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.