Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Birthday We'll Never Forget!

I just had a birthday (yesterday in fact) and have been reminiscing about past birthdays. Good ones and the not so good ones. Some funny and some not so funny. Here's one our family remembers very well.

When my sister, brother and I were little, our Mom always made our birthday parties special. Our grandmother, aunts, cousins, and friends were invited. She would have a bright paper tablecloth with matching napkins and cups on the dining room table. Mom would bake and decorate the cake herself. It wasn't fancy by today's standardsjust an eight-inch round, two-layer, Betty Crocker cake mix.

Similar to our cake topper
   Once all the games were played and the presents had been opened, we'd all march into the dining room and grab the nearest chair. Grandma and all the aunts were lined up along the wall. We would be waiting for the arrival of the cake. Mom had a very special cake topper she would bring out only on birthdays. It was a round, plastic, carousel-theme with horses affixed to the tent with string. On the back of the base was the wind-up key. When you turned the key the little horses would flair out over the cake. We would all sing the birthday song. The candles would be blown out, Mom would remove the cake topper, then cut and serve a piece to everyone.

The one item we I never saw at any other birthday party was the individual ice cream cups with their own wooden paddle spoon. Mom didn't just scoop ice cream from a carton and drop it on our plate next to a slice of cake. No-siree-Bob! Everyone had their very own ice cream cup! She would call out, “Who wants chocolate? Who wants vanilla?” I don't know how she understood everyone with different answers flying around the room. We would pull the cardboard lid off the top, and dig in with that wooden paddle spoon.

My fifth birthday was different. It was the one we would not forget and will talk about for years.

Everything was going like clockwork. Grandma, aunts, cousins and friends were here. The table was set, the ice cream cups were in the freezer, the cake was in the kitchen along with the cake topper.

After the games were played and presents opened we traipsed to the table. Lots of talking, laughing and joking around the room. Everyone had their ice cream cups and the cake was on the table. The candles were lit, the carousel was wound-up, whirling and twirling on top the cake. Everyone started singing, but before I could make a wish and blow out the candles, WHOOSH!! The cake topper caught fire. A flame went straight up and the cake topper melted into the cake.

Mom picked up the nearest paper cups and threw soda on the flames. Suddenly, the aunts were tossing different things on top of it to smother the fire. Smoke curled up toward the ceiling. The carousel horses had been swinging out and some actually flew into the candles. Several aunts grabbed kids and ran for the door. Others scattered to a nearby room.

Kids and adults were stunned as they stared at what was left of the pile of burnt, melted plastic, wet cake and liquified frosting. My major concern wasn't that my cake had caught fire, it was that I was having a birthday with no cake. I remember putting my finger into the frosting and wanting to taste it.

That was the end of our very special cake topper. We never had another one like it. The cakes mom continued to make were still the eight-inch round, two-layer, Betty Crocker cake mix; but now, she bought the peel and stick edible candy decorations that had candle holders and letters you could spell out Happy Birthday. They made the cake look fantastic.

Later birthday parties were not as exciting as a cake on fire, but they were fun just the same. Every once in a while, we'd reminisce about my fifth birthday “blow out!”
My 10th birthday.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

February 9, 2014: 50th Anniversary of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show

When I was growing up, most Sunday nights our family would gather in the living room at 8 pm in front of our black and white TV to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. He had a great variety show for the whole family. Ed would introduce the most popular artists in show business. From music, film, Broadway, opera, and comedy. When the space race was happening, Ed would sometimes have an astronaut stand up in the audience and take a bow.

My older sister, who was a freshman in high school, asked me if I was going to watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan that night.

My reply was, “Who's that?”

She clued me in, “They're a new, popular band from England. Their music is all over the radio. Everyone at school is talking about them.”

“Sure, OK. I'll watch with you,” I said.

Since Dad had control of the TV, we told Mom and Dad we wanted to watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
“Who are they? Are they bugs?” Dad asked.

My sister explained they were a new, popular band from England. Mom and Dad relented.

