Uncle Howard and the Displaced Persons List

I don’t know how unusual this source is, but it was certainly surprising and lead to an interesting search for my Uncle Howard’s ex-wife and her ex-husband.

Howard Alvord was my mother’s youngest brother and the bad boy of the family. He disappeared from our lives in the 1950s and we never heard from him again. We heard rumors he had divorced his first wife, but nothing else. Quite a few years ago, I searched for him on the internet and found he had remarried in Las Vegas in 1994 and died in 2001. When I started my family tree, I entered the information in his profile and moved on to work on another area.

Not being Jewish, and having no known connection to the holocaust, imagine my surprise when a hint showed up for my Uncle Howard linking him to a woman in a displaced persons camp. Following the information in the hint, I found a marriage in 1957 to a Jewish refugee who had emmigrated from Europe following the war. Her name was Veronika Lorand Bab and according to her naturalization papers she emmigrated in 1949 under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. This act assisted in the resettlement of thousands of European refugees who had been displaced from their home countries by the war. Her records indicated she had a number, A23388, tattooed on the underside of her forearm, a common practice in the concentration camps.

I was extremely curious about her and why she married my uncle. My family considered him a con man and loser, but maybe there was more to his story. From her naturalization petition, I found out she had married Werner Bab on Christmas, 1946 in Ebensee, Germany and they had a daughter born in Munich in 1947. A son was born in San Francisco in 1950. I looked for a photo of her. I thought there might have been one on her traveling papers or she might have had a passport, but no such luck. I don’t know when they divorced, but it was sometime before her naturalization petition in 1955.

Veronica’s story in Hungary, where she was born, and her experiences in a concentration camp are unknown. After she divorced my uncle Howard in 1968, she remarried and divorced again. Her third husband was also a holocaust survivor. She died in 2005 in California.

Although I didn’t find a story for Veronica, I did uncover some facts. She is one of the interviewees in the USC Shoah Foundation Visual Archive, video interviews of holocaust survivors. Although her video is private and accessible only to family members, it is indexed. I found she was confined in ghettos in both her native Hungary and in Czechoslovakia and imprisoned in death camps in Auschwitz, Krakow, and Markkleeberg. Where she met Werner is a mystery. Maybe they met in a displaced persons camp after the war. Or maybe not. How she met and married my uncle Howard is also a mystery. Veronica was wife two of four, and, like two others, they married in Las Vegas.

Werner Bab, Vera’s first husband, does have story. He was featured in a film Segments of Time- Werner Bab on DVD published by imdialog! e.V. in Germany. The press release includes an abstract. Werner was a German Jew, born in 1924. Because of the restrictive laws enacted in Germany in 1935, he was forced to go to a boarding school in Stettin. After Kristal Nicht in 1938, the school was closed and Werner returned to Berlin. In 1942 he tried to escape deportation with faked papers, but was captured at the Swiss border and transferred to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, then to Mauthausen and Ebensee. He was selected for “special treatment” (extermination), but somehow survived. Werner was liberated by the Americans at Ebensee.

He is also featured on the website for Holocaust Survivors and Victims at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Like Veronica, the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive has several hours of video of him being interviewed. His interview is public and I listened to some of it. Even speaking little German, his testimony, in his own voice is very compelling.

I didn’t learn much about my Uncle Howard or his ex-wife Vera, but their history led me to another fascinating story, and a window into life in Germany in the late 1930s, the Concentration Camps and life after the war.

National Holocaust Memorial Memorial Museum, Washington, DC

Response to 52 Ancestors Weekly Prompt: Unusual Source

Happy Paczki Day

Today is Fat Tuesday, traditionally the day to empty your pantry of all the butter, fat and sugar to prepare for the fasting of Lent. I’m not sure if “Fat Tuesday” refers to eating fat or getting fat, maybe it’s both.

Paczki Day is one way to get fat on Fat Tuesday. Paczki, pronounced ““pownch-key” are a sweet pastry, kind of like a jelly filled donut, only better. They are made with a very rich, sweet yeast dough with extra eggs, butter and milk, After frying, they are rolled in sugar to make them extra yummy.

Originally a Polish treat, they have become a tradition in the time right before Lent, especially Fat Tuesday. It is the only time of year they are sold. Paczki are a really big deal here in Milwaukee. Local bakeries make thousands of them and there are usually long lines to buy them. I’m not sure about this year with the virus, but I’m quite sure they are still being ordered in large amounts. Local newspapers even take polls to decide which bakery has the best ones.

