Sunday, September 25, 2016

Aunt Charlotte

Last week I wrote about the flu pandemic of 1918-1920 and how it affected my family.  You can read about it here.

Once I learned about Aunt Charlotte’s death from the flu, I wanted to learn more about her.  What I knew at this point was that she was born in California in about 1876 and that she married Milton Schwartz, a younger brother of my great grandmother Birdie, on December 22, 1907 in San Francisco.

Milton Schwartz Charlotte Haley to wed 12_21_1907
The San Francisco Call, 22 Dec 1907, Sun, First Edition
I had lots of information about Milton but this was all I knew about Charlotte Haley.  I also knew that they had no kids so figured my chance of connecting with others wasn’t too great.
I thought it might be interesting to see what her obituary, if there was one, might say so I started searching.  I was unsuccessful but thought I’d try the San Francisco Public Library, who provides obituary look ups for free, even though Charlotte had died in Oakland.  Who knew?
And a week or so later, I received an e-mail from the Magazines and Newspapers Center at the San Francisco Public Library (NOTE:  if you are looking for obituaries in the Bay Area, this is a wonderful service and is FREE!).  And there was Charlotte’s obituary.
Charlotte Schwartz obit SF Examiner Jan_17_1919
San Francisco Examiner, 17 Jan 1919, Page 4

Hmmm, nothing about the flu.  Even though I knew she died from the flu, would it be worthwhile to get a copy of her death certificate?  As I sat there pondering that question it smacked me in the face – mother of John M. Haley?  WAIT - WHAT?  So when Charlotte and Milton were married she was either divorced or widowed?  And she’d had a son?

And then another smack in the face.  She was the daughter of Meria Mervy and sister of A.J. and Dr. E.T. Mervy?  So she was born Charlotte Mervy?  One paragraph and the world into Aunt Charlotte had been opened up in so many ways.

Back to where for whatever reason, I now started finding more information.

Charlotte Melvy John Haley Divorce
San Francisco Chronicle, 13 Oct 1901, Sun, Page 24

I guess this could have been hiding since in 1901 she was known as Lottie but look at that, John T. Haley had deserted her. 

If I had just found this obituary in my initial search, I would have had more clues right off the bat.  I guess in this case it sure paid to be persistent.

Charlotte Schwartz dies of influenza copy
Oakland Tribune, Thu, Jan 16, 1919, Page 4

So now I knew that her son was John Mervin Haley.  I did some more searching and have found that her parents were Maria (Kearny) and Ulysses Mervy and that she had at least four siblings – Emily, Edward Thomas, Alphonse John, and James.  And there is her son, John Mervyn Haley, married to Irene Sarah Wheeler, with at least one child, James Tad Haley.  I have more to learn about the Mervys but it is encouraging that I might be able to connect with some of Charlotte’s descendants and, maybe, be able to share details with them about her death.

As I continued to search for Charlotte, I realized that if I searched on Milton Schwartz (rather than Charlotte) I would find even more information since, like most women, she went by Mrs. Milton Schwartz rather than her own first name (I’m sure glad we got away from that!).  And lo and behold, up popped a photo of her!  Sure it’s not great but maybe, just maybe, it might help me identify one of my unidentified photos that my grandmother left for me. 

Charlotte Schwartz Campaigns for Funds
Oakland Tribune, Wed, May 11, 1910 – Page 9

Home for Incurables

So based on the few letters that my grandmother wrote about Charlotte Schwartz and her death from the flu, I’ve learned quite a bit about the woman she was.  And maybe one day I’ll come across one of her descendants and be able to share details with them about her death.  Who wouldn’t want to know more about that?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

1918 Flu Pandemic

I’ve learned a lot about history as I’ve researched my ancestors, especially when it hit close to home.  So it was no surprise that I’d learn some new things as I continue to transcribe the letters my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, and my grandfather, Sig Levy, wrote back and forth between 1916 and 1919.  I’ve learned about World War I, Armistice Day in 1918, and now about the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Wikipedia states “The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving HINI influenza virus. It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million (three to five percent of the world's population), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.”

