Monday, March 21, 2016

Social Butterfly? Fearless Females Organization Membership

Many of these prompts for Women's History Month have pointed me toward my maternal grandmother, Sara Meeneghan Coleman.  Gram was active in the American Legion Women's Auxiliary, and served as an officer many times.  She was County Chairman in 1937 when the 18th anniversary of the organization was celebrated.

The music was provided that evening by a cousin by marriage, Mrs. Charles Coleman, according to this article from the Utica Observer Dispatch of March 19, page 20.  With several others, Gram was a speaker after the dinner..I wonder what her remarks included.

As reported in the Otsego Farmer on 24 October 1952, she was again elected chairman.

Another cousin by marriage was named in this article, Mrs. Harris G. Clark, Jr.  As was the case in news outlets at the time, the women are not identified by their first names.

The American Legion is a patriotic organization for veterans, and many of these women in the auxiliary began their involvement when it was chartered after World War I. My grandfather's sister, Bessie Coleman, certainly did, beginning with her involvement in creating the War Memorial.  The Clark F. Simmons Post in Cooperstown was a big part of my grandmother's social life, where she gathered with her friends to support the veterans and other community service activities. Most involved a luncheon or a dinner.  Her letters also chronicle her involvement in the 1940s. As the newspapers illustrate, she did more than participate on a local level, but took a leadership role county-wide.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Lunch with an Ancestor

This week I spent a few days in Cooperstown, where my mother grew up, and her father and grandfather before her.  The house doesn't look the same. The big maple trees in the front yard are gone and everything looks smaller than it did when I was a child. 

My grandmother, Sara Meeneghan Coleman, died when I was ten. She was the only grandparent that I knew. I don't have any memories of her eating in a restaurant, except possibly having lunch at the counter at Newberry's, and bringing home a goldfish. They sold them in those white boxes that Chinese take-out comes in now, and they still makes me think of goldfish. Gram cooked family dinners that were shared at the big table in their kitchen. We visited often on weekends, holidays and in the summer.

Spending time in a place where I have many memories makes me think how I would have loved to have the opportunity to take her out to lunch and talk to her as an adult about her experiences. Questions that I am trying to coax out of documents, she could have answered off hand. We would have many new restaurants to choose from: diners to trendy coffee shops, pizza parlors to organic boutiques. Where she might have chatted with her friends at a church event, or over coffee in her kitchen, I often use lunch at a restaurant to meet and get all the news from my friends. I am sure I will make lunch dates to treat my own grandchildren someday.  I wish I could have lunch today with my grandmother, but as she used to say, "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Six Word Memoir

This is like writing a haiku.  Today's challenge is to write a Six Word Memoir.

Who to pick?  Who hasn't been in the spotlight before?

The Colmans who moved from Massachusetts to New York in 1794 are on my mind.

Nabby Dole Colman (1773 - 1859)

Moved west; pioneer; proud mother; endured.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Fearless Females: Newsmaker

Newspapers are one of the most valuable tools for adding details to our ancestors' stories.  Some lived quiet lives and rarely appear in the news. Scandals may be widely reported, as well as every day events that appear in the social notes.  Business advertisements can also contribute to our base of knowledge.

One of the most unusual news reports I have found is what I believe to be the only public office sought by my mother. In 1954 my parents, Betty and Joe Szymanowicz, had returned from Kentucky where my father did his Korean War service at Fort Breckenridge.  They bought a home in Seneca Falls, New York. They were both interested in politics, but my father was the one who ran for several offices during my childhood. They must have jumped into the political scene, because my mother was put on the slate as Coroner.

Geneva Daily TImes, 18 August 1954, page 3

The Democrats did not fare well in the elections and she lost by a wide margin.

3 November 1954, Unnamed newspaper at

She told me that Mr. Fulver was a butcher, by trade.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fearless Females: Moment of Strength

As I learn more about the period of early English settlement in Massachusetts, I realize how little we have been taught about 150 years between the 1620s to the events preceding the Revolutionary War. That leaves us to research details of those times with our own passion for personal history.

We had many ancestors in Massachusetts during that time.  When I think of the strength of the women who worked to make out existence possible, it is with a sense of awe.

Tryphena Powers was one such woman.  I did not marry at 16, nor did I give birth to eleven children.  Our lives were very different. We did share one experience, however.  Her oldest son, Jonathan Lawrence, served in the local militia.  When my son went to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, he was 23. For the year he was away I worried and tried not to listen to bad news in the media. Jonathan was not quite 20 in 1748 when he and seven others were taken by the natives who were allied with the French in Canada, near Fort Dummer. They had been on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River, seventy miles from home, fighting for the safety of their own families.  They were marched north to Crown Point, NY and on to Canada. One of the group may have been a first cousin, Ephriam Powers.

I can feel on a visceral level what a mother goes through when she fears for her child, whatever his age.  If there was any communication regarding Jonathan's condition, it didn't come instantly by email. She had recently given birth to her ninth child when he was captured. That summer must have been full of uncertainty and anguish, mental and physical strain.  And hard work, because life goes on for those remaining behind.

This event came near the end of what was known as King George's War, part of an extended period of battle fueled by the war between France and England.  A treaty was signed in October and the captives were released. The relative peace was temporary, with fighting continuing in earnest in 1754. Tryphena died in 1752, apparently from complications of child birth.

"Trypheuny Lawrance" buried in Littleton Common, Littleton, MA

Saturday, March 12, 2016

March 12: Working Girl

My grandmother's sister Anne was a hairdresser. Not when I knew her. That's when she was in her 70s and smoked unfiltered Chesterfields, drank high balls, and cooked big family dinners. But she used to tell us she did hair.  For dead people.  Yes, she worked for the undertaker. "They never complained," she used to say.

It appears that she also cut hair for the living.

Utica Observer Dispatch, 11 January 1927, page 22

In those years  it took a specialist to do a permanent wave.  Jimmy came from Schenectady to Cooperstown periodically to to his mysterious work. Now, fifty years later I went to school in Schenectady.  My roommate and I chose a local shop for our haircuts.  The shop was called Mr. James. The gentleman who cut our hair introduced us to his elderly father, Jimmy.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fearless Females: A Strong Catholic Foundation

The March 10th prompt for Fearless Females asks what role religion played in the family.

The Catholic faith came into our American family with the marriage of Maggie Gilgun and Horace Colman in 1881. Church records at St. Mary's church in Cooperstown, NY stated that it was a "mixed" marriage because Horace was not Catholic.  He had been baptized as a child in the local Episcopal church.  Maggie and her family came from England about 1863, but their background was Irish Catholic.  Maggie's two children, Will and Bess, were raised in the Catholic faith.

Aunt Bess enjoyed playing the piano. She was the pianist for her cousin's home wedding when she was only 12.  She played a duet at her high school graduation entitled "The Dragon Fighter." Her father reportedly forbade her from playing in "public" places, but he must have relented when she was named organist at their church in 1902.

My mother remembers sitting in the choir loft while her aunt Bess played when she was young, in the 1930s.  

Bess' brother Will married Sara Meeneghan, whose parents were Irish Catholic immigrants from western County Mayo.  The Meeneghan family were often hosts to the priests for a noon meal after Mass at the mission church in Springfield, NY. My grandmother sponsored the stained glass Sacred Heart window behind the altar when the church was built.

I often reflect on the suffering and discrimination the Irish endured for being Catholic, as well as what my Polish ancestors from my paternal side went through. It puts some perspective on the mistreatment of other religions, which continues today.

(Newspaper clipping from The Albany Journal, January 11, 1902, page 11, accessed at
(Photo from on the closing of the church)