Pilgrimage

This Thanksgiving is going to be especially significant for our family. Our genealogy research has just uncovered a member of our family that was part of the Plymouth colony some 400 years ago.

Experience Mitchell (how’s that for a name?) sailed across the Atlantic aboard the ship Ann, the third vessel to bring colonists to the new world. The first, as all know, was the Mayflower. It was followed by the ships Fortune, Ann, and St. James. When Experience arrived at Plymouth as an unmarried man, he found himself in a strange position. Due to the many illnesses and deaths of the original Mayflower colonists, there was a considerable shortage of eligible women. At that time, there was a ratio of just one single woman for every six single males. Despite those odds, Experience managed to wed Jane, the daughter of one of the colony’s leaders, Francis Cooke, who had arrived on the Mayflower a couple of years earlier. 

After Jane passed, Experience remarried a Mary Prior. While the maternal parentage of their resulting children continues to be debatable, it is clear that, from his two wives, Experience fathered a total of thirteen children. One of whom was Jacob Mitchell, my wife’s 9th great grandfather… which makes Experience her great grandfather number 10.

Eventually, Experience joined with 53 other colonists, among them Miles Standish and John Forbes (who had married his sister, Constant Mitchell), to purchase from the native Americans “the Bridgewaters,” which was originally a part of Duxbury. Bridgewater, Massachusetts now has a population of over 27,000 people.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Go West Young Man

Patterns tend to emerge whenever we trace our origins. Back in the day, families would establish a home base and entire generations thereafter seemed to stay close to that same area. But eventually an enterprising soul would spot an opportunity and venture from the familiar into the unknown. For most of us, this is exactly how we came to be born and raised in America. One or more of our ancestors took the chance on the opportunity of a new life in a new world.

But once settled in America, the pattern repeated. Generations would remain in the area where their parents lived, and their parents before them. Eventually, other opportunities would arise that would cause people to venture beyond the homes they had always known. One branch of our family is an example of this. They were, for generations, firmly entrenched as farmers in the Cove Creek area of West Virginia. But in the late 1800s, evidence of the family name began to be seen showing up on the other side of the country… in Oregon.

Looking deeper, we find an explanation. The federal government, under the Homestead Act of 1862, released public domain land to the general public. it was made available for people to be granted ownership of land (up to 160 acres) in exchange for a willingness to work and live on said land for no less than five consecutive years. Governor D. Daniel, the great-great-granduncle of one of our family members, was among those who took advantage of this opportunity. Leaving his home in West Virginia he, along with his wife and seven children, traveled west by train and wagon to the untamed land of Wallowa County in Oregon. He was 39 years old. Once there, he built a home for his family as well as a school which he called Utopia. He even served as postmaster for the area for a few years while it got established. Today, Wallowa County has a population of 7008.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Old Corner Bookstore

If you ever find yourself along The Freedom Trail in Boston, you may stumble across a little piece of my family’s past. The Old Corner Bookstore, which stands at the corner of Washington and School Streets, was once the site of the home of Anne Hutchinson, famous Puritan dissident and religious reformer. While she was not a relative, after she was expelled from Massachusetts for heresy, her home was bought by Thomas Creese II, my wife’s 8th great-grandfather, in 1708. Although the original home was lost to the Great Fire of 1711, Creese rebuilt a structure upon the land to be used as an apothecary shop.

Over the years it traded hands, eventually to be turned into a bookstore and printing shop managed by Ticknor and Fields. They were the nation’s leading publisher in the mid 1800s and produced works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott, many of whom were frequent visitors to the building.

In the 1960’s it was in danger of being demolished to make way for a parking garage but was saved through a purchase by Historic Boston, a not-for-profit organization. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

King For A Day

While researching one’s genealogy, it is very easy to chase shadows and jump to ill-advised conclusions.

For an entire day I traced a certain line from the Americas to England and found to my amazement and delight that I was descended from Charlemagne, king of the Franks, emperor of the West and founder of the Holy Roman Empire. We’re talking mid 700 AD. Suddenly, my family tree was filling up with ornate family crests; names and titles like Earl of Strafford and Wadsworth of Woolingsly. I discovered I had ancestors with multi-page Wikipedia entries and the stories they told could be made into a Game of Thrones sequel.

For example, I had a great uncle nine generations removed (Thomas Wentworth, known as “Black Tom Tyrant”) who was falsely accused of treason, locked up in the Tower of London, and eventually beheaded. The details of his story are amazing and filled with political intrigue.

