Facebook has inexplicably shut down my personal page, so I also can’t control any of my other pages. This is a test to see what happens when I try to use the auto-publish feature. If you know anybody at Facebook, please help!

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Cookies for your Country

I haven’t written a postcard post in a while, but that ISN’T because I’ve quit the hobby. Rather the opposite, in fact; I “met” a family through a postcard and dived completely down a rabbit hole, which has just gotten bigger and bigger as I’ve learned more and more about things that never fell into my wheelhouse before.

Here’s the card that started it all, which I purchased in Paris in 2017:

My dear cousins, If it will not disturb you, we will visit you on Thursday the 13th sometime between 3 and 4 o’clock. Best wishes, Francois Bodevin

I have tried and tried to find anything at all about Francois. The name is uncommon, but common enough that I can’t pin it down, and of course I don’t have his address. He mailed the card from a post office near the Arc de Triomphe and his cousins, if they were indeed such, lived 3.5km to the southwest. I can find no link between a family of Bodevins and a family of Augiers.

The latter, fortunately, were not hard to find at all, despite the fact that “Emile Augier” is a name shared with one of France’s great writers. Fortuntaely the Emile Augier of the
Académie française died a full 17 years before this card was sent, so I was able to sort them out pretty easily.

Emile Augier (photo from the Musee de Suresnes)

My guy was born Eugene Jean Baptiste Emile in Lyon in 1864. His father Noel was a merchant of some sort and his mother Henriette was eighteen years old. By 1886 Emile lived in Bordeaux where he began working at Biscuits Olibet, a cookie company pioneering the mass production of baked goods in cutting-edge factories. (There is a fascinating write-up of the factory at The Center For Research and Study of Bakery. Also: there is a Center for Research and Study of Bakery. Day, made!) By 1901 Emile was the general manager of Olibet and a counselor on the Foreign Trade committee, and in 1915 he was a representative on the French delegation to the San Francisco World’s Fair.

I know this much about Emile because it was all carefully cataloged and preserved in the files of the Legion d’Honneur. I’m not entirely clear on the specific services he performed, but during WWI he utilized his experience as a manager and with mass-production techniques to help bolster and preserve the French economy, and in 1920 he was awarded the title of Chevalier.

The postcard addresses two cousins, of course, and Mrs. Augier is where my rabbit hole started. She herself hasn’t left that much of a footprint, although she apparently started out well as a young lady of note to American society, if not French. Her father was born in the US but lived much of his life in Europe, and her mother was born in France but had a celebrity history in the US, and they will be a post unto themselves. Isabelle married Emile in 1908 and they had four sons and a daughter, the latter of whom died at 11 years old. The Augier household was frequently mentioned in Parisian who’s-who publications in the early 1910s.

Emile died in 1937, and Isabelle lived another 29 years to pass away in 1966.

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The “Illwo” Sends Its Greetings — Travel, Laughter, and Nazis

Paul Kolisch was born in Vienna in 1883, which means he was a comfortable 50 years old in 1933 when he wrote this postcard. I’ve heard that Austria in 1933 was a complicated place to be, maybe not that fun, but apparently Paul was the kind of guy who tried to make it better. He was a well-known publisher of several newspapers, including the Illustrierte Wochenpost (“Illustrated Weekly Post”), and y’all, I found a comic-blogger online who described this newspaper as “redolent with murder, mystery, secrets and sex” and said “the best headlines read like the track list on a death metal album.” The Austrian national archive registers the “Illwo” an “entertainment sheet for everyone” published from 1928 to 1939, and, bless them, the entire dang thing is available online.

It was easy to find out a lot about Paul because he was fairly well-known, and apparently it wasn’t that special or amazing that I ended up with one of his postcards, because he sent lots of them. He seems to have liked to travel and there are a number of postcards he sent to fans available on eBay and the like. This one was sent to a Josef Doekal and I don’t know enough about postmarks to know where it was posted, but I know from those other eBay cards that Paul was in Bombay around this time, so I’m guessing elsewhere in India. It says, “The India-traveler of the ‘Illwo’ Illustrated Weekly Post sends you the warmest greetings! Thank you very much for the friendly interest that you bring to the ‘Illwo.'”

