Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Talkin' 'Bout My Mom's G-g-g-generation

My mother, who passed away shortly before Christmas of 2009, gave birth to me a bit "late" in life. (She was 39, older than most women were who were having children back in 1956.) And as that parenthetical reference should tell you, I myself passed the half-century mark slightly over three years ago.

That means that although the earliest family photo I can find is of my mother's two eldest siblings, the photo above is still over 100 years old.

The picture probably dates from 1906. The lad on the left is my Uncle Peter (named after his dad), born in 1904. On the right of the photo stands his impish-looking older sister Josephine (named after her mom, my maternal grandmother), my "Aunt Josie," whom I unfortunately never met. Peter would have been about two years old, while Josie -- born in 1902, I believe -- was about four in this photo.

As for my mother herself... well... she wasn't due to show up for ten years or so! And since not a lot of photos were taken in the 20th century's first decade (I'm referring to my mom's family, of course, and not the world in general), the third Sepia Saturday in which I participate will probably show the earliest known photo of my mother!

All told, my maternal grandparents -- immigrants from Lithuania sometime around the turn of the century -- had seven children, two girls and five boys. (Well, as the saying goes, everybody needs a hobby!) Aunt Josie was the oldest, and my mom was the youngest, so the two girls provided the Alpha and the Omega to their little family group.

I'm not sure when and why, but at some point after his entry into the USA, Peter Streimekis -- or Stremekes, or Streimekes, or Streimikis! -- became Peter Hartman, and that's the name all of his American-born children were raised as. Family lore has it that the change was actually made by a brother of his.

But why "Hartman," I often wonder.

Now, I can understand when some impatient dork at Ellis Island lopped a syllable or two or three off of an immigrant's name -- a switch from "Kantrowitz" to "Kanter" comes to mind, as does an eventual progression from "Lafayette" to "Fayette" to "Fay" -- but how on earth do you get Hartman from Streimekis?

There's too darned much about these people -- my grandparents, that is -- that I will never know. I don't know if they came over from Lithuania as a married couple, or if they met here in America. And I have no idea when the name change became legal... but my grandparents' 1923 divorce decree lists their surname as Stremekes.

The above document -- right-click on it if you want to see it in a (hopefully) slightly larger form in a new tab or window -- is the official "Stremekes" divorce decree, listing the cause of divorce as being "adultery and desertion." Said adultery and desertion was committed by my very own "grammy," who left her husband and six minor children roughly four years before the above document was issued... when my mother was approximately two years old.

Family legend has it that Grammy Josephine, who walked away from it all to cohabit and canoodle with her boyfriend, became a bootlegger of sorts during Prohibition. I came along many years later, of course, years after things had been somewhat patched up between Grammy and her children. Not being one of the children she abandoned, therefore, I never harbored any feelings of resentment toward her... although as a very young child, I often wondered why my father's parents were "Grampy" and "Grammy" Lynch, and my mother's mother was "Grammy" as well... but her husband was simply referred to as... "Dominic."

And to this day, I still think it's kinda cool that my Grammy was a bootlegger!

Next time, whenever that "next time" may be... I'll introduce you to my dad!

And speaking of "time," thanks for your time.


  1. Very interesting post, David. I found myself googling, "Lithuanian for heart" to see if there was a connection, but came up with nothing. Peter wasn't a cardiologist back in the old country, by any chance?

    I think it's cool that your grandmother was a bootlegger! It certainly makes for an interesting tale.


  2. did she leave you any recipes...just wondering...smiles.

  3. Perhaps Hartman came from the simple fact that the ending of the original name sounded like 'kiss' - where do kisses come from but the heart? Enjoyed both photos and stories, Ta!

  4. This is such an intriguing story! You should write a could embellish on the boot legging aspect : )
    Peter & Josie were darling children.
    I am sorry to hear about your Mother. I know our Mothers passing leaves a void that can't be filled.
    Hope your arm is doing better today. Have a great weekend!

  5. Wow, what an interesting life!

    Geeze, when I research my family's background all I get are Priests and Nun and you get a bootlegger. Its not fair!

  6. Laughing at Barry's comment. hee!

    Thanks for joining in, David. The picture is lovely and the tale very interesting!

