Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Books Do You Read?

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge was suggested to Randy Seaver by Jacquie Schattner, who gave us last week's inspiration also.

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

What kind of books do you read now and do they reflect your genealogy hobby? What was the last book you’ve read?

(2)  Share your response in a comment on this blog post, in your own blog post (and provide a link in a comment on this post), or on Facebook or Google+.

I'm sure this will sound odd to many people who know I'm an editor, but I don't read books that much.  When I started working as an editor, reading for pleasure went right out the window.  So many books nowadays are so poorly edited, it pains me to plow through them.  So almost everything I read is nonfiction, which often still has editing problems, but not to the extent that fiction does.

One of the most recent books I read all the way through (I actually read it twice) was The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov, about a son of former slaves in the United States who decided he could find more freedom and better opportunities by leaving the country.  He went to Europe and eventually became a Russian citizen.  The author used a wide selection of archival resources for his research, which I particularly enjoyed.

I'm still trying to finish Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw, about a non-Jewish couple in Paris during World War II who helped the Resistance.  The story is interesting and the writing style is good, but I stalled halfway.

The last book I read, earlier this year, was Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language by Nora Ellen Groce.  Last year I began taking American Sign Language classes after 25 years of having dropped them, and this book was recommended to me by my teacher.  It was interesting both from a linguistic perspective and from a genealogical one, as the author researched the family links to determine who the original deaf inhabitant of Martha's Vineyard was who passed the hereditary deafness down to his descendants.

When I do read fiction, it's almost always mysteries.  Many years ago I was up to about the letter M or N in the Sue Grafton alphabet mystery series, even though two of the first three books had serious plot flaws.  And then I wasn't working with the person from whom I had been borrowing the books, so that fizzled out.  When I was younger, I read everything written by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and a few others.  I also made it through all of the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and some other series for kids.

Most of what I read currently, however, is reference books, and I'm not usually reading them all the way through, just looking for the information needed at the time.  That obviously does reflect on my genealogy hobby.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mark Your Calendars: San Francisco History Days, March 3–5, 2017

What is quickly becoming a San Francisco institution will return for its second/seventh year, taking place on March 3, 4, and 5, 2017, at the Old Mint.  San Francisco History Days (our second year under that name; prior to that, for five years the event was known as the San Francisco History Expo) will once again open the doors of the Old Mint to everyone who appreciates history and wants to celebrate it.

As usual, History Days will host a mix of historical and ethnic organizations, museums, libraries, genealogical societies, and historical reenactors.  In 2016 we had about 80 groups, and we hope to add to that for 2017.

San Francisco History Days will take place on Saturday and Sunday, March 4 and 5, at the Old Mint, 88 5th Street, in San Francisco.   Hours will probably be 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. on Saturday and 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. on Sunday.  The event will be free and open to the public.  In 2017 History Days will again be officially hosted by the City of San Francisco's Mayor's Office and NonPlusUltra, Inc., the current tenant of the Old Mint and also the event's underwriter.

We plan to have our second Education Day, a day exclusively for students, on Friday, March 3.  Interested educators will be able to reserve a two-hour look at the Old Mint and meet a dozen or so History Days exhibitors with their school groups.  For information on Education Day activities and plans, contact Patty Pforte at

More details on specific programming and participating groups will become available during the coming months.  To follow our progress, visit  I look forward to seeing lots of people at the Mint next March!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans Meet in Panama

It would appear that Jean La Forêt was following the story of the creation of the Panama Canal.  This article was among the items saved in my "treasure chest."  The article was published in the Excelsior on Saturday, October 11, 1913.  The Excelsior was a French newspaper that ran from 1910–1940.  It was particularly known for publishing large numbers of photographs.  (Some of its World War I photos have been digitized and are available online here and here.)

The page I have, page 5, is not complete.  It was cut off at the bottom.  I don't know how large the original page is, but the piece I have is 14 3/4" x 15 1/2".  It has several folds, and I unfortunately don't have something large to store it in, so I keep having to fold it up again.

This map was pasted over the upper left of the photo montage about the Panama Canal.  You can see on the Canal article where I folded it out of the way so that I could scan the entire article.  Neither the front nor back of this 7" x 6 1/4" clipping indicates the name or date of the newspaper from which it was cut.  Lord Cowdray and his withdrawn oil contract do not appear to be relevant to the story of the Panama Canal, as that event occurred November 27, 1913, a month after the canal was finished, but the map shows where a canal was possibly being considered in Colombia.