I found myself floating amidst a sea of movers and shakers, firmly at the center of world history, rubbing elbows with kings and queens, bishops and lords… and then, as I was fact checking, ready to fly off to the UK to see if there was a castle somewhere with my name on it, I realized that, while compiling my family tree, I had somehow married off the daughter of an English lord to a 18th century Virginia farmer who never strayed far from his small parcel of land. Mind you,  I’m not saying that it is impossible for the two to have ever met, but even I have to admit that the likelihood is improbable. I’m still holding onto the dream, but for now I’ve removed all the royalty from my tree until I can find a verifiable connection.

Ah well, at least I got the wife to refer to me as “my lord.” Felt good. I may delay revealing the truth to her for another day or two.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Strike Up The Band!

Speaking of immigration stories… here’s one attached to my wife’s paternal great grandparent, who immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s.

This came at a time when America was enthralled by the entertainment provided by military brass bands. Gilmore’s Salem Band proved to be very popular with the general public and that popularity fueled a fire that burned in the hearts of other musical entrepreneurs. John Philip Sousa, who was given the lead of the Marine Band, was certainly a force at this time. But when Giussepe Creatore burst on the scene with his Italian band, his insane popularity with the ladies, (who reportedly would swoon at his energetic performances), started a flood of Italian musicians heading across the Atlantic for the promise of fame, success, riches, and perhaps romance that was to be found in America.

Now, as our family story was told to me, Erminio was discovered by John Philip Sousa during one of his tours and, being in need of a euphonium player, encouraged Erminio to move to the United States to join him. I haven’t been able to document that this exact scenario ever took place. We do have evidence that Erminio did indeed play in the Sousa band in the early 1900s but before that, there are reports of him playing for one of Sousa’s contemporaries and competing bandleaders, Alessandro Liberati and his Grand Military Band, where he was often featured as a soloist to considerable acclaim.

Whatever brought Erminio to the shores of New York, what is clear is that he and his euphonium had a long and successful musical career. He also managed to pass his musicality on to his two sons, Arthur and Frank, both of whom became working professional musicians in the NY theater and symphony halls. In fact Arthur landed a seat on what was to become the New York Philharmonic playing with and for Arturo Toscanini.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Coming to America

Rose Family Crest

I’ve often said, “Everyone has a story.” After spending months of genealogical research, I’ve discovered a lot of hidden stories belonging to people who are somehow attached to various branches of my family tree. I look forward to sharing these stories with you in this and future blogs.

Stories like the one belonging to Tormut Rose, the 9th great grandfather of the husband of the niece of my wife. Born in 1632 at Kilravock Castle in Inverness Scotland, he eventually became an officer in the Scottish Covenanter army and fought in the Third English Civil war which was waged in an attempt to retain the independence of the Scottish church and restore Charles II to the throne of Scotland and England.

During the Battle of Dunbar, the Scottish army discovered the whereabouts of Lord Cromwell’s forces but were advised not to attack by preachers due to it being a Sunday. This gave Cromwell an opportunity to launch a surprise attack and vanquish the Scottish defenders. Tormut Rose and others were captured. In order to prevent any attempt at a rescue, the prisoners were forced to march towards England under severe conditions. Most died of illness, starvation or exhaustion.

As a survivor, Tormut Rose was sold as an indentured servant to the Robert Ricks Iron Works in Braintree, Massachusetts and was shipped off to the colonies along with 271 fellow prisoners. There, he spent the next 7 to 10 years working off his “debt.”

In 1660 he, along with 15 others, made the decision to purchase Block Island, RI from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had claimed the land won by conquest of the natives who lived there.  It was there that he settled, married and re-began his life as a freeman. And that is the story of how this particular branch of the family came to America.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Happy Belated Birthday

Do you remember your very first birthday party?

Odds are that you don’t. Who among us has a memory that good? This past week one of my customers was able to relive that momentous occasion, thanks to an old reel to reel audio tape she had discovered in a long forgotten storage place. 

And, to be honest, it wasn’t even the original recording. At the time of her first birthday, which occurred over seventy years ago, her parents were using an old wire recorder which captured sounds by imprinting them on a stainless steel wire about the width of a human hair. 

The technology was invented in 1898 by a Danish engineer named Vlademar Poulsen, although it did not enter into its popularity until WWII, around 1946. It quickly fell out of fashion some eight years later when, using the same basic technology, 1/4 inch magnetic tape became the recording standard. My client’s parents, at some point along the way, had transferred the original wire recording to the more accessible magnetic tape.

