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Of Service To The Queen

Our family’s connection to royalty continues. I’ve just learned that Sarah Jones, the great-great grandaunt of my sons, who lived in Rochester NY during the late 1800s, emigrated to the U.S. from England with her parents when she was 38 years old. But it was her life prior to that which came as a surprise. 

Sarah was hired in 1833 to be a housemaid for a teenaged Victoria who was seven years younger than she. She is listed on the employment records of Windsor Castle as “supernumerary’ (temporary). It is unclear how long she was employed at that time however, when Victoria assumed the throne at the age of 18, Sarah was re-admitted and transferred to Buckingham Palace where she had the title of “linen room woman.”

Her employment records at Buckingham indicate that she remained there at least until 1845. She appears on a list of servants who were given an allowance for mourning clothes in 1844 after the death of the Duke of Sax Coburg Gotha. He was Ernest 1st, father of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband.

Sarah learned the millinery trade while in England and after arriving in America with her parents and siblings in 1850, she opened a millinery shop in Rochester NY which is where she stayed until her death in 1880. She never married.

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 be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Parrish, FL

There’s a little town in Manatee County FL called Parrish. It has a population of approximately 9,700 people and is home to the Florida Railroad Museum. It was also named after my 1st cousin (5 times removed), Crawford Parrish.

Originally from Georgia, Crawford was a rancher and farmer who, after the Civil War ended, decided to leave his homestead in North Florida and move himself, his wife, his children and his herd further south. He bought the land known as the Oak Hill Plantation outside of what is now Bradenton and there raised his cattle and planted orange groves. The area grew to the point where it needed its own post office and since there was, at that time, already an Oak Hill FL, the residents overwhelming elected to rename the town after my cousin. And when Crawford’s son, John, donated land for a railroad station, he requested that it also be named after his father.

Apparently, Crawford was a well-liked and respected member of the community. Here’s what was written about him some 50 years after his death: “A pious man, he loved his Creator and he loved his church. Devoted to his family, his roots early found firm hold in the soil he worked and cared for so well. And to the end, the cares of the world existed not for him, for his house, and that of his children, was ever in order. An honest man: yea, verily, he was a co-worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

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.

Moving Day

It is easy to forget how hard life was in the early years of our country’s founding. One way to remember is to read the first-hand accounts of people who were there. The following narrative was written by Lavinia Morris, my aunt’s third great-grandmother who, with her Baptist minister husband, moved their family of eight from Kentucky to Ohio, some 200 miles north. It was in the early 1800s.

“The road from Bellefontaine, Ohio to Lima, Ohio was hub deep in mud and the trees and brush had to be cut out part of the way. We landed here on the 8th of October and built a house 16 feet square out of poles. A door served for a window. We built a fire in one end of the house, without any chimney, allowing the smoke to go out through the cracks and crevices. We lived this way until my husband could build a chimney and a door, and chink and daub the house. The house was built without any floor, and we lived this way for one year. We then built a log cabin with puncheon floor, and a square hole with paper pasted over it for a window. This was equal to the finest parlor in those days. We brought three barrels of flour with us which lasted one year with corn meal. We had plenty of wild meat, such as deer and turkey, and wild fruit, such as grapes, plums and berries. I remember one instance, I think it was in the fall of 1834, we were without bread for four weeks, as the nearest place we could get grinding done was Cherokee in Logan County or Sidney in Shelby County, but we had plenty of pumpkins, squashes and potatoes.”

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.

Tradition, Tradition!

As the son of a father whose family was devoutly Catholic and a mother who was a lifelong Episcopalian; married to a woman whose Italian heritage on both sides was centuries deep into Catholicism, it came as a surprise to me to find that not only did I have some Jewish relatives… I had, in my family tree, one of the leading rabbis of his day.

Gabriel Wolf Margolis was born in Lithuania and studied with Rabbi Joshua of Vilna, the uncle of the Ḥafez Ḥayyim. He was ordained in 1869 and quickly gained a reputation as being an uncompromising traditionalist. After the pogroms of 1903, he fiercely opposed the Jews who embraced the revolutionary movement but he failed in an attempt to have them declared as being no longer members of the Jewish community.

He accepted an offer to serve as chief rabbi of seven congregations in Boston but disputed with the Agudat Harabbonim (union of Orthodox Rabbis) over kashrut (the set of dietary laws for the Jewish people to follow, familiarly known as kosher). He welcomed a move to New York where he served as rabbi of Adath Israel, a lower East Side congregation, for over a quarter century. The membership of his congregation continually grew, ultimately reaching over 10,000 souls.

Moshe Sherman said, referring to Gabriel Wolf Margolis: “The major thrust of his efforts to transplant the European world of Jewish piety and observance to the United States proved to be difficult” – at least in his generation when Americanization was the primary interest of immigrants and especially of their children.

At the time of his death, he was recognized as the oldest active rabbi practicing in the United States.  Gabriel Wolf Margolis was the granduncle of the husband of my wife’s grandmother.

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 Fighting Italian

Boxing was a popular form of entertainment in the 1940s but, like most everything else, was interrupted by WWII. Many of the most popular fighters of that time enlisted and served overseas. Familiar names like Joe Louis, Beau Jack, and Bob Montgomery put their athletic careers on hold to answer the call to duty. Some, like Louis, were used in a promotional way to entice Americans to join the war against Germany. Others simply entered the ranks to fight alongside their fellow soldiers.

