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Archive for January, 2008

The 41st Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why? Since I have four grandparents, it’s only fair to invite one ancestor from each “side”. It would be nice to see all of my grandparents again, but since I had the opportunity to know them all to some degree, I wanted to choose other ancestors. The setting will be at my house, and my boyfriend will be in the kitchen making the meal. He’s a fantastic cook and he’d probably rather hide in the kitchen than meet any more of my relatives. He always makes a wonderful menu, and for this occasion we’d have foods from various nationalities to make everyone feel at home, including a pork dish for the Germans and pierogi for the Poles. But, he’ll also throw in some Italian food to liven things up. There will definitely be wine…several bottles of it! And most importantly, a camera! Although I can only invite four deceased ancestors, the carnival rules didn’t say anything about other living relatives allowed to attend, so I’m sure that my parents, aunt, brother, and other relatives might want to meet these particular guests of honor.

At the head of the table will be my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny (1879-1944). He was the first person I thought of without question simply because there are so many mysteries surrounding this family. Even though we all love a good mystery, it’s about time we learned the truth! As we pass the food around the table, the first question posed to Joe is: Are you really Joseph Zawodny? The short version of this particular legend is that after my great-grandfather’s death a man came to the house claiming to be the “real” Joseph Zawodny. The stranger said, “He used my name to get into the country – he’s really Joseph Mueller.” I’d dismiss the story outright if my mother wasn’t there. Though still a child, she was old enough to remember the event. I’ve found records that appear to prove he was exactly who he said he was, but…what if he was someone else? There are some other interesting questions for Joe while we have the time. Did your wife’s parents really disown her for marrying you? Why? What exactly happened that caused her to be committed to a hospital as a schizophrenic? And what happened to your brother Stefan who seems to disappear shortly after his arrival in the US?

I could pester Joe with questions all night about his family and where he came from in Poland. But let’s not ignore our other guests around the table! From my Piontkowski side, I chose the “Mrs”, Rose Piontkowski (1866-1937). Rose is my great-grandmother, but I have no photos of her and I know practically nothing about her. Because of his, she seemed like an interesting candidate to attend our dinner party. I’m intrigued by her for several reasons. Her maiden name, which I’ve yet to verify through a birth or marriage record, appears to be some variation of Kiesewetter or Kisoweter. She was born in Warsaw, but the surname sounds German, not Polish. So, tell me about yourself, Rose! Was Grandpop a “surprise” to you and John back in 1910 when you were both in your 40s? Where did your daughter disappear to and whom did she marry?

Next around the table is one of my other great-grandmothers, Elizabeth Pater (1891-1972), who was born Elżbieta Müller (or Miller). I actually met her! But, she died when I was five so I have no memory of her. I want to meet her because my mother says I have her eyes…and because I can’t figure out what town she was actually born in even though some records say she was born in Żyrardów. So, Liz, was your family really from Bohemia originally? Why did they go to Poland? You were in the US for less than a year when you married Louis, who had been here for three years…what’s up with that, Liz? You were both from the same town – did you promise to marry as young teenagers? Did you have any other siblings here besides your brother Emil? When he went back to Poland in 1910 with your nieces, what became of them? Tell me about your mother-in-law since you’re my only great-grandmother who didn’t have an ocean between the two of you!

My Bergmeister-Echerer ancestors from Bavaria are the only ones not yet represented. As much as I’d love to meet one of my great-grandparents, I decided to reach farther back. Way back…I’ve researched back to the 1600s with the Echerer family and they are still located in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm as shoemakers. But for this event I’ve chosen my 4th great-grandfather, Karl Nigg (also Karl Nick, 1767-1844), whose daughter married one of those Echerer shoemakers in 1844 just months before his own death. Karl was the stadtzimmermeister (Town Master Carpenter) of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm around 1800, roughly two hundred years ago. He was also the son of the stadtmaurermeister, or Town Master Mason, Phillip Nigg (or Phillip Nick). I’m fascinated by what life was like in the town back then. So, Karl, how’s work as a carpenter? Tell me what happened when Napoleon’s troops came around near Pfaffenhofen. When Napoleon declared that all monasteries had to be “secularized”, you went to Scheyern Abbey to literally measure the church to determine its worth for the state – was that problematic for you, or was it simply part of your job? Why did you decide to become a carpenter like your father-in-law instead of a mason like your father and grandfather? What was it like having eleven children? I think Karl would be fascinated by the 21st century, even more so than the other guests who were born in the late 1800s. There would be a language barrier since he probably spoke only German, but we have a translator already present – Joe Zawodny spoke German!

