Archive for August, 2011

“Timing their message to coincide with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan, a small but vocal group of activists marched in the streets Tuesday, urging Japan to sign an international treaty on parental child abduction.”   — Charlie Reed, Stars and Stripes, 8/23/11


Flyer for the Rally

My new sign

Talking to the Press

Boys in Blue Keeping a Watchful Eye 

Getting Ready

Giving My Speech

Marching Along Roppongi Dori

Kentaro, Carlos, and Aki

Approaching Kasumigaseki

Working Together for Our Kids


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Parents march in Tokyo to urge Biden to address child custody issue

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Around 20 Japanese and Japan-based foreign parents who are facing difficulties in gaining access to their children following failed international marriages marched in Tokyo on Tuesday in seeking help from visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to push the Japanese government to address the issue of child custody.

Holding banners reading “Stop child abduction” and “Why don’t we have rights to see our children in Japan?” the parents embarked on a march after holding a rally in a park in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.

At issue is child alienation and abduction by Japanese parents, as courts in Japan tend to award mothers sole custody after divorce and it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.

Japan recently launched preparations for joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets procedures for settling cross-border child custody disputes.

Akihisa Hirata, co-organizer of a group called Left Behind Parents Japan, said in his message to Biden, “Please urge the Japanese government to address child abduction and also establish joint parenting and joint custody.”

A male participant at the rally said, “Japanese people cannot change their behavior without a strong foreign pressure. We call for changes in the laws to realize joint custody and joint parenting, which is widely adopted in other parts of the world.”

Anthony del Vecchio, a U.S. citizen who has not seen his daughter for seven years after divorcing his Japanese wife, said before the start of the protest march, “With respect to the protection of human rights in general and children’s rights in particular, Japan lags far behind the rest of the developed world.”

“Its system of sole custody upon divorce runs contrary to common sense, sound psychological research and international norms,” he said.

The U.S. State Department lists 123 active cases involving 173 children who have been abducted from the United States to Japan, but it is “not aware of a single case in which a child abducted to Japan has ever been returned to America,” he said.

Biden is on a three-day visit to Japan through Wednesday. The issue of child custody was not apparently discussed in his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan earlier in the day.

(Mainichi Japan) August 24, 2011



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Tony’s Comment: Coverage of our march by Stars and Stripes. Thanks for the great report, Charlie!


Left-behind fathers urge U.S. to push Japan to sign Hague treaty


Stars and Stripes
Published: August 23, 2011
Two Canadian men, who asked not to be identified, hold a sign during a demonstration in Tokyo on Tuesday advocating dual custody rights for divorced parents in Japan. The man on the right said he wished to remain anonymous for fear his participation would anger his Japanese ex-wife and further complicate his custody battle.

TOKYO — Timing their message to coincide with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan, a small but vocal group of activists marched in the streets Tuesday, urging Japan to sign an international treaty on parental child abduction.

Most of the two dozen marchers were American and other foreign fathers who have been cut off from their half-Japanese children by mothers who refuse to share custody and are shielded from doing so by current Japanese law.

The group said the U.S. should urge Japan to follow through on its recent promise to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on Aspects of International Child Abduction — which would help prevent such custody problems from arising. The group also wants Japan to develop an interim plan to restore parental rights to hundreds of foreigners whose children have been spirited away in Japan.

“We would like Vice President Biden to address the issue publicly while he’s in Japan,” said American Tony Del Vecchio, a university professor in Tokyo who hasn’t seen his 13-year-old daughter in seven years.

The protest was held near the site of Biden’s meeting Tuesday with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. It was unclear whether the vice president saw the demonstrators or was aware of the protest.

The Hague treaty requires that a child be returned to his or her habitual residence should one parent flee to another country with that child to evade a custody dispute or dodge an existing court order. There are currently 173 American-Japanese children who have been abducted by a parent in Japan, according to U.S. State Department records.

But Japan has said it will not apply the treaty retroactively to existing parental child abduction cases, leaving parents like Del Vecchio with little hope.

Japan announced in May it would sign the Hague treaty, following decades of diplomatic requests from the U.S. and international community. The media, advocacy groups and even the U.S. Congress have added to the pressure in recent years.

Most outsiders viewed Japan’s acquiescence as a positive step for the country, where the tradition of sole-custody divorces prevails and courtsvirtually never grant custody to foreigners, especially men.

“I have no rights here,” said Tim Johnston, a California native who has lived in Japan for 14 years and has been unable to see his 7-year-old son since 2008.

Carrying a sign that read “Why don’t we have rights to see our children in Japan?” below a photograph of his son, Johnston was among the activists who marched Tuesday in central Tokyo.

It could take years before Japan signs the treaty because some domestic laws will need to be changed before implementation, Japanese officials have said. Some Japanese lawmakers are working on laws that would allow exemptions to the treaty in cases of domestic abuse, which Western officials are quick to point out already exist within the Hague.

U.S. officials and the left-behind parents have expressed concern that Japan — which for years has been reluctant to accede to the Hague treaty because of its divorce customs — may be trying to circumvent the process with that argument.

“We will not rest until we see the kinds of changes that are necessary and we will certainly not abide by loopholes or other steps that will, frankly, somehow negate or water down” the agreement, Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said in July, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., proposed legislation last month that would impose economic sanctions against Japan and other countries that demonstrate a “pattern of non-cooperation” in resolving child abduction cases. Smith tried to pass a similar law in 2010 but it died in the House, and it’s unclear whether the bill has any new support this year.

Del Vecchio, the professor, supports Smith’s efforts and said congressional action could become vital should Japan continue to waver on the issue.

“The question is, will Japan sign (the Hague treaty) in the right spirit?”



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Good morning. My name is Tony Del Vecchio, and I’m a left-behind parent. I’m here today to continue my fight to be a part of my daughter Lili’s life again. Due to the sole custody system currently in place in Japan I lost all of my parental rights when my ex-wife and I became divorced. My daughter turned 13 this year, and from what I understand she is now in junior high school. The last time I saw her she was six years old and in kindergarten. And she only lives an hour away from me by train. Imagine that.

Under Japan’s legal system, precisely half of all parents involved in a divorce action lose all legal rights with respect to their children once the divorce becomes final. These parental rights, known in Japanese as “shin ken,” simply cannot be granted legally under the Japanese system to more than one parent. It’s not a question of wrongdoing on anybody’s part, or even considerations about what is in the best interests of the child. It’s just the law, and it’s just the way things are done here. With respect to the protection of human rights in general, and children’s rights in particular, Japan lags far behind the rest of the developed world. Its system of sole custody upon divorce runs contrary to common sense, sound psychological research, and international norms. People ask me how this could continue to be so in the 21st Century when it is so patently wrong, but I honestly never know how to answer to that question. It’s just the way it’s always been, and always will be, unless dedicated and determined folks like us stand up and do something to try to change Japan’s way of doing “business as usual.”

Fortunately, there are signs that things are finally beginning to change here in Japan, albeit slowly and haltingly. One positive development is Japan’s recent acquiescence to signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague Convention is an international treaty that provides for the repatriation of children abducted by parents across international borders back to what is termed their “place of habitual residence,” i.e., their original home country. The treaty provides a legal framework whereby children wrongfully removed from the place where they grew up and were accustomed to living can be returned home where they belong. The intent of the treaty is a recognition that matters related to divorce and custody are best handled in the location where the marriage and upbringing of the children took place, and that signatory countries are fully capable of handling such matters under their respective systems of law. Its goal is to put an end to unilateral decisions by one parent to deprive both the children born of the marriage and the other parent of the love and companionship of one another.

Although the treaty has been in existence for 30 years now, Japan has yet to put its signature on the document. To date, 85 countries have ratified the Hague Convention. Japan is the only G-7 country not to have done so yet, and as a direct result of this neglect, the country has earned a global reputation as a safe haven for kidnappers. In fact, the US State Department is not aware of a single case in which a child abducted to Japan has ever been returned to America. Currently they list 123 active cases involving 173 children who have been abducted from the United States to Japan. For years, Japan has been claiming that it was “studying the issue,” and that it was “considering joining the convention,” and so on and so forth. Finally, thanks to the concerted efforts of diplomats and members of foreign ministries of various nations around the world, some progress in regard to Japanese ratification seems to be taking place.

