Category Archives: family



(this is just a beginning of a continuing Saga)

Photographs from the past ENCODE messages that may/can resonate across time. In fact, that’s how they work, in a sort of temporal accordion (folded up and hidden until the bellows are tugged open, then producing stored/implied/immanent/nascent SOUND). Above is a photo of my maternal grandparents, whom I have never seen pictures of. It arrived in my life this week (indirectly, from a first cousin once removed whom I’ve never met) and I’ve been working on investigating and unpacking the story it tells, and the Story it is a fragment of evidence within.

I have spent many many happy hours in the company of the Abandoned Ancestors of others, and also in my own trove of family photographs, passed down into my curatorship from earlier generations. The pleasure/game/discipline of reading images, of excavating stories, imputing personality and other characteristics, and connecting up the (sometimes fanciful) dots … is bottomless and basically harmless to anybody now living, or so I tell myself.

The people are: Carl Kikkebusch, Mary Joerndt, Harriet Joerndt Kikkebusch, and William Henry Joerndt.

Harriet is my mother’s elder sister (by 9 years). I “know” bits about each of these four people, though the knowledge is somewhat suspect, or at least heavily inflected, by (1) what I remember of (2) what my mother (who died in 1972) told me about her family of origin, (3) what my sister Alice (who died in 2010) told me, and (4) what I’ve deduced for myself from such family papers as I preside over… and in the last week, (5) a lively correspondence with my sister’s oldest nephew (is he my nephew-in-law? There’s no Nacirema kinship term for the relationship).

What can we read from the photo? How would backstory enlarge our reading? Where does this photo fit in the catalog of genres of vernacular photographs and snapshots? [people and cars…]

Four by the car still more joy
the new car, 1926

Walt Whitman would agree that these images contain multitudes —well, any image does, and the viewer’s opportunity is to explore those multitudes, all the better to deepen one’s appreciation for humanity and the vast complexities and complications of people’s lives and relationships.

So how is it that this is the only photograph I’ve ever seen of my mother’s parents, and that that seeing was just a week ago? Short answer: as I understand it, my mother was estranged from her parents from about age 14. I believe this to be rooted in a Joerndt family tragedy in 1908, resulting in the death of 3-year-old Marshall …and the subsequent divorce of the parents, evidently over the mother’s resort to various ‘spiritualisms’ in order to reach Marshall (that may be apocryphal, as may be the possible institutionalization of the mother). There’s much more to this drama, but there’s nobody left who knows.

The effect upon my mother between ages 9 and 14 was enormous and profound: her family “broken” (the term of choice in that era) around her just as she was emerging into personhood. At 14 she was sent to school at Urbana OH. Here’s how she described her state of mind:

I came here here hungry for affection, disturbed about the way I had seen people injure each other, and about as confused as a young girl can get…

Being sent to Urbana was utterly and completely the rescue that she needed:

Urbana University Schools, Urbana Ohio
Sixtieth year opens Sept 21, 1910
All grades from Kindergarten to second year of college
Especial attention given in regular classes
to instruction in The Word and the Doctrines of the New Church
Good, wholesome influences surrounding students
both in and out of school.
A few scholarships available
Paul H Seymour MS

So we find ourselves in a Swedenborgian world, in which both of my parents grew up (my father in the Boston Society) and lived their lives. Just how the Joerndts came to be in that world is a mystery, but the Humboldt Park Society of the Church of the New Jerusalem is the locus. Rob Lawson suggests

Carl and Henrietta Joerndt [William’s parents] would have been very knowledgable of the New Church German Society as early as the 1850s. The Pastor of this branch of the Chicago Swedenborgians, John Henry Ragatz, was from Switzerland and a contemporary in age with the Joerndts&mdsah;just a few years older than Carl. Ragatz started out as a minister of the Joerndt’s Lutheran Evangelical Church, of which the Joerndts remained members at least up to 1899. When Ragatz started the German New Church in 1854-55, the Joerndts may have had friends who left the Lutheran church to hang out with their Pastor Ragatz and his new-found adoption of Swedenborg’s spiritual offerings. It’s just a guess…

Aunt Harriet and Carl Kikkebusch were married in the Humboldt Park church in 1910, and at one point both my mother and her younger sister Eunice were sent to live with Harriet and Carl. Somebody in the Humboldt Park Society suggested and then managed my mother’s flight to Urbana, but I know none of the details.

