Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year





Although I have not been posting much lately, I have been doing some research via Ancestry, some learning via DearMYRTLE, and some planning for the year ahead, including participating in Thomas MacEntees full year Genealogy Do-Over.


Although I will have more on my plate in 2016, I am hopeful that I will still find time to indulge in my favorite pastime and share the results of my research here with you.

All the best for 2016!


Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Wishes

I'm not strictly following Thomas MacEntee's description of today's theme. Instead of my own Christmas wishes, I thought this would be a great opportunity to show off one of my favorite genealogy finds.

In December of 1909, when my grandfather was eight, the Pittson Gazette of Pittston, PA reprinted childrens' letters to Santa., including his:

Pittston Gazette, 22nd December 1909, Wed, Page 14
________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Santa,
I heard that you were coming to Pittston. I would like to have a pair of kid gloves and a work shop and a flexible flyer sled and a box of handkerchiefs and a box of writing paper. I guess this will be all for this time.
Your friend.
Howard Matthews
13 Nafus St.
Pittston Pa
 ________________________________________________________________________________

I had never seen any photos of my grandfather as a child until very recently. This came from Dad's basement stash
Howard B Matthews - date unk.


Isn't he adorable? This photo is now one of my most prized possessions. And that basement stash feels like many years worth of Christmas wishes!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday's Tip - Look Again!

Look at those records again. Something you've probably heard before if you've been a geneablogger or geneablog-reader for any length of time, but this came up for me recently, so I thought I would add my voice.

I was typing up the names of the identified people in this photo during scanning and decided to dig a little bit regarding the unfamiliar names and unidentified people. (I also wrote this post to see if anyone out there could find a connection in this photo.)



Based on my estimate of the ages of the children, I decided to take another look at the 1900 U.S. census. 1900 was the first U.S. census after my great-grandparents' marriage in 1893 and was also the year that they moved into their own home after seven years of renting. I knew that my great-grandparents had boarders, so I was curious to see if any of the unfamiliar names could be found as boarders or neighbors.

Really, it is just classic F.A.N. (Friends And Neighbors) research, but I was surprised to find just how many familiar names were found on that one page of the census. I had learned so much about the F.A.N. club and my great-grandmother's siblings through other research (and good fortune) that all of a sudden the census record became a little window for me to see into the lives of my ancestors.

The census lists my great-grandmother's brother, Albin Johnson, among her boarders, which actually doesn't surprise me as he never married. Also their sister Anna Olivia and her family are living right next door, and they too have boarders. Their good friend Selma, who immigrated with them to the United States, is living on the same block with her family and, you guessed it, they have boarders as well. Anna Olivia's boarders may be Selma's brother and his family, actually. They may also be in the photo above and buried in the Carlin/Olson plot in East Cemetery. That will have to be added to my research to-do list, though. I'll need to have another look to be sure.

I love this discovery, it was definitely worth another look at the census to see it. All of these adult ancestors were immigrants so they did not have deep roots here. But they created their own community here in Manchester to make up for that, and spread their roots wide to give themselves and their families the stability to make a good life.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Arthur William Matthews - d. December 6, 1915 - Turned None Away

My great-grandfather, Arthur William Matthews, died 100 years ago today.  Until recently all I had or knew of him was one photograph and some of my grandfather's written memories. And that is a lot, more than a lot of people have, but I was very happy to find more about him when I subscribed to Newspapers.com last year and again this past September in Dad's secret stash.
Arthur William Matthews
b. 1844 Coleford, Somersetshire, England
d. Dec. 6, 1915, Pittston, PA

From the Pittston Gazette, Wed Dec 8, 1915
If you have read any of my grandfather's autobiography which I transcribed over many weeks for Amanuensis Monday, you might remember that Arthur came to the United States as a member of an orchestra in 1865. Once settled in Pittston, he led the choir at the Methodist Episcopal Church for many years and owned a music store. He also composed music, including for this hymn, "I Left it All with Jesus, Long Ago."


I was over the moon to find this in September, I had read that my grandfather had it, but had never seen it.

