Heraldry and Coats of Arms can aid your genealogy search

John Lehman found my blog and asked me to share his expertise on Coats of Arms and Heraldry with you. Since I knew little about the subject, my curiosity was piqued. John’s Coat of Arms database website has encyclopedic information on this family coat of armstopic. While he “only” has 9,500 arms thus far, he intends to add hundreds of thousands over the years from all areas of Europe and he hopes to serve as the world’s largest heraldry database. My questions to him were why would a genealogist want to search for a “COA” and what info does it give us about one’s ancestors?

His answer:
“I would say that it gives them some clues about their family history. The symbols on the arms have meanings, many of which have been lost to history, but some of which we can still make an educated guess. For example, a Moor’s head in the arms may indicate that their ancestors were victorious in the Crusades. Another example would be a fret or lattice, which may mean the family was involved in the fishing industry (the symbol may signify a net). Sweeping meanings are controversial though, and some think them to be an invention of the Romantic era, so they must be taken with a grain of salt.

I would also say that some arms do come with biographical notes that the genealogist/herald wrote down. Such information may be helpful to those doing research. For example here is one of the notes Burke recorded for the surname Irvine: ‘(Lowtherstown, co. Fermanagh, bart., extinct 1690; confirmed by Erskine, Lord Lyon, 1673, to Lieut.-Col. Gerrard Irvine, of Castlefartagh, second son of Christopher Irvine, Esq., of Castle Irvine, who was created a bart. 1677). Motto—Dum memor ipse mei. (Killadeas, co. Fermanagh; descended from John Irvine, d. 1716, brother of Christopher Irvine, Esq., of Castle Irvine).'”

On his site, he offers a wealth of information. Happy hunting.

Posted in research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Organizing your genealogy documents & family tree

I constantly come across scraps of paper on which I scribbled notes — Irv’s Social Security number, the cemetery where Fern is buried, Goldie’s husband married her sister after she died — either something I discovered online or something a cousin told me during a lengthy phone call. I often find myself (like many of you) talking on the phone while sitting in front of my computer. Ideally,  I’d like to annotate my digital family tree with all these tidbits while I’m on the phone gathering the info, but invariably, it’s coming at me faster than I can arrange it on screen, so I grab a pad of paper and jot it down.  Would that I were efficient enough to immediately enter it on my tree once the conversation ended, but more often that not, the paper joins a pile of others. Still, I love to be able to see everything at a glance. For that reason, I developed (with the help of my son who went on to graduate from MIT) my own family tree system.

My tree is digitized, and like an excel spreadsheet it is expandable and endless. Each person’s name is in a rectangle, arranged directly below their parents and beside their siblings. Each box contains their dates, locations, spouse info and anecdotes (e.g. he was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, was a sheep rancher in Marin County). Their box is enlarged as more info is added, and everyone else’s boxes move over to accommodate the enlarged box. I have far too many people on my tree to remember all the nuances, so it’s right there all in one place, on my screen. Scroll to the right, scroll down…no need to leave my computer to go fetch a hard copy binder on a bookshelf on another floor of my house.


Many of the documents I find online are downloaded and kept in electronic folders, family by family. Sometimes on the tree I will note where my info came from , “see 1900 census in digital file,” in case I need to square it with info from a new source.  How many times does someone’s birth year differ on their marriage license and their death certificate? I want to know which one gave me which date. (Usually the info provided by the person himself, closer to the event in question, is more reliable.  In other words, Bill can’t say when/where Bill was born if he is the decedent. Ninety years later, when Bill dies, his 70 year old son may not know if he was born in Berlin, NJ or Voorhees.  But when Bill was 20, and he listed his date of birth on his marriage license, he was very likely to give his own info correctly.)

Within the family folder I have such documents as:

  • birth certificate
  • ship manifest
  • marriage license
  • wedding photo, family portrait, baby picture, picture of their home
  • naturalization papers
  • census reports
  • newspaper clipping
  • obituary

I label each file with the surname, given name, year, document type, where found. Windows tends to automatically alphabetize those files for me, within the folder.

Would you like me to create such a family tree for you?

