Thursday, June 1, 2017

Postcard History: Living in an Online World

The table today
Flesh and blood, I sit now at my kitchen table.  It is a round, oak table, with a center pedestal — I call it an “old farmer’s table,” but I don’t know if that’s true; perhaps I’m making it up.  What I do know is that this was my mother’s table, rescued from a friend’s cellar and then lovingly refinished.  This is the same table where I sat as a child and teenager in the 1960s/70s, where we all ate dinner, my sisters and brothers and I, my mother and father.  

Where sometimes after dinner we laughed and wadded up napkins and threw them into each other’s water glasses.  

1990s - My daughter at the table
in the house where I grew up in
Waterloo, NY
It is a scene clear in my mind, replayed over and over again.  And, once upon a time, it happened  — we were there, alive, eating potato salad, and throwing our napkins, while my mom  laughed and screeched, “Stop it!  Stop it!”   Poor mother — of course, she was the one who had to clean up the mess afterwards.  

That scene is clear in my mind, but it is, in fact, nearly gone, not memorialized in a photo or video or audio.    When my brothers and sisters and I pass away, that family scene will be totally gone from this world.  

Except that I’ve written about it.  My words will bring back the scene, recreated in the minds of readers, who will blend my story with their own memories of their own family scenes.  

In writing about it, I’ve created an object, a thing, an artifact, which will, hopefully, last over some time period.  Like a photo, or newspaper, or a tape recording.  

In my first blog post, I wrote about an experience with a particular artifact — a century-old postcard which preserved the words and experience of a young woman in her 20s whose mother was dying.  Being a curious human, I then looked for other artifacts — in this case, historical documents — which could tell me more about this woman and her mother.  And so I discovered mother Rose and daughter Nina.  

Nina in 1991, and the postcard in 1909 
Nina and Rose could probably never imagine our world today in which there are not only material artifacts, but virtual ones as well.  We live in an online world, and it is both strange and wonderful.  

In an online world, we can connect with people over time and distance.  One strange and wonderful result of my blog post was that I connected with living relatives of Nina — Tim and Steve (the grandsons of Nina’s brother).  And, remarkably, Tim provided a link to an audio recording of my postcard-writer, Nina.  

Connecting over time with Nina via postcard.  Connecting over distance with Tim via email and internet.  And then, via a partnership of past and present, listening to Nina’s actual voice.  

Nina’s voice was firm, clear, and sometimes insistent, giving emphasis to her important words and sentiments.  Sweet too, and loving.  And nostalgic - when she remembers herself as a “little 9 year old girl,” she giggles and we can almost hear that little girl in her.   And, while I can’t see her while she’s speaking, I know she’s smiling because I can hear it in her voice.  
It is a firm, clear, loving, smiling voice.

Nina spoke of young people just starting out in their lives, who are going to “face a world which is so different from the life that they were used to when they were living at home with their family.”  

1968 My first diary and my first diary entry
She offered advice:  “Keep a diary from the time they’re young.  I think it would be good if parents would encourage the children to do that.  I remember when I was young, I think I was, well, I was about 9 years old, and my brother Leigh was 6 years older.  And that Christmas, Father brought each of us a diary.  And mine didn’t have, oh, ‘bout, maybe a couple inches of writing space, not very much room, but that was enough for a little 9 year old girl.  And I kept it for quite a while, and wrote every day, or if I’d forget, I’d catch up and remember for a day or two if I got behind.” 

Leave artifacts behind! she’s telling us.  I think Nina would love to know that her postcard, which she probably had forgotten about fairly soon after it was written, lasted through time, and was still being read and discovered.  

I felt as if Nina was speaking to me when she said, “Well, I hope that you can visualize me, here, sittin’ in my room . . . and having a cup of coffee and cookies.  But I’ll be out there pretty soon and takin’ my place with the rest of ‘em.  And I guess it’s time for me to say goodbye, and I hope I see you sometime.”

She then remarked to Tim and his sister (both who interviewed her shortly before she passed away):  “And I’m so glad that you could get to see your oldest as often as you do.  You’ve got a wonderful family and I love every one of them.”

I thought about my family, the family I’ve known in real life, and the family from the past who I’ve researched and come to know.  It’s true, I love each and every one of them, who made and make their mark, who uttered and utter their individual sounds, who left and leave things behind.