Also, among a literal stack of Bibles and prayer books, I found this.



The embossing is almost completely gone on the cover. It reads A W Matthews.

It's nice to have these physical connections to my great-grandfather, but even more than this, and especially in this Advent Season, I remember most proudly one thing that my grandfather wrote in his autobiography, "The visitor was there by virtue of my father's rule that no one ever be turned away from the Matthews house hungry." Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Music


Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers started the holiday blogging prompt, Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, about six years ago. Today's prompt is Christmas Music.

Christmas carols, church music and even more modern novelty songs are all a big part of our Christmas memories. What songs were your favorites as a child and are they still your favorites or do you have new ones? What about your parents or family members – were there certain songs or types of Christmas music played during the season? And how would you describe the type of Christmas music you like?

Write about anything related to Christmas music and your memories of Christmases past.

My fondest memories of Christmas music are definitely out of the norm. It isn't Dean Martin or Bing Crosby that first come to mind when I think Christmas music, it's Marlena Dietrich, Odetta and Stan Freberg.

My parents loved many kinds of music, folk among them. When they lived in the Chicago suburbs, they listed to a radio show called "The Midnight Special" on WFMT on Saturday nights from 9pm - Midnight. One year my dad recorded their Christmas show on his reel-to-reel player. We listened to that recording every Christmas Day and over the years it became my holiday soundtrack.

Unfortunately, that reel-to-reel tape snapped one day as have the few cassette tapes Dad made from it and I haven't been able to find any recordings around my step-mother's house. But I have my memories of the songs, like Win Stracke's "Christmas in Clout City," that don't exist anywhere else and some of them were popular enough to make it to iTunes and YouTube. I'm sharing some of those below.

I believe that the Odetta spirituals are the same recordings that were played that night long ago on WFMT. They are lovely, uplifting songs. Marlene Dietrich's recording of Der Trommelmann (The Little Drummer Boy) is very different from most other recordings of the song, but lovely in its own way.

The other selections are more comedic and misanthropic and a little bit cynical. But they are snapshots of their time as well.

Yes, of course, I do listen to classic Christmas songs and carols. I always listen to the Nutcracker through at least once each season and I have Christmas albums on iTunes like Canadian Brass and the Westminster Boys' Choir and the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it wouldn't be Christmas for me without a little Midnight Special.



 Odetta - Shout for Joy

 Odetta - Children, Go Where I Send Thee


Marlene Dietrich - Der Trommelmann


 Stan Freberg - Green Christmas

Tom Lehrer - A Christmas Carol

Mike Nichols & Elaine May - Merry Christmas, Doctor.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 1951, Middletown, CT
Mathilda Alfina Johnson Anderson & Howard Bierly Matthews

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday's Faces From the Past - Group Photo

One of my favorite photos (if I can even really pick favorites) from Dad's basement stash is this group photo of family members and friends of my grandmother's family.  Of course, the first thing I noticed was the numbers, in red marker, on the photo itself! Oh, boy!

But it is the people who are not marked, not identified, who are the reason for this post. I have had a little bit of luck finding cousins through this blog, so why not some descendants of my ancestors' FAN clubs?

1 - Carl Johan Anderson, my great-grandfather.
2 - Albin Johnson, my great-grandmother's brother.
3 - Anna Johnson, my great-grandmother's sister.
4 - Charles Johnson, Anna's husband.
5 - John Anderson (Lil' John), relationship unknown, but may have been a boarder according to a 1900 census.
6 - John Carlin - no relation, but possibly the brother of Selma Carlin, Anna and Alfina's friend.
7 - Mrs. Carlin - probably John's wife.
8 - Axel Heinrich Anderson, my great-uncle.
9 - Elmer Carl Anderson, my great-uncle (brother of Axel).
10 - Lillian Hildur Ingeborg Johnson, my first cousin 2 x removed, daughter of Anna and Charles.

