This is me (on left) with my brother, Mike (center), and my cousin, Phil. (Don't ask me why he's holding a syrup bottle.) I was about two and a half years old in this picture.
Here we are again, except now I am holding my baby cousin, Steve, and the other two have passed out.
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball."
It's that time of the year again. Major League Baseball's Opening Day is a little over a week away. Managers are determining batting line-ups and pitching rotations. Ground crews are preparing the fields. Concession stands are firing up the ovens and getting the condiments ready. Fans are hopeful.
There are some people who simply live and breathe one particular sport. In our family, it was my Grandpa Kowalski and that sport was baseball. He loved it. He played on various community and city teams when he was young and later, when he wasn't working his day job as a plumber, he "worked" as an umpire for Cleveland's softball leagues. I say "worked" because it was never really work to him; he enjoyed it. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he did it for over 50 years. In 1992, he was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Slo-Pitch Hall of Fame. At the time, he was the organization's oldest active umpire. He even had the opportunity to umpire games in six National Tournaments. Below are a few photos of Grandpa either as a player or umpire.
Grandpa wasn't exactly what you would call a conversationalist. My grandmother passed away when I was a young child and he lived alone. It was often hard to strike up a conversation with him, that is, unless you talked baseball. He was always willing to talk baseball. If you went to visit him between the months of April and October, chances were very good that there'd be a baseball game on his TV screen. It didn't matter which teams were playing; he watched them all. He read the newspaper sports page every day, looked at every game's box score. He knew the players, he knew the managers, he knew the teams.
Grandpa spent his entire life in Cleveland, so, of course, he was a fan of the Cleveland Indians. Not exactly the most successful MLB franchise. (Yes, we KNOW.) But from the mid-90s to the early 2000s, we actually had a competitive team - consistently went to the playoffs and even made two World Series appearances. The team's success came at a good time for Grandpa; umpiring had become too physically taxing on him, so he had to give it up, which I'm sure was a difficult thing for him to do. Even though Grandpa maintained his stoicism about most things, the fact that his team was WINNING made him a little more excited than usual. And I think he was happy to see his city once again come to love baseball.
But there was one player on those great Indians teams that he just did not like. To my family members, he will always be known as Jim 'I'd-trade-him-tomorrow' Thome, because that's exactly what my grandfather would say about him. Didn't matter how many home runs he hit or how many All-Star games in played in, or how immensely popular he was among fans - Grandpa wanted him gone. (To Grandpa's credit, he DID strike out a lot.) Jim Thome left the Indians as a free agent in 2002, which is the same year in which Grandpa passed away. Coincidence?
So, as the quote says above, the one constant in my grandfather's life was baseball. He passed down his love of the game to his children and grandchildren and for that we are grateful.
Most of you who read my blog regularly already know that in my pre-kid days, I worked as a meteorologist. One of my former professors, Dr. John Knox, made the news today for a study of his that was recently published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Using another woman's Facebook page that successfully helped reunite lost objects with their owners, he and his students traced the paths of peoples' personal items as they were picked up and deposited by storms during the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak in Alabama. Some of the recovered items had great amounts of sentimental value to the people who lost them, and, as stated in the article, "Knox said he sought to teach them how to conduct the research in a way that was ethical and sensitive to the victims since the tornadoes destroyed lives and homes."
Ten years ago, I would have found this study interesting mostly for the potential it has to help scientists understand the dynamics of a severe storm system. (Imagine a tornado striking a facility containing toxic or radioactive substances and needing to know where to evacuate and/or warn people who live downstream.) Since "crossing over" into the role of a family historian, I have developed a new appreciation for the destructive potential of Mother Nature. Yes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires cause terrible damage to buildings and infrastructure, but what about the family heirlooms INSIDE those buildings? Photo albums, birth certificates, church sacrament and education records, newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries all help tell the stories of our ancestors and will someday help tell OUR stories. When items such as these are picked up by violent atmospheric winds or damaged beyond repair in a flood or wildfire, they are likely gone forever and so is a part of our families' histories.
Unlike our ancestors, we are fortunate today to have the option of digitization when it comes to photos and any sort of paper-based records. But how many of us actually do it? Not only that, but once the information is scanned onto a computer, how many of us save it in multiple places - on a separate 'cloud' drive or on a CD or external hard drive that is stored at a location AWAY from our place of residence? If you are, like me, into preserving your family's memories, you are probably likely to take these precautions, but the average person usually does not, and when nature strikes, generations of memories may be lost. We also need to continue to support our libraries in their efforts to digitize historical records, because, unfortunately, they suffer from the effects of natural disasters just as much as the rest of society.
