Monumental: Part I

Once upon a time, in a galaxy quite nearby, I started a project. It was Fall 2012, and I really anticipated I would wrap it up in fewer than 6 1/4 years. Alas.

If you haven’t read the old post, it contains photos of the graves of my maternal great-grandparents, and a few great-aunts and uncles. At some point, I made a list of the aforementioned, as well as the rest of my maternal ‘greats,’ and decided to bike to all the sites.

Since the initial visits to Zion Hill and F.D. Oates Ave. in Hartford, I have pedaled to The Emmanuel Synagogue’s cemetery in Wethersfield, Beth El’s cemetery in Avon, Veterans Cemetery in Windsor, and finally, today, to Rose Hill in Rocky Hill. A couple of years ago I also threw in a visit to Beth Jacob Cemetery (extra bonus points if you know where that one is before I talk about it below).

Rose Hill proved the most difficult. When I first researched it, I couldn’t find any indication online as to where the specific graves would be. This didn’t really phase me, and one day last year I rode over to see if I could locate them. What I had not taken into consideration, on that fine March day, was there was more snow on the ground at that spot in Rocky Hill than in my yard in West Hartford. Further complicating the matter, all the graves in that cemetery are flat. Pancake flat, and under said snow. I’m willing to visit cemeteries, but I choose to keep my digging metaphorical.

I felt confident today that the ground would be clear. And in my research this morning, I found a new (or new-to-me) Rose Hill website providing the section and plot numbers! It was like finding a clearly marked treasure map. It was a nice, sunny, warm day, and since Sundays are for relaxing, I decided to go on an almost 22 mile ride.

(Turns out 32° was not warm enough, at all, for a ride of this length, and it was hard work defrosting my toes when I got home. A little more than three hours after returning, I’m starting to feel warm again.)

Mission accomplished! There they were, my mom’s aunts/my grandfather’s sisters, Marion, Minnie, and Julia.

 

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Group shot

The family lived for many years on Wayland Street, in the south end of Hartford (landmark: Modern Pastry is on the corner…so hard not to stop for a baked good). I rode by as I made my way home. I believe it had a front porch in its early years [update: it didn’t], but otherwise, still there.

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“The house on Wayland Street”

 

I was also able to ride by the Dwight School, where Minnie was a teacher.

My plan back in 2012 was to put all the photos together, family tree style. Look for that post in the next week to 6 1/4 years 😂. The most amazing part is that I have managed to locate all of the photos I’ve taken. The cobbler’s child goes without shoes, and the archivist’s personal digital files go without metadata…

Regarding Beth Jacob Cemetery…somehow I found out that my great-grandmother/my grandmother’s mother had a brother, who had a few children. These folks are buried in Beth Jacob. If you did a Google Maps search, it most likely came up fruitless. In West Hartford, if you stand in the parking lot of the Shield Street Post Office, and look across the road, there’s a small parcel of land where you will find the forever-stamps of my cousins (I think they’re cousins…) Bernard, Henry, and William Glaubman; their father, Isadore; and his second wife, Rose (his first wife, well, read all about it 😳).

 

Perhaps some day I will go back and take photos with the sunlight at a better angle. In the meantime, I’m very excited to have finally visited all the locations on my list, and to have all the photographs. After more than six years, three smartphones, and two hybrid bikes, I have one more post to go before I put this project to rest.

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Field Museum of Natural History

My grandfather has a louse named after him.
How did that happen? Research.
Where did that happen? Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

I have been thinking a lot about the Field Museum in the past two days, since they announced they will be cutting staff, research, and refocusing their mission. As a professional in the library/archives/museum field, this deeply saddens me. It saddens me even more as the granddaughter of a Field Museum research scientist.

My grandfather, Melvin Alvah Traylor, Jr., spent the bulk of his career researching for the Field Museum. In our family, it is simply known as “the museum.” Though our visits to the Midwest were more often to the family lake house, no trip to Chicago was complete without a day spent at the museum. My most vivid memories are the visits behind the scenes, viewing specimens that Grandpa collected over the years. On his collecting trips they acquired more birds than anyone would today, using methods that are no longer best practice. I remember the smell of the chemical preservatives as each cabinet drawer was opened, the birds neatly arranged, all with paper identification tags attached with string. Audrey Niffenegger writes of this so well in The Time Traveler’s Wife, that I felt as if she’d stolen my memory.

Years after he retired, Grandpa continued his work. The “new guys” welcomed him, and he enjoyed working and learning with them, as well. I have met some of these people. Even if they didn’t continue to praise his work, I would still think of them as wonderful. They came to his funeral, and afterward to the house. One regaled us with stories from his own research.

To me, the Field Museum embodies research. To cut research is to change its entire spirit; a spirit that is not meant to change. Want to switch from handwriting notes to typewriting them and later to word processing them? Fine, that is progress. Want to switch from shooting massive numbers of a single species of bird to methods that are better for everyone and everything around us? Excellent, social responsibility must be valued. Regardless of the methods, the products of research are unique and invaluable. There is nothing unique or valuable about raising admission prices so a visitor – from in or out of town – can view a commodified exhibit and purchase a chain hamburger or latte.

Research lives on, long after the researcher. It is meant to be built upon. Last I knew, my grandfather’s papers are still in desks and file cabinets in the Bird Division. While I was in graduate school, I spoke with the department about possibly processing the collection. Now, as a slightly more seasoned archivist, I am glad I did not. This wonderful body of work needs to be added to the archives by someone with a much greater knowledge of the subject than I have, so it is in the best condition for future researchers to reference.

So please, Field Museum, reconsider. Think about all the wonderful material at your disposal that can continue to grow and provide knowledge. Continue to provide a unique and valuable experience for your visitors. Give them something they can not find on every street corner. Research, teach, and inspire both your staff and the public. Allow someone else’s grandchild to blog, years from now, about their love for an institution that has always been 900 miles from home, but deeply rooted in their heart.