I started climbing my family tree in 1986 after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune.
Raymond C. Tolf’s name was in the article. Everyone in my family referred to Raymond as Unkie. He was my maternal grandmother’s paternal uncle, the brother of Harry Tolf. Unkie and his sister outlived Harry and my grandmother and became sort-of surrogate grandparents to my mother and her brother, my cousins, my sisters, and me.
He and Auntie hosted most holidays. When we hosted, Unkie drove from Chicago to our house in the suburbs. Auntie and Unkie helped my grandfather through the loss of his wife after her death and my mother through the loss of her husband after their divorce.
Unkie taught me how to tie a man’s tie when I wanted to wear one to high school. I was 15 when Unkie died. Growing up, I had talked with him a lot. But never about his parents or his childhood or what he did before I knew him. I was too young to know how important that information would be to me later in life. I want to know…
What was his life like during World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, the Fabulous Fifties, and the Sixties?
Benjamin Harrison was the President of the United States when Unkie was born. During his lifetime Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon served terms in the White House.
How much the world around Unkie changed during his lifetime!
- age 2; movies were introduced
- age 7; the Spanish American War was fought
- age 10; President McKinley was assassinated
- age 12; airplanes
- age 19; Haley’s Comet
- age 21; the Titanic sank
- age 23; the bra was introduced
- age 26; the US entered World War I
- age 27; the Spanish flu pandemic raged on
- age 29; women won the vote
- age 35; sound was added to movies
- age 37; television was introduced
- age 38; the Stock Market crashed
- age 48; World War II got underway
- age 49; color TV
- age 55; the bikini
- age 58; 45 rpm records
- age 64; Velcro was invented
- age 68; Alaska and Hawaii became states
- age 75; 8-track players
- age 78; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon
- age 83; the Internet came to be
After reading the article in the Tribune I mentioned above, I secured death certificates for Auntie and Unkie’s Swedish immigrant parents. Oh, the questions that came to mind! If only I had known to ask them when I had the chance.