My Margarine Cousin from Idaho

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/11/1909, p. 13

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/11/1909, p. 13

Speaking about "The Margarine Moonshiners from Minsk" at IAJGS 2014

Speaking about “The Margarine Moonshiners from Minsk” at IAJGS 2014

This past Tuesday was the first time I presented the whole story of my margarine moonshining ancestors in public.  I laid out the whole timeline of how my great-grandfather Jacob Wesoky, his brother Louis, and two of their brothers-in-law were sent to Leavenworth for selling margarine as butter in violation of the Oleomargarine Act of 1886.  (The last 10 minutes of this video, starting at 45:18, give the general outlines of the story, though few of the juicy details.)  

My talk appeared as part of the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, whose program was announced in the spring.  Naturally, it was primarily my fellow Jewish genealogists who saw the subsequent publicity, but through the power of Google, word of my talk made its way to a small town outside of Boise, Idaho to Zach, a great-grandson of Louis’, who was just beginning to get interested in learning more about the Jewish branch of his family.

With my newly-found cousin!

With my newly-found cousin whom I met just minutes earlier!

Zach introduced himself to me just a few hours before I was scheduled to speak.  I was almost shaking when I realized who he was, and I had to keep from bursting into tears when it became clear that he drove five hours with his wife and kids just to meet me and hear my talk!!!  Throughout my presentation, I just couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to get to stand on a stage and recite to him this unbelievable chapter from our family’s past.  I kept looking at him to see his reactions to each crazy twist and turn in the story of our great-grandfathers’ butter partnership.  The talk would have been fun to give regardless, but having Zach there made the experience so much more meaningful.


Cover of the indictment for our great-grandfathers

Afterwards we discussed the whole affair at length.  I showed him all the records I had accumulated and explained all the smaller details that didn’t make it into the talk (three and a half years of research just can’t fit into an hour!).  I was thrilled that he was clearly as into the story as I and excited to get involved in the research himself.  And best of all, I got to meet his wife and kids the following morning to continue getting to know this part of the craziest branch in my tree.

I gave this talk because the story of the moonshiners is an entertaining case study in researching for color and context.  I never dreamed that it would serve as cousin bait, but wow, nothing could have made the whole research journey more gratifying.

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