Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Genealogical Finds of 2014

Photo by Pierce Place

As 2014 comes to a close, I’d like to step back and reflect on what I’ve learned over the past year.  So in my best David Letterman voice, I bring you my fourth annual Top 10 genealogical finds of 2014.

Number 10:  Thanks to some help by my new found cousins (see #2), I was able to identify a mystery photo that I've had stashed away in a box.  This handsome man is Mervyn Gunzendorfer – cousin of my grandmother, Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer Levy.  And they also shared a photo of him from later in his life.

Mervyn Gunzendorfer 1916-1917
Mervyn Gunzendorfer
c. 1916-1917

Mervyn Gunzendorfer 1957
Mervyn Gunzendorfer

Number 9:  My great grandfather, Abraham “Abe” Gunzendorfer, was an amateur photographer in Monterey in the early 1900’s.  I have quite a few photos marked “Abe Gunzendorfer, Photographer” and I’m never quite sure if the photo was of a family member or just a photo that he took.  But it was pretty clear what was going on in May, 1901 – President McKinley visited the area and Abe took photos!  I wrote about it here and shared some of the photos – this one gives a pretty good idea of the scene.  And it was right in front of the family mercantile!

Addresses Citizens Close up

Number 8:  I found my grandmother’s diary!  Actually, I found it a few years ago but I stashed it in a drawer and just re-discovered it this year.  It really wasn’t much of a diary, per se, but it did have some very poignant items she shared with her “little friend”.  No matter how hard I try not to think about it, I just can’t forget her words about Ernest “breaking her in” before he left for Stanford.  Lalalalalalalala.

Number 7:  After nearly 2 years, I finished documenting my grandmother’s scrapbook.  I started here and finally finished it here.  What a gift to be able to share my grandmother’s teenage years with her!

Number 6:  I still can’t get over seeing my great grandmother, Bertha Schwartz Gunzendorfer, pregnant!  While I’m not 100% that’s what I’m seeing, I truly believe that it is.  I need to do a little more research about that house and see if it could, in fact, be their home in Monterey.

Bertha in front of house c 1895
Bertha Schwartz Gunzendorfer
c. 1895

Number 5:  Louis Schwartz had a father!  Well, of course he had a father but I think I know his father’s name!  Over the summer I received a call from Victoria, the researcher I’ve connected with, and she told me she thought she’d figured out his name.  I wrote a bunch of notes, and I know she has notes, but the short story is his name was Bendusch (or Bendel) Schwartz!

Number 4:  I just love seeing old houses, particularly when they were the home of my ancestors.  I’m pretty sure I’ve discovered not one but two homes that Ferdinand Gunzendorfer and his family lived in during the late 1800’s.  I wrote about the first here – the home of Ferdinand and Fannie (Goldstein) Gunzendorfer in about 1880.  And following that, I received a copy from another cousin, one generation older, of another house that he said was also the home of Ferdinand and Fannie.  As I looked at the photo a flood of memories came forward as I KNEW I’d seen that house before!  Sure enough, I went through Abe’s photos and there it was – the same house! 

Ferdinand Gunzendorfer House Pacific Grove
Home of Ferdinand Gunzendorfer
c. 1893

What’s especially interesting is that he told me the home, on the corner of 5th St. and Ocean View Blvd. in Pacific Grove, had been turned into a B&B and was called Green Gables.  So I looked online and sure enough, here is the Green Gables.  Same house, right?

Green Gables

I wrote to the Innkeepers and the house history and dates they provided to me doesn’t really match up just right so I need to do some more research.  Add that to my list for 2015!

Number 3:  Last year I wrote about connecting with a Fitzgerald cousin and this year she shared a very special photo with me – the photo of my 2nd great grandfather, Mathew Fitzgerald!

Matthew Fitzgerald
Mathew Fitzgerald

I wrote about Mathew here and was hopeful that a volunteer would get a photo of his grave for me.  Look what appeared just a month or so ago!

