Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

La Tienda Part I

Have you ever wondered about a family relic, perhaps a piece of furniture? Have you thought about the story it holds? Where does it's story begin? Why has it become important to the family? If only it could share the events it witnessed? This past week, I have been thinking about one such treasure I own, La Tienda.

Many authors have written about heirlooms. Nicole Krauss—well known for The History of Love—for example, tackles this subject in fiction. In her latest book, Great House, she traces the adventures of a desk. Reading this story, we span generations of fictional characters, following the movements of the desk across continents and historical periods. Author, Edmund de Waal choses to tell his own family history through the history of a collection of Japanese netsuke, miniature sculptures, which survives World War II  and which he eventually inherited from his uncle. As his interest grows in the collection, so does his curiosity of the Ephrussi family and their history as the wealthy bankers who emerged from Odessa and made their way to Vienna and Paris. de Waal, turned the story of the netsuke into the best seller, The Hare with the Amber Eyes.

La Tienda, is my bookcase or library. I dubbed it, La Tienda—The Store, for it's original function. The story of this enormous bookshelf in our family dates back only about a decade. How old is the piece, I'm not sure. An antique expert may know, but my guess is that it is at least 50-100 years old. In the brief ten years the bookcase has spent in my custody, it has already managed to acquire a great story. I thought it would be fun to document it's most recent tales in a two part blog post.

My husband and I, love collecting original art works as well as antiques. We are far from connoisseur . Our philosophy is to purchase objects that call to us, object we like. We don't spend a lot of money. We buy student paintes, or pieces from our artist friends we believe in. Our collection is eclectic and quite rustic. Our purchases are not made with investment in mind.  Rather, we enjoy decorating our living space with pieces which survived the trials of time and were not mass produced.

Ten years ago or so, we went on a family trip to Puebla. Located about an hour and a half from our home, Puebla is a colonial Mexican city, known for it's numerous churches, it's Mole (a delicious dark, chocolate based sauce) and it's antiques stores. We had just completed building our home and we excited with the idea of buying some furniture. We stumbled upon a quaint hotel/restaurant, which was decorated with Mexican antiques. Jacqueline, my husband's aunt, heard about our outing and  recommended the hotel she stayed at, Meson Sacristia de la CompaƱia  both for it's delicious food and fantastic store. We enjoyed the typical Mole and decore and noticed that all of the unique pieces in their collection were not only decorative, but also for sale. There were two beautiful bookcases on display in the dinning room and we fell in love. When we asked about the furniture, we were told that it used to be a "Tienda" or a storefront. Well, not exactly a store front, more like the display case, behind the counter in an old fashioned Mexican general store. When you examine the bookcase closely, you can see that one drawer is labeled, Plumas or pens and another, Estrellas or stars (for star shaped pasta). One of the drawers even contains the original glass, retained the small compartment at the front of the drawer to be filled with beans or pasta, which made it easy to mark the content of the drawer. There are concave sections which functioned as a rest for the front of class containers filled with assorted dried goods.

The bookshelf as it looked in the hotel
dinning room when we discovered it. (Click to enlarge)

What we had in mind was converting the bookcase into an entertainment set. Unsure which of the bookcases would fit our family room, we decided to return to Cuernavaca and measure. We took the hotel information and agreed to call back with the measurements.  When we examined the space, we realized neither bookcase would fit and agreed it would  probably be a crime to remove some shelves to make way for our large screen TV. We called the store and after measuring and remeasuring, on our part and theirs, we ordered the larger of the bookcases for our formal living room instead. Despite the hotel's good reputation, I was quite nervous about ordering a large piece of furniture. After all, this was Mexico, and I was accustomed to at least watch the store pack-up my purchase and send it on it's way, before I left the premises. Yet, we took our chances and purchased what we felt was a bargain Mexican antique. A new piece that size, would have cost three or four times what we paid, and certainly would not have had half as much personality.

La Tienda, in our Cuernavaca living room. (Click to enlarge)

To our relief, the bookcase arrived promptly, in two gigantic pieces. It required four men who climbed two ladders to mount the two halves together. To our surprise the bookcase did not fit, it was too tall for the space! Luckily, our trustworthy handman, Don Miguel, found a solution and was able make the necessary adjustments by shaving a layer off the top molding. He also added four decorative lights. Once put together, there it remained, in our Cuernavaca living room for many years, where we enjoyed it mostly as a decorative piece.

By the way, if you like these type of Mexican antiques, I highly recommend the Meson Sacristia de la CompaƱia. Puebla is well worth the visit. They ship all over the world and are quite trust worthy, so you can even order on-line.

During the summer of 2010 our family relocated to the Boston area. At first, we rented a furnished home, and left our own furniture in Mexico. A year later, when we bought our home in America, we shipped some of our belongings. Deciding what to bring, was not an easy. I knew we needed bookshelves, and it seemed that our Puebla antique would be ideal for the office. The bookcase, which measures about 9x11feet is quite large for most American homes, but the third floor office had space to spare, both height and width wise.

