Write what should not be forgotten - Isabel Allande

Month: November 2017

Life Lessons

Day 11: Looking at your family history, write down five life lessons you feel you’ve learned from your ancestors. Write an essay for the benefit of sharing with your children, grandchildren, and future descendants.

1. You are Braver than you think

Brave is not a word I would use to describe myself.  I always think I am more of a chicken.  Maybe it is getting older but I feel braver than I ever have. Maybe it is just life experiences losing my mom, watching my newborn son undergo open heart surgery, going through 9/11. None of it destroyed me, it made me bend but not break. Watching that same sweet boy grow up with his brothers has been a joy. Parenthood makes anyone braver! When my sister and I went to Europe for the first time, it was scary. We were completely out of our comfort zone – but you know what? We figured it out and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. The older I get, the less I care what others think. I know who I am – and I like it! My ancestors were incredibly brave – to leave for the promise of a better life. Sometimes you just have to take that leap.

2. This too shall pass

Sometimes cliches are truth. This phrase is always with me, always.  It has helped me through some really tough times in my life, because it is true.  It doesn’t have to be a tough time – sometimes just a regular stressful day. Things may not turn out how you want them to – but somehow they end up ok.  Just wait and see. My ancestors surely went through the hard times but they persevered and kept moving.  No matter what the situation, good or bad it will pass.

3. Strong Foundations

Strong foundations make for strong people.  It isn’t money or things, it was being raised by people who showed me what it means to be a parent, partner, family member and friend.  I believe that this has been handed down for generations.

4. Whatever you are be a good one

This one was a favorite of my dad’s.  He taught me that it really didn’t matter what you did for your living as long as you put your heart and head into it.  I would like to think he would be proud that I became a nurse – but I know that he was just as of proud me working at my first job in a library.  He supported his children in whatever they did as long as they worked hard at it.

5. You come from Hearty peasant stock – deal with it

As a kid I had a pretty active imagination and was pretty sure that my family was secretly royalty.  That somehow my ancestors had to flee their palace and in order to keep themselves safe had to hide the truth.  Please tell me I am not the only one…  Through a lot of research and DNA testing – it turns out that there is not an ounce of royalty anywhere on my family tree.  In fact I am descended from hearty peasant stock on both sides.  Turns out I am ok with it.  They may not be royalty but they were good, hardworking people. People who fought to live and raise their children, people who changed the course of their lives by making a decision to leave their homes in search of a better life and opportunities for their children.  Here’s to good hearty stock, it has served me well!

A Typical Day

Day 6: Imagine a typical day for a female ancestor. What time did she wake up, and what did she do throughout the day?


Mornings are a pretty hectic time for most of us, I can’t imagine it was much different in the early 1900’s.  What is much different are the how and why.  In 1911 my Great grandmother, Theresa Eich Pfundstein had 13 children to get up and ready for the day. Just let that one sink in for a moment.  I have 3 and lose my mind most mornings.

Theresa days were filled with hard work .  She would be up before the rest of the family to start breakfast. She would need to get the stove heated and begin to warm water for cooking and cleaning.  The Coffee would be started.  Breakfast could have been any number of things from eggs to homemade cereals – porridge, oatmeal, etc.  In 1911 her children ranged in age from 21 to a newborn.  All of them were still living at home.  With a family that large, everyone would be expected to pitch in to get the day started.  I can’t even imagine what the daily rush to get out the door would have been like – shoes, coats, lunch buckets

Once breakfast was finished and the older children were out the door, Theresa would have begun the first clean up of the day.  Dishes, dusting, floors etc.  The amount of laundry must have been impressive.  Even taking into consideration the family only owned a few outfits each.  Theresa sent her laundry out to be done. This is how my grandparents met – my grandfather’s mother was the who did the laundry.

The next part of the day would have been spent shopping for any necessary items.  Many ingredients for meals would be purchased fresh the day they were to be used.   Theresa lived in Brooklyn and had access to many different types of food.  She would have easy access to fresh meat from the butcher, fresh seafood and any seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most of the family’s food would be made from scratch, commercial items such as crackers and biscuits were just becoming readily available.  She likely cooked many German dishes that she learned to make from her own mother. Most of her shopping would have been done in her German neighborhood but living in Brooklyn they could sample food from all over the world.

