Sunday, August 9, 2015

Putting History together with family stories - Paternal grandmother and great grandparent's memories

Lately, I haven't been around as much. Besides, trying to find employment, I've been researching and trying to make sense of some stories which were told to family. Sometimes its from the person who immigrated to the new country and sometimes its a memory of what was said or told to them by people who immigrated. It doesn't really matter who told the story, as long as these stories were and are not forgotten.

By talking to the older generation still with us, we can find out things their parents and grandparents told them. It could be a memory, a grunt with a few words... anything. Each of these memories - no matter how short they are all add up to things that mattered enough in their lives for them to remember them.

In fact, I have a few stories which I'll share about my paternal grandmother's side of the family. I knew my grandmother growing up and she's the only grandmother I do remember other than the few visits with my maternal grandmother.

1979 My paternal grandmother and myself in Newburgh, NY
Some of the stories are:

Story: Grandma kept saying "There are German soldiers on every block, so be quiet and watch out." - Her granddaughter, Theresa, shortly before Genowfa passed away.

Fact: She grew up in Poland, which was occupied by both German and Polish soldiers. When Ober Ost was created in 1914, (my grandmother would have been 4 years old at this stage) it controlled everything with an iron fist. You could not move without a solider asking you want you were doing and why. In fact, this meant you could not visit friends or
even family without a good reason. This was the reason why my grandmother talked about German soldiers on very block - to make sure you weren't leaving the district. It must have been very difficult for them as they lived near the edge of the lands that made up the Ober Ost.

The lived approximately 75 miles or 105 km away from Brest Litovsk (in the red on the lower left side).

Story: I know when I was growing up she used to say when she was my age they always had Germans, Bolshevist's, KGB agents around.

New-York tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), 19 Sept. 1914 Part of letter to editor
Fact: This is due to the ongoing in fighting between the Germans and Russians. Prior to 1914, the land my grandmother lived on was claimed as Russian - as it had been for over 100 years (since the 3rd and last partition). Then from about 1914 until about 1917 it was German territory, and then it went back to Russian only for the land to be set back to an independent Poland in 1919 but it wasn't until 1920 it was formally acknowledged. 

Story: My grandfather (my grandmother's father) used to sit there and curse the Bolsheviks and Russians.

Fact: This is due to the armies coming through the towns and being terrorized by them. Many people had been killed or disappeared just because they were thought to have said something against the Russian or Bolsheviks. They would tell the press and governments they were doing doing something good, only for the opposite to be true and the only ones to know it would be the people who lived there.

And the stories go on and on. Do you have stories like these for your family? I would recommend to either write them down or record them on either video or voice recorder. This is so you can have the story and use history to actually put fact with the stories you are told.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 7 October 1918 

What if they are not true?
Many times people might actually either mistake what's been said or have lied all together. Why? Well it could be they only wanted "good" things to be told, they embellished them so their life would seem exciting, or third, and not a good one, would be to try and throw you off of where they grew up for some reason unknown to you.

In my experiences, I've had all of these either done to me or known of people who have had them done to them. In some cases, we just don't know and either the person is gone or is not willing to talk about why they did something. You can either keep it inside of you and let it simmer away which does nothing but anger and upset you or you can let it go and try and understand why they've done it and let it go. Most of us do the first and after awhile, hopefully, we can do the latter.

Is it easy to do? Of course not! However, I know I have bigger and better things to do with my emotions and energy than on something that's happened and I cannot change.

That being said, even the untrue or tainted stories ARE still apart of your history. You have to embrace it, note it, and then let everyone know that it is not true and your reasons for discounting it. You never know, something might have happened and its not until years later when information is released or found, it might just turn out to be correct after all.

Sept 2007 at Movie World in Queensland Australia
Genealogy is a roller coaster - just hang on and enjoy the ride! 

Goodbye Balmville Tree

The saying "whatever is old is new again"? Well sometimes this is not the case. In fact, sometimes when you cannot make it "new" then people just say get rid of it and get rid of it. Unfortunately, society has gotten more and more like this and it is very sad. People don't stop and take a breath and look around enough. Eventually, if something is not done, we will be without more and more iconic things until they are all gone.

A case in point, is the Balmville Tree located in Balmville, New York. This is near where I grew up and even I, who was not a nut for anything military or historic, knew it was there. Did I love it or like it? Of course not...but I knew it was there regardless. Why wouldn't it be - it was there for over 300 years!

Picture taken in 2015 and is on the Balmville Tree Wikipedia page
The Balmville Tree was a eastern cottonwood tree and was New York State's smallest state's forest.once they took ownership of the land in about 2000. It is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, since 2000, the tree kept having structural problems and the state kept trying to revive the tree. However, this past week, it became a danger to the community and has been cut down to just a stump.

The tree, is estimated, to have been around from 1699 until this past week when New York cut it to its stump - 2015.

If only we could talk to the tree and find out what its seen and been through in those times. It would truly be something to sit back and marvel at. From the hanging's back before and when George Washington rode through, to industrialization and now to the technology era.
A plaque about the tree - taken from

Many of the residents came to either get parts of the tree to turn it into something - a cup or mug - or cuttings to see if they can get cut offs to take, so the tree will never be forgotten. I do wish the state would have went and put a cut off in its position, so the tree could live on. As far as I'm aware, this was not the case, which is sad.

Remember, not everything you can get back or replace. It looks like now all we have is our memories of the tree and for us to pass along stories of the tree and what took place there.
Our picture we took in June 2000
Below are the pictures of the plaques that are or were around the tree which tell you about its history.

 Bye Balmville Tree - You will be remembered in our memories.