There are no indications as to exactly when or where this photo was taken, but many of these people lived in and around Manchester, CT. And from the ages of my great-uncles, I can estimate that it was taken around 1900 when my great-grandparents and great-uncles (my grandmother wasn't born until 1905) had just moved into what is now a two-family house that my great-grandfather built on Garden Street. (The number now is 68 but I believe the numbers changed over the years.) He purchased the land from the Cheney family who owned the mill where he worked and built the home large enough to take in boarders who became my great-grandmother's responsibility. The 1900 census lists a John Anderson as one of their boarders, though it is unclear if the John Anderson above is the same man. The other boarders listed were Albin Johnson (likely my great-grandmother's brother), Alexander and Axel Bergrin (likely Berggren) and Charles Larson - all from Sweden and all employed at the Cheney mills. Any of them could be in this photo, or not.

So, if you have any of this rings a bell to you, please take a closer look at this photo by clicking on it and if you recognize anyone, please let me know!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday - Selma Carlin Olson

My paternal grandmother's mother, Mathilda Alfina Johnson, was born in Sweden and immigrated to the United States in 1890 with one of her four surviving sisters, Anna Olivia, and their friend Selma Carlin. The sisters and their friend joined at least two other Johnson sisters in Illinois.

L-R: Anna Olivia Johnson, Selma Carlin,
Mathilda Alfina Johnson

As I have learned in the past two months, my great-grandparents had been childhood sweethearts in Sweden. My great-grandfather, Carl Johan Anderson, had immigrated to the United States in 1888 and settled in Connecticut. When he felt he was settled enough for a family, he sent for Alfina and she moved to Connecticut to marry him, joined by Anna and Selma who also settled there, married and raised their families. All now rest in Manchester's East Cemetery.

I had been to East Cemetery on a trip to Manchester in May of this year and found the plots of the Anderson family (Alfina), the Johnson family (Anna) and the Gustafson family (Anna's daughter Lillian) but I didn't know about Selma then. On my more recent trip to Manchester in October to take the Cheney Historic District Walking Tour, we had just a few minutes to stop at the cemetery thanks to construction traffic and I had forgotten to call the cemetery office during the week to ask for Selma's plot number, so I wasn't even planning to look - it's a biiiig cemetery.

As luck would have it, though, while parked on the road to the left of the Anderson headstone, I noticed a headstone on the other side of the road that said Olson, Selma Carlin's married last name. I thought, "No way." Then I ran around to the other side of the stone and saw Carlin. What??  Sure enough, right across from Alfina's plot was Selma's family. No other related plots in that cemetery, that I know of, are so close together.




I still have much research to do about all of my relatives in Manchester and more headstones to find, but a little good luck along the way is always to be celebrated!

Thank goodness for blogging prompts! Our little dog, DJ, continues to improve with the adjusted meds and diet and the subcutaneous fluids but he does need an extra walk or two per day, one of which has been in the middle of the night for the past week. I just don't have the brain power and energy to do any constructive research at the moment. (Although you know I made an hour to do some scanning after seeing that local house gutted by fire over the weekend.) Here's to the coming Thanksgiving Weekend and four days off!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Backup, backup, backup!

This weekend Donald and I got a shocking reminder that you can loose everything in a matter of minutes.



We used to walk by this beautiful 85-year-old, 2 1/2 story house at least a few times a week. Saturday night we saw that a tall fence was now surrounding the property and then we realized that the streets were full of water and the house was black. Walking around the front revealed the full extent of the damage, the house had been gutted by fire and partially collapsed.

Most importantly, no one was hurt, but when we walked by the next day we could see the family in the yard trying to salvage anything they could find, I can't imagine that there was anything. It made me shudder just thinking about all of the precious mementos, photos and negatives that I have yet to scan and save.

Just another reminder that many things in life are out of our control, but timely back-ups are not!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day - So Much Still to Learn

Veteran's Day reminds me that there is much more research to be done about the military histories in my family.

I always thought that only members of my mother's family served in WWI and WWII.

