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A walk in the park

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I got a chance Sunday to snap a few pictures. My pal Bryan Frank had asked if I wanted to shoot this weekend. He proposed a late-night excursion to Hollywood. I declined on the grounds that I’m a lot older than Bryan and less interested in wandering those mean streets til the wee hours. I countered with a visit to Recreation Park in El Segundo. I won, primarily because it seemed so low-impact, even to a dynamo like Bryan.

DSC_0076I’ve written quite a bit about El Segundo. Forget for a moment (as everybody who lives there seems to) that it is surrounded by a sewage treatment plant, an international airport, an oil refinery, and a freeway. When you’re in El Segundo, you’re essentially in a small town in the middle of one of the world’s biggest urban areas. I was hoping to see what photographic vestiges we’d find of that small-town life on a warm weekend afternoon at the end of summer.

DSC_0051I guess you can’t go wrong with lacrosse, especially since the best vantage point of the game was about ten paces from where I’d snapped the water tower. Some might call it laziness. I prefer to call it economy of motion.

DSC_0080About ten more paces down the trial was a pick-up basketball game. Two on one. These guys had a whole lot more energy than I did that afternoon. And they seemed to be having fun.

DSC_0146We switched into street-photography mode when we saw this little guy with his mom. They were headed for the sandbox. The mom kept trying to carry the kid’s sand toys, but the kid was having none of it. He insisted on carrying the bucket himself.

DSC_0176But these were without a doubt the busiest guys we saw at the park. They were working away like there was no tomorrow.

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The power of pictures

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For David Schendlinger, a great-grandson of Nellie (Becker) Struber, here are the other photos I have of her in the database.

The Strubers, handwritten note on the photo indicates it was taken in Oct. 1891.  L to R: Mendel "Max" Struber, his sons Bill Struber, Sam Struber, his wife Nellie (Becker) Struber, his son Jack Struber, his daughter Annie Struber, and his brother Sruel "Israel" Strauber. (Collection of Victor R. Struber)

The Strubers, handwritten note on the photo indicates it was taken in Oct. 1891. L to R: Mendel “Max” Struber, his sons Bill Struber, Sam Struber, his wife Nellie (Becker) Struber, his son Jack Struber, his daughter Annie Struber, and his brother Sruel “Israel” Strauber. (Collection of Victor R. Struber)

Nellie (Becker) Struber, note on back indicates photo taken in 1912, unknown place. (Collection of Victor R. Struber)

Nellie (Becker) Struber, note on back indicates photo taken in 1912, unknown place. (Collection of Victor R. Struber)

And that’s why these photos are so valuable. Each of us holds a piece of the family history. It could be that others in disparate branches of the family tree have never seen a particular piece. So let’s share them here.

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Ask and ye shall receive

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I’d hardly hit the publish button on yesterday’s post about building a comprehensive photographic database of my genealogy project when Vic Struber emailed a photo I’d never before seen.

The Struber family at the beach, probably sometime in 1914, probably at Brighton Beach or Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. (Collection of Victor R. Struber)

The Struber family at the beach, probably sometime in 1914, probably at Brighton Beach or Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. (Collection of Victor R. Struber)

From left to right, the people in the picture are: (unidentified woman in bow hat, Michael “Mike” Struber, Mike’s sister Libbie Struber holding her niece Frieda Schendlinger, Annie (Struber) Schedlinger (sister of Libbie and Mike and mother of Frieda), and Nellie (Becker) Struber (mother of Mike, Libbie, and Annie; grandmother of Frieda).

This is exactly the kind of picture that tells us much about the lives of our ancestors. It’s not a dramatic moment in a family, and yet it gives us a window into what people’s lives were like. Their smiles speak volumes. The setting—a day at the beach—speaks volumes. Everyone, with the possible exception of Mike, who appears to have on a tank top that was standard beach-wear in those days, is in street clothes (which may well have been standard beach-wear for women in those days).

The database is growing, and with it our understanding of how our ancestors lived.

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The photographic record

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photo_mosaicFor as long as I’ve been keeping track of genealogy, I’ve been building a database of family photos. The idea was that the genealogy factoids would become the text, and the photos would be the pictures of this centuries-long family saga.

I have done okay. Several family members have taken me up on my offer to pay the freight on any pictures they cared to send me. Some sent hundreds of pictures that took weeks for me to scan.

The goal was to have a repository of family photos that we could display online. That way, everyone in the family would have equal access to the family history. It could be an online scrapbook that everyone can share.