On this Fat Tuesday, I’m thinking about one of my guilty pleasures, donuts. Today, in honor of Polish ancestors (even if you don’t have any) enjoy a sweet paczki, or even more than one. It’s only once a year. Happy Paczki Day.

Why February 14th?

My husband’s 2nd great-grandparents, Ellen Murphy and John McCarthy, were married on February 14, 1820 in Ireland. I don’t know much about either one of them, certainly not enough to tell a good story. In my imagination they were sweethearts and the choice of Valentine’s Day for their wedding was a romantic one. They even exchanged traditional Claddagh rings representing their everlasting love and fidelity.

My romantic notions were dashed when I looked more carefully at their marriage record and did a little research on Irish wedding customs. While romantic reasons for choosing February 14th are possible, it’s much more likely the reason was a more practical one.

John and Ellen were both Catholics. They were married at the church in Enniskeane by the local priest, Father John Sullivan. At that time, the Catholic Church prohibited marriage on Shrove Tuesday (the eve of Lent) and all during Lent. In 1820, Shrove Tuesday was February 15th. The last day they could have married before Easter would have been Valentine’s Day. After Easter would have been potato planting season, not a popular time for weddings.

Sure enough, when I checked the parish records, there were twelve other weddings on that day. Father Sullivan officiated at all of them. There were no more weddings listed until April 10th, after Easter. I wonder if there was one mass wedding ceremony, or if there was an assembly line process, one after another. Did brides and grooms wait in the pews until their turn came? At that time some marriages were arranged. Did John and Ellen even know each other? Since they were both members of the same parish, I would guess yes, but the marriage might have been arranged by their families.

As for the idea of exchanging Claddagh Rings, it would make a nice story if it were true, but there’s no way to know. Rings were generally passed down in families, and my husband’s branch of the family has never even heard of them. So much for my romantic notions. Better luck next time.

The Claddagh Ring Legend
Claddagh was a small fishing village outside the old city walls of Galway. According to legend, a famous blacksmith, who had been kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery, showed enough promise in the trade that his master offered him half his wealth and his daughter’s hand in marriage. Over the years, he set aside small pieces of gold dust and eventually melted them all into a ring. The traditional Claddagh Ring features two hands clasping a crowned heart, symbolic of love, loyalty and commitment. For married couples it is worn on the left hand with the point of the heart pointing toward the wrist.

Response to 52 Ancestors Weekly Prompt: Valentine

Saturday Pancakes

I’m not sure how unusual it is, but both my parents cooked. Before my mom went to work when I was nine, she did most of the cooking during the week and my dad helped out on week-ends. He liked to cook and was probably a better cook than she was. He was in charge of the roast chicken and stuffing and always made the mashed potatoes. His mashed potatoes were the best ever and his Swedish dumplings were a family favorite. He didn’t bake much, but he did make the most mouth watering orange sweet rolls.

What I remember most about my dad in the kitchen is Saturday pancakes. Mom hated pancakes and the smell made her gag, so she never made them. Dad would make them once in a while and she would retreat to the basement until we were done eating, the dishes were done, and the room had aired. After she started working on Saturdays, Dad made them every week. Later, we began making them together. After breakfast and clean-up, we watched cartoons. It became our Saturday morning ritual.

They weren’t the regular American pancakes that you imagine, they were Swedish pancakes (pannkator) that dad learned to make watching his mother. They weren’t thick and fluffy, they were thin like crepes. While pannkator contain the same ingredients as American pancakes, there is no rising agent, making them thinner and there is less flour and more eggs and butter, making them less chewy and dense than crepes.

Traditionally, pannkakor are served as dessert, rolled up and served with berries or jam, ice cream or whipped cream and powdered sugar. My grandmother Americanized them to be served as breakfast, and we ate ours spread with raspberry jam and rolled up like a crepe. Syrup was never an option.

Although I love all kinds of pancakes, Swedish Pancakes will always be special to me. They bring back memories of Saturday mornings, my dad in the kitchen, and watching cartoons together.

Basic Recipe for Swedish Pancakes (Pannkakor)

1 cup milk
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp melted butter

Mix ingredients in order. Let stand for a few minutes before frying. Brown on one side only. Spread with warmed jam and roll up. 

