“Since I left town to go to Pittsburgh back in ’54, we’ve had very few contacts, except for funerals and a couple of marriages, with any of the family (Schellhardts/Wissmans). We kinda rely on Mom and Mary for all the scoop.” -- Letter from Al Wissman to Frannie Stephano (the late, great family genealogist)
I came across these words this weekend in a letter written from one cousin to another (well, maybe a cousin once removed) back when people wrote letters to each other. It was striking because less than an hour after reading it, I was driving my mother to the funeral of a recently-rediscovered cousin-in-law. I thought about those words from that letter during the funeral Mass and I thought about the lifespans of families and how over the years – decades – the natural order of families change. They expand, they grow upwards and out, their roots nurture, and their branches support and protect all the new branches that grow. But in all that growing, sometimes families become far removed from shared beginnings – with funerals and weddings being the only occasions when far flung relatives connect, just like Cousin Al wrote.
So, who was this long lost / recently-rediscovered cousin-in-law whose life my mom and I celebrated on Saturday? Her name was Frances Wissman and she was married to the late Fred Wissman. If you are the child or grandchild of Charles, Bill, Bob, Helen, Anne, or Margaret Schellhardt, Fred was their first cousin, the son of Anna Wissman Schellhardt’s brother Alfred and his wife Catherine. (And to put Cousin Al into context, he was a first cousin too – the son of Alfonse and Louisa Wissman).
My mom thought Frances passed away several years ago; however, a couple of weeks ago when another cousin a few steps removed posted about her Aunt Fran and tagged Fran’s daughter, Betty Wissman, my mom connected the dots and realized that this was a branch of the family tree that we lost track of over time. She made plans to visit with Betty and Frances. Sadly, Frances passed away before that came to fruition.
I never met Frances and my mother has few memories of her so I am in no position to write a memorial. What I know of Frances I learned on Saturday from the priest and daughter who eulogized her. They spoke of a kind and humble woman who cared about people, especially those who were marginalized. She led a long life that was filled with love and hope and faith – as all good lives should be.
I am sad that I never had a chance to meet Frances or that my mother did not get the chance to reconnect with her. Such is the lifespan of a family. But just as Cousin Al’s words ring true, so do the words included on the last page of France’s funeral program, “Let us not grieve – beyond letting go – for in the Tree of Life, Frances’ roots and ours are forever intertwined.”
Rest in Peace, Frances Wissman. I hope you were welcomed home by the entire Wissman/Schellhardt clan.
While I don't have pictures of Frances Wissman, we do have a picture of her late husband and first cousin to Schellhardt siblings, Fred Wissman. He is the boy wearing the tie.
Since I mentioned him, Cousin Al Wissman is on the left of this photo, seated next to his sister Mary (whom he referenced in his letter). Charles and Bobby Schellhardt are next to Mary.
For the first time in a long time, I was able to enjoy a cup of tea while sitting on my deck with the sun shining down. Spring is upon us – it is a season of new life, rebirth, and change. All good things after a long winter!
I haven’t written here – or anywhere really – since November 2013. If I’m being honest, that’s when my own long, brutal winter began. To be frank, the last year and a half has been a struggle that, some days, I didn’t think I’d survive with my sanity intact. And when you’re fighting so hard to keep it together in one area of your life, other areas of that life suffer, especially for an introverted Pisces like me. To say my creative juices were sapped from my heart and soul is an understatement. The thought of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard has been too overwhelming in the last year. But Spring is upon us. It is a season of change. This long winter is nearing its end.
An opportunity recently came my way to reset the dial. In so doing, my heart and soul are a bit lighter. The words are coming back to me. My fingers are dancing across the keyboard again. There are stories that are waiting to be written. I hope you’ll come along for the journey again to uncover our family story.
It’s time to put the winter behind us and look towards the sun.*
*Please do not look directly at the sun. Or make sure you’re at least wearing sunglasses.
August 31, 1997. Visiting friends the night before I left for college.
July 16, 1999. Awakened by my mom who told me the news.
September 11, 2001. Watching the Today Show in my mom's room.
Those are the days that I remember where I was. Days that have been marked in history as significant days. Important days. Days to remember.
Days like November 22, 1963.
Like all days, they all started as just another date on the calendar. Just an ordinary, run of the mill day to get through.
On November 22, 1963, my mom was 17 years old. She was a senior at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. She was an innocent girl living an ordinary life. But she was also so much more. She was a girl on the cusp of new beginnings. She was a girl with big dreams. She was a girl with an unwritten future.
In many ways, I think she was a lot like the United States was on that day in 1963 - standing on the precipice of change.
But no one ever thinks about those things until time has moved on and it's time to look back.
