Newspapers, Food & Family: Just like Nonna, Nana & Grandma Used to Make!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about how old newspapers helped to connect two of his favorite passions: food and family.

As a genealogical historian, I have always enjoyed the intersections of food and family! To begin with, meals frequently offer wonderful opportunities for sharing time together. It makes little difference if it is Thanksgiving (my personal favorite), Shabbot, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, or simply Tuesday night. This is one of the main reasons I added a set of pages for food and recipes on my website at Onward To Our Past® and why my bookshelf (which you can see at LibraryThing.com) contains such titles as The Food of A Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky, The Best of Czech Cooking by Peter Trnka, and A Taste of Croatia by Karen Evenden.

In my own family tree I happen to have three very long, strong, and prominent branches. One is from Cornwall in the United Kingdom, one is from Bohemia (now Czech Republic), and my wife’s family branch which is from the Molise district of Italy. I love foods from all three family lines, but I am particularly partial to Cornish pasty, Bohemian kolache and Italian gnocchi.

photo of Scott Phillips and family members enjoying a “pasty party” over the holidays

Scott Phillips and family members enjoy a “pasty party” over the holidays. Photo from the author’s collection.

During the recent holidays my daughter, who has become quite a chef, asked me about my family food favorites. Just for fun, she and I grabbed the iPad and dug into GenealogyBank.com to have a look at what we might find in the way of interesting additions to these food favorites of mine. We were pleasantly surprised!

We started, since she tends to bend towards the Italian family branch, with gnocchi, a marvelous Italian potato dumpling. We put the term in the search box and in an instant we were reading hundreds of articles and recipes for this unique food.

One of the stories we liked best came from the Idaho Statesman.

How to Cut Down Your Food Bill and Still Live Well, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 22 September 1918

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 22 September 1918, second section, page 9

We both enjoyed this story as it gave a very nice gnocchi recipe with the bonus of a delicious, easy accompanying sauce. However, we got a good chuckle out of the estimate that the meal described would only cost us “fifty cents.” Oh, and we decided to skip the step later in the article advising us to place some of our food on an “asbestos pad.”

My grandson must have heard us laughing and joined us. When we explained what we were doing, coupled with the fact that he is a bit of a dessert-hound, he immediately said “let’s look for kolache, Grandpa.” So we were off again. This time we were in search of kolache, a simple but delicious Bohemian dessert pastry. We began to scroll through some of the almost 2,000 articles that search term returned while I regaled my grandson and daughter with stories of my Czech Nana’s kolache.

The very first article we found was from my hometown newspaper, the Plain Dealer.

kolache recipe, Plain Dealer newspaper article 15 March 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 March 1951, page 16

This article was titled “Fancy Breads and Rolls Are Enjoyed by Family at Easter.” That sounded right to me as my Nana Vicha only made kolache for special events. Then something really caught my eye. Two of the fillings that were suggested were apricot and prune. These were the only two fillings my grandmother ever made. No one could quite understand how excited I was, but I was madly writing down every step of these recipes and calculating when I could get enough kitchen time to try them out!

By this time our group had grown to a family crowd of nine. Multiple ideas and suggestions were offered and requested. My son’s plea caught my ear when I heard him say “how about pasty, Dad?” Now we were off to see what we could find about this fine Cornish meal-in-a-crust!

My grandson was duly impressed when I came across, and read, an account found in the Stoughton Sentinel all the way back in 1876.

The Cornish Pasty, Stoughton Sentinel newspaper article 22 April 1876

Stoughton Sentinel (Stoughton, Massachusetts), 22 April 1876, page 1

This article is a fine backgrounder on the Cornish pasty—or, as it informed us, the “Cornish fiddle”—plus it offered such varieties as mackerel pasty and squab pasty. While it provided a general recipe, we needed something a bit more detailed for our use so we continued to look—since we all agreed we’d skip the squab.

It wasn’t long before I found this article from the Oregonian.

100-Year-Old Cornish Pasty, Oregonian newspaper article 2 April 1939

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 April 1939, page 74

This article, “100-Year-Old Cornish Pasty,” offered a recipe handed down for over 100 years (not actually about a pasty that was 100 years old—much to the dismay of my grandson!) This was great, but I soon realized that unless I had time for an extra run to the grocery store and a day in the kitchen, we would be pasty-less. Or would we?

I led my “gang” into the kitchen, pulled open the freezer drawer and showed everyone eight beautiful pasties ready for the oven (courtesy of the really awesome Lawry’s Pasty Shop in Marquette, Michigan). Although this bakery is all the way in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the good news is that they are willing to ship nationwide. I heated up the oven, and in a wee bit over an hour there we all were, having a “right proper” pasty party!

