Drama on Division Street

One place which practiced and curious family researchers have found to be a wealth of information are old town newspapers. Back in the day, the town newspaper was the “social media” people turned to in order to find out what their friends and neighbors were up to.

The bare facts about our ancestors lives can be found in birth, marriage and death records. But newspaper items can truly enrich our discovery of family history. Announcements of births, marriages, anniversaries and deaths (obituaries) place these events into societal context. The society pages in newspapers reveal the activities of our ancestors: clubs they belonged to; activities they participated in; guests they entertained at their home; their travels; their accomplishments; who their friends were; and so, so much more.

And then there are dramatic events in which our family members found themselves in a glaring spotlight, as in the article below …

Olean Evening Times – 21 Feb 1923

In 1923, my great-grandmother, Laura Tidd Feister, was 40 years old and the mother of four children: Harriet (“Hattie”), Valeta, William (“Bill”) and Delia. Her husband’s name was George Feister. They lived at 712 Division St. in Olean, NY.

The reporter got some of the vitals of his story wrong, i.e. the family names and he left out the youngest child, my grandmother, Delia.

As I read and reread this story, I placed myself in my great-grandmother Laura’s shoes and imagined the fright she must have experienced to waken and find her entire family unconscious. And then, struggling to evacuate the children from the home; her panicked cries to neighbors for help.

And I wonder: why was she the only one conscious? One possibility is that she had slept in another part of the house. Perhaps she fell asleep in the living room, where there was more air movement. George and the children were likely asleep in the bedrooms, perhaps with the doors closed.

Reading things like this can bring home the reality that there are so many events leading up to our birth which, but for the grace of God, may have resulted in our not even being here. Miraculously, the Feister home did not catch fire in 1923, and the family survived. The children grew up. They married and had children of their own.

And here we are.


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