Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 Genealogical Finds of 2012

Photo by Pierce Place

As 2012 comes to a close, I’d like to step back and reflect on what I’ve learned over the last year.  So in my best David Letterman voice, I bring you my second annual top 10 genealogical finds of 2012.
Number 10:  I wrote another book!  I published Volume 2 of my blog and I think this one just might become a bestseller. 

Blog Book

The women on the front are four generations of my family – the baby is my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer; her mother is Bertha Schwartz; her mother is Rebecca Steen; her mother is Hannah Plotzky.  And a special shout out to for the great service – I downloaded the book on Sunday afternoon and it was printed and waiting in my mailbox on Friday. 
Number 9:  A walk through Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Colma, California – a place where so many of my family are interred. 

I especially liked looking through the registers of burials and cremations.  I would have liked to take more photos but I was trying to be discreet while the cemetery employees were looking things up for me.

Although I already had seen photos of the graves, there was nothing like walking through the cemetery in person to see all of the graves of my family.   And many family names are engraved into the steps in the area where they are interred.

Number 8:  Identifying photos for ancestors whom I’ve never seen before.  While I’ve found many photographs, it was so exciting to finally be able to put faces to the names I’ve been researching.  I know it seems hard to believe that I didn’t have any photos for my maternal grandfather but I didn’t.  Until this year when my mother remembered she had this.
Earle_Gerry 1928
Earle Laurence Martin
Geraldine Martin
I also loved finally seeing a photo of my paternal great grandfather, Herman Levy, who has been a bit of a brick wall for me.  I had this photo but had no idea who he was until I found a copy of his obituary with this photo included.

Herman Levy
Herman Levy

Number 7:  Finding my grandmother’s scrapbook.  It isn’t in great shape but I’ve had so much fun going through it and blogging about what I’ve found.  This project will continue on into 2013 but I have already learned so much about my grandmother as a young woman.

Number 6:  I’ve discovered the letters that my paternal grandparents, Loraine Gunzendorfer and Sigmund Levy, wrote back and forth from 1917-1919 while they were courting.  It is amazing to read the details of what they were thinking, doing, and planning.  I’ve been transcribing these and still have a long way to go but maybe someday I’ll be able to put them all into a book in which the letters go back and forth between them in “real time”.  What a treasure that would be!
Number 5:  I have been able to sort through old military uniforms and other clothing items and have figured out what I have.  Besides me paternal grandfather’s World War I uniform and hat, I have his military overcoat, boy scout uniform, and tuxedo!  Plus I have my dad’s World War II uniforms.  I can’t believe what great shape they are all in!

Number 4:  I was able to do a drive-by of the home my second great grandfather, Louis Schwartz, built in the 1870’s in Santa Cruz.  I’m fairly certain that both my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, and her mother, Bertha Schwartz, were born in this house.  It really hasn’t changed all that much in 140 years!

Schwartz House

I really need to write to the owners and learn more about the house.  I’d like to think they’d love to see this photo from the late 1800’s.
Number 3: Late in 2011 I posted my maternal second great grandmother’s (Rebecca Waller McAboy) obituary from 1928 and hoped that one day I’d find a photo of her.  Because of that post I connected with a new cousin (our great grandmother’s were sisters, both children of Rebecca) and she found a photo of Rebecca.  What a gift it was to open my e-mail early one morning and find this beautiful face staring at me.

Rebecca Moriah Waller 1920
Rebecca Waller McAboy

Number 2:  This discovery came quite by accident and almost had a serendipitous feeling.  The father of Rebecca Steen, my second great grandmother, was Joseph Steen.  I had quite a bit of information on him but I lost him after 1860 – I knew he had died by 1870 but that was as close as I could come.  I’ve been in contact with a researcher who sent me a message in April that she had found the headstone for him with a death date of 1866.  WOW!  We talked in more detail and I asked where he was buried (he lived in Santa Cruz, California in 1860) and she told me a Jewish cemetery in San Jose.  What?  I’m from San Jose and had just been there in March and had visited the cemetery where my dad is.  One thing led to another and it turns out he was buried in the Jewish portion (Home of Peace) at the same cemetery that I had just been to!  And while I was there, I’d gone to Home of Peace to visit our long-time Rabbi who had passed just a year or so earlier.  I was right there and I didn’t even know it.
So when I was back in San Jose in July, I left the airport and drove immediately to Home of Peace Cemetery.  And there was my Joseph Steen buried right next to his brother, Harris Steen!


Moshe Yosef HERE LIES
A noble and a faithful devoted man to God
Died on the eve of Shabat on 15 Av and was buried on 17 Av.
A man of integrity and honesty,
Hard worker and with clean hands and heart.
Never gossip nor lying.
From this world you departed but peace with God you found.

In case this might not be serendipitous enough, check out where in the cemetery Joseph and Harris are located.


See that arrow that is pointing to Joseph’s grave?  And that is Harris immediately to the right and slightly tilted.  And then notice the walkway in the middle?  THAT IS THE WALKWAY WE WALKED ON WHEN WE WERE THERE IN MARCH!  If I had only paid attention, I might have found them myself!  Which proves that when in a cemetery, you should always pay attention to your surroundings.

And my number 1 genealogical find of 2012:  I GOT STUFF!  If it hadn’t been for the stuff I found in my mom’s storage unit, I wouldn’t have had most of these genealogical finds. 

oh boy

This is just a small sample of the boxes and boxes of stuff that had been thrown into cardboard boxes in the storage unit for 30 years.  And before that the stuff lived in my grandmother’s basement for all those years before.  While some of it has been damaged, for the most part it is in unbelievably good condition.  My hope is to get as much as I can identified, cataloged, and preserved for future generations.  It will be quite a challenge but I will love every minute of it.  Who knew?

