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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The Current passes swiftly

Ten years ago I was swept away by the current.

Make that The Current.

Time’s swift flow always catches me off-guard. Was it that long ago that I was using a wax machine to paste strips of paper onto pageboards? “Coffee and donuts with your paper” at the MSC? Zip disks? Blanche? The bowling nights? The Ecchers? Coming in second at College Bowl? Was it all that long ago?

Well, yes. It really has been a decade since perhaps the pivotal year of my life. During the 2000-01 academic year, I was editor-in-chief of UMSL’s student newspaper, The Current.

I remember a time in my office at The Current when I was looking at the “editor’s mug.” It was a metal drinking vessel inscribed with the names of editors of The Current, going back to Michelle McMurray, who had been editor exactly 10 years before me. I thought at the time, “Wow. Ten years. That’s really long.”

And now it’s been ten years for me!

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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.  He had used the best lawyers when it comes to immigration in Florida and moved his entire family there when I was just a small kid. While I was researching, I had found a lot of documents relating to his parents and their immigration to America when the joint family started to split.

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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Uncle Bill

bill_george.jpg

My great-uncle Bill (William) George died this morning.

I didn’t know him very well, but the times I remember meeting him, I liked him.

I remember once visiting his house in Arkansas probably when I was in my teens. Turns out that he and aunt Betty liked Star Trek. They had recorded “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” my favorite movie of all time, once when it was broadcast on CBS. This was a big deal to me. I already had the movie on VHS. But the network broadcast had included a lot of deleted scenes (they used to pad out movies to make them fill a longer time slot) which I had never seen before. Thanks to Uncle Bill and Aunt Betty I got to! It was many, many years until I could see that stuff again, when a “director’s edition” of the movie was released on DVD.

After my Papa died, I realized how much uncle Bill reminded me of Papa: his face, his voice. This was somehow comforting to me.

Uncle Bill was a pilot and flew his own planes. I always hoped I could fly along with him someday. When I was in my teens I was fascinated by the notion of getting a pilot’s license myself. Unfortunately I never got to go up with him in a plane.

He also liked to buy old houses, fix them up, and sell them to make money. I remember that for a while he was doing that with my mom’s sister, my aunt Karen.