projects and memories

Long time readers of this blog may remember me complaining about the ancestral “stuff” we have accumulated over the years. For instance, here is part of my 15 July 2018 post:

You might guess from my recent choice of reading material that I’m still struggling with the objects and possessions I inherited from our ancestors. Things started piling up around 2008. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years! I have managed to dispose of a lot of stuff but cannot rest on my laurels. What’s left is stacked halfway to the ceiling in a corner of what is supposed to be the genealogy/guest room. The corner takes up almost half the room. … Trouble is, life (births, illnesses, travels, weddings, visitors, deaths) keeps happening and I need a good chunk of uninterrupted time to roll up my sleeves and dig in.

Four years after writing that, nothing had changed. More illness and then a pandemic… Well, I finally measured the pile of boxes. 6′ x 5′ x 4′. I’m terrible with numbers but I believe that was 120 cubic feet of stuff! And I finally realized that a good chunk of uninterrupted time was never going to come my way. I was going to have to seize it for myself. Walks, yoga, blogging, housework, puzzles, reading and family history research were all abandoned for the project.

I rolled up my sleeves and dug in. Much of it was disposed of. There were countless trips to the dumpster, the Book Barn, Goodwill and the Give & Take Shed at the transfer station. It took me a little over a month to make that pile disappear.

There were many treasures in there and these were roughly sorted and then stored where I can get my hands on them and organize them. (Soon, I hope!) At first I was trying to file important papers, like birth, marriage and death records, into the loose-leaf notebooks I created back in the 1990s. But it quickly became apparent that these would have to be reorganized to accommodate the volume of paperwork and photographs I was finding. These are the old notebooks:

There is room for expansion on the shelf below now. All the paperwork is put into acid-free sleeve protectors and kept in these notebooks. I need more! The first one was for us and our parents and the rest were for our eight grandparents and their ancestors. But I’ve had to start new notebooks for our parents and change the size for some of the grandparents. I can’t believe how many citizenship papers and wills and property deeds I found. Not to mention photographs.

One thing taking up a lot of space was my grandmother’s and my mother’s slides. My sister has made a start on digitizing them. Sadly, some are badly deteriorated.

There was about a decade in the 1990s I think of now as my genealogy heydays. My children were in their teens so I had more time on my hands. My mother had died of cancer in 1991 and my father decided to spend some of his time helping me with research. We took a day-long local family history class together with the Connecticut Society of Genealogists in East Hartford. He also came with me to a national genealogy conference in Hartford one summer where we bought a map of the Austrian Empire in 1875, as it was laid out when his parents were born there, in what is now Ukraine. I found the map and got it hung up again.

In 1993 I started a correspondence course with the National Genealogical Society.

My father and I also made many trips to Cape Cod during that decade. My late mother’s beloved parents were still alive and we visited them about once a month, sometimes making a side trip to a cemetery to locate an ancestor’s resting place. Grandfather finally had to put Grandmother in a nursing home when she kept falling and her dementia was too difficult for him to cope with. I am so grateful for my father’s companionship during those years. It was on these visits that Grandfather told me stories about his parents and grandparents, and I wrote them down. I did find many of my notes and corralled them into one place.

Grandmother died in 1996. After her funeral Grandfather took me and my sister and my cousin and my children to two of the cemeteries where Grandmother’s parents and grandparents were buried.

After a few pauses and restarts, I finally completed my course in 1998.

I wish that my mother had lived long enough to enjoy that decade with us. She became interested in family history toward the end of her life and my father used to help her visit town halls and genealogical libraries. She was just getting started with genealogy chat rooms online. She would have loved using the resources, like Ancestry.com, that I take for granted now. Once in the 1980s, before she got too sick, Tim had a work conference in Boston so he took Mom and me up there with him and dropped us off at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. We spent a memorable day in their library doing research. Went out for lunch in the city. It was a fun day, a rare mother-daughter outing. I can’t even remember who was watching the kids — was it my father?

