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Oyez, Oyez! Read All About It!

Many males who are my age or older will remember that our first taste of employment was had by delivering the local newspaper. Being a paperboy was almost like a rite of passage that is sadly disappearing from today’s American culture. For young boys it could instill a sense of responsibility, pride of ownership (your route was YOUR route), and allowed us to develop many of the skillsets needed to be successful as we moved forward in life.

Whether delivering the daily paper or a weekly supplement, the process for the paperboy was pretty much the same. The papers were delivered to a common area where you would pick them up. You’d have to assemble the sections and fold them into a throwable form. You would then fill up your satchel or bag, sling it across your shoulder, hop on your bike and pedal through your route having memorized the houses that have subscribed to the paper. 

But, as in any profession, there are always some who manage to take it up a notch. Ed Kukst, my son’s grand-uncle, was one such “special delivery” carrier. He completed his route on a motorcycle. That’s him, in the center of the picture, with two other lads getting ready to deliver the Spokane Chronicle in the 1920s. Ed grew up to have a career in law enforcement. He retired from the Spokane Police Department as a lieutenant.

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.

Broadway Bound

As many know, I met my wife-to-be on a theatrical stage. 31 years ago, we were cast as brother/sister in the show “The Cocktail Hour.” A year later we were toasting to our marital happiness. But we are far from the only stage performers to find a place within our family tree.

At the beginning of the 20th century, George Tennery, my niece’s husband’s first cousin, appeared on Broadway. His first performance was in The Singing Girl by Victor Herbert. It appears he was an understudy as I found a review of his performance online. It reported that “owing to the illness of the tenor, Mr. Richie Ling, the company was at great disadvantage. Mr George Tennery sang Mr. Ling’s parts during the entire week and the best I can say in his favor is that his singing is not so bad as his acting.” Ouch. But nice to know that the backhanded compliment has a long and storied history among theater critics. I once received a review that said something along the lines of “Mr. Ondrasik, though untrained, certainly seems to be enjoying himself.”

But George apparently continued unfazed, as he appeared in two other Broadway shows, The Fisher Maiden in 1903 and Buster Brown in 1905. I could find no other references to his career although in his father’s obituary it is stated that “he was well known as one of the best tenor singers in the musical world.” 

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 check out our TEDxEustis talk: https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Troup Suit Club

Two of my daughter-in-law’s 3rd great granduncles, Snap and David Pace Jarvis from Troup, TX, established their family business, Jarvis & Company, in 1888. It would continue to be a fixture of the community for the next eight decades.

The store carried a complete inventory of goods and became the community’s go-to source for clothes, shoes, hardware, farm implements, groceries, feed, fertilizers and buggies. They also bought and sold horses and mules as well as cotton. Snap’s wife explained, “Farmers would usually shop twice a year. They would come in the fall to sell their cotton and pay up their past accounts. Then the farmers would buy their winter supplies.

When Snap and D.P. retired, the store was left in the hands of Snap’s sons, Julian and Newell. When Newell moved on, Julian became the sole proprietor and under his management the store continued its successful rise. Jarvis & Company became especially known for the quality of its men’s clothing.  Julian established the “Troup Suit Club.” Members were assigned a number and required to pay $10 per week. Each week, if a member’s number matched the cent amount of a predetermined stock, he won a free suit. If no one won after a number of weeks, the amount paid could be applied to merchandise within the store. At one point there was up to 100 people paying into the club, some coming in as far away as Tyler to take part in the offer.

A family legacy finally ended on February 7, 1963 when The Troup Banner headline declared that Jarvis & Company had been sold to an investor from Dallas.

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. And be sure to watch our recent TEDxEustis talk about geneaology.  https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8

That’s My Pop!

One of my father-in-law’s earliest memories was also one of his favorite stories to tell. As a young lad, Arthur Giannone grew up in the New York/New Jersey area in the 1930s, and was taught early on how to identify the various musical instruments that made up an orchestra. His father was a working musician, playing the trumpet in concert halls and in the theatrical district of New York City.

One day his mother decided to take Arthur to the theater where his father was working. As the lights dimmed and the audience hushed, the orchestra began to play. After only a few notes into their planned number, Arthur’s trained little ears picked out the unmistakable tones of his father’s trumpet and excitedly shouted out, “That’s My Pop!” As he tells it, he got quite the ovation from the amused audience in attendance.

