The People of Pancho

At Play In The Archive

Happy Thanksgiving, People (and Happy Birthday to Margaret)

“Skeptics often distrust the motivations of genealogists. Isn’t this obsession with ancestry just self-obsession? Isn’t it just another narcissistic pastime, sort of a “six degrees of separation” game in which one’s own name takes the hallowed central sport usually reserved for Kevin Bacon? … Common sense and the math of genealogy say no. Once one reaches back past, say, one’s grandparents’ generation, there are just too many ancestors for anyone to feel a seriously intimate connection. Consider the generation before your grandfather — there are sixteen people involved there. And the rules of exponents reveal that this number just keeps getting bigger and bigger — yes, exponentially — with each generation, eventually resulting in thousands, then millions of ancestors. When you go way back, say, five thousand to fifteen thousand years ago, you hit what genetic researchers call the “identical ancestors point,” which basically means this: if you look back far enough, we’re all cousins. If nothing else, this provides some long-sought scientific backup for the conceptual framework of The Patty Duke Show. If this is narcissism, then it’s a form of self-love that extends to the whole human race.”

— Buzzy Jackson, Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist

This blog is rather me-centric, but that’s only because I couldn’t figure out a better way to organize it. I have a short attention span, and I’m not a genealogy authority of any kind, so it seemed safest to go with a personal pastiche of Panchoness rather than get too formal about it.

Scroll down for the possible source of my penchant for silly hats.

Me, age 10-ish. Scroll down for at least one genetic source of my penchant for outrageous hats. Yup, it’s all about me.

Except it’s not all about me. What really drives this blog is not a desire to make myself more important, but rather to explore the idea that in the great sweep of history, I’m not very important at all. My mistakes, viewed through the long lens of family history, are not so big after all, and my triumphs — when compared with saving the free world like my veteran uncles, or emigrating to a new country like my great-great-grandparents — are also not so very amazing. The more I get to know the history of my People, the more grateful I am for everyone who got me to the Thanksgiving table today.

(Well, technically tomorrow. Today is ironing, polishing, table-setting, sweeping, and cooking day, as I make ready for the crowd of 17 coming to our feast of gratitude tomorrow. Among that total are eight hollow-legged young men in their early 20’s, so I’ve laid in plenty of extra protein. One turkey just isn’t going to cut it with this bunch.)

Speaking of people for whom I am thankful, November 26, 1891 is also the birthday of great-grandma Margaret Spielmann Lessiack, a woman I did not have the pleasure of knowing in life, but whose pictures and papers and artifacts have provided me countless hours of inspiration for this blog. I’ve written many, many posts about her and the rest of my Spielmann people, and there are many more picture and posts to come. Here are some of my favorite pictures of her thus far.

A postcard from Coney Island featuring my great-grandmother Margaret and her younger sister Hilda, dated August 13, 1910, and addressed to Mrs. F. Spellman (their mother Fanny, I presume). Photographer unknown.

A postcard from Coney Island featuring Margaret (on the right) and her younger sister Hilda, dated August 13, 1910, and addressed to Mrs. F. Spellman (their mother Fanny, I presume). Photographer unknown.

My great-grandmother Margaret, year and photographer unknown. The back of the photo says: "M. B. Spellman, 715 Bergen Av., Jersey City, NJ." At some point the family changed their name from Spielmann to Spellman, an effort to assimilate, I presume.

Margaret, year and photographer unknown. The back of the photo says: “M. B. Spellman, 715 Bergen Av., Jersey City, NJ.”

Margaret, the eldest Spielmann child, with Leonor, the youngest Spielmann child. Dated 1914 on the back.

Margaret, the eldest Spielmann child, with Leonor, the youngest Spielmann child. Dated 1914 on the back.

My great-grandmother Margaret, year unknown. Photographer unknown.

Margaret, year unknown. I dig the Gibson girl look she’s sporting.

Date unknown. The back of the photo says, "Margie time to hold up L.S."

Date unknown. The back of the photo says, “Margie time to hold up L.S.” Get a load of that hat, People.

Margaret, Hilda, and Lillian Spilemann, circa 1914.

Margaret, Hilda, and Lillian Spilemann, circa 1914. Hat-a-palooza!

A studio portrait of Margaret. Date and photographer unknown.

A studio portrait of Margaret. Date and photographer unknown.

Leo and Margaret, dated March 29, 2015 on the back.

Leo and Margaret, dated March 29, 2015 on the back.

Leo and Margaret, date unknkown.

Leo and Margaret, 1917.

"June, 1918, River Edge, NJ"

“June, 1918, River Edge, NJ” on the back of the photo.

"1921" on the back. Margaret holds my newborn grandfather, Robert Lessiack.

“1921” on the back. Margaret holds my newborn grandfather, Robert Lessiack.

A lovely passport photo from back when kids didn't need their own passports.

A lovely passport photo from back when kids didn’t need their own passports.

I’m thankful for so many things this year. You, my blogging People are high on that list. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. May you all be as happy as my great-grandma Margaret looks in this picture.

Margaret and Leo, date, place, and photgrapher unknown.

16 comments on “Happy Thanksgiving, People (and Happy Birthday to Margaret)

  1. Luanne @ TFK
    November 25, 2015

    These photos are beyond wonderful. Love them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pancho
      November 25, 2015

      Thank you! I feel very lucky to have them, and there are many more to come. Thanks for stopping by, and happy Thanksgiving.

      Like

  2. Su Leslie
    November 25, 2015

    This is a wonderful post Lesley. I love the line “What really drives this blog is not a desire to make myself more important, but rather to explore the idea that in the great sweep of history, I’m not very important at all.” It captures so beautifully my feelings about family history and my own research. I wish you and your family a very, very happy Thanksgiving. Su.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pancho
      November 25, 2015

      Thank you, Su. As you commented very early on, we are kindred blogging spirits.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. GP Cox
    November 25, 2015

    Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy
    November 25, 2015

    What a great post! I also think I am driven not to find a famous ancestor or to serve my own ego, but to express gratitude to those who came before me and to honor their memories. And we ARE all cousins! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    PS Love those pictures!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pancho
      November 25, 2015

      Amy, your incredible research skills and thorough storytelling are a gift to everyone in your family, and well beyond (myself included). Happy Thanksgiving, cousin!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Susan Fehrenbach
    November 25, 2015

    Happy Thanksgiving Panch! Well said and love Gibson girl photo with bike.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pancho
      November 28, 2015

      Sue, I could not do this without you. You’re the saving angel of so many of our photographic treasures. I am so thankful for that and you!

      Like

  6. sultanabun
    November 28, 2015

    Your writing is engaging enough to forge a sense of intimacy with these strangers from another world and time. Yours is an original and beautiful blog.
    Belated Happy Thanksgiving and
    Thank You.

    Like

    • Pancho
      November 28, 2015

      Wow. Thank you. You have totally made my day.

      Like

  7. Sheryl
    November 29, 2015

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on genealogy. I’ve also found it very interesting how the number of ancestors increases geometrically–and gets large very rapidly after a few generations. The pictures are great. I especially like the one where Margaret is looking at the mirror with her little sister. It is precious.

    Like

    • Pancho
      November 30, 2015

      Thanks for visiting, Sheryl. My family calls me the “practice child” because I’m so much older than the rest of my siblings. It delighted me to no end to find out that my great-grandma Margaret was also a “practice child.”

      Like

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