Response to 52 Ancestors Weekly Prompt: In the Kitchen

We All Have Her Hair

While not my favorite photo, I certainly find this one arresting. I don’t always accept photos I find on the internet, but I knew this was my great-aunt Nellie right away. She has such a distinctive look. She is my maternal grandmother’s sister Nellie Kateley Harding Helms. I recognize her from other pictures that my grandmother had.

Her long neck and narrow face are unusual, but the first thing I noticed was her hair. I inherited her hair. So did my mother and both of mom’s sisters. My grandmother had it too, so maybe we all inherited grandma’s hair. The eyes, their shape and lids and the eyebrows are also dominate traits among family members. It’s hard to tell for sure what color her eyes are, but dark blue eyes are also common in my mother’s family.

Trying to date the photo allowed me to do a little detective work on the photographer. The studio where the picture was taken, the Bauer Studio in Winona, Minnesota, was in business from 1895-1914 with a period from 1903-1907 where the owner and photographer Frederick Bauer was seriously ill. During this time, his wife, Jessie Bauer, kept the business going, becoming the first woman photographer in Winona County.

From Nellie’s clothing, the high neck and puffy sleeves, I would guess this photo was taken near the turn of the century. She was widowed in 1901 at 34 years old which seems about the right age for the picture, and the dark dress might reflect her status as a widow. She lived near Winona from her marriage in 1895 until she remarried in 1903, also supporting the guess that the photo was taken around 1901.

After the death of her second husband in 1929, she moved to Colorado and remained there until her death in 1958 at the age of 91 years.

Here is another photo of Aunt Nellie taken in Colorado about 1947. In this picture you can see the long, narrow feet which are also a family trait. Note the resemblance to her brother Fred Kateley.

I don’t look at all like her, except for the hair, but it is interesting to see other family members reflected in her. Finding and seeing connections is one of the reasons I like genealogy.

Response to 52 Ancestors weekly prompt: Favorite Photo

He Was More of a Namesake Than She Knew

In the early 1930s, my grandmother, Julia Carlson Hildeen, developed an obsession. She decided her two oldest daughters needed to find husbands and she needed to help them. She didn’t want them to end up spinsters.

With her youngest daughter, my Aunt Ruth, married, she focused her attention on her oldest daughter, my Aunt Esther. Esther was in her mid-thirties and not much interested in getting married. Her fiancé and the love of her life had been killed in WW1 and although she dated, she was not much interested in marriage. Grandma had other ideas and she started looking around for eligible men for Esther.

Eventually, she zeroed in in the local butcher, Ed. Grandma was able to put aside her dislike for Germans, common after the war, and started to chat with him. Eventually, she started sending Esther to the butcher shop. Esther started a friendship and then a relationship with Ed. Sometimes his nephew and namesake would help in the shop and Esther got to know him too.

Grandma was thrilled and she liked Ed even more when he started to give her the best cuts of meat, sometimes as gifts. Esther and Ed dated for quite a while. He ate dinner at their house, and took Esther out several times a week. Things were looking pretty good for a match.

Then, disaster spoiled grandma’s plans. She was gossiping with one of her friends one day, and mentioned Ed and his nephew. Her friend told her Ed wasn’t his nephew, he was his son and there was an invalid wife living with him above the butcher shop.

Grandma wasn’t disappointed, she was mad. She and Esther confronted Ed and he admitted the truth. He was married and Ed was really his namesake son. Grandma never allowed anyone to speak of him again in her house. She said she’d never trust a man named Ed again.

After this catastrophe, Grandma decided that her children needed to find their own mates and she should stay out of it. She didn’t meddle again.

Esther went on to have several other boyfriends, but she never did marry. She said she enjoyed working and her independence too much to have a husband and I don’t think anyone could ever replace the young love that was killed in the war.

This is one of those stories that is likely true, but some of the details may have been distorted over time. I first heard it when I was going through some old pictures with my mom. She told me the story, but never gave any timeframe.

There is no one to ask, so I had to do a little detective work. I found a video with Amy Johnson Crow and guest Maureen Taylor, the “Photo Detective” that gave me some hints on what to look for. Looking at the coat style, the large collars and the belted waists, and the hat styles, I decided my guess of around 1930 was accurate. The distinctive gloves Esther is wearing might also be a clue, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about them.

Ed and Esther are two the two on the right side

I also looked in City Directories and did an internet search for butcher shops in Mankato, Minnesota around that time, but they were not helpful. I was hoping to find the name of the butcher shop or a last name for Ed, but no luck.

