Sunday, July 27, 2014

She was crafty?

I’ve written a lot about my maternal grandmother, Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer Levy, most recently here.  One thing I never thought about was my grandmother being crafty because just by looking at her you’d think she was anything but.

My beautiful picture

This photo must have been when she was about 80 years old or so.  I remember that she was always, and I mean always, dressed to the nines and everything was just perfect.  As you can see in this photo, everything matched and she always carried a purse (or as she called it, a bag) to match her shoes which matched her dress.  It was always a dress – I don’t remember ever seeing her dressed in anything other than a dress and most, if not all, of her clothes came from her favorite store, Saks Fifth Avenue.  In later years she had trouble with bunions and rather than wear shoes that were comfortable and enabled her to walk easier with her bunions. she would still buy the best shoes and would take some sort of tool and cut a hole in the shoes right where the bunions were to allow more room.  I still laugh at this perfectly dressed woman with holes in her very expensive shoes!

As we were growing up, I really don’t remember Grandma doing much other than playing bridge.  I’m sure she did other things – shopping and lunch come to mind – but to a young girl it seemed to be all about bridge.  It was nice that she lived nearby my maternal grandmother and, I believe, they often played bridge with the same group of women.  But one thing I never thought about was that she might actually like to do something crafty.

Shortly before she passed away in 1982 and just a few months after her 86th birthday, Grandma gave me two needlepoint projects that she’d made so that I could one day pass them on to my daughters.  Oh sure, I loved them and I proudly displayed them in my home but I really never gave them much thought after that.

She was, obviously, so proud of herself for completing this project that she put a note on the back of each.

What I remember my parents telling me is that she hadn’t really done the entire project by herself but for the life of me I can’t remember the specifics.  She either bought the fabric with the figure already stitched and then she stitched the background…..or vice versa.  But whichever it was she did it and wanted to share it with me.

More than 30 years later as we were cleaning out my mother’s house I found this.

This one has no signature or other identifying information on it but I can only assume that she stitched this at the same time she did the others and gave it to my mom and dad.  And as they tended to do, they stuck it away in a drawer or closet never to be seen again.  Until it was time to clean out the house when it just jumped out at me and whispered “take me home”.  So I did.

And there was another needlepoint project that I’d forgotten about that also came home with me – this beautiful purse that I guessed had belonged to Grandma and then was passed down to my mother.

Thankfully, thankfully, several years before Mom passed away I spent a few days with her and for whatever reason, together we went through the cavernous hall linen closet where she stored all of her handbags and some of her jewelry.  And as we took things out to look at them, Mom would give me a description of the object – where she got it or who had given it to her, the significance, etc.  And because I knew my memory was fading, I decided to take some notes and put them with each object as Mom told me about it.  So guess what I found when I opened up this purse?  In my own handwriting it said:

Handmade by Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer Levy, approximately 1960.  Purchased material in Vienna, stitched purse, professional put together into purse.

You know, sometimes I really kick myself for not doing something but this time I actually gave myself a pat on the back and a silent thank you because otherwise this treasure might have ended up in the estate sale.

Who knew my grandmother was crafty?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Benjamin Benas – what I know

Last week I wrote about my great grandmother, Goldie Benas, which piqued my curiosity again about her parents.  And as typically happens, I’ve been off in a million different directions so I need to document what I do know about her father, Benjamin Benas.

Benjamin was born in about 1826 in Posen, Germany.  He may have come to the United States aboard the Stephani which arrived in New York from Hamburg on 21 July 1845.  There was a young 19 year old Mechanic on board by the name of Benjamin Benas but I need to confirm if that was my Benjamin.

California Voter’s Registrations show that he was naturalized in San Francisco County on 6 September 1855.  What took him to California? 

In 1860 Benjamin was living in Vallejo with his brother, Solomon, and in 1865 he was living in San Francisco at 13 Kearny.  By 1870 he was back in Vallejo and had settled down with his wife, Fredericka (or Frances) and three children, Isaac, Goldie, and Max.  In 1868, Benjamin was a charter member of the Naval Chapter, No. 35, R.A.M. (from History of Solano County: comprising an account of its geographical position).  And Voter’s Registrations in 1867, 1876, 1880, and 1886 show him in Vallejo so my hunch is he never left.

Except maybe in 1892 when he died.  His certificate of death shows his date of death was 17 April 1892 and his previous residence was Amador County and that his place of death was Falley’s or Talley’s.  Take a look and let me know what you think it says.

DC Benjamin Benas

Solano County is roughly 80 miles from Amador County – did Benjamin go there to die?  From the death certificate, it looks like he died from an abscess and carcinoma of the intestines – probably not a pleasant way to die.  I hope his family was with him and that he wasn’t away from home and alone.

Based on the age listed on his death certificate (65 years, 3 months, 23 days) his date of birth would have been 25 December, 1826.

The notice in the newspaper doesn’t tell me much.

Benas Benjamin Obit 19 Apr 1892
San Francisco Chronicle
April 19, 1892
Page 10

Benjamin is buried in Hills of Eternity in Colma, California, where his wife Fredericka was later buried with him.

Benas Benjamin Grave
Photo courtesy of Diane Reich

In researching for this blog post, I stumbled across the Solano County Genealogical Society website and found a few things listed that might be of interest – an Index to Property and Owners and Township Lists from 1878 and a Deed Index showing deeds pertaining to Benjamin from 1864 and 1861.  My request and check are in the mail!

What do I need to research in order to learn more about Benjamin:
  • Confirm if the Benjamin Benas who arrived in New York in 1845 was my Benjamin Benas.
  • Obtain naturalization records from San Francisco County from 6 September 1855.
  • Figure out the parents of Benjamin and Solomon Benas – easy, right?
  • Learn more about Naval Chapter, No. 35, R.A.M.
  • Wait – patiently – for information from the Solano County Genealogical Society. 
And that’s what I know.  For now.