Just to relieve the suspense, a few more bits of the story: after the divorce, William married again, one Augusta Knopf, who died in 1926. He then married (wait for it…) …Mary Joerndt in October 1926, in California… and both Harriet and Eunice were living in California in the early 1920s. The Mary Joerndt in the photograph

is physiognomically very similar to my mother when she was about that age.

While my mother was at Urbana, when she was perhaps 16, she had appendicitis and her father (by then a Christian Scientist) refused permission for the operation that would save her life. Alice Sturges, the Housemother, took responsibility and signed in loco parentis. Her father disowned her. Or so goes the story.

And here’s one of Mary Joerndt and Harriet in 1907: the year before Marshall’s death, when Harriet was 16:

This will probably be continued, so stay tuned.

taking stock, May 10th

Today is Kate’s 50th birthday!


(see a Flickr album)


My life seems to be a long series of fascinations, sometimes discrete and self-contained, but often braided and intertwingled with one another. They seem to come out of Nowhere, but of course there’s always some grit-in-oyster provocation, which I can only occasionally reconstruct once the pearl has begun to take shape as a new fascination. The last few months have seen a joyous succession, beginning with explorations of pareidolia in November 2019 [though off and on for at least the last 5 years], which led to discovery of Roger Caillois, and thence [not quite sure how] to an immersion in Walter Benjamin in December 2019, and to Maria Popova’s Figuring in January 2020, and to explorations of my library of word books in February and March, which may or may not have sparked a diversion to Georges Perec, which then seems to have led to what has become a continuing bout with Oulipo (and OuXPo extensions), especially via Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature, which provoked a reading of Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler… and so it goes.

It’s worth wandering into the lexicographical weeds to record the history of the Ouvroir [which I gloss as ‘Workshop’] in Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, as summarized in the [just-arrived] OULIPO: A Primer of Potential Literature, Warren Motte’s anthology of translations of oulipist texts:

…an ouvroir—a word that has fallen into disuse—once denoted a shop and, as late as the 18th century, a light and mobile shop made of wood, in which the master cobblers of Paris displayed their wares and pursued their trade. The word could also denote that part of a textile factory where the looms are placed; or, in an arsenal, the place where a team of workers performs a given task; or a long room where the young women in a community work on projects appropriate to their sex; or a charitable institution for impoverished women and girls who found therein shelter, heat, light, and thankless, ill-paid work, the result of which these institutions sold at a discount, not without having skimmed off a tidy profit, thus depriving the isolated workers of their livelihood and leading them (as it was charged) into vice. Later, and for a short time only, ouvroir denoted a group of well-to-do women seeking to assuage their consciences in needlework for the poor and in the confection of sumptuous ecclesiastical garments. Curiously enough, it was this last notion, the “sewing circle,” that prevailed in the minds of the Oulipians: just like those diligent ladies, Oulipians embroidered with golden thread… (Noël Arnaud’s Foreword to Motte, pg xii)

The lexical playfulness of Oulipo is what attracts me most (despite the lamentable impenetrability to me of the French texts), and what connects me to offshoots (or Potential offshoots) like OuPhoPo (Photography) and OuMuPo (Music). As Raymond Queneau put it,

The word ‘potential’ concerns the very nature of literature, that is, fundamentally, it’s less a question of literature strictly speaking than of supplying forms for the good use one can make of literature. We call potential literature the search for new forms and structures which may be used by writers in any way they see fit. (Arnaud again, pg xiii)

