A Papal Connection

During my quest into our past, I have discovered a vast number of different occupations held by my ancestors. Farmers, physicians, artists, musicians, politicians, businessmen and the list continues on. But never did I expect to find that we came very close to adding a pope to the family tree.

In the conclave of 1903, it was widely expected that Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro would be elected pope following the death of Leo XIII. Apparently, it was common knowledge that he had enough votes. However, while the conclave met, Austrian Emperor Frances Joseph I exercised his right of jus exclusivae, familiarly known as the papal veto, sending a messenger to the Vatican to express his disapproval of the choice.

There is no evidence of why the Austrian Emperor objected to Rampolla. It is possible that the latter’s pro-French positions were not looked upon favorably. Others believe it was retribution for the denial Rampolla had issued, blocking a church funeral for the Austrian Crown Prince Rudolph because he committed suicide.

Whatever the reason, even though it was never formally accepted by the Catholic Church, the veto, which had been used in the past by the French monarchy, the Spanish monarchy and the Austrian empire, was successful in influencing the votes away from Rampolla. Cardinal Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto of Italy thus became Pope Pius X. One of his first actions was to forbid the use of the jus exclusivae in the future. To date, it has never been overtly attempted since.

Mariano Rampolla, the last papal candidate to be removed from consideration due to a regal objection, remained Arch-Priest of St. Peters following the 1903 conclave and served as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is related to our family through the husband of my niece.

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

Man Overboard!

How many personal stories have been lost to time and history? Far too many if you ask me. Fortunately, there are some that survive – like this one from yet another ancestor who lived among those in the Plymouth colony:

John Howland, the 10th great-grandfather of my daughter-in-law, sailed on the Mayflower. Apparently he had quite the eventful crossing. It is recounted at some length by Mrs. Sophia Martin who, in 1903, compiled The John Mack Genealogy.

“In a mighty storm, John Howland, a Passenger, a stout young man, by a keel of ye ship, was thrown into ye sea. But it pleased God, he caught hold of ye Topsail Halilards which hung overboard and run out yer length; yet he kept his hold, tho several Fathoms under water, till he was drawn up by ye same Rope to ye surface and by a Boat Hook and other means got into ye ship: and tho somewhat ill upon it, lived many years and became a useful member both in Church and Commonwealth.”

He was the 13th of the 41 principal men to sign the Mayflower Compact. Soon afterwards, he married Elizabeth Tillie. She was the daughter of John Tillie who also arrived on the Mayflower only to die along with his wife during that first harsh winter. The orphaned Elizabeth was then adopted by Governor John Carver for whom Howland served, first as indentured servant and then later as executive assistant and personal secretary.

John and Elizabeth ultimately had ten children – children who would never have been born had he been taken by the sea during that perilous journey.

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.

Jesus Loves Me

William Batchelder Bradbury, my son’s 8th cousin (7 times removed) had an inauspicious start to his musical career. While studying at the Academy of Music in Boston, he was excited to show his parents his newly developed skill of singing and beating time. His gestures were so grand and extravagant, his parents could not contain their laughter.

Bradbury attributed this event, along with the experience of the first singing class he taught, one that had an embarrassingly small turnout, as helping him develop a humility that would serve him well over the years. He became best known as a composer and publisher of children’s Christian music.

Starting out as an organist in Boston, (in fact he owned a piano manufacturing company along with his brother Edward), he was offered an opportunity to teach singing to children in Machias, Maine and then later St Johns, New Brunswick. This led to a position in the First Baptist Church in Brooklyn where Bradbury became instrumental in developing a musical curriculum for the NY Public Schools. His free singing classes evolved into a annual music festival which one year culminated in a children’s chorus of over 1,000 boys and girls. It was an indescribable sight, evidenced by this first hand report.