Time marches on. Papa fell in 2000, breaking his femur, and began his slow decline. Beverly & John moved back from New Mexico to stay with him. Grandfather died in 2001. Auntie Lil needed ever more help and finally moved from elderly housing into my father’s house. Children went to college, got married and moved away. The 2000s are a blur of eldercare to me now. Tim had a major heart attack and almost died in 2007. Tim’s grandparents’ home in Provincetown was sold in 2009 and the Dennis Port home of my grandparents was sold in 2010, if I remember correctly. We wound up with lots of stuff we couldn’t handle or absorb. Papa, and Tim’s brother Toby, who lived out his last eight months with us, both died in 2013. Auntie died in 2016, at the great old age of 101. In 2017 Tim had major surgery, a sigmoid colon resection, and later that same year I was diagnosed with cancer and had a hysterectomy. So this is all why there was such a huge, untouched pile of stuff!

It’s such a relief to have it finally done. There are some loose ends to work on but these can be handled a little at a time. I’m looking forward to making new covers for my notebooks and reorganizing the insides. That’s fun work. It was so nice being able to set up air mattresses for our grandchildren to sleep on in the space formerly occupied by that awful pile of stuff!

water-powered up-down sawmill

sunrise at home, 5:46 am, May Day
40°F, clear with periodic clouds, light wind from the north at 7 mph
4.30.22 ~ Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill, Ledyard, Connecticut

For May Day weekend we decided to visit the historic water-powered Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill, which is only open on Saturdays in the spring and fall. Earth’s energy has shifted again as this hemisphere begins traveling closer to the sun in the brighter half of the year. All the mill’s windows and doors were wide open so it felt pretty safe (covid-wise) to go inside and see what the process of sawing wood was like in the late 1800s.

millstone, the sawmill operated briefly as a gristmill from 1858-1860
headgate controlling pond water flow through the dam into the mill water tank
vintage salesman’s model of the John Tyler Water Turbine

The finely cast and machined 19th century model is about four inches wide and has an operating gate and rotating runner.
~ Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill website

“Turning the handwheel opens and closes the turbine gate,
controlling water flow from the holding tank into the turbine.”
“The vertical turbine shaft is geared to a horizontal shaft
that ends with a heavy iron flywheel and crank under the saw.”
“A wooden pitman arm connects to the crank to the wooden saw sash,
converting the rotary motion of the flywheel into
an up and down (reciprocating) motion.”

After watching the saw operating for a minute we went outside, down some huge stone steps and into the lower level to see the turbine in action.

the turbine pit in the mill lower level

And then we went back upstairs to see more of the sawing.

“The saw cuts on the downstroke and
the log moves toward the saw on the upstroke.”

It was quite loud and the whole building vibrated while the saw was operating.

diagram of both levels

The sawmill has a great website for any who would like more details: Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill.

My father, when he was still alive, had visited this place after it was restored and opened to the public in 1975. He often said he wanted to take me to see it some day. Sadly, that never happened, but he was very much on my mind as we looked around and listened to the operators tell us about its history and how it worked.

After our trip back through time we decided to take a walk around Sawmill Pond and see what visual treats the brightness of spring had to offer.

red maple seeds
tiny bluets, a childhood favorite
an eastern painted turtle for Tim

And then, for me, a new life bird! I heard it singing and looked up into the nearest tree and there it was! What a nice surprise, the last sort of thing I was expecting to find on this day. 🙂

chipping sparrow, #69

Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina: Widespread common migratory breeder mid-April to November; rare and local in winter; in areas with short grass and trees, residential neighborhoods, parks, open upland forest.
~ Frank Gallo
(Birding in Connecticut)

Thank you, little chipping sparrow, for singing so sweetly that I couldn’t miss seeing you!

invasion

Way before dawn this morning my sister and I found ourselves sitting together in the living room, shedding tears for Ukraine. Our father was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. We both have memories of him telling us about how Ukraine has been invaded over and over again throughout its history. Being little children most of what he was talking about didn’t mean much to us, but we often heard about Vikings, Mongols, Cossacks and Tatars, the Austro-Hungarian Army and Russia, Hitler and Stalin. His sense of ill-fated tragedy made a deep impression on us.

