RSS: RSS Feed Icon

On the basis of Beth Kephart's recommendation in her book Handling the Truth, I ordered a copy of Hiroshima in the Morning through Powells. The author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto received a fellowship to go to Japan in mid-2001 for six months and research her planned novel about the bombing of Hiroshima. What she did not expect was the wrenching difficulty (in a myriad of ways) of parting from her husband and 2 young sons in NYC and how complicated it would be to navigate Japanese culture and gain the insight she wanted on her subject.

This is a really tough book to classify because if I tell you it will resonate strongly with women who feel torn between family life and their work, you will probably immediately think of "Lean In" and not give it a second thought. But that aspect of the book is important and needs to be noted. Rizzuto's personal/professional conflict is so intense and so tied to the unique aspects of researching a book, that any writer who has ever felt similarly torn is going to identify very powerfully with her words. She wonders if she is committed enough to her marriage and motherhood and also worries about her own mother who is suffering from the early stages of dementia. Are there other places where Rizzuto should be? It doesn't help when her husband starts to rethink all of his earlier support for the project after spending one too many nights dealing with sick kids. And all Rizzuto can tell him is that she is talking to people, visiting museums and temples, "soaking up" the culture of Japan.

She might be more convincing if she felt more certain that she was getting done the work she needed.

That's the other impressive aspect of Hiroshima in the Morning--Rizzuto's discovery of how complicated the Hiroshima story is. The book has excerpts from the interviews she conducted with survivors and they are the very definition of gut wrenching. Rizzuto finds herself overwhelmed by the horror of those stories, (you will be too), and transformed by them. Then 9/11 happens and her family arrives for a visit and again her vision of herself and the world goes through another change.

There is a lot about this book that made me think about writing, history, stories, the power of family and so much more. So many times as a writer I have questioned the value of what I choose to do with my life and anyone who has ever been in that position will understand what Rizzuto goes through. But the stories from Hiroshima are what has stayed with me more than anything else and they make me think yet again how much our history is dominated by the way we tell stories, and our collective acceptance of who does the telling.

Five (!!) years ago, I posted about my grandmother's cousin, Evelyn. She died relatively young of a disease (I thought typhus) that was caught from a used mattress. Her toddler son died as well. At the time, I did not know Evelyn's married name nor her husband's name nor her year of death. All I knew was that she and my grandmother were quite close as evident from the many photos of them together.

Soooo...a couple of months ago I decided to get serious about Evelyn. Her mother was one of my great grandmother's younger half sisters and I hope to track down this missing branch of the family and learn more about my great grandmother's childhood from them. Also, I just wanted to find out what happened.

I searched through census records and found her with her married name. I found two marriages for her, both to Joseph Baranello. One was in 1933 which makes sense as her first child was born in 1934. The second was in 1937. They are the exact same names so I think it's unlikely that one of these marriages was a different couple. I have no idea why they got married twice but I'll run this down eventually, if only because the weirdness can't be ignored.

With her married name I easily found her death record and also that of her baby boy, Richard, who died two weeks before.

As it turns out, Evelyn died on my birthday in 1940. That kind of freaks me out a bit because I come from people for whom signs are everything. (Blame Catholicism and all those saints.) Evelyn and I had more in common than I thought.

She did die from a communicable disease. It looks like diphtheria from the certificate although I will have to follow up for another report apparently to know for sure. Her coffin however was ordered hermetically sealed (written in hand down the side of the certificate). This was established practice for communicable diseases at the time. And now I have the cemetery where she was buried although I won't be following up on that. (Because really - $105 to find out who she is buried with is just a bit high to me.)

Evelyn was 23 years and 10 months old when she died. She had two older daughters, Joan & Barbara Baranello. According to my grandmother, their father took them away and they were never seen again. I was told he was from South America or "someplace like that," except from census records he seems to be have been born in NYC in 1916. Finding Joan and Barbara (and their descendants) will require some more work, I know but finding them might mean more answers about my great grandmother's mother who is the real mystery in all this. So I'll keep looking but at least now I have Eveyln, and that is something good.

Just look at how happy she is in that picture. She smiles in every photo I have of her.

[Post pic from l-r, my grandmother Catherine, Marie Gonzales, Evelyn Baranello. Marie was Evelyn's mother and my grandmother's aunt. Taken 1935 - my grandmother was 16, Evelyn was 19, Marie was 38.]

marriagelicense (1).jpg

This is the marriage certificate for my great great grandmother and her husband (who was not my great great grandfather). It has given me a lot of information including, on the 2nd page (which I did not scan), her signature. That finally proved her true name was Maria Filak. As her first and last names are spelled differently in all sorts of census records, it was nice to have that proven. (Even here they screwed up though--as you can see the clerk wrote in "Mary Filak".)

My problem is Maria's address. It is listed under her name and the number, "59", is clear but the street name gets unclear. Starts with an "M", has an "h", maybe a "c". It looks like a "St" at the end--a capital cursive "S" is pretty clear. But what street is this? Marchallow St? Hmmm - doesn't show up I'm afraid.

I just don't know.

The groom's address is 2913 8th Ave and the clergyman who married them was from 405 W. 125th St in Harlem, which I found out online is St Joseph of the Holy Family. (The oldest church in Harlem as it turns out.) But Maria's place of residence is a mystery to me and she is the one who matters most. Her whereabouts between 1886, when she arrived in NYC and 1895, when she married Rudolph, are unknown. In that period she gave birth to my great grandmother, whose father is also unknown. So pinning down any hint as to where Maria was is a very valuable clue in my family history search.

If any of you recognize the street, give me a shout. I'd appreciate any help I can get.

UPDATE: And it looks like we have a winner! We are thinking it is "Manhanttan St." which makes sense as, according to Wikipedia, "West of Convent Avenue, 125th Street was re-routed onto what was formerly called Manhattan Street prior to 1940." That puts us right in the neighborhood of the church! So now I find out what was there in 1895 and try to piece together more of Maria's mysterious life....

Big thanks to Melissa Posten for helping me out on this the second I posted to facebook & everyone else who sent emails. You guys rock!!