“The sight itself was a thrilling one. A thousand children were seated on a gradually rising platform, which spread the scene, as it were, most gracefully before the eye. About two-thirds of the class were girls, dressed uniformly in white with a white wreath and blue sash. The boys were dressed in jackets with collars turned over, something in the Byron style. When all were ready, a chord was struck on the piano — a thousand children instantly arose, presenting a sight that can be far more easily imagined than described. Of the musical effect produced by such a chorus we will not attempt to speak.”

In his lifetime Bradbury edited 59 books of spiritual and secular music, much of which consisted of his own compositions. He is perhaps best known for composing the music to a poem he found in 1862 written by Anna B. Warner. It has been sung in Sunday schools and churches around the world ever since… Jesus Loves Me.

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.

Fort Leavenworth

I was surprised to discover that, at the age of 68, the great-grandmother of one of my aunts listed as her place of residence on the Federal Census, Fort Leavenworth Military Reservation in Kansas. The only thing I knew about Fort Leavenworth was its reputation as a federal prison so I wondered what she had done to get herself locked up alongside such notable criminals as Machine Gun Kelly, Whitey Bulger, James Earl Ray, and Robert Stroud (aka the Birdman of Alcatraz). Turns out, it was just her home.

Historically known as the intellectual center of the Army, Fort Leavenworth was established in 1827 by Col. Henry Leavenworth on land acquired during the Louisiana Purchase. It was originally established in order to protect settlers and merchants who were traveling west along the Santa Fe Trail. Not really a fort in the traditional sense of the word, but designed more like a residential settlement, it continued to be a valuable military base through the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Indian Wars. It is the oldest active military installation west of the Mississippi; third oldest in the United States.

In 1866, following an act of Congress, the 10th Calvary Regiment was formed at Fort Leavenworth. This all black division under the command of Col. Benjamin Grierson became known as the “Buffalo Soldiers”, a name respectfully given to them by the Kiowa Indians.

After the Indian Wars, the fort was transitioned to a military training facility. In 1881 General William T. Sherman established what was to become the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Graduates who passed through its school were George S. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George C. Patton, Douglas MacArthur and Colin Powell.

My relative, Sarah Desson Smith who in 1910 was widowed, was living there with her son, and his family. Lewis Smith was the commissary sergeant for the compound, providing food and supplies for soldiers and their families stationed there.

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.

Czech This Out

Despite the many historical documents available to us, sometimes one has to rely on family stories to glean some details of an ancestor’s life. It just might not always be accurate.

I remember sitting with my grandfather, Josef Ondrasik, near the end of his life, listening to him tell the story of how he came to this country. Born in what was then called Czechoslovakia, he found a job as a young man working for a stable near his home. He worked hard and eventually was appointed the job of head stableboy.

This would have been in the early 1900s. Due to some global tensions, the emperor of Austria decided to “hide” his prized Lipizzaner stallions lest they be taken as spoils of war. Some of them ended up at my grandfather’s stable in the Czech countryside where he was given the responsibility of their care. 

Eventually, he asked for some time off to visit his family and while he was away, the stablehand who filled in for him was exercising a team of the stallions and accidentally drove them into a tree. One of them was so badly injured it had to be euthanized. When my grandfather returned to the stables, he was told in no uncertain terms that he would never be allowed to take another vacation. Not long after that, he left Czechoslovakia, boarded a ship and arrived in America to start a new life.

It’s a great story and one I vividly remember hearing from him. The only problem with this memory is that my grandfather never learned to speak English and I never learned to speak Czech. So I’m not sure how he was able to communicate his story to me. I remember it but I have yet to find any documented evidence that any of it actually took place. He’s gone now, along with anyone else who might have been able to corroborate the claims. But that story, true or not, will always live in my heart.

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

An American Icon

It is always fun to discover an ancestor that has some historical relevancy or has achieved some degree of fame but who knew that sitting on one of the branches of our family tree was a bonafide American icon? This Independence Day, I wanted to pay tribute to Col. Thomas Fitch, my son’s fifth great-grand-uncle.