On November 22, 1963, when Margaret Mary Schellhardt woke up in her room on Montgomery Avenue, it was a relatively ordinary day. Except for one special event. See, that day was Yearbook Photo Day.
After her graduation portrait was taken, she went to Religion class. It was taught by a Mercy nun in the habit of wearing habits; her name was Sister Rosamond but Margaret Mary called her Peahead because "her head looked like a pea." The November afternoon was unseasonably warm so the classroom windows were open. The sounds of a car radio wafted up to the classrooms. It sounded mournful, like "Taps" or a requiem. Soon after, she would learn that indeed it was a requiem. A requiem for the slain President. They made the announcement over the loud speaker. The President had been assassinated. The students were dismissed early. That evening's dance was canceled. She went home. Later that afternoon, she had to pick up her best friend - so distraught about the news, she missed her stop in Oreland so Margaret had to drive over to Ardsley to get her. "I was so scared."
Innocence shattered. New beginnings ended. Dreams dashed. A future changed.
November 22, 1963 was an ordinary day that turned extraordinary.
It was a day that would be remembered.
Where were you on November 22, 1963?
(P.S. I owe you a photograph from that day. 50 years on, yearbooks tend to get misplaced!)
There’s something about Schellhardts and food. We like it. We Some of us like cooking it. Lots of us like to eat it. Or maybe this is a gross generalization and the foodie obsession is just on my branch of the family tree. It always surprises me when I find out that not everyone plans vacations around the number of restaurants that they can visit in a 24 hour period!
Like it or not food – or maybe I should say entertaining – is in our blood. You can trace it back to that tap room at 30th and Girard or you can trace it back to Mathilda Horn Wissmann’s days as a cook – allegedly for wealthy Philadelphians. Either way, a Schellhardt party isn’t a party without a spread of culinary delights. And if my mom is hosting, well, be sure to pack a doggie bag.
For a long time, I thought the culinary arts gene skipped me. I’ve never been big on cooking – there were way too many dangers, from burning the house down to cutting a finger off while slicing an onion. I left the cooking up to my brother – it helped that he spent most of his formative teenage years in the kitchen of a local Italian restaurant. And lemme tell you, that boy can make a mean chicken parm.
It also didn’t help the situation that I have a mom who loves cooking and freezing care packages for me. Seriously, why bother cooking? Over the past few years, however, I’ve tapped into my latent cooking talent. I mean, when you’re pinning hundreds of recipes on Pinterest, you’d better start doing something with them, am I right?
But who needs Pinterest when there’s the Schellhardt Growing Cookbook?! Did you even know there was a family cookbook?! It was “published” in 1991 for our big family reunion. Family members near and far, short and long, contributed recipes to the cookbook. And I’m quite sure it became a cherished part of cookbook collections across the Schellhardt family.
But it’s been 20 years since the first publication! Time for a new and improved edition. Or just a new way to make it available! I’ve made the complete Schellhardt Growing Cookbook
available on our website under the Schellhardt’s Café tab. Appropriate, eh?
As an homage to contributors to that first cookbook, I plan on making something from it each week and sharing the fruits of my labor with you right here! Anyone up for a cook-off?!
But that’s not all! I say we grow the Schellhardt Growing Cookbook. Do you have a favorite family recipe that you want to share with the rest of us? Is there a special dish that you take to every family get-together? If you do – send it to email@example.com
and we’ll add it to the online cookbook!
In the meantime – happy cooking! Or eating, if that’s more your thing!
Gathered around the table
There are many photographs that have become iconic images over time – a sailor kissing a nurse in the middle of a New York City street; a little boy saluting his father’s coffin on his third birthday; a King shaking hands with a President. * They are images that have become ingrained in our history – black and white (or sometimes even color!) glimpses into our past.
Focus. Zoom. Click. The camera capturing one precise moment in time for all eternity. Unless you have a digital camera. Then you can erase what you don’t want to keep.
Today’s featured photo is another one of those moments in time and it is probably one of the most iconic photographs in the Schellhardt family photo collection. It ranks right up there with Max and Anna’s wedding portrait. In fact, for a long time, this was the only picture that indicated that my mother’s siblings were young – no, little – once upon a time.
Yes, here it is. Three brothers in a life ring.
Leaving or returning. I was never quite sure. The picture that hung in my mother’s collage was cropped. The uncropped picture reveals three brothers in a life ring with skinny legs and knobby knees.
Three brothers in shorts. Dressed more for an ocean voyage in July than for one in March. My assumption is that they were three brothers in a life ring leaving.
Three brothers leaving on an adventure. They had the run of a whole, great, big ship. Can you imagine the excitement? Can you imagine the trouble that they must’ve gotten into? With those three brothers, there was certainly a little mischief during their voyage.