Fitzgerald Mathew – Memorial #126404259 – photo by Seth Pearl

And as an added bonus, here’s his wife and my second great grandmother, Julia Horgan Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald Julia Horgan – Memorial #126404793– photo by Seth Pearl

Number 2:  Probably the greatest gift I’ve received as I’ve gone through this journey is connecting with cousins.  My Gunzendorfer family is so very, very small that while I have connected with cousins of both of my maternal grandparents’, as well as my paternal grandfather’s side, I really didn’t hold out much hope of ever connecting with a Gunzendorfer.  After all, as my mother proclaimed years ago and what started me on this journey, there weren’t any Gunzendorfers left in the United States (darnit, I hate when she’s right).  But I knew there were Gunzendorfer descendants with different last names and this year I found some!  And it was truly genealogical serendipity when I heard from the first one THE NIGHT BEFORE I was planning to write about her great grandmother!  Read about the genealogical serendipity here.  My new cousin connected me to a few other cousins and we’ve had fun sharing information.  What really brings this full circle is that one of the other cousins I knew as a child and now he is back in my life!  My family just keeps getting larger and larger and I couldn’t be happier.

Number 1:  The bracelet.  Sure this wasn’t a new discovery – I inherited “the bracelet” in 1982 after my grandmother passed away – but a discovery that became much meaningful in 2014.  Grandma had always kept a list designating who would receive what after her death and I had always known I’d get “the bracelet”, even though I wasn’t sure what was so special about it and why I would want it.  I learned in 1982 that it had belonged to her mother, Bertha Schwartz Gunzendorfer, and had been a gift for her high school graduation in 1890 as the bracelet was inscribed with the words BS, Graduated June, 1890.  That bracelet has been a part of my life for over 30 years but it wasn’t until this year that I really had a good appreciation for just how important it was in my family.

And one day, as I struggled for inspiration for a blog post, I ran across this photo.

High School Graduation
Santa Cruz High School Graduation
June 6, 1890

That’s Bertha (aka Birdie) standing on the right.  You can read my post from May 4 here, but the Cliff Notes version is that she’s wearing “the bracelet”!   Look closely at her arm!  It’s such a treat to know the history behind a family heirloom but even better to actually SEE it. 

Bracelet on wrist

And from there I did a little research and connected with the great grandson of the young man in the photo, Harry Wanzer, and shared the photo with him.  I’d love to be able to contact descendants of the other graduates but, unfortunately, I put it aside and never got back to it…..until last night.  Maybe getting the graduating class’ descendants together might be my top find in 2015!

And that’s what I’ve been up to in 2014.  While I feel like it’s been a bit of a quiet year, I realize how far I’ve come and the treasures I’ve been able to share with my family. 

Who knew?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry Christmas, 1917

As I wrote in my last post here, I have hundreds of letters that my grandparents, Loraine Gunzendorfer and Sig Levy, wrote back and forth to each other from about 1916-1919.  My goal is to some day get them all transcribed and put in chronological order so that their letters become a story of their courtship and, ultimately, marriage.  But, unfortunately, I tend to go gang busters on this project for awhile and then put it on the back burner for weeks or even months.  But I thought it appropriate to dig out the letters from Christmas, 1917 and see what was up in their worlds. 

I started the transcription project with Grandma’s letters to Sig because her handwriting was better and since I was 28 when she died, her handwriting was much more familiar to me than Grandpa’s who died just before my 14th birthday.  So today was the first time I really studied any of Sig’s letters to Loraine.

Envelopes to Loraine

I started sorting them out by year, then month, and then to put them in date order.  As I got started with the month of December, I noticed something very interesting in the top left hand corner of the envelopes – Grandma left me bread crumbs!  The numbers (42, 43) indicate that these were the 42nd and 43rd letters he wrote to her – she put them in chronological order for me!  See, I know she wanted me to find these!  And interesting that the stamps are all missing.

And the back of the envelope is interesting.

Back of Envelope

I love how he just wrote ‘Sig’ on the back – I’m sure her heart skipped a beat when she saw that.

So here’s excerpts from the letters right before Christmas, 1917 with my comments [ ].