My grandfather left his pregnant wife and young daughter (Mary) in Luzhek Verkhniy, Ukraine to come to America in 1909. My grandmother left their daughter in Ukraine to be raised by Mary’s grandparents and came to America with her five-month-old son in 1910. They had six more children born in this country. Our aunt Mary finally came to America to live with her parents in 1926, at the age of 18. Most of her aunts and uncles who she grew up with came over at various times, too. Except for one who was “killed by Stalin,” presumably because he stayed.

Our hearts feel very heavy. I wonder if some sort of genetic memory is at work here. Took a peek at CNN and saw some people in Ukraine kneeling in a city square, praying. I had to turn it off. If you have any comments, please don’t make them political. My thoughts and prayers are for the Ukrainian people.

cloudy light, goldfinch, concert

11.27.20 ~ Sheep Farm, Groton, Connecticut

On Friday we returned to Sheep Farm, last visited early in April, so we still haven’t visited when the leaves are green. Maybe next summer on a low humidity day. Autumn colors were still pronounced on this lovely day.

glacial erratics in a golden and russet meadow
very cloudy day
leaf love
struggling to stay green
a burl
beech bark
beech leaf
waterfall from above
waterfall from below
right side of waterfall
left side of waterfall
beech with lichen
lichen on twig
?
loved the contrast between the green and the rusty oranges

Most of the birds we saw were too far away but I finally spotted this goldfinch, perhaps a juvenile or nonbreeding female. I was delighted even if he/she wasn’t brightly colored or willing to come out of the foliage.

American goldfinch
I see you!
loved this spot of yellow in the middle of the browns
telephoto shot of the yellow
?
contrast again between green and straw colors

And then, after such a wonderful day, that night I had a new experience, watching a livestreaming concert on my laptop. It was wonderful!

I’ve been a Mary Chapin Carpenter fan for years. My father introduced her music to me one night when he was watching a recorded performance she had on PBS. It must have been in the late 1980s. My father played the guitar and he and I shared a love of guitar-playing troubadours. He loved Woody Guthrie. I loved James Taylor. We both loved Mary Chapin Carpenter. I started buying Mary Chapin’s CDs and playing them while driving around town in our 1988 Dodge Caravan with our first CD player that came with the car.

my father and me

Then, one day in 2012, I found out that she was going to do a show on September 15 in a cabaret setting at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts in Storrs, Connecticut. Right there in the town where I grew up! But everything was falling apart in our lives at the time. Tim had been hospitalized for several days in August with a cardiovascular event, my failing 97-year-old aunt was being moved from elderly housing into my father’s house, and my father was ill and wheelchair-bound. Even so, Tim and my brother-in-law John held down the fort so my sister Beverly and I could go see the concert together. Mary Chapin talked a lot between her songs about her life and her music and it felt very intimate. It was such an extraordinary evening to share with my sister, who is also a fan.

This concert was special, too, livestreaming with two hours of music, but no talking in between the songs. It must be strange singing without being able to see and get feedback from your audience. Mary Chapin’s voice has gotten deeper over the years but is still beautiful and expressive. I found myself comfy and cozy on the couch, content to be enjoying the unfolding of a new memory.

early work, fall colors begin

c. 1968 ~ Barbara’s early genealogy work

One thing about staying home during the pandemic is having gobs of time to sort through all the family stuff I’ve been grumbling about for years. The other day I discovered the above chart, created by me when I was eleven years old!

When people see how passionate I am about family history they often ask how long I’ve been researching my tree. “For as long as I can remember,” is my usual reply. Well, now I have proof I was doing it at least since age eleven. 🙂

Looking at this made me smile because it has so many mistakes, mostly the spellings of some of my cousins’ names. And using nicknames where I wasn’t sure of the full name. But I did the best I could after interviewing my parents. No dates. I was keenly interested in the relationships.

