Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Beach

Ben and Cele, 1938

Kay & Dot 1938
To go to the beach you had to have an army blanket.

Cele, second from left, and Vera with friends in 1940

Warren in Montauk, 1945

Kansas is almost as good as New York, except we have no beach. Growing up near the beach is a great thing, a constant excuse for a party. Nothing held more excitement for me when I was a kid than the news that we were planning a trip to the ocean and Jones Beach. I always was irritated that Joan had a beach and I did not, however.

Front Row: Who's that baby on the left? Jane is the baby in the middle
Standing: Barbara behind Joan, then Pat with Maureen and Susan
Behind: Steve, Warren and on the right Ben and Bill (?).

Susan, Maureen, Bill and Jane in back, 1966.

Kathy Bentley and Jane

Buddy, Ronnie, Peggy Bentley, Barbara and Peggy McNally, 1978.
 It's not that I liked the sun. I just liked the beach.
The New Yorkers have the proper wardrobes---and tans.

Ben, Moe and Biff, 1966
 Peggy behind Joan and Maureen and Joan's kids.
And who is that with her head turned?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ben's 100th Birthday Anniversary

1947--Ben's 37th birthday

Benjamin Harrison Brackman's 100th birthday anniversary was February 17, 2010.

He was born in Brooklyn a century ago this month to immigrants from Russia, Harry and Lena Brachman.
Harry and Lena are on the left in the photograph below, which may be of the Brachmans in New York. Harry and Lena both came to America from Russia in 1905. I think they met here. The Brachmans spoke Yiddish at home and Ben learned English in grade school

Ben was always ambitious to succeed in business. He changed his name to Brackman when he was a teenager as he thought it sounded more American with a "k". At 17 he went to work for AT& T in Manhattan. In the 1930 census, at the beginning of the Great Depression, he was living with his family in Brooklyn, the only person listed with a job. That must have been tough for everyone.

Ben and brother Alec in 1927. Ben is about 17, Alec about 12. I imagine they both had red hair.

Ben in 1939 at Peggy and Biff's wedding. He's about 29.

Ben met Cele at the phone company. They married in 1937. Here they are 6 years later in 1943.

Ben had impaired vision in one eye from an injury so he could not get into the service during the War. He had Cele's Uncle Lew Valentine, New York's Police Commissioner, write a letter to President Roosevelt for him, but he remained 4-F.

Ben in 1945 at a baby shower for me. He's 35.
He ran an office of dozens of women during the War who threw the baby shower for him. He eventually became an accountant for the Long Lines Division, the long distance department.

Three kids, Jane, Bill and Barbara, in 1950 living on Long Island

The phone company transferred him to Cincinnati in 1950. He loved living in the suburbs. Gardening was one hobby, golf another, and photography the hobby we have to thank for the pictures on this blog.

Cele and Ben in 1959. She is 48; he 49.
He actually dressed like that for parties, despite our protests.

The phone company transferred him to Kansas City in 1959. We objected but, as Aunt Kay said, "He was a company man." In Kansas City he was an early computer programmer for the long distance department.

Cele died in 1965. He remarried twice.

Here he is about 1968 with a family of hippies. His wan look at 58 years old may be from losing Cele (she died at 54 years old), his recent surgery or the whole generation gap problem.
He moved to Florida when he married his last wife Louise.

He was born the year of Haley's Comet, which whizzed by in 1910. It's hard for us kids to believe he would be 100 years old.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Were the Valentines French or German?

Our Grandmother Anna Valentine McNally's grandparents on her father's side were born in the district of Alsace, probably in the city of Strasbourg. The 1860 and 1870 New Jersey census records indicate that her grandfather Louis Valentine, his wife Magdoline Little Droesch Valentine, and their three eldest children were born in Brin, France.

There is no place called Brin in France. Georgi, the family genealogist, speculates that the word means B.Rin or Bas Rhin, a department in the Alsace region of France. Bas Rhin is French for the Lower Rhine Area. There is also an Upper Rhine or Haut Rhin (south of Bas Rhin.)

The Rhine River (in French it's Rhin, in German Rhein) runs along Bas Rhin's eastern border separating it from Germany. A second river, the Ill, runs through the region and Illsass ("the place near the Ill River" in the regional dialect) is the origin of the name of Alsace, which is the larger political district. Bas Rhin's capitol is Strasbourg, an ancient settlement.

The Ill River in Alsace

Georgi's family stories indicate the Valentines immigrated from Strasbourg, which according to the Wikipedia is an Arrondisement (a city) in the Department of Bas Rhin in the Region of Alsace.

According to Lewis J. Valentine's autobiography Night Stick the family came from Alsace Lorraine. Lorraine is a nearby region with a similar history, My sister and I recall being told that the Valentines were from Alsace Lorraine and that they were German.The censuses, however, show that the Valentines told the enumerators they had been born in France.