December 22, 1917 – 6 pm [From Loraine to Sig]

My dearest

Your letter didn’t arrive until this morn, guess it was held up on account of the holiday rush. I looked for it last night but was disappointed.

Well, my dear, I’m home again [Monterey] and it seems wonderful – really it does and I do feel very happy. Everyone has seemed so glad to see me that it makes me feel as though I have been missed. And once more I am getting acquainted with my family. And I’ve been practically living in my brother’s machine [she always called the automobile the machine]. He took me for a ride yesterday aft and also this morning and has promised to teach me to drive it [remembering that she wasn’t a great driver as an adult, do we have her brother, Wilton, to blame for her poor driving?].

The Alumni of the High School are to give a dance Christmas night and before I even came home I was put on the refreshment committee, so you see, dear, they want me to work even if I am just visiting here. Quite a bunch of my friends are to be home over this week-end, enlisted boys and the like, so it will be like old times.

And now about war again – I’m so sorry, dearest, that you weren’t accepted in the non-flyers but guess it can’t be helped and now that you have actually enlisted in the flyers, even though I am against it, I am glad, because it seems as though all the best fellows enlist in that branch and no branch is too good for you. And it is all just a great big chance of life or otherwise I guess after all, whether it is flying or trench work. But all anyone can do is hope for the best and that is what I am hoping for you at this very minute.

And, dear, I don’t know when you are going to get that picture of me [which picture, Grandma?  I have several and want to know which one it is]. It hadn’t been finished when I left Thursday so I left orders to send it to me, so you’ll get it sometime before New Year’s, I hope.

Believe me, I had to come home to lose my cold. My mother doctored it up last night [wonder what the magic cure was?] and today I am feeling great. We are having glorious weather down here, sunshine and the like but no fog. But we surely had a lot of fog in Oakland before I left, both night and morning and now you are getting a taste of the same kind of weather.

Tomorrow we are going for a little ride up into the country to get some Christmas berries and I wish you were here to go along.

The point of the fountain pen I’m writing with is very hard and I can hardly write – my letter looks it, too. So if you can’t read it don’t blame me, blame the pen [HA – blame the pen!]. And I do hope you hear soon from the aviation dept so you’ll be coming up shortly for your examination as I’d like to see you, dear.

I must bring this to a close now as I’ve promised to meet one of the girls in a short while. Write so that there will be a letter waiting for me Wednesday night in Oakland, that is, if it won’t inconvenience you [one thing my grandmother wasn’t was passive aggressive].

And my wish to you for Christmas is that everything will turn out to your liking, sweetheart, and that you will enjoy the day, even though we won’t be able to enjoy it together, but as long as we will be thinking of each other, we’ll try to be happy. And if you care to [what if he didn’t care to?] I wish you would convey my best wishes to your family for a pleasant holiday season.

As always much love
December 23, 1917 – 6:30 pm [From Sig to Loraine]

My dearest Loraine,

Just a tiny note in answer to yours just received. I know you are a busy girl and this note will just come in between so it won’t be so long a wait. I’ll answer your letter properly so one will be waiting for you Wednesday in Oakland [good boy, Grandpa].

I thank you, my love, for your wonderful wishes in my behalf and I know with these thoughts that nothing but good will come to us.

The weather here is miserable and it was even too foggy to play tennis today [never thought about it being too foggy to play tennis] so I have been loafing all day.

Glad you are having such a wonderful time. I know you won’t enjoy the letter [oh, I’m sure she enjoyed it], but I didn’t want you to wait until Wednesday even if it is just “hello”. So that is all for tonight and I’m happy your cold is better.

A big lot of love to you, my dear, Sig

Am late getting home – the reason for the rush.
I just love this photo of Sig playing tennis.  I ‘rescued’ a couple of his rackets from their garage after Grandma died and they have hung on my wall for over 30 years.  I never knew just how much he liked to play tennis.
Sig Tennis
December 25, 1917 – pm [from Loraine to Sig]

My dear

Your “Merry Xmas” telegram [I found the the telegram!] came a little while ago, and this is what I said, “The thoughtful boy”. I did sort of want to phone to you just to wish you the season’s greetings, but didn’t know just where I could reach you so let it go [Grandma, why did you give up so easily?]. Your few lines came last night, also. [did she not enjoy it like he predicted?]

