Sunday, January 28, 2018

52 Ancestors: Who would I invite for dinner

52 Ancestors copy

I’m a little late to the party but I’m joining in Amy Johnson Crow’s challenge – 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks.  I won’t necessarily get 52 but this challenge will be helpful in prompting me.  This weeks prompt:  Who would I invite to dinner.

I know it seems strange but not only would I invite this person to dinner but I did invite this person to dinner.  My dinner guest would be my paternal grandmother, Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer Levy.  I’ve written a lot about Grandma Loraine (she never used the name Mildred) and I probably know more about her than any other ancestor, other than my parents.  She has left me so much information about her life as a child; unfortunately, I didn’t learn any of this until long after she was gone.

One of the greatest discoveries was finding my grandmother’s scrapbook HERE.  Yes, my grandmother (and grandfather and father and uncle and mother and, and, and….) was a packrat and here I am over 100 years later actually THANKING her for it.  How many people are able to see into the daily life of their ancestor all these years later?

If only I’d known about these treasures when she was still alive.  Every time I find something else of hers I come up with tons of questions I’d like to ask.  And the hardest parts is knowing that I actually knew her, spent a lot of time with her, and had her to my house for dinner on my more than one occasion.

I vividly remember our first Christmas after we’d moved from California to Washington.  My parents made the trek the day after Christmas and brought Grandma along with them.  I can see it vividly in my mind but back in those days, we didn’t always have a camera handy (and film was expensive to develop) so I, apparently, don’t have any photos.  But they were here and I will hold that memory forever. 

I do have a photo of a Christmas before that – maybe 1977 or so?  As usual, we gathered at our childhood home and for the last several years of her life, Grandma was there.

Gordon Levy_Gerry Martin_Loraine Gunzendorfer 1977
Geraldine Martin, Gordon Levy, Loraine Gunzendorfer

Grandma never seemed to smile much but I know she loved being with us!

If had just one evening to sit and talk to her.  I’d ask her questions, take photos, and even record her voice.  I can hear her like it was yesterday – hard to believe she’s been gone almost 36 years! 
I’d go through every letter she wrote to my grandfather, Sig Levy, from 1916-1919 and stop to ask her questions as I read the letters aloud.  Think of the memories she’d have.  And then I’d read the letters that Grandpa wrote to her and ask her more questions.

Oh wait, I’d go through the scrapbook with her and ask her why she kept certain things.  I’d ask her about her collection of cigarettes.  And, who was Earle?  Was he a beau?  And then I’d ask her if this was Earle – I’d like to move at least one photo from the unidentified folder to an identified folder.


My grandmother was a beautiful little girl.  I had this photo of Loraine and her mother, Birdie Schwartz, framed years ago and have had it sitting in my living room for probably 25 years.  I’m so honored to have been told my entire life that I look like both of them.

Bertha and Loraine 5_1896 cropped

I even found her diary!  It haunts me to this day – what did she mean when she said “Ernest broke me in”?  On second thought, maybe I wouldn’t ask her about that!

Growing up, I always thought of my grandmother as annoying – she always expected us to behave, she ‘clicked’ her teeth (dentures?  I should have asked about that), and she consistently wanted to be early to wherever we were going.  Who knew I’d inherit that gene from her?  And until I found all of her things stashed in a storage garage, I wouldn’t have known her as anything other than an old woman.  Weren’t grandparents always old?

I have some not-very-good photos of her at the end stages of life, as well as lots of snapshots etched in my brain.  But I enjoy seeing the ones of her taken by a photographer and wonder what was going on in her life that prompted a professional photo.  This photo from my wedding 8 years before she died might be the latest one I’ve found of her – but you never know, something else might turn up.

Loraine, Ron, Debi
Yikes, we were YOUNG!

So that’s who’d be sitting at my table.  There are so many I’d like to invite to round out the evening but my grandmother, Loraine, would be the first invitation I’d extend. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Wanted: Herman Levy

Herman Levy was my great grandfather – his son, Sig, was my paternal grandfather.  I wrote about Herman HERE.  He is also one of my greatest brick wall ancestors and I’d like nothing more than to break down this wall and learn about his life before he arrived in America somewhere in the 1870’s.  Let’s look at what I know about Herman.

From the book The History of Fresno County; the San Joaquin Valley I learned that Herman was born at Filehne, Germany on May 20, 1856 and came to the United States at the age of 17, with an uncle, I.H. Jacobs.  He settled first in Merced, then Borden, and then on to Fresno.  That’s a good start.

