Ancestral Dish: When is a Goulash Not a Goulash?

Answer No. 1: When it doesn’t have paprika in it.

Answer No. 2: When we say it isn’t. Take that, Answer No. 1.

I do understand that the classic Hungarian dish must contain beef, onions, tomatoes, sweet paprika and peppers, or else it gets its citizenship revoked. The same goes for its classic German cousin, Rindergulasch, which is very similar to the Hungarian version.

Nevertheless, ”goulash” is what we called the delicious braised beef my mom made, which has neither peppers nor paprika nor tomatoes. And I can’t call it anything else. It’s in the genes.

Now, there is a grand old North American tradition (according to Wikipedia) of slapping the name “goulash” upon any dish made with “miscellaneous leftovers.”

But there is nothing miscellaneous about Mom’s goulash, although it is extremely simple. Here is one way to make it for four people. If you have more people, add a half-pound of meat here, a carrot or two there, another slug of beer. Honestly, this dish won’t mind.

Basically: Take a pound of stew beef cubes (or beef chuck roast you cut up yourself) and brown it in a heavy ovenproof Dutch oven in 3 tablespoons of oil. Season the meat as you brown it with seasoned salt and pepper. When the beef is browned on all sides, add 2 cups of liquid, which can be water or beef broth, or nice, dry Belgian ale, or any combination thereof. Then add 1 to 2 diced yellow onions, 5 to 6 diced carrots, and a big bay leaf. Cover and bake about 2 1/2 hours in a 300-degree oven, until meat is tender. Serve over hot cooked egg noodles.

Years ago, I got into the habit of sticking it into the oven; I don’t remember why. But this beef can also be braised on top of the stove, which is how my mother did it. In this version you use less liquid — about 1 cup — but you have to keep checking it from time to time to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. If needed, add more liquid.

Either way, at the end of the cooking time, the liquid in the pot can be boiled down to make thicker gravy, or it can just be served as is. As kids, we liked it whichever way Mom chose to make it, as long as there was enough for seconds all around.

OK, so it’s not classic goulash. But it’s simplicity itself, and perfect midwinter comfort food.

(Another post in an occasional series of Ancestral Dishes.)


Will 5 aliases fit in my genealogy software?

On a trip to Kings County Surrogate Court a few weeks ago, I opened up a typical, boring-looking probate folder.

Inside, I discovered that my one of my great-aunts (by marriage) had five aliases.

Now, I was aware that my great-uncle Joseph C. Haigney was married to Catherine Maude, nee Reilly. Given the overstock of Catherines in the family – including Joseph’s mother, a niece and a cousin – it wasn’t surprising that his wife needed an alias. But five?

My great-aunt’s probate file named her as Maude Haigney, a k a Catherine Maude Haigney, a k a Miss M. Reilly, a k a Maude Reilly, a k a Mrs. M. Ridley, a k a Miss (A) Farrell.

Two of these names are variants of Catherine Maude’s married name, and two are variants of her maiden name, which makes some sense.

Reading the file, I learned that my great-aunt had two sisters, Margaret Miller and Mary Ridley. That might explain the reason for the “Mrs. M. Ridley” alias, although the file had nothing to indicate how the sisters’ identities became entwined. As for “Miss A. Farrell,” it’s anyone’s guess how that name came up.

Finding an alias on your family tree does not automatically mean you’re dealing with criminal behavior. There are many historical reasons for aliases, including:

• Changes in marital status (where “alias” indicates “formerly,” as in a woman’s marriage or remarriage).

• To indicate foster children or stepchildren.

• To indicate a nickname. (Well, of course.)

• To indicate illegitimacy. (Under a practice beginning in 17th-century England, a person born out of wedlock might adopt the surnames of both parents; i.e., Green alias White. Either the father’s or the mother’s surname might be first; there was no firm custom.)

• To avoid persecution. A striking example is that of the Sephardic Jews of Portugal, who adopted aliases to conceal their Jewish identities.

So why did my great-aunt end up with five aliases in her probate file? I’m thinking her case is probably one of sloppy forms more than anything else, but only more research will tell for sure.

As I was packing up, I asked the clerk in charge of the records room if aliases crop up often in Kings County probate records.

“Oh, sure. Two, sometimes three, even.”

“What about five?” I asked.

Five? That’s weird.”

More about aliases:

• Schelly Talalay Dardashti at Tracing the Tribe has an interesting discussion of Sephardic aliases.

• A site maintained by John Palmer of Dorset, England lists many reasons for aliases in English parish registers.

• And here is advice on how to record aliases in your family tree.


I Assess Myself, And Am Chagrined

I couldn’t miss Assess Yourself: Challenge #3 in 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy. It’s something that seems so obvious that it never gets done. Sad to say, my report card could be better.

The Vital Documents: I’ve got the birth certificate (despite losing it once), the marriage certificate and the diplomas, all in one convenient strongbox. It’s been important for me to have this stuff together since I have moved around a bit. So, I give me an A- for this area.

