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2013: A Look Back

2013-clockThis blog has been unattended for so much of the year that a 2013 retrospective seems pointless. But, my life and my research were not as inactive as the blog, so there are still many things to remember about this year before launching into a new one. I’ve blown the dust off of the keyboard and will make a valiant effort to continue my yearly tradition of looking back before moving on.

Despite the lack of genealogy blogging, this year I’ve discovered more genealogically than in any of the almost 25 years I’ve been researching. There’s a lot to say about it if I ever get the time to write! I “met” many cousins this year both in person and virtually. Finding and meeting cousin Bob was actually one of my unfulfilled 2012 goals! His grandfather and my great-grandfather were half-brothers from the same mother. Not only is he a wonderful person to know, he gave me a ton of cool genealogy things. First, there were many photographs – including a photo of my great-grandfather and his siblings as children with their mother. I never thought I’d see what my great-great-grandmother looked like, so that was the best present of all. I also learned her death date. Cousin Bob also gave me two albums that belonged to my great aunt that are worthy of several blog posts.

Another cousin I found was Judy. We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting in person yet, but we’ve shared many emails. Judy’s grandmother and my great-grandmother were sisters. Besides some great photographs of that side of the family, she had a wealth of information from her aunt that confirmed the origins of my Miller family. There is also a wonderful first person account of immigrating to the United States which was a joy to read just weeks after discovering the record of this family immigrating. There is still much to sort out on this branch of the family – and much to write about.

Cousin Lunch!

Cousin Lunch!

But wait, there are more cousins! One on my Pater side found me and we hope to meet in 2014. From this same side my mother and I enjoyed a “cousin lunch” with my grandfather’s first cousin, her daughter, and granddaughter. We had a wonderful time and wondered what took us so long to get together. The last time my mother saw her second cousin and mom was only about 45 years ago!  To round out my list of cousins for the year was a more distant Polish relation who found me through this blog. Despite the “degree” of cousinhood, the story of how are two lines are related was fascinating and soap opera worthy.

Besides all of the cousin meetings, I has the great opportunity to research in Salt Lake City for a week in August.  I discovered many records – surprisingly, many were from the late 1700s in Poland which is a time period that often does not have records. I found records for many 5th and 6th great-grandparents. The very best part of the research trip was confirming the Czech origins of my Miller family in Poland.

The year 2013 was a great one for the availability of more online Polish records. I was able to view records dating back to the early 1800s for several ancestral towns and find my 2nd great-grandmother’s death record in 1900 in Warsaw. This online availability is unprecedented and certainly makes researching Polish records much easier than ever before.

Finally, the other new genealogical information came through DNA matches. I was able to confirm a 3rd cousin and 4th cousin DNA match!

As I said, it was a busy year for genealogical research for me as well as a busy year for life in general. In the “real world” of relatives, there were some family deaths. In January a very dear friend of the family died – Frank was not related to me, but always was and always will be in my heart as my uncle. Later in the year, my Uncle Ken passed away as well – fortunately I spoke to him about six weeks before he died after a long absence. Both uncles will be missed and I will always cherish the memories I have of them. My mother’s first cousin Sandy passed away this year as well. I hadn’t seen her in a long time but I remember her humor and creativity with fondness.

CIMG2857My nieces and nephews continued to grow into great kids. My oldest niece graduated high school and started college, while the younger one made her First Holy Communion. The boys started playing t-ball much to my delight.

2013 was a year in which I had lunch with a movie star, finally went to a Phillies game, toured some Finger Lakes wineries, put my father into a nursing home, said good-bye to the only boss I’ve had for the last decade when he retired, celebrated my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary, and was furloughed from my government job for six days for the first time ever.

It was a very musical year in which I attended more live concerts than I ever did in my life. I saw amazing performances by Train, Gavin DeGraw, The Script, Matchbox Twenty, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Italian superstar Eros Ramazzotti. It was great! I also saw several theater performances including An Ideal HusbandJesus Christ Superstar (for the upteenth time), and two very different and equally enjoyable renditions of one of my favorite plays, Much Ado About Nothing. I also read a lot of great books (among them The Hangman’s Daughter series, The Bookman’s TaleWill in the World, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore). May next year’s entertainment be as much fun!

It always feels like there was never enough time spent with family and friends. But we tried, and 2013 had many fun lunches, dinners, parties, happy hours, and visits. I met new family members, made new friends, and cherished all the “old” family and friends just a little bit more. I’ve ignored my readers, if any of you are left, as I’ve ignored this blog. I think I still have more to say, though, so if you’re still out there…2014 may involve more blogging as well as more writing, more researching, more learning, and – most especially – more living. Happy New Year!

If my grandmother Margaret Pointkouski was still alive, today would be her 100th birthday.   This post is in her honor:

Various photos from throughout Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski's life. Top Row: First Communion Day (circa 1919-1920), with her first born - my dad (circa winter 1934-35), with husband James  (1957), portrait (1972). Center: Bergmeister siblings in 1959. Bottom Row: portrait (circa early 1930's), with husband James (1962), and with children (winter 1942-3).

Various photos from throughout Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski’s life. Top Row: First Communion Day (circa 1919-1920), with her first born – my dad (circa winter 1934-35), with husband James (1957), portrait (1972). Center: Bergmeister siblings in 1959. Bottom Row: portrait (circa early 1930’s), with husband James (1962), and with children (winter 1942-3).

Just the Facts:

  • Parents: Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927) and Marie Echerer (1875-1919)
  • Born: 11 April 1913, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
  • Baptized: 13 April 1912, St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA
  • Siblings: Marie (1898-1990), Joseph (1902-1986), Max (1905-1974), Julius 1908-19??), Charles (1909), Laura (1911)
  • Married: James Pointkouski on 13 January 1934 in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The civil marriage was later blessed at St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Children: James and Jean
  • Died: 14 January 1998
  • Buried: 17 January 1998, Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
From left to right: Mabel, Carol, Marie, Helen holding Robert with Suzanne below, and Margaret holding Drew. Marie and Margaret are sisters & Helen is their sister-in-law. Marie is holding her granddaughter Carol, Mabel's daughter. Helen is holding her grandchildren, and Margaret is holding her grandson (my brother). Photo date - around spring of 1960.

Grandchildren & Second Cousins: From left to right: Mabel, Carol, Marie, Helen holding Robert with Suzanne below, and Margaret holding Drew. Marie and Margaret are sisters & Helen is their sister-in-law. Marie is holding her granddaughter Carol, Mabel’s daughter. Helen is holding her grandchildren, and Margaret is holding her grandson (my brother). Photo date – around spring of 1960.

