Throwback Thanksgiving

IMG_1553 Happy Thanksgiving! Today is the day for family, food and traditions! At our feast today, we made pies with my Nana’s pie crust, Papa’s pumpkin pie filling, my Mom’s Cranberry Apple pie filling, and a ten-year-old cousin’s mincemeat recipes. We also had my aunt’s casseroles, traditional cranberry relish and my sister-in-law’s baked macaroni. It all came together into a delicious feast!

I recently came across this photograph of my great-grandmother Dorothy (Mueller) Jordan making a turkey dinner in the 1950’s! Her small turkey likely fed only her family of four. It was taken in their house in Seattle, Washington, probably on Thanksgiving. Dorothy is hard at work!

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Dorothy showing off her turkey in her kitchen in Seattle, Washington, in the early 1950’s. (Image Source: Wischmeyer/Jordan family photos)
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Nana was a WWII veteran (Part III)

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Millie with her closest friends, Fran and Ski. They are spending the day in Pensacola doing some shopping. A store selling Navy uniforms advertises war bonds and stamps. (Image source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)

This is Part III of a series dedicated to my grandmother’s WWII military service. Click here to read Part I or Click here to read Part II. 

My grandmother (Nana), Millie Kaiser, joined the Navy WAVES in April of 1944. As mentioned earlier in the series, she was stationed at Saufley Field in Pensacola, Florida. While much of her time was spent at work, most of her fondest memories were spending time with her friends during their off-hours.

Free Time with Friends

Millie was pretty shy, but she quickly made a few friends. She became very close friends with two girls in particular, Ski and Francis. Fran was from Grand Rapids, Michigan and worked in the office. Ski worked in the mail room, and was from Chicago. Most of Nana’s memories from her WAVES days were centered around the adventures that she had with her friends in their free time. Going to the beach became a favorite on warm days. A woman who worked in the office with Fran had a car, and would take the girls to town to get watermelons or visit the beach. Fran and Ski went into town every Friday to attend mass, and Millie would tag along, waiting in the back pew until it was done, and then they’d spend a couple hours around town or enjoying the sunshine in the park. They also went shopping and sight-seeing with friends in Pensacola and nearby cities. Millie recalled, “We went to New Orleans a few times, though we weren’t supposed to, because it was over 200 miles away, and it was out of bounds, you know. We also went to Mobile and some other cities.” The trio loved to take trips out of town when they had a day off. Luckily, no matter how far they went, they always made it back to the base without a problem. During longer holidays and leaves, they would often visit each other’s families. The three of them stayed close friends for the rest of their lives.

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Millie and Fran spending a sunny day on the beach with a picnic lunch (packed inside a Hershey’s chocolate box!) (Image source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)
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Ed and Millie at the zoo when she was home on leave. (Image source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)

She sent frequent letters home to her family and to my grandfather, Ed Drake, whom she had already started dating before she signed up for the WAVES. Ed was exempt from joining the military because he was a farmer, and farmers were still needed at home to provide food for the country. Millie had a long break for Christmas, so she and Ski took the train from Florida to Chicago, but there was no way to get out to DeKalb where she lived. Gas was rationed, and no one was able to drive her the 60 miles home. Ed was a farmer, so he had gotten a few extra gas rations for his tractor. He had saved up enough gas to drive to Chicago to surprise them with a drive home!

“It was quite an experience.”

After the war was finished, Millie was discharged in February of 1946. She had spent 22 months as a Navy WAVE. She went back home to Illinois and four months later, married Ed. Although she was proud to serve her country, she was also very humble about her time in the WAVES. She knew her service was important, but she felt that she hadn’t sacrificed as much as others did during the war. She highly respected the men and women who served overseas and in combat. WWII was the first time that women could serve in large numbers in the military, and after the war, they didn’t receive the same benefits as the men, such as the benefits from the G.I. bill. Luckily, over time, women’s military roles during WWII have been gaining more recognition. Even though they weren’t always on the front lines, the women serving state-side were nevertheless essential to the war effort and our eventual victory.

