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)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March 9: Jadwiga was a Fearless Female

Lisa Alzo's blogging prompt for March 9 asked about a family document. As is often the case, closer scrutiny of a document leads to more questions, and tardy posting of this story.

I had had my grandfather's 1910 passenger manifest for the Kroonland of the Red Star Line in my files for years before I looked to the next line. Peter Szymanowicz was recorded as "Franz," although his surname is spelled correctly.The date and ship matches the information that he gave on his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen. I knew my grandmother, Walerya, stayed behind in Russian Poland until he got settled, so I wasn't looking for a travelling companion. When I did, it became obvious that he came to this country with his sister-in-law, Jadwiga Zawacka. Her name is spelled phonetically on line 22 below as "Zawadzka."

The manifest says that Jadwiga was 19 and that the closest relative left behind was her father,Wincenty. Peter lists his wife, Walerya, as his closest relative in the "country from whence alien came." They both gave their last place of residence as Siedlec, a city about 20 miles southwest of their village of Drohiczyn. Jadwiga and Walerya's brothers were already living here. It is hard to make out the script on the second page of the manifest, but they were coming to Easthampton, MA to join their oldest brother and brother-in-law Witold. 

That's when I took another look yet again this week.  The names of to whom they are travelling do not look identical.  The 1910 City Directory for Easthampton lists Witold Zawacki at 2 Harrison Avenue.  It appears that the address is indeed given as "Haryson Ave" on the manifest, but Jadwiga's entry looks like #16, and although the surnames are spelled the same, it is not the same first name.  Their brother Karol came later than 1910. I am going to have to investigate who lived at 16 Harrison Avenue further.

Jadwiga was married within a year to John Szysko in Easthampton.   They had two sons, Adam and Henry, 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fabulous Females: The Last Letter on Board

I skipped the prompt for the 7th about a recipe, but I'm adding a second post about a family letter. I love this letter sent in 1927 from a transatlantic voyage.

My grandmother's sister, Mary Meeneghan, was not to be trifled with.  She was the first of eight children of Irish immigrants.  She set the pace for her siblings by graduating from high school in 1907 in Springfield, NY.  She went on to train as a nurse, and had a variety of assignments, including enlisting as an Army nurse in 1918.  She served in several U.S. hospitals, including Walter Reed in Washington, DC.

In September 1927 Mary crossed the Atlantic to France on the TSS Caledonia with nurses of the American Legion.  She wrote to her sisters at a Cooperstown address:

Dear girls,
This is my last letter on board.  We anchor tonight at ten and leave Cherbourg at 9 tomorrow—Paris at 3 p.m.  It has been a fast and furious trip.  4 a.m. I dragged to bed this morning and I slept until12.  I have a few minutes, must go down and pack so I won’t be as rushed as I was last time leaving N.Y.  It has been the shortest ten days I’ve ever known.  Saw the coast of Ireland this a.m.  I can’t imagine what land will seem like again, a week from today I’ll be steaming back again.  I am being taken to Jennie Walkers dinner in Paris on Tuesday.  This gang wants to do so much and I want to do so much; wonder if there will be time.  Of course Phelan will dash from place to place sight seeing, but I’ll try and plan for a few evening parties in Paris.  Tonight they have their final party on board.  Guess they have brought up all the champagne and scotch on board.  They stand in with every one from the Captain down.  I didn’t get the radio off, but you’ll know everything is ok.  I am picturing Ellen and Mamma real busy.  I’ll call you up when I get in New York. I often think, Gee, I’d like to telephone home and find out what’s what, how you made out about Peg, etc.  I wanted a few words with the Judge but didn’t have the chance.  I hope Caroline won’t be in New York because it interferes too much with other things I want to do.  I’d like to see Peg again before I go upstate.  I had planned to make a list and whatnot on the boat and here I haven’t done a darn thing. Will mail this in France and see you in a couple of weeks.  
Love to everyone, Mary   

Saturday p.m.

What an adventure for this small-town girl!  I wish more of her letters had been preserved.

I have a more comprehensive blog post about Mary's life here.

Fearless Females: March 8 "Love, Mother"

My grandmother and my mother wrote to each other at least weekly. The distance that separated them was only 40 miles and we got together often when I was young.  They were quickly written as my father went out the door to the post office, some had rings from coffee cups.  They were of the generation that picking up the phone did not happen too often.