Alsace and Bas-Rhin are now in France. So this raises several questions: Were the Valentines French or German? What language did they speak? And if they were French why do we think they were German?

Answers become somewhat clearer with an understanding of the relationship between France and Germany. Alsace, on the border between the two countries, was a pawn in their disputes.

The language there has traditionally been an Alsatian-German dialect and their customs related to Germany, but most residents held political loyalties to France. Alsace, once part of the Holy Roman Empire, was a French region from 1648 until 1871 and the end of the Franco-Prussian War. As part of the treaty Alsace and part of Lorraine were handed over to German rule, to the distress of many inhabitants.

German soldiers with a dachshund about 1910

Alsace and Lorraine were joined into Alsace-Lorraine, "an administrative territory or Reichsland, which means they were neither joined to an existing German state nor given the status of a state themselves," according to historian Amanda Coker. "Instead, they were directly under the Kaiser and the Reich. They were nominally under the civilian control of a governor-general but the Prussian military actually exercised authority over their domestic affaires in many instances." Many dissatisfied Alsatians immigrated to France or to the United States.

In 1919 Alsace and Lorraine were given back to France as a consequence of Germany's loss in World War I. Hitler re-annexed the region and it was once again German from 1940 to 1945. Since 1945 it's been French, but cultural identity remains complex.

The question of whether Louis and Lena Valentine were French or German depends on two things---what they considered themselves to be and when they emigrated. They left Bas-Rhin about 1854 when it had been French for over 200 years, and undoubtedly considered themselves to be from France. Many Alsatian-Americans who left after 1871 considered themselves to have been born in Germany.

The other question is: what language did Louis and Lena Valentine speak? Alsatians still speak a dialect that is a regional language like Catalan and Basque. Official languages might be Spanish and French but regional identity is connected to regional dialects. So it may be the Valentines spoke Alsatian, something closer to German than French, a reason to recall them as German.

Another reason we think of them as German is that for a good deal of our immediate ancestors' lives Alsace and Bas Rhin were German. By the early 1940s when another Lewis Valentine was recalling his ancestry for his autobiography the region known as Alsace-Lorraine was again German. He died a year after it's last return to France.

You may be surprised to find that Grandma McNally who we think of as so Irish was half French.
Read more about the history of Alsace and the question of French/German identity by clicking here:
Amanda Coker, The Cause and Impact of Regional Identity in Alsace

And click here to buy a copy of Night Stick: the Autobiography of Louis J. Valentine.,%20Former%20Police%20Commissioner%20of%20New%20York
These are probably reprint paperpacks, but one would make a nice Valentine's gift for a relative.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Saint Cecelia is the Patron Saint of Music

The caption says "Dot, Kay, Cele, Vera, 1938." No mention is made of the banjo ukulele.

When I was young I learned the McNally sisters' names in order as a kind of poetic litany. Marie, Elizabeth, Veronica, Cecelia, Loretta, Margaret, Anna, Dorothy, Kathryn and Patricia---all Saints, all rather elegant and rather old-fashioned. Cecelia, my mother's name, was my favorite. I can still hear her sisters fondly articulating three syllables, Ce-cel-yuh, when they called her, although everyone mostly called her Cele (as in seal).

Cele and Jane 1949

We found a copy of her Baptismal Certificate that tells us where she got the name. Her aunt Cecilia Donohue Valentine was her godmother. On this copy, made in 1937 when she got married, Cecilia is spelled with two i's but Cele's birth certificate shows it with two e's---Cecelia.

Cecelia McNally Brackman inspired her own namesakes---Ben's sister Edie named her only daughter Cecelia---we never call her anything but Cecelia.

Cecelia in 1947
And Kathryn named her youngest Cecelia. We never call her anything but Cece (as in See-See). We don't have any trouble keeping Cele, Cecelia and Cece straight in family conversations.

The name continued into the fourth generation. Kathy Bentley named her daughter Kristen Cecelia.

The most interesting thing I've learned about the name Cecelia lately is that  it's pronounced something like Chinchilla in Italian. Wikipedia explains the pronunciation of Italian opera singer Cecilia Bartoli's name as tʃeˈtʃilja. It sounds like Chay-cheel-ee-uh to me. The other interesting thing I found in writing this post is the banjo ukulele in the beach picture above. In the family album the picture is so small the ukulele is not noticeable. I would guess that was Cele's instrument. She was, after all, named for the patron saint of music.

A banjo ukulele, according to Wikipedia, " is a four-stringed musical instrument with a small banjo-type body and a fretted ukulele neck. 'Banjolele,' sometimes also spelled banjelele or banjulele is a generic nickname given to the instrument, which was derived from the 'banjulele-banjo,' introduced by Alvin D. Keech in 1917. The instrument achieved its greatest popularity in the 1920s and '30s, and combines the small scale, tuning, and playing style of a ukulele with the construction and distinctive tone of a banjo, hence the name."