(By the way, the image above is the front page of the Chicago Herald Examiner from March 20, 1925. On March 18, 1925, an exceptionally strong and long-lived tornado (or a continuous series of strong tornadoes - it is still debated), completely destroyed several towns in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, killing 695 people and injuring over 2,000. It is known as the Tri-State Tornado and, to this day, remains the deadliest tornado in our nation's history.)
I've talked a lot this week about the Bellan family, the family of my maternal grandfather. I thought I would keep it up by posting a picture of the home they lived in for much of their lives. This is 12212 Parkhill Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio as it looks today, thanks to Google StreetView. It is located on Cleveland's East Side in what is today known as the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood.
Here is a map showing the location (A) of the home in relation to the rest of the East Side and Downtown areas.
According to real estate data, the home was built in 1919. George and Ursula Bellan and family moved into the residence sometime between 1920 and 1922; in the 1920 Census the family is not living there, but their son John's death certificate from July 1922 lists it as his residence. George and Ursula lived there for the rest of their lives. Their children all lived there until they were married or, unfortunately, until they passed away. And it was also the first place that my grandfather and grandmother, Bill and Dina (Licciardi) Bellan, lived after they were married.
It's wonderful that the house itself is still standing and in such good condition. Obviously, a lot about it has been changed and updated cosmetically, but the house appears to have been cared for quite well, which, unfortunately isn't the case with a lot of the old homes in the neighborhoods nearby. By today's standards, it is a modest home - three bedrooms and one bath with 1,160 feet of living space. At the time they moved in, all eight of George and Ursula's children were still living, so it was tight quarters (Their eldest child, Rudy, attended Ohio State for a few years, so, at that time, he was not living here year-round.) John passed away, as mentioned above, in 1922, and Mary and Olga passed away in 1927 and 1928, respectively, both from pulmonary tuberculosis.
I do not have a photo of what the house looked like back then; of course, I wish that I did. But I can picture my grandfather and his siblings sitting out on that nice big porch on hot days, or maybe running up and down the street playing.
Bill Bellan, 1983
Yesterday, I wrote a post about my Great-Grandpa Bellan because it was his birthday. Today, I'm sharing some photos of me with his son, Bill Bellan who was my mom's dad. He would have turned 99 years old today. He was born in Lorain, Ohio, but grew up on the east side of Cleveland, and graduated from East Technical High School in 1933 (see this post), and served in the Army during WWII (see this post). He worked as a printer with Penton Publishing Company for most of his career.
Grandpa Bellan passed away when I was about eleven years old, but I do have a lot of memories about him. He and my grandma watched my brother and I for a couple of years when my mom was working full-time. He would pick us up from school in his maroon Oldsmobile. He had one of those floating compass globes on his dashboard that we thought was so cool. He would bring us back to their house and Grandma would get us some food. We loved playing around by his workbench in the basement. He loved building things out of wood and there were tons of tools to look at. He would occasionally help us hammer nails into scrap pieces of wood. And he had a big metal vise that we used to just turn back and forth, opening and closing, opening and closing...
Grandpa also loved golf and he had one of those putting mats that would shoot the ball back at you if you got it in the hole, which, of course, we thought was the neatest thing ever. He also played darts with us in the basement. Yes, he let a 5 and 6 year old play with real darts. We never got hurt though, so we must have been properly supervised, right? (Guess this is probably not the best time to mention that he also frequently let us play with an old set of lawn darts a.k.a. Jarts.)
Here are some pics of me with Grandpa when I was a baby. I also included one of my brother and me in our sandbox, because Grandpa built it for us.
George Bellan, Sept 1947
On this date in 1873, my great-grandfather, George Bellan, was born in Croatia, then part of Austria-Hungary. All I really know about George is from information I have collected from old documents and newspaper clippings. He passed away when my mom and uncle were young children, so they don't remember him. I never got a chance to ask my grandfather about him (he passed away when I was eleven.).
George Bellan (nee Beljan) is my only great-grandparent for which I have been able to locate a birth and baptism record from the 'Old Country.' About two years ago, I ordered a microfilm from my local LDS Family History Library and spent a couple of hours going through it. I was able to find his record, along with his sister Veronika's birth record (who also came to the U.S.), and a brother named Francis, who, to my knowledge, stayed in Croatia. The records also list the names of their parents, Francis and Rosa Beljan, which I had not known to that point, so it was a big discovery for me. George's birth and baptismal record from Brod Moravice, Croatia is below. It states he was born on March 12, 1873 and baptized on March 14, 1873. Interestingly, his WWI draft card lists his date of birth as March 15, 1873 and his naturalization card lists it as April 15, 1874. I use this church record as his "official" birthday, so I'm happy to have found it.