One of those victims was Loraine’s Aunt Charlotte.

Of course Charlotte, the wife of Loraine’s uncle Milton Schwartz, was on my tree and I knew a bit about her and that she had died at just 40 years old.  But other than a few dates, I really didn’t know much about her.  But as I was transcribing letters I came to the letter of December 28, 1918 from Loraine to Sig.

Letter to Sig 12_28_1918
“… We're so disappointed - Uncle Milt phoned this morning that they won't be down for New Year's as Aunt Charlotte has the "flu"! She has it very lightly for which we are thankful, but it is disagreeable for the one who has it. I am so sorry you and I live so far apart as I would like to have you with me once in awhile, it is especially nice on holidays, dear, but guess your separation can't be helped this year…”
It hit me that Charlotte Schwartz had passed away on January 15, 1919 so my senses were heightened as I continued to transcribe the letters.  Over the next few days (they wrote to each other daily) Loraine commented on Charlotte’s health but it wasn’t until January 4, 1919 that I could begin to see the gravity of the situation.
“…You don't know how much I enjoyed your letter last night. It was so sweetly written and I liked it very much, sweetheart. It was so full of news too. The main thing, though, is that you are well. The epidemic keeps everyone so uneasy and no one can tell from one minute to the next who will be the next victim. So please, my love, be as careful as possible as we want some of the happiness we are entitled to and I would go crazy if you were to get it again. We haven't heard since Wednesday about Aunt Chas' condition and naturally thought she was improving. Just after I started this to you the phone rang and it was Uncle Milt who said the first bit of encouragement was given him today by the doctor. Aunt Chas has been delirious for three days, she has surely had some siege and I do hope she will improve now…”
And two days later, January 6, 1919, she wrote this:
“…We phoned last night to inquire concerning Aunt Chas' condition and Uncle Milt said her temperature dropped to 99° and now the doctor thinks she will begin to improve. Funny though that she has been delirious for five days…”
But by the next day, things hadn’t seemed to have improved.
“…Sweetheart, I had no idea Aunt Chas. was so very bad until Saturday as New Year's Day she was supposed to be recovering rapidly. We heard from Uncle Milt this morn and he said her temperature was down to normal but that even yesterday she was delirious and kept talking about her trip to Monterey all the time as, you know, they had planned to come down. She probably hasn't read your letter yet and when she does will enjoy it as she will be much better. It was very sweet of you to write…”
While I believe Aunt Charlotte was at home during her illness, I found this photo from Wikipedia interesting, particularly since it was in Oakland which is where Charlotte and Milton lived.  Can you imagine being so horribly sick and being in this environment?

American Red Cross nurses tend to flu patients in temporary wards set up inside Oakland Municipal Auditorium, 1918.  Photo by Wikipedia
I’ve learned about the orders to wear masks and have difficulty picturing my grandmother wearing a mask.  No photos have surfaced but on January 8, 1919 she talked a little about it.
“…Love, the flu is getting bad here again and it keeps one in a sort of excitement all the time. Today I heard there were in the neighborhood of 100 cases but I doubt that. You can bet that I am going to begin to wear a mask. Mrs. Armstrong came to the rescue yesterday as I had an idea I might be getting it - had no symptoms but felt hot due to being nervous, I guess - so she took my temperature and said it couldn't be more normal. This is why I thought I might be getting it - a young girl teacher here whose fiance's parents live right next to Aunt Chas' and they were all out together the night before Aunt Chas. became ill. Saturday she was in the store to inquire regarding Aunt Chas and I talked to her. She said she never took anything in her life so couldn't get the flu - but she has it!! And I am told she was very sick Saturday night. Can you beat it, dear, the way I get mixed up with people who are getting it. But from now on I am going to take every precaution and be so careful…”

Police in masks
Policemen wearing masks provided by the American Red Cross in Seattle, 1918.  Photo by Wikipedia

