Finding Fire Capt. Frank J. Becker

Frank Becker. Photo reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Frank Becker. Photo reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

My great-grandfather Frank Becker was a fireman. I knew that he had been promoted to captain at some point, and some relatives had once told me they thought it had been covered on TV or in the newspaper.

I wanted to see if I could find a news story about the promotion. So in 2011, I obtained a copy of his service record from the St. Louis Fire Department.

The service record was a pretty cool document. It included previous addresses where Grandpa Becker had once lived, a list of companies to which he had been assigned, and other details. It also included the date of his promotion to captain: Dec. 1, 1953.

This is a portion of Frank Becker's fire department service record.

This is a portion of Frank Becker’s fire department service record.

This is pretty much how I always found stuff: search and search for the right document with a date or an address, then turn to the newspapers and see if the event made into its pages.

I combed through numerous microfilmed issues of the Globe-Democrat and the Post-Dispatch from around the promotion date, hoping to find a story or a photo of my grandpa. Ultimately, though, I failed to find anything. So I turned my attention to other puzzles and let this one lapse for years.

Until last night.

There are lots of great tools for St. Louis-based genealogists, whether it’s the vast stores of microfilm at the County and City libraries, or the wide array of different digitized records at Ancestry.com.

But this year, a spectacular new treasure trove for local family history buffs came online: a searchable archive of the Post-Dispatch from 1874 to today

Last night after work, I decide to hit newspapers.com and try searching for some family members. One of the first I tried was Grandpa Becker, using the term “Frank J Becker.” Pretty quickly I turned up a photo of the promotion ceremony that I had been hunting for in 2011:

Frank J. Becker is sworn in as a captain along with other members of the St. Louis Fire Department.

Why did I miss it before, when I was looking at microfilm? Well, I had assumed the photo or story would have been in the main news section. It didn’t occur to me that it would be in the Everyday Magazine!

It was so thrilling to find this photo, but there was a bit of a letdown: Grandpa was seemingly hiding from the camera, his face almost completely obscured behind someone else.

After saving the story and photo as a PDF, I looked through the other search results and found one other story I had never uncovered before. It was a short item about two firefighters who were injured in 1946. The story said Grandpa’s shoulder injured had been injured by falling bricks.

Two firemen hurt, one in 20-foot fall. Frank Becker received shoulder injuries from falling bricks.

One advantage I have over other genealogists is proximity to the Post-Dispatch’s “morgue,” since I work in the newsroom at the Post-Dispatch. In my work, I often need to go to the morgue to scan photos of historical people or events. This time I decided to see if I could find the original, physical copy of my grandpa’s promotion photo.

It was easier than I thought. It was filed under “Missouri — St. Louis — Fire Department — Employees” in an envelope of similar photos. If only Grandpa would have taken a few steps to the side!

Mrs. Joseph M. Darst, city register, and men of the Fire Department enjoy the occasion as new captains and battalion chiefs are sworn in at City Hall today. In group (from left) are: Ralph E. Lowe, Joseph D. Boschert, Joseph C. Findlay, Philips T. Nix, Harry J. Wilcox, James J. O'Malley, Harvey E. Talbott, Joseph L. Nixon Jr., Frank J. Becker, Grant Berger, Chief Walter H. Kammann, Joseph P. Sestric, director of public safety, and Mrst. Darst. Lowe and Findlay are the new battalion chiefs, others are captains. (11/27/1953)

Photo reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Mrs. Joseph M. Darst, city register, and men of the Fire Department enjoy the occasion as new captains and battalion chiefs are sworn in at City Hall today. In group (from left) are: Ralph E. Lowe, Joseph D. Boschert, Joseph C. Findlay, Philips T. Nix, Harry J. Wilcox, James J. O’Malley, Harvey E. Talbott, Joseph L. Nixon Jr., Frank J. Becker, Grant Berger, Chief Walter H. Kammann, Joseph P. Sestric, director of public safety, and Mrst. Darst. Lowe and Findlay are the new battalion chiefs, others are captains. (11/27/1953)

As I looked through the envelope, I saw several photos of union meetings with hundreds of men. I wondered if Grandpa might be one of those men.