I wonder:  Do you visit your “oldest” relative as often as you can? 

I’d like to close this, my second blog post, with Nina’s simple words, Nina who knew that she would soon leave this world, and who simply said:  

“Bye Bye!”  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Postcard History: Rose Daley Mudge, gone in 1910, but remembered today

I'm a local historian, and every day I check Ebay for new listings of Rochester, NY.  I look for postcards which make the late 19th or early 20th century in Rochester come alive, and documents which might tell me something I didn’t know about my relatives, the Dossenbachs.  

I do this every morning, much like my parents used to read the newspaper every morning.  I suppose this is the way I get my news, but my news is often 100 years old.  

This morning, I saw postcards of the Genesee River Brewer’s Dock in 1908, the Hotel Eggleston on Main and Stone Sts in 1916, Edgerton Park in the 1920s, and then this one — Dr. Lee’s Hospital at Lake and Jones Avenues, a sprawling Victorian building which is, unfortunately, no longer there:  

As always, I checked the back of the postcard for a postmark, and read this sad writing from Nina in Lima, NY, to her cousin, Mrs. Alice Shaw, in Mansfield, PA.  

“Mama is in this hospital recovering from an operation which was performed Saturday.  She has a cancer, yes, tumor, just below the abdomen on the liver.  It was thought best not to remove it.  We may not have mama with us long but hope she can come home in three or four weeks.  She is getting along nicely, and is very brave.”  

Reading this, I am stopped in my tracks.  I feel Nina’s  sorrow.  I wonder about Mama — how long did she live?  

Well, I’m alive in the year 2017, and during the course of my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the growth of this thing called the Internet, offering the opportunity to know things — almost anything.  And I love it.  I wonder for a bit — should I divert my attention from my Dossenbachs and find out more about Nina and Mama?  Is it even possible?

Over to Ancestry where I look up cousin Alice Shaw in 1909 in Mansfield.  Of course, there are many Alice Shaw’s.  Eliminate those whose birth dates are incompatible, then click on a possible source, discover her maiden name and then her parents’ names, and then her parents’ siblings.  One of these siblings, Alice’s aunts and uncles, is Nina’s mother or father.  

And here’s how one learns a little bit about life in the mid-1800s.  Alice’s mother’s oldest brother, Wilford, died in 1861, at age 22, of “army fever,” and then the next oldest brother, Charles, died in 1864, at age 13, of tuberculosis.  

        Those who were alive in the mid-1800s knew much about death.  

And then I see her, Alice’s mother’s sister, Rocelia Aurilla Dailey, born in 1853 and died in 1910 in Lima, NY.  And Rocelia has a daughter named Nina.  That’s her.  That’s Mama.  And here she is:  

Daughter Nina was born in 1885, so she was only 25 years old when mama died.  Mama was 57.    This is Rose’s home, the Mudge home, near Mansfield, PA.   

Rose and her husband, Clint, first lived in Pennsylvania, where they had three children. The 1900 federal census tells us that Clint was a clergyman, but in censuses before and after, Clint is a farmer.    By 1900, they are living in Lima, NY, where Rose passed away in 1910, but at some point after she died, Clint returned to Pennsylvania, where he lived a long life, passing away in 1942 at the age of 91.  

Rose and Clint’s daughter, Nina — our postcard writer, who knew in 1909, when she was 24 years old, that her mama wouldn’t be around very long —  also lived a long life, passing away in 1993 at the age of 108!    Nina appears not to have had children, but married twice, first to an Englishman, named Raymond Dinan, no apparent record what happened to him, and then to Floyd Sills, who died in 1960.  Nina outlived all of them — her mother, father, two husbands, and two brothers.  
Here is Nina at age 106.  She was blind at this time, but played the piano every day and recited a poem that she had learned at 12 years old.   
Why do we care about people we never knew, people who we are not related to?  Why do they matter?  
Well, because they wrote words, and those words lasted over time, and came to us.  
They were here once, on this very earth, where we are today as we read this brief history of their lives.  Their voices resounded; their tears fell; their lives came and went.  As will mine.  And yours.  And much that we know will also pass.  

        The things we leave behind will tell our stories.  And perhaps someone will think about us someday.