Friday, May 29, 2015

Family Birth: The Grocer, Rachel Renner Jay

Grocery Store Ancestors in Genealogy
On May 26, 1858, Rachel Friederike Renner was born in the East Birmingham neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (now the South Side). She was baptized at First St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church on July 4th. Her father, Louis Renner, was a butcher so maybe that's how she came to be interested in running a grocery store as an adult.

On May 13, 1877, she was 18 years old when she married Henry Jay, the half-brother of my great-grandfather. In 1893, the couple moved to their home/grocery store on Carson Street where they would remain until Henry's death. (You can view the building as it looks today in the post listed at the end.)

Henry was shown as the "groceryman" in the 1900 census, but the store clearly became Rachel's business. In 1910, his occupation was listed as a carpenter for a foundry and she was the "retail merchant." As early as 1898, Rachel's name appeared as the owner in Pittsburgh city directories and even on maps. She ran this business while raising their seven children (another died before they opened the store).

Rachel Renner Jay died at the age of 81 on February 1, 1940. She is buried in South Side Cemetery.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Then & Now: Pittsburgh's Duquesne Club

The Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been a gathering place for many of the city's prominent business people for more than a century (it finally allowed female members in 1980). As stated in a 2011 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Surrounded by works of art that were donated by members, they could smoke cigars, meet friends, play billiards, enjoy fine food and Monongahela rye whiskey without rubbing shoulders with ordinary mortals."

Below are two views of the club; one from 1898 with horses and carriages, as well as a contemporary image.

Duquesne Club, from Pittsburgh and Its Exposition, 1898

Duquesne Club, from Wikipedia, dated 2010

I've been lucky to see the inside of this impressive club. I attended several wedding receptions here and even was invited to breakfast by a member to discuss my salary after a job offer in the 1990s. There is definitely a sense of history in this place. If walls could talk...

Monday, May 25, 2015

WWI Death: Remembering George J. Stenglein

Headstone from military cemetery
On this Memorial Day, I would like to take time to remember my great-uncle George J. Stenglein who was killed in action during World War I. He was only 27 years old.

George's mother, Kunigunda Boser Stenglein, was pregnant with him when she and her husband John left Germany and arrived in New York on May 6, 1891. George was born eight days later in Newburgh, Orange County, New York. It was a temporary stop since the family settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the following year.

In 1910, at the age of 19, George was a laborer at a Pittsburgh bottle factory. His 1917 draft registration card shows his employer was Johnson-Peter Co., which was a boiler, tube and pipe dealer. George is described as being of medium height and medium build, with brown eyes and light hair. He stated that he had one sister who was "solely dependent on [him] for support," which would have been my grandmother. (His father was living but did not have a job in the 1920 census, so perhaps this was also true in 1917.)

His military records show that he was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1918. On September 26, 1918, he was killed in action in France. My grandmother was only 10 years old when the family received the tragic news.

George J. Stenglein is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. You can see his headstone on Find A Grave.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ancestor Advertisements

I love old advertisements and have been known to browse publications just to look at the ads. While the examples below are rather plain, they are the ads of my husband's 2nd great-grandfather so that makes them special (at least to me). He died in 1907 due to a trolley accident, but clearly he had no intention of slowing down or retiring since he placed these ads when he was 66 years old.

Presbyterian Cook-Book, Compiled by the Ladies of the First
Presbyterian Church of McKeesport, PA, 1900

Pittsburgh and Allegheny City Directory, 1900

Related Post:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Enforcement of the Compulsory Education Act

The man who I believe is my 2nd great-uncle, Fred Waldschmidt, was an alderman in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, when he fined a man $3.58 for refusing to send his 11-year-old son to school. This eventually led to jail time, and an article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 3, 1898, said that "[t]his is believed to be the first imprisonment made in this state under the new compulsory education act."

Alderman Waldschmidt had seen this man before for the same issue. The first time, Andrew Nieman was dismissed after promising to make sure his son attended school. Since that didn't happen, he was then fined. "He refused to pay the fine and an execution was issued against him on January 2, in which he was given thirty days to pay. When a levy was made on Nieman's household goods yesterday, the constable learned that enough money could not be realized on them to liquidate the fine, and, according to the truant act, Nieman was placed in the county jail."