Am spending a very quiet day today as it is raining! Do hope it doesn’t storm tomorrow as I leave in the aft for Oakland, accompanied by Mother. Have been thinking of you today as have been knitting on your sweater and it is nearly finished! [again, she was crafty?]

You’ll probably not hear from me again until Friday as I’ll get in so late tomorrow night I won’t be able to write.

And what are you doing today? When do you expect to be called for examination? Probably your letter will tell me all details.

Love from


December 24, 1917 – 11 p.m. [from Sig to Loraine]

My dearest Loraine,

Well my love it is Christmas Eve, and can you believe it, I just came to the club and it is certainly delightful out. Rode around the residence section [exact address, please] and really it was a pretty thought to see all the Red Cross service flags [Grandpa was involved with the Red Cross for many years] in the windows with the spot lights behind them. Gee I wished that you were with me to ride around on a nice quiet night to see all the people enjoying themselves in their different ways of happiness.

Early this evening we had a pretty tree for the baby at my brother’s home [brother would have been Herb and the baby would have been Herb Jr. who was born 10 February 1917] and it was cute – our first little one to have a tree [was this the beginning of the non-Jewish traditions?] and he was so excited with all his presents but of course he is too young to know what it all means but nevertheless he enjoyed it thoroughly – but the saddest part is that my father is not well enough to be up and see it all. [father, Herman Levy, died just a few months later, 6 March 1918]

Fresno was a busy little city today and you would really think this was a military center – so many soldiers and sailors. They are all home for Christmas and you know Fresno leads almost every city on the coast for enlisted soldiers. The visiting soldiers even had a big baseball game today.

Did I tell you I saw Dick [I need to figure out who Dick is]. Well he sent word that he was coming through the other night and he arrived at 12:30. Two sections to the train and they were just loaded with soldiers all bound for Texas for aviation. There was a mob at the depot and poor Dick was all in – he had an awful cold [he had a cold, too?] and said he had spent the toughest week of his life. The poor kids had no Pullman and they were just packed in – It was anything but an inviting looking future and Dick hated to break away from the bunch. It certainly looked strange to see him in a uniform. He is going to write me all about the life as soon as he hits Texas.

Dear I think we will go “over the top” on our Red Cross drive. It looks like 25,000 members for Fresno. How do you like that? Has Monterey done its share? [I sure hope so!]

The Red Cross dance the other night was also a huge success. All you hear or see down this way now is war. After this next call, dearest, there’ll not be a young fellow left. I haven’t received my questionnaire but they are already getting ready to call for the physical examinations. I will get mine I think in about a week. In the meantime I am hoping for a call from S.F. but nothing yet has arrived. Talked with one of our aviators today and he said the course at the university was about the stiffest thing yet. Only eight weeks to learn about everything and to bed every night at nine-thirty.

I’ll bet you have been stepping around since you left for home and I hope you haven’t worn your little self entirely out [see, he knew Grandma liked to party!]. And now that you are back I suppose it seems like another little dream. And sweetheart, have you had any real dreams about someone down this way in the last few days? [please say YES, Grandma!]

At any rate I hope this letter is waiting for you when you reach Oakland – was it and did you really look for it the first thing you did? Honest dear?  [tell the truth, Grandma]

And dearest you soon start with your new work and please don’t work too hard [one thing I don’t think Grandma ever did was work too hard] and tell me all about it. I should receive a great big loving letter [loving?] from you now, as you no doubt have a lot to tell me even if you must take time off this very night just for me.

The new year is soon to come – a year of something no one knows. I hope for you it will be wonderful. I’ll do my best. Keep well and happy, sweetheart.

