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  • Mar8

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    Family Resemblance - BabushkasBoy, when I started researching my family history I didn’t think I’d see such a strong family resemblance so far back in time.

    Can you say babushka? Sure you can.

  • Feb5

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    Horse Drawn Carriage Driver's LicenseAt right is my grandfather Joseph Vanac’s NYPD “Traffic Warning Card” for a a “Horse Drawn” vehicle, circa 1922.

    I am happy to report that Grandpa had a clean driving record. Not sure how clean the horse was on the streets, though.

    Calvary Cemetery, Queens, NY
    In the 1920 census he lived near the Queens cemeteries where he worked as a stone mason. His entire enumeration district contained only two pages – probably hundreds of times more people buried in that area at the time than lived there. Also: horses.

    (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.)

  • Oct12

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    My Mother in Traditional Czech outfitMy grandparents emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the early 1900s, met and lived up on the west side of Manhattan when they had my mother. That community had a very strong Czech component, as did some parts of Queens they later moved to.

    John Klecka in Traditional Czech outfitMy mother grew up learning both Czech and English, attended Sokol gymnastics and other social events at the Bohemian Hall in Astoria.

    My Mother and Great Uncle John Klecka in Traditional Czech outfitHere are a few photos of my Mom in her traditional outfits, along with her maternal Great Uncle John Klecka.

    (Good job fitting into that same outfit when posing with my Mom so many years later, Uncle John!)

    We still have my Mom’s flowery outfit saved in my Babi’s steamer trunk, although we are hesitant to take it out after having been folded in place for so many decades.

  • Sep20

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    When I was eleven,
    eleven days before my father’s birthday,
    as I tiptoed up the creaking stairs at bedtime
    he called me from his bed.

    My boyish perspective of him
    was as a somewhat mysterious being
    who had existed full grown, free range and in power
    forever.
    Mike Tierney, Baseball Uniform
    Although I had seen our family photographs
    I didn’t really link the baby in them
    nor the yard full of dirt and gardens
    and odd bits of wood lying about
    to him.

    From these photographs I did understand
    he was in the Navy during the war
    but didn’t see any of the fighting
    (which I, of course, attributed to an imaginary
    undercover spycraft they needed him for)
    and that he and my mother met at work
    and went to the beach together.
    Dad, Navy
    I also suspected that quite a bit seemed to have happened
    in the several years before I was around
    while my brother and sisters were,
    thanks to the projector and slides
    that smelled of electricity and dust
    he took out at intervals and the mote-filled light
    he pointed at the wood panel walls.

    I can recall his taking me to work in Manhattan
    down through dark and dingy subways and streets,
    printing out pictures of Snoopy for me
    made up of the alphabet in unlikely formations
    by machines of great size and noise
    using paper with alternating bars of white and green.
    Dad & Buddies, Central Park
    And our trip to the Museum of Natural History
    early one Sunday morning, so early the museum was far from open.
    He talked a man cleaning out a side street bar
    into giving us two short bottles of White Rock cola
    which we carried back to the museum steps
    and sat drinking, sweet and warm,
    while he pointed out places in the park he used to play
    and the architecture of buildings that stood coldly around us.

    On this eleventh day before my birthday,
    I can see my father sitting upstate in an Adirondack chair
    a blanket covering his legs and keeping him warm
    in stuffy summer air
    with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in his lap.

    I can remember walking from the bedroom steps
    to him after his call
    and his blue, blue eyes looking at mine.

    I can feel his thin arm reaching around my shoulder,
    his kiss on my head,
    his “Goodnight, Johnny”
    and his hug longer than expected.

    I can look back over my shoulder
    his eyes still on mine
    while I climbed the stairs to bed

    just before cancer won the day.

    Tonight,
    On this eleventh day before my birthday,
    the same birthday my father was approaching when I was eleven,
    as I climb the creaking steps
    to my own children’s bedrooms
    I will think of his kiss
    and I will kiss their clear, sweet faces
    as they sleep.


    Upstate, 1974 Upstate, 2012

  • Jul3

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    While resurrecting my family photo scanning project again (now aka PROJECT LAZARUS) I stumbled upon one of my very favorite family photos: my 15 year old grandfather Josef Vanac and his sister Marie all dressed up for a photo in New York city.
    Joseph Vanac and sister Marie, New York, circa 1906I love this photo not only because we have no other photos of my grandfather and great-aunt at this time, but because he is right off the boat from the Czechoslovakia. (Around this time known as Bohemia, Austria Hungary, and/or Galicia depending on the record and they area people came from.)

    Marie had been in New York since she arrived in 1902 at the age of 16. The contact listed on her ship record was a cousin (actually listed as a sister, oddly) who had been here for many years.

    My grandfather came over in 1907 when he was 15 years old, and his ship record has Marie as his contact.

    I’ve included detail of his immigration record below.

    The Vanac family came from a rural farming background in the town of Zamlyni in Czechoslovakia and my grandfather was a stone mason at a monument company in the middle of the cemeteries of Queens for his entire career. I would love to know what my Grandpa was thinking at this point in time.

    In any case, they look terrific, and serious and at the beginning of their adult lives in a new country. And Aunt Marie looks especially beautiful.

    Joseph Vanac ship immigration record, 1907