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Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Spitting in a vial to find the past
(Page 4 of 4)
Howard Schwach

I knew of course, that my father, Stanley, was born in 1911 in New York City and lived in Rockaway most of his life.

In fact, the 1930 census shows that the family lived at 345 Beach 69 Street and had been there at least seven years at the time. His sisters were born in 1908 and 1913.

There, however, in startling newsprint for all to see, in the birth announcements in the New York Times was a short item – “Born to Charles and Anne Schwach of 174 Fox Street, Bronx, on March 12, 1920, a daughter, Shirley.”

I held the printout in my hand for some time before emailing all the relatives that I knew.

I found out from another cousin, who remembered hearing it from her grandmother, that Shirley had lived for 29 days, passing away from a mysterious illness on April 10, 1920.

I plan on going to the New York City Municipal Archives later in the summer to get a copy of her death certificate and find out why she died.

To my mind, the mystery is that my father was about nine years old when she died, and had to know about her; yet in all the years we lived together and all the years we had a close relationship, he never once mentioned an aunt that I never knew about until I saw it in the New York Times many years after his death.

Shirley, I have since found, is buried in a plot right next to Samuel in a Queens cemetery.

I found out lots of other things in my quest.

My database, or Family Tree, as they call it, now encompasses the details and detritus of the lives of more than 350 people.

When my grandson turned 15 earlier this year, I printed out an Ancestor Tree for him that showed him his ancestors on both his father’s and mother’s side back to great-grandparents. Even a cool teenager was amazed by the detail of where he came from and who came before. He has since become more interested in history and says he wants to teach it when he finishes school. My granddaughter, just entered Grade 2, had to do a family tree for homework. I printed out one for her going back five generations. Now, she wants to know more.

That’s what it’s all about.

It’s more than names on a family tree, but finding out who came before you and the stories that make the people on that tree real to future generations.

Howard Schwach


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