Smull's Legislative Hand Book and Manual of the State of Pennsylvania from 1900 indicates that the Compulsory Education Act was approved on May 16, 1895, and amended on July 12, 1897. The Act states "[t]hat every parent, guardian or other person in this Commonwealth, having control or charge of a child or children between the ages of eight and sixteen years, shall be required to send such child or children to a day school and ... shall attend such school continuously during at least seventy per centum of the time in which schools in their respective districts shall be in session."

It provided exceptions such as "mental, physical or other urgent reasons," "no public school in session within two miles of the nearest traveled road," or anyone "between the ages of thirteen and sixteen years that is regularly engaged in any useful employment or service."

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Family Marriage: 50+ Years of Beautiful Music

Antique Organ
On May 18, 1934, William Jefferson Simmons married Harriet "Terry" McGovern in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. William Jefferson (called "Jeff" by my father) was my 1st cousin twice removed.

Jeff's life was full of music. At the age of 21, he started his career as a teacher at the South Hills School of Music, which was located on Brownsville Road in the Knoxville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. According to his obituary in New York's Clinton Courier, he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University's School of Music. After his time as a music teacher and public school supervisor, "he was organist and choir director in the Diocese of Pittsburgh" for more than 35 years.

Jeff and Terry were married for 53 years when he passed away in Clinton, New York. They had two sons.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cyclist Frank Lenz Left from Pittsburgh in 1892

Image from The Wheel and Cycling
Trade Review
, 1888
On May 15, 1892, Frank Lenz began his multi-year bicycle tour of the world. He would never return to his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Frank reported on his progress for Outing, in both words and photos. His plan was described in the May 1892 issue:

"Mr. Frank G. Lenz, a well-known wheelman, of Pittsburg, Pa., will, on May 15th, start on a world-girdling tour awheel. He will ride a 'Victor' pneumatic, and profiting by Mr. Stevens' experience, will travel westward instead of eastward, thus taking advantage of the sequence of the climatic changes. The journey will be across the States to San Francisco, thence to Japan, China, India, Afghanistan, Asiatic Russia, Persia, Turkey, Servia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, France, England, Scotland and Ireland. Mr. Lenz, besides being a man of indomitable pluck and energy and an accomplished rider, is a thoroughly practical mechanic and a photographer of no mean ability, equipped with the best of cameras and a mechanism of his own invention. Cyclists and photographers not only, but all readers of Outing, will, we doubt not, await with interest the contributions from the pen, pencil and camera of this wheelman of the world--Frank G. Lenz--to whom Outing and Outing's readers will bid God-speed."

Frank Lenz disappeared in Turkey and, although his body was never found, an investigation determined he had been murdered, most likely in May 1894. To learn more, you may want to read the book, The Lost Cyclist.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Get Creative When Searching

I remember my great-aunt Mildred but not her husband, Jack Fitzpatrick. The social security death index shows that he was born on November 24, 1906, and censuses said that it happened in Pennsylvania. When posted 1906-1908 Pennsylvania Birth Certificates, I thought it would be a quick search to find his certificate. Not true.

Searching on "exact and similar matches" for John and "exact, sounds like and similar" matches for Fitzpatrick didn't lead me to my great-uncle's birth certificate. Even changing the Fitzpatrick surname search to "broad" and then trying John and Fitz* didn't help.

I started to think that his birth wasn't recorded, or that he was actually born before 1906, or maybe even in a different state. Then I decided to search for just his parents' first names, Charles and Eva. Success! My great-uncle's name had been transcribed as John Gaelord Filzfadrick. 

Transcription errors are unfortunate and make it very difficult to find ancestors, especially if we don't know where and when they were born. However, if we think of different ways to search for them, sometimes it often leads us to the records we're looking for. (And submitting corrections will help those who may search for the same person later.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Remembering Mothers

Red Carnation: Custom of Wearing one if Mother Is Living
We often give flowers to our mothers on special holidays, like Mother's Day. However, many used to wear flowers to honor their mothers. This is described in the following newspaper article published on May 7, 1913, in The Indiana Progress (Pennsylvania):

Will Observe Mothers' Day
"Mothers' Day" will be observed throughout the United States by the churches on next Sunday, when special services will be held in many districts. A beautiful custom of Mothers' Day is the wearing of carnations, a red one if the mother is living and a white one in memory of the mother who is dead.