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother from Genealogical Records:

  • Grandmom’s middle name, according to her baptismal record, was Hermina. No one knew where the name came from until I found Uncle Herman Goetz in my research, her father’s half-brother who was also her godfather. The reason why no one in the family remembered Uncle Herman is because he died in 1918 and she likely didn’t remember him at all.
  • She was probably named after her maternal grandmother, Margarethe Fischer Echerer (1845-1895).
  • Grandmom barely knew her parents. Her mother died in 1919 about six weeks before Grandmom’s 6th birthday. Then in 1927 when she was not quite 14, her father died.
  • Although she was born in 1913, she is completely missing from the 1920 and 1930 census!
  • Her first child, my father, was born less than seven months after the wedding.
The Pointkouski family circa 1960

The Pointkouski family circa 1960

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother from My Dad and Aunt:

  • According to my Aunt Jean, when Grandmom was born she was so tiny that she could fit into a shoebox. Her parents weren’t sure she’d survive – they had two children in between her brother Julius and her that only lived for one day. 
  • My grandmother always said that her Aunt Laura was very good to her. Laura was Hilaury Bergmeister Thuman, her father’s sister. After her parents died, Aunt Laura and her husband, Uncle Max, were the closest thing to parents she’d have. Uncle Max died in 1941 and Aunt Laura in 1943 – while I’m sure Grandmom would have liked their support for much longer in her life, at least by then she had a husband and children of her own.
  • A description of her parents was passed down, but I’m not sure if the memory came from my grandmother or her older siblings – likely the siblings since she was so young when her mother died. But, her mother was remembered as a very short, fiesty woman who ruled the household – and ruled her husband, Joseph, whom she called “Sepp” for short.  Although he was taller than his wife, he but obedient to everything she said.
  • Grandmom met my Grandpop at her brother Max’s store. Grandpop worked as a truck driver delivering ice cream, and Max’s soda fountain was on his route. He spotted Margaret one day, and excitedly asked Max, “Who’s that?” Max looked around, “Her? Aw, she’s just my sister.”
  • My Grandmom was called “Aunt Margie” by her nieces and nephews. She seemed to be very close to them, especially her nieces Marie and Mabel who were only 7 and 11 years younger than her (her sister Marie’s daughters). After Grandmom died, I found some correspondence in her house that she had saved over the years from her niece Helen and nephews Bob and Carl, all children of her brother Joseph.
Grandmom and me, 1977

Grandmom and me, 1977

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother From Knowing Her:

  • She always called my grandfather “Pop”
  • She made ceramics as a hobby. Two that have survived over the years are a Christmas tree (with lights) and a candy dish shaped like a sleigh that says “The Pointkouski Family”.  I remember from my childhood that she made my brother a hockey player figurine (or was it a lamp?) with a Flyers jersey, and a Tin Man lamp for my father when he played the Tin Man in a show.
  • She was a knitter and made afghans. I still have one she made for our family.
  • She was blind in one eye for the last 20+ years of her life. I think it was due to glaucoma.
  • She always signed her cards “Grandmom, Love” instead of the other way around

Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

IamFrom

Back in July 2011, Randy Seaver posted a “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” (SNGF) challenge to create a “Where I’m From” poem using the template at this site. I started a post then but never completed it, and I stumbled upon the draft on my laptop the other day. Now Randy has posted the challenge again tonight! This time I decided to let my creativity out and came up with this little ditty about Where I’m From.  We all have a story – where are You from?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where I’m From

I am from home-cooked meals, from chicken soup and Tastykakes.

I am from the city of brotherly love, rooting for the Fightin’ Phils and the Broad Street Bullies, from playing wiffle ball in the street and riding bikes down Kirby Drive.

I am from sweltering humid summers, occasional blizzards in cold winters, from honeysuckle and buzzing cicadas.

I am from laughter and stubbornness, from Jimmy and Chick, from Pointkouski’s and Bergmeister’s and Pater’s and Zawodny’s.

I am from factory workers and truck drivers, from part-time tap dancers and comedians, from hard workers earning a living but never doing what their hearts wanted to do most.

I am from using every pot to cook a meal and never going out with wet hair.

I am from Catholic school, from believing in the Real Presence and knowing good priests and fun nuns. I am from the rosary and down in adoration falling and holding hands to pray around the kitchen table.

I am from the Far Northeast in Philly, from Poles and Bavarians, from pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I am from cheese steaks and hoagies, from chocolate and wine.

I am from the stowaway with the secret name, or maybe not, and from the baker called Sepp, and from the made-up surname that no one can spell.

I am from mysteries and myths, from faces in too few black and white photographs, from immigrants who left the only homes they knew to create a new one far away. I am from a family that didn’t hand down heirlooms but instead I inherited humor, love, and faith.

"The Passage of Time" - Photo by ToniVC at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonivc/2283676770/

“The Passage of Time” – Photo by ToniVC at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonivc/2283676770/

Well, it’s been a long break here since my last post. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been off having some fascinating adventures, but… not really. As luck would have it (or lack of luck), I’ve never had so many different things to blog about at a time in which I have no time for blogging due to other duties. There’s been a lot of genealogical discoveries in recent weeks, so I hope to have time to write about them soon. Rather than spending a lot of time writing my usual long, fact-filled posts, here’s a sampling of some of my recent genealogical adventures that I hope to post about in greater detail soon:

Have you ever found a birth record for someone that convinces you it’s your someone…only to discover that person’s death record a year later? Hmm, right name, wrong person…that makes me wonder if any of my “ancestors” in my tree are the wrong person because I didn’t check to see if “they” died as a child.

Have you ever come to a complete dead end only to realize that maybe, just maybe you’re looking in the wrong place for the wrong name?  In my case, I hadn’t considered that the professional translator I hired may have translated a record incorrectly. I’ve been searching for the wrong person. In the wrong town. It happens; even pros make mistakes. Get a second opinion.  Or third.  For me, the third time was the charm.

I recently found a connection in someone else’s tree. Someone else’s very well-documented and well-sourced tree. That’s never happened before. After receiving confirmation through additional research that we’re talking about the same person, I was able to add his research to my tree. Lots of information. Almost 50 new surnames. On some lines, I went back so many generations my head was spinning. A 13th great-grandfather? Dates in the 1500s? Mind. Officially. Blown.