By January 9, 1919 it appeared that Charlotte was turning the corner and on the road to recovery.
“…From all reports Aunt Chas. is well on the road to recovery but had a very close call. When I write I shall surely enclose your best wishes to her, dearest…”
But the next day’s news wasn’t quite so positive.
“…We had a letter from Uncle Milt this A.M. in which he said Aunt Chas. was still quite ill. In the mornings her temperature is pretty nearly normal but in the evening climbs to 102° to 102½° and she still continues to be delirious. It is terrible, sweetheart, really, what the people have to contend with these days. It makes one crazy if one stops to think about it, so I try not to…”
Several days went by with no news of Aunt Charlotte.  How was her recuperation going?  Had there been any changes?  But then on January 14, 1919 Loraine wrote:
“…Poor Aunt Chas is still a very sick person. Can you imagine that? And is nearly three weeks since she became ill. Uncle Col wrote yesterday saying they had a heart specialist to examine her heart and it is quite weak. The poison has not entirely left her body yet and naturally Uncle Milt has lots of cause for worry but he seems to be standing the strain very well, and you know he is far from being a well man. All any of us can do is to hope that everything will right itself and Aunt Chas will get her health back in short order…”
Oh no!  And because I was now able to somewhat see into the future, I knew what the outcome would be.  And sometime before 3:00 p.m. (when her letter was postmarked) on Thursday, January 16, 1919 came the news that seemed to have completely shocked the family.
“My own Darling I am afraid this will be anything but a letter of cheer today as I feel quite the contrary. Am so tired and sad after a very sleepless night, and don't feel anything like collecting my thoughts for a letter but I'll do my best, dear. You can imagine the shock when we were awakened at 12:15 A.M. by the telephone and were told by Uncle Col that Aunt Charlotte had passed away a short while before, which was entirely unexpected as she seemed to be getting along very nicely. She was such a dear, lovable woman and it seems such a pity that her kind always have to go, especially in the prime of life. Everything under the sun went through my mind after the call and I didn't close my eyes until 3:30. Honestly, my love, I never wanted you more in my life and just longed to be in our arms close to you but inasmuch as you were so far away I tried to console myself and to think that it is all for the best if that can be though. My heart surely goes out to Uncle Milt as they were such a devoted couple and I wonder how he will bear it, but time heals everything and I certainly hope it will for him. Isn't this a terrible thing, dear, and I wonder so much where and when it will end. There seems to be nothing but misery when everyone would like to be happy if possible. Mother would like very much to go up and be of assistance to Uncle Milt but is far from being strong and we think she would be taking too much of a change right now, she owes so much to her own health so we have urged her to wait a few days or perhaps longer until the flu begins to abate. Had she gone today I would have gone with her and isn't it odd, love, how we planned to go up this week-end, never expecting anything to really happen or sadness…”
And with that I learned first hand about a victim of the Flu Pandemic nearly 100 years ago.  But, of course, that only piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more about Charlotte.  Which led me down the proverbial genealogy rabbit hole…..

Part 2 next week!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Day After

I’m finally getting back to transcribing the letters that my grandparents, Sig and Loraine (Gunzendorfer) Levy, wrote back and forth between 1917-1919 as they were courting and planning for their wedding.  So much happened in their lives during that time – World War I, deaths, and the influenza pandemic of 1918.  It was a tumultuous time for America.

I have shared a little of their thoughts and will continue to do that as I complete the project.  However, after transcribing close to 200 letters from Loraine to Sig (with about 20 to go), I just learned from one of her letters that she had over 230 letters that Sig had written to her so I know I have really only scratched the surface. 

When we cleaned out my parents’ storage unit 4 years ago, I stumbled upon these letters and threw (yes, threw) them in a big black garbage bag and took them home.  I’ve sorted them by author, by recipient, and then put them in date order.  I’m certain I’m missing more than a few but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

As I’m winding down the first set of letters (from Loraine to Sig) I’ve come across a few random letters from various people.

