Researching the Family Tree in Retirement

Great grandfather Berwind and son Leonard

Retirement is starting to take shape for me and I am enjoying the hours of time I have spent on these past 2 months. My cousin Sue has already done quite a bit of research that is readily available to me, but I am having fun discovering each relative and learning such interesting stories about the past. What a great way to learn history.

Growing up on Long Island, I was always curious about the family farm and where it was located. It turns out that the farm was located on 27 acres off a very busy road called Jersualem Avenue in Hempstead, just south of Hofstra University and includes part of the Southern State Parkway.

The house is beautiful for the 11 children that lived in that farmhouse and helped pick strawberries. I recall the story that my grandmother, Marie Berwind, decided not to take the regents exams her senior year and went home to pick strawberries on the farm. The principal game out to the field and told her that she was very smart and should go to college. She did and became a 5th grade teacher in Freeport. The year that my dad was to go to 5th grade she did not want him in her class, so he skipped 5th grade and went right on to 6th. Dad graduated early at 16 years old and got accepted into college. They put him on a train to Ithaca with a duffle bag where he started his freshman year at Cornell University and joined the Sigma Nu fraternity.

Berwind farmhouse in Hempstead
Berwind family at Jones Beach
News article about the Long Island Berwind Farm

Newspaper Article About the Berwind Farm

Merrick Life 

Thursday, November 28, 1968

“When Thanksgiving Meant Harvest Home”

by Faith Laursen

Not so many, many years ago this was the season of “Harvest Home”, as a number of families gathered in the fruits of their labor from farms which lay in what is now the confines of the Merricks.

Mr. and Mrs. Otto Gentsch of 2418 McCord Avenue lent “Merrick Life” old photographs which show life on the Berwind Farm, formerly located at the intersection of Merrick Avenue and Jerusalem Avenue.

Mr. and Mrs. John C. Berwind and Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Berwind were two brothers who married two sisters, and purchased a 27 acre farm here in 1905 after having spent two summers here and finding they liked the place.  They bought it from Kate Barnum, for whom part of Merrick Avenue was named. (“Barnum Road” still shows on old maps.)

Around 1911, John Berwind bought out his brother’s share and started to specialize in raising strawberries.  One of the pictures shows members of the family eating as well as picking.  At one time about 60 people were employed in picking these strawberries.

Later, Mr. Berwind changed to raising corn and beans, which didn’t require so many workers.  Little Thomas Humphrey, a grandson, is pictured sitting on a harvesting basket tasting the beans.

There were chickens on the farm, too, and grand-daughter, Virginia Gentsch is shown feeding the fowl.   Brother John Berwind is shown driving a horse-drawn wagon, and Otto Gentsch is shown lifting out the bees.

In top scene of a roadside under snow, one can see an area at the foot of Whaleneck Road in 1941, which looks like an illustration for the song, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house,” the Berwind home from 1905 to 1952.  

Mrs. Gentsch recalls, “We were a family of 11 children.  The older children had to go to Smithville South School (now North Bellmore.)  First school was in what is now the firehouse in North Bellmore.  Then we went to the old wooden one that burned down some years ago. Five of us graduated from Smithville South and Freeport High School, and the remaining six from North Merrick and Hempstead High School. “

My grandmother and siblings at the beach
Grandma or one of her sisters in a runaway horse accident
1923 Great grandmother Berwind and some of her 11 children
1901 Great grandparents on my dad’s side
Wilhelmina M. Schulein Berwind (great grandmother)
My dad and his brother Richard
Family Plot

Well I am off and running with stories of the past. Earlier today I discovered an 11th great grandfather who was a Knight.

My sons gave me for Christmas an DNA kit so that should be cool to see how that affects the family tree I have made so far. Interested to see how many second and third cousins I will be able to connect with. Also looking forward to seeing if any more ancestors lived in castles that I can visit in the near future.


4 Responses

  1. The picture of the house is not the old farmhouse. I think it is the house in Wantagh that Aunt Margaret, Aunt Betty, Uncle John and your great grandmother moved into when they sold what was left of the farm in 1952. I think I have a picture of the old house somewhere. When I find it I will send a copy.

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Runaway Widow
Join me, Kristin, on my journey to adjust to the sudden death of my husband and learn to live as a young, middle-aged, remarried widow.

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