Besides all the great new Bavarian surnames I’ve added to my tree, some first names that are “firsts” on my family tree are: Sebastian, Ulrich, Veit, Kaspar, Sabina, Gregor, Abraham, August, Agathe, Brigitte, Nikolaus, and Melchoir. And about a dozen men named Georg. And another couple of dozen Johanns to add to my multitude of John’s and Joe’s.

liebster-award2Finally, William at Among My Branches has given me the Liebster Award. He’s asked me to answer some questions:

  • (1) How long have you been researching your family history? I officially began in 1989.
  • (2) What made you begin researching your family history? I watched Roots in 1977 and wanted to do what Alex Haley did because I had no idea where my ancestors came from. In 1989, I had some time and a friend who was equally interested in learning her family’s history so we learned about how to research.
  • (3) Was there an ancestor or relative in your family that was also interested in family history or preserved important documents and records? None at all.
  • (4) Have you uncovered any connections to famous people? Nope. I descend from good peasant stock.
  • (5) What is the furthest generation back that you have a photograph for that ancestor–i.e., 1st, 2nd, 3rd great grandparent, etc. I have photos of six of my great-grandparents. The oldest photo of a collateral relative is the brother of my 2nd great-grandfather.
  • (6) Do you have any family recipes that have been handed down through the generations? No.
  • (7) What was the country of origins for your grandparents? Bavaria/Germany, Tirol/Austria, Poland, and Bohemia.
  • (8) Name a fun fact from your paternal grandfather’s ancestry? My paternal grandfather’s grandfather is the first Polish ancestor I discovered who was literate. He was a valet/footman.
  • (9) Name a fun fact from your paternal grandmother’s ancestry? My paternal grandmother descends from a long line of Bavarian shoemakers and millers.
  • (10) Name a fun fact from your maternal grandfather’s ancestry? My maternal grandfather’s family were weavers, shoemakers, and cloth merchants. I now work with the apparel and footwear industry.
  • (11) Name a fun fact from your maternal grandmother’s ancestry? My maternal grandmother told me a lot of really interesting stories about her family that I’ve managed to disprove with my research!

My questions are a bit different. It’s not quite the Proust Questionnaire, but… I am not going to nominate 11 blogs because most of my blogger friends have either already been nominated, haven’t blogged for a long time like me, or don’t usually partake of award posts. So, any and all are welcome to answer my silly questions in the comments!

  1. What’s the most unique ancestor’s first name in your tree? 
  2. What’s your favorite ancestral surname?
  3. Twitter or Facebook?
  4. What’s the oldest verified birth year in your tree?
  5. Kirk or Picard?
  6. Who’s your favorite author?
  7. Kelly or Astaire?
  8. What’s your favorite sound?
  9. What’s your favorite quote?
  10. Who’s your favorite ancestor?
  11. Which ancestor would you most like to meet?
Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton congratulates the author on her iGENE Awards.

Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton congratulates the author on her iGENE Awards.

Each year the (nonexistent) Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH) offers genealogy bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for the previous year. In fact, I usually try to avoid listing my “favorites” at the end of the year in anticipation of the annual iGENE post. But this year, the Carnival of Genealogy is on hiatus and I missed the annual opportunity to continue the tradition. So in honor of the 85th Oscar Academy Awards tomorrow – and giving me a good reason to show the photo above – I decided to go ahead and present my own 2012 iGENE Awards anyway. So without further ado, the “Academy” has reviewed all of the entries, read the critics’ reviews, and counted all the votes…it’s time to roll out the red carpet and present the honors.  Welcome to the 2012 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Anita_1950Best Picture

 “Gorgeous!”  ~ Wendy Littrell of All My Branches

The Best Picture award goes to Sepia Saturday: Mom on a Bike from August. My mom strikes a pose in the schoolyard when she was fourteen. The photo is from 1950, but her sense of fashion is timeless!

Best Screenplay

Your post is of great of encouragement to me that those who were once ‘lost’ may indeed be (and deserve to be) ‘found’.” ~ Cynthia Shenette of Heritage Zen

31225-001The story of my great-grandfather’s cousin in His Name was Józef Pater wins the award for Best Screenplay. And what a screenplay it would make! It’s the story of a decorated war hero who became a leader in the Polish Underground to fight the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Captured by the Nazis, he is given the opportunity to escape but passes to prevent repercussions for his imprisoned wife. Transferred to Auschwitz, Józef died as a political prisoner and his story was forgotten by his extended family – until now.

Best Documentary

“What a neat find, Donna. Guess it goes to show some of the best discoveries are accidental ones.” ~ Shelley Bishop from A Sense of Family

The winner of the Best Documentary goes to What Happened to Uncle Herman? which documented my investigation of why my grandmother’s uncle seemed to disappear from records. By tracking his life events and doing some additional research, I finally discovered what happened to poor Uncle Herman.

Best Biography

“Wonderful narrative!” ~ C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon, Stanczyk – Internet Muse™

For the first time in the history of the iGENE Awards here, the winner of the Best Biography category is also the winner of the Best Screenplay. Cousin Józef was by far the most interesting life story I’ve discovered out of all of my relatives so far.

Best Comedy

SCAN0099

“I can go to bed tonight with a smile on my face.” ~ Michelle Goodrum of The Turning of Generations

The winner of the Best Comedy award goes to September’s post, I Was a Teenage Car Thief. It wasn’t so funny at the time, but incidents like this become funnier as they become history. Read about how my friend and I stole our teacher’s car in high school…or at least that’s how the story is told.

Previous iGENE Award Posts:

 

Surname Saturday

Surname - BERGMEISTER

Meaning/Origin – The Bergmeister surname is not listed in the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, which is the reference book I usually use for my German surnames. However, in German berg means “mountain” and meister means “master”. According to Wikipedia, a Bergmeister was a mine manager or foreman in German-speaking Europe who, along with the Bergvogt, was one of the officials serving on a mining court (Berggericht). 

Countries of Origin – The surname Bergmeister is German. According to the World Names Profiler, the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Austria with 21.83 individuals per million, Germany with 5.55, and Italy with 2.64.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Norway (0.28) and the United States (0.24).

Spelling Variations - Variations include PERGMEISTER or PERMEISTER. The name was originally spelled with a “P” but evolved into the “B” spelling by the 18th century. Other spelling variations may include similar names beginning with “BURG” or ending with -MASTER, -MEIER, -MAIER, -MEYER.

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the BERGMEISTER surname in Austria and Germany.

Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Austria.

Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Austria.

SOURCE: Dynastree Surname Mapping database, http://www.verwandt.at/karten/detail/bergmeister.html, accessed January 26, 2013.
Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Germany.

Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Germany.

SOURCE: Dynastree Surname Mapping database, http://www.verwandt.de/karten/absolut/bergmeister.html, accessed January 26, 2013.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Jörg Bergmeister (b. 13 Feb 1976) is a race car driver from Germany. There was also a rather famous (and really cool-looking) motorcycle built in Bavaria in the 1950’s called the Victoria Bergmeister V 35.

My Family – My BERGMEISTER family comes from a small town in Bavaria, Germany called Puch which is located near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. My Bergmeister ancestors arrived in this town in April 1688 and apparently originated from Tyrol in the Pflersch valley near Gossensaß. Today this area is in the Bolzano province of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy. For many years I wished I had Italian heritage only to find out that my Bavarian-Tyrolean ancestors come from what is actually Italy today.

My earliest documented ancestor so far with this name is Jakob PERMEISTER, a miller born in Tyrol who immigrated north to Puch by 1688 and purchased a mill. My line of descent is as follows (all were born and died in Puch and worked as millers until my great-great-grandfather): Martin (1689-1752) > Johann Paul (1721-1784) > Joseph (1763-1840) > Jakob (1805-1870) > Joseph (1843- before 1885) > Joseph (1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau – 1927 in Philadelphia, PA, USA) > Margaret (1913-1998). This last Joseph was my great-grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. While the earlier generations of his family are well documented, I have yet to find the death date for his father Joseph, who worked as a flour merchant for the family’s mill.  More information on their children can be found on the Bergmeister Family Page. Today I am in contact with not only second cousins who descend from the same immigrant great-grandfather, but also with cousins in Germany who descend from other lines from both Joseph born in 1763 and Jakob born in 1805.

My Research Challenges – The challenge is finding records to connect the Tirol Bergmeister family with my ancestral line living in Puch in the late 1600’s. My fifth cousin once removed is diligently working this back in Germany. We would like to connect our Puch line with another family of Bergmeisters originating in Hördt in the Rhineland-Palatinate area of Germany (whose descendants immigrated to Philadelphia, PA, USA thirty years before my great-grandfather did). My challenges are 1) to continue with the research until the records end, 2) attempt to “connect” the various Bergmeister families to one common ancestor, 3) find the death record for my great-great grandfather some time before 1885 in or around Munich, and 4) contact descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother, Ignaz.

Other Bergmeister Families – As noted above, there is a branch of the family from Hördt that likely connects to our Puch branch back in the mid 1600’s. The name is uncommon enough for us to reasonably assume that all Bergmeister’s are related if you go back far enough!

Surname Message Boards – None that I have found.

Links to all posts about my Bergmeister family can be found here.

This post is #12 of an ongoing series about my family’s surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

Five Years

My Aunt Donna's blog is 5!

My Aunt Donna’s blog is 5!

Tomorrow is the 5th blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue! If blog years are anything like dog years, that’s a really long time. I’m humbled every year that I’ve managed to entertain, inform, and help others since I started this blog to entertain, inform, and help myself. I’ve found cousins, I’ve made friends. In five years, this blog has been viewed over 182,500 times and readers have left 1,665 comments. In 2012, I had 45,320 visitors (an increase since the previous year) for an average of 124 per day. And to that there’s only one thing to say about those statistics – thank you for visiting!

My five top posts (as in most visited) in 2012 were written in previous years. The top two posts written in 2012 were:

My personal favorites over the last year were:

I hope you had some favorites, too. I was semi-successful at keeping up with regular posting barring the occasional vacation or unexpected hospital stay and I have plans to continue for many more years. And after FIVE YEARS I finally changed the theme ever-so-slightly – do you like the brand new look?

Thanks to all of my readers and all of the great friends I have made through this blog. Maybe I don’t write just for me anymore – I write for you, too!

2012: A Look Back

Another year has come and gone! That means it’s time for my annual look in the rear view mirror before I look forward to all that 2013 has to offer. In some ways, this was a tough year for my friends, my family, and myself. My father was in and out of the ER and nursing homes more times than I can remember and my mother was occasionally sick too. Several of their close friends are suffering from serious illnesses. My parents’ house was in a state of disrepair for months due to a leaky pipe. There were several deaths this year: two co-workers, the mother of one of my best friends, two of my college professors, and a distant cousin who frequently commented here on this blog. I had some relationship disappointments and ended the year with a rather unexpected major surgery. But, despite all of the bad stuff, I managed to maintain a positive outlook and be grateful for all of the good things in life. And there were many, many good things…

My great-grandmother!

My great-grandmother!

Genealogically speaking, I didn’t devote that much time to research but I managed to make some great finds with the little time I did spend on it! I continued to find Polish records online including my 5th great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1820. The release of the 1940 census was long-awaited, and even though it didn’t reveal anything I didn’t already know it was a lot of fun to find my parents and all of my other relatives. I was thrilled to receive my great-grandmother’s naturalization papers and see her photo. The biggest surprise of the year was learning that my 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller, immigrated to the U.S. and lived here for over 20 years before her death in 1944. I think I’m still surprised by that discovery! I had the opportunity to meet my 2nd cousin Carl and his sons from the Bergmeister side. I also got to meet Bill, a “cousin of my cousin” who is descended from the sister-in-law of one of my dad’s uncles. Finally, a surprise phone call from my father’s 76-year-old cousin – one I didn’t know existed – allowed me to connect her via telephone with her 67-year-old half-sister to share memories of the father that neither knew well (one due to divorce, the other due to his death at a young age).

I had a few personal goals for the year, but I only made progress with three of them. They were: have a more positive outlook, cultivate my relationships with friends, and get back to exercising. My new outlook, old friends, and five months of regular exercise all helped considerably when I was faced with my first-ever hospital stay at the end of November for a colon resection. It’s funny how things work out that way…

My nieces and nephews

My nieces and nephews

Looking back over the year, I was rather successful at trying to have a good time. I had many fun lunches, happy hours, and dinners with several different friends. I even cooked a bunch of dinners at my house and I was amazed every time that somewhere along the line I learned to cook without realizing it. I spent several holidays over at my brother’s house and spent some good times with my nieces and nephews watching Star Wars, going to the beach, and just having fun being silly. I finally broke the bad record of previous years and made it to the beach not just one day, but three different days! I hope my beach is still there since Hurricane Sandy hit that part of my state really bad in October. I finally made it to a Phillies game, attended a special event at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, saw my favorite Gene Kelly movie on the “big screen” again, and “won” an online auction to have lunch with my newest celebrity crush (we’re still scheduling the big event). I surprised myself by taking 10 undergraduate college credits in a subject I despise during a 7-week period, and despite spending one week in Europe and one week in the hospital I somehow managed to get a 3.55 average.

