28 March 2010

From the Cradle....

Back in 2006 I visited the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, NY with my grandkids. I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the place. I'm not from New York and aviation is not something I've ever really been that interested in, but they did a good job of presenting something I always like: a story. I came away impressed with their collection and felt I had learned about early aviation history and how Long Island figured in it.

I got to thinking about the place and found myself reading some articles on early aviation and woman pilots and found one I wanted to check out: Elinor Smith. From what I found online, I knew her birth date, where she grew up, her father's name and occupation and the name of a brother.

The family proved elusive. On Ancestry.com, I finally found a family in the 1930 and 1920 census enumerations that fit. Dad and brother had the correct first names. Dad's occupation, a vaudeville actor, was right. Freeport on Long Island was the exact place she was born. It all matched except the last name. It wasn't Smith, it was Ward.

Everything I had read about Elinor Smith was unequivocal about her maiden name, which she used throughout her aviation career. I had to believe this was the right family in the census but how to find out for sure? So far I'd spent a fair amount of effort on this hunt. Finding someone in the census with a completely different last name takes some time. I could not give up now!

I found a copy of her autobiography, Aviatrix, at a nearby library and looked for clues. In the credits were several names including some with the name of Ward. This was the name I had found in the census. Case solved.

The only thing I did not know was why she used Smith instead of Ward. I wasn't about to call a 95-year-old woman and ask about her secrets and I didn't want blog about what she might be hiding for some personal reason. It was all very interesting but I shelved my research.

Elinor Smith died last Friday. The New York Times carried the story of her death and included the information that her father was Tom Ward and he had changed the name to Smith because there was another Tom Ward on the vaudeville circuit.

So much for my ground-breaking discovery. But it was a fun ride and I got to know an amazing woman.

Clear skies, Elinor.

07 March 2010

Sarah Jessica Parker Connection?

My g-g-g-grandfather left Logan County, Ohio in early 1849 and headed west toward El Dorado County, California to search for gold. He never came back.

Sound familiar?

If you saw the first episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" you might recall that this also describes Sarah Jessica Parker's g-g-g-g-grandfather.

Her ancestor was John S. Hodge. Mine was William Moore. Not the same person. Just shows how common the Gold Rush experience was. My William was 53 when he died on the way to California. He never made it to El Dorado. Another man in his company kept a journal of the trip and so records William's death in Nebraska Territory.

But that doesn't mean I don't have a connection to Sarah Jessica Parker. William's wife, Anna Askren, had a nephew, James Askren, who married Margaret Hodge, sister of John S. Hodge.

I can't wait for the next episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

06 March 2010

Meryl Streep in Slow Motion

If you view the final episode of "Faces of America" in slow motion, you'll see that although Gates is talking about Meryl Streep's maternal Wilkinson line, the graphics are for her paternal Streep line.

Meryl used to think the Streeps were Sephardic Dutch Jews because she was told that there were people with that name today who are Sephardic Dutch Jews. Probably the least reliable indicator of one's ancestry I can think of.

As I pointed out in 2006, her Streeps were from Germany where the name was Streeb.

On the show Meryl said she was disappointed that her DNA showed such a European homogeny. She was probably let down when she learned that she is descended from ordinary German villagers rather than something more "ethnic." But I think Meryl knew the Jewish ancestry story was a myth before she appeared on the show. No sense showing a non-reaction.