Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who's That?

Hiding in every antique and second-hand shop is usually a boxful of old photos of people from ages past.  A few have notes on the back saying who's in the photo.  Fewer still aren't identified at all.  While there are some websites that are posting copies (, for instance), the blogosphere has birthed a new way to get those photos published so that, maybe, just maybe, they'll be identified and claimed.

A recent blog with just that purpose is "Forgotten Faces and Long Ago Places" authored by Teresa Wilson Rogers.  She notes any information available along with the photo, and includes some witty observations of her own from time to time. 

While the amusement value of these photos is enough in itself, there's real value in having them available to the general Internet public.  Family historians, professional and amateur genealogists and historians alike can mine these photos for clues to who the subjects might be. 

Take a look.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll figure out that one of these photos is of an ancestor from your very own family tree!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Nope, this isn't a commentary on the very popular TV show starring Jennifer Garner as a spy.  Instead, it's a note about the struggle to connect three branches of my maternal grandfather's family here in the States. 

Family stories led me to believe that my grandfather (Pietro TOSO) traveled to California with two of his brothers in the 1890s.  I was unable to locate any information about their given names.  While Pietro settled in Colma (a southern suburb of San Francisco), the stories indicated that each of his brothers chose other areas of the State for their homes.  It was possible, although not certain, that one brother was in the Stockton area of San Joaquin County.  Searching old city directories led me to believe that the third brother might have settled in San Francisco itself (although that later proved to be incorrect).

I knew from running searches on the TOSO surname that variations could include del Toso, Tozi, Tozzi, and many others.  I started paying attention to postings that included names similar to my grandfather's, but had no success in locating the missing brothers.

My grandfather and his brothers apparently all farmed, producing fruits and vegetables for California markets.  They appeared to have stayed in touch even as they began to have families of their own.  But more children, grandchildren and busier lives led the three branches of the family to drift apart.  By the time my generation was in adulthood, no one had personal memories of grandfather's brothers or their families. 

After a few years of fruitless searching, I stumbled across a posting by a gal who was discussing a family that sounded very much like my grandfather's.  Eureka!  A few more keystrokes and I located her phone number.  Holding my breath, I called.  She answered, and we discovered in a very few minutes that it was very likely her husband's family included both of my grandfather's brothers.  How very cool is that?  Over the next few months, she was able to prove the connection of the three branches through correspondence between my grandfather's branch and her husband's. 

The interesting fact, though, was that the brothers had assumed the surname TOZI.  But why?  Preliminary research indicated only use of the TOSO surname.

Today, I came across an interesting bit of information that might explain the family's use of two surnames.

In POINTers (Pursuing Our Italian Names Together) magazine (Summer 2010 issue, page 32), there's a website noted:  To be honest, I don't remember having come across this website before.  My exploration on it netted me this snippet:

Alias Surnames
In some areas of Italy, a second surname may have been adopted in order to distinguish between different branches of the same family, especially when the families remained in the same town for generations. These alias surnames can often be found preceded by the word detto, vulgo, or dit.

So it's possible that both surnames were used in my grandfather's family.  Copies of family records obtained from Italy thus far mention only the TOSO surname.  It'll take more research to learn when and how the two surnames came into use, but the snippet from Italian Family Search's website was key in understanding why the same family might use both. 

If you're researching Italian ancestors, spend some time on POINT's website:  Although you'll find more information about southern Italy, there are a few members who are doing research for northern areas.  There is still a wealth of information to widen your knowledge base!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 12 - Movies

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History is an annual challenge for family historians to write about their own lives.  Amy Coffin is the author. 

Mom loved movies.  We'd climb into a jitney (a sort of taxi) and ride from our suburban home in Daly City to whatever theater in downtown San Francisco was showing a kids' movie.  Lady and the Tramp was a favorite.  Alice in Wonderland gave me nightmares of falling down a never-ending hole in the ground.  Yikes!

Mom's big purse would be full of the makings of spectacular salami and cheese sandwiches that we'd put together and eat during the movie.  Real Italian salami, not the mushy stuff they now sell in the chain groceries.  Swiss cheese with flavor that "bit" your tongue.  Incredible onion rolls that married the meat and cheese superbly.  Nonpareils for dessert (little domed coins of chocolate with tiny white balls of white sugar on top).  Glorious!

Not that food was always the highlight of our time together.  But it was sure a very close second to whatever else was going on. 