To catch you up, a few years ago I wrote about Sig asking Loraine’s parents for permission to marry their only daughter – you can read that here.  And then a few weeks later I shared some of the letters of congratulations they received – you can read that here

And today brought the surprise of the letter that Loraine’s mother, Bertha (Schwartz) Gunzendorfer, wrote to Sig and Loraine the day after their wedding.  Which based on the handwriting, has confirmed for me who wrote the letter back to Sig giving permission to marry their daughter.

Letter from Bertha p1

Letter from Bertha p2

Letter from Bertha p3

Letter from Bertha p4

[my comments included]

Monday aft

My dear Children:

Just came in & before getting ready to go out to Berkeley to have dinner with Wilt [Loraine’s brother] will drop you a line to tell you that your voices sounded awfully good over the telephone this morn [Loraine talked to her mother on the first morning of married life?].  Was happy to hear you were both O.K. & so happy.  The day has been delightful and I am sure you are enjoying your trip. [I believe they went to Southern California for their honeymoon]

I have had a funny day.  Went over to Aunt Ray’s [Rachel (Letter) Steen, wife of Bertha’s uncle, Samuel Steen] a little after nine this morn and stayed there until almost twelve.  While there Ray Mead Livingston [who?] phoned to me to congratulate us.  Have you her name for an announcement?

Sent away a pile of announcements this morn & will send the rest tomorrow.  Did not see one for Margaret Wright among these. 

Had lunch down town with Milt [her brother, Milton Harry Schwartz] & then we took all the lovely flowers out to the cemetery & covered our darling’s graves with them.  [The cemetery might have been Home of Eternity Cemetery in Oakland or Hills of Eternity in Colma.  I love that they did this!]  Mrs. Glickman [another new name] went with us.  When we came back I bummed around [people “bummed around" in 1919?] with her awhile, then went to Dr. Green’s about my teeth.  [I’ve learned that my family had a lot of trouble with their teeth].  He was so surprised when I told him Loraine was married yesterday.  Had an idea she was a man hater.  [WHAT???]

I feel like I was in a trance myself.  I can’t realize that my dear little girl is a married woman.  I only hope & pray that you will both be supremely happy & follow every day the word of the Rabbi & Uncle Milt.

Everyone said the wedding was a grand success so I feel amply repaid for my trouble.  [Sounds a bit harsh that she felt the need to be “repaid”]  Saw Mrs. Schuman [Madeline Schuman was married to Sig’s brother, Herb – I suspect this was her mother] in Tafts for a minute today.

Tomorrow will pack your dresses and get them off.  Dad goes home tomorrow.  I will stay here until Wednesday, then go to the city [San Francisco] for a few days & then homeward bound once again.

Must go to Wilt’s now.  May call Mary [Salterbach] and Hallie [Hitchcock] up tonight.  [Mary and Hallie were both high school friends and, I believe, Loraine’s closest friends].

Lots of love & kisses to my dear children, keep well and happy.

Your loving

While I have nearly every letter tucked safely inside an envelope, sadly I do not have the envelope for this letter so I have no idea where it was mailed to.  That might have provided a few clues but alas, I’ll hope to find some in the piles of letters I still have to transcribe.

I just love finding these treasures, especially so I am able to see their handwriting and hold the same paper that my ancestors held.  Once again, thanks for being a packrat, Grandma!

Monday, September 5, 2016

I miss you every day, Dad!

11 years ago today, my dad, Gordon Floyd Levy, died.  It wasn’t just September 5, 2005, but like today, it was also Labor Day.  The day each year when the weather forecasters tell us over and over again is the ‘unofficial’ last day of summer.  Which might be true but for me it will forever be the day that my life changed. 

In 2011 I wrote about why Labor Day isn’t a great day for me – you can read that here.  It was the first time since 2005 that September 5 fell on Labor Day and now here we are again.  It seems fitting that Dad died on Labor Day – the guy who loved his job worked on Friday, spent a nice weekend celebrating his 55th wedding anniversary, and then died on Labor Day.

But enough of that.  I want to remember my dad as a vibrant man so today I spent some time looking through photo albums (yes, I have actual albums) and decided to share some photos from the last several years of his life.  Memories seem to fade as the years go on (and I get older) and I want his descendants to know what a great guy he was. 

