On Jan. 23, 1943, my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, (photo in uniform, above) reported to the draft board in Chicago to start his training for WWII. So began the correspondence between him and family & friends, comprising almost 300 letters going both ways. I’m posting many of these World War II letters, each on or near the 70th anniversary of its writing. To start with his induction, click HERE.

This blog began in Nov., 2010, when I posted a century-old love note from Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, to Lisi (Elisabetha) Ebner, my paternal grandmother, and follows their bold decision to strike out for America.

My mom and dad were writers too, recording their lives in diaries and letters from the 1920s-the 1990s. Historical, sweet, joyful, and sad, all that life promises-- and takes away--are recorded here as it happened. It's an ongoing saga of the 20th century. To start at the very beginning, please click HERE.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Remember Me in 1910

About the time Josef Gärtz received his Military Draft Summons (see previous post), this photo was taken of my grandmother, Elisabetha, (known most often as “Lisi”). It was stored with other old photographs in an envelope on which she listed the contents, including this one: “Mein Bild in Großpold Kleider."  
[My picture in Großpold clothing]. (Grosspold was her home town -- near Hermannstadt/Sibiu). On the back she wrote: “Zur Erinnerung des Jahres 1910 19/6”  [To Remember June 19, 1910].  Lisi was 22 about to turn 23. Did she give a copy of this photo to Josef to remember her as he went on his itinerant carpentry work?

This second photo is the earliest I have of my grandmother, posing with her father, Samuel Ebner, mother, also named Elisabetha, and older sister, Maria, born February 2, 1882. My grandmother is the little girl on the right, about six, so the date of the photo must be about 1893, (Lisi was born July 30, 1887).

We don’t know much about Lisi’s early childhood, but we do know that life wasn’t easy in rural 19th century Europe. Decades before antibiotics, vaccinations, and advanced medicine, death was intertwined with life, ever-present --lurking on roadways or horseback, in the swoosh of a scythe,  stalking young and old, rich and poor alike. It came to the Ebner family often, each visit ending in heartache.

When my brothers and I went on a roots-finding mission to Romania in 2007, we found out just how often.

In my next post, you’ll get a first hand look at the
Großpold Familienbuch” (Grosspold Family Book), maintained by the Lutheran Church in Lisi's hometown, in which births, deaths, and marriages are recorded and what we discovered there.

As we get to know a little more about Josef and Lisi’s past, we’ll have a clearer picture of how they will create their future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Drafted 100 Years Ago!

The summer before Josef wrote his sweet postcard to Lisi, he had received a written notice not nearly as delightful.
A scan is at the left. It was the first page in a notebook onto the front of which my grandfather had handwritten his name, Josef Gärtz. I had first looked at it closely about four years ago, but the script was impossible.
Must be a diary, I thought, as I carefully turned yellowing pages, still in pretty good shape almost a century later. What secrets might it hold? 
I asked a friend raised in Germany to take a stab at deciphering the old script:
Here’s a translation of what’s on the first page:

Nr. 78
Foreign Draft/service?
Draft Summons
For Mr. Josef Gärtz

Bezirk [district] Mariahilferstrasse (the street) 78, 
II. Hof. III/7 bei Frau Sorsky 
probably the 3rd floor –which would be like our 4th); room #7. “bei” means he’s living in the home of Frau Sorsky.)
By order of the magistrate of the K.K. [Kaiserlich/Königlich—the Kaiser and King], capital and residence city, Vienna, you are summoned  to appear promptly [“reliably”] before the draft commission in Vienna, 3rd District, Landstreet/Mainstreet Number 97 (in the back of the courtyard) on Friday, the 30th of September, 1910 L.J. [Laufendes Jahres, means “this year”] at 8 O’Clock in the morning to avoid the consequences of rule ¶44 of the Military Law.

     From the Conscription Office of the Magistrate, Vienna

I’m not sure what rule ¶44 of the Military Law is, but I can imagine the “consequences” for breaking it weren’t pleasant.
It appears that this conscription notice was sent in a notebook, perhaps to later contain his military record. But Josef used the next 57 pages for his own writing, most of which seemed to comprise folk songs and amusing stories, some rather off-color, according to my German friend. 

If anyone has any other information about the manner of sending draft notices in notebooks at that time, please comment.
Josef was twenty-one. He was in love. Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. No democracy, of course. It was “Kaiser and King” that commanded him.
By 1910, the year of Josef’s draft notice, 70% of American immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe, the latter where Transylvania lay. Imagine the visions inspired by that faraway land, firing the dreams of so many millions. 
In the context of the time, what thoughts ran through Josef’s head when he received this notice? What were his options? What were the risks of each?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can Love last 100 years? November 18, 1910-November 18, 2010

Funny thing about love. We know it when we feel it. We know it when we see it.  

I can see it in this postcard, mailed one hundred years ago today, November 18, 1910, by Josef Gärtz to his sweetheart, Elisabeth Ebner (ABEner) to celebrate her Name Day. Josef was twenty-one. Elisabeth was twenty-three. Within a year they would marry and eventually become my grandparents.

But I didn't always know about the love expressed in language as flowery as the blue-bedecked bicycle pictured on the front. In fact, before last year, I didn't know this postcard existed.

