A Delicious Side Project

Just a quickie, People.

Remember a few weeks back when I mentioned that I was helping my friends Pauline and Liliana get started on their spectacular family food history blog? Well, they are off and running! Go visit Radici Siciliane (Sicilian Roots) and subscribe to collect the most scrumptious Sicilian family recipes imaginable. The blog includes colorful family history, wonderful archival photographs, and recipes galore. Find your stretch pants. You’ll need them.

My younger daughter, Grace, worked with these lovely ladies for two years at Half Moon Bay’s own Toque Blanche gourmet cooking supply store. As part of the job, she assisted Pauline and Liliana (along with Stuart Cristol-Deman) at cooking classes, which typically featured a full menu, plus wine pairings. Some of my most favorite recipes and techniques came from those classes, and now you can play along at home. Many, many people have suggested that Pauline and Liliana should write a book, but I convinced them that blogging was the way to go. Please go show them some love.

Buon Appetito!

Liliana and Pauline, the talent behind Radici Siciliane. Photo by me, 2014.

Liliana and Pauline, the talented sisters behind Radici Siciliane. Photo by me, 2014.


The Birth and Baptism of Leo

We begin at the beginning.

My great-grandfather Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack was born on the 17th of December in the year 1890 in Hamburg, Germany. I am reasonably sure this information is correct, because I have found 19 sources (so far) that corroborate the date. Plus, I have his actual Geburts Urkunde (birth certificate) in my possession. Check out this beautiful calligraphy, People.


The front side of Leo’s birth certificate, which was prepared on December 19, 1890.


The back side of Leo’s birth certificate.

Leo’s parents were Anton Ludwig Lessiack and his wife, Henriette Catharina Marie Puhlmann. While none of the photographs in my possession are labeled as such, I have come to the conclusion (based on a number of clues) that these images are of my great-great grandparents.


My great-great grandfather Anton Ludwig Lessiack. Leo refers to him with affection as “Papa” in later letters to his siblings.

Here’s another photo, I believe, of my great-great grandfather Anton.  At least, I think it’s the same guy–what do you think, People? The cock of his head and the shape of his eyes and eyebrows look the same to me. Isn’t that mustachio spiffy?


My great-great grandfather, Anton Ludwig Lessiack. Date and photographer unknown.

And, here is my great-great grandmother, Henriette Catharina Maria Puhlmann.


My great-great grandmother, Henriette Catharina Marie Puhlmann. Date and photographer unknown.

You might recognize her from this picture in an earlier post. She’s a bit older here.

The back of the photo says July 1922, Harz Mts, Germany. Postcard to Mrs. F. Bielitz (no address). The baby is my grandfather, Robert Lessiack.

Henriette Catharina Marie Puhlmann, Leo Lessiack, and Margaret Spielmann Lessiack. The back of the photo says July 1922, Harz Mts, Germany. It’s a postcard to Mrs. F. Bielitz (no address), who is my great-grand aunt Lillian Spielmann Bielitz. The baby is my grandfather, Robert Lessiack. Photographer unknown.

Eight months later, on the 16th of August in 1891, great-grandpa Leo was baptized into the German Evangelical Lutheran Church at the church of St. Gertrud in Hamburg. (Leo and Margaret were married in the United States in the same denomination many years later). Here is a picture of his original baptismal certificate. My scanner wasn’t quite big enough to fit the whole thing.


Leo’s baptismal certificate from St. Gertrud’s church in Hamburg, Germany.

Notice the names of his Godparents. It’s not hard to figure out where great-grandpa Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack got his name.

  • Franz Lessiack (I suppose this is great-great grandfather Anton’s brother, but have uncovered no proof)
  • Georg Tuhl (a family friend, maybe? Another thing to research)
  • Leopoldine Maurienhardt (Another mystery to research — she could be a friend, or she could be sister to either of the parents)

I also discovered this incredibly nifty website that offers a virtual tour of St. Gertrud’s church. To “go inside” the church, click this link, and then click on the little arrow inside a circle just outside the church door (I put a giant red arrow in the picture below to help you find it). Take a look around — the site will pan 360° automatically, and it’s almost like being there. The internet is amazing, no?

Photo by 360° Tourist

Photo by 360° Tourist, a most marvelous website.

We’re off and running with Leo now. Happy Monday, People.


