Friday, June 26, 2015

The Telephone Call from Neiffer

by Barbara Leiger Granato

Note: This blog is a continuation of my earlier one entitled “Excuse Me, Can You Tell Me Where Neiffer Is?” If you are confused, please re-read that blog and that will explain it all.

It was one of those beautiful sunny summer days in 1992 in Whitesboro, New York. Anyone who resides in this area and who works the typical Monday-Friday daytime job can truly appreciate how rare those sunny summer days on a weekend can be! To heck with the housework – my husband and I opted to lounge on our deck, bask in the sun, and play a few games of Backgammon while the children were playing with friends.

1992 was a time when we didn’t have cell phones; we didn’t have computers. We still pretty much relied on the good old U.S. Postal Service to send and receive letters, and we had to deal with long-distance telephone calls and pay for each one we made.

The ringing of the telephone interrupted our Backgammon game, and my husband Joe went in the house to answer the phone. And then, he called out to me – “Hey Barbie (he’s the only one I allow to call me that name), there’s a man on the phone who wants to speak to you. He said his name is Fred Neiffer.”

WHAT???? I made it to the telephone in record time. When I returned from our trip to find Neiffer, Pennsylvania, I wrote letters to all of the Neiffer families whose names I had found in the telephone book in that area. But – I never included my telephone number; I had only included an SASE (for those who may not remember that term – a “self-addressed-stamped-envelope”). I was hoping to get a reply from at least one of the Neiffer families.

I picked up the phone and nervously said, “Hello?” Was this person calling to yell at me for sending him a letter? And I never even gave him my telephone number! He had to call directory assistance to look it up. Yup – that’s another thing we could do back in the early 1990’s.

“Is this Barbara Granato?” the man asked.

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“Barbara, this is Fred Neiffer. I just received a letter from you regarding information for your great-grandmother, Sarah Neiffer.”

“Um…I hope you don’t mind me sending you that letter,” I replied. “I really don’t know very much about her, and I was wondering if you might have some information.”

Not only did Fred have information – but the next thing I knew, we were talking like old friends. Well, after all, we were related! Fred told me that Sarah was the oldest of 11 children. Fred was a descendant of one of Sarah’s siblings. It seems that Fred was quite the family historian, and I hit the jackpot! He was able to tell me the names of Sarah’s parents, and even more information about the family. Before our telephone call ended, I got my calendar, and the next thing I knew, we were invited back down to the Neiffer area to meet the Neiffer family in person!

I not only received a telephone call from Fred, but I also received one from George Neiffer shortly after that! And so, just two weeks later, we returned to the area of Neiffer and met both families.

I have the George Neiffer family to thank for making copies of family photographs for me, which I placed in a beautiful collage. Among their family possessions of honor is a 50th Anniversary of the Civil War banner which had belonged to my great-grandmother Sarah’s father – Augustus Neiffer. I learned about the Civil War stories for Augustus – but that’s a whole other blog to be written.

I have the Fred Neiffer family to thank for inviting us to share a fabulous dinner with them, and then for a spectacular car ride through Neiffer territory and surrounding areas – and then learning exactly how far back some of our family went in that area (but again – that’s another blog to be written).

There was just one thing that was still unanswered, though. Is, or was, there ever a town called Neiffer? And what happened to it???

Well, the story about that is that my great grandmother Sarah Neiffer’s father was Augustus Neiffer. He had a brother named Samuel Neiffer. They lived in a very rural area. While Augustus was a carpenter and was well-known for making wooden pumps in the area, his brother Samuel owned a General Store on the four corners in a very rural area on Neiffer Road. That general store also served as a post office. When the U.S. Postal Service began to use zip codes, the Town of Neiffer was given the zip code of 19468. Today, the General Store is no longer there, but as far as I know, the zip code still remains.

I learned so much information about that branch (and other branches of those branches) from this trip. I remained in touch with the Neiffer family for several years, and one year attended a Neiffer family reunion. Although the years have gone by and we have lost touch with each other, I have many fond memories of that trip. I look at the photos that were given to me that I carefully placed into the framed collage, and it brings a smile to myself. One of those photos is priceless. It is a picture of my 2nd great-grandfather Augustus (the Civil War soldier) petting a cow. But this wasn’t just any cow – this was Rosie the cow! Yes – the Neiffer family even knew the name of the cow in the photograph!

And to think this wealth of information all began with a letter and a phone call!

Lessons Learned –

  • Sometimes a good old-fashioned letter can lead to new family discoveries.
  • Sometimes it is good to remember that people who are alive can give you more information than the ones we find in the cemeteries.
  • Write down questions that you are trying to answer; sometimes the people you meet have information and family artifacts that have been passed down through the generations…information that could never be found elsewhere.

©2015 Barbara Leiger Granato

After retiring from her job as a secretary at Mohawk Valley Community College, Barbara Granato had more time to pursue her love of genealogy. She is a member of the Oneida Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, currently serving as the chapter Registrar and Vice-Chair of NYS Lineage Research for DAR. In addition to teaching Beginning Genealogy classes, she is a Board member of the Central New York Genealogical Society, as well as a Board Member for the Oneida County Historical Society. She also is a member of the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica and serves as a tour docent to the mansions on Rutger Street in Utica, and writes murder mysteries which are performed at one of the historic mansions once a year. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists as well as the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.