Movies were magic for me, and still are.  I've watched my share of stinkers, but a few were more than worth the time:  Out of Africa, Funny Girl, all of the Bourne mysteries, Star Trek (my husband and I found our first common interest in the original TV series), Star Wars (the original three movies, not the latter), Dr. Zhivago, Galaxy Quest (not Academy Award material, but it was hilarious!), The Godfather series, Roxanne, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Toy Story series, The Professional (if you haven't seen this, you've missed one of Natalie Portman's best childhood performances), Terminator (and another of Arnold's successes -- Kintergarden Cop), WALL-E (a lovely animated film), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (hey, I'm not averse to English comedy now and then), Braveheart, Up (one of the best of all time, animated or otherwise), and many more.  Any genre can have its winners.  Die Hard comes to mind, along with Rocky.

Mom was still taking me to movies during my high school years.  We went to see a James Bond film with Sean Connery -- Thunderball.  A delicious, sexy film with a handsome star.  But.  Have you ever sat through a sexy movie ... with your mother?  Mortifying.  She never made a comment.  I didn't either.  But I'm sure my beet red cheeks must have said it all.

Mom missed going to the theater after her hearing deteriorated to the point that it would be physically painful for her to be in a theater with its blaring sound.  So when I visited for the holidays, I'd bring my video player and a batch of movies on VHS tape.  We could control the sound and spend hours watching in the comfort of her living room.  Me on the floor, her on the couch with her afghan over her legs. 

Whenever I see a really great movie, I think about her and wonder if I could maybe sneak some salami and cheese sandwiches into the theater.  I carry a big enough purse.  Hmmm.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 11 -- Illness and Injury

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History is an annual challenge for family historians to write about their own lives.  Amy Coffin is the author. 

Week 11 poses these questionsDescribe your childhood illnesses or injuries. Who took care of you?  Did you recuperate in your own bed, on the couch in front of the television, or somewhere else?

Measles.  Little red, itchy blotches all over my body.  Today, in this country, hardly anyone gets measles anymore.  A vaccine given to children essentially prevents them from contracting the disease.  But in the 1950s such prevention wasn’t available. 
Not that I knew it then.  I only knew that I felt awful. 

It was the only time I can remember when I slept in my parents’ bedroom rather than my own.  Mom was fanatical about blocking out all light, arranging blankets over the windows and not allowing me to turn the bedside lamp on.  The only light I saw for the days I spent in their bedroom came the weak light in the hallway when Mom came to check on me.
As always, though, I delighted in one particular part of Mom’s arsenal for treating my illnesses.  I looked forward to it, anticipated its aroma and flavor, dreamed of it while I slept.  Mom made a soup, based in chicken broth with egg cooked in it, swirling with pasta, succulent with garlic and redolent with freshly-grated parmesan.  I can taste is right now. 
I’ll never know if anything in that soup actually had curative properties.  But I can say without any doubt whatsoever that it always made me feel better. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pasta al Pesto -- Garlicky Ambrosia

Buon Appetito!

Mom made the best pesto.  Even after I left home, I asked for it every single time I visited her.  It just was not a real visit home if I didn't get a plateful of Mom's pasta with pesto.  She marveled that something "so simple" could make me so happy. 

I've still not figured out how to duplicate her pesto.  And believe me, I've tried.  She didn't have a recipe; she cooked by "eyeing" the ingredients.  And she never used basil, but rather parsley, and any type of pasta that was on sale.  This dish was not the haute cuisine of the refined gentry; it was the fare of common folk.  No matter.  It was always manna from heaven!

The Italian Notebook, an English-language newsletter and website maintained by folks living in Italy, just published an article about pesto which originated in the Ligurian Region, specifically from Genova (Genoa).  Mom's family came from Varese Ligure, a small village about two hours' drive east from Genova. 

The article describes how fresh green beans, potatoes and pasta were prepared, then dressed with pesto.  Mom would include whatever vegetables were in season, but my favorite was the green beans and potatoes.

Now, I understand that her "recipe" was handed down through her mother who learned it from her mother in Italy.  I'd never really thought about how Mom learned to make the dish.  Like most kids, I'd just assumed she always knew it.  So having the article describe the regional tradition and method was the perfect way to tie our family fare to the Old Country.