The Moves: Any descendant trying to track me would be pretty mad at me by the time they got through. I was born in Ohio, raised from the age of 6 months in New Jersey, went to university in Indiana, then lived in Connecticut, Florida and Illinois before returning to New Jersey. I’d expect to make census appearances in New Jersey, Indiana, Florida and New Jersey (again) but not Ohio, Connecticut and Illinois, where my residences didn’t coincide with a census. I should make sure this is all clear on my card in my Reunion file, and it isn’t.  F

Letters: My mother wrote me some letters while I was away at school, which I’ve kept. My father wrote me exactly one letter, which was missing and presumed lost for years, until I found it quite by accident this summer while searching for something else entirely. It is now locked up safely and scanned to my computer hard drive. Now excuse me while I make digital copies of my mom’s letters, too.  B+

Publications: I’ve got my school yearbooks. And some high-school literary magazines with stories of mine. And a couple of scrapbooks  full of newspaper clippings from my reporting days, which aren’t about me, but would say something about what I did at a certain point in time. But everything’s all over the house; it would be nice to get it all together on one shelf, huh? B

Photos: My Achilles heel. Not only do I have evil magnetic albums, I used to have an Evil Photo Box until several years ago. I did finally get my photos out of a huge cardboard moving box and sort them by year into a bunch of acid-free photo boxes. Last summer, I sorted out the digital photos on my current hard drive and backed them up. One hard drive has already failed on me. A month before that happened, I had purchased an external hard drive and backed up, so I still have my earlier digital photos. But it was a close, close thing. I’m grading myself generously; I think my fifth-grade nun would have been harsher.  D-

So much to be done! At least I feel more charitable toward my ancestors now. We must share the Disorganized Document gene.


Legacies and disasters

Jill Hurst-Wahl at Digitization 101 discusses the question of how Haiti’s archives and libraries have weathered last week’s terrible earthquake disaster. The initial report from this Facebook librarians’ group was unexpectedly good news: Haiti’s National Library was one of the few buildings left standing in its area; books and shelves were intact.

I was interested and glad to see the topic come up, even though the question often  arises as to whether it’s appropriate to worry about it at a time like this. Yet, when is the right time to think about cultural cornerstones? Two months from now? Two years?

So many legacies, large and individual, are buried when these disasters strike. Ultimately it’s a vital service, trying to hold onto cultural treasures when all hell breaks loose.

My prayers go out all Haitians, especially after this morning’s 6.0 magnitude aftershock there.


Evil Magnetic Albums!

I’ve been struggling of late with an old magnetic album – the kind from the 1970s with sticky pages and lethal plastic coverings. The consensus is that their adhesives are  damaging to photos.

As if that weren’t enough, my albums have peculiarly awful fluorescent floral covers. They look like something Monet would have painted at Giverny – on acid.

So:  Get ‘em out, put them in archivally safe albums, breathe a sigh of relief. Obviously!

But nothing’s every really obvious, is it? Not even with magnetic photo albums. I started reading and Googling and asking around, and the more I learned, the more conflicted  I became about two basic questions:

A. Should I dismantle the old albums?
B. If so, how?

Regarding Question A, the bulk of opinion out there favors removal from magnetic albums. (Older, non-sticky albums are another story – most conservators say to leave them alone.)

But a respectable minority points out that sometimes, photos are stuck in magnetic  albums so firmly that extracting them poses the risk of other kinds of damage – shredding the backs of the photos so that inscriptions are lost, for example.
Read the rest of this entry »


Cemetery records index: St. Agnes, Menands (NY)

If you have ancestors who lived in New York’s Capital District, you might well find some research joy in this exciting cemetery indexing project by the volunteers of the Troy Irish Genealogy Society.

TIGS has been transcribing the interment books of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery in Menands, N.Y., just outside of Albany. So far, two volumes of records are online, encompassing the years 1868 to 1910. Book I (1868-82), which went online in November of last year, contains 3,427 names. Recently, Book II (1883-1910) became available, containing 6,073 names. Book III is in progress, with over 12,000 names.

The records are a snapshot of the Albany-area melting pot, according to information from TIGS project coordinator Bill McGrath. For instance, the clear majority of burials listed in Book II were people born in Albany, followed closely by those born in Ireland. Immigrants from 13 other countries are represented in the records, including England, Germany, Italy and Canada.

The indexes on the TIGS site will give you a last and first name of the deceased, date of death, age, and the book number and page number of their interment entry.

TIGS also provides a printable request form that can be sent to the cemetery requesting the full interment listing for $5. Information available on the complete listing includes deceased’s place of birth, place of death, address of last residence, burial date, lot/section numbers and in some cases, the undertaker’s name. It could be well worth sending for, if you find a match in the online index.

Having visited there once, I can agree that St. Agnes is a beautiful example of the rural cemetery movement, all gently rolling hills and serene vistas. And it’s also a place of rest for thousands. I have a feeling quite a few researchers will be reconnecting with their Capital District roots because of this project.  McGrath and his team of volunteers have a lot to be proud of!


Treasure Chest Thursday: The Soldiers’ Home

For Treasure Chest Thursday, a postcard from my files of the New York State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home, circa 1885:

Soldiers' and Sailors' Home

The Bath, N.Y. Soldiers' and Sailors' Home.

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Homes, set up to provide for the flow of aging and infirm Civil War veterans, were forerunners of today’s Veterans Administration. My great-great grandfather, Martin Haigney, lived in two of them, off and on, from about 1900 until he died in 1911. This is the one in Bath, N.Y., where he was a resident until shortly before his death.

I owe this particular treasure to Robert E. Yott, who has written From Soldiers’ Home to Medical Center, a history of the Bath facility. Mr. Yott’s book has a lot of details about the history of the home, a great help in visualizing what daily life might have been like for my great-great-grandpa and other veterans like him who lived there.

Ancestry.com has an index of records for these homes: U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 (subscription required, or you can do a 14-day trial membership).


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