So there you have it – my top 10 genealogical finds of 2012.  I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Dinner 1914

I violated my own rule and skipped ahead in the scrapbook.  But I couldn’t resist when I saw this.

Menu Front

Here I am 98 years later planning the menu for the big feast – wouldn’t it have been fun to recreate the menu?

Menu Inside

Look at that spread for just $1.50 per plate! 

A few of these menu items remind me so much of my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer.  I remember she loved abalone and would order it when she had the chance.  Even my maternal grandmother, Clara Fitzgerald, had abalone shells lining the little pond in her front yard.  And Loraine loved mince meat pie - she must have been in heaven when she sat down for Christmas dinner in 1914!  She wrote in her scrapbook “Had Christmas dinner at Pebble Beach Lodge – very enjoyable.  December 25, 1914”.  I’m sure she was there with her parents, Abe and Bertha (Schwartz) Gunzendorfer, as well as her younger brother, Wilton Gunzendorfer.  I like to think the entire Gunzendorfer clan gathered at the lodge for a very special celebration.

As we celebrate over the next few days, I’ll be thinking of this very special dinner in 1914.  Happy holidays to all – the past and the present!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Herman Levy, Pioneer Useful Citizen

Herman Levy c 1906

Until recently, this was the only picture I had of my paternal great grandfather, Herman Levy.  It was originally printed in the autobiography of his son (and my great uncle) Benjamin Levy.  Despite the blurry image, it was the only picture I had of Herman and I was grateful to have even a little idea of what he looked like.

But that changed when I began looking through Loraine’s scrapbook and found a gem on the next page.

Herman Levy Obit with photo

I’m not sure what a ‘Pioneer Useful Citizen’ is or what my Great Grandfather did to earn such a title but it is nice to read about how influential he was in the area.

When I saw this newspaper article from The Fresno Morning Republican a light bulb went off that I’d seen this dapper gentleman somewhere before.  Sure enough, I went to the box of ‘unidentified photos’, thumbed through it, and came upon this.

Herman Levy

Herman was born on May 20, 1856 in Filehne, Posen, Germany.  He has become my biggest ‘brick wall’ ancestor and I’d love to learn more about him.  I do know that he came to America somewhere between 1873-1875 with an uncle, I.H. Jacobs and first settled in Merced.  He later moved to Borden and set up a general merchandise store.   He moved to Fresno in the early 1880’s, set up a clothing goods store on Mariposa Street and was naturalized in Fresno County on March 5, 1889, .  He joined the New York Life Insurance Company in 1904 and until his death was the sole representative in Fresno.  He was married in 1883 to Goldie Benas of Vallejo.  He was a Mason in Fresno and was the first initiate of Fresno Lodge, No. 247 and the master of the lodge in 1889.  Herman died at his home on March 6, 1918.

Also in the scrapbook was this.

Herman Levy Obit

So here we are again reading that Herman Levy was a ‘pioneer citizen who lived a life of usefulness to it’.  Not sure what I think about that.

My grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, was never able to meet Herman in person as she and my grandfather, Sig Levy, were courting through the mail during his illness.  I do know from the letters I’m transcribing that she was saddened to hear of Herman’s passing and quickly sent off a letter to Sig’s mother, Goldie Benas Levy, expressing her sympathy.  And there in the scrapbook was Goldie’s response back.

Envelope from Goldie Acknowledgement

Once again Loraine’s scrapbook has helped me to identify one of my ancestor’s.  And I’ll keep digging and researching and, hopefully, I’ll be able to fill in some of the blanks for Herman Levy.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Parties and Cards and Business – Oh my!

The next page of the scrapbook is quite a hodge-podge of stuff.  Cards from Sig to Loraine, a dinner menu, table reservation, and even Sig’s business cards!  There really is no theme here – just a bunch of stuff that obviously had meaning for my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer.

We try to save menus from special occasions or from our favorite restaurants so I’m really happy she saved this – I think it might need to be framed and added to our menu collection.


I can just imagine what an elegant evening this was.  I did a little research on the Islam Temple in San Francisco and learned that the temple was built in 1917 at a cost of approximately $150,000.

SF Temple 1917

The Shriners used this building at 650 Geary Street (between Jones and Leavenworth) for meetings and ceremonies from 1918-1970.  The temple was later converted into a small theater to replace the Alcazar Theater, which was originally opened in 1885 and then destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.

My grandfather, his brothers, his father, and my father were all active in the Shriners.  In fact, as I researched this organization a bit I came upon this web site Islam Temple Roll of Honor – 1918.  There in the Roll of Honor was my grandfather, Sigmund Levy!  And farther down in the list is the Executive Committee, on which Sig’s brother, Herbert Levy, is listed for Fresno and vicinity. 

Looks like Sig and Loraine had a table reservation in Room 12.  I'd love to know how many rooms there were.


Also on this page are two business cards for Levy Brothers, the family business that Sig was a part of with his three brothers.  Loraine kept two business cards – one before Sig joined the firm and the other after he joined.

Business Card Before Business Card After

I have to laugh that when Sig joined the firm they added the phone number 239 to the established office number of 240.  These days we have to dial 10 digits to get someone!

This little note was written on the back of a business card and is dated September, 1916.  Sig must have attended the fair in Sacramento. 

State Fair

But this little card dated July, 1917 really puzzles me – what could Sig have possibly done to worry that Loraine might be angry with him?

Envelope 1917 Dont get angry

I know how important these items must have been for Loraine to have put them into her scrapbook and then to hang on to them for the rest of her life.  And what a gift that she even put the dates on some of these things for me.  It’s almost like she knew that one day someone might care.