The way one story goes, as a captain during the French and Indian war, Thomas Fitch assembled his new company of recruits outside of his family homestead in Norwalk, Connecticut. Upon seeing this motley crew of men dressed in unmatched and often threadbare clothing from their homes, Thomas’ sister Elizabeth remarked that they needed something that would help unify their appearance… to make it look like they were at least associated with each other. She presented each soldier with a chicken feather to wear in his hat.

As Fitch’s troops marched into West Albany in their forlorn clothes and feather-adorned caps, British surgeon, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, who fancied himself a poet and musician, decided to mock this ragtag outfit in verse – dubbing them Yankee Doodles and Macaronies… macaroni being a word used in British society of the 1700s to describe a ornately dressed gentleman of high fashion. The insult being that the pathetic looking Americans were trying to “stick a feather in their cap” and pass themselves off as being well-dressed.

As it was put to song, this attempt at derision and mockery backfired on the British as the Americans adopted it as their own and even added verses to it that mocked the English troops and glorified George Washington. By 1781, the song had gone from insult to a source of national pride.

Thomas Fitch left the army at the close of the war to retire to a plot of land given to him by his father, the colonial governor of Connecticut. The house that was built for him was known as the Yankee Doodle House.

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

Painting the Elite

How does a self taught artist come to be known as the go-to guy for the rising, middle-class personalities of the day? We don’t know. Family tradition tells us that Patrick Henry Davenport caught the artist bug at 16 years of age when Asa Park, a Kentucky portrait artist, came to his home to paint one of his brothers.

Four years later, at the age of 20, we know that Davenport was signing portraits he painted for some of the most influential people of his community. Although he moved to Illinois in his fifties where he continued painting, he was most famously known as the portrait artist of the Kentucky elite. Governors and their wives would commission him to do their likenesses.

Apparently, the family of abolitionist John Brown hired Davenport to paint him, the result of which is depicted above. For some reason, they never came to collect the painting and it remained in the Davenport family’s care for many years after.

Since the painting was created around 1860, and Brown died a year prior, it is clear that Davenport painted from a photograph (or a number of photographs) of the subject. On the back of the painting, Davenport inscribed, “A Martyr to the Cause of Freedom John Brown, who was hung at Harper’s Ferry, Va. December 21 [Dec. 2], 1859 aged 63 [59] years.” 

It was considered an odd inscription as Davenport himself was a slave owner at the time. Perhaps his views were changing or perhaps he was simply responding to the sensibilities of his patron’s family. It remains unclear as to how he personally felt about the subject he was painting.

Patrick Henry Davenport is the third great-grandfather of my aunt Candy.

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.

Bewitched

There are some moments in history that are difficult to understand. Long before President Trump complained of the endless media “witch hunts” that he claimed were being perpetrated against him during his administration, there were literal witch hunts being conducted that resulted in unbelievable claims and horrific consequences.

Mary Perkins, a 2nd cousin 13 times removed, was one who became accused of practicing “certain detestable arts called witchcraft & sorceries.” She was arrested in 1692, at the age of 77, and forced to stand trial. Among the evidence against her was the claim that she turned into a blue boar and attacked the house of George Carr. Another witness claimed “spectral evidence” saying that the ghost of George Carr visited them to say that Mary Perkins killed him. The fact that George Carr had, many years earlier, proposed to Mary who rejected him to instead marry Thomas Bradbury, a prominent Massachusetts citizen, did not seem to factor into the final verdict. Nor did the fact that she later denied John Carr permission to marry her granddaughter because she felt the girl to be too young. It appears the resulting family grudge was deeply felt and lasted for decades. Largely due to the Carr family testimony, the 77 year old was found guilty of witchcraft and was sentenced to hang.

