12 February 2013

New info in the family tree

I may have some new info on my immigrant ancestor, Johann Hinrich Lübker and his first wife, Christine Meier, courtesy of a guy named Brendon on the Ancestry.com message board for Erie County, New York.

Johann Hinrich--or Hinrich, as he usually appears in the census and other documents--immigrated from Schleswig-Holstein in 1846, and according to the 1899 Compendium of Biography, he was a "prosperous shoemaker for many years" in New York.

We know he was in New York state until 1855, when he and his family--wife Rosine Klein and eldest daughter Rosina C--moved to Wisconsin. According to my cousin Kathryn, he lived at least part of the time in Eden, New York, south of Buffalo in Erie County. Apparently he's listed in the records of the Evangelical Lutheran church there, although I haven't been able to raise an answer about that from anyone at the church just yet.

Kathryn also had info from my dad that somehow had eluded me: Hinrich had a first wife who came over from Schleswig with him, named Christine Meier. She died in Buffalo in 1853 of "Bright's disease," a chronic kidney condition now known as nephritis. That info is from a death certificate either Kathryn or my father had.

But until recently, I hadn't been able to locate any other information in any online records about Hinrich, Rosine or Christine during their time in New York. With as many as nine years to account for, that seemed odd.

So I posted an inquiry on Ancestry and hoped for the best. Over the weekend I got a reply:

New York, State Census, 1855, Erie, Boston
Image 8 of 33
Years residing in this city or town - 5
Henry Lipker age 51, b. Germany, Shoemaker, Alien, owner of land
Rosina age 32, b. Germany
Catherine age 10/12 - puts birth Aug. 1854, Erie

Boston is another small community south of Buffalo and east of Eden. (Hey, sounds like a good name for a book!) "Henry" obviously is an Angicization of Hinrich, and "Lipker" is both the phonetic spelling of the name as my family pronounces it, and the way the family's name was (mis)spelled in the 1860 US Census. This guy seems to be the only shoemaker listed in the town (and it was a small place in 1860--only 46 pages in the census) and my great great grandfather was a shoemaker.

According to this information, Henry and his family had been living there for five years, his wife is Rosina (same as Hinrich's second wife) and his daughter's birth month matches up with that of Rosine and Hinrich's eldest daughter, Rosina C. Given the German fashion of calling people by their middle names, the "Catherine" in the record could easily be Rosina C(atherine). "Henry Lipker" was still classified as an alien in 1855--Hinrich wasn't naturalized until 1857.

Based on all of that, I'm willing to call this a match.  I believe "Henry Lipker" is Hinrich Lübker, my great great grandfather.

Now here's where it gets interesting. There's also a shoemaker listed in Boston (Erie County), New York in the 1850 U.S. Census. He has the right birth year, a wife named Christine (same as Hinrich's first wife) who has the right birth year, and they have a 16-year-old son (!!) named Christian, who came over with them.
The shoemaker in the 1850 census has the same neighbors (what looks like "Kester") as "Henry Lipker" in the 1855 NY Census. The guy in 1850 owns the property on which he lives, and in the 1855 New York Census, "Henry Lipker" had owned his property for five years.
The the only real problem is the guy in the 1850 US Census is named "Andrew Lepty" (or "Lipty").
But again, as near as I can tell, he's the only shoemaker in that small town.
This one is less certain, but I'm willing to accept it. And if this IS my great great grandfather, then his having a son named Christian bridges a gap I've had in my tree for years. 
There's a Christian Luebker in my tree who was born in Schleswig in 1833, but for whom neither I nor anyone I've invited to join my family tree can identify parents. The "Christian Lepty" in the 1850 census posits a birth year of 1834, but he also could have been born in 1833, having already celebrated his 16th birthday in the last half of 1849, well before June 1, 1850, the official date of the census.
Anyway, if this IS the same Christian Lübker/Luebker who ended up starting a family in Chicago, it may explain why my grandfather moved there for a while and could link my branch of the Lübker/Lubker/Luebker family to a branch where we previously knew of no connection.

I have the Ancestry DNA test kit waiting for me at home--I guess I better send in the sample and see if that helps shed any light!