When Ed finally introduced The Beatles, the camera panned over to the band. Their first song they performed was “All My Loving.” The teenage girls in the audience squealed in delight at the sight of The Beatles. The squealing soon turned into screaming. They screamed throughout the entire song. We had never seen or heard anything like it before. The sounds, the reactions, the volume, it was overwhelming! I think we sat there with our mouths open. WOW!

I became an immediate fan. I wasn't quite a teenager, but I was caught up in the action. Mom and Dad's reactions weren't the same as ours. “That long hair! The noise!” Mom and Dad rolled their eyes and wanted to change the channel right then and there. “NO! They're going to sing two more times in the second half of the show! You can't change the channel now!” It took some convincing, but the channel stayed on CBS.

During their second song, “Till There Was You,” the camera individually cut away to John, Paul, George and Ringo and put their name on the screen, to help introduce them to America. Now we knew who they were. When Dad saw one of the Beatles was named George, he thought they were somehow all right. Dad's name is George too. For their final song, the Beatles performed “She Loves You.” It's still one of my all time favorites.

On August 12, 1966, The Beatles began their 14-date final tour with a concert at Chicago's International Amphitheater. They played two shows, at 3 pm and 7:30 pm, each of which was seen by 13,000 people. My girlfriend, Connie and I, had tickets for the 3 pm show. We wanted to be as close to the stage as we could. We paid $6.50 for the most expensive tickets.

The opening acts for the entire tour were The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle, and The Ronettes. The Beatles' standard set throughout the tour consisted of 11 songs: Rock And Roll Music, She's A Woman, If I Needed Someone, Day Tripper, Baby's In Black, I Feel Fine, Yesterday, I Wanna Be Your Man, Nowhere Man, Paperback Writer, and I'm Down. During the tour they occasionally substituted the final song with Long Tall Sally.

That 1966 show I attended when I was a teenager is still one of my fondest memories. I have bragging rights!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Happy Dance, woot woot!

Last night I was checking some facts in my genealogy program on my husband's family line. I hadn't worked on his line in some time. I had several alerts about dates that had problems. I (or someone who gave me the information) had a family member in the wrong family. The person in question was put into his grandparents family by mistake. No wonder his "mother" was 67 years old when he was born. Big red sign right there!

After all the children were linked with the correct parents, I noticed I hadn't put in any census information at all. I went over to, logged in, and started looking through all the censuses starting from 1940.

Well, lo and behold, what do you know? It was like starting all over again; the thrill of the hunt. With many surname spelling variations, I was able to trace his mother's maternal line back through the 1900 U.S. population census in Pennsylvania. I found my husband's great-great-grandmother Helen, enumerated with her son John's family in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. Found a great-uncle George, in the 1900 census, enumerated with his brother John's family. Even hubby was impressed.

So far I've found my husband's mother's paternal line only through 1920 U.S. population census in Pennsylvania. Their surname also had many spelling variations. At one point there were over 3,000 results and all the filters I was using wasn't showing up. On the 1920 census his great-grandparents stated they immigrated here in 1901. I'm not giving up yet, I have many avenues to still search, and the hunt is exciting.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Finding Your Italian Ancestors Seminar

On October 12, I attended a free seminar hosted by the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society, “Finding Your Italian Ancestors.” The presenter was Paola Manfredi, a native of Italy and accredited Italian Genealogist. Paula earned a degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT with a specialization in family history and genealogy. Her experiences include conducting research on microfilm and at archives all across Italy, teaching Italian research classes at BYU, and presenting at conferences in the US and internationally. Paola also managed Italian record acquisition for and is experienced in researching, reading and translating old hand written Latin, French, and Italian documents. She currently works at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and travels extensively throughout Europe visiting archives and exploring their record holdings.

I am so glad I attended. I have Italian ancestors on both my father's lines. My maiden name is Ficarra. I've traced and cited sources on this line only through my grandfather Philip. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana about 1887. There is a big, brick wall between his birth and when he enlisted in the regular army in 1910. I can't find his parents in any census or city directories. I did find my uncle Philip age 4 (he was from my grandfather's first marriage), enumerated with Philip's older brother and his family in the 1920 Louisiana census.