Now, with more than a thousand images in the database, I’m set to begin the work of getting the whole thing online. It won’t be immediate because of how much technical effort is involved.

Step 1 is to migrate the photo database—the list of each image that includes a description of the picture, who contributed it, when it was taken, who is in it—to the photos themselves. It seems a whole lot more sensible to store all of the information in one file than to have it spread across multiple files with some tricky proprietary formats. This process requires some tricky computer scripting that is at the moment a little beyond my skillset, but I’ve learned that if I don’t push, I don’t make progress.

Step 2 is to find an online utility capable of reading the embedded information directly from the photo files and displaying it online. That may be a lot easier than Step 1, but it’s still not without complexities.

So the whole thing is underway. I’m hoping to have something for you to look at soon.

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The Vic files, part 6: A laughing matter

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Over the decade or so that I’ve been actively interested in genealogy, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of my Strauber/Strober/Struber relatives and have spoken to a good many more by telephone. Generally, they seem to be people of good cheer during these contacts. Often during these exchanges, there will be a quick joke, a chortle here and there, perhaps even a pun.

So imagine my surprise in reviewing the files Vic Struber sent me to find included a handbill for a Struber descendant who’s actually a professional at laughing, or at least getting others to.

schendlinger_david_flyerWhen I emailed the flyer from Vic’s files to David, who now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, he acknowledged what an artifact it is. He guessed the flyer was about 30 years old, from the mid-1980s, when he’d moved from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles.

He’d previously given me permission to use his Facebook profile picture.

david schendlinger at mikeIt shows, among other things, that, mike in hand, he’s still up there working for laughs.

David hails from the Mendel “Max Struber line of the family. The lineage goes Mendel “Max” Struber > Annie (Struber) Schendlinger > Sidney Schendlinger > David Schendlinger. The lineage continues another two generations in that line.

I’d originally “found” David on Facebook almost four years ago, in one of my irregular searches of the common surnames in our family tree, and we’d had a few back-and-forth exchanges by Facebook and email where he was kind enough to provide me with the names and dates on his branch of the family tree.

There’s a recurrent dream in our genealogy discussions to one day have a huge family meet-up, much like the 1941 gathering in Brooklyn, where we can all meet and get to know each other as our ancestors knew each other in the shtetl.

It’s a nice dream. I don’t know if it will ever happen, which is why at this point it’s a dream. But it is astonishing to learn how, from a single collection of DNA somewhere back there in eastern Europe a couple centuries ago, we are now an incredibly diverse group of thousands of men, women, and children literally scattered all over the world.

And it’s nice to know that among us, somebody is looking after the laughter.

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Chaim “Heiman” Strober’s path to citizenship

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This is a primer in the value of primary documents in genealogy research. And it’s also a lesson in sticking to it.

Chaim “Heiman” Strober was a son of Schmeel Hirsch Strober, and a grandson of Yoinus Folic Strober. That makes him the nephew of my great-grandmother Surah Henya (Schkolnik) Strober. And except for one tiny picture from the 1940s, that’s all I knew about him.

But my cousin Kristie Weiland, who threw herself headlong into genealogy research some years ago, helped us to learn a lot more about him. Kristie went digging in the (largely unindexed) archives of the New York courts some years ago and came up with three documents that tell us much more about this ancestor. All three documents involve his path to American citizenship in the 1920s.

19210604 Strober Chaim Heiman first Declaration of IntentionThe first of the documents was filed in New York Supreme Court (which had jurisdiction over immigration matters at that time) on June 4, 1921. It is called a Declaration of Intention, and it began Heiman’s journey from a resident alien to citizenship.

Why a 44-year-old man who had lived in Brooklyn for almost two decades would decide in 1921 that he needed to suddenly become a citizen isn’t clear. Those were years when the Red scare swept America. The previous year, in a series of actions undertaken by U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, more than 500 immigrants were rounded up and tagged for deportation because of suspected Communist, Socialist, or anarchist political views. Note that the Declaration of Intention form requires the applicant to affirm that he or she is not an anarchist, bigamist or polygamist, and to swear it before God. Perhaps people who had immigrated to the U.S., as Heiman had, were worried their immigration status was in jeopardy unless they became citizens.

