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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.

The Immortal 600

Dr. James Hughes, the first cousin of my daughter-in-law’s 5th great-grandaunt, was a captain in the 44th Virginia Regiment during the Civil War. He was captured in May of 1864 at the Spotsylvania Courthouse and subsequently became a pawn in what has arguably been deemed the most shameful event of the war.

In June of 1864, the city of Charleston SC was under siege from Union artillery. In an attempt to silence those guns, the Confederate Army imprisoned five Union generals and forty-five Union officers in the area being targeted by the North, in effect using them as human shields.

This so infuriated the North that in retaliation, they brought 50 Southern officers from the prison at Fort Delaware and positioned them in front of the Union position on Morris Island, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, to be used similarly as shields from bombing. When the South sent 600 more prisoners to Charleston to relieve overcrowding at Andersonville, the North again responded by bringing 600 more of their prisoners. This group became known as the “Immortal 600” and James Hughes was counted among that number.

Because the prisoner exchange program between the sides had been effectively cancelled due to perceived inequities, there was little hope for these prisoners other than to wait out the course of the war, defenseless against the bombs, diseases, and lack of food or medical care.  

This stalemate continued until an outbreak of yellow fever in Charleston forced the North to move their prisoners outside of the city limits. The 600 were transferred to Fort Pulaski and found to be in dismal condition. Most had dysentery and scurvy; many were so weak they could not rise from their cots. Thirteen died while at Fort Pulaski, most from dehydration. Another 25 died upon their transfer back to Fort Delaware.

The Immortal 600 were lauded as heroes of the South for their refusal to take the Northern Oath of Allegiance under duress.

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.

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

There are 56 signatures on America’s Declaration of Independence. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I managed to link one of them back to my family.

Col. George V Ross of Pennsylvania was the brother-in-law of my 6th great-granduncle. Born in Delaware to a large family, he started reading law in his brother’s office. He was admitted to the bar at the age of 20. Politically, he began, as many gentlemen did in that day, with Tory sympathies, even serving as Crown Prosecutor for twelve years. But his allegiances began to change and he started siding with the colonists in their disputes with British rule.

He was elected to represent Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress (along with Benjamin Franklin). At the same time, he served as a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia. In 1776, he signed his name to the Declaration of Independence. In 1777, he was again appointed to represent his state at the second Continental Congress but had to resign his position due to ill health. He died from complications of gout a few years later at the young age of 49.

Before he died, he did make one more contribution to the cause. When George Washington and Robert Morris were looking for someone to fashion a symbol to represent the new nation, he took them to see his niece, a talented seamstress from Philadelphia. Her name was Betsy Ross.

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.

A Confederate Soldier

William Patrick Goode, the 4th great-granduncle of my daughter-in-law, enlisted in the Confederate Army when he was 18 years old. He served in B Company, 57th Infantry, Virginia Volunteers under the command of General L.A. Armistead, Major General Anderson, and last under General G.E. Pickett. 

He was captured while holding onto the position the Confederates gained during the famous “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg. He was held at Fort Delaware until his release in June of 1865. Conditions were dismal. Fort Delaware was designed to be a harbor defense, not for housing of prisoners, and after Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, its population swelled to well over 12,000.

From the memoirs of John Sterling Swann, who was also imprisoned at Fort Delaware: “I witnessed the suffering of many, consequent on want of food, clothing and warmth, and many died from these causes. I have seen many go to the hospital never to return. When the winter came on we suffered greatly. The division — our quarters were made of white pine planks, nailed up vertically. It had shrunk and left large cracks between the planks and there being but one stove to the division, and only one blanket allowed to each person, we of course suffered greatly from cold. We were at night continually getting up and coming to the stove and when a little warm we would return to our bunks. So the stove was always crowded. Hence we got but little sleep. There were many rats in the prison grounds. They burrowed under the plank walks and into the sides of the ditches. The more needy prisoners, when they could kill them, eat them with avidity.”

After the war, and upon his release, William Goode returned to Virginia where he married Malinda Jane Oxley-Wigginton, the widow of a fellow Confederate soldier who died in the Battle at Frazier’s Farm in Richmond. Together, they had ten children. He died in 1937, at the age of 92.

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.

Harman’s Battle at Tug River

The following account was published in the Ironton Register on August 24, 1854. It has been edited due to space considerations.

It was about the year 1791 that Captain Henry Harman, together with his sons George and Matthias and a new son-in-law went over upon the Tug Fork of Big Sandy to hunt. In the afternoon the young men went out (as was the custom with the hunters) to see if the locality pleased them for hunting, before fixing upon their final camping ground. At night the young men returned bringing with them some moccasins, some of them new, which they had found at a camp some few miles distant.