18 March 2012

Moonshine 101: Glen Thunder

As most of my friends know, I enjoy whiskey. My faves are the corn whiskeys—usually Jack Daniel's, but also some bourbons—but I’ll also have a glass of Jameson's Irish or even a single malt Scotch once in a while. (Thanks, John!)

The corn whiskey that comes out of a still is clear—basically what folks call moonshine. When I thought about it at all, I thought of that young, raw whiskey as a proto-product, a step along the way to making “real whiskey.” When people sold it in that form, I figured that was more of a commercial compromise in order to make liquor fast than it was about quality or esthetics. (My Kentucky in-laws may disagree with me on that.)

To make bourbon—my notion of a “real” whiskey—it has to be aged in charred-oak barrels. That's where it picks up the dark amber color and a lot of its flavor. (By the way, Jack Daniel's—which calls itself a “sour mash” and “Tennessee whiskey” instead of bourbon—meets all of the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits to be called a bourbon. The biggest difference, aside from being made in Tennessee instead of Kentucky, is that it’s filtered through charred sugar maple before going into the barrels, which accounts for some of the differences in flavor, particularly the sweetness/spiciness that a lot of us enjoy.)

Anyway, it recently dawned on me that I'd never actually tasted that young, clear corn whiskey, and maybe I should. I'd seen versions of it on sale in some of the larger liquor stores, but unfortunately, not at any of the places around here. Fortunately, we have the Internet.

Since moonshine obviously has been around for centuries and can be widely variable in flavor, strength and quality, I figured it might be a good idea to do a little online research instead of buying the first one I ran across.

It turns out Finger Lakes Distilling in upstate New York makes a clear corn whiskey called Glen Thunder, named in honor of the nearby Watkins Glen racetrack.

The name is a nice nod to the history of NASCAR. While I’m not a fan (although my best friend is), I’ve learned that NASCAR has its roots in and got some of its early stars from among bootleggers who souped up their cars to run moonshine and outrun revenuers during prohibition.

And speaking of roots, while upstate New York isn’t Kentucky or Tennessee, it’s the place where my immigrant ancestors on both my (Irish) mother’s and my (German) father’s sides of the family originally settled after arriving in America.

I did some more reading, and it turned out Glen Thunder got near-universally good reviews. Combined with the historical and genealogical connections, that pretty much closed the deal.
The next problem was how to get it. Glen Thunder is available in a lot of places around New York, a handful of places beyond, and as near as I can tell, nowhere in the upper Midwest. Worse, the only place online I could find that was willing to do a mail order wanted more than the price of a bottle for the shipping and handling.

So I reached out to my online friends. Two members of the NYC-based Yancy Street Gang went looking and one of them soon scored a couple of bottles. Turns out there are some pretty stringent regulations these days about what can be shipped via what carriers and where, but in a feat of what some might call modern-day bootlegging, those bottles found their way to my door a couple of weeks back.

So what does it taste like?

Well, it's obvious that the folks at Finger Lakes work hard to craft their clear corn whiskey as a finished product, not just something that will be transformed into a “real” whiskey later. This stuff is plenty real.

A lot of the reviews I read mention a creamed corn taste. While I definitely tasted corn, it reminded me more of cornbread—almost a dry flavor.

On the other hand, there definitely was a sweetness (this should give you some idea of my ignorant palette—I've got "dry" and "sweet" in the same tasting!), and a bit of a bite as it crosses the tongue. But unlike some of the cheaper whiskeys I've tried over the years, Glen Thunder has a nice, light, almost fruity aftertaste.

It went down fine out of the shot glass, and was even better over ice—the melting water seemed to release some additional flavors, although I haven't got the vocabulary or experience to try to describe them, other than "Good."

I don't think anyone would call Glen Thunder "smooth" or describe the flavors as subtle, but they're a nice mix and no question they're enjoyable.

So the Glen Thunder goes on the sideboard next to the JD Single Barrel—something I'll enjoy straight up or over ice, and will savor and share with company (at least those who enjoy whiskey).

02 August 2011

From the desert to the prairie

Since Kathleen and I met and decided to share an apartment back in 1989, we've moved eight times. In a couple of weeks we'll be doing that for the ninth time.

It's kind of ironic--we met when both of us were in government service, and one of the reasons we left government service was because we didn't want to move every few years.

