The Hypothetical Dinner Party

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The other day, one of my friends posted on Facebook, “If you could have dinner with four people, living or dead, who would they be?” For a brief moment, I thought about famous historical figures and then I thought- no way! I’d want to talk to some of the ancestors on my tree in the places where I’m stuck!

It would definitely be difficult to pick just four, but first I’d start with Michael Puza (aka Michael Kulis-Puza), my great-grandfather. I know from his ship’s manifest that he came from Austria-Hungary (well that narrows it down!). I suspect that he came from the same area as his wife- somewhere in Slovakia. That branch is the only branch on my tree where I’m stuck at the great-grandparent level, so if I could even get just the names of his parents I’d be thrilled!

Narrowing down the next three would be more difficult. 

It could be my 2nd great grandfather, Paul Eremus (1883-abt 1919). I found his draft card from 1918 that says he is a patient at a sanitorium, but then his wife is listed as a widow in the 1920 census. So obviously he died somewhere in between of tuberculosis. 

Another choice could be Fedor Malatyak (1853-1886) from Ol’ka in what is now Slovakia.

Or maybe Anthony Merlo (I’ve also seen Murlo and Marlo), another 2nd great grandfather, (1876-1954), from the Galicia region, or his wife, Josephine Savinsky (1889?-1949) from the same place. Well, at least that’s where they emigrated from.

And those choices are just my paternal branch!

On my maternal side I could choose from some 4th great grandparents:

Johanna Tuffs (Tufts) born about 1820 in Massachusetts, I don’t know and can’t find her maiden name, as of yet anyways.

Hannah Useted, (abt 1816-1892) from New York.

William H. Shaw, (abt 1814-1883) born in New York, died in New Jersey.

There’s also a 3rd great grandfather, Meyer (Max) Bressler (abt 1851-abt 1930). He was born somewhere in Austria-Hungary and died in New York. His wife was Sobel (Sara) Spinner (abt 1853- bef 1925). She may have been from Tarnow, Poland. I have parents’ names filled in for her- but I’m only about 50-75% sure those are right.

There’s my 2nd great grandmother, Fannie Citron. She was born about 1880, somewhere in Austria-Hungary (family legends say France- but I can’t find any proof of this). I’m not even sure when she died- it had to be sometime around 1940.

Another set of 3rd great grandparents would be David Rabinovich and Jennie Pesha. David, or Dov, was born about 1845 in, what is now, Belarus. Our family records say Delyatitz, but I was able to use jewishgen.org to track that down to modern-day Delatichi in Belarus. I know nothing about his wife Jennie. I could guess she was born around the same time in the same area, but I don’t really know.

The last couple in the running would be a final set of 3rd great grandparents, Abram Louis Kantrovitz and his wife, Fannie Fogal. The only thing I know about them is that they were born in the Russian Empire, circa 1840; and that they eventually emigrated to Massachusetts.

It’s kind of a good thing that the “dinner with four people” could never happen because I’d have a really hard time narrowing that list down. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to prioritize that list. Would I start by closest relatives, or most mysterious? Because they’re not necessarily the same people.

Maybe I could even pick the elusive John Rigsbee or his mother, Sheldon Shaw. Those two people fascinate me and were my inspiration to start my family tree research. 

I suppose I would even be really tempted to go with the people I miss the most- my dad and his parents. 

It’s funny how much thought I’ve put into this hypothetical situation. And really, just so nerdy. It’s a sure sign that I’m a total genealogy nerd!

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Pearl Harbor Day

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Today is Pearl Harbor Day. I cannot even begin to imagine how horrific that day was. My grandfather was there but he said very little about that day. He died 26 years ago, I wish I had the opportunity to talk to him more about the war (as I’m a history nerd) and also his family (since I’m also a genealogy nerd).

I know my Pop Pop joined the Army in 1940, but I don’t know why. Whether he felt it was an escape from the mines in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, or whether he believed war was brewing- I’ll never know. I can imagine that being stationed in Hawaii was something amazing- about as far from home as possible, that is until December 7, 1941. 

Pop Pop told us that he was on guard duty and saw the planes coming, he picked up his rifle and began to shoot at those planes. His superior officer told him to hold fire, that those were not enemy planes- it was just a drill. Soon it became painfully obvious it wasn’t. 

Other than Pearl Harbor, which I had to practically drag out of him, my Pop Pop talked very little about the war. The little I know is based on family lore and the scant information provided by his Honorable Discharge form.

I know he was sent to the Pacific theater and, from his form, that he participated in the Battle of Hollandia. He arrived at Tanahmerah Bay in New Guinea April 22, 1944 and was wounded in action on May 3rd. I know he was a squad leader and a rifle marksman. He was awarded the American Defense Service Ribbon, the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, and an award for Good Conduct. I wish I knew what he got the Bronze Star for, I aim to find out at some point soon.

One story, that my dad had told me, was that my Pop Pop had killed a Japanese soldier and, as many soldiers did, went through the dead man’s belongings. Apparently inside his wallet were pictures of the dead man and his family. Every year on the anniversary of that event, my grandfather withdrew to remember the incident. 

I often wonder what went through his mind about that finding. Had he believed, as did many of his generation, that the Japanese soldiers were brown (or yellow) savages? Did finding that picture changed his mind? Had he fallen prey to the propaganda and did that picture shake him to the core? It obviously must have had a profound effect since he observed that date for the rest of his life.

Pop Pop returned home, returned to the mines- I wonder if that was a disappointment or a relief. He met and married my grandmother and they had two children. I think he did the best he could to achieve something better for them than what he had had.

I remember my Pop Pop as a quiet man with a dry sense of humor. I remember asking him what illegal means, to which he replied, “Anything that makes the eagle ill.” Rather witty, I believe. I wonder if he would have been a different person had he not experienced the war. He told us never to buy a Mitsubishi car because that company made the engines that were in the planes that bombed Pearl Harbor. I never have, partially because I can almost believe that he would haunt me for it.

He suffered from the effects of “jungle rot” for the rest of his life and always had to be careful with his feet. He died when he was 68, the major contributor to his death- black lung, a gift from the coal mines that I’m sure he tried to escape.

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Just recently, I discovered that I can order his entire service record from the National Archives. It may cost upwards of $70, but I think it will be well worth it. Unfortunately, there could be a chance that I will not be able to receive his entire record because of a fire at the Archive (1890 census anyone?!). But they do claim to be able to piece together at least some record from other existing documents.

My main curiosity revolves around what he did that caused him to receive the Bronze Star. The Bronze Star isn’t just handed out, apparently it’s the fourth highest individual military award that can be bestowed and it is given out for heroic or meritorious achievement or service. So I’m very curious as to what event or action earned him the medal.

For me, this is an important part of our family history. And it would be wonderful to add that to my tree.