The bookcase arrived with the international movers, in May of 2011. It was one of the last pieces to come off the at the back of the truck. They removed the two carefully packed, bulky halves from the container and asked me to direct them to where this piece of furniture would go. When I replied the third floor, the all shook their heads to the contrary. The foreman explained that what should have been plainly obvious to me from the start. "There was no way, this bookshelf would clear the staircase", he said." He then continued: "Even if it cleared the stairs, it would never clear the two corners in it's path to the office".

The staircase leading to my office and a view
of the narrow hall and corner the
 bookshelf had to clear.
(Click to enlarge)

The stairs! I had forgotten about the stairs. I was so excited that the office ceiling was heigh enough for this enormous piece, that I didn't take into account the narrow stairs. The movers  who detected my distressed, questioned if the bookcase would come further apart, which I confirmed it would not. They even suggested bringing it through the window, but when we looked at the tiny dormer windows, this creative possibility was immediately nixed. Disappointed, we made a quick executive decision and left the two large parts of the bookshelf, packed and stacked against the back of our new garage.

Once we settled into our new home, we debated what to do with the Tienda. Maneuvering around the gigantic package in the garage was extremely tight and uncomfortable. I called upon a family friend who is very handy and good with carpentry to examine the problem. He took one look at the antique furniture, and highly advised against trying to disassemble it. "The old wood" he explained, "was held together by antique nails.  Don't touch it," he said and suggested  we sell the bookshelf.

The bookshelf did not fit anywhere in our new home. Shipping it back to Mexico was very expensive and out of the question. Sadly, I therefore resolved to part with the bookshelf. I sent an email to all of our family, friends and acquaintances informing them I was looking for a home for this special antique and offered them first dibs and a low price. I posted on facebook and listed it on eBay as well as Craigslist. When that didn't work, I called consignment shops in the area. When they heard the dimensions they all declined the bookshelf, claiming no one wanted such big furniture.

We were stuck!

To be continued.....

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday's Faces From The Past: Sarah and David Appell

Friday's Faces from the Past: Today's faces from the past are not relatives but two people who crossed paths with my now notorious ancestor Max Crane, Mr. and Mrs. David A. Appell.  I found this article, thanks to Thomas Sewell an Ancestry.Com member and descendant of the Appell's, who has generously agreed to let me share this article with my readers.

The story of Max's employers, sheds some light onto his early years as a grocery clerk. In 1909, the year he was beaten by Waskowitz, a former employer, he was employed at Appell's New Britain store.

Couple Observing Wedding Today


Mr. and Mrs. David A. Appell Were Married In Colchester In 1892

Mr. and Mrs David A. Appel of 227 Main Street are quietly observing their 50th wedding anniversary today at their home. Sunday the immediate family will gather for an anniversary dinner.

The couple were married August 22nd, 1892, in Colchester where they both were employed in a bootmaking factory. Mrs. Appel is the former Sarah R. Appelbaum and was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1872. Mr. Appell was born in Rostov, Russia in 1870. Both came to this country in 1890 and first settled in Colchester, becoming citizens in 1895. Shortly after their marriage they were partners in various business enterprises, chiefly the merchandising of food products. In 1895 they settled in New Britain where they were proprietors of a meat and grocery business for approximately 20 years.

In 1915 they came to Bristol where they have lived since. Their first grocery and meat establishment, The Bristol Public Market, was located on the site of the present Glynn Shoe Store on North Main Street. A second store carrying the same food products was soon afterwards located in the Palomba block on lower Main Street. Twenty Six years ago the two stores were combined and moved to the present location.

Mr. Appell in later years did all possible to promote and advance the idea of a super-market. Mrs Appell during the many years of their business has taken an active part. She was cashier of the present store until her retirement three years ago. Six months ago Mr. Appell retired from active business life.

Both in New Britain and Bristol they have participated in many religious and charitable affairs.

Mr. Appell is a member of Beth Israel Synagogue, the Knights of Khorassan, Bristol Lodge of Elks, No. 1010, B.P. O. E', the Knights of Pythias and the Odd Fellows. Mrs Appell is a member of the Order of Hadassah and the Women's Auxiliary of the Beth Israel Synagogue.

Traveling, fishing and sport life in general have always interested Mr. Appell. Mrs. Appell takes keen interest in flowers and traveling.

They have four children: Paul H. Appell, Morris Appell, Mrs. Lewis H. Opolinsky, and all of this city, and Mrs. Harr I. Rifchin of Boston, Mass. There are seven grandchildren.

It sounds like, the Appells were completely different kinds of employers than Waskowitz was. While Waskowitz was in the papers repeatedly for shading dealings, the Applells were upstanding citizens. Their grocery store was a much larger operation than Waskowitz's. The couple owned two stores, one on West Main, the second, where Max worked, on Myrtle Street.  Their business must have been more successful  as they could afford to take out an advertisement they placed in the city directory. This ad even suggests that they were possibly wholesalers as well, since they were "dealing" with meats and groceries. U.S. City Directories,
New Britain City Directory 1909 p. 116
.Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. U.S. City Directories, New Britain City Directory, 1909 p. 37
Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

The fact that Sarah Applebaum was involved from the business from the outset, is remarkable. I'd like to think that she kept a mother's eye on the young Max and may have helped him recover after the beating. After all, Max was not only working at the 459 Myrtle Street store, he was also living there! U.S. City Directories,
New Britain City Directory, 1909 p. 288
Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
I hope, you enjoyed the latest installment of the Max Crane story! Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Living History- Boston Strong

I am back and I do apologize for the long silence. As you all know, the city of Boston and it's surroundings were under attack.My family and friends were all safe, but this horrendous tragedy touched us in so many ways and brushed our lives very closely. It was difficult for me emotionally to tend to my two blogs and write about family history. Instead, I allowed myself to live through a period which changed the course of history in America. Now that I have taken this pause, and life has returned back to normal, I am ready to return to my blog and my readers whom I have dearly missed.

In researching family history we often turn to the events of history and study how they affected the lives of our ancestors. For example: on July 28th, 1914, my great-uncle Bernard, found himself in the mid-atlantic, as the Austrian-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia and WWI broke out. The President Lincoln, the German passenger boat was declared an enemy vessel and seized at Ellis Island. The crew was detained, but luckily for the seventeen year-old Bernard, the passengers were allowed to disembark. (Click here to read more about the President Lincoln) It is rare that we notice when we ourselves brush with history immediately, but living weight of the Boston Marathon bombings did impact in an instantaneous and powerful way. If four or five generations from now, my descendants will wonder how might this event, affected our family's life, they will be able to turn to this blog post and find out.
The President Lincoln

How will this terrorist act change my life in the long run is too early to tell. Will I run the marathon next year? I doubt it. I'm am not a runner tough, like many of my friends, I am thinking about it. Will it be a major turning point in my life? I don't know. In a few years, together with the rest of the country, I will reflect back onto the impact. Today, I can only share my personal perspective in an attempt to make sense of this inexplicable tragedy.

Like other incidents of terror, around the globe, the boston bombings shook our sense of security and instilled fear. Having grown up in Israel, I had much experience with terror and have learned to compartmentalize the fear. When people asked me how you can live in Israel with so much insecurity, I tell them that Israelis always remind themselves that it is much more dangerous to get into one's own car every day, but we do so, almost without a second thoughts. Once chances of dying in a car crash in a lifetime, is much higher than dying from a terrorist attack, even in a place like Israel. But, the explosions on Boylston street, and the "shelter in place" order which followed while the Tsarnaev brothers were being chased, did not make me think of Israel. It made me think of Cuernavaca, Mexico.

As some of you may know, my family and I lived in Cuernavaca for almost thirteen years. We returned to the Boston area, because of the worsening security situation in Mexico. The Drug war, struck Cuernavaca very intensely in December of 2009. My husband and I, were caught in the crossfire, as a now deceased drug lord, was attempting to escape the Mexican army which had him cornered. Not unlike the Tsarnaev brothers, the Narcos (drug lords), were heavily armed. They used machine guns and grenades to try and escape. This incident took place five blocks from our house, and we happened to be driving by.

Many critics of the police response to the terrorist attack here in Boston, claimed that it was over kill. The entire cities of Boston, Watertown and their surroundings were in a type of lockdown. Nine thousand agents were involved in catching one nineteen year-old kid. Swat teams entered all the homes in a twenty block radios. People are worried about America become a police state. They are worried about losing their freedoms and their rights.

From my perspective, I feel blessed to be living in America. In Mexico, one of the biggest drug dealers  (describe by CNN not as a big fish, but as one of the world's 50 whales) was being pursued by the Mexican army. He was not alone. He was armed and had the support of one of the best equipped "private armies" of drug dealers supporting him. The after a five day pursuit  the army surrounded him in a residential neighborhood. Those who lived in the building, were taken into lockdown, but the rest of the neighborhood, had no idea this operation was taking place. Four hours later, there  was no emergency response system, no streets were blocked and no cars turned away. There was an army presence and tanks guarding the city, but neither the governor of Morelos nor the President of the country, communicated with the public. Our lives were put in danger, because of incompetence. We were not informed, not warned of known dangers and not protected.

As scary as the Marathon Bombings experience was, the response, from first responders to last, was unbelievable! The coordination of the different agency, the organization on all levels, the cooperation between civilians, businesses and law enforcement, the medical personnel! All of it was unprecedented, first rate and exceptional! Even at the worst moments, the authorities took the time to inform the public! I felt safe and protected! Precautions were taken, lives were saved and Boston is stronger than ever!

See you on the next post, which will be about genealogy!