Much of her day would have been taken up with cooking and cleaning as well as mending. Theresa would have prepared a main meal midday and a dinner for the entire family in the evening.  The cycle of cleaning and preparing for the next meal would continue as soon as one meal ended.

The older children helped with the younger ones and they all found ways to entertain themselves.

Raising a family and caring for a family in 1911 was hard, back breaking work.  While some aspects of it are easier today it is still a tough job.  

There are many things that we worry about today that didn’t exist then – but it works both ways.  I am especially grateful for modern medicine…and vacuums, washing machines, and crockpots!





Augusta Pfundstein 1917

Family History Magazine Writing Challenge: Imagine your ancestor had social media during their lifetime, and write a Facebook post or series of tweets describing something they’re witnessing in real-time.

In 1922 Augusta was a 21 year old woman living in the Boroughs of New York city. She was also a registered voter. What an amazing witness to history she was! She is listed as a  Democrat in a book of enrolled voters,  It made me so proud to see.

The first Presidential election she was eligible to vote in was 1924. It saw Republican Calvin Coolidge running against  Democrat John Davis.  Coolidge was already in the White House, he was Vice President when Warren Harding died in office the year before. The election probably didn’t turn out as she hoped – I know the feeling…

Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had died long before women were finally granted the right to vote.  Even though they were not alive to see their efforts rewarded they influenced generations of women to come. Susan B Anthony is buried in nearby Rochester, NY.  Every year on Election Day thousands of women visit her grave to pay tribute to the pioneer.

Here is my imagination of Augusta’s Facebook post from Election day in 1924:

Women around the country vote today! History in the making. So proud to be a part of this great nation.  Go Vote!  #susanbanthony, #elizabethcadystanton, #womenrule, #hopemyguywins

Augusta went on to live her best life and I have to believe that the brave woman who came before her, helped to influence her. She became a Nun, but didn’t fade quietly into their numbers.  Augusta (Sister Miriam Claire) got an education, more than many women of her time were able to even fathom.  She was 27 when she went into the convent. She was high school teacher and went on to become an administrator. I found her in a book that included an abstract of her dissertation that was published in 1939. Augusta Pfundstein rocked and I could not be more proud to be her relative!

City Record Supplement: Transcript of Enrollment books. Borough of Queens. (1922). New York, New York.

National Date Book


Day 7: Select a family heirloom (watch, quilt, Bible, etc.) and write a narrative about it. Where has it been? How did your ancestor acquire it, and what would it have encountered throughout the years? What important family milestones might it have witnessed?

In terms of money, the family heirloom that I am writing about is not valuable at all. In terms of helping me with my research it is absolutely priceless.

Tucked away in a dusty box in my mom’s basement was a small green book. It is maybe 4×6 in size and has seen better days, there is some discoloration to the cover of what was once a dark green.  The words National Date Book are stamped on the cover and it is bound with thread.

Inside is a simple lined notebook with the month and day at the top of each page.  The notebook belonged to my paternal grandmother, Madeline McVay McGee  or Maime as she was known.  Maime was good at keeping track of her life’s events, there is another notebook in which she lists her classmates and information about her high school graduation.  The second half of that book lists every wedding gift and card that she received.  I have always felt like Maime  and I were kindred spirits and this is just another reason.  I have always been a list maker, it helps to ground me and organize my thoughts.  I have taken to Bullet Journaling and who knows – maybe someday my ancestor may come across it.  

Like most people of her generation the notebook was used for more than one purpose.  On the top of the page under the date there are names and years written in faded ink. The writing looks a little different than the rest of the book and I think it originally belonged someone else in the family. I don’t recognize most of the names the dates are from the 1870’s to early 1900’s.

