Monday, February 19, 2018

52 Ancestors - Week #8 - Heirlooms - Keeping Track of the Important Stuff - Create an Inventory!

My mom used to say she wasn't hoarding stuff, she was "holding it" for us. She referred to herself as the manager of the family "museum." Since her passing, I have inherited that role. I've tried to be diligent about tracking who has what and where our treasured items are.

A situation this past week has shown me that I've slipped up a bit. On February 11th, my brother, Dean, proposed to his long-time girlfriend. Yay! Welcome to the family, Shellye! To tell the truth, she's been part of the family for a while now. My first thought was to offer her the ring my mother wore when she married Dean's dad (To clarify: Dean is my half-brother.) It's not really her style but I wanted to make the gesture. After taking a photo of the ring, I started to wonder where a few of Mom's other jewelry pieces went. As the executrix of my mom's estate, I was responsible for inventorying and disseminating the items. So, it was concerning to me that I couldn't remember who received my grandmother's aquamarine ring. There was no will (more about that next week!) so we five kids pretty much just got together and chose what we wanted for ourselves and our children.

A flurry of texts ensued:


Then a couple of phone calls. Which were fun, because I got to "blab" about Dean and Shellye's good news.

And then one more text:

Apparently, the ring went to my younger daughter, Meghan. And, she obviously knows me so well!

You may be thinking that I'm just totally disorganized and let things go "willy-nilly" without recording where they settled. Not necessarily the case! I'm usually pretty meticulous about recording where our important items reside. In fact, while participating in the 2015 Genealogy Do-Over sponsored by Thomas MacEntee, I inventoried EVERYTHING in the "family museum" aka the genealogy corner of my bedroom. Um - yeah - that's typical of me. I made sure to note the location of my grandfather's 1937 Urology report but neglected to write down who received the precious heirlooms from my mother's estate.

Creating an inventory can be a godsend in the event of a home disaster. Years ago, we suffered a house fire. Trying to remember every item in the damaged rooms was pretty time-consuming. An inventory such as this would have been helpful. We were lucky not to have lost any sentimental items but if we had, an inventory, complete with photographs would have at least preserved an image of the treasures. Next week, I need to clear the room in preparation for some ceiling repair work. Having this spreadsheet will help me to put things back the way they were. Give it a try! It's pretty easy to do.

Here's a screenshot of the Excel spreadsheet I created:

The Yellow Highlighted row indicates each container. The rows below list the items inside the container. In the Photo column are the links to the pictures of each item.

Clicking on the link will open a picture of the object:

Want to create an inventory yourself? Here are the steps:

FIRST: Create your spreadsheet.
SECOND: Place all your photos in one folder. I named mine INVENTORY PICTURES. You don't have to do this, but it makes adding the photo links much easier. (Note: I first tried adding actual photos in the cells but that became unwieldy really quickly - resizing photos, file size, etc.)


To date, there are 209 individual items listed. I guess I'd better go update the list with the location of the rings!!

"See" you next week, when the topic is "Wills."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

52 Ancestors - #7 - Valentine's Day Cards

Just a short post - been a very busy week!! Valentine's Day is not one of my favorite holidays. I feel it's best suited for "young" love and kids!! So - I struggled with what to post for this week's 52 Ancestor challenge. I decided to share the first Valentine's Day cards I ever got - and the last one I received from my mom.

It should be noted that these cards traveled a very long way to get to me - my parents and I were living in Japan on a US Naval base in 1955. Also notable is that, on my 1st Valentine's Day, I was a mere 5 days old - my birthday is February 9th!

My first Valentine from my maternal grandparents - Rose and Paul Lichtenthal

My first Valentine from my paternal grandparents.
Hortense and Edgar Samuel
This is what the card looks like with the little feet folded up.
Cute, right?

The last Valentine I got from my mom, Doris Lichtenthal Falcone.
February 14, 2011

Monday, February 5, 2018

52 Ancestors #6 - Favorite Name

I really wasn't too keen on this week's topic for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge: Favorite Name. I have previously written about the importance of the WINCHESTER middle name in my husband's family. I am not comfortable posting information about living relatives that might encourage ID theft. Therefore, I won't write about why my sister Betsy has two middle names or why our mom chose the name Dean for our brother. I have also previously written about the "S" confusion with my last name: SAMUEL vs. SAMUELS and the origin of that surname.