The United Sates, I’m proud to say, has been one of the nations leading the way in persuading Japan to do the right thing to sign on to this important international treaty, and to work towards establishing a legal system that protects the rights of children and their parents. Since John V. Roos took over in his position as American Ambassador to Japan, he has worked tirelessly to bring about a resolution on behalf of children and parents wrongfully denied access to one another under Japan’s antiquated and inequitable system of law, and I am deeply grateful for his efforts and for that of the Department of State toward that end. American left-behind parents have been assured by our government, both privately and through public press statements and Congressional testimony by high-ranking officials in the State Department including Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs,  that the joint issues of international parental child abduction and loss of access to one’s child upon domestic divorce here in Japan are being raised and vigorously pursued at every opportunity with officials in both Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice. Over the past year and a half Ambassador Roos has participated along with ambassadors and diplomats from a host of other nations in a putting forth a series of diplomatic initiatives, or “demarches,” to strongly urge Japan to get on board with the international consensus on children’s rights. The other individual nation participants include Australia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Columbia, Hungary, and Germany, as well as the entire European Union collectively. The purpose of these initiatives has been to call upon Japan both to become a signatory to the Hague Convention and to work in earnest to reunite parents and children who have lost access to one another under Japan’s current system of divorce, a system in which children born of a marriage are in essence “awarded” to one parent over another, and in which the other parent loses all parental rights and typically all contact with his or her children just by being the unfortunate loser in Japan’s winner-take-all system of jurisprudence.

After the intense pressure over the past few years from the United States and the other nations I mentioned, Japan has finally capitulated and agreed to join the Hague Convention. This, as I said, is a very positive development for our cause, and should be welcomed by all, but it is necessary to maintain a high degree of skepticism about the intentions of the Japanese government and to exercise a sensible degree of caution going forward. There are a number of reasons why this is so.

First, in order to be in compliance with the Hague Convention, Japan will need to dramatically amend its current system of law by drafting domestic legislation that would permit it to apply the provisions of the Hague. In addition to actually drafting the legal language to comply with the Hague, Japan will have to grant powers to its courts to enforce those provisions, which powers at this point do not exist. Most troubling are reports in the Japanese media and elsewhere that Diet members working on the draft legislation are considering including a number of so-called “exceptions” to the Hague Convention which would essentially render the document meaningless from the perspective of compliance and enforcement. One of the main exceptions envisioned is one in which abducted children would not have to be returned to their home countries in cases where they would be exposed to a so-called “abusive environment.” Worryingly, only the say-so of the abducting Japanese parent would be required as evidence to determine that, in fact, an abusive environment exists at all in the child’s home country. It also ignores the fact that the Hague Convention already contains protections for children with respect to abuse under Article 13, and that foreign courts are just as competent as, if not more so than, Japanese courts in looking after the welfare of children in cases which come before them. To imply that only Japan is capable of looking after the welfare of children is arrogant in the extreme, and quite frankly insulting to the other advanced nations of the world with which Japan maintains friendly relations.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell spoke recently to the loopholes Japan has been discussing with respect to proposed Hague legislation. On July 28, he stated: “We will not rest until we see the kinds of changes that are necessary and we will certainly not abide by loopholes or other steps that will, frankly, somehow negate or water down the agreement.” In a later press conference he reiterated this point when he said: “We look to Japan to take the necessary steps to ensure its full compliance and commitment to the Hague Convention. We will continue to look for ways to ensure the Hague Convention, once ratified by Japan, becomes an effective tool to address these heart-wrenching cases. . .  This issue remains a top priority for the [State] Department, [and we] are prepared to use all political and legal means necessary to facilitate contact and access for parents and abducted children.”

The second problem with rejoicing over Japan’s agreement to eventually sign on to the Hague Convention is that the treaty is not retroactive, and only applies to cases which occur after the signatory state ratifies the convention. Thus, an active case that would normally fall under the purview of the Hague Convention would not be covered. This issue could be resolved by Japan if the country would voluntarily draft legislation that would consider active cases as automatically falling under the provisions of the Hague Convention, i.e., make the treaty in effect retroactive, thus applying both the letter and the spirit of the treaty. After all, as a developed nation and a long-time beneficiary of membership in the global community through its lucrative export trade, Japan should have signed this document long ago.

The final issue with respect to the Hague Convention concerns nearly all left-behind parents who are citizens of or foreign residents of Japan, which is simply this: the Hague Convention doesn’t apply to us in any event, as in most cases our children were not abducted across international borders, but were instead lost to us through the Japanese court system. Under the Japanese system of law, joint custody does not exist, nor are there any provisions for enforceable visitation. In my own case, despite repeated requests over a period of years I have been unable to see my own flesh and blood, or even to have my government obtain a simple Health and Welfare Visit with my child, by virtue of the fact that my daughter’s mother simply refuses to permit either circumstance to take place.

In summary, while it may be true that Japan’s eventual ratification of the Hague Convention could produce at some point in the future an environment that is more child-friendly and thus more conducive to the protection of fundamental human rights, quite frankly nobody currently affected by Japan’s unfair and outdated child custody laws will stand to benefit in any way from this treaty. Pushing for the treaty is still the right thing to do for future generations of children and parents, but that doesn’t help those of us whose toddlers are turning into adolescents, whose adolescents are turning into teenagers, and even in some cases, whose teenagers are turning into young adults.

Japan must act immediately to deal with current cases in which children and their parents have been unfairly separated from one another, whether due to international parental child abduction or through rulings in its domestic court system. Time is running out for parents who are today left behind, and we want to see our children before they have children of their own.

The American Vice President Joe Biden is in town to continue to offer to our Japanese friends support following the terrible events of March 11. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was here as well earlier this year to offer American support and encouragement. I am both proud and grateful that my country is taking such an active role in helping our Pacific neighbor recover from the tragic earthquake and tsunami it experienced, not to mention the ongoing efforts to bring the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant under control. America has, since March 11, shown its loyalty to and exhibited its compassion for our long-time ally Japan. I applaud my government for being a dependable and trustworthy friend to Japan in its time of need.

I respectfully request only one thing: while Vice President Biden is assisting Japan in recovering from this humanitarian crisis, if the opportunity presents itself, would he kindly remind our Japanese friends of the other innocent victims of devastating forces beyond their control, that is, our poor suffering children, separated from their loving parents due to Japan’s outlier status among the global community of nations with respect to children’s rights, and through the system of law it has created that treats children like pieces of property to be awarded to one or another parent in a divorce proceeding without regard to the serious and long-term consequences of such actions.

Thank you for your attention.

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Voice of America

International Parental Child Abduction

The perennial issue of international parental child abduction in Japan remains a point of concern.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell at a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, June 10, 2011 (file photo)

Photo: AP
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell at a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, June 10, 2011 (file photo)

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell testified before U.S. Congress recently on international parental child abduction in Japan.

“The U.S.-Japan alliance has helped underwrite peace and stability in East Asia for over 50 years and enabled a context for economic growth and prosperity,” Assistant Secretary Campbell said. “While the U.S.-Japan relationship is overwhelmingly positive . . .  the perennial issue of international parental child abduction in Japan remains a point of concern for the [State] Department and the United States Government. . . As recently as 2005, the [State] Department counted only 11 reported abduction cases involving Japan. Today the [State] Department tracks 123 active abduction cases involving 173 children with Japan.”

The United States Government has consistently urged Japan to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in the hopes of establishing a legal mechanism to address the rising tide of international abduction cases in Japan.  The Hague Convention seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention across international borders, which is a tragedy for all concerned. To date, 85 countries have acceded to the Hague Convention.  Japan is the only G-7 nation that has not implemented the Convention.

On May 20 of this year, the Government of Japan publicly stated its intention to ratify the Hague Convention, but Japanese officials have also indicated that Japan’s implementing legislation will include reservations to the Hague Convention, thus permitting Japanese courts to reject return applications.

“We look to Japan to take the necessary steps to ensure its full compliance and commitment to the Hague Convention,” Assistant Secretary Campbell concluded. “We will continue to look for ways to ensure the Hague Convention, once ratified by Japan, becomes an effective tool to address these heart-wrenching cases. . .  This issue remains a top priority for the [State] Department, [and we] are prepared to use all political and legal means necessary to facilitate contact and access for parents and abducted children.”

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Dear Lili,

One strange fact of our family history is that had it not been for three major wars you and I would not be alive today. All three wars had a direct bearing on the circumstances leading up to our births, and had it not been for any one of them neither you nor I would have come to be.