Because the Panama Canal article is in French, I've transcribed and translated it below.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

Les eaux de l'Atlantique et du Pacifique se sont réunies hier

Le barrage qui retient les eaux du lac de Gatun

Une equipe d'ouvriers au travail

Carte panoramique de l'isthme de Panama traversé par le canal interocéanique
Fortifications projetées / 2 Ecluses / 1 Ecluses // 3 Ecluses / Barrage / Fortifications projetées / Port
Océan Pacifique // Océan Atlantique
Cd(?) de San Juan / Cerro de los Hormigueros / Comboy(?) / Limite de la zone concedée / Peña Blanca / Sra de Piña(?)
Panama / Miraflores / Pedro Miguel / La Culebra / Gorgona / Lac de Gatun / Gatun / Rio Chagres / Chagres
Limite de la zone concedée / C Mitra(?) / Las Cruces / C C—— / Lomas de Ahorca Lagarto / Colline de —ge / Colon
Ruines du Vieux Panama

Coupe du canal de Panama
Atlantique / Colon
Ecluses de Gatun / 26 m d'Elévation des eaux au dessus du niveau de l'Atlantique
Longueur du Canal  50 kilomètres
Montagne de La Culebra / Niveau à 26 m au dessus de la mer
Niveau des Océans
Pedro Miguel (Ecluse) 9 m 50
Miraflores (Ecluses) 16 m 50 d'elévation
Pacifique / Panama

On fait sauter un tronçon de terre pour la percee du canal

La disposition parallèle des ecluses

Hier matin, à neuf heures, l'ocean Atlantique et l'océan Pacifique ont mêlé leurs eaux dans le canal de Panama.  A cette heure, en effet, le président Wilson, sans quitter la Maison Blanche, à Washington, a pressé sur un bouton électrique, et immédiatement, à 3,000 kilomètres de là, vingt tonnes de dynamite ont fait exploser et sauter la digue de Gamboa, dernier obstacle qui empêchait les océans de se rejoindre.  Nous publions ici quelques photographies prises au cours des travaux que nécessita cette gigantesque entreprise.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

The waters of the Atlantique and the Pacific met yesterday

The dam that holds back the waters of Lake Gatun

A team of workers at work

Panoramic map of the isthmus of Panama crossed by the interoceanic canal
Projected fortifications / 2 locks / 1 lock // 3 locks / dam / projected fortifications / port
Pacific Ocean // Atlantique Ocean
City(?) of San Juan / Hill of the Ants / Comboy(?) / limit of the canal zone / Peña Blanca / Sra de Piña(?)
Panama [City] / Miraflores (locks) / Pedro Miguel (lock) / La Culebra / Gorgona / Gatun Lake / Gatun / Chagres River / Chagres
Limit of the canal zone / C Mitra(?) / Las Cruces / C C—— / Ahorca Lagarto hills / (?) hill / Colon
Ruins of Old Panama

Panama Canal cut
Atlantic / Colon
Gatun locks / 26 m elevation of water above the level of the Atlantic
Length of canal 50 kilometers
La Culebra Mountain / 26 m above sea level
Sea level
Pedro Miguel (lock) / 9 m 50
Miraflores (locks) / 16 m 50 elevation
Pacific / Panama [City]

A section of land was blown up for the canal cut

The parallel arrangement of the locks

Yesterday morning, at nine o'clock, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean mixed their waters in the Panama Canal. At that time, President Wilson, without leaving the White House in Washington, pressed an electric button and immediately, 3,000 kilometers away, twenty tons of dynamite exploded and blew up the Gamboa dike, the final obstacle that prevented the oceans from meeting.  Here we publish some photographs taken during the work that this gigantic enterprise required.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

So why was Jean interested enough in the Panama Canal that he saved this newspaper article?  Panama was not mentioned in any of the entries in his journal.  Maybe he went there during one of those stretches he did not document.  Or maybe he was simply noting it because it was a significant engineering accomplishment.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Started You Actively Researching Your Family History?

Randy Seaver announced that the topic for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun was suggested to him by Jacquie Schattner:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

What was the "trigger" that started you actively researching your family history and genealogy?

(2)  Tell us about it in a comment on this blog post, in a blog post of your own, or in a Facebook post.

My interest in family history started when I was very young.  My mother and grandmother were always discussing family members:  birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, visits, normal everyday events, whatever.  I grew up knowing the names of many of my collateral relatives, along with the names of their chidlren, when their birthdays and anniversaries were, where they lived.  I met several of these relatives, but the others already felt like family because I knew so much about them.

