Yesterday, aside from being Féile Brighid, was also Laura’s Night. I spent most of the first half of the day weaving- shockingly I am done, until we take it off the loom- and then made cookies and cleaned. Laura’s Night, and Justine’s Night, always put me in a certain off mood. I know why- they were my schoolmates and my friends, though we weren’t the closest of friends; they died too young, and I never had the chance to mourn them properly. I wasn’t allowed to go to Laura’s funeral, and I didn’t find out about Justine’s until after it happened. I don’t know where they’re buried. It eats at me, sometimes.
At any rate, I distracted myself by thinking about Opening Night, which is Tuesday. I found my notes- my Aunt Senta was in the Tilly Losch ballet, at least for the 1931 performance of “The Gang’s All Here” at the Imperial Theatre in NYC. (One of these days I will go and get some pictures, and walk by where the Hotel Plymouth used to stand, as that was where she lived for a time.) Ballet was very important to her. She identified herself as a dancer on her naturalization papers, and I strongly suspect the reason her birth year on said papers is three years off was to extend her dancing career as long as she could. I didn’t know her very well- my mother and I visited her a few times in the nursing home in the years before her death, but my mother has never been strong on family ties. She told me she was from Alsace-Lorraine and was French, and that she had been a ballerina, and that she’d been in silent films. (The last fact I believe, but have never been able to authenticate, alas.) I wish I had known her better.
In digging up my notes on Opening Night, I started digging at her and her sister’s genealogy stuff again. (I am very thankful for Ancestry.com, let me tell you.) Senta and her younger sister Margot came to the US in 1914, but exactly where from is harder to pin down. The passenger list identifies them both as German, having been born in Saarbrücken, departing from Rotterdam, “Holland”, and having most recently lived in Diepenbeek, Belgium. She had identified to me, though, as being French, and I’m told that Grandmother Margot spoke very rarely, because she was embarrassed by her English, and mostly spoke in French. The passenger list also notes a relative: “The name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in country whence alien came.”
I’ve got “aunt: Mrs. ? Stephany, Diedenhofen Elsass-Lothringen”. Which, as it happens, is the German name for Thionville, Alsace-Lorraine, when it was part of Germany from 1871-1919. I can’t grok that first name, though- it looks like Notar, but what the hell kind of given name is that? It’s not an f or an l, based on comparison with letters elsewhere on the document. It’s just weird.
At any rate- in her 1925 Petition for Citizenship, Aunt Senta once again states Saarbrücken, Germany as her birthplace, but now she lists her “race” as French, her last foreign residence as Paris, France, and having emigrated by way of Cherbourg, France. (Amusingly, according to wikipedia, the SS Potsdam, after a succession of new names, was used to block the Cherbourg harbor by the Germans in 44.) In a census record, Grandmother Margot lists her birthplace as Alsace-Lorraine, France, and identifies herself as French. Of course, it was also the 40s- love for the Germans wasn’t exactly high, and given that they spoke French, and Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France at the end of WWI, it’s not unreasonable to believe that they adjusted their identities as their surroundings necessitated. It’s still making tracking things down a bitch and a half, though.
The other tidbit of useful information in Margot’s census is that both her parents were born in Alsace-Lorraine. I’m not sure where we have their names from- my Aunt A might have acquired them directly from Aunt Senta in her family tree compiling years- but it’s certainly not on any of the documents I can find. But Hermann and Charlotte have been difficult to find. In fact, the only record that’s come up so far has been one that may or may not be the right man. It’s a WWI Personnel Roster entry for Hermann Flesch, apparently living in Bayern, Germany in 1914, and having been born in Saarbrücken in 1869- a realistic birth date for someone with daughters born in 1897 and 1899. Unfortunately, given that the records are German, they’re in German, and I am not good with cursive script when it’s in English. So I have to look at a graphic of the German alphabet (I’ve been using this one to so I can stick them into Google Translate and see if this is even the right person.)
I hold the slightest hope that this is the correct man, given that section 7 includes “Zahl der Kinder” which Google Translate tells me is “number of children”, and Hermann’s entry says 2. I’m hoping that the scrawl above that- “[something] und Familiennamen der Ehegattin” or “[something] and family name of wife”- says Stephany or some variation on said spelling, given that’s Charlotte’s maiden name. I’ve only just now realized that the facing page is a continuation of the first page’s entries and not a new set, so I have even more awful handwriting to work through. I’m starting with section 7, though, so hopefully I won’t waste too much time if it’s not him.
The reason I’m doing all of this is because the dead are important to me. My dead are important to me. I will recite the names of anyone, whether I knew them, whether I know anything about them- but a list of names on a page is so rote, so hollow. I would rather know them as much as I can. I recently learned my Grandfather Clement- Margot’s husband- fought in World War I. He was only 17. If this Hermann is the right one, Margot married a man who in his youth fought on the opposite side of her own father. It’s fascinating and it’s important and it makes them so much more than a list. And- if I ever figure out whether my head is actually of the broke-open variety- if I ever reach out, it’ll help me know who reaches back. Which, y’know, useful.
Tuesday I will write. I will read. They, together, are my oldest passions, and the things that have defined me for most of my life- and I think that’s something Aunt Senta would like to see.