This, despite reasoned and passionate pleas from her husband, pastor, daughter-in-law’s father, and 118 neighbors all of whom attested to her Christian character and charity. Everything mentioned thus far is well documented in the archives. What is not is how she managed to escape the noose. Three others convicted of the same crime that day were executed. Somehow Mary avoided the sentence. Some say she bribed the jailer, others point to Bradbury’s high community standing that may have allowed him to use his political contacts to intervene. However she managed it, we know that Mary lived in “exile” for a number of years until the witch hunt fervor died down. She then returned to her home and family in Salisbury Massachusetts where she lived until her natural death in 1700 at the age of 85.

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

Big Man On Campus

I have been reaching back through the centuries to draw out stories of old that are somehow related to my family tree. I find them fascinating. But the stories that resonate the most with me are the ones involving family members who are closest to me. And what son would I be if I didn’t brag on my dad just a little bit… especially on Fathers’ Day?

Edward John Ondrasik was quite the “Big Man on Campus” in his day. At Roanoke University, he was a star basketball player, nicknamed “The Big Scoop” for his skills under the basket. He was voted thrice to the All State team and earned a spot on the All Century Team. He was eventually inducted in Roanoke University’s Hall of Fame.

His illustrious playing career was interrupted by a little disturbance most people knew as WWII. He left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps where he joined the 448th Bomb Group of the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force. He originally wanted to be a pilot but on his test run got a little too close to some telegraph wires so he got relegated to the bombardier seat. He flew 24 missions over wartime Germany and thankfully made it back home safely. He later told his family that all 24 wartime missions over Germany had to be flown without the benefit of a parachute because at 6’3” he could not fit in his compartment with it on. 

Upon his return to the states, he completed his education at Roanoke University and even played for another season where he racked up awards, accolades, and the attention of one Red Auerbach who invited him to come play for him. At the time, Red was coaching the Washington Capitols. 

Unfortunately, once my dad graduated and was free to accept the offer, Red had no open positions so he returned to his family home in New Jersey and got picked up by the Paterson Crescents, a team in the American Basketball League. He only played a couple of seasons before he decided to shift his attention and talents elsewhere.

He became the Athletic Director for a Naval Base in Bainbridge MD, and then decided to embark on a career in public education. It was a career that carried him through to retirement age. And he left an indelible impression on scores of children who were fortunate enough to have had him as a coach or teacher.

I still remember walking down a city street as a child with my father at my side only to be continually interrupted by what appeared to me to be grown men shouting out, “Hey, Mr. O!” or “Hey Coach!” Even at my tender age, I could see the love and respect these men had for my father because he had provided them instruction and a role model to emulate when they, as much younger versions of themselves, were his students.

He left an unmistakable legacy… and enormous shoes to fill. I can’t imagine being the man he was. I can only hope to be a son of whom he would be proud.

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.

Shermerville, Illinois

While researching the ancestry of my daughter-in-law’s family, one name kept popping up in the historical records: Shermerville, Illinois. Apparently, it was in this area that her German ancestors decided to settle when coming to America.

Shermerville was so named after Frederick Schermer who first donated the land to be used for the area’s first railroad station. By the 1870s, it was a thriving farming community with established brick yards that were in much demand during the rebuilding of Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.

The town was incorporated in 1901 as the Village of Shermerville. It had 60 homes, 311 residents, and a whopping total of five saloons. With those numbers, it is not too surprising that Shermerville was labeled with a negative reputation in its early years for its raucous gatherings held at its various taverns. By 1921, the residents believed that the very name of Shermerville had developed a bad connotation and they set out to do something about it.

In 1923, a petition circulated among the residents asking them to select a new name for the village. The winner, Northbrook, was a name submitted by Edward Landwehr, the US Postmaster and the brother-in-law of my daughter-in-law’s first cousin (four times removed). Later, Landwehr’s contribution was recognized by having a street named after him.

It is hard to measure how much impact the name change had on its public image but as of 2021, Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago, consists of 32,654 people and is widely recognized as a safe, family-friendly area. Filmmaker John Hughes, a son of Northbrook, often used locations of the village in his films including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Weird Science.

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.