Posted in research | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

mtDNA as a tool in genealogical research

Back in 2008, my cousin was way ahead of the curve. He was a participant in National Geographic’s Genographic Project before the rest of us were aware of what a haplogroup was.  He was so excited to get his results that he sent them to me.  Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sounded like Greek to me at the time, so I put the results aside….until now!

For the uninitiated, mtDNA traces back through the mother’s mother’s mother…and so on…the maternal lineage.

Now that I have done my own and my late father’s y-DNA, I have been frustrated by the ability to actually connect my family tree to those who come up as matches in Family Tree DNA or ancestry.com’s DNA.  Mitosearch.org was mentioned in the literature that my cousin received with his results from Genographic, so I checked out their site.  Unfortunately, my cousin is now deceased, but since he and I shared the same great-grandmother, I entered his data into their database and found it quite simple to contact the matches through their system.  Afterall, if they’re related to his great-granny, they’re also related to me! My mtDNA would lead me to my mother’s mother’s mother, not my mother’s father’s mother…a different great-grandma, entirely.

I thought the information Genographic provided was very interesting, particularly if you, too, are in Haplogroup K, so I am sharing it here, with some redactions….

If you have had any success with tracking down relatives through DNA research, please comment!  Others will want to know.

Your Branch on the Human Family Tree
Your DNA results identify you as belonging to a specific branch of the human family tree called haplogroup K.
Some in this lineage are also part of the following subgroups: K1a, K1a4a1, K1a9.
The map [not provided here] shows the direction that your maternal ancestors took as they set out from their original homeland in East Africa. While humans did travel many different paths during a journey that took tens of thousands of years, the lines above represent the dominant trends in this migration. Over time, the descendants of your ancestors ultimately made it into eastern and central Europe, where most members of your haplogroup are found today. But before we can take you back in time and tell their stories, we must
first understand how modern science makes this analysis possible.

How DNA Can Help
The string of 569 letters … is your mitochondrial sequence, with the letters A, C, T, and G representing
the four nucleotides — the chemical building blocks of lifethat make up your DNA. The numbers … refer to the positions in your sequence where informative mutations have occurred in your ancestors, and tell us a great deal about the history of your genetic lineage.

Here’s how it works. Every once in a while a mutation, a random, natural (and usually harmless) change occurs in the sequence of your mitochondrial DNA. Think of it as a spelling mistake: one of the “letters” in your sequence may change from a C to a T, or from an A to a G.

After one of these mutations occurs in a particular woman, she then passes it on to her daughters, and her
daughters’ daughters, and so on. (Mothers also pass on their mitochondrial DNA to their sons, but the sons in turn do not pass it on.) Geneticists use these markers from people all over the world to construct one giant mitochondrial family tree. As you can imagine, the tree is very complex, but scientists can now determine both the age and geographic spread of each branch to reconstruct the prehistoric movements of our ancestors.
By looking at the mutations that you carry, we can trace your lineage, ancestor by ancestor, to reveal the path they traveled as they moved out of Africa.

Our story begins with your earliest ancestor. Who was she, where did she live, and what is her story?

Your Ancestral Journey: What We Know Now
We will now take you back through the stories of your distant ancestors and show how the movements of their
descendants gave rise to your mitochondrial lineage.
Each segment on the map [not shown] represents the migratory path of successive groups that eventually coalesced to form your branch of the tree. We start with your oldest ancestor, “Eve,” and walk forward to more recent times, showing at each step the line of your ancestors who lived up to that point.

Mitochondrial Eve: The Mother of Us All
Ancestral Line: “Mitochondrial Eve”
Our story begins in Africa sometime between 150,000 and 170,000 years ago, with a woman whom anthropologists have nicknamed “Mitochondrial Eve.” She was awarded this mythic epithet in 1987 when population geneticists discovered that all people alive on the planet today can trace their maternal lineage back to her.

But Mitochondrial Eve was not the first female human. Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and the first hominids characterized by their unique bipedal stature appeared nearly two million years before that.Though Homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years, about 150,000 to 170,000 years ago, a woman was born from whom we are all descended. This happened 30,000 years after Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. Eventually, for any number of reasons, all of the other lineages of people went extinct, and “Mitochondrial Eve” as we call her, was the only female who had descendants that are now living in the present day. We can all be traced
back to that one woman, who lived about 170,000 years ago.