Three brothers leaving America with their parents, grandmother, and baby sister. Before they left, their Aunt Louisa instructed their mother – don’t let those boys forget their English. Within 8 months, they would. But in these photos, that was still the future.
Three brothers leaving. Excited to be sailing away.
But into what were they sailing?
The thing about photographs – about those single moments in time – they never tell the whole story.
(After posting this - and looking at the photos for a good hour and having a loud debate with myself on the timing of the photos (would you wear a sweater in July? Was March 1935 particularly warm and short-wearing weather? Does Nanny look like she just gave birth the previous month? Did ladies carry black purses after Memorial Day in the 1930s?!) - I decided to couch this entire post with, I don't know anything for sure. Consider this an exercise in creative writing.)
*Bonus trivia question – one of the aforementioned photographs is the most requested record from the National Archives. Which one is it?
In 2003, I was issued my first passport. With it in hand, the girl smiling out at the world from the passport photo was ready to venture out into the great unknown beyond America! That’s what you do when you get a passport – you explore! You cross borders! You go through customs! With a passport, you see the world!
Or you go home.
I imagine that the spring and early summer of 1934 was a time of planning and preparation for Max and Anna and their small family. There were changes in store for these Schellhardts. Not only was another baby on the way but there was a move to make. And this wasn’t any cross-city move. This was a move across the ocean.
For Max, it was a move back home.
At some point – the facts and mundane details lost to history – Max decided to take his family back to Germany to help his father with the family business (a tavern? a hotel? it’s never been quite clear to me.) You have to wonder too whether Max at 29 – now a man with family responsibilities and multiple dependents – was leaving an economically depressed country to go to a land of opportunity just as he had, in reverse, at the age of 19.
Whatever the reason, the Schellhardts left America in July 1934.
But remember, Max was no longer a German citizen. He was an American. And so he needed a U.S. passport to go home.
He was issued Passport No. 113690 on June 6, 1934. At that time, wives and children were included in the passports of their head of household so Max’s wife Anna and their three sons are listed in his passport. In a bit of interesting timing, the fourth Schellhardt child, Helen, was born two days after the passport was issued. Since you can’t just slip a baby through customs – no matter how cute – an amendment had to be made. On July 9th, Helen’s picture was added on Page 6 and I would wager she is probably the youngest Schellhardt child to be recorded in a passport.
There are interesting things about the passport – first, Anna’s name is listed as Marie Anna. It is one of the many instances of Nanny’s flip-flopping name. Secondly, Max’s birth date is incorrectly recorded – April 5, 1905. He (someone?) was eight days off. Lastly, look closely at the stamps and you realize that Max was going back to a different country than the one that he left as a young man. But we, of course, have the benefit of hindsight and history books.
I blew up the cover of Max’s passport and it’s now framed and hanging in my dining room. When I look at it, I imagine the journey that this record – and that’s what this is to this archivist, a record – took so many years ago. I wonder if it was stuffed in Max’s jacket pocket or tucked away in Anna’s pocketbook. Was it gingerly placed on a counter were some junior immigration official thumbed through the pages? Was it hastily pulled out to be presented upon disembarking? Did it get lost in the shuffle of a week long journey across the ocean? Did it hear (records hear just like they speak, doncha know?) someone yell in a panic “where is the passport?!”
I am lucky in that I can hold this piece of our family’s history in my hands. Every once in a while, I take it out and I experience the weight of it even though it is not heavy in the least. I run my fingers across the (surely fake) gold embossed cover and the raised stamps that are the hallmarks of a government record. I flip through the pages, even the blank ones…because even without words, there is a story on those pages. I look at the photographs and I see a family ready to venture beyond America.
This passport took our family home.
And brought them back home again.
I know, I know. I’m a day late on this whole Independence Day thing. My town doesn’t actually celebrate until tomorrow – because it’s screwy like that – so technically, it’s not too late to wave Old Glory and wish you a Happy Fourth of July.
Fun factoid about me – the Fourth of July is my most favorite holiday. It even outranks Christmas! When you think about our brave forefathers and their decision to break away from British tyranny, well, you can’t help but wanna wear your very best red, white, and blue and sing the Star Spangled Banner at the top of your lungs!
For me, the Fourth of July was strictly a Henderson family affair – we used to have a big party for my dad’s side of the family and, occasionally, a Schellhardt or two may have joined in. The only non-Henderson Fourth of July that I (barely) remember is the one time that we celebrated in Dover with the Delaware Schellhardts. I remember going to the town square at night to watch fireworks and that’s about it. Heck, it might not have even been the Fourth at all; maybe Uncle Bill just had a really good day crabbing that day.
In all the family photographs that I’ve gone through, I haven’t come across any featuring Fourth of July celebrations so that made this Photo Friday difficult. But then I came across this one!