My travel time was limited this year, but I did go to Georgia twice for work as well as two new places: San Antonio, TX and Phoenix, AZ. The only trip I took for personal travel was special: after about fourteen years of promises, I took my 17-year-old niece on her first trip to Rome, Italy. It was trip #5 for me, but that didn’t make it any less special. We both had a great time and I hope it was as memorable to my niece as it was to me.

The Pointkouski chicks learning to cook in Italy

The Pointkouski chicks learning to cook in Italy

I like to remember my “entertainment” favorites every year as well as personal events. The two television shows I fell in love with this year will always be among my favorites because they’re just that good: Firefly and Leverage. Yeah, I don’t know what took me so long to find them either. I went for long periods without taking the time to read anything, but then I managed to read about 33 books between Memorial Day weekend and the end of September and found a lot of great authors in the process (Chris Ewan, Mark Mills, Pam Jenoff, Michael Curtis Ford, Sarah Jio, Isabel Wolff, Karen White). I especially enjoyed John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Kate Morton’s Forgotten Garden, and Felix Palma’s The Map of Time. In the world of music, I loved Matchbox Twenty’s new album, North, especially “Sleeping at the Wheel”. I also really liked P!nk’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”, One Republic’s “Feel Again”, Lifehouse’s “In Between the Raindrops”, Sara Bareilles’ “Gonna Get Over You”, and Train’s “Feels Good at First”.

2012 brought me back to Rome - those coins thrown in the Trevi really do work!

2012 brought me back to Rome – those coins thrown in the Trevi Fountain really do work!

Last year I said I was ending the year a lot happier, healthier, and content, so that’s how I started this year. Although spending the last month recovering from surgery has been a struggle to stay happy, healthy, and content, I think I’m on track to a much happier, healthier, and contented new year. And the world didn’t even end this month as “scheduled”! What’s on tap for next year? Well, there are more ancestors to find, cousins to meet, birthdays to celebrate, dinners to enjoy, friends to cherish, places to travel, books to read, people to meet, photographs to take, blog posts to create, music to play, exciting things to discover, and family to love. That, my friends, will make for a very good year!

Happy New Year to all of my family, friends, and faithful readers! I wish you peace, joy, love, and good health in 2013!

Well, it’s that time of year again…with just eight days to go in 2012 we genealogy bloggers sometimes brag write about what a great job we did in meeting our goals for the year. Then we usually come up with another list of genealogy-related fun things to do next year. I’m no exception…I’ve been doing the same for the last few years myself. But if I spell out this year’s goals and talk about how well – or not – I did at meeting them, I’d feel a bit ridiculous since, well…I didn’t quite get to most of them. Let’s just say my priorities changed throughout the year. But hey, it’s that time of year, so let me at least provide you with my TOP 12 REASONS I DIDN’T MEET ALL OF MY 12 GENEALOGY GOALS FOR 2012!

12. The world was supposed to be over by now…

11. Uh, some of my lofty goals were a bit too hard. I mean, what was I thinking? Twelve goals?

10. Several of my most inspirational long-time genealogy blogging friends (you all know who you are) took a blogging leave of absence and left me uninspired as a result. (Please come back!!!!!)

9. I was distracted by shiny things and spent too much of my free time reading my Pointer sister’s voluminous tweets.

My niece and nephews love Star Wars too!

My niece and nephews love Star Wars too!

8. I introduced the next generation to the wonder that is Star Wars.

7. I cheated on Facebook by having an actual real live social network.

Cast of TV's Leverage: Christian Kane, Gina Bellman, Tim Hutton, Beth Reisgraf, Aldis Hodge

Cast of TV’s Leverage: Christian Kane, Gina Bellman, Tim Hutton, Beth Reisgraf, Aldis Hodge

6. I spent a whole lot of time watching all 77 episodes of Leverage multiple times with great delight.

5. I was too stressed trying to complete the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge.

4. I still give up on translating Polish records that are written in Russian in under five minutes.

3. I bribed my genealogy-goal buddy, Lisa Alzo, with a case of slivovitz to stop bugging me about my progress.

2. I found out a lot of other great genealogy facts this year that weren’t on my 2012 wish list.

1. Occasionally hanging out with live relatives is more fun that looking for dead ones.

This week’s Sepia Saturday has a kissing theme, and I have just the photo in my collection:

My parents on Christmas Day in 1955

My parents on Christmas Day in 1955

I don’t see any mistletoe in the photograph, but it was Christmas day! My parents were not married yet – that would happen in about four months. I love the detail in the background of the photo – this was my paternal grandparents’ house. Note the 1950’s decor with the flowered wallpaper and flowered carpeting, upholstered wing chair with doilies on the arms, the steam radiator, and an ashtray stand next to the chair. I wish there were more photos from other parts of the living room! (There is another of my parents and aunt sitting together on the sofa – my mother must have had a change of clothes, because she is wearing a different dress but my father is dressed the same.) I also love the fabulous velvet dress on my Mom and the suit and tie on my Dad.

I would have to ask to be certain, but my guess is that my aunt took the photograph. She was 13 years old, and isn’t it just like a teenaged sister to annoy her big brother by taking a photo of him kissing his girl? Heck, I think I remember doing the same exact thing to my brother and his girlfriend about 25 years later when I was 13 and he was 21!

2012.12W.02

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/3723131340/

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/3723131340/

Since today is December 12, 2012 — and I haven’t posted for a while — here are twelve things, genealogical and otherwise, that I have learned in this past year.

1. I learned what happened to my grandmother’s Uncle Herman.

2. I learned where all of my ancestors and relatives were living in the United States in 1940.

3. I learned that my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller, actually immigrated to this country and lived here for 22 years before she died in 1944 in New Jersey.

4. I learned the names of two sets of sixth great-grandparents: Jan Pluta and Agnieszka Kramarska and Jan Redłowski and Józefa Lichańska. They were named on the 1820 marriage record of their children, Bartłomiej Ludwik Pluta and Helena Franciszka Redłowska. The father of the groom was a shoemaker, and the father of the bride was a cloth merchant who actually signed the marriage record  and gave me the oldest signature in my ancestral collection!