Which begs the question, “So why Eve?” Simply put, Eve was a survivor. A maternal line can become extinct for a number of reasons. A woman may not have
children, or she may bear only sons (who do not pass her mtDNA to the next generation). She may fall victim to a catastrophic event such as a volcanic eruption, flood, or famine, all of which have plagued humans since the dawn of our species. None of these extinction events happened to Eve’s line. It may have been simple luck, or it may have been something much more. It was around this same time that modern humans’ intellectual capacity underwent what author Jared Diamond coined the Great Leap Forward. Many anthropologists believe that the emergence of language gave us a huge advantage over other early human species. Improved tools and weapons, the ability to plan ahead and cooperate with one another, and an increased capacity to exploit resources in ways we hadn’t been
able to earlier, all allowed modern humans to rapidly migrate to new territories, exploit new resources, and
outcompete and replace other hominids, such as the Neandertals. It is difficult to pinpoint the chain of events that led to Eve’s unique success, but we can say with certainty that all of us trace our maternal lineage back to this one woman.

The L Haplogroups: The Deepest Branches
Ancestral line: “Eve” > L1/L0
Mitochondrial Eve represents the root of the human family tree. Her descendents, moving around within Africa, eventually split into two distinct groups, characterized by a different set of mutations their members carry. These groups are referred to as L0 and L1, and these individuals have the most divergent genetic sequences of anybody alive today, meaning they represent the deepest branches of the mitochondrial tree. Importantly, current genetic data indicates that indigenous people belonging to these groups are found exclusively in Africa. This means that, because all humans have a common female ancestor, “Eve,” and because the genetic data shows that Africans are the oldest groups on the planet, we know our species originated there. Haplogroups L1 and L0 likely originated in East Africa and then spread throughout the rest of the continent. Today, these lineages are found at highest frequencies in Africa’s indigenous populations, the hunter-gatherer groups who have maintained their ancestors’ culture, language, and customs for thousands of years. At some point, after these two groups had coexisted in Africa for a few thousand years, something important happened. The mitochondrial sequence of a woman in one of these groups, L1, mutated. A letter in her DNA changed, and because many of her descendants have survived to the present, this change has become a window into the past. The descendants of this woman, characterized by this signpost mutation, went on to form their own group, called L2. Because the ancestor of L2 was herself a member of L1, we can say something about the emergence of these important groups: Eve begat L1, and L1 begat L2. Now we’re starting to move down your
ancestral line.

Haplogroup L2: West Africa
Ancestral line: “Eve” > L1/L0 > L2
L2 individuals are found in sub-Saharan Africa, and like their L1 predecessors, they also live in Central Africa and as far south as South Africa. But whereas L1/L0 individuals remained predominantly in eastern and southern Africa, your ancestors broke off into a different direction. L2 individuals are most predominant in West Africa, where they constitute the majority of female lineages. And because L2 individuals are found at high frequencies and widely distributed along western Africa, they represent one of the predominant lineages in African-Americans. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pinpoint where a specific L2 lineage might have arisen. For an African-American who is L2 the likely result of West Africans being brought to America during the slave trade it is difficult to say with certainty exactly where in Africa that lineage arose. Fortunately, collaborative sampling with indigenous groups is currently underway to help learn more about these types of questions and to possibly bridge the gap that was created during those transatlantic voyages hundreds of
years ago.

Haplogroup L3: Out of Africa
Ancestral line: “Eve” > L1/L0 > L2 > L3
Your next signpost ancestor is the woman whose birth around 80,000 years ago began haplogroup L3. It is a similar story: an individual in L2 underwent a mutation to her mitochondrial DNA, which was passed onto her children. The children were successful, and their descendants ultimately broke away from the L2 clan, eventually separating into a new group called L3. You can see above that this has revealed another step in your ancestral line. While L3 individuals are found all over Africa, including the southern reaches of sub-Sahara, L3 is important for its movements north. You can follow this movement of the map above, seeing first the expansions of L1/L0, then L2, and followed by the northward migration of L3. Your L3 ancestors were significant because they are the first modern humans to have left Africa, representing the deepest branches of the tree found outside of that continent.