Take time today to remember and honor your mother.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Sacrifices of Mothers

With Mother's Day approaching, the following newspaper story is a reminder of the difficulties often faced by mothers in our family trees and the sacrifices they often made for their children. This article appeared in The Wichita Daily Eagle on December 12, 1920:

Article: "Would Adopt the Unborn Child of Anguished Mother"
"How one woman's sympathy goes out to another in distress is well illustrated in a communication received by The Eagle recently from Mrs. Bertha Sass of Neodesha, Kan.
Mrs. Sass read in The Eagle of a mother living near Pittsburg, Penn., who desired to sell her unborn baby to some family promising to rear it properly, hoping to realize enough thereby to care for the five children she already has.
The Pittsburg mother, whose name is not published, has inserted in the Pittsburg Press a classified advertisement as follows: 'Healthy mother wishes to sign away all rights to her child expected next month. Her husband has deserted her and she wishes to provide against want for the balance of her flock. Write P.S., Box 38, Pittsburg, Press office.'
This little advertisement sums up an ocean of woman's anguish and grief. She has been married five years and has five children including a set of twins, one of which is now dead. The four remaining tots range in age from 11 months to four years.
Her husband deserted her several months ago. She is now being cared for by relatives and by the Red Cross. She is anxious to make all arrangements for the birthright before her baby is born, as she does not wish to see it, knowing how hard the ordeal of parting will be.
She stated she is willing to sign any papers the foster parents may wish. She will give good references and requires the same. She wants only to be sure her baby will be well cared for.
To this distressed mother, the heart of the Neodesha woman goes out. She has no children of her own, and believes this will be a chance to obtain a child as well as do a despairing mother a good turn. The Eagle has placed Mrs. Sass in touch with the Pittsburg mother and communications are now going on."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Family Birth: Anna Steimer Laaks Siddall

My first cousin 4 times removed, Anna Steimer, was born in Mifflin Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on May 7, 1866. In the 1880 census, she was a 14-year-old living with her 12 siblings and parents, John Jacob & Mary Bost Steimer. By 1900, she was a widow with four children between the ages of 3 and 10.

Duquesne, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania During those two censuses, Anna married William Laaks; their first child was born in 1889, and her husband died sometime after the birth of their last child in 1897 and the 1900 census. In 1900, she was living in Duquesne and supported her family by doing laundry.

On May 14, 1904, a marriage license was issued to Anna and James Siddall, who had just arrived from England the previous year. While the date of the marriage was not recorded (or at least hasn't been found yet), the couple had a son George in 1905and were living together up until the year of his death in 1920.

Anna Steimer Laaks Siddall died 8 years later on March 29, 1928, in Duquesne, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. She was a mother, grandmother, and one of the first of her siblings to pass away.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Church Pew Plans Show Where Members Sat

Many of us try to determine where an ancestor worshipped since church records are often critical to our genealogy research. Another item that's interesting to find is an actual layout of the church pews showing where members sat. Here's a pew plan I found in The History of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, 1837-1909:

Other pew plans I found by doing a quick search in The Internet Archive include:

Friday, May 1, 2015

Happy May Day!

May Day: Genealogy and Ancestor Customs and Traditions
Image from The Essays of Leigh Hunt, 1903

From the 1839 book The Pictorial History of England: "Next to Christmas in importance as a festival was that of May-day, held on the 1st of May. On the midnight preceding that morning the people of each parish assembled, and, after dividing themselves into companies, repaired to the woods, groves, and hills, where they spent the rest of the night in sports and pastimes. When they returned they brought with them birch-boughs and branches of trees, with which they adorned the places where they meant to hold their festival. 'But the chiefest jewel they bring from the May-pole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus--they have twenty or forty yoke of oxen, every ox having sweet nosegay of flowers tied to the tip of his horns; and these oxen draw home the May-pole...which they covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round with strings from the top to the bottom; and sometimes it was painted with variable colours, having two or three hundred men, women, and children following it with great devotion... And thus equipped, it was reared with handkerchiefs and flags streaming on the top...and then fall they to banqueting and feasting, to leaping and dancing about it.'"