5. I learned quite a few death dates of Polish ancestors thanks to online records at Geneteka.

6. I learned what my great-grandmother looked like.

7. I learned a bit more about my grandfather’s missing sister and the man she married…I just haven’t blogged about it yet.

8. I learned I’m Scandinavian. Well, 46% of my DNA is… That means that my Bavarian ancestors and perhaps a few of the Poles once came from farther north. No wonder I can’t stand the cold – we’ve been heading south for thousands of years.

9. I learned that my father’s uncle had a daughter we didn’t know about. I was able to put her in touch with her half-sister, and they both learned a bit more about their father.

10. I learned once again that hanging out with other genealogists in a lot of fun (Slavapalooza ’12 was held in Philadelphia in late April).

11. I learned that sometimes you have to put social media, blogging, and the computer away and get out there and cultivate relationships in person. I was more social this year with dinners, dates, happy hours, and fun times with family and friends. When I wound up in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, my closest friends were by my side. It’s good to have friends that have known you since you were a teenager – they won’t let you get away with anything, they will make you laugh, and they will take care of you when you need it!

12. I learned to let go of negativity and find things to enjoy about life every day. I don’t have a single thing I ever really wanted in life and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Yesterday I posted my round-up of all of my posts from the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge. “Challenge” was the key word – what sounds like a simple concept proved to be rather challenging. I participated because I knew the challenge would “force” me to post at least once a week. It wasn’t mandatory to post every week, but that was part of the personal challenge for me. I discovered that it was an incredibly creative exercise – much more creative than I originally thought. All of the submitters each week almost always had a different idea about what represented a particular letter, and I found that some of my original ideas fell by the wayside as a new letter approached and I came up with a new idea instead.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile exercise. If you are looking to make a commitment to yourself to post to your own blog, I highly encourage you to try something similar. For something even more daring, you could post a different letter each day and go through the entire challenge in less than a month. Or for a more relaxed pace, try one per week (as I did) or even one per month. Eventually you will make your way through the alphabet!

As I said, I found this challenge to be a good creative outlet. I’ve come up with some other ways to use the A through Z method to highlight other areas of family history:

  • Surnames or first names in your family tree through the alphabet
  • Family Photographs through the alphabet
  • Place Names from your family tree through the alphabet
  • Highlight record sources from A to Z
  • Highlight research techniques from A to Z
  • Favorite websites used for genealogy from A to Z
  • Family Memories through the alphabet
  • Your genealogical “bucket list” through the alphabet

The possibilities are as endless as your own creativity. I’m still pondering which A to Z series I will challenge myself with next!

A collage of the images I’ve used each week during the Family History through the Alphabet challenge!

For the last twenty-six weeks, I have participated in the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge promoted by Gould Genealogy. It was more challenging than I thought it would be, and I feel a sense of accomplishment that I completed all 26 letters! Here is a round-up of all of my posts. Tomorrow I will share some of the things I learned from participating in this challenge. Thanks for reading and commenting on these posts for the last six months!

Żyrardów coat of arms

Completing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge… Z is for Żyrardów! There was never any doubt what I would use for the letter “Z” – Żyrardów is a town in the Mazovia region of Poland from which my Pater great-grandparents came. It was also the very first town in Poland that I “discovered” in my family history research, so it holds a special place in my heart. In addition, it is the very first ancestral town in Poland that I visited!

I’ve written about Żyrardów before, most notably in my post entitled Żyrardów: Birth of a Modern Town. Although the town is rather modern by European standards with a “birth date” of around 1831, I’m fascinated with the town’s history.  The history is interwoven (pun actually intended) with the textile industry – an industry with which I now work indirectly. My ancestors helped Żyrardów become the largest producer of linens in the entire Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century.

Spinning cotton in the Żyrardów linen factory (date unknown)

This weekly challenge has been wonderful and I’d like to thank Alona Tester of Gould Genealogy for creating this challenge. Later this week I will post more about what I learned from participating and some ideas I have as a result of participating.

[Written for the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Y is for Y-DNA

Winding down the Family History Through the Alphabet series, Y is for… Y-DNA! Only men are born with the Y chromosome, so Y-DNA traces the patrilineal line. I personally have not had any of my male relatives tested for Y-DNA, but I wondered if iI could trace the Y-DNA from each of my great-grandparents’ lines. Is that even possible? Here’s  look at my great-grandparents (numbered with their ahnentafel numbers) to see if it could be done:

8. Piątkowski – yes – My father, brother, and nephews could all have a Y-DNA test to determine the origin of our patrilinal line.

9. Kizoweter – maybe – My great-grandmother had a brother, Jozef Kizoweter. He was living in Warsaw at the time of her immigration, and I’ve found records for his mariage and the birth of some children. Did the male line survive in Poland?

10. Bergmeister – yes – My father has two male first cousins, I have at least two male second cousins, and there is another male generation that all bear the Bergmeister surname and are descendants of my great-grandfather.

11. Echerer – maybe – My great-grandmother had a brother, Karl Echerer, who was married in Munich in 1908. It is unknown if he had any sons or if the male line has survived to today.

12. Patermaybe – Of the three Pater sons that immigrated to this country, only my great-grandfather had sons. Of the five sons, only two had sons. I have not yet been able to find those two male cousins of my mother, Larry Pater and Louis Miller (although Pater is the “correct” surname). There were also numerous Pater relatives left in Poland, but it is not known if any male descendants are left after the wars.

13. Millermaybe – My great-grandmother had a brother who had one childless son. However, I think she had other brothers and I’ve recently found information about one, Alfred Miller. I am trying to determine if his male line still exists today.

14. Zawodnyyes – I’m in touch with at least one male cousin of my mother’s and he has a son. This Y-DNA line could be traced.

15. Ślesińskidoubtful – My great-grandmother apparently had one brother, Feliks, but I have been unable to determine if he had any sons. More research is needed.

If I was able to convince my male relatives to submit to Y-DNA testing, I would get a good idea of my own genetic makeup. Have you had any Y-DNA testing done on yourself or male relatives?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

X is for Xavier

St. Francis Xavier, missionary, saint, and eponym!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… X is for Xavier. While Xavier as a first name has gained popularity in the last decade or two, for centuries it was used as a middle name combined with Francis. Why? The first-middle name combination of “Francis Xavier” comes from the man first known to use it, St. Francis Xavier.