19251000 chaim heiman strober natrualization petitition (2)

(click to enlarge)

A little over four years later, on October 9, 1925, Heiman was back in court in Brooklyn to get his petition for naturalization. By then, control of immigration had shifted from State Court to Federal Court, and typewriters had become the standard way to file government forms. Heiman listed the names and birthdates of his five children, and we’re able to see the signatures of his witnesses, his uncle, Israel Strauber, and his brother in law, Isidor Mosberg. Israel listed his occupation as “fixtures” and Isidor listed his as “candy.” Heiman also indicated that he left Europe from Rotterdam, Holland in 1903 aboard the vessel Marion, had arrived in Philadelphia two weeks later, and had come to New York City three days after arriving. He listed his occupation as tinsmith and roofer.

He listed his wife as Ida (though she was known in the family by her Yiddish name Hudel) and gave her birthdate as June 5, 1879. Her gave her birthplace as something the clerk heard as “Gazlowitz, Austria” but which is almost certainly Jazlowiec (pronounced YAHZ’-lu-vitz), the same shtetl so many other members of this part of the family are from. He listed his own birthdate as May 3, 1877 and his place of birth as “Bucharch, Austria,” which is almost certainly Buczacz (pronounced boo-CHATCH’ in Polish, Ukrainian, and German, and bu-CHOOCH’ in Yiddish), which was the equivalent of the county seat.

19260112 chaim heiman strober oath of allegiance

(Click to enlarge.)

Three months later, Heiman’s Petition for Naturalization was granted, he took an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and became a U. S. citizen. He had 20 grandchildren, scores of great-grandchildren, and the lineage has now reached into the next generation, great-great-grandchildren.

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I was fiddling with the camera while the sun did its thing

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The tropical weather that washed over southern California last weekend drew me out to the water just before dusk. It was humid (something we seldom say in Los Angeles) and there were broken clouds (something else we seldom say here). That’s often a recipe for a pretty good sunset.

IMG_1774The view from Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey toward the west was one I hadn’t photographed before. That’s a little disingenuous. I’ve been several times to the two other basins just to the north, Basins F and G, but this was a maiden voyage on Basin H.

IMG_1780So you go to the Marina, and you get lots of boats. That’s just the way the world works. And I was content with that. It’s been at least a few weeks since the last time I took pictures of boats at sunset.

IMG_1782I moved toward the east, away from the point of the basin and alongside the Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club to see if I’d have any luck at something different than the last time I took pictures of the boats at the Marina at sunset. The shot looked a little cluttered with sailboat masts, and then it dawned on me that I’d never tried to use the obstructions in the basin so much as I’d tried to avoid them.

So I looked for something without an obstruction.

IMG_1799Now there’s one thing about sunset shooting. It’s on its own schedule, not on yours. If you want the sun, you wait for the sun. I had nowhere else to be, so I waited.

And then I framed up the obstruction.

IMG_1808I guess obstruction does have its beauty, doesn’t it?

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The next chapter begins

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I’m a week late in getting these posted, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t show pictorial proof that Rebecca is in place at UC Berkeley.

IMG_1759This is Foothill dormitory on the northeast side of the Berkeley campus. It’s about 90 seconds after the four of us—Rebecca, her mom, Chris, and I—got the bed heater over the mattress, the sheets on, and the bedspread on top.

It’s also about eight hours after a 6.0 earthquake rocked Napa, about 40 miles northeast of Berkeley.

It was an auspicious start to the day, to college, and to the new chapter in Rebecca’s life.

IMG_1760I had been through the parents’ orientation earlier in the summer, and had heard the many stories about the overwhelming emotion this moment would bring. Many of my friends, even the stoic ones like me, told me they had to use tissues when they went through this.

I had some emotions, to be sure, but none of them were of the kind likely to bring tears to my eyes. I’d wondered about this moment from Rebecca’s birth, maybe even from her conception. I’d wondered if I’d be able to convey to any kid the importance of working hard and staying focused in high school, of having high aspirations, and of figuring out a way to fulfill them. I guess I did convey those things.

Tears? Nah. I’m thrilled Rebecca is getting to live her dream, just as a lifetime ago I was able to live mine. I’m ecstatic she, alone, made the choice of where to go and what to study. I’m happiest that Rebecca is getting to be Rebecca.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

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The Vic files, part 5: What death tells us about life

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Here are some more treasures from the files Vic Struber sent me. These are the death certificates of Vic’s grandfather, Mendel “Max” Struber, and my great-grandmother, Surah Henya (Strober) Schkolnik. They were siblings.

