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. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two Chances

Back to the scrapbook, where I find once again that I usually have two chances at something.  The next page was a mess and I wondered how I’d ever make sense of it.

What a mess – things were glued haphazardly and in most cases, torn.  I gave up on the article on the left since more of it was gone than was there but then I thought what would a Levy do?  Well, of course, they’d have multiple copies of the same articles and I’d have my second chance!

Yep, that’s one of Sig Levy’s scrapbooks and there was the same article that was torn in Loraine’s scrapbook!  One thing I’ve learned about my family – THEY SAVED EVERYTHING!

Here’s a close up of the article.  And look at that – this one even has the date on it.

Sig Enters Business January 3, 1917

Becomes Partner in Firm of Levy Bros.; 11 Years with Republican

Sig Levy, former advertising manager of the Fresno Republican, announced yesterday that he would become associated as a partner in the firm of Levy Bros., real estate and insurance brokers.  He will take up his new work at once.

Levy severed his connection with the Republican at the close of 1916, after eleven years in its employ.  He has been very active in civic affairs in recent years.  At the present time he is director of publicity for the Commercial Club, which position he has held since the organization of the club, and secretary of the trade promotion committee of the Merchants’ Association.

In his new work, he said yesterday that he intended to continue his activity in civic affairs.  As a member of the firm of Levy Bros. he will specialize in business property.

So now the firm was complete and all four brothers – Herbert, Leon, Sig and Ben – were involved in the business and each was a specialist in his respective department.
This is an interesting clipping about the Shriner’s Dance.

Shriners Dance

The article itself isn’t that interesting but the list of participants is.  First on the list is F.W. Ast which to most probably means nothing.  But my husband’s family name was Ast (changed to Austen in 1955) and there is F.W. Ast at an event with Ligmund (ha!) Levy.  Was this one of “our” Ast family? 

Looks like Sig passed his Air Pilot test!

Sig Aviator School Republican Oct. 20, 1918Sig Levy Passes Air Pilot’s Test in U.S. School
Fresno Man Ready to Begin Army Flying

Sig Levy of Fresno was graduated from the United States training school for aviators at the University of California at Berkeley Friday.  He telegraphed to his brother, Herbert Levy, here of his success.  He has been studying at Berkeley for months, and hard work was rewarded by his completion of the courses yesterday.  He will become a pilot, and is eligible for immediate training at the flying fields.  He will spend a few days in Fresno on furlough.  He is in squadron 61.

And here is Special Orders No. 157 which ordered Sig into active service on July 6, 1918.

Special Order 1 Special Order 2 Special Order 3

Special Orders, No. 157
Headquarters Western Department
San Francisco, Cal, July 6, 1918

The following named privates first class of the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps, are ordered into active service at such time as will permit them to comply with this order and will proceed to Berkeley, California, to arrive there July 20, 1918, and report to the commandant, School of Military Aeronautics, University of California, at that place for aviation training as candidates for commission:

And there on page 2 is my grandfather’s name and pertinent information:  Sigmund Levy (875409), 1716 Van Ness Avenue, Fresno, California

And after the names are listed is this:
The Quartermaster Corps will furnish the necessary transportation and pay such of these soldiers as may be entitled thereto commutation of rations as provided by paragraph 1228, Army Regulations, it being impracticable for them to carry rations of any kind.  The journeys are necessary for the public service.
BY COMMAND OF MAJOR GENERAL MORRISON: H.C. Benson, Colonel, United States Army, Department Adjutant.

Whew!  And what I know from transcribing the letters between my grandparents during that time is that my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, was working in Oakland while living with her great uncle and his wife, Rachel Letter and Samuel Steen, hoping that Sig would end up in Berkeley so she could, hopefully, see him.  Looks like her wish has come true!

And here it is again – two chances!

Boys Chances

My grandmother saved some interesting things! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving in 1918 fell on November 28 – coincidentally, my brother was born on that date just 43 years later.  But in 1918, my grandparents, Loraine Gunzendorfer and Sigmund Levy, were courting through letters and lucky for me, I have those letters and am busy transcribing them.  Thanksgiving 1918 saw the recent end to World War I and my grandparents had just become engaged.  What an exciting time for them!

Here is a bit of what Loraine wrote in her letter to Sig that day:
Enjoyed your letter very much, dear.  You spoke about it being cold down there [Riverside, CA].  Believe me, it is freezing here [Monterey, CA], too.  So much so that my hands feel like pieces of ice when I get away from the fire.  And we have had a cold wind blowing, too.  We are going to ride over to Salinas early this aft while the sun is shining and it isn’t so cold.  Doesn’t seem a bit like Thanksgiving today.  And to think that just the three of us have to eat a nice big turkey all by ourselves.  If I could send you some I’d do it in a minute.  I wish it had been possible for us to be together today but guess we can’t always have everything we wish for.
So I know that Loraine was home with her parents that day while brother Wilton was somewhere else – college, probably.  And sounds like the extended family would not be gathering that day.  I wonder what everyone else was doing.