The American Civil War

The first major war that led to our existence was the American Civil War. You may recall that in a previous post I told you about your great-great-great-grandmother, Margaretha Reis, nee Bitzermann. Before she married your great-great-great-grandfather, Michael Anthony Reis, Margaretha was briefly married to a Civil War veteran, one Count Adam Begonski originally from Silesia, Poland, who led the 69th NY Regiment during the war as a Colonel. Begonski died soon after the marriage of war-related injuries, and Margaretha subsequently became remarried to Michael Anthony. Michael and Margaretha Reis had a daughter, your great-great-grandmother, Emma Reis, who when she grew up married your great-great-grandfather, Henry John Kotz. 

World War I

The second major conflict that led to our births was World War I. Before she married your great-grandfather, John William Kotz, your great-grandmother Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson, had been married before to a Harold Blakeley, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army’s 69th Regiment. Harold, however, was killed in action the day after Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, when Esther was just 22 years old. After they married, John and Esther Kotz had a daughter, your grandmother, Gertrude Marie Kotz, who went on to marry your grandfather, Philip Del Vecchio.

World War II

The final war that caused us to be born was World War II. Although Poppie and Nonnie grew up within about 25 miles of each other (Poppie in Newark, NJ and Nonnie in New York City), it wasn’t until the two were stationed overseas during WW II that they found each other. After the war broke out, both Poppie and Nonnie enlisted in the military and both were stationed in England, where they eventually met and fell in love. The couple went on to get married and had a son, your father, Anthony.

Life is strange. War is a terrible human tragedy, yet had it not been for these three wars, we wouldn’t be alive today. I often wonder, due to the unique circumstances of our family history, how many lives came to be as a result of war, and how many lives that could have come to be never did.

La forza del destino!

Love always and forever,

Your Dad 8)

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Dear Lili,

Before I told you about Poppie’s side of the family from Italy. Now I want to tell you about your paternal grandmother’s (Nonnie’s) side: the Swedes and the Germans.

I actually have a lot more information about her side than I do about Poppie’s. Some of it you may find surprising.

Before Poppie and Nonnie passed away I interviewed them and got information and photographs of many of the ancestors. Nonnie had some going back several generations even to your great-great-great-grandparents! Amazing to see what these people actually looked like.

I hope you enjoy this post as much as the previous one about Poppie’s side of the family.

Thinking of you always.

I miss you, bubby.

Love always,

Your Dad


“If a man dwells on his past, he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.”

     – ‘Master Po’, Kung Fu television series (1971-73)


Gertrude Marie Del Vecchio, nee Kotz (“Nonnie”) (June 1, 1921 – Jan. 10, 2005)

(Your Grandmother)

Gertrude Marie Kotz was born on June 1, 1921 at home, 327 218th Street, Springfield Gardens (Borough of Queens), New York City.

Springfield Gardens, Queens – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

She was the oldest of three children born of John William Kotz and Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson. She had one younger sister, Gloria, and one younger brother, John, Jr. (“Jack”).

Here is a picture of Nonnie in kindergarten with her sister Gloria. Nonnie is standing in the back, third from the left, next to the Christmas tree. Her sister Gloria is seated fifth from the left, next to the Christmas tree, wearing a kind of Little Red Riding Hood outfit.

Nonnie spent most of her childhood years growing up Jamaica Park (Queens), New York.

One great story I remember her telling me was how on May 20, 1927, just before her sixth birthday, her father took her and the family to Roosevelt Field, Long Island, to see Charles Lindbergh (“Lucky Lindy”) take off in his Spirit of St. Louis aircraft for the first ever solo transatlantic flight.

Lindbergh Flies the Atlantic, 1927

That must have been an exciting day for little Gertrude and for all the rest of the people who saw him take off! It would have been for the people gathered there something like watching the Apollo 11 spacecraft take off for the first moon landing, I think.

Below is a picture from that historic event at Roosevelt Field.

Nonnie attended Catholic schools in her youth. She was a very good student. In 1935, when she was 14 years old, her teacher at Our Lady of Wisdom Aacdemy in Queens, where she went to high school, presented her with a Modern Library First Edition of Ben Hur for her “effort and achievement in English.”

Our Lady of Wisdom Academy

As a young woman, Nonnie was an elementary school teacher for a time. But like Poppie, when World War II broke out she enlisted to serve in the military, in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps (WAC), where she served from 1942 to 1945. This was before the regular army allowed women to join. Nonnie was in the first group of American women besides nurses to serve in the U.S. military.

Women’s Army Corps – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the WACs she worked on the staff of the famous General James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle.

Jimmy Doolittle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nonnie was stationed in High Wycombe, England, where the RAF (Royal Air Force) had (and still does have) a base.

RAF High Wycombe – History

Nonnie was in the cryptology department, dealing with top secret military communications. (She worked in a deep, underground bunker, I remember her telling me.) Even fifty years after the war, she still maintained that she couldn’t talk about it. I used to say, “Come on, Mom. You’re joking! That was half a centruy ago.” “Oh, no,” she’d say. “I can’t talk about it.” LOL

Loose lips sink ships – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As I told you before in Poppie’s post, he and Nonnie met while the two of them were stationed over in England during the war. After V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) they returned to America and got married on Aug. 5, 1945 at St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica (Queens), New York.

St. Monica’s Church – Jamaica, NY

Below is a photo from the newspaper notice about their wedding.

Below is another wedding photo with all your ancestors in it, from left to right: Valentine Del Vecchio (Poppie’s father), Livia “Lena” Del Vecchio, nee Galella (Poppie’s mother), Philip Del Vecchio (“Poppie”), Gertrude Del Vecchio, nee Kotz (“Nonnie”), Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson (Nonnie’s mother) and John William Kotz (Nonnie’s father).

The couple settled down in New Jersey, first in Millburn and then later in Springfield, and raised seven children; Philip, Jr., Valerie, Denise, Peter, Paul, Anthony, and David.

(Sadly Nonnie lost a child [he was stillborn] between Denise and Peter, whom she still named Sebastian. So she was actually pregnant eight times. Nonnie loved to collect angel figurines, and she always said that Sebastiian was her special angel in Heaven. The loss of her child stayed with her for the rest of her life.)

The children came in three groups (1) Phil, Valerie, and Denise, (2) Peter and Paul, and (3) Tony and David, with each group separated by about five years. (Very sensible if you are going to have a large family.)

Here’s a picture of Nonnie and Poppie with their first three children (Nonnie is holding your Aunt Denise. Standing in front are Valerie and Philip, Jr.)

And here’s a picture of the Del Vecchio family at their home on Henshaw Avenue in Springfield circa 1955. Pictured are rear left to right, Denise, Poppie, Nonnie, Valerie, and from front left to right Paul, Phil, Jr., and Peter.

And here’s another picture of the family on an outing standing in front of their old Ford Wagon. (Pictured on the left is your Great-great-aunt Minnie Galella, Livia Del Vecchio’s [your Great-grandmother’s] sister).

Nonnie was very active in the local community. One of the things she was involved with was the Girls Scouts, where she was a Troop Leader.

Girl Scouts of the USA – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I inherited Nonnie’s love of nature and that’s probably why I took up trekking and camping as a pastime. Poppie didn’t like the outdoors too much, except for the beach.

Below are a couple of pictures of Nonnie with some of the girls in her troop.

By 1960 all seven children in the family had been born (I was number six). Funny thing is, Nonnie had some sort of accident when she young, I think in England, maybe (I can’t recall the details) and the doctors told her she wouldn’t be able to bear children. Boy, were they ever wrong!

The year before I was born Phil and Gert built their dream home at 11 High Point Drive in Springfield where I grew up.

Here’s a picture of the entire family taken around 1965 or 66. They are from left to right Paul, Valerie, Denise, Phil, Sr., Gert, Phil, Jr., Peter, and Tony and David in front.

In addition to her girl scout activities, Nonnie was, of course, an active supporter of Poppie in local politics. (Poppie ran for office as a Republican, and I remember how the whole family would support him during the elections. As a young boy, I used to go door to door distributing political flyers and promotional items [i.e., combs, sewing kits, etc. with Poppie’s name on them] during election season. It was great fun, and I was very proud of my Dad.)

Below are a couple of pictures of Poppie and Nonnie at some political functions back in the mid-sixties.

I remember when we were young your Uncle David and I used to go with Nonnie and Poppie to Atlantic City, New Jersey where they attended these political conventions at the historic Atlantic City Convention Hall, now known as Boardwalk Hall.