Escape from the Scanner

Hello again, People. It’s been too long since I last posted, but I have not been idle. Along with my sore neck (which is much better, thank you), I’ve been grappling with a challenge that many of you dyed-in-the-wool genealogy bloggers might recognize: Deciding when I have done enough research and compiled enough information to actually begin telling the story. Does anyone else struggle with this?

I inherited a treasure trove of photographs, papers, and personal effects that belonged to my great-grandfather, Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack (or just plain great-grandpa Leo to me) and my great-grandmother, Margaret Spielmann Lessiack.  Unfortunately, labeling things was not their strong suit, so every gem unearthed leads to hours of corroboration — Where did I see that face before? Oh, so there might have been five Lessiack siblings rather than four? Why oh why can’t I wring some sense out of these German words on Google Translate? You get the picture. It’s a time sink.

I’ve also been doing a ton of scanning, which leads to a ton of keywording, sorting things into chronological order, recording captions where they exist, and making semi-educated guesses where they do not. Fascinating and fun, but also a giant time sink.

Pretty soon a month has gone by, and I haven’t written a single word about what I’m discovering, even though I’m putting in many hours behind the scanner. Because it seems too soon. Because I’m sure that the next box I dig into will hold the golden clue that will make the fragments click into place. Because I still don’t know what year to assign to a whole bunch of pictures. Because. Because. Because.

But I realized something.

I could grapple with all these treasures for the next six months and still not be finished. And, all that radio silence would make for one heck of a boring blog. So, I’m smacking down my inner perfectionist and going for it. I’m calling what I have already compiled good enough for a start. The goal is not to be perfect–the goal is to enjoy the journey of discovery.


An undated Bon Voyage card from the collection of my great-grandparents, Leo Lessiack and Margaret Spielmann Lessiack.


Hildegard was a popular name, I gather. There are two here. Recognize anybody?

I’ll keep scanning — there’s still a mind-blowing amount of scanning to do — but I trust you’ll forgive me if things appear slightly out of order. It’s way more fun to write than to scan.

Enjoy your Sunday, People.

One Lovely Blog Award

Last week was very rough. I injured my neck, which made activity of any kind excruciating. After two trips to the chiropractor, some pharmaceutical help, and about 10 days of sheer misery, I am finally on the mend. On one of the crappier days, I got a spirit-lifting email from Jana Last over at Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog.

“You may or may not already know this, but I nominated your blog for the “One Lovely Blog Award.”


Let me tell you, People, it was just the shot in the arm, er neck, that I needed. Though it took me a few days to feel well enough to sit and type, I am finally able to pay it forward. The One Lovely Blog Award comes with the some strings attached; here’s Jana again:

“Here are the rules for this award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to that blog (Check. Thanks again, Jana! You really cheered me up.)
  2. Share Seven things about yourself.
  3. Nominate 15 bloggers you admire (or as many as you can think of!)
  4. Contact your bloggers to let them know that you’ve tagged them for the One Lovely Blog Award”

Seven things about myself. Hmmmm. OK, here goes:

1. I am a giant nerd, in the Buzzy Jackson sense:

“Genealogy hobbyists are not just a bunch of well-adjusted funeral attendees, though; they’re also nerds. I love nerds. My definition of a nerd is someone who is extremely interested in … something. Anything. Whether experts on sports scores, Star Wars, or Michael Kors, they’re all nerds to me. These are people of passion, and the object of their fascination is less important than their zeal to know everything about it. With genealogy, there is a lot of “it” to know, from understanding the limits of mitochondrial DNA to locating the long-lost manifest of an ancient schooner, these people demonstrate that learn is the most active verb. My name is Buzzy Jackson and I, too, am a nerd.”

Word, Buzzy. Me too. My eccentric research habits are the butt of many a family joke. When the books in the living room reached a state of particularly advanced disarray, my husband christened my decorating style “Early Debauched English Major.”

2. And, speaking of my husband, I’ve been married to that awesome guy for 22 years. He’s a nerd too, and our interests often overlap. I made a business trip to Italy last year, but we decided to extend the trip a little into a second honeymoon. What do nerds on second honeymoon in Italy do? Why, nerd out over food, of course. Our younger daughter, a Harry Potter fan, dubbed the shot on the left “the Hall of Prophecies” (it’s Parmagiano Reggiano), and my film-crazy husband dubbed the one on the right “The Silence of the Hams” (it’s Prosciutto). Did you know that a needle made of the specially-carved lower leg bone of a horse must be used to judge the maturity and condition of prosciutto? Well, now you do.