A few weeks later, a new cartoon appeared in the Sunday funnies. Penned by the renowned cartoonist Milt Gross and carried by Hearst’s King Features Syndicate, it featured a bumbling man who finds himself in absurd situations shadowed by a doting son who is not shy about shouting out his admiration. That’s My Pop! became a popular running comic strip, and was eventually adapted at one point into a radio show.

My father-in-law was convinced that he was the inspiration behind the strip and that Gross must have been at the theatre that night he first shouted out the catchphrase that captured the nation’s fancy.

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 don’t forget to check out our recent TEDxEustis talk!

The Oregon Trail

1852 was a standout year for American emigration. Thousands if not tens of thousands took advantage of a treaty engineered by Thomas Fitzpatrick Broken Hand which all but eliminated the danger of Indian attacks, allowing pioneers to safely cross the Indian territories and head west. Eyewitness accounts of that year testified to wagon trains that stretched out to the horizon “as far as the eye could see.” My daughter-in-law’s 5th great granduncle (Thomas Banks) and 5th great grandaunt (Suzannah Jarvis Banks) happened to be in one of those wagons.

Thomas, having been drafted into the war of 1812, survived by paying another young man to serve in his stead. The young man unfortunately became a casualty of that war while Thomas, newly married with children, moved to his father’s home in Kentucky and then further west to Arkansas where he started a lumber business.

And then came 1852 and the promise of opportunity. Now 68 years old, Thomas Banks sold his mill in Arkansas and after gathering his wife and sons (along with other family members), he joined a train of 102 Conestoga wagons which were making their way west towards the promised land of Oregon. And while Indian attacks indeed did not occur, that did not mean the journey wasn’t fraught with peril. Neither Thomas nor Suzannah would survive the trip.

The real enemy turned out to be disease. It was most likely cholera that caused the deaths of so many emigrants along the Oregon Trail. Suzannah died first, in September of 1852. She was buried along the banks of the Burnt River. Thomas followed his wife a month later and was buried beside the Umatilla River. Years later attempts were made to find their gravesites but the temporary markers that were originally used had long since disappeared.

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 don’t forget to check out our TEDx talk! https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8

The Regulators

After the Civil War, life in many of the southern states was anything but civil. Kentucky in the late 1800s was particularly hard hit with lawlessness and violence that local authorities could not control. It was so bad that the citizenry banded together to take matters into their own hands. Calling themselves “Regulators,” they made it clear that lawlessness would not be tolerated… even if they had to break the law themselves in order to enforce it.

This form of vigilantism began in 1879 in Elliott County when two hundred regulators stormed the local jail, dragged two alleged outlaws outside and hung them in front of the courthouse. The movement then quickly spread to adjoining counties, spawning an outbreak of terror against suspected wrong-doers and undesirables, including those operating outside of the moral standards of the community.

In March of 1880, about a hundred regulators rode up to the house of James Binion, my daughter-in-law’s 5th great-grandfather, where they demanded to see John Boggs, a supposed nefarious character who was sheltered inside. Binion refused them access, instead opening fire upon them and allegedly killing one of the regulators. Although they had only come to notify Boggs to leave the county, once shots were fired, they broke down the door, fired a volley which instantly killed Binion, then took Boggs and lynched him. Binion’s wife suffered a broken leg in the melee and his son was whipped for participating in the exchange of gunfire.

The regulators’ reign of terror only lasted a few years. The movement was squashed when district Judge James Stewart called on Gov. Luke Blackburn to send state troops to restore order. That threat, along with the promise to pardon any regulator who voluntarily surrendered, effectively put an end to the organized vigilantism movement although isolated acts would occasionally occur until the twentieth century.

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.

Be It Resolved

America’s war for independence was not born overnight. Discontent over British rule fomented and grew over time. And, much like most rebellions, it had its origins at local, grass root levels.

As early as 1774, while local counties were selecting delegates for new Provincial Congress, many of their Committees of Safety would publish documents known as “resolves” or “associations.” These were intended to state the positions of their delegates on loyalty to the Crown and the emerging American Republic.

While, at first, professing allegiance to King George, they also outlined what they believed to be unfair practices of Parliament. As time went on, the “resolves” changed their tone, inserting conditions to their loyalty and asserting certain rights as free citizens. After the battles at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, the Mecklenburg Resolves were published which outright denied the authority of Parliament and the king… the first time any colonial committee had done so. More counties quickly followed suit.