Why would humans have first ventured out of the familiar African hunting grounds and into unexplored lands? It is likely that a fluctuation in climate may have provided the impetus for your ancestors’ exodus out of Africa. The African Ice Age was characterized by drought rather than by cold. Around 50,000 years ago the ice sheets of northern Europe began to melt, introducing a period of warmer temperatures and moister climate in Africa. Parts of the inhospitable Sahara briefly became habitable. As the drought-ridden desert changed to savanna, the animals your ancestors hunted expanded their range and began moving through the newly emerging green corridor of grasslands. Your nomadic ancestors followed the good weather and plentiful game northward across this Saharan Gateway, although the exact route they followed remains to be determined. Today, L3 individuals are found at high frequencies in populations across North Africa. From there, members of this group went in a few different directions. Some lineages within L3 testify to a distinct expansion event in the mid-Holocene that headed south, and are predominant in many Bantu groups found all over Africa. One group of individuals headed west and is primarily restricted to Atlantic western Africa, including the islands of Cabo Verde.
Other L3 individuals, your ancestors, kept moving northward, eventually leaving the African continent completely. These people currently make up around ten percent of the Middle Eastern population, and gave rise to two important haplogroups that went on to populate the rest of the world.

Haplogroup N: The Incubation Period
Ancestral line: “Eve” > L1/L0 > L2 > L3 > N
Your next signpost ancestor is the woman whose descendants formed haplogroup N. Haplogroup N comprises one of two groups that were created by the descendants of L3.

The first of these groups, M, was the result of the first great wave of migration of modern humans to leave Africa. These people likely left the continent across the Horn of Africa near Ethiopia, and their descendants followed a coastal route eastward, eventually making it all the way to Australia and Polynesia.

The second great wave, also of L3 individuals, moved north rather than east and left the African continent across the Sinai Peninsula, in present-day Egypt. Also faced with the harsh desert conditions of the Sahara, these people likely followed the Nile basin, which would have proved a reliable water and food supply in spite of the surrounding desert and its frequent sandstorms.
Descendants of these migrants eventually formed haplogroup N. Early members of this group lived in the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia, where they likely coexisted for a time with other hominids such as Neandertals. Excavations in Israel’s Kebara Cave (Mount Carmel) have unearthed Neandertal skeletons as recent as 60,000 years old, indicating that there was both geographic and temporal overlap of these two hominids. The ancient members of haplogroup N spawned many sublineages, which went on to populate much of the rest of the globe. They are found throughout Asia, Europe, India, and the Americas.

Haplogroup R: Spreading Out
Ancestral line: “Eve” > L1/L0 > L2 > L3 > N > R
After several thousand years in the Near East,  individuals belonging to a new group called haplogroup R began to move out and explore the surrounding areas. Some moved south, migrating back into northern Africa. Others went west across Anatolia (present-day Turkey) and north across the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia and southern Russia. Still others headed east into the Middle East, and on to Central Asia. All of these individuals had one thing in common: they shared a female ancestor from the N clan, a recent descendant of the migration out of Africa.

The story of haplogroup R is complicated, however, because these individuals can be found almost everywhere, and because their origin is quite ancient. In fact, the ancestor of haplogroup R lived relatively soon after humans moved out of Africa during the second wave, and her descendants undertook many of the same migrations as her own group, N.

Because the two groups lived side by side for thousands of years, it is likely that the migrations radiating out from the Near East comprised individuals from both of these groups. They simply moved together, bringing their N and R lineages to the same places around the same times. The tapestry of genetic lines became quickly entangled, and geneticists are currently working to unravel the different stories of haplogroups N and R, since they are found in many of the same far-reaching places.

Haplogroup K: Your Branch on the Tree
Ancestral line: “Eve” > L1/L0 > L2 > L3 > N > R > K
We finally arrive at your own clan, a group of individuals who descend from a woman in the R branch of the tree. Because of the great genetic diversity found in haplogroup K, it is likely that she lived around 50,000 years ago. Interestingly, her descendants gave rise to several different subgroups, some of which exhibit very specific geographic homelands. The very old age of these subgroups has led to a wide distribution; today they harbor specific European, northern African, and Indian components, and are found in Arabia, the northern Caucasus Mountains, and throughout the Near East.
While some members of your haplogroup headed north into Scandinavia, or south into North Africa, most members of your haplogroup K stem from a group of individuals who moved northward out of the Near East. These women crossed the rugged Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia, and moved on to the steppes of the Black Sea.