It was my lucky day. As I turned to the next photo, there he was — right in the front row, clear as day.

Protesting members of the AFL International Association of Fire Fighters meeting last night at the St. Louis House, 2345 Lafayette avenue. (9/30/1947) Photo reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Photo reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Protesting members of the AFL International Association of Fire Fighters meeting last night at the St. Louis House, 2345 Lafayette avenue. (9/30/1947)

What a find! Nobody is named in the photo caption. I only came across it because I was looking for the other photo.

If you have St. Louis connections, hurry over to stltoday.newspapers.com and search the P-D archives! Also, check out this excellent overview of St. Louis genealogy resources from my coworker Beth O’Malley. I also want to thank the Post-Dispatch for granting me permission to reproduce these two photos.

What’s the next step? Talking with my relatives. I have some new stories to ask them about!

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The Viper Bots

Early days of building the robot

Early days of building the robot

This year, our elementary school introduced a new Girl Scouts robotics team.

I was asked if I might like to help out. I like programming and Legos, so I thought it sounded like it could be fun. I didn’t realize I would end up being the team’s coach. Before long I was receiving boxes from Lego in the mail.

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Chess Club: Grandmasters

What a big week we had. On Friday, Jadzia and fellow members of Vogt Elementary’s chess club were visited by grandmasters … and a ton of media. Here is her account of the day:

Jadzia plays chess against grandmaster Jennifer Shahade

Jadzia plays chess against grandmaster Jennifer Shahade

Once upon a time, Jadzia and some of her classmates went to the library. But, this was no ordinary library day. Two (well, more, but you’ll find out later) grandmasters were going to come. Cameras would cram each and every corner and spot, flashing on and off!

It was Grandmaster Friday.

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Our great summer: San Antonio

Joseph jumps to Josh

Joseph jumps to Josh

What would summer be without a trip to San Antonio to see all our family? Evenings spent swimming in Nan’s pool, the buzz of cicadas, the tinkling of wind chimes, the dry heat.

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Our great summer: Swim lessons

Joseph practices his "ice cream scoop / chicken wing"

Joseph practices his “ice cream scoop / chicken wing”

For the last several years our kids have taken swim lessons at January-Wabash Park.

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Our great summer: Ferguson swim team

At the June 23 swim meet, Ludi competed in the freestyle relay and individual races.

At the June 23 swim meet, Ludi competed in the freestyle relay and individual races.

This summer we embarked on a new adventure: Ludi joined the Ferguson Swim Team.

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Our great summer: Science and reading

Mad Science at the Prairie Commons County Library.

Mad Science at the Prairie Commons County Library.

This summer our kids had more science and library activities than ever before.

In June, Vogt Elementary held a weeklong “Scary Science” camp at the school. Each day there was a scary theme, like making a mummy or eating bugs. The girls were surprisingly thrilled to be eating crickets, insisting that I try one. “They’re good, they’re really good!” they both kept exclaiming.

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Return to Washington

Every so often, Yoli needs to renew her Bolivian papers: her passport, her national ID, etc. Unfortunately for us, this work can only be done in Washington D.C.

That’s not exactly convenient for us, so we always try to turn it into a weeklong adventure.

The kids stand in front of the actual castle set, from the Neighborhood of Make Believe on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The King Friday puppet is a replica.

The kids stand in front of the actual castle set, from the Neighborhood of Make Believe on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The King Friday puppet is a replica.

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Remembering Benjamin Israel

Higher education had a term for folks like Benjamin Israel: “nontraditional student.” That applied to him in so many ways.

Benjamin died Monday morning. I wanted to share a little bit about his impact.

I first met Benjamin when I worked at UMSL’s student newspaper, The Current. Unlike the rest of us, he was older, with many years of journalism experience under his belt.

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The space explorers fight over an asteroid

Usually I tell Josie and Joseph bedtime stories which star two space explorers named Josie and Joseph.

Tonight I decided to change it up. They laughed so hard as I told this story that I figured I’d share it with you, too.

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