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3. My picture is in the April 1986 issue of National Geographic magazine. Let’s play “Where’s Pancho?” Look at the crease. Now look at the dark boat with the white stripe in the top row a little to the right of the crease. Now look at the dark speck behind the orange life preserver. That’s my head. Our 4-person cayuco was the “Mixed Emotions” and we were delighted to finish smack dab in the middle of the pack in the Ocean-to-ocean Cayuco Race of 1985. I had to join the Explorer Scouts to participate in the race, so technically I’m also a boy scout. The race is both a Panama Canal and a family tradition: my stepdad raced in his teens, and some of my little brothers did it many years after I did.

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4. Speaking of my little brothers, I was an only child when I came to the United States for college at age 18. Not long after, my mom and stepdad adopted three boys, my father and stepmother had two boys of their own, plus one from her previous marriage, so by the time I graduated from college four years later, I had six little brothers.

5. My older daughter, when she was 13 and 14,  was a professional touring circus aerialist. As her Momager, I spent a lot of time dragging around oddly-shaped luggage and hanging around the dusty, musty wings of various venues on the West and East coasts. It was fun, but we are both kind of glad it’s over.

Chevron Family Theatre Festival, Walnut Creek, CA

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6. I’ve been best friends with the same person since I was five years old. We met on the school bus to kindergarten in Coco Solo, Canal Zone, Panama, and we haven’t grown up very much.

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7. I am petrified of frogs and toads. It’s totally stupid, but there it is. You would think that a devotee of fairy tales would love all those princes in waiting, but nope. It worked out OK, though. See #2.

With my seven confessions out of the way, it’s on to my nominees. This was hard, because there are so many terrific blogs out there. I settled on “blogs that inspire me” as my theme for choosing, and because inspiration comes in many forms, I didn’t limit the field to genealogy blogs. My 15 favorites are listed in alphabetical order, not preference. Please check them out — they’re all inspiring.

(I realize that not all bloggers will want to add this award to their blogs. That’s okay. I’m nominating you because the purpose of these awards is not only to recognize the bloggers we admire, but also to share their work with others.  So accept it or not, as you please. There are no obligations, and no hard feelings either way. Thank you very heartily for inspiring me in my own blogging adventures.)

  1. Advanced Style – I love this blog because it actually makes me look forward to aging. These women have sass.
  2. Ancestral Paths – A fellow genealogy traveler from whom I glean all sorts of useful information.
  3. Bernfeld Family of Galicia and More – Wonderful family stories and pictures, sprinkled with excellent tips.
  4. Book of Days – I love marking the circle of the year, and this blog helps me do it.
  5. Brain Pickings – This blog is the most wonderful source of things to ponder.
  6. Brotmanblog: a Family Journey – Beautifully told family stories, and a wealth of Jewish Genealogy tips.
  7. The Eluceydator – The “illuminated” theme of this blog is so perfect. Great photographs, too.
  8. Enjoying the Small Things – Exactly what it says. This blog is required reading for human beings.
  9. The Genealogy Girl – Another beautifully done trove of family stories and pictures.
  10. Maybe Someone Should Write That Down – Family stories told with great wit.
  11. Myth and Moor – I’m a mythology and fairy tale nut. This blog makes me happy every time I visit.
  12. Pacificparatrooper – A trove of information about WWII in the Pacific, lovingly and respectfully told.
  13. Persephone Post – Books and Britain, with a focus on women writers. Feel free to send me a care package from Persephone books any time.
  14. Shaking the Tree – Marvelous family stories and photographs, the inspiring work of an artist and fellow traveller.
  15. Silver People Heritage Foundation – The Panama Canal could not have happened without the back-breaking labor of West Indian people who were unjustly paid the “silver” wage (as opposed to whites, who were paid the “gold” wage). This blog pays tribute to their stories and history.

Thanks for hanging in there, People. Now, go on, you have some blog reading to do. I’m going to go rest my neck.

Poems By My Bisabuelo

For the next several weeks I’ll be writing about my Great-grandfather, Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack, or just plain “Leo” to those who knew and loved him. He died when I was only nine years old, but I remember him so fondly and am really enjoying learning more about his life and times. He and my great-grandmother, Margaret Spielmann Lessiack — who died long before I was born — left behind many photographs and papers, some of which I’ve already shared in my explorations of my Spielmann ancestors, and more of which I’ll share in the coming weeks. I have several research tasks in progress with regard to my Spielmann people, but while those are simmering, I want to focus on Great-grandpa Leo.