Dad was happiest when he was with “the people” – he loved to be among the crowds but he also loved spending some quiet time with his family.  He was a devoted son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and for a few short years, great grandfather.

w Sig_Loraine Dec1947
Gordon, Loraine (Gunzendorfer), Sig, Robert Levy

I think the happiest day of Dad’s life was September 3, 1950, the day he married my mother, Geraldine Martin.  Talk about devotion – he was devoted to her until the day he died.  Even though his health was failing and it was hard for him to get around, whenever possible he’d try to drop her off close to the door of wherever they were going and go off to park the car himself. 

Martin Levy Wedding 9_3_1950
Gordon Levy and Geraldine Martin
September 3, 1950

He was also devoted to his older brother, Robert.  Even though there were many miles between them they never let that stop them – thank goodness the telephone was invented!

My beautiful picture
Gordon and Rob Levy

I do remember having a 50th birthday party for Dad.  It was in their home and I have a few very fuzzy memories but this photo seemed to capture how much Dad enjoyed it.  In fact, this photo pretty much captures how much he enjoyed life.

Gordon 2_1977

I’ve posted lots of pictures of Dad as a kid and young father.  But what I remember most about him was as a grandfather.  Whenever we’d show up at the house he’d open the front door and immediately exclaim “what are these KIDS doing here”?  But I know he loved nothing more than seeing them.  It wasn’t too often we were able to capture photos of Dad since he was usually the photographer but once in awhile he humored us.

Gordon_Gerry_Debi_Megan_Erinn 1978
Dad, me, Mom
My two kids – their first grandchildren

My parents were members of the San Jose Country Club for probably 40 years and loved to entertain there.  Many family celebrations were held there – in fact, I was married there – and, thus, many photos opportunities took place.  Mother’s Day, 2004 was no exception as we all gathered there to celebrate.

Gordon_Gerry 2004
Gordon and Gerry (Martin) Levy
May, 2004


And then came great grandchildren.  Sadly, only one had been born by the time Dad died and there were only a few years of them to spend together.  But I know he loved seeing her and just might have even said “what is this KID doing here”? 


The last time we were all together as a family was October, 2004 when our youngest daughter was married.  And as Dad was known to do, he got a little emotional but did manage to give the bride a very special kiss.

Gordon_Megan 2004

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was clear that the years were getting the best of him but he would never, ever complain.  After all, he was the IRON MAN!

Gordon 10_2004

A few months later, we were in San Jose and I was able to spend some time with Dad, never knowing it would be the last time I would see him.  Of course we had meals out (he hated the fuss of people cooking) and I was able to get one last photo with him.

Gordon_Debi 2005
Dad and me
May, 2005

And then came Labor Day, 2005.  The day that changed the lives of so many people.  It seemed fitting to gather one last time to memorialize Dad, a guy who was such a huge part of so many lives, on September 11.  It was already a sad day so we might as well make it even sadder.  People came from near and far to pay their respects and after the service, we joined in the “party” room at the Temple to share our memories.  The littlest family member, 3 1/2 year old great granddaughter, told it best when she returned to school a few days later and told the staff “my great papa DIE-ED, and then we had a party”.  Ahhh, but little ones know what is most important in life.

The following month my husband, siblings and I joined together with Mom and the Rabbi to place him in his final resting place overlooking the Santa Clara valley, the place he loved so much. 

Oak Hill Cemetery 10_2005
Husband, me, Mom, sister, brother, Rabbi
Oak Hill Memorial Park
October, 2005

And he would have loved that we left him with some very important mementos – his treasured Stanford cap and the Rotary coin he kept with him always.

Final Resting Place
Gordon Floyd Levy
February 11, 1927 – September 5, 2005
Oak Hill Memorial Park – San Jose, California

In the event you want to know more about Dad’s life, last year I wrote about his life without focusing on his death.  And who better to tell the story than the man himself.  You can read it here

I miss you every day, Dad!