Interestingly, your haplogroup is also very significant because some specific lineages within this group constitute three of the four major Ashkenazi Jewish founding lineages. In fact, around one third of all Ashkenazi Jews trace their mitochondrial lineage back to one of four women, three of which lie within haplogroup K. Haplogroup K is found in 30 percent of Ashkenazi samples and in 6 to 7 percent of non-Jewish Europeans. While this lineage is found at a smaller frequency in non-Ashkenazi Jews, the specific three K lineages that helped found the Ashkenazi population are seldom found in other populations. It is therefore likely the case that individuals bearing one of these three lineages are Ashkenazi. However,individuals within haplogroup K that do not bear one of these three lineages are unlikely to have an Ashkenazi background.

The term “Ashkenazi” refers to Jews of mainly central and eastern European ancestry. Most historical records
indicate that the founding of Ashkenazi Jewry took place in the Rhine Basin where it subsequently underwent vast population expansions. In more recent times, the Ashkenazi population was estimated at approximately 25,000 individuals around 1300 A.D., whereas that number had increased to about 8,500,000 individuals by the turn of the twentieth century.

Around half of all Ashkenazi Jews trace their mitochondrial lineage back to one of four women, and your haplogroup K represents a lineage that gave rise to three of them. While this lineage is found at a smaller frequency in non-Ashkenazi Jews, the three K lineages that helped found the Ashkenazi population are seldom found in other populations. While virtually absent in Europeans, they appear at frequencies of three percent or higher in groups from the Levant, Arabia, and Egypt. This indicates a strong genetic role in the Ashkenazi founder event, which likely occurred in the Near East.

Today, K has given rise to three of the four most common haplogroups in Ashkenazi Jews and is currently shared by over 3,000,000 people.

Anthropology vs. Genealogy
DNA markers require a long time to become informative. While mutations occur in every generation, it requires at least hundreds normally thousandsof years for these markers to become windows back into the past, signposts on the human tree. Still, our own genetic sequences often reveal that we fall within a particular sub-branch, a smaller, more recent branch on the tree.
While it may be difficult to say anything about the history of these sub-groups, they do reveal other people who are more closely related to us. It is a useful way to help bridge the anthropology of population genetics with the genealogy to which we are all accustomed. One of the ways you can bridge this gap is to compare your own genetic lineage to those of people living all over the world. Mitosearch.org is a database that allows you to compare both your genetic sequence as well as your surname to those of thousands of people who have already joined the database. This type of search is a valuable way of inferring population events that have occurred in more recent times (i.e., the past few hundred years).

Looking Forward (Into the Past): Where Do We Go From Here?
Although the arrow of your haplogroup currently ends in Northern Europe and Scandinavia, this isn’t the end of the journey for haplogroup K. This is where the genetic clues get murky and your DNA trail goes cold. Your initial results shown here are based upon the best information available todaybut this is just the beginning.

A fundamental goal of the Genographic Project is to extend these arrows further toward the present day. To do this, Genographic has brought together ten renowned scientists and their teams from all over the world to study questions vital to our understanding of human history. By working together with indigenous peoples around the globe, we are learning more about these ancient migrations.

Help Us Find More Clues!
But there is another way that we will learn more about the past. By contributing your own results to the project, you will be allowed to participate anonymously in this ongoing research effort. This is important because it may contribute a great deal to our understanding of more recent human migrations. ..Still, our own genetic sequences often reveal that we fall within a particular sub-branch, a smaller, more recent
branch on the tree.

Posted in research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dogs have family trees, too

I’ve been busy writing a book about the zany life of my late mother (stay tuned!)  In her papers I found a great deal of information about our dogs, and realized pedigreed dogs have family trees, too.

Every time an American Kennel Club registered sire is mated with a registered dam and a litter is whelped, those puppies are registered, too.  Unfortunately, I have the same issue with the way the AKC displays a family tree as I do with most commercially available family tree formats (for people):  you can’t see siblings.   That is, from this tree, you cannot tell if Duan had brothers or sisters, and if so, how many lived.  (That’s why I create my own trees.)

duan's pedigree

This particular pedigree doesn’t show in-breeding, which is not uncommon in show dogs (or race horses, for that matter).  A female can be bred with her father or grandfather to keep some of the high quality traits.