George W Smith (my mother's father) WW1
Lt Col George W Smith (second from left) WW2
Herbert Smith, my grandfather's brother.
Lt. George Robert (Bobby) Smith - cousin - 2nd fm. left
Lt Col George W Smith - Maternal Grandfather - 3rd fm right
Capt William John White Smith - great-uncle - 2nd fm right
About Spring '44

My grandfather's WWII service file, which I received recently from Library & Archives Canada, contained information previously unknown by my mother or by me. She thought she knew every detail, but some information was new even to her. We can't wait until the archive gets to the Smiths in their WWI digitization project to learn even more.

I only learned of service by a great-uncle and cousin in the U.S. on my father's side when I visited a cemetery in Connecticut last year and saw these headstones. I have yet to research their military service. It's a shame I didn't know about this when my dad was alive.

Headstone of my great-uncle,
brother of my paternal grandmother.

Headstone of my cousin, son of my paternal grandmother's
other brother, Axel Anderson.

I also discovered recently that, whether I can prove it or not, I am descended from at least two Revolutionary War patriots. I found my great-grandfather's sister in a DAR book as descended from two veterans, but since I am so far unable to prove my great-grandfather's birth, I may not be able to prove this lineage for his descendants. In any case, I hope I have time soon to learn more about their service.

Charlotte Fisk was the sister of my great-grandfather,
George Robert Smith.


But whether it is Veteran's Day or Memorial Day, I always pause to remember by grandmother's brother, L/Cpl. Lawrence Nimmo Dean, killed in action in Holland on April 2, 1945.

L/Cpl Lawrence Nimmo Dean

Although I didn't fully appreciate the experience then, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit his grave with my grandmother and mother 32 years ago.

Headstone of L/Cpl Lawrence Nimmo Dean
Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Nijmegen, Holland
Taken by my mother ca 1958

I never knew Uncle Lawrence, but recently found his service file on Ancestry and found myself near tears as I looked through the 60 pages of documents.  He was wounded twice and gravely injured in a motorcycle accident, suffering a fractured skull and losing several teeth. He suffered from headaches even after his discharge from hospital and had to have a lower denture put in to replace the teeth. Even so, he fought to stay in action rather than be sent home. Ultimately he was killed on a reconnaissance mission just 34 days before V.E. Day.

His file was also full of tiny little details we had not known previously that filled in a few of those little cracks and helped to flesh out the details of someone I never met. I hope that someday I can do this for all of my Veteran ancestors.

Plaque in memory of Uncle Lawrence
hanging in the Minton United Church, North Hatley, Quebec.

UPDATE: Our Basenji, DJ, continues to struggle under the weight of his illness which has now been revealed to be complicated by azotemia, insufficient filtering of the blood by the kidneys. His meds have been adjusted, we are adjusting his diet and I am having to learn to give him fluids subcutaneously.  We hope to see him bounce back soon, but his condition is still serious.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Senior I Sinners

As a city-kid in Chicago, my dad was fortunate to be able to escape to New England in the summers. His parents sent him to Camp Pemigewassett (Camp Pemi) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It just sounds relaxing and rejuvenating doesn't it?



Last weekend I found a little treasure tucked in the newsletters that the camp sent home to its campers in the winter, a poem of sorts, apparently written by a tent or cabin mate of Dad's. I thought it would be fun to share for Halloween although I realize that there are people who might find this offensive, with references to Satan and Hell. But please keep in mind that it was written by a teenager at summer camp 60 years ago.

Seniors at Camp Pemi would have been 15 or 16 years old. I have changed all the names except Dad's.


"The Senior I Sinners"

When I was in Heaven, I heard the Lord tell
How early one morning he went down to Hell.
The devil was sitting in a big yellow chair,
With a whole group of sinners from Senior I there.

MacAfee and Jones were dancing about,
and they drank from a bottle that never ran out.
The girls from Camp Ogontz danced through the door,
and panting behind them trotted Dan Moore.

The hell-fires were burning with a fierce glowing heat,
And on them was cooking the barbecue meat.
Roast venison, duckling, chicken and ham,
and the breasts of 2 peacocks for our Charlie Chan.

Brown, Smith and Evans were dealing the deck,
Said the devil, "I'll teach them some new tricks, by heck."
When the third hand was over, his pile was bare,
Said the devil, "I'm quitting, you're not playing fair."