Here's the website if you'd like to read more:  While you're there, sign up for the newsletter.  It offers so much about the Italian lifestyle and culture that we haven't necessarily experienced here in the States.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 9 -- Sounds

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History is an annual challenge for family historians to write about their own lives.  Amy Coffin is the author. 

Week 8 poses this question:  What sounds take you back to your childhood?


Rain pounding on the slate roof of an old farmhouse.  Gentle rhythm of ocean waves.  Tornado winds.  The soft nicker of a horse.  A happy bray from the family beagle, Pokey.  Notes from my piano filling the air and floating out into the valley.  Mom's voice on the phone with one of her sisters or cousins.  Harsh stuttering of the tractor engine.  Muffled tenor drums and footfalls honoring veterans.  Clucking, scratching of chickens.  Dad's laughter, too infrequent.  The creative chatter of a sewing machine.  Soft slapping of pinochle cards.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Free Genealogy Webinars

Yep, I like attending a seminar in my PJs. 

Legacy Family Tree has a series of webinars (seminars that are Web-based so you can use your PC--but not Mac--to participate) that are free

Yesterday, I attended More Blogging for Beginners presented by Pat Richley, better known as Dear Myrtle.  It was a very helpful webinar, lasting about an hour and a half.  Pat is a superb presenter who knows exactly which blog design features we family historians will find most helpful, and which few might be problematic. 

Registration was a snap, and getting into the seminar required little more than turning on my computer's speakers.  The confirmation email I received after I'd registered lead me through prompts to the seminar's

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Darrell Stanley Wingard, 1929-1956

I was an only child. 

At least I thought I was. 

In 1967, when I was a senior in high school, I discovered letters to my Dad from Darrell Wingard who I'd been told was a cousin of Dad's.  Darrell addressed him as "Dear Dad," which was a shock and a puzzle.  I never approached my Dad directly about it, but I did ask my Mom.

She told me that Dad had been married once before and had a son.  So Darrell was my half brother, one I never had a chance to know.

He was many years older than I.  He'd been to visit us in our Daly City (California) home when I was very young.  My memory of him is fleeting, just that he had on a nice dark coat (which was what gentlemen wore then) and he had a jar of M&Ms ... for me!  My regret is that I cannot remember his face.0

In June of 1956, Darrell was killed in a spectacular automobile accident on the coast highway near Santa Cruz, California.  He and some of his buddies had been on the beach in the early morning hours.  They drove their two vehicles up onto the highway, and were struck by an oncoming vehicle traveling at high speed. 

The San Francisco newspaper ran a front-page article about the accident which included a black-and-white photo of Darrell.  It's not clear when the photo was taken, and its quality was poor.  But I could tell that he had very light-colored hair and a nice smile on his face.  I'd like to locate the actual photo some day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 8 -- Technology

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History is an annual challenge for family historians to write about their own lives.  Amy Coffin is the author. 

Since I came to this idea well after the first of the year, I'll start with the current week.  Week 8 poses two questions to start the writing process:  What are some of the technological advances that happened during your childhood?  What types of technology do you enjoy using today, and which do you avoid?


My love affair with technology began with an old party-line telephone.  A party line was made up of the telephones in many homes that were all served by that single line.  Everyone could connect to that line simply by picking up the telephone. 

Living in a rural area of Pennsylvania, my family stayed in touch with the world through that party line phone.  Privacy wasn't its strong suit because each time you picked up the phone you might find yourself

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Toso Family of Colma, San Mateo Co., California

Here's a photo of my mother and her family taken in 1942 outside their home on Hill Street.  Her father and mother -- Pietro and Giovanna [Nave] Toso -- are seated. 

Mom -- Norma Dolores Toso (b. 1913, d. 2002) -- is standing at the far right. 

There were seven daughters and three sons (sadly, none of whom survived early childhood) in the family.

An elderly cousin told me that all the Toso girls "had beautiful dark hair."  Mom passed that trait onto me.  Thanks, Mom!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wet Feet

Mom used to say "you have to get your feet wet" if you're going to really live life.  I liked that about her. 

So I'm going to remember and celebrate both my parents by exploring their families and sharing my discoveries and thoughts with you.  I want to write about the facts and the family stories (sometimes myth, sometimes truth). 

And along the way, maybe we'll discover something interesting about life.

Disclaimer:  Be it known that I have absolutely no intention of offending any living relative.  But it may happen nonetheless, and I apologize in advance.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments and polite objections.