Except that his fifth (fourth surviving) son, my grandfather’s younger brother, Ben, wrote in his autobiography:

“My father was a refugee from Germany and came to the United States in his twenties [so not at 17?].  Several of his cousins came to California along with him and settled in small San Joaquin Valley towns.  Each cousin settled in a different town to seek his livelihood.  My father settled in Borden (Madera County) [what about Merced?] just south of the present city of Madera.  The town is no longer in existence.  My father and his cousins left Germany to get away from the rule of Bismark, which was not to their liking.  In Borden, he operated a general merchandise store.  I have had grandchildren of these pioneers that have told me how their grandparents were given extended credit by my father in order that they could get established.

When the county seat in Fresno County was moved from Millerton to Fresno, my father came to Fresno.  He worked for the pioneer firm of Kutner & Goldstein Co., [more on that in another post] which later had stores in practically every town in the Valley.  Later, my father owned and operated a clothing store on Mariposa Street and later moved to an enlarged store at the corner of J (Fulton) and Mariposa Streets.  This store was destroyed by fire and my father then became the sole agent of the New York Life Insurance Co. which he held until his death.

He died in our home at 1761 Van Ness Avenue on March 6, 1918 at the age of sixty-one.  He had sisters [how many sisters? what were their names?] in Germany whom he never saw after leaving Germany for America, but he corresponded with them throughout the years.

There’s other tidbits in the autobiography (I’ve learned A LOT from Ben and am so thankful that he wrote all of this down) but this is the majority of the information about Herman.

Ben did include a photo of the house he died in, which is a bit eerie.

Herman Levy House 1761 Van Ness Avenue Fresno
1761 Van Ness Avenue, Fresno, California – date unknown

I also know this to be true from Herman’s death certificate, which was one of the first death certificates I obtained in 2010.

DC Herman Levy

If you look closely, you can see the place of death as 1761 Van Ness, and the date of March 6, 1918.  I also read first hand accounts of his death in the letters my grandparents wrote back and forth during that time.  So I know these facts to be true.

Another interesting tidbit, which might be hard to read, is the name of the physician who signed the death certificate:  Floyd L.R. Burks.  Probably won’t mean much to anyone except my siblings but as a child I remember Dr. Burks!  In fact, my parents hoped that Dr. Burks would be their savior and would be able to figure out a way to get me to stop sucking my thumb (whatever he tried didn’t work as I was finally successful at Girl Scout camp).  And, I seem to recall my parents telling us that my dad was given the middle name of Floyd in his honor.

What else do I know?

In 1880, Herman was living in Borden with a servant (?), Alvin Ward.  The census tells me that Herman was a merchant, born in Prussia, and that his father and mother were both born in Prussia.  Alvin Ward was born in Tennessee and was a clerk in store (maybe Herman’s store?)

1880 Census

Of course we all know what happened with the 1890 census so the next time I find him in a census was 1900.  He was living at 946 K Street in Fresno with his wife, Goldie, and their sons Herb, Leon, Sig, and Ben.  Also with the family was a servant, Sally.  He had been married for 16 years (1884) and immigrated to America in 1875.  That all checks out because Ben included a photo of the house at 946 “K” Street and stated that it was later known as Van Ness Avenue. (Oh boy these censuses are hard to read).

1900 Census

And here’s the photo of the house at 946 “K” Street which was built in 1887. As luck would have it (remember, my family saved everything), I not only had this photo in Ben’s autobiography but the original photo, as well.

Levy House Van Ness Avenue Fresno 1890

Of course I had to blow it up so I could see the people.  Unfortunately, I don’t know who the woman on the porch is but these folks are Goldie, Herman, and the three sons Leon, Herb, Sig.

Levy House Van Ness Avenue Fresno 1890 cropped

Based on Sig’s age, I’m going to guess that this photo is from late 1889 or very early 1890.

By 1910, the census shows Herman was at 846 K Street (I can only assume that’s a typo) with the entire family.  Also enumerated with the family was Katarina Nielson, servant, and Albert S. Blair, lodger.  Herman stated he was born in Germany, both parents were born in Germany, immigrated in 1873 (it was 1875 20 years earlier), was not naturalized, owned his home mortgage free, could read and write, and was an Insurance Agent. 

1910 Census

Now I can find all sorts of mention of Herman in Fresno up until his death and know A LOT about that period of his life.  But I’m not having any luck prior to 1873 or 1875 (whichever it was) – who were his parents?  Ben mentioned sisters but no brothers?  Was his uncle, I.H. Jacobs, his mother's brother?  So, was her maiden name Jacobs?

I’m getting ready to go on a research trip (Salt Lake City!) and desperately want some clues before I go so I can spend some time finding Herman.  I’d love any suggestions on where to focus my attention.  But if nothing else, I’ve documented the major details that I know about his life.

Herman, come out, come out wherever you are!