Dan Taylor and Satan then drank a long spree
Until the poor devil could no longer see,
Said the devil, "I'm dizzy and cannot see far,
Won't Thompson please put out that big black cigar."

"I need some new gut for my racket," said Green,
So they grabbed the poor devil and cut out his spleen.
And as they were laughing poor Satan did wail,
For Matthews was tying large knots in his tail.

"Get out," said the devil, "you're driving me mad,
Such a wild bunch of rowdies I never have had.
Go back to Camp Pemi from where you have come!"
And if you may want them, they haunt Senior I.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Little Break

Work has been a little busier than usual and we have been distracted this week by the odd behavior of our Basenji, DJ.


He was diagnosed yesterday with a renal disease common to Basenjis called Fanconi syndrome. It is no longer fatal, but also not curable and we are working on a protocol with our vet while also dealing with some worrying symptoms.

I hope to be back in a week or so when I can give my blogging and research my full attention.

Happy researching!



Thursday, October 22, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Week 2 - Setting Research Goals & Conducting Interviews

Back side of my grandfather's visitors card
for Chicago Lying-In Hospital
from the birth of my father.
If you've read any of my blog posts in the last week you know that I have been very busy experiencing my family history rather than documenting it. Last Thursday we went into Manhattan to visit Castle Garden and Saturday we were on a walking tour of the Cheney Historic District in Manchester, CT where my great-grandfather was a velvet weaver and my great-uncle was a silk dyer.

In spite of having some time off last week I still found myself a bit behind on do-over posts.  As I've said before, I'm participating in the do-over again because I find myself equal parts distracted and overwhelmed by the recent finds at my step-mother's house and have done very little research in the past few months.

Theoretically I could just pick up where I left off at the end of the last do-over, but it's much more fun to do it with the group, and also keeps me motivated to get things done.

Conducting Interviews

My self-interview was completed in Cylce 2, although I'm sure there will be memories and other finds to document from time-to-time.

I am still interviewing my mother. As I said the last time, she can be difficult to pin down. I have gotten away from trying to have a few questions in mind for her when we shop together, etc. I'll have to get that list out in the next few days and get it ready for Saturday.

I'm also very lucky to have some recorded interviews with a great-grandfather - recorded by his son - and my mother's father - recorded by my parents. I recently had them digitized and now they just need to be transcribed, something to add to my research goals.

Setting Research Goals

This is something that I did in Cycle 2 but my primary short-term goal has changed a bit, although it will help with some of the goals I set in that cycle.

My new short-term research goal is to go through each photo, document and keepsake that came from Dad's secret stash and review it for every possible bit of genealogical information it holds before scanning or photographing and storing. I've already had a couple of little breakthroughs from information contained on the backs of photos and inside one of my father's bibles.

It will be time consuming, but I think it is best for my own sanity that I deal with all of these boxes before I try to get anything else of substance completed.

I'll be back later today or tomorrow to talk about tracking and conducting research and sharing some of my research log with you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson - Born October 21, 1905

This is my paternal grandmother, Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson (Matthews). She was the daughter of Carl Johan Anderson about whom I have been posting so much lately.  Except for the first, which my step-mother found and mailed to me last December, these photos are all new to me, having been found in Dad's secret stash last month.

Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson

Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson

Elmer Ragnar, Axel Heinrich and
Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson

Dagmar Alice Viola &
Mathilda Alfina Johnson Anderson

Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson

Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Castle Garden - The Forgotten Immigration Point

In a post last Friday about our visit to Castle Garden, I alluded to the fact that this important National Monument no longer stands as a symbol of our ancestors' struggles, hopes and dreams in the way that Ellis Island does.


It is run down, in need of maintenance and repair. It holds construction materials, a bookstore with mainly Liberty Island and Ellis Island souvenirs and the ticket booth for Liberty and Ellis Island boats and tours. It is a shell of the original fort it housed from 1811 - 1821, it is such a shame.

