I feel I must first direct your attention to three other web sites:
I've been watching the new PBS documentary Broadway - The American Musical this week. While watching the first two hours, I was struck by the number of people they were able to find who were witness to the happenings of the early part of the 20th Century in the music community of New York City. Several Ziegfeld girls. Ziegfeld's daughter. The artist Al Hirschfeld. People who saw George M. Cohan perform and saw the premiere of the musical "Showboat". Maybe not the original movers and shakers (though I was struck by the reminder that Irving Berlin, who hit with the song "Alexander's Rag Time Band" in 1911, only died about 15 years ago at the age of 100), but, people who were there with them and knew them well.
Those people represent a generation now fading away. It strikes up a desire in me to go out and ask "who are you? where have you been? what have you seen?" So much living history predating radio and television and barely recordable on the phonograph is about to disappear, once and for all.
I am reminded of my mother's regrets that she didn't learn more about our family's past before her parents died. My grandparents were both born in this country shortly after their parents immigrated here. One of my grandfather's brothers was actually born in Europe.
Because it was a world that the family had left behind, none of the my mother's generation ever expressed much interest in knowing what happened to their parents or grandparents... at least until it was almost too late. My Mom and Aunt finally started asking questions as the last of their parents generation began to die... and renewed relationships with distant cousins who are also curious about how the puzzle of the family history fits together.
The results have been decidedly mixed. On the one hand, my Mom and my Aunt were able to visit the church where one set of my great-grandparents were married. On the other, we will probably never know where my grandfather's father is from or where he married his wife... or even what my grandfather's actually name was -- people called him Fyodor, Fred, or Frank at different points in his life.
on 2004-10-20 at 3:51 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond