Grandma's picture

Grandma's picture
Grandma's Passport photo

Sunday, October 26, 2014

10 - Minna's Letter - 6 May 1936

Click here to read story from beginning

Story so far: Grandma Cecile has begun planning her trip to visit her relatives back in her home village of Nieder-Mohrau, Czechoslavkia. She has been making arrangements for her travel, including checking on visa requirements.

Probably in the middle of May, an ominously black-edged envelope arrives from Europe. Written in early May, it is from Hermine (Schiebel) Bernt, who was so overjoyed in her earlier letter to think that her sister Cecile might be visiting soon. 

Now her letter comes lined in black, indicating a death. Sadly, only 21 days after Hermine wrote the letter at the beginning of this story, one of her children died, 9 year-old Elfrieda, known as "Fritzi". Once Hermine gets past the sad news she goes on to more family news and thoughts of arrangements for Grandma Cecile's coming visit.

Here is the new letter:
front of the envelope, stamp removed long ago

Front of black bordered envelope:

Mister Alois Beitel 
Stayton, Oregon
North America, USA

back of black bordered envelope:
back of the envelope
Sender: Hermine Berndt, Nieder Mohrau 85 
Post Office Klein Mohrau near Freudenthal
CSR Silesia (CSR means Czechoslovak Republic)

"Nieder Mohrau, May 6, 1936

Dear sister and family !

[Page 1] I received your dear letter yesterday and will answer it right away. I have to admit that I have waited for your letter for quite a while and was tempted all the while to write to you. Now I will give you
Page 1 of the letter
first of all the sad news of our family. One of our children has died and specifically our nine-year old Fritzi[1]

on Jan. 31. Now she is resting in the cool earth already for 3 months. The memory of these difficult days makes me shudder and I have wept many bitter tears over this child that I cannot even tell you. She died as the result of a brain … 
[Page 2] … inflammation[2] and was sick for 14 days. We tried everything to save her but it was useless. She was a very happy girl and always ready for some pranks and everybody liked her. She was never sick until this illness came along which caused her death. A few days before her illness I wrote a letter to you.[3] She had a very nice funeral, the whole village participated and not a single eye remained dry when her teacher gave the funeral eulogy. Everything of these happenings will have to wait for a personal dialog which I certainly hope for.
So,you are definitely planning to attempt this big trip and I hope that you come to us without any mishaps. And Alois does not want to accompany you[4] and you already …..

[Page 3] …..have such big boys[5] and thus it is not absolutely necessary that you remain at home, but we would certainly be very happy if he could come along. I was just in the garden as the older ones came home from school and I received the letter from the mailman. Anna came by immediately and said, quick, quick, here is a letter from Stayton, Oregon. The children are also looking forward but are sad that you are not bringing Betti along. Well, if one could know that she could find relief[6] here one might say, just bring her along. Our doctors here are also very competent and one can be only astounded what healing they accomplish. And regarding the teeth[7], don’t worry, you can get that fixed here also within less than 3 days.

[Page 4] When I was in the hospital last year I had the best opportunity and I had all my teeth pulled and I was very happy when the last one was gone. And now in March
Page 4 of the letter - postscript on the left side
I got my new dentures and they fit very well[8]. One feels completely different now and does not get any toothache anymore. So when you are ready to come you will notify us again, we have bus connections from Roemerstadt and Freudenthal, three times a day from Freudenthal, at 6 in the morning, 11 mid-morning, and at 5 in the afternoon, from Roemerstadt 1 ½ hours later. If you would really come then this year with both sorrows and joy would be complete for me. This afternoon I will go to the cemetery to plant some flowers. Then I am notifying Gusti and Johann will also come pretty soon. Have my best greetings from all of us who are looking forward to a reunion.
Sister Minnie[9]"