Although those letters are gone, I have a collection of letters that they exchanged when her daughters were first away from home in the early 1940s.  They shared the every day occurrences that are so valuable to hear today, when we can no longer have those conversations.

Postmark October 26, 1943

Dear Margaret,

I spent Monday in bed.  I coughed and had such a pain under my shoulder.  Today I am washing.  It's lots warmer.  Mrs. Parrette asked me to help her with a lunch at the Legion rooms on Thursday, and Saturday I go to Richfield with Mary Callahan to a lunch at the new Park Inn.

You can still smell the effects of the fire.  We put a new pipe upstairs.  The one we took down was open work.   I don't know what saved us.  There wasn't a full stove or else-- Maggie called here yesterday to say Mary & Betty got in at 3.30.

We got a full barrel of cider now.  The men brought the barrel they got Sunday back full.

Sunday night we could not find Duke when we came home.  Daddy went up the road and whistled and we all called.  When the bus stopped he went out with me and I thought he followed it.  Finally we had to leave and as soon as I started the motor he came running all out of wind.

It sure is lonesome here now.   We were wondering what all happened to you yesterday.  I had a call from the hospital to come up and help wash dishes with the electric dishwasher.  I said no.  Mary Betsy gets $10 a week in Newberrys.

Must get dressed and get my clothes out, such a wash.  Tell Herbert his apple pie was good Sunday night and Mamma killed three of her pet chickens.

Duke came home 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6: An Heirloom

I've been wearing Aunt Bess's initial ring for a while.  My mother wore it too, if I remember correctly.  It is quite nicely carved, with two tiny rubies or garnets.  The inscription: EC also looks a lot like a B when turned upside down.  That worked for Mom either way.  She was born Mary Elizabeth Coleman, named after her Aunt Bess, but she was always called Betty. I like the continuity of wearing a piece of jewelry for the third generation.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

March 5: How Did They Meet?

The story was that Dad dated Mom's roommate in Albany, and he decided he liked Mom better.  They didn't talk much about the early days, but I know Mom was working as a surgical nurse at Albany Medical Center while Dad was at Albany College of Pharmacy.  They used to watch "the fights" at local bars.  I know Mom wasn't happy when I found a package of their love letters.  As a teen, it was interesting to find out that they were once silly kids in love.

Joseph Szymanowicz and Berry Coleman on their wedding day, 30 June 1951

Friday, March 4, 2016

Fearless Females, March 4: My Grandparents' Wedding

Coleman-Meeneghan Nuptials

Wedding of Well Known People Takes Place at Springfield Center in Church of Blessed Sacrament

Cooperstown, Oct. 28 -- On Saturday morning at 10 o'clock in the Church of Blessed Sacrament at Springfield Center, occurred the wedding of Miss Sarah Meeneghan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dominick Meeneghan, and T. William Coleman, son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Horace Coleman of Cooperstown.  The ceremony was performed by Rev. Father Francis Gustomski of Cherry Valley.

The bride was attended by Miss Elizabeth M. Coleman, sister of the groom, and William Meeneghan, brother of the bride, was the best man.  The ushers were Herbert Bradley and John Meeneghan, both of Schenectady. The bride's gown was blue canton crepe, embroidered in silver, and she wore a taupe hat and a corsage bouquet of white roses.  The bridesmaid was attired in black roshanara crepe. Her hat was black and silver and her corsage bouquet was of pink roses. Following the ceremony a wedding breakfast was served at the bride's home. Both house and church were decorated with yellow and white chrysanthemums.

Following the wedding trip Mr. and Mrs. Coleman will be at home in Cooperstown. Among the guests were persons from Cooperstown, Albany, Schenectady, Scranton and Washington, D.C. The following members of the clergy were present: Rev. William J. Donnelly and Rev. Maxine Sarrault of Ilion, Rev. Edward A Dalton of West Winfield, Rev. John A. Collins and Rev. William A Sheridan of Haines Falls.

Both Bride and groom are highly respected people whose many friends will wish them only happiness.

Photo of Blessed Sacrament Church, closed in 2009, from St.Thomas of Cherry Valley web site

The wedding announcement was printed in at least two newspapers, because two yellowed clippings remain, but the source has not been found.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fearless Females March 3: H or No H?