As always with love, Sig
I was going to stop there but I just had to see if Grandma actually looked for the letter first thing and SHE DID!  This story just keeps getting better and better……..
December 27, 1917 – 8 pm [from Loraine to Sig]

My dearest

On my way home a short while ago I beheld the moon just rising and you should have seen it – a huge ball of fire and so pretty and then I wondered what the date was as the moon was full and it is the 27th – a month ago tonight you and I were at the Palace! How the time goes.

Here I am, back in Oakland and I don’t know whether I am glad or sorry. When it grew to be train time yesterday I didn’t want to leave, but Monterey is so quiet that had I remained, in another week I would, in all probability, want to come back. Arrived at 10 o’clock last night after a pleasant trip with Mother, and, in answer to your question, I did look for your letter immediately upon my arrival [NICE!]. So, your letter was here to greet me if not yourself.
And that’s where I’ll stop.  Just a glimpse into the Christmas holidays from 1917 thanks to my grandparents, Loraine Gunzendorfer and Sig Levy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Who will marry us?

Last week I wrote about my grandmother’s “little diary” which she stopped writing in after she married my grandfather on February 23, 1919.  It started me thinking about what else was happening in the days leading up to their marriage and, fortunately for me, I have the letters that they wrote back and forth from about 1916-1919.  I’ve been slowly transcribing these letters (note to self – get back to that project) so I decided to skip ahead to the last few letters she wrote to see what was she was thinking about.  It seems that one of the important things on her mind in the week preceding their wedding was who would officiate the marriage.  Here are some excerpts from those letters [my comments included].

Envelope to Sig 2_15_1919 Letter to Sig 2_15_1919

February 15, 1919 [Saturday] – postmarked 6:00 p.m., Monterey, California

My Dearest Boy [she called him “Boy” quite a bit],

Have nothing of note to tell you today so shall write just a tiny note.  Received your letter last night and shall say a word or two in regard to where we shall stay Sunday night [after the wedding].  Dear, it would be perfectly ridiculous for me to take a trunk with me as I don’t imagine we shall be gone any longer than four days.  I can get what I need into a suit case and you can too.  Then the folks will send the rest of my things direct to Fresno as I wrote you yesterday.  No one bothers with a trunk for a few days if it can be helped.  And as far as needing a bridal suite – we can do without that – just a nice room and bath will give us all the comfort we desire.  I really prefer staying in S.F, because we can get away so much better from that side unless you want to go the valley route.  As far as we know, Mother and I, no doubt, will stay at the Oakland [Hotel Oakland, site of their wedding] when we go up Thursday and it is my preference to have Sunday as I do not care about being too conspicuous in a place like that.  It wouldn’t matter so much if we weren’t going to stay there and also be married in the hotel.  But I’ll leave it to you, after making the suggestions, and you do what you think best.  Hope you have heard from Franklin [prospective wedding officiate] by now and that he can come, otherwise we will have to get busy and get Dr. Myer [sic].

….Bushels of love and some nice kisses to my sweet boy.  Your, Loraine

February 16, 1919 [Sunday] – postmarked 6:00 p.m., Monterey, California

Sig sweetheart

Was sorry to hear last night when I received your letters that Rabbi Franklin would be unable to officiate, but it can’t be helped I guess.  So I immediately sent a special delivery to Dr. Meyer asking his services and that he advise me accordingly by return mail.  It may be that Franklin will be back but not well enough to perform a marriage ceremony.

As far as we know this minute, love, we shall stay at the Oakland from Thursday on, so if you come in that night I’ll be able to see you when you arrive [please no more details, Grandma].  Then the next morning before we do anything else we can attend to the license and get that off our minds.

….Just think, dear, – next Sunday!  Can hardly realize it, can you?  Wish the excitement was all over and we were on our way.  I dread the ceremony, however short it may be – having so many eyes gazing upon us and picking us to pieces, as it were. [I am her granddaughter, that’s for sure, as I have always disliked being the center of attention].  I’ll be so glad when it is “the day after”.