Boardwalk Hall – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Those were some great memories. This was all before Atlantic City allowed gambling, and it was like stepping back in time 20 or 30 years. Jitneys (small public transportation buses) ran along the streets, and it was cool seeing all the street names from the board game Monopoly.

We used to walk along the Boardwalk, where we’d buy salt water taffy and toys, go to the wax museum, eat roast beef sandwiches, and do lots of other things. When the parents were at the conventions we used to play pinball and go swimming in the wintertime in the hotel’s indoor pool, which was on top of the building and covered with a big inflatable doom. The whole experience was really magical.

On the way home we’d always stop at the historic Smithville Inn in Smithville, New Jersey for dinner, which was this great restaurant dating back to colonial times. (I took Poppie there for dinner the last time I saw him in September 2007.)

Nonnie was also a strict Catholic, and participated in many church activities at the St. James Roman Catholic Church in Springfield.

She was also a founding member of AMICO, Springfiled’s Italian-American organization. She was the driving force behind the creation of their cookbook (you can find the whole thing on this blog).

She was a great cook and many of the recipes in the cookbook are hers. Please try them sometime! They’re delicious.

Despite the fact that she was the mother of seven children, Nonnie still held part-time jobs as a bookkeeper (a profession she learned from her father) at various times with several companies in town. She was very good at her job and her employers meekly listened to her advice and did what they were told. LOL

Below are a couple of pictures of Nonnie and Poppie from the 1970s. The second one is of them dancing at your Aunt Valerie’s wedding (with your Uncle Elio and Aunt Valerie and your Aunt Denise and Uncle Tom dancing as well),

After Poppie formed his own engineering firm Nonnie of course kept the company books for him, keeping track of revenue and expenses, writing salary checks for the employees, and so on. (She also kept the books for Uncle Peter and my landscaping business at the same time.)

After the kids all grew up and moved away, Nonnie and Poppie sold their home at 11 High Point Drive and lived for a time at a condominium in Red Bank, New Jersey. Here is a picture of Nonnie and me on a pumpkin picking trip in October 1985 on a farm in that part of New Jersey.

They later bought a condo in Lake Worth, Florida as well so that Nonnie could look after her father who lived down there. Poppie shuttled back and forth between New Jersey and Florida while he was semi-retired to do insurance and engineering inspection jobs.

In August 1995, the whole family got together for Nonnie and Poppie’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. They had a ceremony at St. James and reaffirmed their marriage vows, and later we had a big celebration at the Short Hills Hilton. I flew in from Japan for the occasion, of course.

Below is a picture from that day. At the rear from left to right are Uncle Tom Gallaro (Aunt Denise’s husband), me, your cousin Matt Gallaro (Tom and Denise’s son), Aunt Suzanne (Uncle David’s wife), Uncle David, Poppie, Nonnie, Uncle Elio Serra (Aunt Valerie’s husband), Jenny (Uncle Paul’s girlfriend), Uncle Paul, Uncle Peter, and your cousin Mike Gallaro (Tom and Denise’s son). In front from left to right are Aunt Denise, your cousin Francesca Serra (Elio and Valerie’s daughter), your cousin Cristina (Tom and Denise’s daughter), your cousin Daniela (Elio and Valerie’s daughter; yes, Francesca and Daniela are twins), and Aunt Valerie.

After Poppie retired completely from the engineering business he and Nonnie bought a house in Boynton Beach, Florida, which you probably remember. Here are some pictures of your first trip there at Christmas 1998.

We visited them five or six times altogether.

Below is a picture of you and Nonnie from March 2003 playing with their cat, Ali.

And here are a couple from the last time we visited them together in August 2003.

Nonnie became infirm in the last years of her life due to osteoporosis and had difficulty moving around. She first had to use a walker and then eventually a wheelchair. But her mind was always strong and she never lost her spirit.

Here are some photos of Nonnie from my trip there in 2004. The first with me and Poppie, of course, and the second with her friend, Honey.

She always asked about you and she knew how difficult it was for me hardly ever seeing see you (the last time I saw you was for a half hour right after she died in January of the next year). So she taught me a prayer soon before she passed away called the Memorare, telling me I should never give up hope.

Nonnie and Poppie moved to Houston, Texas at Uncle Peter’s suggestion as they needed help at that point. They lived in an apartment in Peter’s complex and got to spend time with their grandchildren. Sadly, Nonnie was in the hospital most of the time towards the end of 2004. I went to visit her there twice in early and late December.

The night before she died she told Poppie, “I want to go home.” She knew her time was near and she wanted to be alone with her loved ones when it came. Uncle Peter bought a nice bouquet of flowers for her, and your Aunt Nair helped dress her in a new outfit, did her hair, put on her makeup, and gave her a manicure. The next day she passed away peacefully in the company of her husband, Phil, and her son, Peter.

I went back for the funeral right after I met you for that last time at the train station in Makuhari. There was a church service and we all spent the day together reminiscing about Gert. That evening we had a wonderful meal at a great Italian restaurant in Houston. We put up a couple of framed photographs of Nonnie and ate and drank and talked and laughed about the many happy times we all shared together.

As I told you in the other post about Poppie’s side of the family, after Poppie passed away in May 2008, Nonnie and Poppie’s ashes were interred together at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. at a ceremony on August 5, 2009.

(Daddy seen here with Aunt Valerie, Aunt Denise, and Uncle David in front of Nonnie and Poppie’s niche at the Columbarium at Arlington.)


John William Kotz (Aug. 25, 1900 – Feb. 11, 1994 )

and Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson  (Sep. 5, 1896 – ? )

(Your Great-grandparents)

John William Kotz was Nonnie’s father, and the son of Henry John Kotz and Emma Kotz, nee Reis. Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson was Nonnie’s mother and the daughter of Adolph Gustave Johnson and Anna Ingaborg Johnson, nee von Bitzen.

Both John and Esther were born in New York City; John in the Borough of Brooklyn and Esther in the Borough of Queens.

Here’s what the New York City skyline looked like in 1900.

John William Kotz was born at home, 171 Bleecker Street, Brooklynn, New York on August 25, 1900. Below is John’s baby picture.

He was the oldest of six children, having two brothers, Harry Anthony and Aloysisus, and three sisters, Margaret, Anna, and Elizabeth.

Below is a picture of John when he was seven years old.

And here’s his Catholic Confirmation picture taken when we was 12 years old. (I actually have the prayer book that you see John holding in the picture. It was originally his mother Emma’s German prayer book, but she gave it to her son on this occasion.)

John was raised a Roman Catholic. His family went to St. Barbara’s Church on Bleecker Street in Brooklyn, where he was definitely baptized and most likely received his First Communion and had his Confirmation as well.

John attended elementary school at P. S. 37 (Public School 37) in Springfield Gardens.

Living in Brooklyn, it was natural that John would have visted Coney Island often. Coney Island was the first permanent amusement park in North America and would have been for a kid at the time like growing up next door to Disneyland, even more so as even electric lights were still fairly new back then, and Coney Island was festooned with them. They had a flume ride (like the one we went on at Toshimaen), a carousel, a ferris wheel, and lots of other exciting things that for a boy in the early 1900s must have seemed magical.

Coney Island – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Below is a picture of John as a young boy at Coney Island. On his right is his grandmother (your great-great-great-grandmother) Margaretha Reis, nee Bitzermann, and on his left is his other grandmother (your other great-great-great-grandmother) Barabara Kotz, nee Boening.

Here’s a picture of Luna Park at Coney Island taken in 1907, right around the time the photograph above was taken of John  with his grandmothers.

One interesting story I remember Grandpa Kotz telling me was how as a kid he would make money by working on the Jewish Sabbath (from Friday evening through Saturday) lighting stoves for Jewish people in the neighborhood. Strict Jewish religious practices said that you weren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath, and even lighting your own stove was considered work. (Actually cooking was not, oddly.) Anyway, young John Kotz earned a nickel (five cents) for each stove he lit, a fortune for a child at the time. I’m sure he spent some of it, at least, on the rides and attractions at Coney Island.

As a boy, John probably was fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers as well. This was decades before they moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Here’s a picture of the team in 1913.

History of the Brooklyn Dodgers – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

After graduating from elementary school, John went to Jamaica High School but had to quit to earn money to support the family when his father died in December 1916.  On January 27, 1917, when he was only 16 years old, he enlisted as a Private in the New York Guard (what is now the New York National Guard).