To sum up her experience as a WAVE, she said, “It was quite an experience.”

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Ski, Fran and Millie remained good friends for the rest of their lives. (Image Source: M. Kaiser WAVES scrapbook)

Sources:

  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2015.
  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Rebecca Weil, 2015.
  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2005.
  • Photos from private collection, Mildred (Kaiser) Drake’s WAVES photo album, 1944-1946.
  • Women of WWII website

(Book)Binding our Family History

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The cover of my family tree book

I took a bookbinding course this semester as part of my Library Science degree. At the end, we could create and bind our own book! Of course, I designed a book to showcase our family tree! I wanted to create a book that would include my family tree, and my husband’s family tree, joined in the middle by us.

I made a side-by-side accordion book. The cover opens from the center, and is tied together with a ribbon (representing the tying of our two families together). The green cover, and the silver leaf are also suggestive of a living tree. I found a metal plate that said “Ancestors” and attached that to the front as the title.

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His family tree and my family tree come together at the center — with us!

The book opens to reveal our family trees side by side, joined in the center with us. A reader can either “read” page by page through each generation, or can fold out each tree entirely to see it all together. I included photographs and names of each ancestor if they were available, and I left room for them to be added later if I didn’t have it. The generations are not strictly laid out, but you can see who is linked together by following the threads. In the center, my husband and I are together, and join the two sides of the family tree.

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The book pages all spread out to reveal the two sides of our family tree.

This was a fun project for me to explore, and I’m now interested in making another book! This book just includes names and photos, so perhaps my next book project can incorporate a little more information about each family member!

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Louise’s first grade class

 

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“Mamma (Louise Nahrstaedt Mueller) 1st Grade in Germany 1885” Source: Mueller family photo

Autumn is in full swing already, and school is well underway. I recently re-discovered this old class photo amongst my scanned family photos. My 2nd great-grandmother, Louise Marie Nahrstaedt, was born in Sandau, Germany, in 1879. As far as I know, her family lived there until 1891 when they emigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago, Illinois. This image is a class photo from 1885, when Louise was in first grade. She is the girl circled in the front row. She seems to be very good friends with the other three girls in the front row, because they are all sitting close to each other, holding hands or linking arms. I wonder if she was still friends with them when she was 12, leaving for the United States, and if they were, did they ever have a chance to write to each other and remain friends? Would she find close school friends here in the United States? Only time will tell!

Solar eclipses in my ancestors’ time

Today, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will roll across North America. For many, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In Illinois, some people remember the partial eclipse experienced here in 1970 and 1979, but the last time Illinois residents experienced a full total solar eclipse was in 1869. This eclipse was the only time in the history of the state (established in 1818) that a total eclipse had ever been observed! As this Daily Herald article discusses, Illinoisans were building the State Capital building at the time, and attempted to commemorate the occasion with a monument at the capital. Since solar eclipses are such relatively rare occurrences, I wondered, which of my ancestors experienced a solar eclipse during their lifetimes?

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The path of the Aug. 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse. Image Source: NASA

It turns out, some of my ancestors would have been able to see a complete solar eclipse from their homes, and even a few more who would have seen a partial solar eclipse sometime in their lives. Unfortunately, none of my ancestors recorded their solar eclipse experiences, but I can imagine what they would have seen and done.


7 March 1970: 

My mother remembers this partial eclipse from her home in Northern Illinois. In her area, the sun was about 70% covered by the moon. She remembers standing on her back porch, watching the eclipse with her homemade cardboard box eclipse viewer. Local newspaper reports indicate that clouds and rain were threatening to block out the view, but apparently my mom attempted to see it anyway!