    Hope you're on the mend!

  7. Very interesting stories. I have neighbors who are Thompsons but their real name I could not spell. It is amazing how misconduct can bury itself so deep or it can be viewed as an interesting turn of events.

  8. Good story and precious photo. Now I feel not so bad about not knowing so much of my own family history; and the name changes in your family are even more mysterious than in my Polish ancestry! Speedy healing to you.

  9. I've been searching for family members on census records lately, and the name changes and spellings are a real challenge! Nice post!

  10. David,
    Now I'm eagerly awaiting the chapter about your Dad...I don't think you ever told me about him!...Paul Howley

  11. Have you checked and gone through spelling variants to find Peter? (His name might not have been Peter, so I'd not get too wedded to that). I did a quick check and sound close surnames, but no Peter. It would be interesting to know what the surname meant in Lithuanian - Kat is right. I did as much research as I could on my former husband's Lithuanian grandparents. He knew his grandfather as Frank Kremensky, but on "Frank's" first entry into the US, he was Franziskno Gramanskas, I think. And on his grave marker in the Lithuanian National Cemetery near Midway Airport in Chicago, he's Pranciskus Kremenskas. When he and his wife came to the U.S. together in 1910, they were Franz and Monka Kremenski. In the citizenship records, his name was spelled altogether differently. It's tedious work, but I'm sure you can find him.

  12. Love the spice of the bootlegging Grammy Josephine!

  13. I love that grammy was a bootlegger! Wonderful family story. Perhaps the Hartman came from someone they met, someone helpful or kind to them. Would be nice if they'd left us clues, eh? Thanks for sharing!

  14. Bootleggers Rule! As Do Lithuanians! Lovely Post.Thank You.

  15. Fascinating post. What I find so informative about the Sepia Saturday posts from our American (and Canadian) contributors is the way they remind us of the diverse cultural background of modern America. It is so easy for us from Europe to forget about this. As I said, fascinating.

  16. Wow... Thanks, everyone, for all your comments. (I'll be attempting to visit your SS posts, where applicable, and will comment on them as time -- and my razzer-frazzer arm -- permits.) Just answering questions or otherwise replying to them could be one or more posts... and will be. Hope you all "stay tuned," as it were. Even if I can't do much more on my own blog for a short while, I should be able to keep up with that.

  17. So after all these years, I finally realized why you kept wanting to set up a still in our apartment... ;) Great post!

  18. Oh I'm sure there were heart-burnings at the time, but..but..brava, grammy! I mean seriously, how many divorce decrees were there in those days? Probably more than we know, but still not the norm, by any means.

    And now I will have to ask my mother if she has any photos of "Wicked" Christine that I can post up next Saturday!

  19. I love it! I wonder if your Grammy knew my Pop's dad? He use to manufacture moonshine( up 'til the late '70's! )

    But yeah, the new "name" given? Who knows, really...Literacy wasn't a strong point in those days( as some of the records do indicate... ) and some dates are even suspect, as I've found out about mine...

  20. That is cool your grandmother was a bootlegger! Good story!

  21. really interesting history - the both look like little angels in the picture -

  22. Hey...checking in on you! How's the arm? Drop me a line if you can handed! :)

  23. Bootlegging IS interesting...but I bet they didn't pay any benefits...

  24. Highly entertaining, David! I do hope your arm is mending.

  25. there is a song in there "my grammy was a bootlegger"

    interesting and colorful family history.

    very sorry about hearing about the death of your mom - although she lived a long life (92 if I did my arithmetic correctly), that is little comfort when it comes to grief.


  26. Hi, always interesting pop back into history check out our roots.
    I believe mine has pirates, opium smugglers, cutthroats here and there, ha ha.
    Have a nice day, Lee.
    ps, you sure remind me of Cary Grant.

  27. Your family history is one of the reasons my dad went into much interesting history just sitting there in the half-forgotten family trees.

    Glad you have that old picture scanned, too...priceless things, those old family shots.

  28. @Cake: Really? Your dad got into genealogy just because of my family? Cool!

    Oh, wait, that's probably not what you meant...

    Never mind.


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