CLIMBING YOUR FAMILY TREE
By Roberta T. McCulloch
July 02, 2002
The most important history lesson we can ever learn is that of our own families.
Through photographs, "memory lane" conversations and documentation, we're able to connect to our past.
It's estimated that more than 80 million people are searching for their history. Jeanne Krish, a genealogist with Orange County Historical Society, says she's noticed more interest in recent years.
"I would tend to guess it's easier to get some of this information now because you can sit in your living room (and research)," she says. "Plus, there's so many crazy things going on now, history gives that stability."
The Buzz talked to four families who have chosen to preserve their heritage. Here are their stories:
The first attempt to unite the family came when Gloria Pease's cousin Junie bought a computer. The plan was that she'd start a newsletter. That idea fizzled but there was still interest.
A family history project never had been done before. The family thought all the old photographs had been destroyed when Pease's grandparents' barn burned down. Unexpectedly, a box of hidden photographs – some dating back to the mid-1800s – was discovered in her grandparents' home in 1974.
"We all lost touch over the years," she said. "The only time we'd get together was for funerals."
The lawyer working on her half cousin Walter Klaschka's estate provided her with tangible documentation: Social Security receipts that contained birth dates and the birth certificate for her grandfather, Albert Klaschka.
The document contained the names of Klaschka's parents and grandparents. The information propelled Pease to go deeper with her search. "I was (only) going to go from grandma and grandpa forward. Then, when I saw it, my curiosity was piqued."
She sought help from her 78-year-old aunt, Barbara Klaschka, her father's sister. As her grandparents were both immigrants, she explored the Ellis Island database for clues.
Pease learned that her grandmother, Barbara Ulrich, came to the United States from Hungary in 1904. Ulrich, one of 16 children, "thought that if she came to America, life would be better and she could save her family from sickness."
Unfortunately, all succumbed to tuberculosis in Hungary with the exception of her mother, Anna Ulrich, and sister, Helen. Two years after her arrival, Ulrich married Klaschka who also came to the United States in 1904.
Having learned this information, Pease set out to unite the offspring of the nine Klaschka children. An "editorial staff" was set up via e-mail and family members were asked to send information on current addresses, birth dates and number of children.
At first the team didn't know how their relatives would accept their queries. "But everybody just came together with all the information."
Pease also set up a Web site filled with pictures and stories of the Klaschka clan. Each family member was given the information in a binder as a keepsake.
Now that the project is completed, Pease says the goal is to keep the family records up to date. "This has brought us closer," she says. "We have seen pictures of those we might not have necessarily seen."
And to think it all began with her grandparents is amazing, she says. "They were farm folks, they didn't have a whole lot of fancy schmancy stuffØ…Øbut they're responsible for 77 lives."
When Eileen Montalbano would ask her father about his family history, she'd get few answers.
It's just that her father, Raymond Carey, 83, didn't know the answers. "We grilled him like a prisoner being questioned under the lone lightbulb in a bad movie," said 47-year-old Montalbano, who lives in Monroe N.Y.
Two years ago, Montalbano and her sister, Barbara Carey, decided they would discover their family's past. Montalbano was appointed to the Carey side.
Her search began on the Internet. She went to genealogy Web sites and plugged in key words like surname, name of state and country. It was then that she realized how daunting the task was. "You realize there are lots of people," she said, referring to the volume of same names. "That's when you (have) to start to filter out."
Montalbano's leads directed her to the Town of Madison in New Jersey, where the first Careys had moved after emigrating from Ireland.
She visited the Madison Library, which kept a thorough array of records. Montalbano found out the Careys were one of the first families to settle in the area.
Assuming the mind-set of a detective, Montalbano pored through burial plot records and newspaper articles for clues. She was able to make fast connections. "I was putting the puzzles of the family together and finding the stories more and more exciting," she said.
From reading obituaries, Montalbano found out where her relatives were buried, which led to their place of worship, St. Vincent's Martyr Church.
Her grandfather, William Carey, was instrumental in helping to build the Morris-Essex division of the D.L. & W Railroad. His brother, Joseph, started his career as superintendent for the railroad and then became a postman. "According to (the) post office records, he carried more mail than anyone else," she said.
Montalbano says hearing stories like this have been inspirational. "Personally, since 9/11 I feel I must do everything in my power to honor (my ancestors') memory and their courage," she said. "They did it for us."
Her son, Michael DiPierro, agrees. "Before this, when I thought of past family, it was just that," said Michael, 16. "But it's surprising in many ways. I didn't know where my relatives were from or how they looked."
Though Montalbano has done a lot, she's far from finished. With a copy of her grandfather's death certificate, which contains the names of his parents, she plans to research them. This month, her sister Barbara traveled to Calvary Cemetery in Madison and found a solid lead: a gravesite that held six persons of the Carey family.
Montalbano says she hopes to make the journey herself this summer. There's also talk of a reunion within the next five years.
Looking back, the results are satisfying. "I was seemingly given the hardest job," she said. "And it all came together."
When 300 family members reunited for the first time on the grounds of Thomas Bull Memorial Park, it was a sight to behold.
"A lot of the kids were going up to each other introducing themselves," said Paula Ferreira, who is also working on a family tree project. One boy even found out a classmate was also his cousin.
For the Hasbroucks, one of the oldest black families in Orange County, situations like that aren't uncommon. With so many family members near and far, Ferreira, 57, said getting together becomes even more important.
"The first generation of cousins were close but it's their children who need to know each other," she said. "We need to share this."
The union of Margaret Smith and Arthur Hasbrouck produced nine children. Though Smith died at 29, the children were kept together and raised by Arthur's sister, Clara Hasbrouck-Nevius.
Regarded as the family matriarch, Nevius' dedication to her nieces and nephews showed them the meaning of loyalty. "The Hasbroucks always had a saying," said Margaret Hasbrouck. "We take care of our own."
This past May, the family suffered the loss of Preston Bertholf at the age of 59. His sudden death left many family members in shock, Ferreira said, but they are also more determined to honor his memory.
"His passing just resonated the importance of contact and carrying on the tradition of getting together."
The family's next reunion is planned for July 28.
Thursday nights are reserved for family dinners at Arthur and Phyllis Lain's home in Westtown.
"You can live on the same farm but not have a chance to talk to people," said 51-year-old Debra Lain, who helps on the farm and works part-time in New York City. Nearby relatives are welcome to attend the weekly supper. "Because we get together regularly, there's a deeper relationship."
The Lains have a long history of sticking close.
In 1985, the family farm celebrated its bicentennial anniversary and held its first reunion since the late 1930s. "The first (one) was the hardest," remembers Debra's mother, Phyllis. "But there's enough of the family around here that we had help."
A total of 450 relatives met at the farm for a weekend of food, games and Sunday fellowship at the Old School Baptist Church in Slate Hill. The church was the place where the family's founders, William and Keziah, worshipped in the late 1700s. "That was a high note," said Arthur Lain. "It was quite a feeling to be there in the same pew where he used to sit."
The family now meets every five years to keep the spirit of closeness alive. There is also unanimous agreement that the farm – the place where local and distant relatives meet – should not be sold.
"There was always someone in the family who wanted to continue (running it)," says Arthur. "As of right now, (the children) all want to preserve it. We hope and pray that they'll keep it on."
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