Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Few Quick Words on Name Changes

                       Recently I have had several discussions about name changes taking place as immigrants enter the United States through Ellis Island.  Let’s bottom line this: it didn’t happen.  The Immigration Service maintained a staff of bilingual clerks at Ellis Island in order to accurately record the names of immigrants as they passed through the various check points.  In addition, ship Captains kept a very accurate passenger list or manifest with the names of passengers.

After immigrants entered the country, it is very likely they may have anglicized or simply changed their names.  A case in point here is Sherburne County is the man who decided there were too many Andersons in the area.  He went through the county court and legally changed his name.  Later his son went through the same process because the son was born before the name change and so also had to legally change his last name to fit the new name of his father.

Furthermore, don’t let a different spelling of a last name discourage your family history research.  I don’t know who said it first, the quote has been credited to Mark Twain, or Benjamin Franklin and a host of other men, but it is worth remembering (and forgive the paraphrase):  A man who spells his name only one way is obviously not a gentleman.

In the case of Brubaker, I was recently introduced to an alternate spelling of “Brubacher” in the 1850s.  I guess the family is slowly working itself towards the title of Gentleman.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dad’s Lunch Box

Dad worked for 40 years for the Union Pacific Railroad.  Each day he would line this lunch box with wax paper, make a sandwich, bag up some potato chips, and a twinkie or a Ding Dong.  On a good day he would make the sandwich of egg salad, or possibly tuna.  On a busy day, when he didn’t have the time to make a sandwich, it was bologna with mustard on white bread.

He would always go to work with his lunch bucket in his hand, wearing blue coveralls, and carry a coat, mittens, and lantern.  The mittens were heavy duty things.  I think one pair probably lasted several years.  He always maintained that with mittens you could move your fingers around and keep them warm.  So he always wore mittens.

That will always be Dad.


This lunch box is the ultimate image of Dad working on the railroad.  When he retired he wanted to drive over it with his truck and flatten it.  I begged him not to do it.  I’m glad he didn’t. 


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Value of Maps

Just recently I was evaluating the value of maps in family history research.  As part of a program, I reflected on a story Dad used to tell:

His grandparents, John H. Brubaker and Ellen Tiernan owned land in western Nebraska.  The farmers and ranchers in the area had decided that they would collectively pay for a school teacher.  A school house was built nearby and all of the children were sent.  The Brubakers had three sons, all very handsome and charismatic.  According to Dad, for three years in a row, the school had to hire a new teacher because each woman that came out to teach would inevitably marry a Brubaker boy.

Until recently, I had never given much credibility to this story.  But, I was able to visit Alliance, Nebraska.  The museum there is really quite nice.  Inside the museum/archives in Alliance I encountered a plat map of the area.  There on the map was my grandfather’s land.  And just south and west of his land was a school house!  Maybe Dad’s story is not such a stretch after all.

Here is a copy of the map.  You can make up your own mind.  Regardless of the veracity of the story, the discovery on this map was exciting.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jane Hislop Brubaker--Growing Up in Huntsville

Another bit of oral history from Jane Hislop Brubaker.  “Daddy” is Charles Henry Hislop and “Mama” is Mabel Hislop.  These are some of Jane’s earliest memories of growing up during the Depression in the 1930s

Daddy was a sheep-herder until ’35. I was about three years old when he came home. He was sick. And the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him. Anyway, he came home, and he was home for a couple of years.  We didn’t have anything, because Daddy was sick and Mama bought some chickens. She rented a chicken coop when we were there, in back of the house. We raised chickens, but then one day the chicken coop caught on fire and all the chickens burned up.