According to the information he provided to the census taker in 1900, he immigrated to America in 1893, but I have not been able to find his ship manifest to confirm this date. I do have his wife Ursula's ship manifest; she arrived in 1898 and listed George as her contact person. She used his surname on the manifest, but I do not believe that they married until she arrived. She, too, was Croatian and was born in a town relatively close to where he was from but, honestly, they may not have even known each other prior to their 'betrothal.' I still need to search for a Cleveland, Ohio marriage record.
What did George do for a living? Census data in this case is not very descriptive, as his occupation/trade is listed as 'laborer' in the steel mills, which pretty much describes the job of every blue collar worker in Cleveland at that time. City directories have been a big help in providing a little more detail. From 1915-1919, he is listed as a 'molder,' and then in 1921, 1923, and 1934 he is a 'cement finisher.' My favorite record, however, is a directory from 1904, which lists his occupation as simply 'saloon.' Unfortunately, it must not have done very well, because this is the only mention of it. :-(
George and his wife Ursula had eight children, but unfortunately three of them passed away as young adults. George was active in his local Croatian Fraternal Union Lodge, and in 1945 he was honored for being a 50-year member.
George passed away in October of 1954 after living as a widower for eight years. He was 81 years old and is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.
My great-grandparents, Louis and Adele Licciardi with their two daughters, Yola and Dina (my maternal grandmother).
Kindergarten sign-ups have started in my town, which means that I get to register my eldest child sometime within the next few weeks. (Not even sad or sentimental about it; he's ready to go - he NEEDS to go :-) Of course, that means I had to get out his birth certificate. I haven't really looked at it much since his birth (maybe once for t-ball registration?), so I spent some time staring at it. When my kids were born, we lived in northern Kentucky, but both of them were born in Hamilton County, Ohio. (I was very high risk and needed care from specialists at one of the major Cincinnati hospitals.) I looked at the birth certificate through the filter of a genealogist's eyes and thought to myself, "Man, if one of his descendants is ever searching for his birth records, he or she may really have trouble finding them." We never had a residence on the Ohio side of the river, neither me nor my husband ever worked there, and we weren't registered at any churches there. (Of course, I'm *hoping* that all my meticulous genealogy record-keeping will ensure that none of my kids' descendants will ever have to search for this kind of stuff :-)
Once you've been doing family tree research for a little while, you learn to check a neighboring state's records if your ancestors lived and/or worked near the border. But, if you are just beginning your research, you may run up against a bit of a "brick wall" when trying to locate certain records. Soon enough, you realize that finding records "across the border" can be quite common. My husband's maternal grandfather lived in Mercer County, Ohio, which is on the Ohio-Indiana border; however, he passed away in Indiana because that was where the nearest big hospital was located. A ggg-uncle of my husband's was married, worked, and lived in Cincinnati for most of his life, but in his old age he went to live with his son, who lived across the river in Kentucky. He passed away and is buried in Kentucky.
So, if you are ever stuck looking for a particular birth, death, or burial record, AND if the person lived relatively close to another state, check records from that state. You just may find what you are looking for!
Today is the official observance of Casimir Pulaski Day. Casimir Pulaski was a decorated Polish soldier who fought with the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Among his many accomplishments during the war, he played a pivotal role in the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, perhaps saving the life of George Washington in the process. He was an experienced war horseman and is credited with greatly improving American cavalry forces during the war. In October 1779, he was mortally injured during the Siege of Savannah. In 2009, Pulaski was granted an honorary U.S. citizenship, an honor which has been given to only seven people.
Casimir Pulaski Day is a major holiday in places with large Polish-American populations, such as Chicago. I really like this holiday, not only because I'm descended from Polish immigrants, but also because it makes me feel like "my people" were truly a part of America's fight for freedom. (I do not have any genetic ties to patriots who fought in the American Revolution, which I've already discussed here.) Plus, my grandfather's name was Casimer, so the holiday makes me think of him, too. :-)
In the 1830s, a military fort was built at the mouth of the Savannah River on Georgia's Coast. It was named Fort Pulaski in honor of Casimir Pulaski. Today, it is a National Monument and focuses on educating visitors about the Civil War. We visited the fort in 2010, so I thought I would post some photos from our trip. Mr. Bub loved the canons! Little Girl was also there, too, just in my belly! If you are ever in the Savannah area, we highly recommend visiting!
Emily Kowalski Schroeder