All in all, I think there would be some VERY interesting conversation around the table! But, you know how family gatherings go…Isn’t it always the same with these family dinners? After a couple of hours I’d have a hard time keeping Joe away from the wine, keeping Rose out of the kitchen where she’d show the cook how gołąbki should really be made, keeping Liz away from my boyfriend, and keeping Karl from demolishing and re-building my poorly-constructed house. Okay, folks, it’s time for you to go home!

[Submitted for the 41st Carnival of Genealogy: Dinner with 4 Ancestors]

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Here are some posts from genealogy blogs that I really enjoyed this week.  If you missed any, be sure to visit these sites!

At CreativeGene, there are a series of three posts responding to Lisa’s challenge to write about your ancestors in 1908.  Jasia took the challenge a bit further than the rest of us by providing a great summary of the historical and cultural settings of the areas that were her ancestors’ homes in 1908.  Travel back in time and see a snapshot of Detroit, the Galician Partition of Poland, and the Russian Partition of Poland.  Each post has some great photos – and even videos – that help you imagine life in those areas one hundred years ago. [1/25/08, 1/26/08, 1/27/08]

Craig at GeneaBlogie reviews a genealogy-related book, One Drop by Bliss Broyard.  The book recounts the author’s search for her father’s black roots, which were kept hidden from the family.  Craig writes “One Drop is everything a genealogical narrative ought to be–historical, cultural and personal … In short, every genealogist will find something of interest here.”  Thanks, Craig, for another good book to add to my lengthy reading list! [1/26/08] 

DearMYRTLE writes about “giving it your all” with regard to your genealogical research.  She tells us how to “get real” about our research and offers some pointers on how to do just that. [1/26/08]

FamHist makes my list for the second week in a row with a post entitled “Genealogy – Get Them Interested Young”.  Lee has some great suggestions on getting children interested in their own genealogy based on a genealogy “Merit Badge” offered by the Boy Scouts.  I hope to try a few of these out on my nieces and nephews.  [1/24/08] 

Chris started a new “irregular” feature at the Genealogue this week called “Genealogy Hack” which offers tips to solve specific problems.  His tip on saving Ellis Island images of passenger lists will be handy now that the “function is disabled” on the site!  [1/22/08]

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One of my goals this year is to get organized, which includes all of my genealogical files as well as the rest of my house and my life in general. As any genealogist can tell you, especially one who hasn’t filed their “finds” in a while, this can be quite a time-consuming undertaking. Anything researchers find that can make your life easier later is worthy of sharing with others. So, Donna’s Organizational Tip of the Day — use extract forms to record information! Most of us have seen various free extract forms for census records, but what about ship’s passenger lists? You could create your own, but someone named Lisa Perkins has already done the work. An Italian genealogy site has a wonderful collection of Manifest Extract Forms that are freely available in both PDF or html format.

What are they? Extract forms are used to record information “extracted” from record sources. Because the information recorded on passenger lists varied over time, four different forms are listed for four time periods: 1893-1906, 1907-1918, 1919-1925, and post-1925. While there are no forms for lists prior to 1893, you can easily create your own. Before 1893, however, there is far less “personal” information included on each passenger. Depending on the year of arrival, you can gain a wealth of information about your ancestor, including their place of birth. Also interesting are the questions about their appearance such as height, hair color, and eye color. If you don’t have a photograph of an ancestor, at least this can help you imagine their basic appearance.