Maime kept meticulous lists of every Christmas card that she sent and received beginning in 1936 and going until 1966 (Maime died in 1967).  She even listed cards specifically sent to my father.  It is a fascinating look into her world.  There are many familiar names in the book and many more mysteries. Some of the people have addresses carefully written next to their names.  Every single time I open this book I find something new.  There are a few McVay’s listed – usually as “The Dick McVay’s”  There are one of my brick walls. It was reassuring to see them listed, they did exist and one of these days I will track them down!  Last year I found out who the “Art Hau’s” were and they unlocked many more of the names for me!  Leo McGee is in the book – he was the author of a really informative family history that I use all the time.  I was especially happy to see the “Jack McGee’s” of 703 Starin Ave, Buffalo listed.  The Hau’s helped me to unlock this branch and amazingly – cousin John McGee is now on my Christmas card list…on Starin Ave in Buffalo!

The last part of notebook and by far my very favorite part is documentation of life events that happened each year starting in 1930.  She documented the move from Warsaw to Batavia for my grandfather’s job in March of 1932 Her mother had a stroke and was living with them when they moved.  She says:  “Mother was still an invalid – stayed upstairs most of the time. It was a bitter cold day”  By 1934 my great grandmother was recovered enough to move to New York City to live with her son, Madeline’s brother Wayne. Maime mentions going to visit them in NY and that my Grandfather tried to find work in a bank.  She also mentions a trip to Chicago for the World’s Fair in 1934.

She records heart breaking things very matter of factly.  Maime records the death of her sister in law Nora McGee Pierce in 1932. She wrote: Nora very sick all summer, died September 15, 1932. This had to be very hard on both of my grandparents.  Nora was Norm’s only surviving sibling and they were close. The saddest entry is from 1934: “Very sick all winter. Mother came home from New York February 22. I went right to bed for two weeks. Then went to the hospital. Our baby was born March 6.”  Her sweet son William was born and died on the same day.  

She talks about my dad a lot  – his various illnesses and how he missed quite a bit of school in his first year.  Maime proudly records various professional achievements of my Grandfather’s. It is in these little details where I feel connected. This tiny book has given me a vivid glimpse into her life, details that I would never have known without her words. Its pages span the majority of her adult life. It records her life as a young mother, a widow, and a grandmother. It is concise and factual. It lovely to watch through the years as my mother’s parents and siblings begin to show up in her Christmas card lists.

This small book isn’t valuable, it isn’t beautiful, it probably never travelled outside of Batavia, NY.  It pages though are incredible, they hold a family history of 34 years a few lines at a time. In the Christmas card lists you can follow couples having children and of those children growing up and starting families of their own. Wedding dates carefully recorded in the back section by year, addresses changing through the years. The book chronicles couples year after year until one year only one name is written.

I love my technology but there is something to be said for handwritten history.  Imagining my Grandmother sitting at her desk – a desk that I still use just makes me happy.  Some of the entries are written in pencil and are very faded, some are written in pen and are a little easier to read.  For me it is a wonderful piece of history and is something I am truly grateful for.

The Route

Family Tree Magazine is again running a writing challenge for the month of November and I am participating again this year. Here is my first piece.

Imagine a route your ancestor took frequently in his or her daily life. Describe that route in detail.

This one had to roll around in my head for a while before the lightbulb went off.  Once it did, I couldn’t wait to write about it.  It is always hard to choose just one ancestor to write about.  While I have been to many areas where ancestors came from, it would be hard to describe in much detail.  

Bank street is where I grew up, it is in the heart of my hometown Batavia, NY, right off of Main St.  The cool thing is that it was a very familiar route for my Grandfather’s as well.

My Grandpa Marshall moved from Brooklyn with his wife and young family to work as a tool and die maker in the 1920’s.  They lived at 234 Bank St in a house built on former farmland. It was built by the company he worked for, Doehler Jarvis. My mom talked about how when she was young (in the 1930’s) the house across the street had horses in a backyard barn.  He lived there until his death in 1965.  It is a solid 2 story house with an attic that doubled as an extra bedroom in the summer time. Most of the houses in the immediate area has the same floor plan. He and my grandmother raised 5 children in that house. Grandpa Marshall would have travelled south down Bank st to Main st and then on to Evans st where Doehler stood.  

Just a block on Norris Ave. away lived my paternal Grandparents, Norm and Maime McGee.  They moved to Batavia from Warsaw in the 1930’s. Norm took a job at the Genesee Trust Bank (which later became M&T Bank).  The bank was located at the corner of Bank and Main St.  Norm would have also made his way south down Bank St every day to go to work.  

