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.

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Attack of the short hair cuts

It’s all Ludi’s fault.

Late last year she decided one day at lunch that she wanted a haircut. A dramatically shorter haircut, with bangs in front. She asked to get down from the table so she could go to the bathroom. A few minutes later we heard a loud banging, as if she had removed the top of the toilet. Ludi returned to the table and sat down as if nothing had happened. We couldn’t believe our eyes. She had hacked off a big chunk of hair around the front and one side of her head. Yoli went to the bathroom and found Ludi had climbed the toilet in order to reach sharp barber scissors we kept on a very high shelf.

Of course she was in trouble. We explained to her the myriad ways she could have been hurt (falling from the toilet, being cut by the super-sharp scissors). And then I had to take her to the salon to repair the damage. I couldn’t do it myself at the moment as our home remodeling was in full swing then.

I have gotten used to it, but I do miss her long hair.

Fast forward to the present. Yoli had been getting frustrated with Josie’s long hair. Josie often gets messy when she eats or when she plays outside. Consequently her hair is always very tangled, and that leads to loud, painful combings whenever we want to go out into the world.

So she decided to give Josie a Ludi-esque haircut.

Again, I’m getting used to it, but I lament the loss of her beautiful long locks. On the other hand, seeing her with this short hair immediately reminded me of old photos of my own mother. See for yourself:

Thankfully in all of this, Jadzia has decided she won’t follow the trend. She wants to keep her hair long, but would like her Mamá to give her just a slight trim.

Search old St. Louis Post-Dispatch stories (1874-1922)

Hey, family history buffs and amateur genealogists in St. Louis County!

Get out your library card, and check out an awesome new resource:

ProQuest’s Historical St. Louis Post-Dispatch database

It includes searchable full text and full image articles from 1874 – 1922, though there are some gaps.

This is just one of many helpful databases you can search from the St. Louis County Library’s genealogy databases page. All of these databases are free, but some (like Ancestry.com or Footnote.com) require you to search from within a library branch. But this Post-Dispatch database can be searched from home!

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Beautiful Bristol

There are uncertainties in any big trip. For me, one of the biggest concerned our time in Bristol with my great-great-uncle Jerry and his wife Thelma.

Jerry is the younger brother of my great-grandma Becker. I first connected with him almost exactly 2 years ago as a result of my family tree research. I had found a lot of documents relating to his parents and their immigrations to America.

We have been in touch semi-regularly by phone and online since then. The idea for our trip to Washington had its roots in a conversation I had with Jerry about how beautiful the leaves and trees were in Virginia in the fall, and what a scenic drive it would be.

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Edwin A. Richter, we won’t forget you

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.

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Family, food, history

Family history isn’t all dusty books and blurry microfilms.

Lately, I have re-discovered salsiccia.

Salsiccia is an Italian sausage. My memory of it is that my Grandpa Renaud would always cook it as part of his big Christmas breakfast spread each year. I remember as a kid not being thrilled with the taste of it.

Well, it was on sale at Schnucks a few weeks back. Because of the family connection, I thought I’d give it another try after many years. And it turns out we all liked it quite a bit. It wasn’t too spicy that the girls complained (which they sometimes do depending on the variety of sausage).

So we got another batch this week. We ate some today as part of a simple meal: some salsiccia, broccoli, and corn on the cob.

Tonight I was reminded in an article on St. Louis-style barbecue on Wikipedia that salsiccia is pronounced locally as “suh-zee-tsa.” I had been saying “sahl-see-cha,” which is similar to the Spanish word for sausage (salchicha).

As soon as I read that, it was like lightning resonating in my brain. It was as if I could hear the voice of my Grandpa or my Aunt Carol using that pronunciation in my mind.

Anyway, please share your food-related family stories. I’m sure there are quite a few!

Meeting “new” family members

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.

Living in the trees

For quite a while I’ve been lurking in the shadows, watching as a new web company called Geni.com developed their site.

What is Geni? It’s is a “social networking” site, sort of like Facebook or MySpace, but designed around family trees.

The idea is that you get as many family members as possible to sign up. Their profile pages are actually part of the family tree. You can share photos, news, send greetings and gifts … lots of fun ways to stay connected with the rest of your family. And of course, everyone can work on the tree: add new branches of the family, correct stuff that might be wrong, add photos or stories of a deceased loved one… the possibilities go on and on.

Anyway, they recently unveiled the feature I had been waiting for … the ability to import family trees created in other programs. I have been working on my own family tree since last fall, and now I could put it on Geni and invite my own family members to come explore it (and expand and improve it)!

I’ve been surprised how many have actually responded to the invitations and joined up. Already there have been a lot of fixes and changes.

Best of all, some of my distant relatives (whom I never even knew before this year) are also joining in. I am really looking forward to being able to stay in touch and see photos of their families.

(By the way, if you’re in my family and you haven’t yet gotten an invite from me, please just drop me a line. I may not have your most recent email address, which I need to invite you to our tree)