Turns out it was less the jobs than who we are.

I can't speak for Kathleen, but against all odds (back in the eighties, I would have bet that I'd live and work within 10-15 miles of my hometown for the rest of my life), I seem to have become a change junkie. That's not to say there hasn't been a good reason for each and every of those eight (soon to be nine) moves, it's just to note that I've discovered that I kinda enjoy and even look forward to it.

One thing that makes moving immeasurably easier is not having preconceptions about where we're going. Our next destination is Brookings, South Dakota. I'm not sure many people who weren't born and raised in South Dakota would aspire to live there. But having had the opportunity to visit the town a couple of times, I can emphatically say that I do.

It's a terrific place, about three times the size of the town where I grew up, but I'm not letting its size worry me. We've also lived in what's arguably the largest metro area in the western hemisphere--the Valley of Mexico--so whether bigger or smaller, I'm confident we'll adjust.

I had the chance today to chat on the phone with a guy at a local appliance store up there. We need a washer and dryer, and I want to swap out the electric range for a gas stove in the house where we'll be living.

It's hard to explain exactly what it is, but talking to the guy I had a profound sense of coming home. Here was someone who'd never met me, working with me to figure out the logistics of what I was trying to do, and apparently more concerned about making sure I was going to be satisfied with the service his business was going to provide than with whatever inconvenience my requests might cause him. Wow.

And because we were able to have that kind of comfortable chat, I also found out he's got a fifty-year-old, 40-inch gas range out in his warehouse that will be PERFECT for the old-fashioned kitchen in the new place. He's going to send me a photo and have the gas lines in place and the stove installed by the time we get there.

No offense to the terrific folks in the Valley of the Sun, but that kind of service isn't something I've been able to find around here.

And the woman up there who's been helping us make the arrangements to move in? Let's just say I know the first people I'm inviting to dinner once we get settled. Allison has been nothing less than amazing. We're running out of exclamation points to punctuate the e-mails we've had going back and forth.

Anyhow, none of this is to say living in the greater Phoenix area hasn't been a great ride. I'm going to miss this place and the people we've worked with and gotten to know, as much or more than anyplace we've been over the past 22 years.

Nowhere else have I been able to see flowers in bloom on the way to work every single day of the year. And I can easily imagine us returning 5-6 years down the line. The heat some complain about here is more like a giant heating pad for my aging bones when I come out of work every evening. This IS a great place to live.

But I'm sure it's not the ONLY great place to live--we're heading for another likely prospect in a couple of weeks, and I'm looking forward to all of the new people, new experiences, and yes, new challenges that implies.

24 July 2011

BTW, about the new blog header...

That's a July 4, 1912 photo, looking west up Chestnut Street from near Main Street in my old home town of Stillwater, Minnesota. And yes, I'm in it, over on the right.

03 July 2011

Showing a little more good will at Goodwill

I had a lot to say about a pair of surprising and unfortunate encounters my wife had at a couple of local Goodwill stores while making some donations last week. On Wednesday, I finally got a call from a guy named Dan Kellett. He’s not listed on the Goodwill of Central Arizona “Leadership Team” on their website, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If he's not in the management or PR departments, he should be.

While there was nothing he could do to roll back the clock on Kathleen’s bad experiences, he was plenty reassuring that nothing like what happened to my wife would happen again. He told me GoCA was investigating what had happened and apologized profusely.

I naturally accepted, and told him there wasn’t really anything we wanted from Goodwill, beyond that reassurance. We’ve generally had good experiences with the organization and have been longtime donors and customers, so I appreciated him taking the time to call and talk with me about what happened. I was satisfied that the employees at the two stores in question would be given some additional training on customer relations, and told him I wasn’t out to get anyone fired or anything like that.

Turns out that the last isn’t my call. Dan explained to me that intentionally (or even recklessly) destroying property belonging to Goodwill (which is what that smashed box of toys was, since it belonged to Goodwill the moment we turned it over to a store employee) obviously is against company policy.

Dan said he planned to pull the video from the security cameras at that store and see if any of them captured the incident. Then the store manager and/or HR folks at GoCA will make a decision about the extent of any disciplinary action that might be warranted.