Unfortunately — perhaps inevitably — it is also easy to learn about Paul because he was a well-known Jew in Austria in the 1930s. He and his second wife, Stella (the editor of the Illwo), had a number of Swiss bank accounts that ended up being involved in the Volcker Commission investigation into Swiss-Nazi complicity after they were mysteriously closed while Stella and her stepdaughter were held under house-arrest for a month in 1938. Paul himself was taken to Dachau and then to Buchenwald, where he died in 1939.

I have a little coda to this story, though. Because of the Volcker Commission investigation, I was able to identify Paul’s living next of kin pretty easily too, and I contacted his granddaughter. At the time, I didn’t realize quite how prolific a writer Paul had been, and I thought perhaps she’d be interested in having this memento. She very graciously replied thusly:

Although I appreciate your offer I would like you to keep it. My mother had a large number of similarly sent post cards, which we still have. It was something Paul Kolisch did whenever he traveled to places considered exotic by the Viennese, which was often to Africa. I think they posted the pictures in the paper, perhaps in a travel feature.

I am sorry to have never had the chance to know my grandfather, but he lived on in the stories told to us by my mother. He indeed lived a very interesting, unusual life and, I am told, was loved by all who knew him. An extremely kind, generous, and loving man. I am sure he would be happy to know that his post card is still valued and on its way to America.

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A Tiny Peek at Tommy

Here’s postcard 17, which depicts on its front the pontoon bridge in Willemstad, Curacao. It is sent to a Thomas C. by his grandmother and addressed with a very clear address.

This one was harder to process than you’d expect, given the clear name and information I had. The 1968 directories of Irvington, NJ are not available, and Grandma didn’t give me any clues about her residence or name. But I am nothing if not dogged when I fall down one of these rabbit holes, and I found them, y’all. There aren’t that many Thomas C.’s in the country, and I just kept experimenting with guesses and demo family trees until I found them.

The only definite reference I can find to Tommy C.’s existence is in his mother’s obituary, so I can’t even tell exactly how old he was when he received this card from his grandmother. But he definitely existed. His parents were named Thomas and Joyce, and in 1955 Joyce took a trip with her mother Agnes and used this same address on her immigration papers. It is interesting that she did this while still unmarried but 13 years later lived at the same address with her son. Her obituary also doesn’t mention a husband. So I’m suspecting the marriage may have not lasted all that long.

Tommy had four grandparents, of course; his father Thomas was the son of Irish immigrants. But if I were guessing, I’d guess that this card came from Grandma Agnes S. Partially that guess is fueled by the above-mentioned address situation that makes me suspect Tommy lived with his grandparents. But also, Agnes and her husband John appear to have been relative globe-trotters for people both born within miles of where they died. I found records of their travels in the Caribbean and to and from Europe throughout the 50s. I can’t find much in the 60s and nothing about this particular trip, but it sounds like they were well-off and liked cruises.

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Ready For a Soap Opera

I’ve been ruminating on the good ol’ days as I did this card — you know, the America we’d like to return to, when every man had a job and came home to his wife, to whom he was happily married with 2.5 children, and she’d made him dinner. Except that I’m a grownup and I realize that that America existed for almost nobody almost never. In this particular case, we have some disruptive evidence about the sanctity of marriage way back when.

In this “way back when,” which is 1907, Clifford went to Atlanta, and he sent a card back to a lady named Maude. It says:

I am afraid you will think I am a poor correspondent but never mind, that letter will come yet. Now see if it “don’t.” I do most of my writing on cards. Hello, Opal, how are you? Thanks for all the pretty cards you sent and come again real soon. Sincerely, Clifford.

So this is the context in which I learned that the City of Sacramento had street-by-street telephone directories all the way back in the 1880s and they’re all online with some degree of OCR. I was therefore able to find Mrs. Maude E. pretty quickly, and the street directory listed her middle initial, which is O. So I read this card as being weirdly written to a woman named Maude Opal to whom Clifford referred as “Opal” alone. Then I started trying to find out a bit more about Maude and realized they’re two people.