What actually got me hooked on actively researching was a junior-high-school assignment when I was 13 years old, in 1975.  We were given a purple mimeographed piece of paper with a family tree and told to research our families back four generations, to our great-great-grandparents.  I still have that family tree.  (It's packed in a box somewhere right now, otherwise I'd scan it and share it with everyone.)

I interviewed all the family members who lived in the area (this was when I lived in Niceville, Florida) and wrote down everything they could remember about the family.  I talked to my father, mother, aunt, and grandfather.  I learned names and other pieces of information, such as that one ancestor was exceptionally tall and that a collateral relative had committed suicide.  I still have all those notes, too.  I wrote to my grandmother who lived in Minnesota.  I have her letters responding to my questions.  She told me what she knew about her mother's family in England and the names of her mother's brothers and sisters.

At the time, I am pretty sure I was able to fill out all my great-great-grandparents on my mother's side of the family.  I think I had all the names from my paternal grandmother's family.  I had my paternal grandfather's parents' names, but not their parents.

Over the years I contacted various relatives with questions about family history.  Whenever I travelled, I tried to find relatives in the area I could meet.  I shared information with everyone.

Of course, not all of the information I was told at the beginning was completely accurate.  For example, I did a lot of research on the Sellers line, taking it back to 1615 in Germany, before discovering recently through DNA that my grandfather's biological father was not a Sellers after all.  And so my family tree, kept in a computer program nowadays, of course, is updated when I learn new facts or correct old ones.  But I'm still plugging along, 41 years after I started.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Calling Cards from the Paytavins

Last week I had an envelope from the Paytavins with nothing inside.  This week I have cards from the Paytavins with no envelope.  The card at the top, that of Mr. A. Paytavin, is 3 7/8" x 2 3/8" and is on heavy buff cardstock.  It is another copy of the same business card (Administrative Officer, Health Service) as the one on which Mr. Paytavin wrote when he announced the birth of his son.  On this card, in what appears to be Jean La Forêt's handwriting, is a note in pencil:  "Rec'd May 5 – 13 – Bonbon [?]".

This smaller card is printed on the same heavy buff cardstock as that of Mr. Paytavin, but it is a calling card for Madame (Mrs.) Paytavin.  It is only 3 1/6" x 1 3/4" in size.  The front of the card has her name, while the back has, in pencil, "Rec'd May 5" and something I simply cannot read.

So it appears that on May 5, 1913, Jean received these two cards.  I presume they were probably sent by mail, but this time he didn't save the envelope, or at least it did not survive for me to see it.  As I cannot read the word after the date on either card, I don't know if they would help explain why these were sent.

This was the business card Paytavin mailed December 17, 1912 when he was in Constantine at the (probably military) hospital.  The next communication I have from Paytavin is the envelope mailed January 10, 1913 from France.  I was thinking that maybe he was no longer in the same position, but these cards were received May 5, 1913.  Maybe the Paytavins were on vacation in France over the Christmas holidays and returned to Algeria afterward?

These cards don't tell me much about Jean, other than confirming that he liked to save things.  Maybe someone else can read the problem words, which might shed more light on this mystery.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Interview a Relative Who Was at a Family Event

Sometimes when I read Randy Seaver's challenge for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun I know right away what I want to write about, and tonight is one of those nights.

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

If you could go back in a time machine and reattend one family event that you were present at as a child, and would love to return to interview your relative, what event would that be?

(2)  Tell us about it in a comment on this blog post, in a blog post of your own, or in a Facebook post.

The family event I would like to attend again is one for which I have no memory of my own, but which both of my parents told me happened.  My mother told me that shortly after I was born, she took a trip back to Florida so that her maternal grandmother could see me.  There is no photograph to document this trip, so some years ago I asked my father about it, and he does recall my mother taking a trip to Florida with me when I was a little baby.  This would have been in 1962, probably summer or fall.

Obviously, I don't remember the visit, but it would be logical to presume that my maternal grandmother would have been there also.  Perhaps my grandfather was not there, because otherwise there really should have been a photograph.  He took photos of all sorts of family events.  Why, oh why, is there no photo of the four generations of women?