So ends the story of Grandma, Esther, Ed and Ed’s namesake. I wish there were more answers, but most likely there never will be.

Response to 52 Ancestors weekly prompt: Namesake

Was it Witchcraft?

My 9th great-grandfather, Reinold Marvin, was an English immigrant and businessman in Connecticut. He and his brother Mathew Marvin were two of the earliest settlers in the area around Hartford.

Around 1639, Reinold and his wife Marye (Marie) and their children moved to Saybrook. Reinold died in 1662. Marye died in Saybrook, probably in the summer of 1661, about a year before her husband. Not many facts are known about her death, but she was said to have died by witchcraft.

Witch hysteria was common along the seacoast in Connecticut in the mid 17th century. The Puritan colonists were so concerned, they made laws prohibiting witchcraft. Laws were based largely on scripture and punishable by death. Almost any dispute or perceived bad behavior could cause a deadly allegation.

Once a formal complaint was made, local magistrates would gather statements from witnesses and examine the accused. If indicted, a jury trial was held. Before 1662, a single witness was all it took to support a witchcraft conviction.

The story of witchcraft and Marye Marvin begins with Nicholas and Margaret Jennings. Nicholas and Margaret were less than outstanding citizens. Nicholas arrived from England in 1634 and settled in the Hatford area. He later moved to New Haven, where he met Margaret Bedford, an indentured servant. The couple ran off together, were caught, tried for fornication, found guilty and required to marry and pay off all the time left on her indenture as well as pay for all the items they stole when they ran away.

After this they moved between Hartford and New Haven, committing minor crimes on their way. In 1647, they moved to Saybrook. It was a new start for them and things were going well until 1661 when Nicholas had a falling out with his neighbor over a land dispute. In retaliation, the neighbor, George Wood, accused Margaret of witchcraft and causing the death of several people in the community, one of whom was my 9th GG, Marye Marvin. Both of the Jennings were put on trial.

This was the indictment:

Nicholas Jennings thou art here indicted by the name of Nicholas Jennings of Saybrook for not having the fear of God before thine eyes, thou hast entertained familiarity with Satan, the great enemy of God and mankind, and by his help hast done works above the course of nature to the loss of the lives of several people and in particular the wife of Reinold Marvin with the child of Baalshassar de Wolfe with other sorceries for which according to the law of God and the established laws of this Commonwealth thou deservest to die.

What answerest thou for thyself, guilty or not guilty?

Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England, by David D. Hall,

The case was adjudicated on September 5, 1661. The trial resulted in a hung jury. The jury thought they were likely witches, but there was not sufficient proof to execute them and they were set free. They were not considered to be completely innocent though. The court decided they were not fit parents and their three children were taken by the authorities and apprenticed to area businesses. 

The Jennings remained in Saybrook, where Nicholas died in 1673, around the age of 61. What happened to Margaret following the trial is unknown.

How Marye really died is also unclear. There is speculation that she died suddenly or her death was unexplained. At that time it was easy to blame such things on witchcraft. There is no record of whether her husband agreed with the witchcraft charge or not.

Lots of unknowns in this story, but a great family tale all the same.

Response to 52 Ancestors 2021 Prompt: Family Legend

It’s for the Birds

Bird watching has become a new hobby this winter. Covid has left me looking for new things to do. Actually, I could be cleaning my basement or pantry, but I would rather watch the birds. I enjoy watching the tray feeder, but thought a suet feeder might attract some different birds. So my husband hung a suet cage near the window.

The squirrels thought it was lovely. They climbed up the window screen, hung on with their back feet, and broke off chunks of suet with apparent relish. They are regular raiders of the tray feeder and any feeders hung on trees, but we didn’t think they could get to this. Round one goes to the squirrels.

Round two involved hanging a suet feeder on a long chain from a hook on the roof gutter near the patio window. So far, success. There’s no screen nearby, and the squirrels aren’t paying any attention.

I was expecting to see chickadees and nuthatches, but I was surprised. Woodpeckers! Several downy woodpeckers and some flickers. The flickers are so pretty and the downy woodpeckers are fun to watch. They move around the suet cage in all different positions, poking at various parts of the suet. I wonder if there is something in particular in it they like. It was one of those cubes that have different seeds and berries mixed in. The variety is supposed to attract a variety of species. So far I just have woodpeckers.

So, now I have cardinals, nuthatches and chickadees to watch on the tray feeder, various other birds on the regular feeder, and woodpeckers on the suet feeder. The squirrels have their own feeder and raid the tray feeder. I hope they’ve learned the suet feeder is for the birds. We’ll see.

