Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Searching For Ernest by Bernard A. Handler (December 31, 2014) -- Samaritan Sunday on Wednesday

[Today is a special day in many ways.  It is New Year's Eve day and thus the last day of 2014. Today also marks 24 years since I joined the federal workforce. And today is the second anniversary of the start of this blog. Filiopietism Prism was first published on December 31, 2012 and as the initial post stated, the inspiration to begin was an invitation from Heather Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy blog to submit a guest post to her blog. 

Today is also special because for the first time I have a guest post on The Prism

It has been some time since a "Samaritan Sunday" post has appeared here, but even though today is a Wednesday, the story posted below is too good to wait until next Sunday. This is a true story that happened just within the last couple of weeks. It is the kind of heartwarming story that I think is perfect to present as we end one year and ring in a new one full of promise and hope for us all. People like Connie are to be celebrated and appreciated and I am sure you will all enjoy this true tale about serendipity, kismet, and the acts of a kind and generous genealogy Samaritan! 

The author of today's post is Bernard A. Handler, my brother-in-law, and a new genealogy enthusiast who I am encouraging to take the plunge and start his own genealogy blog.]

Ernest F H Grothe and Edith Forbes on their wedding day in 1929.

Searching for Ernest by Bernard A. Handler.

     The drive from the historic riverside town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, to the bucolic borough of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, takes about an hour.  When I arrived at _ _ _ Haldeman Road and saw the new “estate” home beautifully decorated for the Christmas holiday I thought about turning around and heading back but I figured, “What the hell.” So I pulled into the driveway, parked the car while observing the “Beware of Dog” sign and proceeded to the front door. I rang the bell, stepped back a few feet just in case and watched a middle aged woman’s approach through the glass. She opened the door a foot or so.

     “May I help you?”

     “Yes. My name is Bernie Handler and I’ve been doing some ancestry research. A couple of on-line documents indicated that a cousin of mine, Ernest Grothe, is or was the property owner at this address. His mother, Edith Forbes (1906-1995), is my great aunt.”

     The woman closed the door behind her and stepped out onto the front porch.

     “Well, it was Ernest’s brother Clarke who owned this property, but he died a few years ago. He inherited it from his parents who purchased the house and acreage years ago. We bought the property from his estate, and had the house demolished. It was quite run down. But I did save many of Clarke’s possessions.”

     “You saved his possessions?”

     “Yes, well some of them. My daughter thought I was crazy. She said Clarke’s ghost would haunt us, but I’m on and I knew how much his keepsakes could mean to someone.”

     “You knew that neither Clarke nor his brother ever married or had any children?”


     “And you still saved his stuff for four years!  Wow, it’s as if you’ve been waiting for me to show up on your doorstep. Well, here I am.”

     “Won’t you come in? I have to be careful that the cats don’t sneak outside. My name is Connie D_ _ _ _ _ _ _.  Have a seat in the office while I run downstairs and get Clarke’s box.”

      When Connie returned she had an 18” by 24” clear plastic storage container with a white lid in her arms. She placed the box on the desk.

     “Before Clarke’s house was torn down his brother came out here. We told him to take anything that he wanted, but he said he wasn’t interested. The only thing he took was a bottle of vinegar and a case of lightbulbs.”

     “So he was a bit batty, heh?”

     “Yes, definitely a bit batty. He had food stains on his shirt.”

     “Hoo boy.”

     “Well, let me show you Clarke’s parents’ wedding photo. Beautiful, isn’t it? There are lots of other photos I’m sure you’ll like. And here is his father’s 1924 diploma from Gettysburg College, mechanical engineering. And in this shoebox are his military memorabilia including his dog tags. I think he was a lieutenant.”

     And then Connie showed me a newspaper clipping, “Six Sisters in Happy Reunion from Friday, June 26, 1964, which included a photograph of the first time all six sisters had been together in 38 years. The caption contained the names of Edith and her five sisters whose married names I had not known. Holy smoke, the names and faces of my great grandfather Thomas Forbes’s (1854-1924) daughters!

     I thanked Connie profusely, and before I departed we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses.

     On the way out I asked her about the “Beware of Dog” sign on the fence. With a twinkle in her eyes she laughed, “Oh, we just put that there to keep strangers away.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The 1929 photograph of Edith Forbes and her husband Ernest F H Grothe was provided by Bernard A. Handler through the kind and generous acts of a true genealogy Samaritan known only as "Connie D."
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Copyright 2014, Bernard A. Handler
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  1. What a fantastic story! It's truly amazing that Connie saved all of those precious family history treasures.

    And Happy Blogiversary!

    1. Thank you Jana for the anniversary recognition.

      I was quite amazed when my brother-in-law told me of his adventure and I asked him immediately to write it up as a guest post for my blog. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Happy New Year to you and yours!

  2. What a great story for your second blogiversary - happy blogiversary. Does your brother-in-law have Yugoslavian Jewish ancestry? That's where my husband's Handler surname is from...

    1. I am not sure if Bernie has Yugoslavian Jewish ancestry. If memory serves me correctly I think he has Russian/Ukrainian background. I'll see if he will comment here with the answer. Happy New Year Elizabeth!

  3. I have dreamed of such a thing happening to me!! Great story and a very happy blogiversary to you John. Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you Laura. As soon as Bernie told me the story, I asked him to write it up for the blog. I think it is a great story too. Happy New Year Laura!

  4. Happy 2nd blogiversary, John, and a Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you Yvonne and Happy New Year to you too!

  5. Hi John -- This is a wonderful photo of my great uncle Ernest & great aunt Edith! Ernest's brother, Martin Grothe (York, Penn.) was my grandpa. Please let me know how I can get in touch with Bernie... I'd really appreciate it! Thanks.
    Sarah (Logan, Iowa)

    1. Hi Sarah! I am so glad you found my blog and this post by my brother-in-law. This is just one of the events that we genealogy bloggers hope for! ;-) I have already contacted Bernie and given him your contact information. He might have already reached out to you. I hope you and he are able to make a connection and exchange more family information and photos. Please let us know via future comments here. ;-)

  6. I loved reading this! John, your brother-in-law is a wonderful story teller. IMHO, this is the perfect story, because I think so many of us are hesitate to do something like this. But I did do it once, after my grandfather's house had been sold for many years. He was an architect and artist...drew front and back paintings of their large CT. home. I had the back view scene for years, then decided I didn't need more than 3 of his paintings. When we went to CT. I brought it with me, and boldly knocked on the door. The new owners were lovely and showed me what they had done to the house my grandfather designed. I showed them the painting and they were more than happy to have it, it hung by the window where the view was.