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.

Monday, July 30, 2018

#138--Come Join the Circus--James Willey

When I think about people who are colorful, I think of circus performers.  All those brightly colored costumes, the lights, the loud and happy music contribute to the colorfulness of the entire circus.

I was certainly surprised to learn that James Willey, my great great uncle, was involved in the circus.  James was born in in Kankakee Illinois in 1850.  He married Josephine Greenwald.  James and  Josephine had four children:  Harry (1877-1947), James “Perry” (1880-1952), Minnie E. (1887-1950) and Charlotte M. (1889-1949).

In the articles about his life in the circus, you will not find him often listed as James Willey.  He changed his stage name to Signor  Montanio, which  sounds much more exotic.  According to the newspaper articles, James or Sig. Montanio performed as an acrobat, trapeze artist and high wire walker.  And from looking at the newspaper articles, he was very good.

Performing was a family affair.  His wife had a musical act and played the banjo while his two sons also performed, sometimes as clowns and other times as acrobats.  His two daughter, Minnie and Lottie do not seem to have ever performed in the circus.In addition to performing, over the years, James ran several circuses - Montanio's Great New York Show; Montanio's Mexican Show, etc.  From the newspaper articles, it looks like James and his family were involved in the circus world until 1898.

Harry and Perry Montanio

James died on November 8, 1918 in Pinal County, Arizona.  According to the local newspaper, he was camping, became sick and froze to death while returning to town, probably to seek treatment for his illness.

I would love to know about his life in the circus?  Why and how did he become a performer?  What was the favorite act that he performed?  What was it like to travel from town to town?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

# 137 New York, New York

Music, the theme for this week, had me stumped for a long time, until I read Amy Johnson Crow’s suggestion that a song might be appropriate.  That made me think of the lyrics from On the Town,   which begins as follows:

New York, New York
New York, New York
New York, New York
It's a wonderful town!

Evidently many of my ancestors thought that New York was a wonderful town because that is where they settled.

Willett Street
The first to come to New York were my great great grandparents, Joseph Munarzik, his wife Regina Wendel, and his children.  They arrived in New York in 1854.  As far as I can tell, they lived on the lower east side of Manhattan in the 17th District.  Interestingly, Regina Wendel’s parents came on the same ship and also lived on the lower east side.  After Joseph and his wife died, their children lived in the same house as the Wendels, 67 Willett Street, Manhattan,  New York.

Next to arrive from Europe were my great grandparents, Louis and Marie (Huelster) Eitelbach with four of their children.  They came in 1896 and originally lived at 1287 Greene Street, Brooklyn, New York, USA.  By 1912 they had moved to Queens, New York at 141 Napier.  Later on, the family lived in Hempstead and Richmond Hill, both in Queens

I have other ancestors, who originally lived somewhere else, and moved to Brooklyn.  William Cochrane, my great great grandfather, and his wife, Emma Merrett originally came from London, England in about 1835, settled in Buffalo, New York, and then in about 1840 moved to Brooklyn with their five children. They always lived at 124 Fort Greene Place.

Park Slope Brooklyn
The last to arrive in New York was my great great grandfather, Abiathar Richards.  He was born in Dedham, Massachusetts in 1837, lived while a boy with his Aunt Lavinia Richards and her husband, Seth Richards, in Newport, New Hampshire, and by 1860 he had moved to Brookklyn, New York to live with this brother, Abner Richards. In 1866 he married Mary Jane Cochrane, daughter of William Cochrane.  They moved into 124 Fort Greene Place and lived there until Abiathar’s death in 1905.  At that time his wife, Mary Jane, moved in with her daughter Gertrude, and her son-in-law, William D. Hannah.  Gertrude and William D. Hannah met in Auburn, New York while she was visiting her cousin, Lucy Pingree, fell in love, married in 1902 and shortly thereafter moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I would like to be able to ask each of these families why they settled where they did and what their lives were like there.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

#136--Traveling with Cousin Jean

This week’s theme is travel.  I have blogged about Chet Richards’s trips and the postcards , he sent to his family in the early 1900’s.  So when I saw the theme, I immediately thought of my postcards.  When I looked through them, I realized I had a number of them that my mother’s cousin, Jean Roberts had sent to her.

Cousin Jean was born 21 Sep 1906 Kings, New York, USA  Her parents were William Alexander and Christina (Minarcik) Roberts.  For her entire life, she was a Broklynite, until her death in May of 1977.


Cousin Jean loved to travel through New England.  In the Spring, she liked to see the flowers and in the Fall, the leaves turning different colors.  A dedicated “birder,” any time she traveled she looked for birds.  Cousin Jean had a novel way of deciding when to take her trips through New York so she would not miss what she wanted to see.  She worked in Brooklyn in one of the probation offices.  In that office, newly released prisoners needed to check in.  She always asked those coming from upstate New York about the condition of the trees and flowers!

Here are a couple of the postcards, she sent to my mother.

This is one from Bangall, New York:  She wrote:  

"Hi—I lived up to my reputation as being a drought-breaker—much rain and snow flurries predicted for today.  Have been getting good food and rest.  On Wednesday drove through an apple orchard on the way to Germantown.  I doubt I will continue to New Hampshire as I think there will be little in bloom up there with this weather."

Jean also liked to go to New Hampshire;  here is a card from Clarksville, where it seems all did not go well in the car department:

"This is one of my favorite views at or back at the White Mountains…Leaves just appearing and was like winter when I arrived.  Right now the proprietor is changing a flat tire for me."

And another from Connecticut Lake, New Hampshire:

"Finally reached my favorite birding spot near the Canadian Border.  Very crowded with fisherman for Memorial Weekend.  I was fortunate to get a cottage.  Was very cold until Saturday and much snow still in the woods and on shady roads.  I will probably take a slow route home via Maine.  From my cottage I can see Maine Mountains."

I wish I had asked Cousin Jean more about her trips.  It would be fun to know what was the most exciting things that happened, what places she did not like, if she was anxious about traveling along and if she had any experiences that could be considered dangerous.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

#135--Independence Day

It is July and the theme for this week is Independence.  That reminded me of Independence Day and the Fourth of July.  When I was little, Fourth of July was a big celebration.  There were parades with floats, bands playing patriotic music, dignitaries riding in cars and different groups marching.  Also there would always be flags flying, picnics, perhaps a fair with carnival rides, and of course, at night fireworks.

I have a virtual collection of Fourth of July postcards and decided I should some of them to illustrate this holiday.

Fighting for Liberty

Lady Liberty

Parade Time