Saturday, September 16, 2017

Genealogy Story – Spouses of my Mother’s Siblings

I have done much genealogical research into both of my parents. Their ancestors, both on the Russell side and the Pierpont side, extend back into early New England as they came to America as part of the Great Migration in the 1630’s. I have also written about my father’s sister and her marriage to Robert Hill ( The Hill family also has the same sort of deep American roots. But I’ve never done much research into the spouses of my mother’s four siblings and their ancestry. So this will fill in that gap in my research.

My mother had four siblings – Clarence (Zeke) who married Barbara (Babs) Bishop, Alice (Alie) who married Ewell (Joe) Tucker, Richard (Dick) who married Gertrude (Trudy) Clark, and Violet (Vi) who married Anthony (Tony) Semeraro. Here is the story of each of these spouses.

Aunt Babs

My Aunt Babs maiden name was Barbara Leete Bishop. I have touched briefly on the Leete connection before as her great*8 grandfather was William Leete who was one of the early governors of Connecticut ( But the Bishop family has also been in New England since the 1600s. Her great*7 grandfather, John Bishop, was born in England in 1625, but he arrived on a ship in the New Haven Colony as a young lad of 14 in 1639 – just one year after the founding of that colony. So her American roots are as deep as my Uncle Zeke’s.

Uncle Joe

My Aunt Alie did not marry until a bit later in life, marrying Uncle Joe in Arizona when she was in her late 30’s. But Uncle Joe was not a native of Arizona either, having been born in Laurel, Mississippi. His family had been in Mississippi for several generations, in South Carolina before that, and in Virginia since the 1600s. So while not the same type of New England English roots, the Tucker family has been in this country just as long and originated from England as well.

Aunt Trudy

The Clark family has the same sort of deep American roots as the Bishop family. My Aunt Trudy’s great*8 grandfather, George Clark, was born in England in 1604, but he came to Boston as part of the Great Migration in 1637. But Boston was only a stop on his journey as his son Thomas was born in Milford, CT the following year. The family resided in Milford for several generations, then moved inland to Orange, CT for several more generations, before settling in Prospect in the mid-1800s. Clark Hill Road in Prospect, named for them, has been the home of the Clark family ever since. My Aunt Trudy is the only one still living among those of my parent’s generation. She is now 92 and living with my cousin Cindy and her husband on the family farm on Clark Hill Road.

Uncle Tony

My Uncle Tony is the only decidedly non-English individual among my aunts and uncles. His father, Pasquale Semeraro, was born in Sortino, Sicily in 1887 and his mother Lucia was also from Sortino. They emigrated to the US in 1910 and married here a year later. Although the Pierponts are pretty accepting, there was never much mixing with the Semeraros like there was with the other families above. I knew the siblings of my other aunts and uncles, but not the Semeraro family. Pasquale died before I was born, but Lucia did not pass away until 1971. She continued to speak Italian and not English. And the Semeraro family were staunch Catholics which the Pierpont family were not, putting another barrier between them. I wish that I could have known more about that branch of the family when I was growing up. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Remembering 9/11 – Stranded in Europe

As I write this it is the early morning hours of 9/11/2017. Hurricane Irma is lashing Florida. I have been praying for all those who are being affected by this “natural disaster,” including my son and family, a cousin who shares the same name as my son but who is a law enforcement officer who will see many additional hours of duty before the week is over, and many other friends and relatives who have chosen to make Florida their home. But until the storm is over later today there is not much else I can do except pray.

But as I sit here, my mind is drawn back to another 9/11 which happened 16 years ago. On that date, the disaster was not natural, but was a man-made one. But the activities of that week are etched on my mind because of what occurred. I’d like to recount the rather unusual events of the week.

A few weeks before, the company I worked for had been involved in negotiations for a potential acquisition of a portion of a large chemical company which was located in Belgium. As I had been involved a few years earlier in coordinating all the Y2K compliance in our joint ventures and subsidiaries around the world, I was tapped to be the IT representative on the acquisition evaluation team. The assignment for the team was to visit the target company in Belgium and perform an in-depth evaluation of all aspects of its operations, finances, IT, etc. and advise management so that a final decision could be made on whether to proceed with the acquisition. Most of the acquisition team members, about 10 in total, were from our US headquarters, but one was a manager at our existing facility in Utrecht, Netherlands. The plan was for everyone to travel to Brussels on Monday where we would meet each other and make the detailed plans for the rest of the week, spend Tuesday-Thursday at the target company, and return home on Friday. As an experienced traveler, I packed lightly for those days, taking just one piece of carry-on luggage.