Why are they useful? Forms such as these are useful for several reasons. First, they can help you get your information organized so you don’t have to search through various papers or images to find what you are looking for. In fact, you don’t even have to print out a copy of the actual list unless you need it for another reason, such as illustrating your family history book. Using the extract forms instead of saving the actual files can save you “filing cabinet” space, whether you file papers or file images on your hard drive. The forms are also useful in noticing facts that may have been overlooked in your initial “find” such as that interesting column entitled: Ever been in the US before? When and where? Because of the hard-to-decipher handwriting on some lists, and the jumble of names thrown together, this can easily be overlooked.

Check out the Manifest Extract Forms site, download the forms, and get your information organized!

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Joseph Zawodny, c.1914

Joseph Zawodny, c.1914

This photo of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, is one of two that I am fortunate enough to own. It’s a nice portrait, though slightly damaged – the top of his head missing was not the fault of my talent (or lack thereof) at cropping photos. But what intrigues me the most is what I don’t know – what’s the lapel pin or medal he’s wearing? I’ve tried to enlarge it, but the original photo is not high quality and attempts at enlarging just the pin haven’t made that area any clearer as you can see below. So now I’m calling on all armchair photograph detectives for help – can you solve the mystery?

Here are some facts for background information:

Subject: Joseph (Józef) Zawodny

Date: approximately 1914, based on a notation on the back of the photograph, “age 35″.

Place of Photograph: taken at “J. Peel” studios in Philadelphia. The photographer had two locations listed, but based on where the Zawodny family lived it was probably taken at the studio at 3060 Richmond Street.

Joseph was born in 1879 in Poland in a small town near Dobrosołowo, Konin. He married Waclawa Ślesinska on 28 January 1902 and left Poland two months later, arriving in New York in April, 1902. His wife would follow in 1903, and they settled in Philadelphia to raise a family. Although he was rumored to have served in the military (whether it be the German, Prussian, Russian, or Polish army), I have not found evidence of this in the marriage record. He was only 23 years old when he left Poland. However, could this be a military insignia from one of those armies? He did not serve in the US military, at least not that I have found so far. Another legend puts him in the Merchant Marines, but my grandmother was a good story-teller and enjoyed flash over fact so I’ve put little faith in that one.What is this?

Could the medal be related to some sort of Polish fraternal society?

Joseph was active in his parish, St. Adalbert’s in Philadelphia. He also had an insurance policy with the PRCUA, the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1927 and died in 1944.

If anyone has any ideas on the mystery insignia, please leave a comment!

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Here are some posts from genealogy blogs that I really enjoyed this week.  If you missed any of these posts, be sure to check these out!

From FamHist, Fifty Questions for Family History Interviews provided some great examples of questions we should ask our relatives.  I wish I had asked my grandparents these questions.  And I’m sure my nieces and nephews would love to one day read my parents’ answers when they’re no longer here to tell their stories in person.  While it’s not exactly the Proust Questionnaire, they will certainly get your relatives talking about their own history! [1/17/08]

From Genea-Musings, read Online Research Strategy for Russell Smith. We all have an ancestor like Russell Smith that’s still avoiding being found, and Randy offers a very systematic and methodical approach to using some of the best online sources.  I’ve used most of these myself, but without writing it down in this way who knows what I missed?  Try these thirty-six-plus resources the next time you search for ancestors online.  [1/15/08]

100 Years in America posted Snapshots of the World Back in 1908.  Lisa posed the challenge to other bloggers: Where was your family in 1908?  Twenty-one bloggers responded and wrote about their families and the world in which they lived one hundred years ago.  Read this round-up for links to some intriguing posts.  [1/13/08]

At Tracing the Tribe, Schelly writes about Helene Berr: France’s Anne Frank.  Helene Berr wrote a journal describing life as a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Paris.  She died in Bergen-Belsen in 1945, and her account speaks of both the horrors and the hopes of the time.  I’m looking forward to the English translation – thanks to Schelly for alerting us all to this worthy read. [1/14/08]

And now for something completely different… The Genealogue has returned!  Chris gives us the Top Ten Worst Ways to Begin a Family History.  Don’t try this at home, kids, but do take the time to read this hilarious parody. [1/16/08]

This concludes this week’s edition of “Donna’s Picks” – I hope you’ll like them too.