As I was putting my grandson to bed that night he drowsily said to me “Gee, Grandpa, who would have thought old newspapers could taste so good?”

I just smiled and agreed!

Italian Immigrant Ancestor Helped Carve Mount Rushmore!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows what he found in newspapers about a friend’s ancestor who helped carve Mount Rushmore.

Almost all of us have stories of immigrant ancestors who came to the United States and toiled to make a better life for themselves and their families. Many, like mine, did so in relative anonymity. However, not too long ago I came across one immigrant to America who did his toiling in plain sight…and I mean really in plain sight!

photo of Luigi Del Bianco carving the left eye of Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore

Luigi Del Bianco carving the left eye of Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. Photograph credit: Windows Live Photo Gallery.

A few weeks ago I was working on my wife’s Italian ancestry, especially her immigrant grandparents who came to America from the Molise district of central Italy. As I was working on this, I received an email from Lou Del Bianco. Lou’s family also came from Italy to the United States in search of the proverbial “better life.” While my wife’s ancestors were miners and agricultural laborers, Lou’s grandfather, Luigi Del Bianco, was different. He was a classically-trained sculptor, who as a young man studied in Austria and Venice.

Lou had quite a story to tell and he was interested in having it promoted on my website (http://OnwardToOurPast.com) and on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/OnwardToOurPast). Once I heard the basics of Lou’s story, I was hooked!

So naturally the first thing I did was click over to GenealogyBank.com to see what I might find on Lou’s grandfather, Luigi. As usual, I was not disappointed and I was able to add to Lou’s knowledge about his grandfather and his work.

The first story that I found was an article explaining Luigi’s arrival on his job: as Chief Carver on Mount Rushmore! Yep, the Mount Rushmore! As I said, this story is about one immigrant who “did his toiling in plain sight”!

According to the newspaper article, Luigi was the right-hand man to Gutzon Borglum, the driving force and lead on the Mount Rushmore project.

Borglum Aide Arrives to Assist in Rushmore Work, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 4 May 1933

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota) 4 May 1933, page 10

While there were over 400 men working on the giant carving, Luigi was one of only two trained sculptors, and as a result was named as the Chief Carver by Borglum. He spent an amazing seven years carving on the Mount Rushmore monument from 1933 to 1940.

As I continued to search in GenealogyBank.com’s online newspaper archives, I found some great stories about the carving of the Mount Rushmore memorial. I enjoyed an old news article published in the Tampa Tribune from 1927, when the Mount Rushmore project was still little more than an idea in Borglum’s head.

Start Soon Carving Head of Washington on Mount Rushmore, Tampa Tribune newspaper article 31 March 1927

Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 31 March 1927, page 23

The following historical newspaper article reports the hilarious exchange of telegrams between Borglum and President Calvin Coolidge regarding the history that President Coolidge wanted carved on Mount Rushmore, and Borglum’s attempt to cut the wordy President’s text down to size.

For Intimate Correspondence, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 29 May 1930

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 29 May 1930, page 6

Here is an old news article reporting that Luigi kept a life-size cast of the fist and arm of famed Italian heavyweight boxing champion Primo Carnera in his studio—a  model which folks often mistook for a sledgehammer!

Hills Sculptor Knew Carnera as Youth in Italy, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 29 June 1933

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 29 June 1933, page 2

I have since learned even more about Luigi Del Bianco, this amazing Italian American immigrant, who—although  not well known—accomplished some of the best known work in our entire nation, artistic carving that millions of tourists have viewed with awe and wonder.

In addition to reading about Luigi on GenalogyBank.com you can also discover more about his life and work at http://www.luigimountrushmore.com, or you can see how the hit television show Cake Boss recently baked a Mount Rushmore cake in honor of Luigi on Lou’s website at http://www.findlou.com.

Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott speaks of his love of genealogy, and shares some of the family history discoveries he’s made—including the tale of an ancestor, a zookeeper, who was nearly trampled to death by Minnie, the lone elephant at Cleveland’s Brookfield Zoo, in 1915!

Right off the bat I’ll admit it. I’m a genealogy nut! My wife calls my pursuit of family history “our shadow.” My favorite quote is “I used to have a life and then I started doing genealogy.” Plus, I am hoping for another grandchild, simply because I have a myriad of historic family names that I think need to be carried on. I wonder what my chances are for either Lovejoy Cinderella for a granddaughter or Sylvia Marathan for a grandson?

Well, maybe not.