So... what to write about?? Keeping with my theme of using this year to chronicle my own generation, I decided to write about the origin of my own name. It's pretty straightforward and admittedly a little boring. But, I promise you, if you keep reading, there will be a funny story as a reward!!

Deborah is a Hebrew name (Devorah), meaning "bee." Bees are very busy insects - always producing honey. As I also am always busily "producing" something, I guess I am appropriately named.

I enjoyed reading these definitions[1] found on the Urban Dictionary website:

 I actually was named for my mother's best friend, Deborah (Debby) Moscowitz. According to my mother, she chose my middle name, "Joan", for no other reason than "it sounded good."  Over the years, I used variations of the name: Debby, Debbie, and now, finally, Deb. (I think it sounds more "grown-up" than Debbie.) My mother referred to me as Debbie, or DJ when she was feeling sentimental. Unfortunately, that was also the initials of Dishonest John - a villain featured in the Beany and Cecil cartoon show during my childhood! 

My favorite "Deborah" story also has to do with my mother. I never knew exactly how to pronounce my name. Was it [deb-or-ah] - all syllables accented equally - sounding more like "deberah"? Or [de-BOR-ah] - with the middle syllable accented? I finally decided to ask my mother. I think I was maybe 50ish at the time. (Do you think I waited long enough?) Mom's response, "How the hell should I know?" Yup - should have expected that! For the record, I mostly say [deb-or-ah]. That would make an interesting Facebook poll - so many women in the 1950s were named Deborah - how do they all pronounce it?

Here are some other interesting facts about the name Deborah.[2]

See you next week, when I'll be responding to the prompt "Valentine." Not sure yet how I'll approach that topic - it's one of my least favorite holidays, coming in right behind New Year's Eve!

[1]"Urban Dictionary: Deborah". 2018. Urban Dictionary. Accessed February 2, 2018.

[2] "Wolfram|Alpha: Making The World’S Knowledge Computable". 2018. Wolframalpha.Com. Accessed February 2 2018.


Monday, January 29, 2018

52 Ancestors - #5 - In the Census- Who Was Dong May? (Why I Couldn't Find My Mother in the 1940 Census)

The most recent U.S. Census (1940) was released in 2012. Due to privacy concerns, censuses are not released to the public until after 72 years have passed. (Other countries wait 100 years.) So, it was with great excitement that I sat down to glean facts about my grandparents from the newly released images. I don't know why I was so excited - I already knew their names, where they lived, where they came from and many other pertinent facts. But, there is something about seeing your family's vitals splashed across a webpage for all to see.

Maybe they (the genealogy websites responsible for gathering, transcribing, and posting the information) should have taken a little more time. In the rush to get the most images indexed and posted, many errors were made. Don't get me wrong. I really appreciate the effort. I have participated in indexing projects and do understand the intricacies involved. Some handwriting is almost impossible to read. Some images are poorly scanned. But - seriously, use some common sense!

What do you see on the top line of this image?

If you're anything like the persons transcribing for, you said, "Dong May."

How about now? Still see "Dong May" or something else?

How about now? Read the entire line.

You may still see "Dong May." But stop and think about it for a second. Put it in some context. Does "Dong May" make any sense? 

According to this entry, "Dong" is an 8-year-old white girl from Vienna, Austria. Now, it was 1940, not 2017, when anything goes for names! Maybe it's just me, but I highly doubt any white girl from Vienna would be named "Dong." These transcribers were just in too much of hurry to get the job done.

In fact, "Dong" is actually "Doris." If you look again at the image, you can clearly see the dot of the letter 'i'. The 's' is slightly obscured by the 'h' from the name "Sophie" below. 

How did I find her in the 1940 census, despite her name being mangled by the transcribers? These tips might help you in your search:

1. Search for family members. This is what I did. It's probably the easiest method. A search using the names of my mother's parents brought up the correct record right away.
2. Try a different website. Perhaps image was transcribed differently.  A search for my mother's name on brought up the correct image. 
3. Search by address. If you know where the person lived, but can't locate them in the census, try searching the images. You could search EVERY image of the particular census, but that would be hugely time-consuming! Instead, use the Unified ED Finder (ED means "enumeration district") at Following the instructions, you will be able to narrow down the census pages to the ones close in address to the person you are searching for.
4. Consider and try various spellings. As in my example, errors are made in transcribing records. In this case, however, I never would have tried "Dong"!
5. Search without first/last name. Searching in this manner might return an overwhelming number of results, You can reduce those if you know the approximate city and/or state. Including a birthdate will help as well.