Flicker on suet feeder. I couldn’t get a good picture myself, so this one from Pixabay will have to do.

It All Began With a Blind Date

Beginnings remind me of weddings, so this post will be about my in-laws, their courtship, wedding and the charivari at the beginning of their married life.

Although they grew up in nearby rural communities in Wisconsin, my father-in-law Tommy and my mother-in-law Karoline never met until mutual friends fixed them up on a blind date on April 18. 1931. It was a Saturday night and they went to the movies in Edgerton with Millie Foss and Mel Tofsland. “Gents of Leisure” and Gentleman’s Fate were playing. Karoline was only 17 years old and still in High School, Tommy was a bit older and working on an area farm. They continued to see each other while Karoline graduated from High School, finished Rock County Normal School for teachers, and for several years while she taught in area rural schools.

They would wait until October 5, 1940 to get married. The wedding was at the parsonage of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church in Rockdale, the bride’s congregation.

According to the local newspaper

A street length ensemble of soldier blue crepe with matching turban and veil and black accessories was worn by the bride. A gold Norwegian watch of her mother’s was worn on a gold chain around her neck. Her corsage was fashioned of gardenias. Following a wedding dinner at the bride’s home, the couple left on a wedding trip to northern Wisconsin.

Stoughton Hub October 8, 1940

The charivari was held a week later when they returned. A charavari, alternatively spelled shivaree or chivaree, was a folk custom popular during that time. It was a mock parade accompanied by a noisy serenade by a group of friends to celebrate a marriage 

From Karoline’s diary:

The charivari was held on October 14, 1940 at the home of Lloyd and Hazel Lawrence. At 8:15, about 30 cars came in a long line and drove in to the yard. Then they began the racket – firecrackers, cowbells, tin cans, and a large siren. The noise went on for about 20 minutes until we came out. Then they congratulated us and sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” The beer truck brought 3 kegs of beer (24 gallons) which we brought in and served to about 70 men in the basement. A collection was taken amounting to $5.26.

And so their married life began. Karoline and Tommy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on October 7, 1990. Both of their children and all six of their grandchildren were at the party. Tommy would die two years later in 1992 and Karoline in 2002. But their relationship and the children and grandchildren that came later all started with a blind date.

Karoline and Tommy October 7, 1940

52 Ancestors 2021 Prompt: Beginnings

Mule and Cutter

This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is Winter. I don’t have a good story about anything happening in winter, nor do I have any ancestors with winter weather related names, so my post this week will be about this old family picture.

I found it in an old book of photos from my in-laws. The back of the photo says “Ed McCarthy with Mule and Cutter, January 1949.” My husband recognizes the barn from the dairy farm in Wisconsin where he grew up. Ed was a neighbor who sometimes came to check on them and visit during the winter. He was lucky enough to have a cutter so he could travel when the roads were impassible. My husband remembers riding to school in the sleigh a few times when he was very young, but nothing more about the picture.

I had never heard the term cutter, and I was curious so I did some research. A cutter is a lighter, two person variety of sleigh, usually pulled by one horse. “Cutter” is a distinctly American word, used during the 19th and early 20th century. Doors were unusual, appearing only in some models after 1910, and were probably influenced by automobile doors. Special shoes with studs were needed by the horse for traction on the snow.

The sleigh described in “Jingle Bells” is a cutter. The jingle bells on the horse’s harness were a necessity. When there were high snow drifts, or if traveling in the dark, bells were the only way for other vehicles to know your sled was coming. They were a safety feature and often the law. Cutter rides were common among courting couples, and in the local newspapers, there was often gossip about couples taking a cutter ride.

I think the cutter in my photo is a Portland Cutter. In 1911, it was available in a Sears Roebuck Catalog for $20.30.

1911 Sears Roebuck Catalog

There were no doors, and the only unusual thing about my photo is that the cutter was pulled by a mule. My research found cutters were almost always pulled by horses. A mule with its larger feet and more sure step seems very practical to me.

I can image a number of good stories about the cutter. Do you think Ed might have taken his wife for a ride when they were courting? He seems like a very nice man. What good deeds did he do for his neighbors? Did he bring them a doctor, medicine, or other supplies? Where did his cutter come from? Was it his family’s or did he buy and restore it? What was the mule’s name? Inquiring minds want to know, but I fear it will remain a mystery.