At the North end of the street is a baseball stadium built in 1939. Today it houses the New York Penn League, Batavia Muckdogs.  Both of my Grandfather’s were baseball fans and likely enjoyed walking down to the stadium on a warm summer night in the 1940’s and 50’s just as much I did in the 1980’s-90’s. A warm summer night at a baseball game is not only uniquely American but it is timeless. There was a small grocery also at the north end of the block – that place could have an article of its own!

Both of my Grandfather’s would have passed the house where eventually my family would live. My parents were married in 1954 and they moved into an apartment on Bank St  They lived in the apartment for a couple of years before moving across the street to our family home at 134 Bank St.  

Our block of Bank st was mostly residential but includes some commercial property as you move toward Main St.  There were many large old homes on the street that I passed daily coming home from school – these are the same houses my grandfather’s saw on their way to and from work.  Over the years some of the houses remained intact but many more were broken into multi-family homes.  There was also more of a multi-cultural element at the south end of the street as well.  

The house next door to mine was owned by 2 sisters when I was born – their family had lived there for decades.  My Grandfather’s would have passed the stately gray house with its graceful front porch with large white pillars, the beautiful glass entrance way and the elegant interior that featured both a front staircase as a kitchen staircase.  The large two story barn in the back was was largely unchanged in both my grandfather’s time and my own.

Tucked away 3 doors down from 134 Bank is a small Jewish Temple that was established in 1939.  To this day many people in Batavia don’t even know it is there!  I grew up Catholic, went to a Catholic school, my entire family was Catholic, my mother worked at the Catholic hospital (on Bank St).  Almost everyone I knew was Catholic – you can imagine my fascination at the idea of a Jewish Temple just a few doors down!  I would have to think it had my Grandfather’s attention as they went by as well.  

Continuing south toward Main St is 123 Bank St. In 1883 an infamous murder occurred.  The owner of the house – who was a popular business owner, suspected his wife of being unfaithful.  He set a trap for his wife and when her lover arrived the man shot him to death.  He was later acquitted of the murder. It always gave me the chills to walk by that house.

The next block down featured one of the two hospitals in town – St. Jeromes. Established in 1917,  St Jerome was run by the Sisters of Mercy until it merged with the other hospital in Batavia in the 1990’s.  St Jerome’s was also a familiar part of the neighborhood for both my Grandfather’s and myself.  The hospital is located just a stone’s throw from the Genesee Trust Bank. My Grandma McGee was involved with the ladies guild, the hospital employed my mother and my Uncle Emil. Many members of both families were born and died there.  Today I am employed by the hospital and have occasion to visit the Jerome site often.  Even though it looks nothing like it once did – everytime I walk through the doors I can see all as it once was.

As a child I knew every bump and crack in the sidewalks on that street.  I could name practically every family that lived in every house along the way.  Many of the people that lived near Grandpa Marshall worked at Doehler and many had also moved from Brooklyn.  He would have known most of the people in the neighborhood also.  Grandpa McGee was the bank President and was also involved in the local community and would have known the neighborhood well.

I could probably write an entire book about this unusual street that was such an important part of  my life and my Grandfather’s lives.  Single family homes and older homes turned into apartments, the Temple. I can’t speak for my Grandfather’s time but in my childhood it was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone and looked out for each other.  There were 2 large group homes for disabled adults on the street and no one thought anything of it.  There were no protests or petitions,we just accepted them as part of our neighborhood.  We would often see the residents walking past the house on the way to small shop on the end of the block.

Bank St has seen better days and watching its slow decline makes me sad.  Both of my grandfather’s died before I was born. Even though I didn’t know them,  I am so proud to have this street in common with them. It is sort of comforting to think that that we shared this route as part of our daily lives.


I am  sucker for a good infographic – I mean who isn’t? …no, just me?  Oh well, I am sharing a fun thing  that I came across today.  This was made by and it used my family tree.  Check out the average age of marriage – 28?!  Also this says most of us were born on Sundays and our average age of death is really young – yikes!

It is just a fun quick way to look at the family tree, of course it is always changing and evolving. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!



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