He served there until October 21, 1918, when received an Honorable Discharge to serve in the regular U.S. Army where he was commissioned as an Army Field Clerk.

After two years of service in the New York 69th Regiment John received an Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army on March 16, 1920.

After his discharge he worked for a short time as a sales correspondent (sales representative) with the Linde and Prest-O-Lite Company.

He and Esther Adele Johnson became married on Oct. 2, 1920 at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Springfield Gardens (Queens) New York.

Below is a picture of the whole John W. Kotz family taken circa 1934 when Nonnie was around 13 or 14 years old. Pictured are, from left to right, Gertrude, Esther Adele, John William, Jack, and Gloria.

John then went to work as an accountant for the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1920 and stayed with them for many years, long enough to earn a railroad pension.

UP_ Southern Pacific Railroad

Here is his resume showing much of his early work history.

In addition to his employment with the railroad, John W. Kotz was also involved in local politics, and was first President of the Jamaica Park Civic Association. Here are a couple of newspaper articles about your great-grandfather.

In his position as President of the Jamaica Park Civic Association, John W. Kotz likely met and worked together with a number of New York politicians. Below is an invitation he received to attend a subway opening (which I’m sure he went to) from the famous New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (for whom the airport is named.)

Fiorello La Guardia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As I mentioned earlier, John Kotz had to quit high school after his father passed away. He was the oldest son and had to earn money to support the family. Nevertheless, he did complete high school degree at night.

Although he was already employed as accountant for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John went back to school again at night when he was 34 years old to get a university education. He enrolled at St. John’s University in Brooklyn and received a Certificate in Accounting (like an Associate’s Degree) from the School of Commerce there in June 1936. He also did post-graduate work at St. John’s through June 1938.

Attaining this level of education was not all that common in the 1930s, especially for a breadwinner supporting a wife and three children during the Great Depression and attending school at night. Nevertheless, John stuck it out and was very successful.

(Interestingly enough, I followed in John’s footsteps and did the same thing, going back to school at night when I was 38 years old to get my Master’s Degree in Education. As a matter of fact, your Aunt Denise also completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at night while working and raising a family.)

In addition to working for Southern Pacific, John started his own practice in 1937 as a Tax Consultant and Public Accountant. He was a member of the New York Society of Accountants and was on the Executive Board for at least three years, probably longer.

After WWII was over, Nonnie and Poppie bought a house together with Grandpa Kotz in Millburn, NJ where they lived together for about four years. After that, Nonnie and Poppie moved to Springfield and Grandpa Kotz moved back to Long Island, having bought a place in Merrick, NY for a little over $14,000. Can you imagine? You can’t even buy a doghouse these days for that kind of money. And it was a nice place in a very good area.

Below is a picture of John taken around 1960.

John’s wife, your Great-grandmother Esther Adele passed away in the 1950s. He eventually got remarried to Mae Valusi, my step-grandmother. Here is a picture of them taken around 1970.

John and his second wife Mae lived happily in Merrick for many years. After Mae passed away, John moved to Lake Worth, Florida. While Poppie was still working Nonnie looked after Grandpa Kotz when he got older, while Poppie shuttled back and forth between their homes in Red Bank, NJ and Boynton Beach, Fla.

One thing I recall about Grandpa Kotz was that he was very conservative and quite the traditionalist. I remember back in the 1960s when they started introducing folk music and guitars into Catholic church services he would grumble during Sunday mass and say,” I don’t approve of these hootenanny masses.” (A hootenanny is kind of a folk music jam session.) Funny.

John Kotz remained active throughout his whole life. He liked to play golf regularly and did so into his late-eighties. He also continued servicing his accounting clients (including Nonnie and Poppie) as his mind remained as sharp as ever.

Interestingly, Grandpa Kotz, who smoked Parliament cigarettes I remember, quit smoking in his early-eighties after smoking his whole life. Who does that? LOL That’s a man with a strong will. Doing so likely added several years to his life, and although he experienced some respiratory difficulties towards the end of his life, Grandpa Kotz lived to the ripe old age of 93.

Nonnie and Poppie continued to live in Florida after he passed away, and when I was visiting them there every time we passed by Grandpa Kotz’s house in the car Nonnie would always say, “I miss you, John.”

Here’s a picture taken of John taken with the family at your Uncle David’s wedding in 1984. Pictured are, from left to right, Mike Gallaro (your cousin; Aunt Denise’s son), Uncle Peter, Grandpa Kotz, Poppie, Step-grandma Kotz, Uncle David, Matt Gallaro (your cousin; Aunt Denise’s son), Me, Al Caiazzo (David’s friend), and Tom Gallaro (Aunt Denise’s husband)

John lived a long and healthy life and outlived two wives. In his late eighties and early nineties he even had a girlfriend in Florida (can’t recall her name) and may have been contemplating getting married a third time.

John W. Kotz passed away peacefully in his sleep, in his easy chair, at his home in Lake Worth, Florida, on February 11, 1994.

Esther Adele Johnson was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 5, 1896.

Esther had three brothers, Gustave, George, and Karl, and one sister, Edith.

Below is a picture of Esther from 1911 when she was just 15 years old.

I don’t know that much about Esther, actually, but I do have some interesting details.

First, Esther had been married before John W. Kotz (she was four years older than John) to a Harold Coakley, Mess Sergeant, Company F, 69th N.Y. Regiment, U.S. Army. Harold, however, was killed in action the day after Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, when Esther was just 22 years old.

Two years later, on October 2, 1920, she married John W. Kotz at the St. Mary Magdalene’s Church in Springfield Gardens. Unfortunately, the church burned down in a fire just last year in 2010 so I can’t provide any good images. There is one of the church in the PDF below taken just as the fire fighters arrived.

Blaze destroys church in Springfield Gdns

Here is one of the invitations to Esther and John’s wedding.

And below is a newspaper clipping describing the church service and reception afterward.

The second interesting point about Esther, and regarding our family history, is that the Johnson family were Swedish Lutherans, and she either had to or was asked to convert to the Roman Catholic religion. (Nowadays, Roman Catholics can get a special Papal Disposition [permission from the Pope] to marry a non-Catholic.) Esther apparently took to Catholicism, in any event, and was a parishioner the Curé of Ars Roman Catholic Church in Merrick, New York.

Curé of Ars Roman Catholic Church – Merrick, New York

Biography of St. John Marie Vianney

Below is a picture of Esther Adele in her early twenties alongside her mother, Anna Ingaborg Johnson, nee von Bitzen.

I don’t know much more about Esther Adele, actually, except for the fact that she died relatively young (especially for our family). Esther passed away in her late-fifties or early sixties, for sure she died before I was born. This must have hurt Nonnie very deeply because she was very close to her mother and all her relatives in the Johnson family. Nonnie didn’t talk much about her when I was young, however, probably not wanting to discuss the subject..

I neglected to ask Nonnie about the date and specific details of Esther’s death, regrettably. (I can get that information at the cemetery and through public records, i.e., death certificate.) I do know from a letter I have from Grandpa Kotz that just shy of her 50th birthday she suffered a stroke on August 19, 1946. I seem to recall Nonnie telling me she had Leukemia, but I’d have to check on that to be certain.

Both John William Kotz and Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson are buried at St. John’s Cemetery, 8001 Metropolitan Ave., Middle Village, N.Y. 11379.

St. John Cemetery, Queens, New York – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Henry (“Harry”) John Kotz (September 1, 1871 – December 26, 1916)

and Emma Kotz, nee Reis (Feb.10, 1875 – Aug. 12, 1969)

(Your Great-great-grandparents)

Henry (“Harry”) John Kotz was the son of Robert John Kotz and Barabara Kotz, nee Boening, and the father of John William Kotz. He was Nonnie’s father’s father. Emma Kotz, nee Reis was the daughter of Michael Anthony Reis and Margaretha Reis, nee Bitzermann. She was Nonnie’s father’s mother.

Henry, or Harry as he was called, was the first Kotz born in the United States, in Brooklyn, New York.

He was a piano builder for the Steinway Company in Long Island, New York. Harry married Emma Kotz, nee Reis on January 6, 1897 at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church, 103 Pitt Street, New York.

Harry and Emma had six children: John William (your great-grandfather), born August 25, 1900; Margaret, born March 25, 1903; Harry Anthony, born Jan. 15, 1905; Aloysius, born Jan. 3, 1909; Anna, born Oct. 21, 1910; and Elizabeth, born Sep. 12, 1912.