I may be getting ahead of myself, listening to Canadian Federal election projections as I type, so let me tell you a bit about this monument for those who are not familiar. (You can also visit the national park service site to get more detail.)

Originally known as Southern Battery, this was a fort constructed between 1808 and 1811. In 1817 it was renamed Castle Clinton for the Mayor and later Governor of New York, Dewitt Clinton. In 1823 it was deeded to New York City and became an entertainment center for the next 31 years, renamed Castle Garden. After a roof was added in 1840 it hosted the American premieres of such stars as Jenny Lind and Lola Montez.

In 1855 Castle Garden became the New York State immigration point, America's first. Too many new arrivals to New York were ending up homeless and destitute when unable to find housing or employment or because they were parted from what little they had in the world by con artists as soon as they arrived. Castle Garden provided services and certified merchants and service providers to avoid such mistreatment. You can read about that here in more detail, from an 1871 immigration pamphlet.

More than eight million immigrants were processed here between 1855 and 1890 when the national government took over the immigration process and eventually opened Ellis Island in 1892. By one count 1 in 6 Americans can trace their lineage to an immigrant who was processed at Castle Garden.

And yet, how many people even know the name Castle Garden? And how many who are not dedicated family historians, researchers and genealogists know that it still stands today under a different name?

After the transfer of immigration processing to the Federal Government, Castle Garden was transformed once again, this time to an aquarium, which you can see here in some old postcards available for sale, and read about on the National Parks website. And then in the 40s came Robert Moses and construction of the Battery Tunnel which almost wiped-out this historic site altogether but did spell the end of the aquarium and doom the building to its fate today; one of the most visited national parks in the country but only because it houses the ticket office for the Statue of Liberty. Demolition of the aquarium had begun before public outcry saved the main structure. It stood empty until the National Park Service took it over in the 70s but was only restored to its condition as a fort. Entering the Castle today in search of Liberty or Ellis Island tickets, you would have no idea that this uninspiring building is one of the most historic in lower Manhattan.

When I was taking photos on Thursday I was actually trying to show the building in a positive light, to take away for myself something of what it was like when Carl Anderson, my great-grandfather, passed through here in 1888. I wish I had taken more photos to show what it really looks like now and unfortunately the photos I was able to find on Flickr and by doing a Google image search were very similar to mine.



When you walk in through these doors (this photo was actually taken from the inside) there is a room to the right which I was at first excited to see as it houses an exhibit. Then I saw the exhibit and I was aghast. It consists of three dioramas that show what the building looked like in 1812, 1886 and 1941.





Across the small room was a pretty sad reminder that this building also housed the country's premier aquarium. A small shadowbox table containing shells and an old program. That's it, three dioramas and a display table. The one remaining cannon is far more impressive than this exhibit.




Walking through the now open air building we decided to take in the harbor, to hopefully get an idea of what Carl saw when his ship arrived in the harbor. This also was a disappointing experience. Yes, we could see Lady Liberty and Ellis Island but our view was partially blocked by the tourist boats and the huge shed that now houses airport-level security checks for those traveling to the islands.


 



Finally, we had hoped to take a Ranger-guided tour of the Castle. Times were not available online. We arrived at 12:07, too late for the 12:00 p.m. tour and two hours early for the 2:00 p.m. After purchasing the only book available at the bookstore about Castle Clinton and touring the site on our own for an hour, we decided that the book probably held more information than we would get on a tour. A tour, by the way, that is only given if people show up and make it known to a Ranger that they are there for more than just Liberty Island tickets.

I have never been to Ellis Island but even their website is more inspiring than this visit was to me. But there is hope. Searching out information for myself and this blog post took me to the website for the Battery Conservancy and its page about rebuilding Castle Clinton. Also available is a free website where you can search for ancestors who were processed through Castle Garden (though I understand that not all records survive). How much more funding is needed before the redesign is presented to the public? Will that design truly embody the Castle's dynamic past uses? Will it properly pay homage to those who came to America through this building and made our country what she is today?


Adding to my to-do list is to reach out to someone at the Conservancy and see if I can find out where this all stands. And when I do, I will share it here.