After I found this chart and drifted down memory lane for awhile, Tim suggested we go for a drive up in Ledyard because one of his friends said the trees were starting to show their fall colors. It was a beautiful Sunday drive! Please enjoy a little glimpse of our autumn. I have a feeling because of the drought it might go by too quickly…

9.27.20 ~ above photos taken along the roads in Ledyard, Connecticut

Every day you play with the light of the universe.
~ Pablo Neruda
(The Poetry of Pablo Neruda)

Local COVID-19 update:
Ledge Light Health District is tracking an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in southeastern Connecticut. People are letting their guards down. We decided to try a take-out order on Monday — it was delicious — and then heard this news and decided we won’t be doing that again. Numbers are now higher than they were in April. People are gathering and not following protocols.

LLHD recorded 60 new cases during the week of Sept. 19-25 and another 43 new cases this weekend alone. Those numbers compare to a low point of five new cases a week in mid-August.

New London County now has 1,959 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 14 people are in the hospital and 115 have lost their lives. That’s 339 new cases and 7 more in the hospital since September 9 when I last reported. We were startled to see our part of the state the new area of increased concern on the news. Living in our bubble has become a comfortable routine yet this is raging all around us. It’s unsettling. A reminder that we’re doing all this staying home for a reason.

On Tuesday we decided to take another leaf peeping drive, as it was too humid for a walk. The weather people said that the colors are coming two weeks early because of the drought so we might be headed up to the Quiet Corner of Connecticut sooner than planned for our autumn drive. Still a lot of yellows for now but we did see a few rust and orange leaves…

Lantern Hill, elevation 491′ (150m), North Stonington, Connecticut
9.29.20 ~ Maple Lane Farms, Preston, Connecticut
9.29.20 ~ along NW Corner Rd, Preston
9.29.20 ~ along Cossaduck Hill Rd, North Stonington

We are under a gale warning today as we get some badly needed rain. Waiting to see how many leaves will be left on the trees tomorrow!

Augusta Jean & Jon Stephen

Augusta Jean Chomiak (1913-1986)
Jon Stephen Chomiak (1909-1919)
c. 1914

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may remember a picture of my Ukrainian grandmother and three of her eight children. (Katherine’s Children)

This picture is special because it is the only picture I have of Jon, who came to America with his mother when he was only 5 months old. He was born in Ukraine on 19 September 1909 and arrived on the SS Finland at Ellis Island in New York City on 4 March 1910. Sadly, he died at home of appendicitis when he was only 9 years old. His family was living in Buffalo, New York at the time.

At the time this picture was taken his older sister Mary was still living in Ukraine with their grandparents. The youngest four children (Lillian, Olga, Theodore, Ludmila) had not been born yet. There is a mystery child mostly unaccounted for, a boy named August or Augustine. No one seems to know anything about him except that he died as a toddler after ingesting something stored under the kitchen sink. I can find no birth or death records for this child, but it seems he was younger than Jon and older than Augusta Jean. It seems likely to me that Augusta was named after her brother who had probably died shortly before she was born.

Oddly enough, when one of my aunts filled out a family group sheet for me she gave August’s birth date as the same date as Augusta’s, leading me to consider that perhaps they were twins, however no one else in the family thinks this is likely. But it does seem likely that August was born in 1911 because Jon was born in 1909 and Augusta was born in 1913 and at that time most siblings were born about two years apart. And Lillian was born in 1915.

Anyhow, my Aunt Lil remembered that Jon was buried in “Father Baker’s Cemetery” in Lackawanna, New York. On a 2002 summer trip to western New York, we found the cemetery, which is now known as Holy Cross Cemetery, but we were disappointed to find no record of his burial in the office and no death certificate in the city hall. (Years later I discovered the family was actually living in nearby Buffalo, according to 1920 census records.) The kind people at the cemetery said that there were many graves not yet recorded in their database.

Aunt Lil remembered Jon fondly as a very loving big brother who bought his little sisters Jean (she went by her middle name) and Lil candy whenever he could. He was an altar boy at the church, and helped the family out by collecting coal from the railroad tracks, which we also located. We discovered quite a bit about Father Baker (1842-1936), and learned that the church where Jon must have served was replaced by the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory (consecrated 26 May 1926), which we toured.