Here we are in 1967 or ’68, when Leo was in his late 70’s, and I was just a goober. Nowadays, I call that hand gesture a “qui-ote” (rhymes with coyote); the qui-ote is a very shy animal that is terrified of loud noises, so when children see it, they know to become very quiet. I don’t know exactly what Leo meant by the gesture, but I was clearly mesmerized.

Great-grandpa Leo flashes the Qui-ote. 1967 0r 1968. The photographer is probably my mom.

Great-grandpa Leo flashes the qui-ote in 1967 0r 1968. The photo was taken on my grandparents’ back porch in Balboa Heights, Canal Zone, Panama, and the photographer was probably my mom.

The really important detail about this photo, though, is the pipe in Leo’s back pocket. The man loved his pipe, and I loved it right along with him. To this day, if I smell pipe smoke, I am instantly two years old again, helping Great-grandpa Leo pack his tobacco. He lived in New Jersey, but he often came for long visits to the Canal Zone during my early childhood.

Though Leo’s first language was German, he frequently wrote poems in English. Isn’t that amazing? I could no more dash off a poem in my rudimentary second or third languages than I could do back-handsprings. Here are some poems that he wrote for my mom (Susan Lessiack Stabler) and my aunt (Polly Lensch Lessiack Ellner) about me and my younger cousin Jenny. As you will see, my interest in Grandpa Leo’s pipe was rather obsessive — I really did believe that smoke was magic.

Ocean Grove N.J.


For Susan and Polly:


Have talked to my friends

About Pancho and Jennie

The two little girls –

Their likes are not many

To tell you the truth

I like them a lot

And I certainly miss them

Believe it or not.



Here’s Pancho who thinks

Is quite a joke

To watch Papa Leo

Enjoying his smoke

She gets all excited when

The time is ripe

For Leo to sit down

And smoke his pipe

She brings the tobacco

Pipe and all

In fact she seems to

Have quite a ball

“Harder-harder” says Pancho

When helping to press

The tobacco into the pipe

Her hands now a mess

She’s not discouraged, however

To her it would seem

Holding smoke in her hands

Will keep them clean

I can’t live without Pancho

Because now in my haste

All the smoke I am blowing

Is going to waste



And Jennie, the little one

How well I remember

Her weight and her birthday

The 23rd of November

She’s tiny and cute but

Can’t as yet walk

And making things worse she

Can’t even talk

Down in her crib and

Surrounded by toys

She’s having a good time

Not yet dreaming of boys

However when the time comes

For taking a nap

She’d much rather get up

And sit in your lap

When Leo comes over to

See her a while

She will always greet him

With a great big smile


As I have quoted before

There are not many

Little girls as sweet as

Pancho and Jennie



(“Bisabuelo” is Great-grandfather in Spanish. Many thanks to my mom for transcribing these poems for me — they’re glued into an album that resides with her in Panama. )

The back of the photo says "Early March, 1973." I'm on the left, and Jenny is on the right.

The back of the photo says “Early March, 1973.” I’m on the left, and Jenny is on the right.

Among Leo’s things, I found a beautiful Meerschaum pipe. It’s not the pipe I remember him smoking, but it’s very special, and has clearly seen a lot of use. My daughter Grace, taken with the lovely dragon carved into the bowl, sketched it one afternoon.

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I can’t help but think that Great-grandpa Leo would have gotten a tremendous kick out of that.

A New Puzzle Piece

I discovered a genealogical record today that appears to unlock several mysteries at once. I want to pose the evidence to you, my Genealogy People, to see what you think. Am I barking up the right tree? Am I missing anything obvious?

For those who have been following for a while, you know that I’ve been trying to acquaint myself with the least-documented branch of my family, the Spielmanns, my great-grandmother Margaret Spielmann Lessiack’s family of origin. I inherited a mass of photographs, most of which were unlabeled, and through a careful, two-year-long process of comparing genealogical data with the pile of photographs, I think I’ve got just about everybody identified.

Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack and Margaret Spielmann Lessiack, New Jersey, 1917. Photographer unknown.

My great-grandparents, Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack and Margaret Spielmann Lessiack, New Jersey, 1917. Photographer unknown.

This the Spielmann family, 1917. One son--possibly Erwin--is missing from this picture. Leonor peeks out from behind Fanny. Photographer unknown.