We didn’t have anything when Daddy was sick. We were really poor. But he had, Daddy had, he was so tired all the time, and he just didn’t have any energy. We went to the doctor, and the doctor said it was his teeth. His teeth were rotten. They might have been. But anyway, they pulled all his teeth. He was still sick. So one of his friends came over and made him go to a different doctor. And he went to that doctor and he had Anemia.  So they put him on iron pills and he got better. But he was really, really sick for four or five years there.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mom and Dad's First Date

This was edited from an oral history I collected from Mom (Jane Hislop Brubaker) in 2008.  Mom’s birthday is coming up, she would have been 82 years old.  I’m posting this because I am thinking of both her and Dad.  Happy Birthday Mom.
We had a party one night. We decided to have a party at one of the girls’ homes, but we didn’t have any men to invite, because we didn’t know any. So Mary Marvella brought over all these boys from Nampa. Which, Eddie was one of them. We went to a bar. I remember we were dancing. I mean, we were there, and everybody started dancing except I wasn’t dancing. And here comes Eddie and says, “Dance with me.” So I said OK, and I danced with him. And then he spun me around, and when I got back around I couldn’t find him. I’ll never forget that. He had a coat rack in his arms. And he was dancing with that and he said, “Oh, Janie.  Janie, you’ve lost so much weight.” And I thought, “Oh, God, how funny a guy he is!” That’s how I met him.
After that, well, I didn’t see him again for a long time. And then instead of Eddie calling me, Willy Marvella called me and asked me to go out.
Finally Eddie called me one night and asked me to go out with him. And I said, yeah, I would. But guess what? He never showed. He stood me up!  He didn’t show that first time. And the second time he called me, he asked me to go out with him, and I went. He told me that he had to be home because his brother Pat came to town. And he was in service, I think, or something.  I didn’t put up a fight with him or nothing. I just said yes. And he showed. I don’t remember where we went. 

Mom, I think all five of your children are glad you gave Dad a second chance at a date!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Some Insight Into Immigration

I am reading the Vilhelm Moberg series: The Emigrant Novels.  He provides an interesting perspective on the push/pull forces the drive so much of immigration to the United States.  In his historic novels we have eight characters that for a variety of reasons immigrate to the United States from Sweden.  We have the farmer looking for more, better farm land; his wife who is running from the emotional trauma of losing a child during the starvation times.  We also have the two young men who are running away from their labor contracts with a cruel farmer.  In the novel there is also the group seeking religious freedom, and the woman who is a social outcast with her illegitimate, teenage daughter.  And, finally we cannot forget the man who hates his wife and is fleeing an unhappy marriage “after the children have grown.”

All of these characters are moving to the United States seeking a better life.  But each of them illustrates a different personal reason that either pulls them to immigrate, or pushes them out of Sweden.

Moberg originally published this series in the 1940s and 1950s.  There are four volumes.  He is rich in detail and creates a set of unique and entertaining characters.  The books are very readable, but more importantly, they seem to be well researched and, although historic fiction, they are accurate.  The push pull factors are not the only memorable details of this story.  They are simply the first of many that slowly are emerging from these pages.

Yes, the books are somewhat old, written more than 60 years ago.  But the story line and the messages presented here are worth visiting.  We will visit Moberg again as the story unfolds.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Some Memories About Growing During the Depression

Watching a train with some coal cars pass by the other day I remembered a story Dad used to tell about growing up during the Depression of the 1930s.  Dad was born in 1928, so he was maybe 8 years old when he did this:  In order to heat the house in Idaho, the kids in the neighborhood would listen for the trains to travel by.  As the train would lumber by, the kids would throw rocks at the locomotive and the cars.  In response, the engineer and the fireman would throw wood or coal, whichever they were burning, back at the kids.  The kids would then gather up all of the coal and wood to take home and burn in the stoves or furnaces.  There was never anything malicious about this daily event.  Everyone, the trainmen and the children, understood that this was a way to help everyone in the neighborhood.  Afterall, the entire country was suffering from the depression, this was simply an informal way to give to the less fortunate in the community; to provide a free resource to heat their homes.

Still, another way to heat the house, a man in the neighborhood went to every house and explained how to by-pass the gas meter. Then when the gas reader came by to read the meter, one neighbor would stall him while the rest of the neighborhood removed the evidence of the by-pass.  Dad remembered that the man that introduced all of this went to jail.  But the rest of the neighborhood continued to survive.

The lesson in all of this is that the community worked together for the survival of all.  There was no “survival of the fittest” mentality.  It was more of a “we’re all in this together” concept.

We hear about the depression era mentality when then generation of Americans hate to waste anything.  I also wonder if there isn’t a greater sense of charity and compassion in that same generation because they all grew up working together to insure the well being of everyone in the neighborhood.