Henry “Harry” John Kotz passed away on Dec. 26, 1916 at the young age of 45.

Emma Reis was born on Long Island, New York on Feb. 10, 1875. Below is her Roman Catholic Confirmation photograph in which she would have been around 13 years old, so from around 1888.

Here is a picture of Emma as a young woman, perhaps around 18 to 20 years old:

And this is a close-up of her taken from one of Poppie and Nonnie’s wedding pictures from 1945, in which she would have been 70 years old:

And finally, here’s one of Emma as an elderly woman, probably around 1965 or so when she would have been around 90 years old.

I actually met my great-grandmother Emma Kotz once when I was a little kid. I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old so it may have been right around the time the above picture was taken. That is how I remember her. She seemed a very sweet old lady and was very happy to see her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren that day, I remember. I also remember that her mind was very clear, even at that advanced age, and she was very conversational, although she was pretty much bed-ridden due to the physical infirmities that go with age. Nevertheless, Emma lived to be 94 years old, as did her son, John William (your great-grandfather). Emma passed away at her home in Elmhurst (L.I.), N.Y., having outlived her husband by 53 years. (She never remarried.)

Both Henry John Kotz and Emma Kotz, nee Reis are buried in a shared plot at St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, N.Y.


Adolph Gustav Johnson (1865 – Sep. 13, 1925)

and Anna Ingaborg Johnson,

           nee von Bitzen [Beetzen] (June 28, 1872 – Oct. 31, 1943)

(Your Great-great-grandparents)

Adolph was the son of Johanssen Johnson and First Name Unknown Johnson, nee Truesson, and the father of Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson. He was Nonnie’s mother’s father. Anna’s parents are not known at this point. She is the mother of Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson. She is Nonnie’s mother’s mother.

Adolph Gustav Johnson was born in 1865 in Sweden (Nonnie says he was probably from Goteborg). His death certificate shows that he emigrated to the United States in 1881 at the age of 16 (with or without parents I don’t know). He became a citizen of the United States on September 11, 1888 at the age of 23.

This is a picture of Adolph (right) and his brother (name unknown) which appears to have been taken in Brooklyn, New York shortly after his arrival in America.

Here’s another picture of Adolph as a man in his late twenties or early thirties.

On October 19, 1895, Adolph married Anna Ingaborg von Bitzen at the Swedish Evangelical Pilgrim Church on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.

Adolph Johnson was a florist by occupation. According to Nonnie, he was known as “The King of Barberry Farm,” presumably some sort of advertising slogan. (The Barberry Bush was a popular ornamental shrub of the time.)

On September 13, 1925, Adolph passed away at the age of 60 due to cerebral apoplexy (stroke) at his home at 137-21 218th Street, Springfield Gardens (Queens), N.Y.

Anna Ingaborg von Bitzen was born in Goteborg, Sweden on June 28, 1872.

Anna emigrated to America in 1888. Like her future husband, she was 16 years old at the time of passage. I’m pretty sure she came over with her family, as I’ve seen pictures of her with her sisters in America. Below is her Swedish “Flyttningsbevin” (“transfer evidence”) or passport issued on May 14, 1888:

The stamps indicate that the document was issued in Goteborg, ans she most likely sailed out of there.

Anna had at least three sisters I know of: Inez, Worhel, and Jennie Jensen (a half-sister, actually). Interestingly, I have two pictures of the sisters together at different ages.

The first picture below is one of the sisters as young women (Seated, left to right are Jennie Jensen, Worhel, Inez; standing is Anna).

The second is a picture of the sisters in late middle-age (From left to right: Jennie Jensen, Anna, Inez, Worhel).

Anna was a member from at least 1938 through 1940 of an organization called the Order of the Eastern Star.

Order of the Eastern Star – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In order to join this organization, one of your male relatives must be a Fremason and sponsor you.

Freemasonry – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A friend of mine who is a Freemason offered to see what information he could get from the OES (Order of the Eastern Star) lodge. The Springfield Gardens, N.Y., Chapter is no longer active, but he was able to find out through the mother organization that her Masonic sponsor was K.W. Johnson of the Plymouth Lodge 1004, Brooklynn, N.Y. (K.W. Johnson was Karl Johnson, Esther Adele Kotz, nee Johnson’s — Nonnie’s mother’s — sister.) The interesting thing is the question of involvement by members of the Johnson family. Anna is from Sweden, and the Swedish rites of Freemasonry generally counted nobility among its members, especially in the earlier years.

This connection to Freemasonry, then, is important in that Anna was descended from nobility. Her (our) ancestor was Christof Beetz, an Imperial Knight of the Holy Roman Empire [ennobled by Emperor Charles VI as “Beetz von Beetzen”] (see end of this narrative.) Nonnie always talked about this “Beetz von Beetzen,” and had the Beetzen coat of arms hanging on the wall of her study in Florida. Anna’s maiden name was von Bitzen, an  alternate spelling of von Beetzen. (In German personal names, von is a preposition which approximately means of or from and denotes nobility.) You can read about Beetz below, but the important thing is that his title passes to all his descendants, male and female, “to infinity,”, meaning that you and I, through Anna Ingaborg von Bitzen, are not only descended from nobility, but in fact are technically nobles ourselves. What do you think of that?

Anna apparently maintained her connections with the old country, as I know that, when she was 65 years old, she and her sister Inez Slandorf, nee von Bitzen traveled back to Goteborg, Sweden on at least one occasion via ocean liner. Records show that she booked passage through the American Express Company on a round-trip to Goteborg, Sweden (spelled Gothenburg on the receipt).

Anna and Inez traveled to Goteborg on the S.S. Gripsoholm on July 12, 1937.

The Great Ocean Liners – Gripsholm

The sisters returned to New York on the S.S. Kungsholm on Sep. 27 of the same year.

The Great Ocean Liners – Kungsholm

This trip two-and-a-half month long trip must have been a great adventure for Anna and Inez, and I’m sure they were elated to once again return to their home country and visit again with family and perhaps childhood friends.

See also: Swedish American Line – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Adolph and Anna had five children: Esther Adele (your great-great-grandmother), Gustave, Edith, George, and Karl. I never met my grandmother Esther Adele as she passed away before I was born. I knew “Uncle George” and remember going out to his and “Aunt Fay’s” house in the country in New Jersey to visit. I also remember meeting “Uncle Karl” at least once in my life, a fact I remember because he repaired my sled on one occasion after I cracked into a tree out at Uncle George and Aunt Fay’s house.

Here’s a picture of Anna probably around the time of her trip to Sweden.

Anna outlived her husband Adolph by 18 years. She passed away at the age of 71 on Oct. 31, 1943.

Adolph Gustav Johnson and Anna Ingaborg Johnson, nee von Bitzen, are interred at Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11232

Green-Wood Cemetery – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Robert John Kotz (? – April 22, 1884)

and Barbara Kotz, nee Borning (? – Dec. 9, 1914)

(Your Great-great-great-grandparents)

Both Robert John and Barabara are of German descent. The names of Robert John Kotz’s parents are unknown at this point. Barbara Kotz, nee Boening is the daughter of Heinrich Boening and Margaretha Boening, nee Trost. Robert John and Barbara Kotz were the parents of Henry John Kotz. Robert John was Nonnie’s father’s father’s father. Barbara was Nonnie’s father’s father’s mother.

Robert John Kotz was born in Germany and emigrated to America. I’m not sure when he came to the United States but I know he was naturalized as an American citizen on Oct. 9, 1872. See naturalization papers below:

I also know that he attended a religious seminary school in his youth as I have  a document (in German) to that effect. According to Nonnie, he was an organ master and music writer who helped organize the school system for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. He was apparently traveling on horseback from one church to another in the Maspeth area in the Borough of Queens, N.Y.C. when the horse he was riding became startled by a rattlesnake, throwing him and causing his death. He died on Easter Sunday in 1884.

Barbara Boening’s parents were born in Germany, but I don’t know whether or not she was, too. She may have emigrated with her parents to America, or she mat have been born in America.

Robert and Barbara had three children: Henry, Margaret, and Katherine.