Tomorrow I will have a simple pictorial post in honor of the 110th anniversary of my grandmother's (Carl Anderson's daughter) birth. And then, I will get back to the do-over and what I've been doing with that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Carl Johan Anderson & The Cheney Brothers Historic District Walking Tour

Earlier this year while I was doing one of those down-the-rabbit hole, random, undocumented internet searches for information about my great-grandfather, Carl Johan Anderson, I stumbled on the fact that Manchester, Connecticut, his home after coming to America, has a great respect for its history and has done an incredible job of preserving its historic sites.

Cheney Hall - Once a gathering place for Cheney workers and their families.

I knew that Carl had been a velvet weaver and that one of his sons had been a silk dyer and I thought they worked for the same employer, but that was the extent of my knowledge. That day I discovered that the building that once housed the velvet mill was still standing and was now apartments. As I kept going I learned more about Manchester, the Cheney family who owned the silk and velvet mills, the ribbon factory, and so much more. I learned that almost their whole complex of mills, factories, storage facilities, halls, stables, etc. had been preserved, at least the exteriors, and now housed apartment complexes, businesses and museums. It was a very exciting find.

Cheney Brothers first substantial Silk Mill.

Storage for one box car of raw silk.
Constructed after an attempted heist in 1919.

Locked storage units also constructed after the attempted heist.

In May I visited Manchester for the first time since my childhood when the Town Hall hosted a Family History Day.  We spent time viewing indexes of vital records, had a half hour with a genealogist who turned out to be a cousin, visited the cemetery, and drove around town a bit.

Emmanuel Lutheran Church, the Anderson family church.
Taken during our May visit.

Once the site of Manchester High School, now a senior residence.
Taken during our May visit.

The tour we attended yesterday, co-sponsored by the Manchester Historical Society and Manchester Community College was lead by Dr. Chris Paulin of the college. He is a labor history researcher and has other qualifications but I cannot remember the name of the local institute of which he is Director. (He gave us his history at the beginning of the walk, and there was just too much information after that.) It is an annual event, sometimes drawing 100 people, though not this year, and this was the 39th year.

An entrance to the Velvet Mill building.
One of the most interesting things that we learned was that there was a strike in 1902 only at the Velvet Mill, where Carl was a weaver. One of the Cheney brothers was a seemingly prolific inventor who invented machinery and processes that allowed Cheney Brothers to make money where others were not and to save money as well. Once of these improvements was to the velvet looms.

Carl Johan Anderson standing at his looms, date unknown.
Velvet weavers at this time were paid by the yard of fabric they produced weaving on one machine. The new process would allow/require them to work two machines at a time.  The weavers were also told that they would be paid less per yard, but that by working two machines at once, they would still make more money overall. The workers could not see how this would be possible and were so disbelieving that they decided to take action in the form of a strike, even without the protections of unionization.

The long and short of it is that they went back to work after a few weeks but they staged two additional walkouts before the matter was settled. Many of the weavers left Cheney Brothers; some voluntarily and some after being fired, others like Carl stayed on.  The entire community took sides in this battle. Ultimately Cheney Brothers won. The weavers returned, working two looms at a time, and did in fact make more money. No unionization was attempted at the Cheney mills for 30 years.

More views of the Velvet Mill building.



Towards the end of the walk, before we toured an area of homes built by the Cheneys and rented to their workers, Dr. Paulin pulled out his index cards and gave us some statistics on the length of time most workers stayed with Cheney Brothers. He also mentioned that these statistics came from payroll records. Now you know my ears stood at attention when I heard that. It turns out that all of these records are available to the public at the University of Connecticut's library. YES!! Add that to the to-do list right now!!

This also gave me the opportunity to show off the pins I had been wearing that day; my great-grandfather's 40- and 50-years of service pins. And the photo of him at this loom as well.

Click on the photo to see the detail. I was wearing these pins
yesterday and carrying this photo.
I learned so much and will definitely go again next year for the 40th anniversary of the walk. It was an absolutely fantastic day. Absolutely worth getting up the crack of dawn on a Saturday!
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