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.
It was almost two years ago that I got in touch with Ed Richter.
He was a first cousin to my great-grandpa Frank Becker.
At that time I had made a lot of progress in developing my Becker family tree. As I was looking at all these first cousins, I realized that Ed was still living. On a whim, I wrote him a letter, and asked if he would be interested in some of the family history stuff I had uncovered.
I was excited to hear back from him and eventually to meet him in person. As it turns out, he lived only about 15- minutes away — just a straight shot down Chambers Road.
We talked on the phone and met at his house several times. He remembered quite a bit about his aunts and uncles on the Becker side, even though he wasn’t especially close to them. I learned things from him that never would have turned up in old censuses or church records.
During the time I knew Ed, he was diagnosed with cancer. At the end of March 2009, he died. But I didn’t know about it until recently — and I feel pretty bad about it.
One of many neat things about doing family history research has been getting in touch with so many family members that I hadn’t talked with before. For example, I have enjoyed calling and visiting with Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Jerry who were my great-grandma Becker’s siblings.
Another good story is a man I met named Ed, who is (as far as I can tell) my great-grandpa Becker’s only still-living first cousin. His house is just 10-15 minutes away, in the little north neck of St. Louis city along the Mississippi riverfront. I didn’t know that Ed existed until I began doing this research.
It was a pleasant surprise to make his acquaintance. We have invited him over several times, and it’s fun to be able to share food and folklore with him.
He didn’t know his Becker relatives that well, but still he is able to remember some things from childhood and share some stories. In fact, I have been able to tell HIM some stories that he didn’t know, like how his uncle John Becker was murdered. He knew something about that vaguely, but had never been told the details.
He has also told us stories about living through the great tornado that hit St. Louis in 1927, about life in the heavily-German area of north St. Louis where he grew up, about serving in Italy in World War II, about his time in the fire department, etc.
Ninety years ago, a sailor was found dead in Chicago, bloodied but still warm. His name was John Andrew Becker and he was my great-great-great-uncle.
As I mentioned in a previous entry, I have uncovered many names as I have fleshed out parts of the family tree, but it has at times been hard to learn about them as individuals. In the case of John Becker, the murder generated newspaper stories, military reports, police files, coroner’s inquests, and much more. This tragedy has offered a chance to learn more about a person in the family, and the people connected to him (for good or ill) at the time of his death.
What follows is my re-telling of John Becker’s murder based on reading many newspaper reports, a transcript of the Cook County coroner’s inquest board, John Becker’s military personnel file, various death certificates, and other material.
In coming days I will also write about the process of discovering this story for anyone who’s interested.
Just a little spinoff project from my family research. I’m making a map from all the addresses I can find on death certificates, censuses, etc. You can see that in the first part of the 20th century, the Beckers were pretty well clustered in North St. Louis, which was a predominantly German area at the time.
I try to imagine what it must have been like for them at the time. They were living in a dense urban setting, with most of their family and friends living very close by. Shops and businesses were on the corner, instead of a long drive away.
I spent Christmas evening with my extended family on the Becker side. It’s the first time in a number of years that I could make it to this celebration, since most years I have to work at the newspaper in the evening.
I told some of my aunts and uncles about my research into the Becker and Chorosevic branches of my family tree. More than one of them joked about digging up “dirty laundry” from years gone by.
Truth is, it’s hard to really get close to these folks.
A few months ago, Yoli brought home a MacWorld magazine from the library, which contained a review of some genealogy software. This little review sparked something in me and piqued my interest in family trees.
I knew that certain branches of my family are well-mapped. My uncle Vic Michel prepared a very thorough tree of the Renauds; my Nanny and her cousin George researched much of our Lawrence side.
I got excited about the prospect of taking that existing research and combining it in the computer into one big tree. Putting this stuff on the computer would also make it possible to share it more easily with people seeking info on a long-lost Renaud ancestor or something.
As I began the project, I also realized there were several areas that it seemed nobody had tackled (that I knew of): my mom’s dad’s side (George); and my dad’s mom’s side (Becker and Chorosevic).
So that’s been my hobby now for the last couple months. I’ve found a lot more than I thought I would, and I’m doing things I never thought I’d be doing, like writing letters in Polish to churches in Poland.
We’ve made some incremental progress on Yoli’s side, too, by talking to her dad and her mom’s brother, who can remember some of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Yoli’s family will definitely be the more challenging part to research, I think. In America, there are tons of indexed records you can easily access online. I don’t think this is the case in Bolivia. But when we visit next year, we’ll see if there’s anything we can find while we’re in Santa Cruz.
For what it’s worth, I’ll soon try and put my tree online somewhere on joshrenaud.com for family and folks who are interested to browse. (Maybe joshrenaud.com/family/tree?)