I had a relative among them. Chester “The Fighting Italian” Rico was an up and coming lightweight from New Jersey with 44 wins already under his belt since he turned pro in 1938. He traded his boxing trunks for an army uniform in 1944 but once being released from his service, he resumed his activities in the ring with a well-publicized bout against Patsy “The Bronx Cyclone” Spataro in Long Island’s Queensboro Arena. He battled, through the rain, to a victorious and unanimous eight round decision.

He continued boxing for another seven years, until retiring in 1952 with a professional record of 65 wins (14 knockouts), 25 losses, and 8 draws. During his career, he went toe-to-toe with some of the best in the business, including future lightweight champions Beau Jack, Bob Montgomery and Tippy Larkin.

Horace (Chester) Rico was the nephew of my wife’s granduncle.

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.

The Christian Critic

It recently struck me as I continue to delve into the past, uncovering the almost forgotten stories involving my ancestors, that I have my own stories that one day will be in danger of being lost to time. As I approach the 66th anniversary of my birth, I find myself reflecting on some of the experiences I’ve had over the years. I would have to say that the stories of mine that may be most at risk of fading from public memory would be the ones that occurred in the ten year period where I was known by a different name.

From 1998 to 2008, I ran a website called Movie Parables, and was known in the online community as Michael Elliott, The Christian Critic. (Elliott, for the record, is my middle name.) It all started with watching The Man In The Iron Mask starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and becoming aware of a number of biblical truths that were reflected in this secular movie. I found this to be interesting and decided to write my observations down. For fun, I did so within the framework of a movie review. I then challenged myself to see if I could do something similar for the next movie I watched… and the one after that. 

After I collected a few, I decided to share them online. That snowballed into a number of opportunities that came my way: acceptance into the Online Film Critics Society, syndication in a handful of papers around the US, being added to the PR press junket list where I’d be flown to LA to interview the actors and directors of upcoming films, a contract with Tyndale Publishing, and the release of two books. It was a fun and exciting time.

I still believe in the premise that led to the creation of those reviews:  While art does indeed imitate life… God was the one who created it, so any art form must borrow from God’s creation. Therefore, there must be evidence of His handiwork in every movie we watch – whether it is placed there intentionally or not. All it takes are the spiritual eyes to see it. As well as the will to look for it. And once we become practiced at spotting the invisible spiritual realities, we’ll start to see those truths all around us because they were always there. And still are.

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.

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.

War Hero

We shouldn’t have to look deep into the past to find stories that have meaning or poignancy. Each of us are making tomorrow’s history today simply by living our lives and having the experiences we have. And that goes for our family members who are not that far removed from our present.

My grandfather, whom I called Hop (his name was Herman Oliff Parish), had plenty of stories to tell. A career military man, he served in the US Navy for most of his adult life. When WWII came along, he was given the command of Destroyer Division Fifty. One day, on April 14, 1945 to be precise, his fleet came under attack by Japanese forces near Okinawa. 

The official report reflects that “undaunted by overwhelming odds, Captain Parish skillfully directed ships and aircraft under his command in repelling suicide attacks by fifteen to twenty hostile planes, thereby playing a major part in destroying ten aircraft and denying the remainder access to his Task Group.” That report can be found in the accompanying documentation for the Navy Cross he was awarded for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service. That Navy Cross has been passed down to me and I have it along with the Legion of Merit medal and Bronze Star he also received.

My grandfather, once he retired from active duty with the rank of Rear Admiral, continued to serve by teaching mathematics to young recruits at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Besides that, in what is probably the event that had the most impact for me, he was the one who introduced his daughter to the man who would become her future husband. If he had failed to do that, I wouldn’t be here to write about it. Thank you, Hop.

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.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

There are a number of people who have found their way onto our family tree through marriage. As we trace their lines, we discover segments of history that have not only helped to shape our family but also our nation.

Mark Snow was a farmer from Virginia who happens to be the 5th great grandfather of the man who married one of my nieces. And without Snow, and others like him, the Revolutionary War may have turned out quite differently.

Snow served under Captain Jacobus Early as part of Col. Charles Lynch’s regiment in the Virginia Militia. Once France entered the war in 1778 on the side of the Americans, the British army began focusing on obtaining victories in the south so as to gain a foothold from which they might launch an offensive to the north. In March of 1781, when Lt Gen. Cornwallis and his 2100 men marched upon Guilford Courthouse near Greensboro NC, Mark Snow and 4500 other soldiers were there to meet him.

After a battle that lasted nearly two hours, the colonial troops withdrew, giving the British a dubious victory. Dubious because due to the Americans’ early withdrawal, their troops were left largely intact while Cornwallis’ army suffered casualties of 25% or more, decimating their effectiveness. As British statesman Charles James Fox commented when asked about the battle, “Another such victory would ruin the British army.” 

Afterwards, Cornwallis abandoned his efforts to gain a foothold in North Carolina, marched his troops into Virginia to refit and replenish but to no avail. In October of the following year, after the Battle of Yorktown, he surrendered to George Washington.

Snow later married Elizabeth Torrence and relocated to Gwinnett County, Georgia where his name was drawn as part of a land grant lottery made available to Revolutionary War veterans who had given service for 3 years or more. He died, in Georgia, in 1843 at the age of 79.

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.