Maude was born in 1881 in Indiana, the first of five children to long-time Indiana farmers who moved to California sometime before 1889. In 1900 she married Hjalmar E., the son of Swedish immigrants who came to Sacramento from Sweden via Kansas. But by 1909 she…

Okay, the other day, my mother told me that one of my blog posts was hard to follow. And this gets hard to follow. Which is my point! These people were marrying each other right and left. Maude was married a grand total of three times, unless she remarried Hjalmar when she moved back in with him in 1926 in which case it’s four. Hjalmar (that appears to be pronounced “Yalma” or “Yalmar,” as he’s known in most U.S. documents) was married at least twice, the second time to a woman who’d been married before and was married twice thereafter. Maude’s sisters were married multiple times. And unlike if you go a bit further back in history, these aren’t deaths causing this rearranging, it’s straight-up divorce, because the spouses were all remarrying too, and there are a host of children listed in various places with various last names.

Here, tidied this up for you:

And this is just these three. You’ll have to trust me that their various spouses and siblings were marrying and divorcing all over the place. And the craziest part is that they all lived within the same several-block radius, sometimes in the same building, for all their lives… and then they were nearly all buried in the same graveyard! Sacramento in the early 1900s was apparently a happening place, y’all.

How I actually did this one is a little bit interesting, I think: Maude has a very comprehensive Social Security death record with her several married names and the middle name “Oriole.” So who the heck was Opal? I went back to the directories and looked up everybody living at Maude’s various addresses, and bingo, there was an Opal.

Searching the general records for an Opal R. got me some family. I was pretty sure this was a family because c’mon, Opal and Pearl living at the same address? Cheesy but helpful.

And then the 1910 Census sealed the deal: Opal living with a woman named Maude who was listed as her sister. So I built them a family tree with sisters Maude, Opal, and Pearl and father William (that was a guess; he could have been a brother), and the rest was downhill.

So that leaves one burning question about this card: Who’s Clifford? I’m not sure. There’s a Clifford of about the right age, living down the street, who worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, as did Yalma and all his brothers. But he appears to have been happily married (the only one!) and I can’t find a reason he’d have been in Atlanta. There are a couple Cliffords in the family tree, too, but they’re mostly the wrong ages. I may never know!

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Aunt Charlotte’s Old Face, Twice

I don’t have enough postcards to do two a week for long, but this one is brand new (to me) and I like it as a way to go into the weekend. So happy Friday, from Charlotte S., who sounds like she was a character.  She wrote this postcard in 1910, when she was 62 years old, and sent it to her 19-year-old niece. It says:

This is your Aunt Charlotte’s old face. With love to all. Your Aunt C.S. I am looking for Ma to come and visit me.

This family was easy to find because there was only one family with that last name in that city at the time, and then the family tree demonstrated the correct names and cities very quickly. Recipient Amelia grew up, stayed local, got married, and doesn’t appear to have had any kids. And she made it easy for me to find her aunt.

Aunt Charlotte lived near her family’s original homestead in the town where I went to college. She married a man who had come to the US from Germany as a child and was a good bit older than she was, and they had five kids of their own. One of those kids was a mail carrier but also moonlighted as a photographer. I have no idea if he took the picture that became this postcard, but he had a little studio in their town, so I like to think he did.

And I don’t know about you, but I think Aunt Charlotte looks good for early 60s!

But the really fun part of this one, for me, is that I was able to find another photograph of Aunt Charlotte’s old face… when it wasn’t old!

Check out this picture of Jacob and Elizabeth B., who both emigrated from Germany as children and met and lived in New York for a while,  where Charlotte (the oldest) and the next of her nine siblings were born. Eventually they moved to Minnesota and set up a farm, and their children and grandchildren appear to still be well-represented in the area.

I don’t have a source on this photograph, or a date. But that oldest child is a girl, and their oldest child was Charlotte, and if she was born in 1848, this age and this fashion work out. So I’m going to go ahead and pretend that this is Aunt Charlotte’s young face, seated on her father’s knee.

(The baby, incidentally, would have been card-recipient Amelia’s mom!)

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It’s Grandma Who’s Interesting

Today I’d like to share Postcard 8, an image of Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow, although it is postmarked from Leningrad. Because this isn’t 100 years old and because I’m only sort of confident all the named characters are dead, I’m going to blur-and-initialize to minimize the searchability of this post.  (But I fully acknowledge that there’s so much information on this family it would take a half-sober monkey five minutes with Google to find them.)