Regardless of the format, the point is that my client had never heard the recording before and even though she was present at the event, at one year old clearly had no recollection of it. To hear her mother and father, aunts and uncles, now long since gone, all singing happy birthday to her as she sat in her high chair… that is certainly a memory she can now always cherish.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

With A Song In My Heart

I used to think that my company produces the best emotionally charged gifts available. I still do. And if you want to give your family a present that will live long into the future, there’s nothing like giving them a gift containing the memories of the past. That’s what we do at Home Video Studio.

But, the next best thing would be to take the emotions of your heart and set them to music. And that is exactly what songfinch.com does. Once you answer a few questions and provide a couple of details, they will produce a professionally mixed original song specifically for you that will melt the heart of your significant other. I should know… I had one produced for my lovely wife for her birthday. And outside of the videos that I produce, it was the best gift I ever gave.

It was a random Facebook ad I responded to so I realized that it was a roll of the dice that could have gone badly south. But songfinch.com exceeded my every expectation and allowed me to give my wife an experience she will never forget.  Fortunately, I had my phone out and was able to record her reaction the first time she heard it.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

I Have a Short Snorter

I have discovered, among my father’s possessions, that I have inherited his short snorter. A short snorter is a single bill, or multiple bills that have been taped together and that, upon examination, are found to be covered with signatures.  It is a custom that apparently originated from or was popularized by Alaskan bush pilots and was eventually adopted by WWII aviators. 

As the custom goes, an airman passes around a banknote and asks those he is with to sign it. Then, if they should ever meet again and he is asked to produce the short snorter with the requestor’s signature and fails to do so, he must buy that person a drink (or snort). 

There are many of these around, some of them containing famous names. Marlene Dietrich collected one that contained 83 bills and over 1,000 high profile names including Ernest Hemingway, Irving Berlin and George S. Patton. My father, serving in the 8th Army Air Corps (448th BG), seemed most interested in collecting foreign currency as his short snorter consists of 14 bills taped together from a number of different countries: Portugese escudos, English shillings, French francs, German marks, Canadian dollars, Cuban pesos, and of course the US dollar bill. Each of them containing signatures of people unfamiliar to me but who, at one time, apparently played an important part of my father’s WWII history.

I can’t help but thinking that each one of these bills told a story to my father. I imagine he could not only remember each person whose signatures he obtained but the circumstances in which he collected them. (And I’m definitely sure he’d remember whether he ever had to pay out for leaving his short snorter behind in the barracks.)

But his short snorter is mine now. And if Lenny Burns, Arthur Bach, Eddie “Mulla Bone” Redlan, or any of the other dozen names from 1945 displayed on it should ever ask me to produce it, I’ll be ready.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

And Devil Makes Three

I love it when people bring in family treasures that they’ve inherited or found but have no idea what memories may be contained within them. It is a mystery that I can help to solve. Today, a woman brought in boxes from her home that contained reels of film, carousels of slides and envelopes of photographs. And tucked away in the bottom of one of the boxes were two 45rpm records  containing recorded messages along with a written letter that came from a soldier stationed in Germany in the early 1950s.

I’ve yet to transfer the audio but I glanced at the letters from 1952 that the soldier wrote home describing life in post war Germany. He was excited because Gene Kelly was in the area making a film and some of the Americans stationed there were going to be tapped to be extras in his movie.

Upon investigating, it would appear that the film in question was “The Devil Makes Three” which was made in 1952 on location in Germany and starred Gene Kelly and Italian actress Pier Angeli. The film was about a man who returns to Germany after the war to track down the German family who protected him when his plane was shot down. While there he uncovers a neo-Nazi group still operating in the shadows.

I don’t know if the writer of the letter ever appeared in the film. All I know is that he was excited that he might be among those chosen. I did find out why Gene Kelly was appearing in a film shot on location in post-war Germany.  It turns out that in 1951 the US Congress passed a law that allowed a significant tax break to any Americans who lived abroad for 18 months or longer. During that time those ex-pats would not have to report any earnings they received while out of the country.

Kelly was one of the first Hollywood stars to take advantage of this new law. The Devil Makes Three was the first of three films Kelly made overseas during this time. While some believed Kelly’s move was purely financially based, others thought that Kelly moved to get away from the McCarthyism running amok in the US at the time because his wife, Betsy Blair, was known to outwardly support several left-wing Communist causes and he felt he could protect his family better outside of the country.

While his film was not received warmly upon its release it has endured largely because it provides a real time perspective of post war Germany. Its final scenes were even shot in Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden before it was demolished in 1953. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.