Unfortunately in the dog world, infant mortality rates are quite high, but it would be useful to know if a particular bitch has a good track record of turning out healthy pups.

Maybe someday the AKC will organize these online, as ancestry.com has done for people.  Since I happen to know that this dog, Messieur Duan Alt, sired many litters, his progeny would be able to go back 5 generations just from having this page alone.  But, you see my point…if he had brothers or sisters, we’d have to jump through more hoops (not impossible) to find them.

Posted in research | 4 Comments

Archdiocese of New York (no Brooklyn! no Queens!)

Prior to 1808 when it was formed, the New York Archdiocese was part of Maryland.  Go figure!

Today, however,  records are usually found locally.  According to their website, while there is no central filing system in the Archdiocese of New York, each individual parish keeps its own records.

Of particular interest to genealogists are the sacramental records, which include Baptismal records, Marriage records, Confirmation records, first Holy Communion records and Death records.  Ideally, these records are updated as events occur, but the latter 3 types offer the least help because they are usually not well-maintained.    The church in which a person is baptized becomes “the church of origin” and future records should go to that church, regardless of the parish where a marriage or death or adoption would take place.

Note, that when a church closes or merges, its records move.  Take, for example, the case of St. Gabriel (on E. 37th Street in Manhattan) which opened in 1859 and closed 80 years later, in 1939. Initially, the records moved to St. Stephen (E. 28th Street).  But, when St. Stephen merged in 1989 with Our Lady of the Scapular, the St. Gabriel records moved again, to the church which is now the Church of Our Lady of the Scapular-St. Stephen.  It has the records from both of those parishes, as well as St. Gabriel and Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Surprisingly, not all five boroughs of New York City are part of the Archdiocese of New York.  (We’ll take) Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island….along with Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester Counties.

Posted in research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

American Brilliant Cut Glass

When someone in your family dies, dealing with the emotions is one thing. Dealing with the “stuff” they leave behind is quite another. My mother left so much that I actually have material for a full-blown book. Stay tuned…..

Mother always had her grandmother’s WWI-era cut glass (which is really “crystal” because the lead content makes it such) on display in her contemporary-style home.  I always thought it was hideous and hoped I’d never have to own it myself.  That was, until I finally did come to own it.  After Mother died, I found a treasure trove of objects tucked away in the back of a closet.  These were things even she chose not to display,  Now I was faced with having to decide what to do with a sizable collection that I frankly didn’t have space for.  That’s when I decided to learn more about this lost art and the people who made it over 100 years ago.


Corset Shaped American Brilliant Cut Glass c. 1916

Many of my readers are doing genealogy research of their own, so I thought it might be useful to share some of the occupations I learned about in the course of my research.  (Census reports provide the job descriptions of people, often unrecognizable in today’s lingo.)

Leaded crystal was formed by melting silica, potash, lead oxide (and perhaps other ingredients) in a ‘monkey pot’, or furnace, until the temperature reached 2400 degrees Fahrenheit.  The red hot, molten glass (called “metal”) was then ready to be worked. Four workmen were required to work each glass pot.

  • the “gatherer”, who collected a ball of molten glass (called the “gather”) on the end of his blowpipe, a hollow tube about four feed long. He blew air into it, let it cool a few hundred degrees, and then rolled it on a metal slab called the ‘marver” to permit the glass to consolidate.
  •  the “gaffer”, who was seated in an armchair, blew the “gather” into the desired shape.
  •  the “servitor”, assistant to the gaffer, reheated the glass when it cooled too much, and helped the gaffer add stems, feet, handles, or other parts to the piece, as required to finish it.
  • an apprentice called the “carry in boy”, who lifted the finished item with pinchers and carried it to the “lehr”, or annealing oven, where the piece was gradually cooled to room temperature.

After as long as 9 days in the lehr, the “metal” or “blank” was nothing more than a smooth, shaped piece of leaded crystal, completely undecorated, which was now ready for the next team of craftsmen.