This postcard came from eBay in 2014. It’s dated July 25, 1938, is addressed to a person with a clear name and address, and features the following tender words:

My dear little Herzchen, Aunt Jeannette & I send loads of love to your Mommy & Daddy. Grandma Johanna

From a research perspective, this card had a lot of potential. Los Angeles city directories from the 1930s are online. Of course, this card appears to be addressed to a child, and a female child at that, so it wasn’t going to be a slam-dunk to find either the recipient or her grandmother. But I was pretty sure I could do it.

There are a couple hundred people in the Los Angeles directory of 1938 with this last name, and in the end, Miss Jo Ann’s family were actually not among them. I don’t know why they’re not listed in the directories anywhere; maybe they were renters. I finally found them by hoping they were at the same address in the 1940 Census.

That too was a little complicated because their house was right after a street change and the online catalog had the address wrong. But I finally found them with a little playing around and learned that Jo Ann was barely a toddler when her loving grandmama sent her this card. She is listed as just over 2 years old in 1940!

From there it was mostly downhill: father Fred was a hotel manager in LA, and he and mother Maxine traveled a lot during their marriage. They had two kids, and Maxine remarried before Fred’s death, so I’m guessing they eventually divorced. Their son (also Fred) died recently; I can’t find much about Jo Ann. A nice, normal family, upper middle-class enough to have a live-in servant. Nothing very exciting.

It’s Grandma who’s interesting!

I mean, first of all, it’s 1938 and Grandma’s rocking out in Leningrad.

The American part of this family’s saga starts in 1846 when Salomon S. arrived from Germany with at least one of his brothers. The woman who would be his wife, Sophie R., arrived in 1854, and I have absolutely no idea how they met, but they got married in Ohio just months after her arrival, so perhaps they knew each other back home. They immediately set about having a bazillion children in Chicago. Salomon is described several places as “not wealthy” and “a grocer,” but like many immigrants, his kids did better than their father. Son (and relative hotty) Moses was a lawyer, notably representing the Central Labor Union and some of the anarchists involved in the Haymarket Bomb cases in Chicago in the late 1880s. He later became a state senator. Grandson Irving was a business tycoon, Roosevelt crony, and United Nations Ambassador. And the family as a whole seems to have been heavily involved in the steel industry in New York and Chicago, at least according to various criminal and civil complaints filed on their behalf and against them.

Salomon’s fifth son, Joseph, is the tie to my postcard. Joseph was himself a bit of a macher, involved in the family’s steel ventures and filing at least a couple patents for pretty things made out of steel. He served a little time after mishandling the estate of a hotel magnate who may or may not have been married to a woman who may or may not have authorized the estate transfer; his brother Moses (also named in the suit, and with more than a whiff of impropriety about the whole thing) appears to have fought valiantly on his behalf.

At some point in the late 1800s or early 1900s, a German fraulein named Johanna K. immigrated to the United States. I can’t find much about this, but she ended up spending a lot of time with two men I assume were her brothers, so the family came over together or reconnected in Chicago. Johanna’s family was also well-connected or very entrepreneurial and also involved in the steel industry, so I assume that’s how she met Joseph. They married in 1906 and nine years later Joseph, Johanna (yes! a woman listed on a business document!), and Johanna’s likely-brother Max put up $50,000 and incorporated the Royal Metal Manufacturing Company of Chicago. I’m not sure exactly what that means, legally speaking, because the RMMC existed before 1915, but it’s an interesting side note. The RMMC ended up being a pretty big deal in the art deco art world and was the money behind nephew Irving’s career pre-diplomacy.

Not just a random chair: an RMMC art chair!

Joseph and Johanna thrived and made enough money to be involved in several seriously major lawsuits, including one against the city of Chicago that I can’t read because it’s sealed. They had three kids, one of whom was Jo Ann’s mother Maxine. And they loved to travel. After Joseph died in 1930, Johanna traveled with her daughter Jeannette but also, as far as I can tell, by herself, including months-long stays in the UK and Puerto Rico.

