Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gil's Baby Book

We never knew our grandmother, Mary (Fitzgerald) Merrill. She was one of the victims in Portsmouth, New Hampshire of the Spanish Influenza of 1918, dying while her own children were still young. She left behind no surviving letters, at least none that I have discovered. My Dad's baby book provides the only record I have of her written words and handwriting.

At the request of my cousin, Donna, I am posting Gil's Baby Book today.

© 2015, Cathy H Paris

Friday, April 24, 2015

Frederic Merrill's Letter to Ma, 1937

Pup on the steps of 2047 East 54th St., Brooklyn
Have you found any letters written by your parents or grandparents or even by your more distant ancestors? My forebears either were not letter-writers or their letters have been lost or destroyed. Amongst my family artifacts, I have only one letter, a letter written by my grandfather to his mother in 1937.

I had forgotten that I had this letter. It was sent to me by a cousin several years ago, at a time when I was busy caring for my mother or otherwise focused on enjoying our newly arrived grandchildren. The note from my cousin, with the letter, got put into a stack to deal with later. And later finally came.

The past few days, I have been going through piles of miscellaneous photos and other papers, scanning them and filing them in the applicable photo album or family history binder.

Today, I rediscovered the letter For his several hundred descendants, here it is:

© 2015, Cathy H Paris

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Erasmus Hall High School's Class of June 1931

Erasmus Hall High School's Class of June 1931, Brooklyn, NY
As I approach 70, I feel compelled to accelerate the process of digitizing family photos and home movies. To this end, yesterday, I dropped at Costco several reels of 8mm film, quite a few video cassettes, and almost 200 slides for digitization. This afternoon, I opened a box with rolls of oversized photographs. I checked the pricing online, and discovered it would cost me $15-$60 per photograph to have them scanned by a service. Then I remembered my Flip Pal Scanner. Using the Flip Pal, I scanned roughly a dozen 3"x 5" inch overlapping sections of the largest photograph. The original photograph is about 7.5" x 40". I stitched the dozen scans together using the software provided with the scanner. The result is shown above.

I only wish that the Flip Pal scanned at a higher resolution than 600 dpi. However, I decided to proceed with scanning the rest of my photos at 600 dpi. The ease of us and economic advantages of the Flip Pal make it more likely that I will finish my digitization projects than if I use a scanner that produces images of a higher resolution.

The back of the photograph was signed by a number of the graduates. I also created scanned images of the back and stitched them together too. See below. Visit Steve Morse's website for more information about Erasmus Hall's Class of 1931.

© 2015, Cathy H Paris

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Opening Our Grandmother's Trunk by Pat Aronica

Donna (front, center); Cathy, Leila, Pat Aronica, Mary Heilig,
family friend, Richie (middle row); Gil (back, center). c. 1948
at Uncle Fred and Aunt Betty's place in Bergen Beach, NY.
I can’t remember the year, or exactly how old I was. 

Mary (Hanna) Heilig and I had convinced Aunt Dot to let us look inside the trunk which contained our grandmother’s belongings.

Trunk shown in the Spring edition of Sear's 1906 catalog.
[Our grandmother, Mary Elizabeth [Fitzgerald] Merrill  had died of the Spanish Influenza when our parents were still young children. Her husband survived another forty-seven years, forty-seven years in which he never ceased to mourn his loss.]

I can tell you that we were sworn to secrecy. We were never ever to tell “Pup” that Aunt Dot let us look inside the trunk.  The look of shear terror on Aunt Dot’s face was enough to let us know not to breathe a word to anyone.

Dorothy aka Aunt Dot (top), Mary
[aka Lib & Pat's mother-to-be],
Gil, and Pup c. 1915 on the stoop
in Portsmouth, NH
[Pup was the name given to our grandfather when he was still a young husband and father. The name "Pup" was bestowed on him by his youngest daughter who had sat on the front porch, day after day, heralding his arrival for dinner. “Pop is home for supper.” Many times later, the call became: “Pop is home for sup…” And then: “Pop … sup.” Finally, my mother’s announcement of her father’s arrival to dinner was shortening to its final form, the name that we all came to call him: “Pup.”]

Actually there were two trunks, but we were interested in the one that contained Mary Elizabeth’s clothing.  There were high buttoned shoes, one pair obviously newer then the other.  They were still buttoned up to about where she could slip in and out easily.  A special hook or tool was with the shoes.  There were big hats, fans and gloves.  Every thing was folded and placed very carefully as if it was just packed. 

There was a blouse the color of a pale peach.  It had pin tucks all along the bodice.  These were ironed and still in place.  The sleeves were long and the neck high.  There were tiny buttons down the front.  The fabric seemed to be cotton, but almost sheer.  I do remember my mother telling us that she made most of her clothes, and she had a very strict schedule for days she did laundry, ironing and sewing.  I can just imagine the time it would take to get those pin tucks ironed just so.

I seem to recall a skirt or two, either dark blue or black.  There was some underwear, scarves, hankies … I don’t recall any beads or jewelry. 

There were aprons and housedresses. But it was that that peach blouse which made the most lasting impression. 

The shoes were fun. I tried using the hook to unbutton one of the buttons. My attempt failed. 

My  mother did say that our grandmother used flat irons that were heated on the stove and were rotated as they cooled.  It was especially hard in the summer months.  My mother also said it was their mother that taught Aunt Dot how to sew.  

