel useful. If I have the energy and resources to take the time to educate someone, let me. This meme isn’t harmful. Saying “me too” may even feel really important and constructive to some women who haven’t said it out loud before. I have not yet seen a single compelling argument about how this hurts.

Because “there are other issues” isn’t a valid response — and neither, in my humble opinion, is “I don’t like the way you’ve chosen to address this issue.” Both statements may be true, and both are unhelpful.

So stop it, y’all.

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Parks and Rec 03-02: Lots of barfing (but in a good way)

Okay so I watched a number of episodes without you, Imaginary Reader. I’ll summarize.

0223 – The Master Plan – April turns 21 but Andy seems a little too fond of Ann at her birthday party. Jean-Ralphio is still gross. Ann can’t remember whom she kissed (it was Chris). Leslie spins her wheels as the city cuts back. That guy Ann used to be dating is kind of stalkery and takes it out inappropriately on Shauna Malwae-Tweep and God I’m glad he’s leaving.

No, wait, let me re-summarize that episode. EEEEEEEEEEEE BEN EEEEEEEEEE.

Ahem.

0224 – Freddy Spaghetti – The city shuts down. Tom has a girlfriend. Leslie marshals her crew to throw a kids’ event even without a budget. Ben saves the day even though he doesn’t want to. Foreshadowing of Andy’s future career in entertainment. Oh, and Ann kisses Andy, and of course April sees it, because this show couldn’t be COMPLETELY devoid of stupid romantic plot twists.

0301 – Go Big Or Go Home – The city’s back in business. Ron’s dating Tom’s ex, and everybody else is positioning themselves for Great Loves: April’s mad at Andy, Leslie’s mad at Ben, Ann’s declining Chris’s advances. 20/20 hindsight makes this all adorable. Also, Andy is adorable as a basketball coach who just wants his kids to have fun.

And now for the main event!

Plot: Errrbody has the flu, even Chris, whose body is a finely tuned machine. April makes Ann’s life hell as a patient. Ron adopts Andy as a mentee and replacement admin. Leslie’s super-sick but manages to pull out an amazing presentation anyway. Ben is suitably impressed.

Continue reading

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Parks & Rec 2-22: Up! All Night

Plot: Leslie’s in charge of the overnight portion of the diabetes fundraiser, and of course hijinks ensue. That guy is going to propose to Ann, who is going to break up with him because even she cannot remember who he is. April and Andy just need to get married already. And Tom realizes for the very first time that professional athletes are popular.

Deep Thoughts: Nope. It’s Friday.

Your Related Link For The Day: Perd Hapley does the worm. Who knew that the worm originated in the 1920s?

Ann is Mean: Once again we are treated to implications of Ann and Leslie’s intimacy without actually seeing them build intimacy. Also, Ann is over that guy she’s dating, and he thinks they’re proposal-bound. Communication issues much? Continue reading

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Parks and Rec 2-16: All About The Love

Plot: It’s Galentine’s Day and Justin decides to track down Leslie’s mom’s old boyfriend. April and Andy are a thing that is happening, but not fast enough. Tom and Wendy are not a thing. Ann and that person Ann’s dating are a gross and boring thing. But the best thing of all is Leslie and Ron, who are a thing of beauty.

Your Related Link For The Day: So there’s a lot of salacious garbage out there about “work spouses,” like ZOMG you’re going to accidentally cheat on your real spouse if you have one. But there are real studies indicating that work “marriages” are good for you. And here are some cute profiles if you want to feel jealous.

Ann Is Mean: Okay, Ann’s not mean in this episode, but there is an odd Ann interview moment in which she says Continue reading

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