In July of 1775, the Pitt County Committee of Safety produced a set of resolves at Martinborough NC. In it they pledged to follow the directives of the Continental Congress to resist “the several arbitrary illegal acts of Parliament.”  One of the signers of this document was Henry Ellis, my 6th great-granduncle. His name is included on the plaque commemorating the document which currently hangs in the Pitt County Courthouse.

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

Mural Maker

Sometimes, historic documents used for genealogical research don’t tell the whole story. For example, when researching my wife’s grand-uncle, Angelo Magnanti, one would get the impression that he was either an architect or interior designer for that is how he described himself on the federal census reports from 1920 through 1940. It turns out that he was far more. Hearing of some family stories, I looked a little deeper and found that he was a renowned artist specializing in large scale projects. 

Born and trained in Italy, he immigrated to New York, where he decorated numerous banks and churches and two walls within Penn Station (that building was torn down in 1966). Magnanti designed the mosaic ceiling of the banking room of the Williamsburg Savings Bank and four painted murals (illustrated above) that depicted scenes from the Bronx’s early European settlement for the Dollar Savings Bank in the Bronx. 

In 1935, Magnanti executed the decorative finishes for architect John Russell Pope’s renovation and addition to the building housing The Frick Collection. Drawings for the renovation were among those exhibited at the Frick in 2010 to celebrate the museum’s 75th anniversary. Indeed, The Frick Art Reference Library is decorated with an earlier Magnanti mural and houses an archive on the artist. 

Outside New York, Magnanti’s projects included decorations for the conference room of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. and the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

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.

Have You Heard The One About…

Family stories are the best. You know… the ones that are passed down from generation to generation; perhaps with a few added embellishments that come with each telling. What they may lack in historical accuracy, they more than make up with their homespun charm. I’ve collected quite a few from the archives I’ve read.  This one involves the 5th great grandfather of my niece’s husband’s aunt.

Alexander McAllister, born in Scotland, was descended from Lord of the Isles and Thane of Argyll through Alester, eldest son of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles and Kintyre. He emigrated to North Carolina and became a prominent citizen, serving in the Cumberland County militia as a colonel, the provincial congress and the state senate.

He arrived in America first in 1736 but returned to Scotland in 1739 presumably to marry for he returned to North Carolina in 1740 with his wife, Mary, who unfortunately died during the crossing.

As the family tale goes, during the crossing, a child was born to two of his fellow passengers. The baby, as they are wont to do, was crying incessantly. The irritable Alexander, mourning his departed wife, lashed out at the mother, “Would you just spank that little “b-****”!” The mother quickly shot back, “Never mind sir, she’ll be the wife of you yet.”

Twenty-three years later, that prophecy was fulfilled. That baby, who was named Jane Colvin, became Alexander McAllister’s third wife in 1763. Together, they had eleven children.

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.

Confederate Roll of Honor

The Civil War, horrific as it was, was also home to incredible feats of bravery and heroism. So much so that, in 1861, the United States created the Medal of Honor, which remains the highest award the nation can bestow for members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves through acts of valor.

Lesser known, in 1862, the Confederate States of America also planned their own Medal of Honor but due to difficulties in procuring them, instead instituted a Roll of Honor to commemorate their soldiers. After a battle, men in each company would nominate who they thought would be worthy of inclusion and voted to select who would receive the honor. The names would then be included in battle reports, read aloud to the regiments and published in Confederate newspapers. Bestowing an honor by a vote of common soldiers was virtually unprecedented.

After the battle of Gettysburg, the name of Chelsey Alderman, the brother-in-law of my 2nd great grand-aunt, was added to the Roll of Honor. A member of Toombs’ Guards of the 9th Georgia Infantry, he was wounded in the finger on the first day of the Gettysburg Battle. Unable to load and fire his weapon, he then volunteered to drive the ambulance wagon. He would have been very busy for on the 2nd day of fighting, his regiment lost 56% of its men. It is unknown how many men were saved due to his actions.

On the third day, Chelsey was shot in the leg and captured by Union soldiers. He was taken to a field hospital where a northern doctor amputated his leg. He died two weeks later from his injury. His burial site remains unknown. Three months later, his fellow soldiers selected him to be included to the Roll of Honor… not for his fighting prowess but for his life-saving efforts. He was 23 years old.

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.