As I looked through some of the photos I have, I found a couple that look like Thanksgiving to me.  I’m not sure who set this beautiful table or who would be sitting at it but it looked so Thanksgiving-like to me.  I visualize my ancestors all gathered around enjoying the delicious meal that someone had prepared.  Can’t you just hear the laughter and the stories?  Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that special meal.

Table 1

Table 2

I’m thankful for so many things in my life right now but I will take just a moment to say I’m also thankful to have discovered these treasures so I can continue to learn about my family who came before me and shaped me into who I am today.  Enjoy the special day with your family and friends – Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is this Abe?


Who is this man?  Based on the writing on the back of the photo, it seems that it would be my great grandfather, Abraham B. Gunzendorfer.

Abraham Back of Photo
Compliments of
Abe B. Gunzendorfer
Monterey, Cal.
July 31 - 89
With fondest thoughts
from Abe to Birdie
July 31, 1889
Am pleased to return these

Birdie was Abe's future wife and my great grandmother.

Here’s a few other photos of Abe – is this the same person?

Abraham Gunzendorfer

Abraham Gunzendorfer 2

What do you think?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran’s Day 2012 – My special veterans edition

Gordon Military
Gordon Levy
As we celebrate Veteran’s Day and the service of all veterans, it’s appropriate to take time to recognize some very special veterans in my life.  World War I formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and the following year Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed Armistice Day for November 11, 1919.  And how special that one of my special veterans was active in the military during this time.

The photo above is my dad, Gordon Levy.  Dad enlisted in the Army Air Force on July 1, 1944, just a few weeks after graduating from Fresno High School.  However, he didn’t enter into active service until nearly a year later on June 16, 1945 after he completed his first year of college at Stanford University. 

I wrote a bit about Dad’s military service here previously.  He was always so proud that he’d had the opportunity to report about the Nuremberg Trials and while he was only there for a day or two, it was obviously an event that was etched in his memory forever.  Once again, I found the original of a photo that was included in a newspaper article – this one in the article Dad wrote for the Fresno Guide which was published on October 10, 1946.

Gordon Germany 1945
Written on back of photo
Cpl Gordon F. Levy
In Germany 1945

I’ve learned a bit about Dad’s military service from his Honorable Discharge papers.  He was with the 128th Replacement Battalion and departed the United States on January 7, 1946 arriving on January 17 in EAMET – not sure what that means and can’t find a reference to it but I think it might be Germany.  He came back to the States on October 26, 1946 and arrived November 6, 1946 for a total of 10 months, 0 days in foreign service plus 7 months, 16 days in continental service.  He was discharged on December 1, 1946 at Camp Beale, California.  Interesting that Camp Beale is within a few miles of where my brother lives today.

Gordon Discharge Record

I love this photo of Dad as it shows a little bit of how he was living at the time – I love the jacket!

Gordon PFC Mar 1946
Written on back of photo
PFC Gordon F. Levy
U.S. Army of Occupation
March 1946

Also serving during World War II was Dad’s brother, Robert Levy.  I don’t know much about Rob’s military service yet but I did find this photo that I especially love since it shows the two brothers in back of their parents’ home in which we spent quite a bit of time during our childhood.

Robert and Gordon Levy

Going even farther back, my other special veteran is Dad’s father, Sigmund Levy.  I’m learning a lot about Sig as I go through Grandma Loraine’s scrapbook and work on transcribing the letters Sig and Loraine wrote back and forth to each other from 1917-1919.  What I know about Sig’s military experience is that he was a Flying Cadet who completed his ground training at Berkeley and then went on to March Field in Riverside.  I don’t believe he ever served in combat as the war was over shortly after he arrived at March Field.  How exciting it must have been to be in the military on November 11, 1918!

Here’s some special photos of Sig during his military days.

Sig Military Sig Levy Military
Check out the great uniform – how handsome he looks.  I can see why Loraine was so smitten!
What, you want to see it just a bit closer?  And maybe even in color?  Okay, let me take care of that for you!

                      Sigmund Levy uniform – World War I
I found a stash of uniforms in the storage unit which I believed were, for the most part, from World War II and probably belonged to my dad and his brother.  But once I found the photos of Sig in his uniform I decided to go through the boxes thoroughly to see if there might be a match and there was!  And it is in near perfect condition, even after being thrown in a box and stored in either a basement or storage unit for at least 40 years.

And as an added bonus, I found a hat!  I wouldn’t have believed it if the name Sig Levy hadn’t been printed on the inside but here it is – an official flying cadet hat!

I also have to take this opportunity to remember another very special veteran, my 3rd great grandfather on my mother’s side, Emery Waller.  If you’ve been following my blog, you might remember that I was able to get Emery’s grave marked just in time for Veteran’s Day last year – without a doubt one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Click here to read about it. 

Emery Waller gravestone
Captain Emery L. Waller
McPherson Cemetery, McPherson, Kansas

So thank you to all of those who have served and helped make our country what it is today!