He also offered us a gift card, which we turned down--we're on the donating side, not looking to get anything out of this--and said that if Kathleen has any concerns about returning to either store with additional donations, to call him and he’d meet her there and personally unload her car! I told him that wouldn’t be necessary either, but he gave me his personal cell phone number and told me I could call “any time, 24/7” if we had any additional problems with Goodwill.

Anyhow, very classy guy and we very much appreciate his response.

And we will be donating more stuff to Goodwill, although maybe nothing breakable until we’re certain word has trickled down to the folks working the donation areas. For the time being, that stuff will go out via Freecycle, where we can put it directly into the hands of someone who wants and will appreciate it.

27 June 2011

Not much good will at Goodwill

On Sunday afternoon, my wife dropped off some boxes of children’s toys at the Goodwill store located at 5263 South Power Road in Mesa, Arizona.

These were items our daughters, now grown, had treasured and saved throughout their childhoods, items we’d spent the last two days digging out of various boxes in a hot garage.

My wife brought them inside for triage: she sorted them, washed off any that were dirty, then put all of the various pieces together into sets, making sure each set was complete.

We hoped that through a Goodwill store, these toys might bring the same kind of joy to someone else’s little girls that they’d brought to ours.

So after cleaning and organizing everything, she carefully packed the lot into some banker’s boxes, so they’d be easy for her to transport and easy for the folks at the store to handle.

She arrived at the store donation/drop-off area at about 5:40 PM. It wasn’t busy—she was the only person there. There were two people outside to receive donations. One of them, a dark-haired young man with a goatee or some kind of facial hair, came over to help her unload.

He took the first box out of the trunk and to her shock, hurled through the air, over a line of canvas hoppers full of clothing—to where it crashed to the concrete floor, by her estimate, some fifty feet away.

Toys and pieces of toys flew in all directions.

My wife was stunned. That box had contained a beautiful little plastic jewelry box in perfect condition, electronic toys we’d tested to make sure they all worked, and additional bags of miscellaneous plastic toys.

Alarmed, she asked him to be careful and explained she’d just spent hours cleaning and organizing those toys. He didn’t even give her the courtesy of an answer, although he grudgingly carried (and dropped) the rest of the boxes instead of throwing them.

She left the store in tears. When she got home, I asked her what was wrong. She told me “I can’t say or I’ll start crying again.”

We donate a lot of stuff to Goodwill, and have been doing so for years because we believe in its mission and the good work it (usually) does. When it’s clothing, we always make sure it’s in good, wearable condition. When it’s electronics, we test each piece to make sure everything is in working order. And when it’s toys, we always make sure they’re complete and intact, things a parent can buy for a child and neither of them will be disappointed. If something is broken or worn out, or if it’s simply not something we’d consider buying ourselves, we throw it away.

If that store didn’t want or need those toys, they could have said so and sent my wife to another store. We gladly would have taken them elsewhere and donated them to a church or a women’s shelter or some other charity where they would have been appreciated and, with luck, made a child or children happy.

Treating our donations with such callous disregard—essentially destroying them (and negating the hours of effort that went into getting them ready to donate)—with my wife standing right there was unconscionable and inexcusable.

Am I overreacting?

Well, the day before, she dropped off another carload of items at the Goodwill store located at 868 Gilbert Road, in Gilbert. It was mostly toys—including a big box of dolls and a few “See ‘N Says”—along with some girls’ clothing, and some small appliances (all tested and cleaned up). That place was busy when she arrived, with a number of other cars waiting in line. But she was still a little taken aback when the woman who came over to help unload said, “All of this sh*t?”

So you have to wonder: Is this how Goodwill regards our donations? If that’s all they mean to the people at the stores—things to throw and break, things to denigrate—then as of right now, we’re done making donations to Goodwill.

Their website says Goodwill "treat[s] all people with dignity and respect," but you wouldn’t know it by the treatment we received this past weekend.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve been trying to get in touch with someone at Goodwill of Central Arizona headquarters to discuss these incidents for the past two days. I’ve left multiple voice mails and talked to the woman who answers the phone there at least three times. There are more than a dozen people listed on their website as the “Leadership Team,” but each time I’ve called I was told no one was available to speak with me, and no one has followed up on my messages.

You'd think someone would want to address this insulting, seemingly incomprehensible behavior.