"The bus stops in our immediate vicinity."[this postscript is written on the left margin of the last page]
[1] - "Fritzi" apparently was a nickname for Elfrieda
[2] - Al, who translated the letter, thought perhaps this was meningitis.
[3] - The letter that begins this story
[4] - Apparently Grandpa did not want to go, this will come up again
[5] - John was 30, Tony was 27, Gus was 25 and FB was 22, all adults
[6] - Aunt Betty (Beitel) Silbernagel had a weak leg as a child and wore a leg brace that was still in the storeroom of the old farmhouse when I lived there. The cause of her disability was thought to have been polio although it was never officially diagnosed. She eventually healed from what ever it was.
[7] - We learned from Sr Agnes' note that Grandma already had her teeth removed before she got this letter, Hermine did not yet know
[8] - Poor Hermine, she had to wait from summer until the next March before she got new teeth!
[9] - Hermine is also like Grandma and has more than one nickname. So far we have seen Minna & Minnie, and our family always called her "Mina"

A few other observations of this letter from my friend Al Haunold who translated the handwriting: It is written in old German Gothic script, with excellent  grammar and spelling. He found it easy to read. Al also commented that the black edges on envelopes and death notice are still in common practice. When he was a youngster in Austria, those black edges could be even wider, up to an inch all the way around. These are only 3/8", so you can imagine how foreboding an inch of black ink would appear!

Story to be continued...... 
To read Post "11 -  Treasury Department - 16 May 1936" click here

Monday, October 20, 2014

9 - What's in a Name?

This week I got an email from one of my cousins, asking why I was calling Grandma "Cecile". He always thought her name was "Cecilia".

An interesting question. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be worth an explanation in this story. Here are my thoughts.

Names are interesting, they are given to us, we don't have much choice in the matter. Occasionally people decide for various reasons to have them legally changed to something else. Sometimes either people just decide they want to be called something else or sometimes it just evolves - to a nickname. Nicknames can be a variation of the original name (Ronald, Ronnie, Ron), something that a person is known for (Squeak, High Pockets, Shorty, Red) or just a name that comes from who knows where (Bud, Bubba, Dutch, you name it). Some people prefer their middle name and switch to using it.

Then there are spelling and pronunciation issues. How is a name properly spelled? When I was in grade school, it seemed like each name had a proper spelling and that was it. Anything else was a misspelling. I suppose there have always been exceptions. Today some names are spelled the way they sound, or seem to the more "old-fashioned" among us - including myself! - as truly made-up and who knows how they should be pronounced! Of course, there are also language factors - how is a name spelled in a different language?

All of these nuances can be real pain when one is doing family history work. Trying to find names in records when they could be spelled wrong, or changed for almost as many reasons as there are applications makes for an interesting search at times!

So what do I know about Grandma's name? The oldest record I have of her name is on her school report card for the year 1890-91. 
Grandma's report card
It is written as Schiebel Cazilia. On the document where she immigrated to the USA at Ellis Island in 1901, she is entered as Cecilie Schiebel.  On her marriage certificate it is spelled Caecilia Schiebel. Early postcards to her were addressed to Cazilia, Cacelia, Cilly, Cilli, Zilly, Zazelia, you get the idea. Her brothers and sisters seemed to call her Zilly a lot of the time. She signs some of her cards and letters as "Z", which I think is pretty cool. I like the letter "z". I have it in my name and it is not that common in names. Maybe that's why I like it.
Grandma's name in 1901 ship register

Most important here is the spelling and her signature on her passport. If you've recently used a passport, you know how important name spelling is. Everything needs to match exactly or you could find yourself in trouble. On her passport, it is printed and signed as Cecile Beitel. How did she pronounce it when she was signing it? It could be "Seh seel", like Lucille. It might be "Seh seel ee". The latter would be my guess.

However it got that way on her passport, that's the way it officially was for this trip, so that's the way I will spell it for this story. What do I think it "officially" was? I would say it was Cecilia, in English. At least that's my guess!

Don't forget, if you want to see the inserts closer, just click on either of them.

Story to be continued......
To read Post "10 -  Minna's Letter - 6 May 1936" click here