….Much love and many kisses, dearest, and we will see each other before very long, lover boy.  Your own, Loraine

February 18, 1919 [Monday] – postmarked 8:00 a.m., Monterey, California

Sig dearest,

….So my boy is very busy getting things ready for his “wife to be”.  Believe me, dear, we’ll be a happy couple.

The girls gave me a delightful little tea today at the Gift Shop and I dolled up in my “going away” outfit [dang, where’s a picture of THAT?].  It looked quite swell and I hope you’ll like it.

Yes, sweetheart, we expect to stay at the Oakland as far as we know, which I told you in yesterday’s letter.  About the trunk – unless you want to bring it for your things, dear, I can’t think I shall need it as I expect to get a nice suitcase when I get to S.F. and will hold all I need as far as I know as I don’t expect to take too many things along.

Haven’t heard from Rabbi Meyer yet.  Hope he won’t disappoint us or we will be up against it and shall have to scurry around for someone else.

….Am so glad to hear that the boys will be out shortly.  With them coming, though, it means that we’ll have to look for a place to live in.  Shall write a letter tomorrow.  Stacks of love & kisses, dearest boy.  Your, Loraine.

February 18, 1919 [Monday] – postmarked 6:00 p.m., Monterey, California

Sig dear,

I waited for the noon mail to come in today and thought surely there would be some word from Dr. Meyer as to whether he will be able officiate or not, but none came.  It isn’t enough that I have other things to attend to, I have to bother about getting the Rabbi, too [uh-oh, sounds like she’s a little irritated].  And you know we can’t wait until the last minute or we won’t be getting married at all.  By rights you should have attended to this [maybe not just irritated but actually mad] as soon as you knew the date, but it cant’ be helped now as we waited on Franklin.  A few moments ago I wired to your mother and told her to find out if Meyer will be with us, if not to get Nieto [Rabbi Nieto was a very prominent Rabbi in the Bay Area and, in fact, officiated at the marriage of my great grandparents, Bertha Schwartz and Abraham Gunzendorfer in 1892] at once, altho’ I would rather have the former, and to answer me one way or the other.  It is a pretty late date now to be hunting someone to marry us on Sunday.  We’ll be in fine luck if everyone is busy on that day – preparations, etc. and no one to perform the ceremony.  We’ll have to trust to luck, that’s all.  You’ll have to get busy Friday if we haven’t secured any up to that date.  But I hope it will be settled before then.

Two presents came today – one from Mina and Morse [no idea who this might be], the other from the Benas family; Gertie, Hortense, etc. [Sig’s mother’s maiden name was Benas].  Will tell you about them when I see you.

This will be may last letter to you, dear, until we meet in Oakland [it’s almost time!] and I’ll be waiting for you at the Oakland.  Your mother sent a list this morning for more announcements.

I’ll be so glad when all this excitement is over – it is getting to be too much for me [Grandma didn’t seem to have much patience for stuff like this] especially when you are so far away that I have to do the figuring [complaining again].  I do hope we will be able to land some Rabbi [funny, she doesn’t seem too particular now].  That is the worry I have now.

….All for today.  Loads of love and kisses, dearest, and I’ll see you Thursday.  Your, Loraine

3:30  Just received a wire from your mother saying that Meyer will officiate but he didn’t think I wanted an answer.  So that is settled, thank goodness.

THANK GOODNESS!  Can you imagine how my life might have been different if Dr. Meyer hadn’t agreed to officiate?  Would they have found another Rabbi?  I’m glad we don’t have to worry about the answer to that question!

But they did get married – and they were able to keep one of their announcements.  Again, thanks to my Grandmother for hanging on to it for me.

Sig_Loraine Wedding Announcement

Some photos from about that time period – wonder if they were taken during the wedding celebration or honeymoon?

Loraine c 1919
Mildred Loraine (Gunzendorfer) Levy

Sig Levy c 1919
Sigmund Levy

Abe_Birdie_Loraine c 1919
Abe, Birdie, Loraine Gunzendorfer

Abe_Birdie_Sig c 1919
Abe and Birdie Gunzendorfer, Sig Levy