Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brooklyn Online Resource: John D. Morrell Photograph Collection at BHS

The John D. Morrell Collection is a collection of photographs of buildings and street scenes from 1950s-1970s Brooklyn.  In 2008, the Brooklyn Historical Society received a grant to have the collection digitized, and all 2,675 photographs are online as part of their image gallery. The collection includes photographs in both black & white and color. According to the finding aid available through the BHS website, the photographs cover all of Brooklyn but concentrate on the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Bath Beach, Flatbush, Downtown Brooklyn, and Carroll Gardens. (Luckily for me, my people hail from Red Hook, of which Carroll Gardens was once a part, so my main area of interest is pretty well represented.)

If you use the "Advanced Search" function, you can specify the "John D. Morrell" collection, and then keyword search on the names of streets or neighborhoods. Doing this, I was able to find pictures of some of my ancestral homes, as well as pictures of the neighborhoods my ancestors lived and worked in. There are also pictures of schools, stores, and other local landmarks. It's easy to find addresses online using Google Street View, but this collection could include buildings that were around at mid-century but are no longer extant, or give you a perspective not as far removed from the time when your ancestors actually lived there. 

You can see the collection here

Monday, June 27, 2011

The pictures our descendants would love to have

One of the things about searching for evidence of the major life events of people who lived a hundred years ago is that you start to view all of the major life event you experience through the eyes of people who live a hundred years from now. I would be pretty darn excited to see a slideshow of dozens of pictures from my great-great-grandparents wedding, so I imagine this is the kind of thing my great-great-grandchildren would love - once they went to their local museum to use some old-fashioned machine called a computer that it could be viewed on.

Kathleen & Ben: ROCK STAR video slideshow from Small Moments Studios on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Timing is Everything

This actually just happened. If you look closely at the above screenshot, you'll see that I opened the Brooklyn Historical Society's Photo of the Week e-mail this morning, to find a picture of one of the dry docks of Todd Shipyard in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Now look even closer, at the other tabs that were open when I got that e-mail. One of them was a brief history of Todd Shipyards. Another was a search I'd done for "todd" in Emma, the BHS "Archives, Manuscripts, & Special Collections" catalog.

Here's a screen shot for another window I had open at the time:

I'd been about to compose a request to the Brooklyn Historical Society to ask whether they had any collections pertaining to the Todd Shipyards facilities in Brooklyn.

I spent yesterday at the Library of Congress reading Every Kind of Ship Work: A History of Todd Shipyards Corporation. I spent last night searching WordCat for copies of the Todd Shipyards mid-century in-house newsletter, The Keel.

And then today, with no effort at all on my part, up pops Todd Shipyards in my inbox! I think I may have to rephrase my question about whether BHS has any collections relating to Todd Shipyards.

I've been researching Todd Shipyards because my great-grandmother's brother, Harold Mulvaney, was killed while he was working there in August, 1933. He drowned in the East River. The death certificate judges his death an accident, though rumors have trickled down through the years that his family wasn't so sure about that. But the Mulvaneys didn't like to talk about things, and so I don't have much information. Ever since I learned, yesterday afternoon, about the existence of The Keel, I've been hoping that I could find a copy of the issues for 1933, and maybe find some mention of the incident or memorial to Harold after his death. (None of the institutions listed in WorldCat as holding copies has issues for 1933.) Harold was killed on Pier 5 in 1933, when, according to his death certificate, he accidentally fell overboard. The picture I received this morning was taken at Pier 1 in 1928. I have no idea whether Harold had been working at Todd Shipyards 5 years prior to his death, but it's entirely possible that he's actually in the crowd of men pictured surrounding the dock, above.

I can't help but think that this serendipity is a good omen for this line of inquiry.

(The above post includes affiliate links.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Graduation Day

As we head into full-blown graduation season, I thought this would be a nice photograph to share.