This exemplifies the OuMuPo connection:

Daniel Heïkalo’s comment:

Probably one of the craziest improvisation that we ever recorded. It was the last track we played during a week long session. We threw all the rules into the wood stove and blew out the windows. Robert Kehler came up with the title. But in fact, we do believe that children SHOULD be exposed to this sort of music, and especially the ones that are studying in conservatories…

Elsewhere I’ve noted my personal entanglement with OuPhoPo, to which constructions like this advance my claim:

Mr Belaker








Two tasty bits from a Book of the Moment, Floating Worlds: the letters of Edward Gorey & Peter F. Neumeyer:

yesterday I happened to notice in the mirror that while I have long since grown used to my beard becoming very grey indeed, I was not prepared to discover that my eyebrows are becoming noticeably shaggy. I feel the tomb is just around the corner. And there are all these books I haven’t read yet, even if I am simultaneously reading at least twenty… (pg 128)

I tell myself not to remember the past, not to hope or fear for the future, and not to think in the present, a comprehensive program that will undoubtedly have very little success. (pg 130)

The book brims with such gems.

and here’s a quasi-relevant image to accompany the above:

The Flickr note for this one says “Part of the prep for a ghastly dental procedure, but I was amazed to see the profile of my father and both brothers. Ignore the vacuity in the NW quadrant of the image…”

Bancroft and Tyszkiewicz

For the last few days I’ve been transfixed by a skein of mysteries connected to a grave site in Père Lachaise:
Clara's tomb
The questions at issue have changed as I’ve excavated bits of fact and built new conjectures from successive discoveries, and I need to go beyond the summary I’ve been writing for the currently-under-development v2.0 of Remembered: a graveyard book v1.0. The actors in this particular drama are:

  • Clara Elizabeth Peabody Bancroft (1826-1882), the lady of the statue
  • Edward Payson Bancroft (1823-1865), her husband
  • Elizabeth Bancroft Tyszkiewicz (1857-1883), their daughter (also known as Klara Elżbieta Tyszkiewicz – Łohojska)
  • Count Benoit [Benedyk Henryk] Tyszkiewicz (1852-1935), husband of Elizabeth Bancroft Tyszkiewicz
  • their children Benedykt Jan Tyszkiewicz (1875-1948), Edward Tyszkiewicz (1880-1951), and Elizabeth Marie Tyszkiewicz Plater-Zybeck (1882-1969)
  • …and several other relatives of the above

The dates of death of the first three are the armature of the unfolding saga: it seems that Edward and Clara Bancroft were touring Europe in 1865, when Edward died in Naples (of what we don’t know, but he was subsequently interred in Mount Auburn cemetery). Clara herself was a wealthy widow when she died in Paris in 1882, and her daughter Elizabeth inherited a bundle but died in Switzerland in 1883, but (according to the plaque on Clara’s monument) her last wishes were that her mother’s tomb include a statue depicting her strewing roses:

Son gendre et ses petits enfants pour accomplir les dernières volontés de sa fille la comtesse Tyszkiewicz ont élevé ce monument témoignage d’un vieux souvenir

Her son-in-law and grandchildren, to fulfill the last wishes of her daughter the countess Tyszkiewicz, have raised this monument in witness of an old memory

The very opulence of the statue is reason enough to inquire further, but it’s as difficult to know where to start as when to stop the inquiry. Among the questions that arise (and that Google isn’t quite helpful enough with): how did Clara Peabody (a daughter of a mildly distinguished New Hampshire family) and Edward Bancroft (a very young Boston “broker”, possibly of stocks but maybe of Civil War-era cotton) meet and come to marry? What made the considerable fortune that Clara Bancroft inherited on her husband’s death? How did their daughter come to meet and subsequently marry a very young Polish count? Of what did the Countess Tyszkiewicz die (possibly TB? or some after-effects of the birth of her daughter?) and where is she buried? What happened afterwards in the lives of the Count and his children? How did the Count’s estates fare in the catastrophes of 20th century Poland?