The Spielmann family, 1917. Herman and Franziska (Fanny) Spielmann had eight children. My great-grandmother Margaret (on the right) was the eldest, and the youngest, Leonor, peeks out from behind Lillian. One son — possible Erwin — is missing from this picture. Photographer unknown.

But, some mysteries remain.

Mystery #1:

As I wrote in Meet the Spielmanns:

“At first I thought there were nine children, because the 1900 census also reported a Jennie Spielmann, born in 1882, living with the family in Manhattan. However, examination of the actual document revealed Jennie to be a “sister-in-law.” Though the relationship was supposed to be listed relative to the head of the household, I think that Jennie must have, in fact, been Herman’s sister, and therefore Fanny’s sister-in-law. Otherwise, why would Jennie have the same surname as Herman?”

Why indeed?

Mystery #2:

When my mother and I both did DNA tests through 23andMe, my mother’s results revealed ~25% Jewish ancestry. We were both stunned by this revelation, because neither of us had any idea of Jewish ancestry prior to the DNA results. I pondered this discovery in The Hidden Branch, but the question remains: Where does Judaism reside in my Mom’s family tree? All of her other grandparents are quite well documented going back many generations (did you see that scroll, People?), so Leo and/or Margaret seem like the likely candidates.

Today’s Discovery

Herman and Fanny reported in the 1900 US census that they were married in Vienna, Austria in 1891. While browsing in the GenTeam European database today, I discovered a marriage record from Vienna, Austria from 1891 that I think belongs to them.

Two interesting things:

  • The record was catalogued as part of the “Index of Jewish Records of Vienna.” The Volume was called “Tempelgasse” — at least part of which, Google Translate tells me, means “temple.” (The other part of that word means “alley” which doesn’t make much sense, but there you have it. I seriously need to rustle up some German speakers.)  In any case, I think I just found my Jewish ancestors.
  • The groom was Herman Spielmann. The bride was Franziska Spielmann. Is it possible that they already had the same last name when they got married? That would explain the “Jennie Spielmann as sister-in-law” mystery mentioned above.

What do you think, People? How else might I confirm these conclusions? What am I overlooking?

When Leo and Margaret married, the ceremony was performed in the German Evangelical Lutheran Church — I have the original wedding certificate. This is the same denomination into which Leo was christened as a baby (I have his original baptismal certificate too).

Does this mean that Margaret converted? Did the whole Spielmann family convert at some point?

No shortage of mysteries here. Until next time, dear People.

Mystery Ladies, Part Deux

A few weeks back, I shared some mystery photographs that I found among my great-grandparents’ things. Here are a few more of those lovelies.

As I mentioned earlier, some of the picture are from Hamburg, where Leo grew up, but a few are from New York and New Jersey, where Leo arrived as a young man of 21 in 1912, and where he and Margaret settled. The quality of the images is so exquisite — the paper is creamy, they’re mounted on durable (and seemingly acid-free) board, and they look as if they haven’t faded at all.

If you recognize anyone, please leave a comment.


I assume that these three women — Hedwig, Else, and Cläre — are sisters because they look rather alike. Hedwig signed the back the photograph.


I played with Google Translate for a while to understand the inscription from Hedwig. It seems to say something like, “To your happy memories” or “To commemorate happy memories.” This is only a guess, however — alas, I don’t speak German.


This intense young woman is identified only as “Chris” and the photo was presumably taken in 1945 at Studio Percenel in Brussels.


“In remembrance of August, 1938, with all my love, Chris.” Now I really wonder what happened in August of 1938!


There are two shots of this unidentified young lady, both taken at the F. Reimer studio in Hamburg, but at different times, based on her clothing.


Here’s the second, closer view. That hairdo must have been quite something to achieve every morning, and the eyelet lace she’s wearing is so exquisite.


This is my favorite of the mystery ladies. She looks as if she’s dressed for an adventure. Alas, there are no clues to her identity or where the photograph was taken.

In other news, I’ve been digging into that genealogy scroll, and I am in awe of what my great-grandmother Helen Hudelson Adams Yoder was able to achieve without benefit of the internet. I have no idea how she did it, but am so very grateful that she did. I’ve begun entering all the data into my own family tree and am discovering many fascinating things along the way — there’s fodder for about a million posts in there. The trick is going to be staying focused and not going off in ten directions at once. Squirrel?!?

Have a great weekend, People.