Welcome to my genealogy blog. Ancestors I Wish I Knew is a combination of genealogical information and stories about individuals in my family tree. The focus is on those from my Cochrane, Eitelbach, Merrett, Minarcik and Richards lines and their descendants.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#89--Gertrude Richards Would Like Your Autograph

When I was cleaning out my parents’ house, in a drawer wrapped in cloth and tied with pink ribbon, I found three old books—one of those books was Gertrude Richards, my grandmother’s, autograph book from the 1880’s. After looking though the book, I decided that I need to do a little research on autograph books in general.  I found that they were common in the 1700’s in Europe among students to collect signatures and information about their friends and teachers.  Autograph books were introduced in the United States in the 1800's by immigrants and became particularly popular during and after the Civil War. The owners of the book gave them to their friends, relatives and schoolmates, who in turn might only sign their name, write a poem, or draw a picture.

I went back then and looked more closely at Granny’s book.  The first thing I discovered was that it was given to her by her Aunt Emily for Christmas in 1884.  I also found that the contents of the book were pretty typical of what I had read about.  There were several pages of drawing—a girl by a fence, a fan with the message to stay cool, and this my favorite—a dog and cat.  You can see that it was drawn in 1885 by Florence Marvin.

There were also pages that came with pictures already on them.  Granny’s cousin, Walter, signed this one.  By the way, he was the only male to sign the autograph book.

I am not sure that Agnes Nightingale picked this page because of the bird on it or not, but I thought it was a rather appropriate choice.

There were many poems—which in my research I discovered were available from books, magazines, etc.  Here are two.

Other people just signed their names with the date.

As I looked through the pages, I found two pages signed by women who I knew.  They were my Granny's friends her entire life.  In fact, I can remember visiting both of them, when I was a little girl. Lillie wrote a very brief poem,  

while her sister, Floyd, signed one of the pages with a picture on it.

While I never really thought about autograph books as a source of information for genealogy, this one definitely was.  First, I found that Granny's friends and family called her Gertie.  There were several pages where the person not only signed her name and the date, but also the place.  From that information, I was able to begin to pinpoint when Granny went to Packer. It was also possible to learn relationships.  Katherine Mallory indicated she was her "devoted cousin" and the giver of the book was Gertrude Richards's aunt,  Emily Cochrane.  I also was pleased to be able to see their handwriting and signatures.  

Of course, I would have a lot of questions for Granny.  Starting with who were all these girls, how did she know them, what did they do together and did she also sign their autograph books?  I think I might also ask her why Walter Cochrane was the only boy who signed.  Was that because she was going to an all girls school?  Was it just not something you asked boys to do?  

If you are wondering what happened to autograph books, they were replaced by school yearbooks. Remember signing the yearbooks of your friends?  I do.  That reminds me, maybe I should get them out and read what my friends and teachers wrote.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#88--Eva Cochrane Goes to School in the 1860's

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about my grandmother, Gertrude Richards, and her experiences as a student at Packer Collegiate Institute in the late 1880’s.  When I finished reading the catalogs that covered her years at Packer, I had a little more time left at the Brooklyn Historic Society.  My cousin, Mary, had told me that she thought that one of Granny Hannah’s aunt may also have gone to Packer.  Packer officially opened in 1854, after the Brooklyn Female Academy was destroyed in a fire. From looking at her aunts in my tree, I thought that  Evalina Blanche Cochrane would be the most likely one.  She was born in 1853, probably in Rochester, New York.  By 1855 her father, William Cochrane, had moved his family to Brooklyn, New York.  So it was entirely possible that my great Aunt Eva was a student at Packer.

To try and find her, I used the same technique that I used to find my grandmother.  Fortunately, those early catalog listed all the students as well as the teachers and Board of Trustees.  So I was able to look at each catalog to see if she was listed as a student.  I was so excited to find her in the 1864, 1865, and 1866 catalogs.  As luck would have it, I ran out of time so I am not sure how long Aunt Eva remained at Packer. 