Below is a picture of Barbara taken at Coney Island, New York in 1905. Pictured are Margareth Reis, nee Bitzermann (your great-great-great-grandmother — seated left), John William Kotz (your great-grandfather and Nonnie’s father — child standing in front), Barabara Kotz, nee Boening (your great-great-great-grandmother — seated right), and Katherine Kotz (Barabara Kotz’s sister and John William Kotz’s Roman Catholic Godmother — standing in back).

Both Robert John Kotz and Barabara Kotz, nee Boening are interred at St. John’s Cemetery, Middle Village, N.Y.


Michael Anthony Reis (Oct. 11, 1824 – Sept. 13, 1899)

and Margaretha Reis, nee Bitzermann (Oct. 14, 1850 – Dec. 29, 1923)

(Your Great-great-great-grandparents)

The names of Michael Anthony Reis’s parents are unknown at this point. Margaretha Reis, nee Bitzermann is the daughter of Johan Wilhelm Bitzermann and his wife (name unknown). Michael Anthony and Margaretha were the parents of Emma Kotz, nee Reis. Michael Anthony was Nonnie’s father’s mother’s father.  Margaretha was was Nonnie’s father’s mother’s mother.

Michael Anthony Reis is thought to have come from Bavaria in Germany. According to Nonnie,  he and his brother, Aloysius, helped form the BVD Underwear Company.

Margaretha Bitzermann was also born in Germany and emigrated to the United States. Before marrying Michael Anthony Reis, Margaretha was apparently briefly married to a Civil War veteran, one Count Adam Begonski originally from Silesia, Poland, who led the 69th NY Regiment during the war as a Colonel. Begonski died soon after the marriage of war-related injuries and Margaretha subsequently remarried Michael Anthony. The couple had three children: Emma, Aloysius, and Carrie.

One thing I know about Margaretha is what Nonnie told me, that she “started” Saint Margaret’s Church in Middle Village. Based on her age, I would guess that she was talking about the 1907 rebuilding, and that perhaps Margaretha was involved in some way in the planning and/or financing of the building.


Saint Margaret’s is described on the website “Forgotten New York Neighborhoods” as follows:

“St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church was built in 1860 (above) on land once owned by Thomas Pullis. A school was built a few years later. During the Civil War, priests from St. Margaret’s administered to Rebel soldiers being held in a Metropolitan Avenue tavern serving as a makeshift jail.”

“The church was rebuilt in 1907 (above) and remains standing today, behind the current church building. The school was rebuilt in 1899. (photos above fromJuniper Berry)

“The third version of the church was built in 1935.They decided on a rather efficient design the last time…the school is actually above the church, in the same building.

“St. Margaret is the patron saint of farmers, appropriate considering the line of work of its first parishoners.” 


See: Forgotten New York – Middle Village, Queens

See also: A Short History of St. Margaret’s Parish – JuniperCivic.com


The other thing Nonnie told me was that Margaretha owned the farm which would later become St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village. This fits in with the fact that St. Margaret was the patron saint of farmers.

In any event, it would appear Michael Anthony and Margaretha Bitzermann Reis had some property and assets, and were active in the church and perhaps influential in the local community.


I don’t have any photographs of Michael Reis but below are some images of Margaretha:

As either Michael Anthony or Margaretha owned the farm which would later become St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, it is likely the two are interred there, but I would have to confirm that.


Johanssen Johnson (? – ?)

and Unknown Johnson, nee Truessen (? – ?)

(Your Great-great-great-grandparents)

The names of Johanssen Johnson’s parents are unknown at this point. Johanssen was the father of Adolph Gustav Johnson. He was Nonnie’s mother’s father’s father. His wife (first name unknown; maiden name Truessen) was Adolph’s mother and Nonnie’s mother’s father’s mother.

Nothing is known about these ancestors except for the fact that they were from Goteborg, Sweden. Both of their names were obtained from Adolph Gustav’s death certificate.


Heinrich Boening (Dec. 12, 1812 – Nov. 19, 1885)

and Margaretha Boening, nee Trost (Mar. 14, 1812 – May 3, 1890)

(Your Great-great-great-great-grandparents)

Heinrich Boening and Margaretha Boening, nee Trost were the parents of Barbara Kotz, nee Boening. Heinrich was Nonnie’s father’s father’s mother’s father. Margaretha was Nonnie’s father father’s mother’s mother.

I really don’t know anything about these ancestors except for the fact that they were born in Germany and emigrated to America, and that they are the parents of Barbara Kotz, nee Boening. I believe they may have been the first of all of our ancestors that I can identify by name to have come to the New World, so at least one branch of our family may have arrived in America as early as the 1830s or 1840s.

Both are interred at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, N.Y., at the same family grave site as Robert John Kotz and his wife Barbara Kotz, nee Boening (Heinrich and Margaretha’s daughter).


Johann Wilhelm Bitzermann (? – ?)

and Unknown Bitzermann, nee Unknown (? – ?)

(Your Great-great great-great-grandparents)

Johan Wilhelm Bitzermann and his wife (name unknown) were the parents of Margaretha Reis, nee Bitzermann, your great-great-great-grandmother, who emigrated to America in the early to mid 1800s. Johann Wilhelm was Nonnie’s father’s mother’s mother’s father.

The only thing I know of Johann is that he was, according to Nonnie, the Supreme Station Master of the railroad station in the town of Bremmerhaven, Germany. Here is a painting of the station which was built in 1862.

I have no information about his wife, unfortunately.


Christoph Beetz (Beetz von Beetzen) (May 1, 1670 – April 18, 1746)

Oldest Known Ancestor, Your Great-grandfather eight or more times

(i.e., Your Great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather)

Christoph Beetz is our ancestor through your great-great-grandmother Ann Ingaborg von Bitzen of Sweden.

This is what Wikipedia says about this ancestor:

“Christoph Beetz (May 1, 1670, Swedish Pomerania – April 18, 1746, Straslund) was ennobled by Emperor Charles VI in Vienna, Austria on 27 January 1734 as “Beez von Beezen” (Beetz von Beetzen) after receiving an heritable membership of the old class of the Holy Roman Empire (higher nobility). His military career is highlighted by his command of a regiment at the age of 20 and his final appointment as Swedish Platz-Major and Stabs-Major of the military garrison in Stralsund. He was ranked as a Stadt-General. His 1746 portrait still graces the interior of Saint Mary’s Church, Stralsund, Germany (German: Kirche St. Marien zu Stralsund) where he is buried.

“According to the letters patent of January 27, 1734, now in the Österreichishes Staatsarchiv in Vienna, the nobility and the title Knight of the Holy Roman Empire (Reichsritter) is inherited by “all his present and future legitimate posterity, and their heirs’ heirs, men and women in descending line, in infinity” (‘Ihn sambt allen seinem jezigen und künftigen ehelichen Leibs-Erben und derenselben Erbens-Erben, Mann- und Weibs-Personen, absteigenden Stammens’). According to Codex Austriacus (ed. Herrenleben, S.G., Wien 1748, pars III, Suppl. I, 1720, page 953, 954) both daughters and sons inherited in Austria after 1720, so the reference “all his present and future legitimate posterity, and their heirs’ heirs” refer, according to Austrian law at the time, to both men and women when the letters patent was issued in 1734. This was also understood and underlined by the addition “men and women in descending line in infinity”. This pattern for hereditary nobility is called ‘cognatic succession’.

“Other examples of cognatic succession for both male and female descendants are the letters patent of nobility issued by Charles VII in December 1429 to Jeanne d’Arc and all her descendants, as well as the title Baron (or Count) Arundell of Wardour according to the letters patent issued by Rudolf II in Prague December 14, 1595 for Thomas Arundell and all his descendants, men as well as women. The more common pattern for hereditary nobility, when only men can forward nobility to their children, is called agnatic succession.”

See also on Page 4:

The Imperial Nobility of Germany of the Holy Roman Empire Wiki

Here is the von Beetzen family Coat of Arms:

I haven’t researched the relevant records yet, but hope to get to Goteborg and Stralsund in the near future to do so. Beetz von Beetzen died in 1746, and Anna Ingaborg von Bitzen was born 124 years later in 1870. That would seem to be a span of maybe six or so generations, so working from both directions I should be able to connect the two individuals provided church and municipal records exist. As the family appears to have been pretty famous [see below] there is every reason to believe sufficient records can be found connecting the lineage.

As I mentioned under Anna Ingaborg von Bitzen’s narrative, since Chrsitoph Beetz was ennobled (i.e., made an Imperial Knight) of the Holy Roman Empire, and as you and I are in a direct line of cognatic succession from him (“men and women in descending line in infinity”), that would make me a Knight (Sir Anthony) and you a Lady (Dame Liliana).