The relative I would like to interview is my great-grandmother Sarah Libby Gordon (born Sore Leibe Brainin).  She died the next year, and there are lots of questions I would like to ask her.  I would love to have more information about her parents (who did immigrate to the United States but died even before my mother was born), her sister (since I konw almost nothing about the Jaffe side of my family), her grandparents (whom she probably knew), when she came to this country (after thirty years of searching I still haven't found her on a passenger list, even though she would have been traveling with three small children), where she was actually living in Europe (all the documents about that side of the family here in the U.S. say they were from Kreuzburg, Russia, now Krustpils, Latvia, but I haven't found a single document from Europe to verify that), what it was like living in Europe, how the family decided to emigrate, and many more I'm sure I would come up with.

I would love to ask her about the photograph my grandmother had (which I now have) showing her as an apparent teenager with her mother.  Also in the photograph are another woman and two other girls.  My grandmother recognized her mother and grandmother but had no idea who the other three people were.  I think the second woman might be my great-grandmother's sister, but I have no clue about the two girls.  I suspect the photo was taken soon before my branch of the family came to the United States.  I want to know the significance of the photo book shown on a small table on one side of the photograph, and of the rolled-up piece of paper in my great-great-grandmother's hand.

I'd ask her about my great-grandfather, her husband, who died in 1955:  what he was like, what she knew about his side of the family, if they ever communicated with any family members still in Europe.  Maybe she would know if the Gorodetskys really were related to the Kardishes.

I would ask what she remembered about my great-great-grandfather, her husband's father, who immigrated to the United States in 1914 and died in 1925.  She and my great-grandfather had been married about ten years when he passed away, so I'm sure she would have known him at least a little.

I would ask her what it was like to have one of her sons take the advice to "Go west, young man!" literally.  While the rest of the family stayed in the New York–New Jersey–Massachusetts area, Dave was in San Francisco in 1910, Montana in 1917, and Washington State in 1918, before appearing in the 1920 census in New York.

I'd see if she knew anything about the man her older sister took up with, the mysterious "Mr. Katz", who was the father of my grandmother's favorite cousin.  Perhaps she could also shed some light on what happened to that older sister that caused her to live the last years of her life in an institution.

I'd like to find out what she thought of her new life in the United States.  Did it live up to what she had expected?  If not, was it still better than what life had been like in Russia?

My mother used to tell me that her grandmother never learned to speak English.  My mother would talk in English, and her grandmother would respond in German, and somehow they managed to communicate that way.  I'd like to find out if that was accurate.

I'd like to tell her that I now have her silverplate flatware and that I traditionally use it for seder dinner during Passover.  I think she'd like that.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Another Letter from a Paytavin for the La Forêts

Well, not actually a letter, but an envelope.  This envelope is 4 3/4" x 3 3/16".  It is light blue and lightweight, the type of paper commonly used for airmail, when that cost more than regular mail.  It did not come with anything in it, and none of the loose papers match the date on the postmark of January 10, 1913.  The postmark indicates the letter was sent from Peyrolles (en Provence), Bouches du Rhône, France.  The stamp is 10 centimes.  The back of the envelope has a postmark for St. Eugène, Algeria dated January 13, so it took the letter three days to travel from France to Algeria.

The envelope is addressed to:

Madame et Monsieur
     La Forêt
Restaurant Boujarel
Route de Malakoff No. 53
     St. Eugène

Beginning in the upper left corner and written diagonally down is:

Mme Isabelle Paytavin

Isabelle Paytavin's name appears to have been written by Jean, in the same way he made notations on other letters and envelopes he received.  At least now we know her first name, which did not appear in any of the items announcing her son's birth.

I am no handwriting expert, but the handwriting for this address seems to be different from that of the envelope I wrote about last week.  My guess is that last week's was written by Mr. Paytavin and this week's by Mrs. Paytavin, because of the name "Isabelle Paytavin" written on this envelope.

The address for the La Forêts, 53 route de Malakoff, is the same as on last week's envelope, but this time we have the addition of "Restaurant Boujarel."  Does that mean the La Forêts were living above a restaurant?  (I'm going to assume they weren't living in one.)  That doesn't seem logical for a U.S. Vice Consul.  Searching for "malakoff", "boujarel", and "alger" hasn't gotten me anywhere, so I don't know anything about the restaurant yet.  There is a Baedeker's Guide for the Mediterranean for 1911 that apparently covers Algeria; maybe it has a listing for the restaurant.

The letter from last week was postmarked December 17 (probably), 1912 in Constantine, Algeria.  During the intervening month the Paytavins, or at least Mrs. Paytavin, appear to have moved to Peyrolles (which is pronounced very similarly to "payroll").

I just wish I knew what Mrs. Paytavin wrote to the La Forêts.