Francis Xavier was a Catholic missionary priest and co-founder of the Jesuits who lived from 1506 to 1552. Although he was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in Navarre (present-day Spain), he came to be called Francisco Xavier because of his family castle named Xavier (or Javier, or Xabier). The name is derived from the Basque word etxaberri, which means “new house.” While studying in Paris, Francis met Ignatius Loyola – they and five others founded the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as “Jesuits,” in 1534. He was ordained a priest three years later. He is remembered for his years as a missionary in India, Indonesia, and Japan where he brought Christianity to thousands.

It is not uncommon for a surname to become a given name, but what I find amazing is the widespread use of “Francis Xavier” together. The name “Francis” was always popular, and many men (or women) named Francis (or Frances) might be named after another popular Catholic saint, St. Francis Assisi. As popular as St. Francis of Assisi is, however, I’ve never seen “Assisi” – another place-name “surname” – used as a middle name. Likewise, I have many men named “Ignatius” in my family tree in either the German form of Ignaz or the Polish form of Ignacy – but none of these use “Loyola” as a middle name which would imply they were named after St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Francis Xavier, however, seems to have something rather unique about him in that both of his names are often used together. This would make more sense if perhaps the names were popular in either his home country, present day Spain, or in the countries where he ministered like India. Many names gain popularity in certain areas due to a local saint with the name.  But the names “Francis Xavier” seem to be popular worldwide. The name combination appears as Francisco Javier in Spanish-speaking countries, Francesco Saverio in Italy, Francisco Xavier in Portugal, François Xavier in France, Franciszek Ksawery in Poland, and Franz Xaver in Germany.

A little over two hundred years after St. Francis Xavier lived, his names were used in my family in Bavaria. Franz Xaver Gürtner, my 4th great-grandfather, was born on 04 September 1781 in Reichertshofen, Bavaria. His daughter, Barbara, would grow up to marry Franz Xaver Fischer (born 06 October 1813 in Agelsberg, Bavaria) in 1841. Both men are found in records listed by both “Franz Xaver” or “Fr. Xaver” as well as by just “Xaver.” In German, the name is pronounced as Ksaber.

Another Bavarian 4th great-grandfather, Ignaz Echerer (born 26 July 1765 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria), had a brother named Franz Xaver Echerer. Although St. Francis Xavier traveled around the world, as far as I can tell he never visited Germany – yet his name is very popular throughout the country centuries later.

St. Francis Xavier had a big impact on the world, especially in the countries he worked like India. However, his name had an even bigger impact in my opinion. I even have a distant cousin living today with the name Francis Xavier. Xavier is one of the only English names beginning with “X” so it stands out as unique despite the centuries of other men named F.X. How many Francis Xaviers (or just plain Xavier) are in your family tree?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

W is for Warsaw

Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) in Old Town Warsaw. Yes, my great-grandfather lived on Beer Street!

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… W is for Warsaw! When I officially began my family history research and my father told me his grandfather, Jan Piątkowski (John Piontkowski) was from Warsaw, Poland, I thought: Yeah, right! Being a native-born Philadelphian, I am familiar with people “borrowing” my city as their place of birth because no one ever heard of the tiny suburban town they were born in. The fakers exclaim: “Well, it’s near Philadelphia!” So when I heard my great-grandfather was from Warsaw, I wondered exactly where he was born. My other great-grandfather said he was from Warsaw sometimes too, but he was from a town 27 miles away. Close doesn’t count when you’re searching for birth records.

But then a funny thing happened…I discovered he really was from Warsaw! Thanks to numerous Warsaw church records that are available online, I found my great-grandfather’s baptismal record that confirmed his birth as he reported on his Declaration of Intention. My Piątkowski family was from Warsaw!

Prior to this discovery, I visited the city in 2001. I unknowingly visited some of the family’s sights such as the Archcathedral of St. John (Archikatedra św. Jana). At the time, I had no idea my great-grandfather was baptized there. Technically, of course, it is not the same church – most of Warsaw was completely demolished in 1944-5. It is estimated that 80% of the old buildings were destroyed, including most of the Old Town area and the churches. Eventually the buildings were rebuilt – some are exact replicas of what once stood, others are not.

There is still a lot of research to do (or more accurately, there is a lot of deciphering Russian to do), but so far I have discovered that my great-grandfather’s father, Stanisław Piątkowski, was in Warsaw by 1863. It was then he married Apolonia Konopka in Holy Cross Church (Kościół św. Krzyża). Neither was originally from the city: Stanisław was from Mogilev (Belarus) and Apolonia was born in Konopki in the Augustów province.

Stanisław was listed in records as a “private official” and a valet. I have yet to determine for whom he worked, but there is one characteristic of Stanisław that sets him apart from EVERY SINGLE OTHER POLISH ANCESTOR – he could write his name. My factory workers and craftsmen – even some merchants – could not. I continue to wonder what a private official did in late nineteenth century Warsaw. At that time, Warsaw was undergoing a population boom – the city’s population more than doubled in twenty years.

Not all church records are available yet, but so far I’ve discovered two other sons of Stanisław and Apolonia, Jan’s marriage record and two children’s baptisms, and several records for the family of the brother of Jan’s wife, Rozalia Kizoweter (aka Kizeweter or Gizeweter). Since the addresses are provided in the church record, on my next visit to Warsaw I can re-visit some of the streets where they lived!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Proud descendant of the two gentlemen below coming it at nearly 3′ tall!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… V is for Vital Statistics! Line up your ancestors and check out their vitals!

Definition of VITAL STATISTICS

1: statistics relating to births, deaths, marriages, health, and disease
2: facts (as physical dimensions or quantities) considered to be interesting or important; especially : a woman’s bust, waist, and hip measurements
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When genealogists speak of “Vitals” we are usually referring to the information obtained from Vital Records: Births, Marriages, and Deaths. The term “Vital Statistics” refers to stats relating to these records. Although the second definition is primarily used for a woman’s physical “stats,” I’m using it in a slightly different non-sexist way. For me, Vital Statistics are the information I’ve obtained from genealogical records about my ancestors’ physical descriptions such as their height, hair color, eye color, and more. This information is especially relevant to me for the ancestors for whom I have no photograph – these “stats” are the only way for me to see what my ancestor looked like.

Where does one find such information? If your ancestor immigrated to the United States in 1906 or 1907, the passenger arrival records include the immigrant’s physical description: height, complexion, color of hair and eyes, and identifying marks. Draft registration cards are a great source of physical descriptions for male ancestors. Naturalization records also ask for physical descriptions. Other resources might include military records or employment records.

