Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Meet the Hitlers

I finally got the opportunity to watch the 2014 documentary, Meet the Hitlers. The film  examines the relationship between name and identity without much commentary. 

The director, Matthew Ogens, introduces the viewer to a variety of real life characters including several individuals with the name 'Hitler.' There is a man named Romano-Lukas Hitler, a European of some ilk who believes himself to be a relative of the Nazi leader. There is also an elderly gentleman, Gene Hitler, an American with no known connection to the infamous Adolph Hitler. One subject is a teenage girl who has the surname Hittler who explains that her peers do not react to the name quite the same way as grown-ups do. There is also the white supremacists from New Jersey who several years ago made the news for naming their son Adolph Hitler. Another subject is a name born in Ecuador named Hitler Gutierrez. Then there are those subjects who do not bear the name Hitler themselves but explore the image, identity, and ancestry of the Adolph Hitler. Their stories allow you to draw your own conclusions about name and identity.

Writer, David Gardner, is in pursuit of last known descendants of Adolph Hitler's half-brother. Gardner wrote the 2001 book, The Last of the Hitlers: The story of Adolf Hitler's British nephew and the amazing pact to make sure his genes die out. That British half-brother's child moved to America and settled in a town on Long Island called Patchogue; the same town some of my relatives settled in. This may not be surprising but the Hitlers changed their surname. The author protects the family's anonymity. My Patchogue relatives also changed their name. They changed it from Desjardins to Gardner; no known relation to the author introduced here though.

It is fascinating to see how each subject reacts to and connects with the name Hitler and how having such an infamous name affects them. It documents a wide variety of human responses; there are those who find it humorous, those who shrug it off as a mere coincidence of no consequence and take great pride in their ancestry, some subjects have a horrific admiration for the Nazi leader, and then others have buried their genetic relationship to infamous Hitler.

Two things struck me. One was when the director asked Gene Hitler why it was important to him to keep his name. why didn't he change it. Gene gave it some thought and said his name was important to him because his parents gave it to him.

The other moving moment for me was the ending. David Gardner, unable to interview the Hitlers of Patchoque, decided to interview a Holocaust survivor residing in Patchogue. At one point the author asks the man how he would feel knowing that descendants of Adolph Hitler live near him. The kindly Jewish man shrugs a bit and says that he does not hold the author responsible for the acts of his ancestors; these Hitlers of Patchogue are not responsible for the horrors their ancestor committed.

That is kind of the message I try to put across in this blog. 

I am the great granddaughter of a schizophrenic, a great-great granddaughter of a man who committed a murder-suicide, one of my 5th great grandfathers was a Colonel at the Battle of Saratoga which was the turning point of the American Revolution, and I'm a descendant of Charlemagne (supposedly, I can't document it just yet but aren't we all descendants of Charlemagne? We each have something like 131,072 15th great-grandparents.). 

Although I believe you should take pride in your existence and owe some reverence to those who came before you, I also do not think the sins of the father are the sins of the son. If you ask me, which I acknowledge you did not, those who wear their surname like a badge of honor ought to do something on their own to be proud of. Those people who came before you, those whose DNA you carry within your own cells, they were just people. Good. Bad. Ugly. And Beautiful. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Home on the Road and Great Grandpa Albert's WWI Draft Registration

Every June I take a road trip. Well, if you aren't home for your birthday it doesn't count. This is how I get to stay perpetually 28. :)

This summer Cousin Peter and Godmother Joanne and I traipsed from Salt Lake City, Utah to Kansas City. Missouri and then turned south towards Austin, Texas, Our stop in Kansas City required a visit to the Kansas City Public Library where they were having an exhibit of the first Shakespeare folio; basically a very old rare book contained in a glass case opened to one page of the play Hamlet. Well.....


We were there for me to look through city directories but its nice they had something out for Cousin Peter and Godmother Joanne to look at.

Despite my long seeded New York roots, I apparently had a few relatives on my mother's side who resided in Kansas City in the early 1900s. One of which was my great grandfather, Albert Gardner.

Great Grandpa Albert is intriguing to me. Born on September 21, 1891 in Queens, New York he was christened Almond Desjardins. His very French name is pronounced AL-mon-d Day-shar-dan but everyone says it like the nut, Almond and pronounces the last name Des-Jar-Dins. I'm sure he Anglicized the name not because of the course American pronunciation though but rather for employment opportunities. Desjardins means from the garden and Gardner is a very historic family name on Long Island where his family settled after coming from Montreal. The choice of Gardner for a surname makes sense.

Several years ago I came cross his World War I draft registration card. Curiously, though, he was living in Kansas City. That surprised me. Even though "Albert Gardner" is a rather common name, I am sure it is his draft registration card. The birthday matches other records I have, He was born in New York. I was told by his son that he was a painter. In 1917 when this registration was created his mother would have been a widow and it is likely he was helping to financially support her. He wasn't married yet.