I've had better luck with my father's mother's family. I've traced and cited sources from Ross and Christina Catania marriage in 1898 in St Mary's Parish, Louisiana through their deaths.

The Italian seminar was so eye-opening for me. I really didn't know where to start. Paola's seminar came at the right time for me. I felt like a newbie starting all over again. I'm excited and full of optimism once again. Her handout was full of links, descriptions and Italian history. She broke down Italian words, gave us the English version, what to look for and what the phrases in documents meant. She explained the Italian Civil Registration Records, civil jurisdictions and archives.

Localities: Finding a town, Italy before 1861, Historical maps of Italy, Finding a parish or a diocese.

Records: State Archive are located at the provincial level. Gave us clues how to search for a microfilm, search by name and search for records on line at

Transcribed Vital records of Italian Towns, 2 links
More Italian Records Online, 6 links
Names, 4 links

Since the seminar I bought the book, “Finding Your Italian Ancestors A Beginner's Guide” by Suzanne Russo Adams, AG.

I'm looking forward to plowing through those Italian brick walls.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

1905 Wisconsin States Census

I've been updating my genealogy program this week. I noticed (duh!) that I hadn't entered any census information for my ancestors. Since I was working on my mother's maternal line, Bartunek, I thought, “Why not start with this line.” Wow, what a concept!!

My great-grandparents, John and Frances (Hajek) Bartunek were married June 1893, in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Between 1894 and 1917, they had seven children. My grandmother Jennie (born 1901) was their third child. The first four children were all born in Chicago between 1894 and 1903. Children number five, six and seven were all born in Clark County, Wisconsin.

Since I hadn't been able to located them in the 1900 U.S. Population Census. I started looking for them in the 1905 Wisconsin state census on Yippee, I found them in Town of Hoard, Clark County! 

Schedule No. 1—Population.
Enumeration of the inhabitants in the Town of Hoard in the county of Clark, State of Wisconsin, on the 1st day of June, A. D 1905.
Sheet No. 6

Column 1:
Number of family in the order of visitation.

Column 2:
NAME of each person whose place of abode on June 1, 1905, was in this family.
Enter surname first, then the given name and middle initial, if any.
INCLUDE every person living on June 1, 1905.
OMIT children born since June 1, 1905.
(Line 1) Bartunek, John
(Line 2)        “         Frances
(Line 3)        “         Mary
(Line 4)        “         Bessie
(Line 5)        “         Jennie
(Line 6)        “         Joseph

Column 3:
Relationship of each person to the head of the family.
(John)   Head
(Frances) Wife
(Mary)  D
(Bessie)   D
(Jennie)  D
(Joseph) Son

Column 4:
Color or race.
(John)   W
(Frances) W
(Mary)   W
(Bessie)    W
(Jennie)    W
(Joseph)   W

Column 5:
(John)  M
(Frances)   F
(Mary) F
(Bessie)  F
(Jennie)   F
(Joseph)   M

Column 6:
Age at last birthday.
(John) 33
(Frances)  31
(Mary)   11
(Bessie)   9
(Jennie)  4
(Joseph)  2

Column 7:
Whether single, married, widowed or divorced.
(John)  M
(Frances) M
(Mary)  S
(Bessie)  S
(Jennie)  S
(Joseph)  S

Place of birth of each person and parents of each.
Column 8:
Place of birth of this person
(John) Bohemia
(Frances) Bohemia
(Mary) Illinois
(Bessie) Illinois
(Jennie) Illinois
(Joseph) Illinois

Column 9:
Place of birth of Parents of this person.
(John) Bohemia
(Frances) Bohemia
(Mary) Bohemia
(Bessie) Bohemia
(Jennie) Bohemia
(Joseph) Bohemia

Column 10:
of each person FOURTEEN YEARS of age and over.
(John)   Farmer

Column 11:
Months employed.

Column 12:
Owned or rented.
(John)   O

Column 13:
Owned free or mortgaged.
(John)   M

Column 14:
Farm or home.
(John)   F

2013© Gayle Ficarra Wolcott