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Headline from the Sycamore True Republican, 24 January 1925. Image Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections

24 January 1925:

A 95% total eclipse would have been observed in DeKalb County, Illinois, but it was apparently overcast that morning, and the eclipse was not entirely visible. Six of my great-grandparents lived with their families in DeKalb County or Chicago, and would have missed out on this eclipse because of weather. Perhaps they paused their daily lives to try to peek out at the partial eclipse through the clouds.

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An illustration showing how the eclipse would darken New York City. Kingston, New York is just north of NYC. Image Source: USC Digital Library

My paternal great-grandparents would have had a much better view of this eclipse. George and Pauline Weil lived in Kingston, New York at the time and would have been able to view the total eclipse. George worked as a teacher at Emmanuel Lutheran School. He and Pauline had four young boys at home. George may have used the solar eclipse as a teaching opportunity and taken his oldest boys, ages 7 and 5, outside in the frigid cold to view the eclipse. According to the evening issue of The Kingston Daily Freeman from that day, the weather was brutally cold but the sky was wonderfully clear to watch the eclipse. Daily business came to a standstill during the moments when the moon was completely covering the sun. (Read the full fascinating account here on Newspapers.com.) I imagine that George and his family would have also viewed this moment with wonder.

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Pauline (nee Gardner) Weil and one of her children outside on a chilly day. Taken about 1925 or after. Image Source: Weil family photo

 

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Headline about the eclipse in the Kingston Daily Freeman, Saturday January 24, 1925. Image Source: Newspapers.com


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Excerpt of an article in the Sycamore True Republican Newspaper, 1 June 1918. Image Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection

8 June 1918: 

During this eclipse, the moon covered about 70% of the sun in Northern Illinois. Unlike the 1925 eclipse, the weather that day was clear, and the eclipse was clearly visible. My Illinois ancestors who didn’t get to see the eclipse in 1925 likely caught a glimpse of this partial solar eclipse. My great-grandparents, Charles and Emma Drake, may have simply been working on the farm that morning as usual and paused to look up at the sky. Emma would have been 8 months pregnant with her first son. In some cultures, it is unlucky for pregnant women to view the solar eclipse, so I wonder if she was slightly superstitious and stayed inside, or if she was curious and glanced at it. My other great-grandparents, Glenn and Mildred (Lawrence) Kaiser, and Erwin and Dorothy (Mueller) Wischmeyer were not yet married, and were living with their families in DeKalb and Chicago, respectively. Glenn Kaiser would have missed the eclipse entirely because he was serving in the military in France. Perhaps he heard about the eclipse from family members who wrote to him while he was away.


7 August 1869:

My great-great grandmother Jennie Holbrook was nine years old and lived with four siblings and her parents on a farm near a small town named Manlius, Bureau County, Illinois. They were just a tad too far north to see a complete eclipse, but at over 90% coverage of the sun, the sky would have still been noticeably dark. On this particular Saturday, I’d imagine that they also paused their daily routine to admire the nearly full eclipse. They may have read about the eclipse in the Ottawa Free Trader or another local newspaper. This eclipse was the first eclipse in the United States to have a clear photograph taken of it. The center of the eclipse passed right through Springfield, IL as they were building the Capital. This was the last time that Illinoisans experienced a total eclipse.

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Another article from the Ottawa Free Trader on the day of the eclipse, 7 August 1869. Image Source: Newspapers.com
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Scientists had predicted the solar eclipse on August 7, 1869, which actually began on August 8 in Asia! This witty newspaper clipping about the upcoming eclipse comes from the Ottawa Free Trader, 17 July 1869, page 5. Image Source: Newspapers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Later today, I will try to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view a total solar eclipse from my home. I wonder, will the weather cooperate? Will it be cloudy, like the eclipses my relatives experienced in 1925 and 1970? Or will I get lucky, like George and Pauline Weil, and be able to view the total eclipse under clear skies? And will it be memorable, so that I can someday tell my children about it? Time will soon tell!

Did any of your relatives experience any cool eclipses in the past?