We know that spelling variations for surnames are not unusual. I am named after my grandmother who seemed to vary the spelling of her first name with the wind. She was Sarah on her baptismal certificate. The Social Security Death Index lists her as Sara.  "Sarah" is carved on her gravestone, but the obituary calls her "Sara." The marriage register in Springfield, NY lists her as a Sarah. Nearly all of the censuses spell her name "Sarah," but who knows if the census taker would have asked if that was correct? In her will, her name was typed "Sarah M. Coleman," but was signed "Sara" in 1961. The inconsistency is noted on a probate document from the Otsego County Surrogate Court, which is written "Coleman, Sara (Sarah) M."

I can only assume that when I was born it was "Sara" because that is the name that I was given. I even remember having a discussion over the spelling with a girl named Sarah Heavenower in kindergarten, trying to convince her that the H belonged to her last name.

Then there is the question of her middle name, which she thought was Veronica, but that doesn't show up in any records. I'm guessing that was the name she took for Confirmation. In my world, she was "Gram" and that's all that really matters.

Grave photo from St. Mary's cemetery, Index, New York.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fearless Females: Walerya Zawacka Szymanowicz

The March 2 prompt asks for a photo of a female ancestor.

I didn't know my grandmother. She died when my father was only eleven.  This shot was cropped from a family portrait taken about 1927.  The portrait is especially precious because it was sent to me from a relative in Drohiczyn, Poland several years ago.

This photograph was proudly sent back to the family in Poland fifteen years after she emigrated.  It is a classic photographer's portrait, with formal attire, down to the twins in their sailor suits. She left Poland with a toddler in her arms, having lost her first son a year before.She may not have been fearless, but she faced those fears as she sailed from Antwerp, following her husband and her brothers and sister to Easthampton, Massachusetts.

She had six more children born in Easthampton. She kept house, learned English, applied for citizenship, and was a founding member and President of the Polish Women's Aliance when a new chapter was formed. They bought a house and moved to Northampton, where they opened a neighborhood grocery store. She faced uterine cancer, and traveled to Boston hoping for a cure.

When you look into her eyes, you know she faced it all head-on.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fearless Females 2016

March is Women's History Month and Lisa Alzo at The Accidental Genealogist has compiled some prompts to encourage blogging about female ancestors.

On the first of March we are challenged to write about a favorite ancestor. Rachel Andrews Colman is a woman who comes to mind immediately. Rachel lived through almost the entire eighteenth century and left very few records for a lifetime of experiences.  I first wrote about her here.

As I go over the research I have done over the years, I have been forced to reevaluate the assumptions I made even a few years ago.  I have visited Rachel's grave in Ashby, Middlesex, MA.  She is buried in the front row in the center of town with her husband James.  A tree has grown up around her headstone, obscuring the inscription. According to the headstone, she was 92 when she died in 180? She is not listed in the Ashby death records, and I am not certain of the year of her death.  That means her birth could have been between 1708 and 1717. She is not found in the Ipswich births or marriages, where her first known child was born in 1734.

As are most women of that time, her existence is noted only by the births of her children between 1734 and 1758 in Ipswich, Lunenburg, and Ashburnham. There were eleven recorded, with biblical names of Job, Rachel, Solomon and Ruth.  They moved away from the coastal settlement of Ipswich to the frontier sixty miles to the west with their young family to an area first known as "Dorchester Canada." It was so remote that records were kept for years at the more secure town of Lunenburg.

Her child-bearing years were times of hard work building a farm and establishing a new town, with a near constant fear of attack, disease, or other hardships caused by weather or natural disasters. She was pregnant almost half of the time, with children born in two year increments.  James was a Selectman, and held other positions of responsibility in the local government.

Although her husband lived into his sixties, she lived thirty years longer. Their youngest daughter was 15 and other children were settled nearby when she was widowed in 1773. Although I wish I knew more about her life in those years, her experiences would have been much like any woman of that time.  But after James' death, where did she go?  Did she remain in their home for a time, or live with one or more of her children or grandchildren? She saw four sons respond to "the Alarm" of 1775 and join in the rebellion against the British. She saw the growth of her community, the birth of the new nation,and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I would like to know where she was when she died, when she was brought to rest beside her husband. I would like to picture her in her old age, and know who was with her. When I visit her in Ashby, I surely wish she would speak to me.

Signature from Middlesex County probate file for James Colman