Here is the summary of the second part of day 3 of the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. My entire summary, day by day, here.
We had a quick photo opportunity for JGS-Maryland members at the conference (minus one). Are you from the Baltimore area? Check out JGSMD!
Tammy Hepps of Treelines then spoke on "The Marvelous Moonshiners from Minsk." Her ancestors sold a butter substitute as butter and paid for it. The family moved to Pittsburgh, before some of the family moved to Brooklyn. She never understood why they moved--until she uncovered her family saga.
Based on family stories, she knew her great grandfather was a jovial man who became wealthy over the years in his career in real estate. She collected documents about he family's movement but wanted to know more about the stories based on genealogy records.
She tries to understand the circumstances of her family based on the research she finds to build family stories.
In October 2010, Ancestry indexed the Leavenworth prison records, but she never thought to look there. 6 months later, her great-grandfather's name popped up in an ancestry search along with his brother. They had been incarcerated in 1910. She then found a newspaper article saying they were imprisoned for violating the laws of oleomargarine.
These laws were set up by the dairy lobby. Margarine could not be colored yellow to prevent it's being confused as butter. It was seen by the agricultural community as false food, whereas manufacturers saw it as an inexpensive substitute. People who sold colored margarine were considered Moonshiners, since it was made under conditions similar to that of whiskey.
Starting in 1896, Tammy's ancestors were listed in the NY city directory as being in the butter business and then did the same in New Jersey. New Jersey was the center of the illegal margarine trade. Tammy wondered when he switched from selling butter to margarine. She found a 1902 article busting her great grandfather in New Jersey for selling oleomargarine without paying a required tax. The driver was a brother-in-law who sold "half butter and half hog fat to Hebrews" which got him excommunicated.
At the time, margarine was created from animal fat mixed with milk--the definition of non-kosher--even without adding in pig fat.
In the 1902 case, the case ended up being dropped.
In 1903, the family started moving to Pittsburgh and all came over the next few years. Based on city directories and newspaper articles, her great grandfather seemed to be moving to real estate from butter. His brother seemed to be in butter. At the end of 1908, both brothers were indicted for reusing containers, selling colored margarine without paying tax, and more. The legal process continued through 1909.
Tammy pulled together significant amounts of information to build the story behind the case pulling together fragments of data from documents, newspaper articles, court records and more.
She learned that the transcript of trials was only preserved if the case was appealed--and theirs was! She has a 300-page transcript with tons of information which basically read like a soap opera of finger pointing. Tammy's lawyer father believed that the brothers' lawyer did not do a good job--and the brothers went to Leavenworth.
Meanwhile, she finds her grandfather's brother-in-law (same guy who was excommunicated earlier) as well as another brother-in-law arrested for margarine-related crimes in Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Hers was a national crime family!
Chicago was the nation's headquarters for the meat packing industry. So they wanted to encourage margarine production--so that likely drove that portion of the family to move to that part of the country.
She tracked down their trials and convictions over the 1908-1909 time period which included witness intimidation, guilty pleas, and convictions. There was a beautiful family photo display--of mug shots!
In the 1910 census there were about 10 Jewish prisoners--about half of whom were Tammy's relatives. Her family members were also listed in Pittsburgh--perhaps the family members were covering up their loved ones' imprisonment.
Her relatives were listed as "sick in cells" for 3 days--which ended up being Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur! In letter logs she even found the address of her great-great grandparents in Poland as recipients of a letter from her great grandfather!
All these pieces pooled together helped to build a story of these events.