And then, of course, there’s the 1938 expedition to Leningrad, about which I can find absolutely nothing…

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I’m Nancy Drew, Is How I Did It

Yesterday’s post has generated an interesting conversation on Facebook, so I’m going to write a little post here about how I did the research. [Also, for the record: I’m blurring a lot of stuff for now because some of these people are still alive, and just reasons. But I have the info, and I’m relatively confident in my assertions and will note when that’s not the case.]

Here’s the card I had to start with.

The information I had for sure was:

  • The author’s initials (H.E.)
  • The author resided in Stevens Point in 1922
  • The recipient’s address, at a rural route and box number in a township in Wisconsin about 90 miles away from Stevens Point
  • The recipient’s marital status and a very, very vague guess at her name (it looked like her first name started with E and her last with either R or K)

Things I concluded that were probably, but not definitely, facts:

  • H.E. was old enough to have married and moved out
  • H.E. grew up in the place her mother continued to live and therefore would have been on older census/other records
  • H.E. had a sister named Marie

I started out learning about the rural route, where it was, and if it had any other names (they often do). I like Historic Map Works as a source for old maps, but in this case they didn’t help all that much. So it was off to the 1920 and 1910 Census data I went. I love Steve Morse’s Enumeration District tools — he’s done the world an incredible favor with that page, and I’ve used it more than once to solve family mysteries. (His other research tools are impressive, too.) Basically, you use city/state data to figure out which pages of the census cover your areas. It’s still a lot of needle-in-haystack digging, but it takes it down to one haystack instead of a field full of them.

1910 Census for Family K.

So this was the long slog part of the research. I just started guessing. I worked through the relevant enumeration districts in the 1920 census, looking for families with last names starting with R or K, mothers’ names starting with E, and possibly daughters with initials H.E. or named Marie. I didn’t find any. So I started comparing families in the area in 1920 to families in the area in 1910, thinking that maybe H.E. and Marie had moved out before 1920.

Every time I found a potential family, I did a quick family tree research session for them to see what I could find. For example, if I found Leon Rutabaga and his wife Emily living on Highway 6 in 1910 with daughters Harriett and Marie, I then tried to find marriage records for a Harriett Rutabaga to a man who lived in Stevens Point by 1922. It’s a complicated back-and-forth between census records, city directories (Stevens Point — not their rural township!), and even newspaper records.

Finally, I found them. I got lucky, and they lived in the exact same place in both 1910 and 1920, so I could determine that Louis K. and his wife Emma had four kids in the 1910 census, and only two in 1920 — Helen and Mary had moved out by then.

So then I had a last name to work with, and things really sped up. I quickly found Helen K.’s obituary, which was extremely helpful. And from there it was just a downhill project to fill out the whole family history. This town and this era has a lot online, so I was even able to find a picture of little Mildred Marie.

Interesting side note: this picture also includes my great-aunt Jeannette. So that’s two postcards off eBay that ended up tying into my own family!

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“Oh Ma you can’t guess”

This card is one of my favorites because I really had to wrestle with it. When I first read the back I thought it seemed so forlorn, but I hoped I could find a happy ending for its author, so I bought it off eBay. In the end it was really hard to “solve” because at some point someone had erased the addressee’s name, leaving behind only the vaguest scratches, and the writer only used her initials. So I knew this card was mailed to a married woman at a rural route postal box in Wisconsin in 1922, by a person with the initials H.E. who lived in a different city. I am proud of figuring this one out! Continue reading

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Parks & Rec 2-23: Blazing Chemistry

Plot: Leslie has to charm the local police into donating security for the fall festival. Ann is in love with Chris. Ben is in love with Leslie. And Ron, bless his pointy head, is in lust with his ex-wife Tammy 2.

Deep Thoughts: Seriously, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman have amazing chemistry. They’re one of the couples who will irrationally devastate me if they ever break up. Also, OMG, Nick Offerman really does woodcrafts and has a shop.

Your Related Link For The Day: Cops like pizza. They also like donuts. Here’s a tiny little history of the cop-donut relationship.

Ann is Finally Having Character Development: But it’s not great. She’s subsuming her own personality (such as it is?) in Chris’s. Even though I know where this is heading because I’ve already watched the series, you can tell where this is heading. Continue reading

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