This is a photo of my grandfather, William J. O'Hara, on his graduation day. I don't know the identity of the other people in the photograph, though the guy to his right looks familiar - I'm sure I've seen pictures of him before, somewhere. (Update: The guy posing with Pop has been identified as his close childhood friend Henry Gorra.) I don't know what he's graduating from - just from looking at him, it seems plausible that he could be 13, graduating from grade school - which, if I'm not mistaken, was St. Saviour's - or that he could be 18, graduating from Regis High School. My guess is the latter; I think those other boys look a bit old for middle school. I've had one relative suggest that it was actually college graduation - she thinks Pop looks even too old for high school, but I'm not sure I agree.

I can't tell what building they're in front of. The piece of a sign that's visible in the upper right-hand corner reads

Pop was born in 1930, so a grade school graduation would have taken place around 1943/4, and a high school graduation around 1948/9. At first, I thought that his sign might help date the picture, but it seems more likely that it's a plaque commemorating an alumnus who was killed overseas, who could have been a graduate of either school, killed at any point during WWII. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How would Great-Grandma bake?

There are a couple of genealogy or history related books on my list of things to read while I'm unemployed/a housewife (Annals of the Famine in IrelandA Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but what I've recently started reading instead is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. It is a fascinating, enlightening, eye-opening book, though I'm not sure I'd recommend it unless you're open to taking a long, hard look at what you eat and where it comes from. Of course, I do think the author probably has his biases, as we all do. I recently watched his movie The Botany of Desire, where he rails against monoculture. He certainly makes good points, but to attribute the Irish Potato Famine strictly to the fact that growing a single variety of potato left the crop more open to disease with not one single mention of a single political, economic, social, or religious factor? Yes it's a movie about biology, but the Potato Famine wasn't a strictly biological tragedy, and can't honestly be presented as one. If he's committed similar omissions elsewhere, though, they haven't been in areas where I'm knowledgable enough to pick up on them. With that in mind, and if you want to know where your food comes from, I'm enjoying The Omnivore's Dilemma so far.

Now, one of the most exciting wedding presents we got was a bread machine, and I'd already started using it to bake bread recreationally. I'd have nice, thick, slices of homemade bread during the day as snacks, or a slice for breakfast, or as a side with dinner. But we were still buying loaves of sliced bread to make sandwiches. It was almost as if we thought of the fresh, homemade bread as some sort of novel new extra, not "real" bread like the stuff in the plastic bag from the shelf in the store. Thanks to this book, I made the somewhat radical decision not to pick up any bread when I went grocery shopping yesterday, despite the fact that we had no store-bought bread at home. (When I told Ben that I would make him a sandwich on homemade bread for lunch today, he responded "I'm going to have to get rid of that book!")

I also have recipes for baking bread the old-fashioned way, in the oven, and I'm thinking of trying out a sourdough starter, too. But what I'd really like to do is bake bread the old-fashioned way. The recipes I find on the internet can't be the same as the recipes my great-grandmothers would have learned a century or more ago. (Is cottage cheese really a standard bread ingredient? Or, more to the point, was cottage historically a standard bread ingredient?) The bread recipe that Grandma Molly learned from Mary Gillan Quinn, or the recipe that Nana learned from Julia Toner Mulvaney? That would be a recipe I'd love to try. The 19th century was no nostalgic era of good nutrition and food purity (see: swill milk) - but I'd still be really interested in baking the bread my great-grandmother baked. (When I add milk, it'll be milk that complies with FDA regulations, after all.)

I used the Fulton History website to search old newspapers for bread recipes. As it turns out, bread recipes did not often appear in late 19th century newspapers. (If everyone knows how to bake bread, why print the recipe? When was the last time your local paper printed a step-by-step guide to sending an e-mail?) They often appeared in mid-20th century papers, but I'm not really interested in bread recipes from the 50s, when everyone was eating Wonderbread, anyway. There were only a couple of recipes I came across that met my criteria, and I may try them all - if I can figure them out!

Elmira NY Morning Telegram, 1898

Geneva NY Gazette, 1879
Interesting - a recipe for potato bread, I guess. Not sure whether I'll try this one. I also can't tell how much flour Miss Davidson added. (Is it really more important to tell us where the flour was milled than to tell us how much of it to use?)

Hudson NY Evening Register, 1886

Syracuse NY Evening Herald, 1895
Can anyone help me with this - what is "sweet milk"? I'd like to try my hand at some of these, but some of the terminology is a little difficult to penetrate.