Monday went as planned. After dinner we met in a conference room at the hotel in downtown Brussels, got to know each other, and prepared for the following day. Because the employees of the target company were not to know that they were being considered for acquisition, we were scheduled to be taken by shuttle bus around 9:30 the next morning where we would be escorted to an unused part of their corporate campus. We would spend the work day there with lunch being brought in, then picked up at the end of the day (around 6:30 after the plant employees had left) and shuttled back to our hotel. I went to bed early (by my bodily clock) to finish the adjustment to the new time zone (I have learned over the years how to adapt to world travel and avoid the typical jet lag that many people experience).

Tuesday morning went as planned. I had a leisurely breakfast, then joined the others to take the shuttle bus to the plant outside the city. Our work space for the next three days was a vacant third floor of a building where the only contents were a large work table with chairs and two long rows of file cabinets with all the materials they had collected for us to examine. We had our own company laptops, but there was no Internet connectivity or phone service available to us. However, the one team member from Utrecht had a cell phone that worked in Europe. Also, as we were to soon find out, he had brought his wife with him on the trip. She was going shopping that morning and she was back at their room in the hotel in the afternoon. We began carrying on our individual assignments and going through the material in all the file cabinets. Lunch was brought in (trays of sandwiches and fruit) and we continued into the afternoon.

Around 3:00 in the afternoon, the team member from Utrecht received a phone call from his wife at the hotel. She had been watching TV and the initial reports from the first plane strike in NYC were coming in (Brussels is six hours ahead of New York, so this would have been 9:00 am on the east coast of the US). She was relaying the information that she was watching to her husband, who then would summarize it to the rest of the team. All acquisition work stopped as we sat silently, listening as he passed on the information to us for the next several minutes. Then the second plane strike happened and we were all stunned. The initial reporting from that day was rather jumbled as it was not yet apparent what was happening. There were many rumors mixed in with the facts.

When it became obvious that none of us in the room were in a state of mind to continue working for the day, we contacted our hosts to ask them to have the shuttle bus return for us as soon as possible. While we were waiting, they were kind enough to escort us to the company fitness center a few buildings away where we could watch some TV monitors while we were waiting (since it was mid-afternoon there would be no employees there to encounter us). We no sooner had entered the fitness center than we got a chance to observe the collapse of the first tower in NY. What a shock that was. Once the shuttle bus arrived, we returned to our hotel where we all quickly went back to our rooms to watch TV. Many of the local European stations were playing feeds from the US, CNN-International was available, but the BBC was also covering everything and had probably the best coverage from my perspective (more on that below). Because Brussels is home to the NATO headquarters, there was initial fear that they might also be a target, so that part of the city also went into lockdown mode. The team leader called each of us in our rooms and we scheduled an early morning get together for Wednesday morning to decide how to proceed with the week. I don’t think any of us got a good night’s sleep.

One of the things I knew I should do was to let my wife know that I was ok. Phone service to the US was down as not only were many transatlantic cables routed through NYC and had been destroyed, but the remaining circuits were so overloaded that you couldn’t get through. However, the ever-reliable Internet was still running. I chose one of my co-workers in the US as a trusted go-between and sent a quick email to ensure she was at work, then composed a message to my wife which I sent to my co-worker together with my wife’s phone number at work. I would use this a few times over the next several days (thanks, Pat!).

At our morning meeting on Wednesday, we all agreed that with all travel to the US suspended that there was not much we could do except to carry on with our assigned acquisition tasks for the week. So on Wednesday and Thursday that’s what we did – but spending time glued to the TV in our individual rooms all the hours we were not otherwise engaged in the acquisition. Our team leader also spent some time trying to handle our return travel arrangements. We had no idea when travel back to the US would be possible or how backed up it would be with so many people having had their travel plans interrupted. The one team member from Utrecht would be driving back home to the Netherlands. The corporate attorney felt that he was too important and could make his own plans – he tried scheduling himself to fly to the west coast (which didn’t work as ALL of US airspace was closed), then to Canada where he would rent a car and drive into the US. He was ultimately successful in this, but it wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. He flew out on Friday morning, but ended up getting stranded in Spain waiting for a flight (even his first-class upgrade didn’t help). After a rather convoluted and lengthy travel itinerary (two full days!), he finally got to Toronto and drove back to PA, arriving around the same time the rest of us did on a direct flight back (more on that below). By this time, the rest of the team had gotten confirmed flights back the following Wednesday, but we were waitlisted for all the days until then and we had to check with the airline each morning to see if we had gotten moved up.

I had only brought enough clothing to last me until our original flight back on Friday morning. Since that was obviously not going to happen, for the only time in all my international travels I sent out my clothes to be washed by the hotel laundry service so I would have clean clothes for the next several days. Also, I had not brought a jacket since my original plans were that I would be either in the hotel or in the acquisition workspace and would have no time for any outside activities. On Friday morning, I walked from the hotel down into the town center, located a store (kind of like the European equivalent of an Army-Navy store) that had reasonably priced clothing, and bought a light jacket (which I charged to my expense account).