Capt. Harman, experienced in frontier life, took a moccasin and scented it for the strong Indian smell, which it had, and says he: “Boys, you’ve done wrong, for the Indians will trail you here for their moccasins; we have no safety but to go home.” After getting a little distance from the camp they put their horses to full speed, the son-in-law leading and had gone but a short distance before he sung out, “Father, I see Indians.” The old man went ahead; they had gone but a little further before the Indians fired upon them from under the bank of the stream, but as good luck would have it not one of them was injured.

Harman and his boys immediately dismounted and “treed.” There were seven of the Indians under the bank, and soon the son-in-law disappeared; he found a hiding place under a log, leaving Captain Harman and his two boys to fight the battle with the Indians, three to seven. Here they stood it for hours, each party trying to get the advantage over the other. Finally, while Capt. Harman and his boys were yet all unharmed, such had been their adroitness, four of the Indians were killed or mortally wounded, leaving the contesting sides three to three.

The three remaining Indians then becoming desperate dropped their guns and rushed up the bank upon Capt. Harman with their bows and arrows. They shot one arrow into his breast and another into his arm. He fell and fainted. They were about to scalp him, when one of the boys with his rifle drove two of the Indians again down the bank, and the other boy rushed upon the third Indian. This young Harman was lame from a fever sore, and the Indian thinking that he was wounded drew his knife and grappled with him; but young Harman proving an overmatch took his knife from him, and stabbed him eleven times. The two Indians down the bank again came up, but seeing their companion had been killed, and that the young Harmans were ready for them, they ran off with nothing but their bows.

Application of water soon brought Captain Harman to himself again. The arrow sticking in his arm and breast had to be cut out as they were barbed, and having brass heads the wounds were very painful. Nevertheless he determined to “settle,” as he said, “on the spot with that skulking whelp–the scoundrel who deserted us in our time of need” and he loaded his gun to shoot the son-in-law, his mouth all of the time full of wrath and cursing. At the earnest entreaties of the sons, the old man was finally induced to spare him until they should get home. On arriving home Captain Harman compelled his son-in-law to leave for other parts.

Captain Henry Harman was the 6th great grandfather of my niece’s husband.

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.

Fife and Drum

The use of fife and drum corps in the military dates back many centuries. Because of its loud and piercing sound when played in its upper register, the fife, which is also easy to carry, used to be the preferred instrument to signal messages to infantry troops. According to some, a band of fife and drums can be heard up to 3 miles away.

Back in the day, each company in an infantry regiment was assigned two fifers and two drummers. When the battalion or regiment were formed up on parade or for movement en masse, these musicians would be detached from the companies to form a “band.” This is how the word band became associated with a group of musicians.

We have at least two members of our family who served in the fife and drum corps. Michael Cain, born in 1750, served as a drum major during the war of 1812. As lore has it, during the Battle of New Orleans, he exclaimed, “Men are not killed with drums!” With that, he picked up a gun and joined the battle. He was wounded in the head. According to family stories, he was carried off the field on the horse of General Andrew Jackson.

His son, John C. Cain, was denied recruit during the War of 1812 due to a disability so he instead played for the troops in the training camps. But he did serve as a fife major during the Mexican War.

Michael Cain and John C. Cain were, respectively, the 4th and 3rd great grandfathers of my sister-in-law.

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.

In Heaven There Is No Beer

But as the song goes, “that’s why we drink it here” and in the late 1800s there was ample opportunity to do just that. Especially in the Chicago area where over 100 breweries were in operation during those years. One of them, which started its history as the Joseph Jerusalem Brewery, happened to be in my family.

Joseph Jerusalem was born in Prussia in 1836 and after leaving school, emigrated to the US where he learned the trade of a brewer in New York. Following an opportunity, he moved to Chicago where he was employed as a journeyman brewer. Four years later, in 1870, he opened his own brewery. It was one of the many casualties of the Great Chicago fire of 1871 (the one allegedly started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow) but he was able to rebuild from the ashes and resume the production of his Weiss (white) Beer, with its refreshing taste and lower alcoholic content. Weiss Beer was first brewed in Bohemia and is part of Bavaria’s 500 year old tradition.

Joseph married Ulricke Giese in 1872 who ran the company following her husband’s death in 1877. She remarried Gustav Eberlin in 1891 who renamed the brewery after himself and took control of the company but when he died in 1903, she once again had to take the reins and guide the brewery through the first decade of the 20th century.  The family run Eberlin Weiss Brewery finally closed its doors in 1908 after 40 years of beer production.

Karl Gustav Eberlin was the 2nd great-granduncle of my daughter-in-law.


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