  • the designer, who marked the piece with outlines of the decoration.
  • the “rougher”, who began the cutting by holding the blank against a rapidly moving, beveled, metal wheel, which was constantly moistened and cooled by a fine stream of wet sand dripping from an overhanging funnel. He followed the designer’s marks, making incisions by pushing the glass down against the wheel. He was blind to the contact of the wheel with the glass, except for what he could see through the glass – looking from inside to outside. He learned to judge the dept of the cut simply by the sound of the wheel and the “feel” of the piece in his hand.
  • the “smoother”, who went back over all the rough cuts with stone wheels called “craighleiths.” He also initially cut some of the small lines on the motifs, as indicated by the design.
  • the “polisher”, who finished the piece by polishing each cut with wooden wheels made from willow, cherry or other softwoods. Rottenstone or pumice was used with the polishing wheels to give a lustrous appearance to the cut, leaving no imperfections on the gleaming surfaces.

Having learned all this gave me a new appreciation for this art form, which I will proudly treasure as family heirlooms to be displayed in my own home.

Posted in research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Aboard the Yankee (now in Red Hook)

Once in a while, we bloggers come across someone else’s blog which interests us.  Such was the case with me and fellow New Yorker, Keith Muchowski, an academic librarian at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn.  Muchowski volunteers for the National Park Service, where he has been associated with divisions at Ellis Island and at Governors Island National Monument. He blogs at The Strawfoot.

In July of 2012 Keith wrote about the only remaining Ellis Island ferry boat, now named Yankee Ferry, which had been docked in Hoboken, NJ.  Last month, after its recent move, Keith once again blogged about the Yankee in Red Hook, Brooklyn and the love that’s been put into it by Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs of pottery fame.

I wanted to comment, but I had missed the boat (no pun intended?); Keith had already closed down commenting.  So, I emailed him to say I, too, had been aboard the “splendiforous” vessel.  With that, Keith invited me to write a guest spot on his blog.  Thanks for asking, Keith!  I’m flattered. You can read it here:  http://thestrawfoot.com/2013/09/04/aboard-the-yankee/

I’ve invited him, in turn, to write a guest entry for my readers….so, stay tuned!

Posted in research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Birth certificate of a royal

If you have royalty in your bloodline, this is what you’re liable to see on birth documents:

Posted in research | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Antwerp – New York on the Red Star Line

Between 1873 and 1934, 2.6 million people left the port of Antwerp, Belgium on Red Star Line ships, bound for Canada, Philadelphia and New York.  (1 million of them were Jewish, including Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Irving Berlin and my grandmother.)  Last night I had the opportunity to hear a talk on the artist, Eugeen Van Mieghem, who grew up and spent his life in the shadows of the docks from where these ships departed.  EVM (that’s how he signed some of his work if you’re ever lucky enough to spot it at auction) sketched and painted the steerage class emigres, en route from distant European shtetls, and the elegant folk from the cities who would travel first class.  Erwin Joos, curator of the Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum in Antwerp, explained that most of EVM’s subjects were poor, too poor to buy or commission works of art.  But he kept on drawing….hundreds of drawings that depict what the life was like during the period between leaving the shtetl and landing on the Lower East Side.

This fall will see the opening of the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp. Their website explains:

The Red Star Line Museum tells many stories.

It is an Antwerp story, about the city and its port, about the new and the old Eilandje District, about Antwerp as the last stop on a journey to happiness and a better life.

It is a Belgian story about people who embarked on the Red Star Line ships, to escape poverty, but also driven by the pursuit of adventure. About people who travelled to America full of expectation, often in search of a new and better life.

It is a European story, about how people from all over Europe came to Antwerp and embarked on a journey to a new life.

It is an American story about the ancestors of Americans, their roots and their origins.
The Red Star Line is also a universal story about dreams of a better life, about saying goodbye, about discovering the unknown and about the search for a new home.

And when you visit, keep an eye out for my grandma’s portrait (although it’s not by EVM).

Posted in research | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Delmonico’s to Woolworth’s

Don’t you love to see charming old menus and what was served way back when?  Pigeon with peas, anyone? Or the more plebeian American Cheese sandwich?  May I take your order, please?

Posted in research | Tagged , | 1 Comment