It looks like it was taken in front of Nanny’s house in Oreland so I’m going to assume that these cousins were watching the famous Oreland Fourth of July parade.
Or maybe they just really like sitting on the lawn waving little Old Glories.
Today marks the 87th wedding anniversary of Max and Anna Schellhardt. To celebrate, I'd thought we'd play a game! Find five things that are different in these two wedding portraits!
There's something really different. Do you see it?
No word on who was the better best man.
This weekend was jammed-packed with lots of family time thanks to two parties in the Delaware Schellhardt branch of the family tree! On Saturday, we celebrated the November nuptials of Joan’s oldest son Eric and his wife Whitney at a seafood/crab feast at their home in Maryland. On Sunday, we headed west to West Virginia to celebrate Mary’s son’s graduation from high school. All total, I put 250 miles on my dad’s car but it was well worth it!
At the party on Saturday, Eric said a few words that have stayed with me all weekend and it was the perfect set-up for Memory Monday. Eric told us how when he was a young Marine, a chaplain described heaven to him as being your very best memories replayed over and over again. I think that’s probably one of the most beautiful descriptions of heaven that I’ve ever heard. It sure beats my vision of heaven where there’s an all you can eat baked potato bar.
For Eric, and I’d wager for most of the Delaware Schellhardts, some of the best memories were of summer days swimming and eating crabs at Nan and Pop’s (Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill to the rest of us!) I figure there’s going to be a lot of Schellhardts eating crabs in heaven one day!
Now, this picky eater wasn’t much of a crab eater when I was a kid – nor did I ever really master the art of picking crabs – but some of my best memories of going to Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill’s were when the big kitchen table was cleared off, covered with newspaper, and piled high with crabs that Uncle Bill caught that day!
Since today is the unofficial kick-off to summer, I can’t think of a better memory (or pictures) to share!
A few weeks ago, we looked at the 1910 Census. Today, we’ll jump ahead 10 years to 1920 to look at the 13th Census of the United States. But let’s consider the world of the 1910s.
In 1910, the world didn’t have Oreo cookies, crossword puzzles, Boy – or Girl – Scouts, Pulitzer Prizes, parachutes, assembly lines, traffic lights, or daylight savings time. People had to hand-crank their automobiles to get them started. Women did not have the right to vote. America only had 46 states. Monarchies ruled a Europe that hadn’t yet been torn apart by a world war.
By 1920, that had all changed. People were enjoying their Oreos and crossword puzzles in a post-war world where they had to remember to turn their clocks back every fall…or whatever. Women had the right to vote but no one had the right to drink. Ahh, progress is sweet indeed! Welcome to the Roaring Twenties, folks!
We don’t know much about how Mathilda Wissmann and her children spent the decade between 1910 and 1920. Or even if they ever ate Oreos. We do know that - probably early in the decade – the recently widowed Mathilda put her children in St. Vincent’s Home for Children while she attempted to find work to support her family – a common occurrence during this time period.
But by 1920, the family was back together under one roof at 1514 North Leithgow Street, the same neighborhood where they lived in 1910. They no longer lived with family (Alfred probably married and Edmond returned to Germany at some point) or boarders. The house itself was located a few blocks northeast of their former lodgings on North Fifth Street and a few blocks away from St. Peter’s Church where Anna Wissmann herself stated that she attended school. According to zillow.com, the row-home at 1514 North Leithgow was built in 1920 so it is highly likely that the Wissmanns were the first residents of the house.
46 year old Mathilda, a widow for over 10 years at this point, rented the home and lived there with her 18 year old son Alfred, 16 year old son Alphonse, and 12 year old daughter Anna. Having left the cigar business behind at some point, Mathilda listed her occupation as that of housekeeper. Oldest son Alfred, perhaps following in his father’s footsteps, listed his occupation as a cabinet worker. Alphonse was listed as a student. Anna’s occupation was listed as bookbinder. For years, I thought this was a mistake – that it was Anna who was the student and Alphonse who was the bookbinder. But then Aunt Helen told me that Anna (Nanny) quit school in the middle of 8th grade – she got a good mark in arithmetic so she figured she’d quit while she was ahead. So, I guess the information on the census form is correct! Nanny was a 12 year old bookbinder!
Unfortunately, there is very little information known about the Wissmanns from 1910 to the late 1920s so the 1920 Census is a nice little glimpse into their lives during this time. While we don’t know much about this time period, we know that by 1930, everything will be completely different.
See you on the next Censusational Sunday!
*Why is it so hard to find the Wissmanns on the 1920 Census. Blame it on the people who indexed the records. “Wissmann” isn’t clearly written…it almost looks like “Kissmann”. So, if you’re searching on ancestry.com, take things like this into account!
The Wissmann family circa 1920