Additionally, it is a matter of great personal satisfaction that I have been able to trace my family roots, with documentation, to the 1500s on my father’s side (Phillipps and Cottle) in Cornwall, United Kingdom; to the early 1600s on my mother’s side (Vicha and Knechtl) in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic; and to the 1700s with my wife’s families (D’Aquila and Casagrande) in the Molise district of Italy. My Cornish and Bohemian immigrant ancestors all happened to find their separate ways to Cleveland, Ohio, between 1852 and 1911. My wife’s ancestors made their way to the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota.

The “Chase-of-the-Trace”

While the thrill of what I have dubbed the “chase-of-the-trace” is always amazing, I have to admit that, for me, the best part is more often the “little things.” You know, those human interest stories or unexpected items that one discovers pursuing genealogy and/or family histories. Sure there is the rush of excitement when we chip a brick out of a longstanding wall by finding a birth, marriage, or death certificate we’ve long been looking for, but to see the real lives of our ancestors unfold is what gets me truly excited.

A personal goal in my family tree and website (which I keep on the genealogy/social network site MyHeritage.com) is to find, capture, and then weave the threads of the culture, times, and values of our ancestors into what I call the quilt of our family history. For instance, in my family I will be the last person who will have grown up hearing Czech spoken in our home. I don’t want that memory to be lost. Not ever!

Sister Marjorie: the Chase Begins

Recently I got a phone call from a Cleveland cousin. Since I use our genealogy website as our worldwide family social network, she wanted to inform me of the passing of another cousin, Sister Marjorie. In the family we knew Sister Marjorie, before her vows, as Florence Kotrsal, a member of our Knechtl family branch. Cousin Florence had always intrigued me, especially since she was a twin (rare in our family tree) and I had not done any significant amount of work on her. As so often happens, the loss of a family member caused me to be doing something a bit too late.

First, I began learning more about her life as a member of the Order of the Sisters of Holy Humility of Mary where she lived for 73 years in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania. Next, I began to work more on her family members. I knew Florence was the daughter of Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (later, as with so many Slavic names in my family, “Americanized” to Kottershall) and Florence Kapl, and that Florence was the twin sister of Josephine. I began to move back in time and soon discovered I was in my favorite element, which is the early Bohemian community of Cleveland, Ohio.

As always, one of my first stops during my family history search was at GenealogyBank.com. I love the site and the coverage in the Cuyahoga County/Cleveland/Northeast, Ohio, area through the Plain Dealer and the Leader is excellent and very deep. Plus, with bated breath, I am awaiting their forthcoming additions of some of the early Cleveland Czech-language newspapers they recently acquired from the Balch Museum in Pennsylvania.

Sister Marjorie’s Father, Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (Kottershall)

J.J. Kotershall, Physician, Is Dead, Plain Dealer 11 December 1945

Obituary for Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (Kotershall), Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 December 1945, page 6

During my family search my first exciting discovery was that Florence’s father, Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal, was the same medical doctor whose name I had seen frequently on death certificates and other documents. As I searched farther, I found his obituary, always a terrific find. As I read, I was amazed to see that Dr. Kotrsal was instrumental in bringing the very first x-ray machine to Cleveland, Ohio. Now you might think this would have changed him as a person or his practice, but his obituary states that he continued to focus on providing medical care in the Bohemian community of Cleveland his entire life.

An additional precept in my personal family history work is that I want to be as inclusive as possible, so I study spouses and their families for equal inclusion in my family tree. In this case, I directed my searching to Florence’s maternal grandparents, Joseph F. and Louise Mary (Babicky) Kapl.

Circus Elephant Story

But Never Again! Says Keeper Kapl of Minnie, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 23 March 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 March 1915, page 4

The next item I found brought me to a stop. The first “hit” (of 31) in Historical Newspapers on Joseph Kapl, Florence’s grandfather, was a real keeper. Zookeeper that is! Not only was there a full newspaper article on this man, but there was a story, a terrific ink drawing of Joseph (so far the only picture anyone in the family has of him), and the unique story of how he was nearly trampled to death by Minnie, the lone elephant at Cleveland’s Brookfield Zoo, where Joseph happened to be Minnie’s keeper. Very kindly, the newspaper reporter even thought to list Joseph’s home address in the article, which matches spot-on with the 1920 United States Census listing for the Kottershall family.

Between the obituary for Dr. Kottershall and the wonderful circus elephant story with Joseph Kapl these newspaper articles gave me the exact threads I was seeking—ones that allow me to weave a bit of what the real lives of my ancestors were like into the quilt of our family history that I am still laboring over.

Ah, but what a labor of love it is!