Joseph Zawodny, age 22

 When my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny filled out his WWI draft registration card in 1918, he was  38 years old. The cards were not very specific, and he listed his height and build as “medium” with brown eyes and dark hair. But what was considered medium height and build back then? The more specific information requested for his Declaration of Intention four years later in 1922 might answer that. He lists his height as 5’7-1/2″ and his weight as 164 pounds. He had a fair complexion, brown hair, and brown eyes – which fits with the black and white photograph I have of him.

Louis Pater, age 54

Then again, the records may not always be correct or consistent. Take, for example, my other great-grandfather, Louis Pater. When he arrived in the U.S. in August, 1907, he was only 14 years old. He was only 5′ tall with blond hair and blue eyes. On his WWI draft card at age 23, he said he was “tall” and “slender” with brown hair and green eyes. Four years later on his Declaration of Intention, he lists his height as 5’10” and weight as 150 pounds. He has a “dark” complexion, “dark brown” hair, and “grey” eyes. Finally, on his WWII draft card at age 48, he seems to have shrunk to 5’9″ and put on a few pounds at 190. He has a “ruddy” complexion, “brown” hair, and “brown” eyes! So, were his eyes blue, green, gray, or brown? Likely gray – that was the color of the eyes for the entire Pater family and he passed them on to his son!

I don’t have any photograph of my great-grandmother Rose Piontkowski. But because she arrived here in 1906, I know from the passenger list that at the age of 41 she was 5’3″ with brown hair and blue eyes. It’s not much, but at least it gives me some idea of what she may have looked like. I don’t have a photograph of her husband John either. He was too old for either draft, but he filed his Declaration of Intention in 1920 at the age of 49. He was 5’8″, weighed 150 pounds, had a dark complexion, brown hair, and gray eyes.

Sometimes the descriptions on the passenger lists aren’t very flattering! Take my great-great grandmother Antonina Pluta Pater. Thanks to her passenger arrival record, she will forever be known as having a “sallow” complexion and a “wrinkled forehead” in addition to her 5’2-3/8″ frame, brown hair, and blue eyes!

Vital stats such as height or eye color are obviously not as useful as actual vital statistics like birth and death dates. But, it does give us a nice “look” at our ancestors. It is also fascinating to create family trees that show things like eye color – biology class in high school suddenly becomes more interesting. So as your family tree grows, take some “measurements” along the way and see which ancestors you most resemble!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Doors of Faith

“Do not be afraid! Open, in deed, open wide the doors to Christ!” ~ Blessed Pope John Paul II, October 22, 1978, homily at the Mass beginning his pontificate

In honor of the Catholic Church’s “Year of Faith” which opens on October 11, 2012, genealogy bloggers whose ancestors were members of the Catholic Faith are celebrating by showing some of the churches that inspired or comforted our ancestors or were otherwise part of their lives. Since the majority of my ancestors were Catholic (and so am I), there are a lot of churches in my family’s history. For this celebration, I chose to highlight one because I had the opportunity to walk through these doors of faith on a trip to Poland in 2001. The photos below are from that journey.

St. John the Baptist ( św. Jana Chrzciciela) church in Mszczonów, Poland

My great-great grandmother, Antonina Rozalia Pluta, was from the town of Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland. She was baptized in św. Jana Chrzciciela (St. John the Baptist) Church in 1863 and married Józef Pater there in 1885. Antonina’s parents, Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Wojciechowska, were also baptized there (1843 for Ludwik and 1840 for Franciszka) and married there in 1862. The earliest record I have found for an ancestral sacrament at the church is the baptism of my 4th great-grandfather, Jan Wojciechowski (Franciszka’s father), in 1816 – although, as you will see below, the church in 1816 was not the same as the church in 1863 through today.

The church has a very long history, as does the town. From the town’s website, I learned that the first church on the grounds was erected at the turn of the Twelfth Century and made from wood. In the years 1430-1440 Prince Ziemowit IV built a brick church, which was completely destroyed in the fire of the city in 1603. It was rebuilt 1660, but  burned down again in 1800. For many years after this fire, church services were held in a wooden chapel. The current brick church was built between 1861-1864. The cornerstone was blessed by the Archbishop of Warsaw on 11 May 1862 and the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

A plaque on the church listing the names of the pastors from 1658-1982.

[Written for the "Doors of Faith" celebration at The Catholic Gene]

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… U is for Unusual Resources! I already devoted a whole post to my Uncles, so in looking for a “U” term I decided to take a look at some of the more unusual resources that are available for genealogical research. The “usual suspects” include birth, marriage, and death records, quickly followed by records related to the census, immigration and naturalization, or the military. But sometimes fantastic genealogical information hides in the most unusual places…here are some of my favorite unusual resources:

Bank records - Ancestry.com has an interesting collection of immigrant bank records. Sometimes immigrants would open an account at a bank specifically for the amount of money needed for relatives to immigrate to this country. These can serve as an alternate resource for finding immigration records. They also may provide clues to the name or address of other relatives.

Fraternal organizations – Many immigrants belonged to fraternal organizations, and some of these provided things like insurance policies – which, if available, are an alternate source for death records. I found my great-grandfather’s life insurance policy through the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) on the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s (PGSA) website. Recently I noticed that Ancestry has a similar collection of enrollment and death benefit records for Pennsylvania chapters of the Order of the Sons of Italy.

Employment records – I haven’t yet found any of my ancestors’ employment records, but I know that they exist for many companies. Sometimes these records can be found in special collections at libraries. If you’re not sure exactly where your ancestor worked, try getting a copy of their SS-5 application for Social Security, and for male ancestors try their draft registration cards.

Funeral home records – Sometimes funeral home records can provide additional information about family members that aren’t found on a death certificate. Obviously the type of information that was requested – and kept on file – varies with the funeral home. Some are available online (Ancestry has been posting more of these collections lately), but most probably reside with the funeral home itself if it’s still in existence.

Other unusual records I’ve used include consular records, coroner’s reports, police records, ethnic press newspapers, and church jubilee books. Each of these has the potential to provide some small nugget of useful information about your relatives. The key, of course, is actually finding where these unusual resources are hidden.

“Unusual” doesn’t have to just apply to the type of record or resource, but it can also describe the “out of the box” thinking that helps a researcher find information and solve research problems. Genealogist Steve Danko applies the scientific method to his research. I’ve found inspiration from a television show and use the Castle “murder board” approach. My “Pointer Sister” Caroline Pointer often takes a techno-approach to problem solving. If your usual method of problem-solving doesn’t work, try a method that is unusual to you!

Here’s to all the unusual means, methods, and records that help us find all the usual information we seek for our ancestors! What records have you used that would be described as “unusual”?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet challenge]

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