Other information about this family lineage continues in Wikipedia:

“Christoph Beetz’ parents and grandparents were also famous and the Emperor’s close employees. Perhaps the family comes from a district called ‘Beetzendorf’ south of Berlin and can be related to the Beetzendorf Castle. But this is nevertheless very long ago, for instance at the 1300 century, due to a check about the ownership at Beetzendorf Castle. Some of his relatives held offices in the Swedish state. Christoph Beetz was one of the very famous from the Beetz family. He was married to Anna Sofia from Germany and had two sons, Johan Henrik von Beetzen (born in Stralsund about 1698) and Karl Joakim von Beetzen (born in Stralsund , November 1698). Karl Joakim was married to Anna Helena Giers (born 12 January 1707 in Gøteborg) from the famous Giers-family from Sweden that also has a famous Russian branch related to the named Russian Foreign Minister for about 13 years, Nikolai Giers (Nicholas de Giers), and a known English branch.

“The Beetzen-family is today mostly known from Sweden, but there are also for instance Norwegian and German descendants.”

So I can very likely trace our lineage back even further with some research, as the family was pretty famous. We know from the above that Beetz von Beetzen had two sons, Johan Henrik and Karl Joakim, so that would be the place to start tracing their lines, while at the same time tracing Anna Ingaborg von Bitzen’s ancestors (I know her date of birth and birth city, Goteborg, so that should be relatively easy provided proper records have been kept either at the municipal facilities or the church).


Well, Lili, now you pretty much know as much about our ancestors as I do. I’m so glad I took the time to sit down with both Nonnie and Poppie and gather as much information as I could about these people. Otherwise, their lives would have been lost to us.

One thing I learned by doing this history is that the ancestors were not just names and dates and so on, but were real people who lived full and interesting lives; they lived and struggled and fell in love and had kids and walked the Earth just as we do. Someday, I hope to go to all the places they lived and loved and walk the streets they walked, visit the churches they prayed at, and go to all their graves and pay my respects to their memories.

Some day you and I will be the ancestors. I hope you pass on this history to your children and grandchildren so that they may know about and honor those who came befpore them.

You are always in my heart.

Love always,



“Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.” (Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.) 

— Cicero, M. Tulli Ciceronis Orator Ad M. Brutum (46 B.C.)

(Poppie looked a lot like Cicero, didn’t he?)


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Things I Remember About You

Dear Lili,

This post will be different from others, in that I’m going to keep adding on to it as I think of things I remember about you. There won’t be any special order toi these; I’ll just add things as they come into my head. So keep checking back to see what else I put in there.

Someday I hope to hear what you remembered about me.

Love always,

Your Dad xoxoxoxoxox


August 1, 2011

You loved to watch the Teletubbies:

and Pingu:

I loved watching those shows with you, too. 😉


August 1, 2011

You thought the lullaby song “Rock-a-bye Baby” was called “Rock-a-my Baby.”

Rock-a-bye Baby – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

So I used to sing you to sleep like this:

“Rock-a-my baby, on the treetop,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.”

You always wanted me to sing again and again, and I would say how many times, and you’d say things like “a hundred million thousand billion seventy-five sixty hundred thousand times.” Then I’d roll my eyes and make a funny face and say, “That’s too much!!!” And we’d both laugh together at that. That was one of our little jokes.

But I’d sing to you until you fell asleep, and tuck you in, and kiss your cheek and say good night. And I’d give anything in the world to have just one of those moments back again. 8)


August 1, 2011

You liked riding on my shoulders. You used to call it “ride on top.”

We used to have such fun together. 🙂


August 1, 2011

One time we went away to the mountains and took a chair lift like this to the top of one:

You called it a “flying sofa.” I thought that was so cute, and very clever, too. It is kind of like a flying sofa, isn’t it? LOL 8)


August 2, 2011

You were really smart. I taught you to read and by the time you were four years old you were already reading at a First Grade level

You could also name all 50 U.S. states.

And you knew the names of all nine planets. (Pluto was still a planet at the time.)

I was always so proud of my beautiful and intelligent little girl. 8)


August 2, 2011

One time when we were visiting Nonnie and Poppie in Florida the two of us took a long morning walk to the supermarket to buy some things for breakfast. While we were there we saw that they were selling helium balloons. Of course, I bought you one and we tied in on your wrist. But halfway home the string became untied and the baloon flew away.

Naturally you started crying but I told you “Don’t worry. We’ll just get another one, okay?” So we turned around and went back to the supermaket and I bought you a new balloon, and you said “Thank you, Daddy,” and gave me a big hug and a kiss.

And I felt like a hero to my little girl. And at that moment in time, everything was all right with the world. 😉


August 4, 2011

When we were traveling around the East Coast by car I bought a few CDs to listen to in the car. I was surprised to find out that you liked The Ramones, just like me.

You especially like “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” You were bobbing your head up and down and in the rear view mirror I could see how much you enjoyed the music.

Even though we drove for many hours up to Niagara Falls and back you never once complained, and I think you just enjoyed spending time together, as did I, of course. That was the happiest time of my life, Lili, that month we spent together in August 2003. Hard to believe that was 8 years ago now. 😦


August 4, 2011

You used to like to watch The Raptones at 5:00 PM on the weekdays.

When the 5 o’clock bell in town would ring you’d look at me and say, “Is Raptones is on?

You spoke English as your first language, but after you started going to yochien you picked up Japanese really fast. I’d say you were fully bilingual by the time you were 5 years old. 8)


August 17, 2011

After Daddy and Mama split up I picked you up one particular weekend and you came over the apartment. Without asking you picked up a broom and started sweeping the terrace outside. I said that you didn’t have to do that, but you said “Mommy isn’t here anymore, so I have to help you.”

I was so proud of you, and so happy you loved your Daddy so much that wanted to help him. That’s the kind of kid you were, and I know still are. 8)


August 24, 2011

When I used to come home from work you could hear me coming up the stairs and would run to the door. And as I was walking up I could hear you inside running on the wood floor toward the door. So by the time I got to the top of the stairs and opened the door you would already be there waiting for me, and you would do that adorable little “dogeza” to welcome me home. And we’d hug and kiss and before I could even get my shoes off you’d start saying, “Hey, Dad, you know what…?” and start telling me about something you learned today or drew today or made today. Sometimes even now when I walk up the stairs I listen for the pitter patter of your little feet. I miss you so much, bubby.


August 26, 2011

When we would ride on the train you always wanted me to hold you in my arms so you could reach up and hold on to the commuter strap yourself.

Sometimes I see little boys or girls on the train asking their daddies to do the same thing. Of course, I always think of you whenever that happens. 8)


September 5, 2011

We used to like to go to the park and play with sparklers and other fireworks.

I remember the second to last weekend we spent together in July 2004 we went to the little Midori Koen near our house in Higashi-Nakano one evening to play with the fireworks. Towards the end of the evening you accidentally grabbed the wrong part of the sparkler after it went out but was still hot and burned your fingers. I did exactly the same thing once when I was a kid. You started crying but Daddy came to the rescue and we ran your little finger under the cold water at the water fountain and that made you feel better. Then I ran home with you in my arms and as soon as we got there I put ice on your fingers, and you were fine. Such a simple thing, but comforting my little girl always made me feel good and made me understand what my purpose in life was.

I’m still here for you, Lili, for a burned finger or otherwise. 8)


September 18, 2012

I remember one weekend back in 2004 when you were visiting me. I was so happy to see you again and to be able to spend time with you, as our visits together were becoming less and less frequent. I was afraid that little by little, you were slipping away from me. But on that weekend you told me over and over again, “Hey, Dad. You know what. I love you.” Maybe somehow you felt what I was feeling and wanted to make me feel better, because you must have said that a hundred times that weekend. I told you how much I loved you back, of course, and for that brief time, I felt everything was going to be okay between us. But I heard not long after that you didn’t want to see me anymore, and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. Still, I will never believe that that was how you really felt, and I hang on to the memory of that weekend, and others, and dream of the day when you will say to me again…

Because I love you too, bubby. I always have and I always will. And nothing can ever change that. 8)


April 21, 2019

When I made coffee in the morning, I used to say “I wish somebody would help me grind the coffee!” And then you’d come into the kitchen and bring the coffee beans for me in there coffeee mill because you thought it was a fun to do.


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