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. 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).

Puddlers, Stewards and Other (Pre)Occupations

I am lucky: My ancestors haven’t held any jobs with mysterious names, unless you count the maddeningly imprecise term “laborer.”

One of my great-grandfathers may have been a “puddler,” which is someone who worked at an iron furnace with a long-handled rake, opening the furnace and forming molten iron into a ball that could be rolled out into bars or sheets. Then again, he might just have been a peddler. It’s spelled both ways in a couple of places, and there is no hard evidence yet as to which spelling is the typo.

This same great-grandfather was later a steward on a tugboat in Brooklyn, which is a little mysterious, since I associate boat stewards with the care of passengers, who would seem to be in short supply on a tugboat. Finding a detailed job description for a tugboat steward in 1910 is  another item on the to-do list.

In the first 20 years of the 20th century, there are a lot of waterfront-related jobs in my family tree: tugboat steward, tugboat fireman, dry dock worker, patternmaker in a shipyard. They were South Brooklyn people, and South Brooklyn was all about shipping in those days.

Still, I am jealous of people who have quirky job titles in their genealogy, and I like reading about them in case one ever crops up in mine. Here are some cool links about strange job titles:

Old Occupation Names at the Hall family genealogy site: Really extensive, with detailed definitions.
Ancestral occupations at Rootsweb: Another encyclopedic list, clickable from A to Z.
The Strangest Names for Occupations: For the greatest hits, try this list. There are real gems here.  (Being a “honey dipper” isn’t nearly as pleasant as it sounds.)

Carnival of Genealogy: New Year’s Resolutions!

Ahem. (Taps champagne glass with spoon.)
Resolved for the year 2010:

To be a better genealogy citizen by donating to or volunteering for a group whose projects have illuminated dark corners of my research.
Having just completed some intense volunteering of the school and PTA sort, I learned to loathe the phrase: “I don’t know how you do it.” Really? It’s such a mystery? Maybe the secret is just … um, DOING something. And it is high time for me to apply this principle to genealogy groups whose work I follow. I’m sure they don’t like hearing “I don’t know how you do it” any more than I do.

To talk (again) to my relatives whose memories go back the farthest. Just in case.
I’ll be frank. This can be hard. I know there are many of you with relatives who love to talk. I haven’t always encountered this. My own mother, whom I loved dearly, definitely belonged to the “What do you need to know that for?” club. Often our desire to know must be balanced with a desire to avoid being a pest. Still, we must try, particularly in the cases of family members who are getting on in years. One thing I noticed about my mom was that while she was very uncomfortable answering direct questions about her past, she had no problem answering questions about family papers – her mother’s immigration affidavit, her father’s citizenship papers, a long-ago mortgage or lease. I listened and took notes that are pure gold for me, 12 years later. Maybe this approach will help me with some other folks, too.

To go through my computer genealogy program and make sure all the reference notes are attached to all the right places.
Another shaming moment here. When I first got Reunion for my Macintosh about 100 years ago, I was like a child with a new toy. The trouble is, I never really progressed beyond that childhood stage of throwing stuff at the wall (or in this case, the Notes field) and admiring the view. Therefore, I am nowhere near exploiting the many ways of organizing and collating data that this program offers. I hereby resolve to read the manual in 2010.

To make that signature family tree I’ve been meaning to make for about five years now.
I’ve been in love with this idea since I first read about it in one of Emily Croom’s books. I’ve even collected the signatures. So why not complete the project in time for, say, Thanksgiving? Maybe this will be the year …

To maximize my chances of keeping my resolutions by keeping this list short.
(Hey, I can check one off already!)

So that’s my (short) list! Can’t wait to see what everyone else will be accomplishing. May the New Year prove happy, healthy and rewarding to us all.

Advent Calendar: Aunts of Christmas Past

(Written in response to the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories Dec. 10 prompt: Christmas gifts.)

I had two aunts who were the alpha and the omega of Christmas gift giving.

Aunt Joanie gave us fabulous toys. Aunt Cath gave us clothes – the gift most likely to be consigned by kids to Siberia (i.e., the back of the tree, alongside the bad ties for Dad and the pine-scented bath oil for Mom).

I feel badly, in retrospect, for our bored reactions to the clothes from Aunt Catherine. They were good quality, beautiful and chosen with care. Long after the tinsel was swept away and the tree taken down, we were glad to wear them. Not that we admitted it.

Aunt Joanie’s gifts had the unfair advantage of being more kid-friendly. And beyond that, they were just … well, fabulous.

The Shiba Productions fairy tale books Aunt Joanie gave us one year stayed in my mind so strongly that I have paid through the nose for a couple of them on eBay to share with my own daughters. They were produced by a Japanese stop-motion animator, who created magical puppets and sets to illustrate them. As children, we really felt we were disappearing into a fairy tale just by looking at the pictures.

Eliza in "The Wild Swans"

Illustration from "The Wild Swans," copyright 1966, Shiba Productions, published by Golden Press, New York.

And I still remember the Honey Moon doll. Can you blame me? (Really, click the link and take a look. She has to be seen to be believed.)

Amazingly, this doll is not a visitor from Mars; she is a tie-in to the Dick Tracy comic strip. Honey Moon was the child of Miss Moon Maid and Junior Tracy, the adopted son of Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart. A genealogy angle! Tracy family researchers, take note.

Honey Moon was the perfect example of an Aunt Joanie gift: eye-popping, cool and definitely not something your parents would buy you. (My mother’s reaction when I unwrapped Honey Moon was something along the lines of “Whuh..?”)

Aunt Joanie’s and Aunt Catherine’s gifts were also wrapped as beautifully as anything I’ve ever seen. Even as kids, we felt badly about unwrapping them. And the ribbons were always secured with unique little trinkets that my mother could never bear to throw away. So we’d hang them on the tree. They are still part of the family ornament collection, forty-odd years later.

In their memories, I’m raising a glass of Christmas cheer to all the aunts who spoil their nieces and nephews rotten. What would we do without you?


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