News You Can Use

My dad wouldn’t have been caught dead reading The New York Times. “The paper for eggheads,” is about as printable a comment as I can reproduce here. But there were culturally sound reasons behind his distaste.

The Times didn’t cover Dad’s New York. It’s famous for having a blind spot about working-class New Yorkers, really. I do think they’ve tried to rectify that in recent years. But to this day, it’s possible to read unintentionally amusing pieces wherein an earnest Times writer takes a trip to a place like Queens or Staten Island, and carries on as if they’ve just been to Mars.

My purpose is not solely to make fun of the Times (no! not solely!). The more important point is that I belong to a Daily News family as far as death notices go. In the more distant past, we were of course a Brooklyn Eagle family, but one branch seems to have been staunchly Brooklyn Standard Union.

We know from any basic research guide that newspapers are valuable sources for genealogists. Obituaries and birth announcements are only the most obvious benefit. Society meetings, town government, charity balls, who was visiting whom and who had just come home from the hospital — all this was fodder for news once upon a time, and a good thing, too.

But we must pay attention to who our ancestors were, to use newspapers effectively. Because once upon a time, the paper you read was a bit like where you worshiped. You just didn’t read some papers because they were edited by those [expletive] dirty [political/economic/religious enemies]. You would never, ever insert a notice about a loved one’s birth or death in that [expletive] paper. After all, you’d want your friends to read it, wouldn’t you?

And don’t think you’re off the hook in small towns. For an example, consider this episode in Terry Ryan’s affecting memoir, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. At one point young Terry and her mother make a nostalgic visit to Mom’s small Midwestern hometown. Here’s what newspaper consumerism was like there, circa 1915:

The seven papers Mom’s uncle Frank and aunt Clara read were mostly Republican-owned, but they subscribed to a few Democrat newspapers, too. “Not to mention,” Mom said, “a German-language paper for immigrants like my grandparents, and a Whig paper.”

“Wig?” I said …

“No, Whig with an h, like the political party of the same name,” she said.  … “The party died out in the mid-1800s, but it still had its followers. According to Uncle Frank, people had to have a variety of news sources to be well-rounded … “

I grew up long past the time when it was possible to subscribe to seven newspapers! Consolidation and corporate ownership meant, even by the 1970s, that relatively few large towns in the U.S. had more than one daily. Today, there is much talk about the death of the printed newspaper, but re-reading this passage, it occurs that we’re experiencing not a death, but a restoration of diverse opinions and themes. If Uncle Frank were alive today, I’m convinced, his Google Reader would be working overtime.

As it is, it helps to be aware of this vanished and complex world of print news, when we’re using it to track our ancestors.


Ancestral Dish: Candied Peel

Let’s be frank: Candied peel (in all likelihood) is not one of my personal ancestral dishes. It involves citrus, and back in the day citrus was an expensive treat. My ancestors did not have the big bucks.

In fact, citrus was still a big deal at Christmastime during my mother’s Brooklyn childhood. So I have a hard time imagining my 19th-century immigrant forebears springing for a bag of oranges just to candy some peel.

Even so, I could not resist having a go at candied peel. (1) It’s a classic old-time confection. (2) It just looks so darn pretty. (3) Oranges have been on sale at my local supermarket.

And the taste! I’ll admit I was dubious when, after a long stretch of peeling and simmering and sugaring, I took my first bite. A revelation.

“Chuckles!” I said.

“?????” said one of the offspring, who is not familiar with this movie house candy  we gorged upon as kids.

But that’s all I could think: So this is what the Chuckles people were imitating! Those rascals. There is no comparison between the jellied replica and the real, intense thing. It’s a sharp, sweet and above all pure taste. Citrus cubed.  Bonus: The kids loved it as much as I did.

I used this recipe, from Luna Cafe. The method is the same whether you use lemons, oranges or limes. You don’t need high-level culinary skill to candy peel, but you do need a lot of patience. It’s a long-winded, frankly boring process — peeling the oranges, removing the bitter white pith from the peels, triple-blanching the peels and finally, simmering them in a sugar syrup for as long as it takes.

The key here is “as long as it takes.” Some recipes tell you the peel will be done in 15 minutes. Peel must vary wildly. Mine simmered for an hour, and that was about right. You want some give to the bite, not too chewy. Test it by removing a piece from the syrup and biting into it — if you can bite easily, it’s ready.

After you dry the peel on a rack and roll it in some sugar, it’s ready to go.

And it goes — fast. Trust me on this.


Links, 5.2.11

May is here. Makes me feel all Lerner and Loewe-ish. Remember that song? Best line: “It’s May! It’s May!/That gorgeous holiday!/When ev’ry maiden hopes that her lad/Will be a cad … “

Hell, yes: Hell’s Gate, Hell’s Kitchen, Hell’s Hundred Acres — what is it about New York City that brings out such devilish naming conventions? A fun post by the New York Public Library’s Carmen Nigro.

Tornadoes: The South continues to dig out from last week’s horrific onslaught of tornadoes; sending prayers and good thoughts that way. Meanwhile, a small ray of sunshine as Birmingham Public Library workers salvage local history artifacts from a hard-hit area. The Alabama Genealogical Society has begun a site with updates about members affected by the crisis.

Heritage home: For a quarter-century it existed as a summer-only venue in the Catskills; now the Irish American Heritage museum is moving to Albany, N.Y. and restyling itself as a year-round institution. The museum is leasing 3,000 square feet across from SUNY-Albany’s central administration operation and hopes to open in September with standing exhibits and a new emphasis on school-group programs. All the best!

End of the line: Yes, yes, we all liked the dress, and wasn’t that Pippa a smashing bridesmaid? But forget all that and tune into the quirkiest story emerging from last week’s royal wedding hoopla: The Wall Street Journal interviews a resident of Rostock in eastern Germany who just might be the last in line to the British throne.

Pls cpy: The Family History Library is implementing a new copying system — with a new copy card system as well. Dr. D gets the details from the FHL’s  chief of Library Patron Services. h/t Ancestry Insider.

Seeing is believing: Ancestry Insider also offered the always-timely reminder that when we say we have a source, we should describe as exactly as possible the source we’ve actually seen. There’s no shame in not being able to view the original record — lots of people must content themselves with photocopies and transcripts. In which case, call it a copy or a transcript.

Shipwreck stories: LiveScience tells us that a decade-long DNA analysis seems to have concluded the long mystery of an unknown child victim of the Titanic disaster.  In other LiveScience shipwreck news: a fascinating article, first published last year, about how timing affected survival in the sinkings of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

Dark ‘clouds': In The Lessons from Amazon, Sony and Epsilon, James Tanner writes about recent breaches in data security and/or accessibility, and the sobering implications for users exploring the world of cloud computing.

Blue and Gray: Puzzling over a U.S. Civil War ancestor? Worry no more. The National Genealogical Society is releasing a new course, Introduction to Civil War Records, designed by renowned military researcher Craig Robert Scott. The course will be unveiled at the NGS meeting in Charleston later this month. (Via DearMyrtle and Leland Meitzler)

Wrong stuff: Last week I alluded to a great quote  from the official bio of author/actor/genealogist Hank Jones. Randy Seaver (GeneaMusings) heard Mr. Jones speak and has a fantastic report on “When The Sources Are Wrong.”

There you go. Off with you now, go be a cad for a day.


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