Still can't find them? Consider these ideas:
1. Perhaps your ancestor was away the day the census taker came to the door. 
2. They simply didn't respond to the "knock on the door."
3. They lied. There are many reasons someone might give incorrect information to a census taker - fear of government, participation in illegal activities.
4. Language barrier - perhaps the enumerator simply couldn't understand what your ancestor was saying, and as such, did the best he/she could taking down the information.
5.  Uninformed. Census takers assumed that the informant was giving correct information. Perhaps the informant was simply a boarder, who had no real knowledge about the other occupants of the home. The 1940 census was the first census to identify who the informant was. Knowing who provided the information can help researchers evaluate the accuracy of the responses.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

The lives of my mother and her family were changed forever one day in March 1938. On that day, the Nazis appropriated my great-grandfather's business. As he (Sigmund Lichtenthal) explained in a letter written years later, 

"The firm, Lital, came to a natural end when Austria was occupied by the Nazis in March 1938, since I am Jewish and, as such, subject to the Germans' exceptional legislation for Jews. No sooner had the Anschluss been closed than three "gentlemen" appeared in my office, bearing a letter from the district leadership of the NDAP, stating that Lital had been taken over by the party in the interest of its 60 employees and would in the future be led by the party."

Two months later, my grandfather, Paul Lichtenthal, was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp. From Dachau, he was sent to Buchenwald, where he remained until his release was secured in May 1939.

Letters written by my grandfather while in Dachau and Buchenwald.

Our family was luckier than many. Although my grandfather lost his livelihood and his good health, the lives of his immediate family were spared and they were able to forge a new life in the United States.  One of the most important projects on my to-do list is to write the story of my great-grandfather's business and his life-long effort to obtain reparations for the wrongs inflicted upon him and millions of other Jews. 

For today, "We Remember."

Monday, January 22, 2018

52 Ancestors #4: (Don't) Invite to Dinner - Why Our Mother Never Ate With Us—and You Wouldn't Either!

The topic for this week's 52 Ancestor's in 52 Weeks is "Invite to Dinner." This year, I am trying to focus on the stories of my generation.

Honestly, I don't remember too much about dinners before my brother, Dean was born in 1964. I suspect that is because things got way more interesting when my three sisters and I finally had a brother we could gang up on. Maybe it's because I was 9 when he was born!! Or maybe that's when Mom started eating dinner later after we kids were gone from the table.

I do have some poignant dinner-time stories. Most of these will be familiar to my siblings, but I thought it prudent to memorialize them for eternity in cyberspace. The stories are not sequential. Nor are they dated. I have no idea when most of these events occurred, though they were certainly between 1964 and 1975 when I moved out of the family home into my own apartment.

Dean (maybe 2 years old) and my Omi .
You can see the kitchen divider in the background.

How do you keep five kids engaged at the table without them fighting? Play a game! We occasionally played "I-Spy" during dinner time. We had a shelf unit in our kitchen that served to divide the eating area from the cooking area. Our mom placed all kinds of knick-knacks in the various cubbies, which provided much fodder for our vicious games of I-Spy. My sister, Jeanne, sixteen months my junior, played particularly seriously. I don't remember what specific clues she gave, but after several frustrating minutes we all gave up guessing. She pointed to an item on the shelf. "I guessed that already!", I exclaimed out of frustration. Her snide reply: "That's not a glass. It's a cup."

The Day We Learned to Close the Basement Door
We grew up in a typical 1950s ranch house. The dining area had just enough room for the table and
A really unattractive view of the basement stairs.
the necessary chairs. For some reason, Mom always kept a small table (for her cookbooks) next to the basement door which opened into the kitchen. This made it difficult to negotiate around those seated at the table in order to open the door and go down the 12 steps to the basement. Maybe that's why the door was often left open. Now you have a picture of the setup. We were all sitting at the table eating. Mom had an affinity for ladder-back chairs, so I know, for a fact, we were all seated in some version of that style chair. Dean, our brother (almost ten years younger than me) was rocking back and forth in his chair.