I asked Mary Heilig to recall her impressions of what we found.  Of course, everything we touched had to be placed right back to where it was.  There was no time to open the other trunk.  I understand it contained books, papers, maybe pictures but my sister Mary said she got to look inside it one day, but doesn’t remember much.

Apparently, after helping Aunt Dot and Uncle Chuck to move, my brother Fred convinced them to get rid of the trunks as they were buggy and falling apart.  It’s too bad as they probably held some important papers, pictures, etc.

 © 2014, Patricia Aronica

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Didn't We Visit?

When I first became hooked on genealogy, I quickly focused on my mother’s side of the family.  Mom's grandparents must have been an integral part of the first couple of years of my life.

My brother and I about 1947 on East 35th St.
near Flatbush Ave.
I remember walking from our apartment on Flatbush Avenue to their home on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was a perfect summer day, and I was feeling very happy. I was walking with my mother and brother. I remember I was wearing one of my prettier dresses and my perfect, white, Buster Brown shoes. We were passing a neighborhood park with a wrought iron fence. I forgot to watch my steps, and I smelled my mistake. I had stepped in dog poop, and my little white shoes were no longer perfect. I looked up at Mom, and I could tell she was very annoyed. I began to cry. This was not my first misadventure with dog poop. I had been repeatedly cautioned to watch my steps, but continued to get lost in the world around me or in my personal imaginings. And so I had erred again.  

And whether or not it was this day or another, I can’t quite recollect, we reached a familiar house, climbed a few steps, and Mom knocked on the door. It was opened by a woman who filled the entrance way, and she embraced each of us, smothering us with hugs and kisses. She was my Great Aunt Marie. I remember my brother trying to squeeze between Aunt Marie and the door jam, trying in vain to escape untouched past Aunt Marie’s welcoming and overpowering embraces.

Once inside, all was somber. And it was made clear that we were not to make any noise. I remember being ushered into a room with a huge bed, standing so close to it, and my eyes just reaching the top of the mattress. A very old person was propped up on pillows.  It seemed like I stood there for a long time. Eventually, we were ushered from the room, and …

That is all I can remember.

Maria Augusta (Schulze) Bals
The very old person must have been my great grandmother, Auguste (Schulze) Bals, who died not many days after my second birthday.

After that day in 1947, I don’t remember ever entering that house again, although I may have and just don’t remember. My great grandfather lived six years thereafter, and I don’t remember ever visiting him. I have wondered why I have no more memories of visiting my great-grandfather, Conrad Bals, after I was two years old. He was alive until I was 7 1/2 years old. 

I asked my mother: "Why didn't we visit your grandfather?" She always side-stepped giving an answer. Now, I will never know why. 

As the years passed, I heard mention of Aunt Marie, Uncle George and Aunt Gert, Aunt Lil, Aunt Anna, Aunt Gus and Uncle Charlie, Uncle Joe and Aunt Grace, and Uncle Pete and Aunt May. These were my Mom's aunts and uncles on the Bal's side of the family. But they were just ephemeral names in conversations around me, and never entered my life, that is, until I got the genealogy bug. And then I was driven to learn more about the BALS branch of my family. 

More to follow ... in future postings.

 © 2014, Cathy H Paris

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Jim and Fran with their first child, Jimmy (1951).
Jimmy was my parents's first grandchild. 
My brother, Jim, and his wife, Fran, got married and had their first child, Jimmy, when I was ten or eleven years old. I was delighted to have a child in the family who I could watch. Eighteen months later, Karen was born. Fran had to be hospitalized after only three days. The children were left with my mother until Fran was better and able to care for them. I can remember running home from school so I would get there in time to feed the baby. She was the color of peaches and cream. Just beautiful. Anna and Billy’s daughter was born a few weeks before Karen, but I didn’t get to see her very often. Anna’s mother watched her while Anna was at work.  Billy was still in the service and stationed in Germany.

Dotsy and Lou weren’t married quite a year when they had their first baby, Johnny. On their first anniversary, Dotsy and Lou went away for the weekend. They left Johnny with me (and of course, with Mom too.) I remember taking Johnny to Sunday Mass and holding him in my arms as if he belonged to me.

As time went by, there were many babies. For some reason, I thought that they should all belong to me. Could that be why I had ten of my own?


© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Me, Mary (my cousin), and Freddy c. 1944.
I guess it is time to mention education. I started elementary school when I was four, and apparently I was not mature enough to leave my mother. On the second or third day of school, it rained. According to tradition at P.S. 137, the children were to line-up in the basement of the school. The basement was more like a cellar, and very scary place. At least, I thought so. I objected to lining-up as I was told. Push came to shove, and I kicked the teacher. My sister, Mary, was summoned to the scene. Very embarrassed, she took me home. Boy, did I get it from my mother for embarrassing Mary.

The following September, I started school again at P.S. 137, and I still didn’t do well. The result was that I was enrolled in St. Benedict’s school located at Fulton St. and Ralph Ave. The good sisters did their best, and I did graduate with a Regents diploma in 1959. Although I went to high school on a scholarship, I told Sr. Thomas Angela, I wanted to become a Nun. I said that I would have to enter the convent as a domestic since I was not smart enough to teach. She agreed with me. I never did become a Nun. I became a wife and mother instead.

© 2013, Patricia Aronica