As I’ve said in Remembered, this is all the stuff of a story that might be written by Somerset Maugham or Saki, and just the sort of digression that I’m susceptible to. Along the way I’ve been enticed into exploring the worlds of 19th century Polish nobility, Civil War banking in Boston, naval architecture (the Count commissioned the construction of a moderately famous yacht), sugar beets (the Count was evidently deeply involved in their cultivation on his estates in the 1890s), lawsuits (the three Tyszkiewicz children attempting unsuccessfully to get at the principal of their grandmother’s trust fund, of which they were the beneficiaries), and the online versions of the Almanach de Gotha. Each of those raises more questions than it answers, and a passage I read just this morning seems especially trenchant:

Archeology is always an encounter between a fixed past and a shifting present; we bring to it our fantasies, prejudices, and predilections—this year different from last year, next year different again. (Charlotte Higgins, New Yorker blog, 3 June 2016)

The trouble, or perhaps it’s the wonder, or the joy, is that pretty much each photograph in Remembered inspires or demands similar searchings and findings. That being the case, the revision of Remembered is proceeding more slowly than I’d wish.

Picking up where we left off?

It’s been months since I last posted anything to oookblog, but they’ve been busy months: some Blurb books, a bout of shop work, the usual flurriment around the holiday season. And here it is almost mid-March, and we’re preparing for a fortnight in France (a few days in Paris on either end of a week in Brittany) and contemplating other travels in the summer. A lot of material that I might have posted here (charting day by day encounters with stuff that piqued interest and comment) has gone into writing on paper instead, but I remain committed to the notion that it’s BETTER to put the quotidian flux where others might enjoy it.

The grandest accomplishment of the last 3 months has been a book of photographs and narrative drawn from the family archives that have been my responsibility for the last 40 years or so:

Forebears 3.0 cover

It’s now in its third revision/expansion, and almost ready for prime time release to its wider public, whatever that might be. The project has nudged me back into thinking about genealogical questions and the imponderables of Family, and it’s likely that I’ll pursue those subjects in the next few months.

And of course there’s photography to think about and work on. And the never-ending river of books to read.

Dept. of Co-Incidence

This marvelous photograph is dated ’07, but I can’t remember just where I bought it:

sincerely '07
The inscription: “Sincerely Madeleine Vivian Long”

The pose is quite “modern” for 1907, the furniture is pretty bizarre, and the lace snowflake is all but unprecedented in my experience. What tale can possibly be extracted from this material?

Well. The photographer (Levering) turns out to have been active in the Connecticut Valley in the early years of the 20th century, and was apparently headquartered in Northfield, MA. And sure enough, there’s a 1900 Census record for Madeleine V. Long, 11-year-old daughter of Russell B. Long, of Northfield MA (not The Kingfish Russell B. Long of LA). Now, Northfield is a pretty small place, the principal jewel of which was Northfield School, founded by Dwight L. Moody in 1879. Both of our children went to NMH, and Betsy’s grandmother (Elizabeth Parmenter, as she then was) was Organ Mistress at Northfield in the early years of the 20th century. So our Madeleine might very well have known Elizabeth Parmenter. Small world…

Wish I could discover more of the story of Madeleine, now that I know there is one. She turns up as a resident of Northfield in 1935, suggesting that she never married, and I fully expect to find that she has some connection to the school (alumna? teacher?), which is now across the river in Gill and fully merged with Mount Hermon (the Northfield campus was closed in 2005).

Familial profile

We don’t usually see our own profiles, especially when they are artfully obscured by beards. This one (part of the preparation for today’s adventure in dental technologies) disclosed that MY profile is eerily reminiscent of that of my father and my brother David… and the chin is just like that of brother John too.