The catalogs provided a very complete description of the school and the education that the students received.  The structure was simpler than it was in the 1890’s when Gertrude Richards was there. .The school was divided into three departments:  Collegiate, Academic, and Preparatory.  At that time, there was no Primary Department.  The Academic Department was further split into three divisions:  first, second, and third, while the Collegiate Department had two:  Junior and Senior.  The students were not listed by department except in 1886, when Eva was in the Preparatory Department.  However, given her age of about 10 to 12, my best guess is that for all the years that I could locate Eva she was in the Preparatory Department.  So I decided to look more closely at what the Preparatory Department was like.  The catalog described that department like this:

To me, the curriculum looked pretty much what you would expect for what we now would call an elementary school child—reading, spelling, arithmetic, history, etc.   I was interested in their listing the books that were used so I decided to see if I could find them on the internet.  I was able to find all of them and they were fascinating.  Cornell’sPrimary Geography and Cornell’s Intermediate Geography, turned out to be the first two of a series of three geography books.  If you look at them, you will see that they are arranged primarily into a question and answer format and also indicates what the teacher could or should say.   Stoddard’s Mental Arithmetic has some suggestions for teachers.  I was really surprised to read that questions should be asked promiscuously!  The least common definitions for that word is irregularly—which makes a lot more sense that the current more common definition.  Perhaps the most interesting was Peterson’s Familiar Science, which was written to explain science in everyday life.  If you have a minute, you may want to look at the science experiments at the end of the book—some reminded me of the science fairs of today.

I would so like to talk to Aunt Eva, and ask her about being a Packer student.  It would be nice to know how long she went there, what the building was like inside, what she thought of her studies, . what she and her friends did during their free time at school, and whether any of her sisters also went to Packer?  Since she attended school during the Civil War, I also would like to know whether or not, that affected her experiences.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

#87--Traveling with Chester Ingersol Richards

I have blogged before (#14--Mail for you--Chester Richards) about my collection of old postcards.  Some of them are over 100 years old, they have been sent to my great grandmother, grandmother, parents, and me.  Others have been purchased; before the days of digital photography, you were never knew whether or not the pictures you took would come out.  So those postcards were a backup to the photographs. 

Since it is summer and people are traveling, I thought I would blog again about some of my old postcards.  I never realized the amount of  genealogical information that you could get from a
postcard.  Not only do you know when and where the sender was and what the sender was doing, you also learn where the receiver lived and perhaps their relationship to the sender.  If you have those cards over time, you may be able to see when and where the receiver moved. 

My great uncle Chester (Chet)  Ingersol Richards was a great traveler and sender of postcards.  I have cards that he to his mother, Mary Jane Cochrane Richards, his brother, William F. Richards,his sister, Gertrude Richards Hannah and other relatives.   From city directories I knew where they lived, but the postcards gave me additional information.  For example I found that in 1905 Mary Jane Richards was visiting her daughter, Gertrude, in Auburn, because the card was sent to Gertrude’s husband’s office.  Chet and his brother, Will, were business partners.  I learned the address of that business because he always wrote his brother at their business address— 59-61 Reade Street, NYC.

Unfortunately, Chet was not a great correspondent.  All of the postcards below have pretty much the same message.  "Leave tomorrow....Much love, Chet."

This card he sent to his aunt, Emily Cochrane in March of 1908

This one from Constantinople was sent to his sister, Gertrude Richards Hannah in 1909.

His brother, William Fisher Richards received this card from Switzerland.  Unfortunately the date is not readable.  

Now I love to travel so I would really like to have a long conversation with Uncle Chet.  I would want to know where his favorite places were, what he liked to do on his travels, what steamships he took, and what advice he would give me about traveling.  I would also be interested in his reaction to learning that now we can fly to Europe from the United States in less than 7 hours.