Thus outfitted, I spent Friday doing an extensive walking tour of Brussels ( I went into a store that sold Belgian chocolate (I think I gained weight just with the smells!), had lunch in a nice outdoor cafĂ© in the central market, went to a classical music concert in the town hall (, and saw the famous Manneken Pis statue (which is on a small somewhat obscure alley a few blocks from the town hall) (see  

On Saturday, with our confirmed flight now moved up to Monday, three of us on the team decided to do some more extensive sightseeing. We walked to the train station, bought tickets and took the train to Bruges (about an hour away and up near the coast). (see Bruges is the capital of the West Flanders region of the Flemish part of Belgium. It had been an important city for two millennia, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also known as the “Venice of the North” with many canals, including one which encircles the main city center. The three of spent the day there in a walking tour, climbing the 366 stairs of the historic belfry (, and generally enjoying a nice fall day. At the end of that rather nice day we took the train back to Brussels where we were able to confirm that our flight had been moved up again and we were scheduled to fly home the following day.

I need to add here that the people of Belgium were all most sympathetic towards us when they learned that we were Americans. Their hospitality and deeply felt concern are still feelings that I have warm remembrances of. Unlike the somewhat biased news and reporting that happens in the US (which is now often referred to as “fake news”), the reporting in Europe was much more factual and introspective.

Sunday morning, we all took taxies to the airport for the flight back to the US. We were all once again sobered by what we were returning to. We had a direct flight on US Air from Brussels to Philadelphia. That particular flight follows a flight path that parallels the coast of Long Island and just to the south of NYC as it is descending toward Philadelphia. The weather was very clear that day. As we were flying past NYC, if you were on the right-hand side of the plane (I had a window seat on that side), Manhattan was quite visible. Seeing the skyline without the twin towers was shocking enough. But there was also still smoke rising thousands of feet into the sky from where the towers had been. Since everyone wanted to see it, those of us on the right side would flatten against our seats so those from the left side could lean over us and take in that sobering sight. I was concerned that we would overbalance the plane with everyone crowded onto one side.

Getting back to Philadelphia, I quickly went back to my car and drove back home where I could embrace my wife. The next several days were consumed with getting back to work and catching up on the US version of what had been happening.

What did I learn? Several things, the chief ones being:

·       US news media is the most biased in the world – they seem to forever focus on small “sound bites”, concern for ratings, and almost solely things which happen in the US. World events receive scant coverage. I greatly prefer news reporting from places like the BBC.

·       People around the world will generally be nice to you if you are nice to them – and if you show appreciation for the things that they are/have. I tried to avoid crowds of tourists in Brussels, I took the regular train to Bruges, ate the local food, went to a concert in the town hall, etc. And in return I was warmly received everywhere I went.

·       Being apart from family during trials is difficult. I wanted to be able to hug my wife, to reassure her, and to be able to share with her during that week. It was very nice to finally get back home again!

It’s taken me three hours to write this blog. The sun is now coming up, the news will be able to report from Florida, and I have family responsibilities in getting our grandsons up and ready for school. Enjoy your day!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Legacy of Diversity

Some of my efforts at work had nothing to do with IT. The company at the time had a number of “diversity groups” – the “standard” ones such as WIB (Women In Business), EDEN (Ethnically Diverse Employee Network) (for African-Americans), HOLA (Hispanic Organization of Latinos and Amigos), and others. I became aware of someone down the hall from me who had fibromyalgia and was very sensitive to light and noise and so had a closed-in office with modified lighting instead of a cubical. But since she didn’t “look” disabled she was getting discriminated against by some others who couldn’t understand why she rated an office with a door when they didn’t have one. As a result I decided to make it my goal before I retired to start another diversity group – we eventually named it ABCD (AnyBody Concerned about Disabilities).

I made an announcement about it, found some like-minded individuals, and we created the group, worked through the process of getting both recognition and funding through our corporate HR department, got an executive sponsor, etc. We were able to bring in an outside speaker on the subject and gave a presentation in the company auditorium to begin to expose others to the topic of both visible (such as blindness) and invisible (such as fibromyalgia) disabilities. We also noted that there were temporary disabilities (such as a broken arm or advanced pregnancy).

The latter were important because in the event of a fire in a multi-story corporate building the elevators are normally blocked from usage (you’re all seen the notices in hotels, etc. about not using the elevator during a fire). We created a cadre of group members who were trained on how to use the elevators during a fire (requires a special key), and ensured that each individual who needed assistance to safely exit the building had a buddy and all were accounted for so none were left behind. We also lobbied for additional handicapped parking places and created a standard procedure for individuals who needed to request one (either permanently or temporarily).

Today the ABCD employee group is one of the eight recognized diversity groups which receive recognition on the corporate website. While I’m proud to have had a part in starting it and knowing that it’s a permanent legacy that I have left behind, I’m also happy to have made a number of new friends whose life has been made better because of my efforts.