Several of us warned him to stop rocking. Nope. Why should a little brother take safety advice from his older sisters? "Dean, stop rocking in your chair!!" Next thing you know - he was gone!! Down the stairs he went. Chair and all! We all looked at each other, stunned. This was bad. There was no sound from the basement. We got up from our seats and gingerly peered in the open doorway, terrified of what we might see. There was Dean. Happy as a clam, at the bottom of the stairs, sitting squarely on the ladderback of the chair!!

I just like this picture of the dining area.
Ok. I also like it because it was my birthday.
L-to-R: sister Jeanne, friend Debby Wells, sister Kathy, Mom,
me (maybe 1960)
Why Spaghetti is Fun!
Five children can be quite inventive. Especially when left to their own devices because there were no adults at the table. I have no recollection of who came up with this brilliant game but it did keep us busy for quite some time. Spaghetti was introduced into our home as a frequent dinner item after my mother started dating the wonderful man who would become her second husband. I imagine that was because it was fairly inexpensive (as it still is today!)

The challenge was to see who could form letters using their strands of spaghetti. Now, most children would settle for forming the letters on their dinner plates. Maybe on the tabletop if they were a little more daring. Not us. Actually, neither of those choices even occurred to us. No - we attempted to form the letters by tossing the pasta onto the white kitchen ceiling. If I recall correctly, we successfully formed the letter "B."

Final Lesson for Any Parent Considering Not Eating with Their Children
For a (very) short time, our mother sat with us and read stories to us during dinner. And then, she was gone. After cooking the meal, she would serve the five of us (each one of us having our very own special melamine plate) and then retreat to her bedroom at the far end of the house. Five kids. Four girls. One boy. Bad idea.

Dean - maybe age 10 - eating his favorite food in.....
a ladderback chair, of course!
When we weren't throwing pasta on the ceiling, arguing about specifically colored items during an I-Spy game, or otherwise being disagreeable to each other, we girls would gang up on our poor little brother. "Dean, stop kicking me!," someone would yell out. "Quit it, Dean!," another would scream. If we were in rare form, one of us might actually pretend to cry. Then would come the yell, from the nether regions of the house. My mother screaming, "Dean, leave your sisters alone!" You do realize, of course, the poor boy never had done a thing. Sorry, Dean.

The cover of Omi's Kitchen. Our fabulous blended family!!!
I'm the short one, straining to see over Dean's Magic Hat!

Reading this, you might think we had no appreciation for our mother and the work she did to keep us all alive. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, the kitchen and our mother's command of it, was so incredibly important to us that we created a family cookbook as a Christmas gift to her in 2010. (Sadly, she passed less than a year later on Dec. 2, 2011.)

In addition to Mom's classic recipes, we included some of our own specialties along with some memories of our home and our childhood.

I'll close this post by sharing some of our "least favorite" dinners. If the stories above don't convince you eating with us was no joy, these meals should do the trick:

  • Frozen Chicken Potpie: 10 for  $1.00
  • Sanalac Powdered milk - I can still smell it like it was yesterday!
  • Butter and meat sandwiches
  • Ice Cream Sundaes - with a stale "surprise" at the bottom, courtesy of the Entenmann's Bakery Outlet
  • My personal favorite -the poor man's Shepherd's Pie. We called it "Mo-Pea-Po."
    • Spoon cooked ground beef on top of cooked mashed potatoes (from a box, of course.)
    • Add canned peas, cooked until they are olive drab.
    • Moosh together.
    • Eat. or not.....
Dinner "recipe" from the book, Omi's Kitchen.

In case you are wondering, we (all 8 of us!) grew up to be fairly well-behaved adults who possess acceptable table manners. Invite us to dinner anytime! (Well, maybe you should just invite a few at a time!)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

52 Ancestors #3 - Longevity: My "Oldest" Friend - Doreen Bernabucci Brown

 I spend a good deal of time making sure the stories of our ancestors don't get forgotten.It is sometimes easy to forget that my stories are important also. For that reason, I have decided to focus on my generation for this year's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. This is the (long) story of my 48-year-old friendship with my best friend, Doreen Bernabucci Brown.

This plate, a gift from Doreen, hangs in my dining room.