VRS Doc 010Death certificates are treasure-troves of important information for genealogy researchers, but they can also be stores of misinformation. Note that Max’s surname is misspelled on his death certificate. It shows up, and in consistent ways, as “Struder.” That’s the kind of error that could have caused it to be lost in the files forever. Max’s father is listed as Philip. In fact, his father was Folic. It’s a simple matter of translation, but inasmuch as Yoinus Folic, or Yoinatan Folic, never came to the United States, his name was never pronounced in English.

His mother’s name is listed on the death certificate as Pesice. In fact, it was Pesha. And her maiden name is listed on Max’s death certificate as Struder, but was actually Cohen.

Max died on April 3, 1931, though the death certificate is stamped “1930.” Bureaucratic error? Probably. Mis-set date stamp? Could have been. Source of confusion for years to come? Possibly.

Max’s death was caused, according to the autopsy mentioned on the death certificate, by diabetes mellitus and a fractured rib (accidental), though what these two things may have had to do with each other isn’t made clear. The death certificate says he was 60 years old, though we suspect from other information, such as immigration documents, that he was more than a decade older than that, either 72 or 73 years old.

VRS Doc 009

Surah Henya (Strober) Schkolnik, listed on her death certificate as “Sarah Skolnick,” died three and a half years before her brother, on September 11, 1928. Her death certificate lists her as 75 years old, but we think (again based on other records, such as immigration documents) she was actually 76 or 77. The cause of her death was listed as broncho pneumonia. Her father’s name is listed as Felix, though (as with Max) it was actually Folic. Her mother is listed as “unknown,” which may have been a momentary lapse in memory by a family member at a very trying time, the immediate wake of her death. The address listed as her former residence, 796 Lenox Road in Brooklyn, was the home of her middle child, my grandfather Paul.

Genealogists call these kinds of documents “primary sources” and understand there may be discrepancies with other kinds of official documents and records. They’re vital documents in studying the history of a person or, in our case, a family, but they’re not infallible.

Still, when they reach back 80 or 90 years, they are fascinating.

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The Vic files, part 4: the Touro stamp

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In one of the files Vic Struber sent me, there was an envelope within an envelope. The outer envelope had Vic’s handwritten note that Taube (Held) Strober had posed for the picture. The inner envelope had a picture, a stamp, and a postmark—the kind of thing philatelists collect.

VRS Doc 8

The only picture is the one on the envelope, showing a woman covering her eyes while lighting the shabbat candles. This is clearly the one Vic’s note indicates Taube posed for.

I wish I could tell you how all of this came to pass, but I can’t even come close to confirming it. What I can tell you is that the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, RI, is the oldest existing synagogue in the United States. It was built in 1763, more than a decade before the country declared its independence from England. The stamp was issued, as the postmark indicates, in 1982, after decades of wrangling. The government commission that approves stamps first felt that a stamp commemorating a synagogue violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against an established government religion. The stamp’s proponents suggested that other religious buildings of historical significance in other parts of the country be similarly celebrated. Then the commissioners said the Touro Synagogue wasn’t really of architectural significance. It was easy enough for the proponents to provide documents that it, indeed, was signifcant.

But the fight over the stamp doesn’t tell us anything about the envelope, and how Taube (Held) Strober got to be on it. In fact, doing some checking, it seems she was not on the official issue of what stamp collectors call the “cover.” George Washington was on it. In fact, on various websites which show many more of the envelope covers, none even come close to looking like the one of the woman lighting the candles.

What’s included in Vic’s file isn’t a copy of the commemorative. It’s the real thing. It would have been much more difficult to alter a picture on the actual envelope than it would be on a copy.

0136This is a photo of Chaim Groinem and Taube (Held) Strober, probably taken sometime around 1910 in Brooklyn. Taube lived from about 1857 until 1940. She bore her husband, who was a roofing contractor in Brooklyn, ten children.

Groinem, as he was known in the family, was one of five children of Yoinatan Folic Strober.

20140821_YOINATAN_FOLIC_STROBER_descendants_VERTHow a woman who lived in Brooklyn got on the cover of a commemorative stamp issued more than forty years after her death for a synagogue in Newport, RI doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Maybe it’s not really her on the cover. Maybe it’s another woman who resembles her, an ancestor of a prominent family who were actually members of that shul. Perhaps one of Taube’s descendants became a driving force at the Touro Synagogue. Maybe there’s some other explanation that hasn’t yet presented itself.

Those are the maddening mysteries of genealogy.

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