It was one of scores of missives my grandmother had saved for almost seventy years. "Trash or treasure?" My brothers and I debated, in a frenzy of sorting after my mother's death. We squinted at the illegible writing, written in an ancient German script that most present-day Germans can't read much less a German major like me. We decided to keep them, but I figured they'd languish for years in "Box 14, Gartz Correspondence"  and end up summarily tossed.

Enter fate.

My brothers and I traveled to Transylvania in 2007 on a family roots-finding mission. In Sibiu (called Hermannstadt by the Germans), we met Professor Uli Wien who was researching the history and immigration of Siebenbürgen Germans -- people like our grandparents. Uli asked for our email addresses. 

Serendipity had begun its subtle work.

I forgot all about Uli until the summer of 2009, when he emailed me. “Do you by any chance have any letters to or from your grandparents?” 

Did I have letters!  My heart leapt at what this meant. Perhaps Uli could help me decipher the inscrutable writing!  That put me on a mission to look at the letters closely for the first time in the fifteen years since Mom's death -- and I began to tease out some authors' names. 

The address on this postcard was clear:

F[räulein]Elise Ebner 
Reisper Gasse [Street]
c/o Mr. Ji[c]keli [the family my grandmother worked for]

(yet another name for Hermannstadt / Sibiu: Nagyszeben is the Hungarian name)

I recognized my grandfather's signature: “Josef Gärtz," and I knew I had a treasure. 

Printed under the bicycle on the front: 

Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Namenstag. “Heartfelt Good Wishes for your Name Day." 

I sent a xerox of the writing to Uli, and he deciphered into modern German those words written one hundred years ago today. I translated Josef's sincere, flowery note into English, its tinges of 19th century formality not diminishing its sweetness:

"I wish you much happiness and best of health on your cherished Name Day, so you can keep this happy day blooming for many years into the future. A joyful “Hail! and Cheers!” rings out on this day of the flower. [He may be comparing Lisi to a flower]Long live the pretty girl and faithful Lischen [an endearment for  Lisi -- like  sweet Lisi]. 
With greetings and kisses
Yours faithfully,
J[osef] G[ärtz]
Neppendorf, November 18. 1910"
[Neppendorf was my grandfather's home town]
Celebrating one's Name Day has been a European tradition for centuries -- and was a bigger event than a birthday. Parties, gifts, candy, and cards like this one, all were part of the day. Josef and Lisi were Lutherans, and on the Lutheran calendar, Elisabeth's Name Day is November 19th. Josef mailed this postcard a day ahead, his loving words now reaching us across the span of 100 years. 

I know love when I see it. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Welcome to Family Archaeologist

My family’s ancestral roots are in Transylvania -- known more for its Dracula legend than the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, like my father’s parents, who had made it their home beginning in the twelfth century. One hundred years ago, my grandfather headed for America from that stunning land of rugged mountains and lush valleys, armed only with youthful optimism, confidence, and a fierce work ethic, determined to succeed in America. My grandmother followed, and they built a life interwoven with the historical events of the decades to come.
I knew the broad outlines of the family story, but details were scant. Until I started the Dig. 
After my mother’s death in 1994, (Dad had died five years before), my brothers and I dug through the artifacts our parents left behind, separating trash from treasure. We found the latter, tucked into the corners and cobwebs of their attic. A trove of diaries, letters, documents, scribbled notes, and photos had lain entombed for decades. Relating on a personal scale to Howard Carter's utterance at his first glimpse into King Tut’s tomb, we, too, felt we were seeing “wonderful things” -- the detailed gems of family -- and twentieth century -- history. 
So many in my family were compelled to write: letters to and from the homeland spanning almost seventy years, close to 300 letters exchanged with my uncle, Lt. Frank Gartz,  a B-17 navigator in World War II, diaries dating from the 1920s to the 1980s. All these missives and journals reflect on the personal and historical:  World War I, the stock market crash,  the Great Depression, the Second World War, the 1950s, racial strife and riots of the 1960s in our changing neighborhood of West Garfield Park, and into the '70s and '80s.
During the last several years, I’ve pored through the written records of several lifetimes, making astonishing discoveries along the way. What has been laid bare is not just my family’s secrets, but the kind of drama, joy, sadness, and triumph that underlie all our families' experiences. Their records reveal the daring-do of youth and young love, labor, laughter, madness, illness, war, death, riots, generational tugs-of-war, and marital strife. The experiences may be particular, but the themes are universal--now known only because my family refused to relinquish its history to the trash heap of time.
As the Family Archaeologist, I’ll be sharing with you not just letters and diaries that span much of the last century, but also the excitement of discovery and revelation that sparks my archaeological dig. I hope these finds will create a resonance with your own family’s past and engender curiosity about how history is not just textbook dry, but the fabric into which our families' lives are woven.
This is not a genealogical site per se, but in the course of unraveling the past, I’ve turned to many genealogical resources: Ancestry.com, census reports, ships’ manifests, death notices, gravestones, interviews with family and friends, and a roots-finding pilgrimage to my grandparents’ home towns in Transylvania, where some startling discoveries awaited my brothers and me.
Stick with me, and through the power of recorded words, you can experience the lives of real people as they were really lived. Without the fakery or hype, it’s a “reality show” of the last century.