Transcript : A Gift For Dad
A Gift for Dad – Ed Stalling
So New York City is it in New York City is amazing amazing place for an adventure it’s a magical magical place and but you got to know the exact right place to go in New York City to have that magical time. My brother Bob and I about 20 years ago found that magical place in the New York Public Library. Not just the nearest public library but down in the basement of the New York Public Library way down in the northeast corner, there’s a windowless, musty old room called the microfiche room where….
I know if you’re under 30 you can look up microfiche probably you can google or something…
but it’s these old machines… you sit down in there and we would walk up the stairs that marble stairs to the New York Public Library every morning wait for the doors to open we rushed out in that microfiche room so we could get one of the machines or two of the machines. We spent all day and there would be the last people to leave that room.
Leave, take the train back to Connecticut where he was living at the time and we just kept
doing that day after day. That one day was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon from the other side of the microfiche room he yelled, “I got it! Bingo! Holy shit! I found it!” After days and days of work.
So what he had found was… we had been looking through the US Census reports for 1880 1890 1900 and I ran over to his machine at looked and I said, “holy shit … you have found the impossible.”
Our adventure had actually started about 6 or 7 months before and like any good adventure it starting over alcohol. We had been having a couple beers… I was the genealogist in the family and we were talking about my grandmother my father’s mother, who died when he was only 2 years old. His father quickly we married and she was an alcoholic. And in a drunken fit of rage one night she or he or she had burned every single picture that existed of his original mother.
And for some reason, which I still don’t understand, his father never talked about the original mother. He was a merchant marine that was never home and married four or five other times. So he knew nothing about his mother other than that her name was Emma Schmidt and that there was some kind of connection to Cuba.
As the genealogist I had dug around and had found some some things, but you know basic vital statistics…boring facts. You know when she died man under the certificate her since she was born in Havana Cuba, which I thought with interesting. But very little information my brother being a tenacious Northeasterner, who knows nothing about genealogical research… over a couple pints of beer he said, “look, you know that somewhere…somewhere in this country sitting in an attic in an old cardboard box is a photo album with pictures of her. What’s the chance of that?” and I said, “you know that they’re probably is.” He said, “what’s the
chance we could ever find that?” I said, “absolutely impossible.”
Now these were the days before the Internet.
It was just coming on, so you couldn’t just push a button and find things you had to do a lot of work. and I said, “it would take years of work and probably $10,000 of research.” and just all kinds of stuff.
He got another pint and kept pushing me he said, “let’s give it a shot.” I said, “absolutely no way you’re insane.” Bought another pint of beer and finally after four pints of beer I said, “alright I’ll commit to a year. We’ll work together for a year and we’ll go after this thing.” and the next morning I said, “what the hell have I done?” because I knew what it would take a lot of trips to New York, you know just lots of library work just going through all of this stuff. So our plan was his mom…I found her in the US Census and she had a couple brothers and a couple sisters so I said, “hey let if we can find…” (you know this was her his mom she had her dad and
and here’s us) “for the brothers and sisters, if we can find their grandkids, like us, they might have a photo album. That’s our best chance. Let’s work off of the siblings.”
The brothers, we worked on for about a month.
Forget about it! It was horrible! The last name was Schmidt. Have you ever looked in, you probably haven’t. but if you ever do look in the 1900 US Census for Manhattan for the name Schmidt… right… you’re done.
So on to the sisters. Now here’s something about genealogical research. Sisters suck! The reason sisters suck for genealogists is you might find them at 16 years of age then they get married and 10 years later when the next U.S. census is done they’re gone forever until you find out who they married. And that’s very tough to find… at least it was before the internet. So sister one…what he had found that day in the microfiche room of the New York Public Library when he said. “Holy shit.” was the impossible. He had found sister number one living in the same household, but with her new husband. So we knew who she married… right …so now we
have a fresh lead to go on. Not only that, but it was a very odd name. So only 40 people in the country had that last name so we started calling them. All forty.
We started calling them.
Now it was tough, because you say, “hear me out, don’t know me but I’m talking about do you know these people from 100 years ago in Manhattan right… they’re living here… this was their names”… click. You call him back and say no seriously hear me out cuz you got the same last name as you click two people actually said, “I’m black. Are you black?” I said, “no, I’m not black.” they said click.
So the last number I called was Hawaiian. And in the reason is because back then, Hawaii was expensive and we didn’t have any money. Called Hawaii, gave him the spiel…no click. It’s silent. and he goes, “you’re talking about my grandparents my grandmother.” And I said oh my god I found the family just like we thought. I spent the next two months with the people in this person’s family, we become close, that new their family history, but a complete dead end.
They knew nothing about my father’s mom, they never knew she had a sister that their
grandmother had a sister named Emma. Done. dead end. So we’re basically done, but there was one thing they did know. They knew who was the second sister had married, which totally opened up that lead.
Her name was Consuelo, Consuelo Schmidt and they said we know that she… true story true story. so we…she said that she married a guy named Roads. I spend another month looking for Consuela Roads, and found her in Virginia. She had just passed away 3 years ago at 90 years old in a nursing home. I found the nurse I found the death records. So it ends up she had lived for all the time I was growing up in Connecticut she had lived 30 miles away from my dad. His mom’s own sister that could have told all kinds of tales. I found her, she had passed away.
But, I found out she had a son and I found the son was very high up in the Pentagon. So I had the balls to call the Pentagon, which I was really scared about. and talking to this guy that high up and said, “now listen…” I started telling him this tale. He goes, “it’s very disturbing that you know so much about my family and that you know my mom and that she is from Cuba.” He said, “I’ll tell you what I have absolutely no interest in any of this I just never have but I have every box that my mom owned in the attic and I will guarantee to you that all, over the next winter, every now and then if I have time I’ll look through these photos.” He didn’t even know what was in the boxes. I said, “great thanks.” We kept in touch a little bit about a month later he called me and he goes, “isn’t your last name is Stalling?” I said, “it is.” because I got a photo and on the back it says Stalling.
He found two or three more he did not want to even send those to us, but he said I’ll tell you what come to… fly to Washington DC sit… with you can stay in my house, we’ll go through all these boxes together.
So I flew my father who’s now like 75 years old, my brother and I, we all flew in and he opened up his home his wife and him to us we went through all these boxes, but by the time we got there was like midnight… right…with my father. He picked us up at the airport. We get into this guys house and his wife for showing us where we can sleep and I said, “No. the picture. Where is the picture?” He goes, “That can wait till morning.”
He really said, “That can wait till morning.” and I’m thinkin’ “what if my father dies?” right… tonight… in the same house at the pictures mother. He pulls out the picture, shows it to my dad, my dad looks at the picture and goes, “oh my god I’ve never seen a picture of my father so young.” And that woman that looked like a wedding picture, that his arm is around, he goes, “she looks exactly like my brother. And his finger touched her face and he goes, “that’s my mom.” and my brother and I looked at each other and we said, “You know what? We did it.”
My father died about 3 years later and at his funeral, at the end of the funeral, my brother came over we had a private little toast with our beer and we said, “you know what ? We gave a hell of a gift to Dad.”