Aunt Lil was four years old when her beloved big brother died and she spoke of him often through the years. Aunt Jean was six years old when Jon died. The middle name given to her only son is Jon. Lil and Jean were seven and nine years old when their baby brother, my father, came along. According to him they teased him relentlessly. 🙂

Today is Jon’s birthday and also the 7th anniversary of my father’s death. A bit of synchronicity that I would stumble across this picture today when I was looking for something else.

science is uncertainty

a man wearing a mask in 1918
image credit: Western Neighborhoods Project/OpenSFHistory

We all want answers today, and science is not going to give them. Science is uncertainty. And the pace of uncertainty reduction in science is way slower than the pace of a pandemic.
~ Brian Nosek
(The Washington Post, May 26, 2020)

I’ve been thinking about scientists a lot lately, beacuse of the pandemic, so when I read the above quote in the newspaper about “the pace of uncertainty reduction in science” it caught my attention. I remember my father teaching me that whenever science finds an “answer” it only brings more questions into focus. The more scientists learn, the more they appreciate how much they still don’t know.

Experiment, observe and gather data. Make educated guesses and investigate some more. My father spent his entire research career studying chicken viruses. It’s kind of astonishing that there could be so much to learn about just one kind of virus. Years and years of probing and analysis.

My father at work at the University of Connecticut,
sometime in the 1960s
~ photo by Thommie White, my grandmother

As far as I can tell, the scientists studying the coronavirus pandemic have been very candid about what they still don’t know. Yet, their best guess is that wearing a mask makes sense because it will likely protect other people from you if you happen to have the virus (with no symptoms) and are spreading it without realizing it. Combined with social distancing and frequent hand-washing, this is our best strategy for slowing down the spread of COVID-19 for now. Rest assured scientists are still searching for answers, hoping to reduce the uncertainty as soon as humanly possible!

apple picking season

“Idunn & Bragi” by Nils Blommér

Idunn was married to Bragi, god of poetry, and she was sweet and gentle and kind. She carried a box with her, made of ash wood, which contained golden apples. When the gods felt age beginning to touch them, to frost their hair or ache their joints, then they would go to Idunn. She would open her box and allow the god or goddess to eat a single apple. As they ate it, their youth and power would return to them. Without Idunn’s apples, the gods would scarcely be gods …
~ Neil Gaiman
(Norse Mythology)

Iduna (Iðunn, Idun, Idunn, Ithun, Idunna) is my favorite Norse goddess, mostly because of the apples, my favorite fruit. It’s been my experience that an apple a day does keep the doctor away. And now, during apple picking season, my thoughts turn to Iduna and the art depicting her I’ve posted to my blog in the past.

Nine years ago I posted this story about my father, who was still alive at the time:

When my father was a boy growing up on a New England farm during the Great Depression, his family picked as many apples as they could and stored some of them in a barrel in the root cellar. Of course he ate as many as he could while picking them, but his parents had a rule about the ones in the barrel he found exasperating. If anyone wanted an apple later in the fall or winter, he was required to take one that was the least fresh. By the time they got to the fresher ones they had also become much less fresh! So all winter he was having to make do with eating not-so-great apples. If only he had known he might have called on Iduna to keep the apples fresher longer!

Dad’s favorite variety was the McCoun. After six years, I still miss him. Will be stopping by the orchard again soon. ♡

a secret garden

“A secret garden. Made by Barbara Lyn (sic) Chomiak. Seven year old.”

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun — which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes.
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett
(The Secret Garden)

I’m still poking around through my childhood papers and drawings. My mother was the true bookworm in our family. So many images coming back to me now, like my parents in the evening, my mother with her nose in the newspaper and my father watching television.

At bedtime, my mother read to us, even after we were old enough to read for ourselves. One of my favorite books was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Apparently I loved it so much I illustrated my own version of a secret garden.) And often my father would start playing the piano, gentle Bach lullabies sending us off to sleep.

Spring is in the air! Time to pick up the pace and plow through some more boxes. Onward!