But what is that bit there about having already served in the Cavalry for 3 years? And why is it stamped "Delinquent or Deserter"?

Has anyone else seen that on a draft registration card?

And what do you think it says between "Private" and "Cavalry"?

That aside, while in KC, MO, I did try to find Great Grandpa Albert's residence. Sad to say that 619 Troost Ave. no longer exists. Troost is still a street but 619 is now where the U.S. Interstate 70 and I-35 come together. In some sense that feels right. His home is now on the road and personally, I feel quite at home on that road.

Monday, June 6, 2016

REALLY Related to Aunt Jeannette

It is with heavy heart and teary eyes that I share with you the news that my great aunt, Jeannette, passed away on Friday, June 3, 2016 at the age of 83.

My Aunt Jeannette is the reason I got started in genealogy research. Not that she was into family history, she really wasn't. It was her connection to me piqued my interest. Aunt Jeannette was both my great aunt AND my second cousin twice removed.

Oh you know when that removed word get thrown out there that things are complicated. Stay with me...

When I was about 16 I went to a family reunion for my paternal grandfather's mother's side of the family; the Losee Family. My father's side has always been very close. I know most of my father's first cousins (who would be my first cousins once removed because we are one generation apart thus, once removed. Follow?). My father grew up across the street from his mother's sister and her 8 children. He attended grade school with them as well as with other cousins from his mother's side; the Cramers. The Henry sisters, Clare Henry-Earle (my grandma), Great Aunt Jean Henry-Drew, and Aunt Ann Henry-Cramer, were tight.

But if you asked my Grandpa Earle about his family, he would've told you he didn't have any. None. His parents were both dead and his older brother, Allen, died of a heart attack at age 40 and left no children. We were it. His wife, five kids, and 10 grandchildren were Poppy Earle's whole family.

So here we are at the Losee Family Reunion and in walks Grandma Earle's brother Uncle Richie and his wife, Aunt Jeannette. I didn't think it odd at first to see grandma's side of the family at grandpa's family reunion. Earles are pretty infamous for extending the family to friends and distant relations. Every census record I find for this branch of the family has someone else living with them; a cousin, a friend, an in-law, a boarder, what have you.

So in walk Uncle Richie and Aunt Jeannette. At some point I utter something to my grandmother like, "It's nice that your side of the family made it to this."

"Oh no," grandma said. "Aunt Jeannette is grandpa's cousin."

"WHAT!!?!?! I thought she is married to your brother. And hey, grandpa doesn't have any family!" Yet, here we are with close to 100 people gathered around from Poppy's side and yet, he has no family? Confusion and the recognition of misinformation starts to set in. "WAIT, Poppy sure as heck has family. Who are these people? And how is Aunt Jeannette his cousin?"

Grandma tried her best to explain. "Jeannette is his second cousin." At this point I had no idea what the hell a second cousin was. I just had cousins, period.

After a few minutes of coming to terms with the fact that I didn't know what the heck was going on around me, I made the assumption that Grandpa must have introduced his brother-in-law, Richie, to Jeannette.

"Oh no," grandma said, "They didn't figure out that they were related until after Richie and Jeanette were engaged." This was getting more and more confusing by the minute. Grandpa didn't know Jeannette was his cousin. It was then that I had then decided I needed to figure out for myself how Aunt Jeannette was related to my grandpa.

I also learned at this reunion that the Losee Family had long standing roots in Freeport, NY, and so this gathering was followed by a trip to the Freeport Memorial Library with grandma. This was a time before the Internet existed and so the library was the only "go-to." 

Freeport Memorial Library is a public library that was built as a memorial to the 13 men from Freeport, Long Island, NY who died in the Civil War. The original library building is still part of the current, greatly expanded FML. The Memorial Room, as the original library has come to be known is a small yet impressive room covered in plaques commemorating the individuals who have served the community through military and public service. 

Standing beneath one particular plaque, my tiny little grandma pointed upward saying, "Would you look at that!" Among those 13 Civil War soldiers names was a Benjamin F. Losee. And from that point on it has all been one long mission to unpuzzle my family's history. 

Thanks, Aunt Jeannette. 
Although, I did not get to see her much, I already miss her.

By the way, I did ultimately figure out how Jeannette and my grandpa were related. And they were actually double second cousins. :) They had more than one set of great-grandparents in common. Two Losee brothers married two Smith sisters. Grandpa was the grandson of John Losee and Flora Smith-Losee. Jeannette was the granddaughter of Oliver Combs Losee and Melinda Smith-Losee. Their great grandparents were [John Losee (Sr.) and Susan Amelia Combs-Losee] AND [Gersham Smith and Sarah Garvey-Smith].

Plus, she married my grandma's brother.

We were REALLY related, Aunt Jeannette, REALLY related.