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Jasia at Creative Gene has posted the 40th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. This edition’s topic was living-relative connections. Twenty-two bloggers participated, including yours truly for the very first time. I’m sorry I missed the previous 39 editions because it was so much fun. I’m always amazed that no two posts are alike despite the same topic. Read all about it here.

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival is: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why? Interesting! I’m already thinking about who I’d invite… If you’d like to participate, submit your blog article with the carnival submission form. The deadline is February 1st. Visit the carnival index page to see all of the past editions.

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In a post earlier this month, Lisa at 100 Years in America posed an interesting New Year challenge to other genea-bloggers: Where was your family in 1908? Several bloggers answered the challenge, including myself. Before I could list a round-up here, Lisa did it herself in this post entitled “Snapshots of the World Back in 1908”.

Why, it was almost like an interim carnival of genealogy! The many answers to that one question offered a fascinating glimpse, or a snapshot to steal Lisa’s description, into our ancestors’ lives one hundred years ago. Which caused me to wonder – just how far back do we all go? Do we know where our ancestors were two hundred years ago? So, now I pose this challenge to myself and anyone else who wants to answer the call: Where was your family in 1808?

In 1808, none of my ancestors were in the United States, which was only 32 years old! My own ancestors come from Poland and Germany, but they didn’t arrive in the US until the early 20th Century… Just to put things into an historical perspective, neither country actually existed as a country back in 1808! For that matter, Poland didn’t really exist in 1908 either. As a country, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years beginning in 1795 and ending with the First World War. The area was divided through various “partitions” among Poland’s powerful neighbors: Russia, Austria, and Prussia (Germany). My family comes from the areas that belonged to both Prussia and Russia. Unfortunately, I don’t know specifics about my Polish ancestors in 1808 – not because I’ve hit a “brick wall” in my research, but I just haven’t had the time to research beyond the 1820s-1850s. The films are available for quite a few years beyond that, so I hope to go back further when I take a research trip to Salt Lake City later this year. One important note about Poland in 1808: Prussia ceded some territory after being defeated by Napoleon, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was formed in 1807. It would only last until 1815, but there were roughly 2.4 million inhabitants who could call themselves part of a mostly independent Polish state. But more importantly for genealogists, the Napoleonic Code was introduced in 1808 which mandated civil registration! Many of the records available today begin in the year 1808.

In 1808, Germany was a collection of duchies and independent states; the nation as we know it today was not unified until 1871. This is one of the reasons that I usually refer to my ancestors as “Bavarian” in lieu of “German”. In 1808, I know a lot about my Bavarian ancestors and the towns in which they lived. To set the stage, I’d like to give a little bit of the area’s history. Around 1799-1800, Bavaria was occupied by both the French and the Austrians as loyalties and friends and enemies were shuffled. In 1801, an edict of religious tolerance was declared – the area remains predominantly Catholic, but all faiths were welcome to live there. In 1802, a law was passed for mandatory elementary education. In 1806, Bavaria joined the Confederation of the Rhine under Napoleon (he sure got around, didn’t he?), and Bavaria became the Kingdom of Bavaria under the leadership of King Maximilian I. Bavaria was a unified state that abolished many of the privileges of the nobility and the clergy, and in 1808 they adopted a constitution that was fairly ahead of its time with regard to an individual’s rights. The population of Bavaria in 1808 was about 3.2 million.

My Bergmeister family was not yet in the “big” town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, and they lived in a rather small town nearby called Puch in “house #17”. My fourth great-grandparents were Joseph Bergmeister (1763-1840) and Kreszens Zinsmeister (1777-1852). What I find amazing is their life-spans – he lived until the age of 77 and she lived until 75, which far exceeded their later descendents who lived in more modern times. Joseph was a miller like his father before him and his sons after. The couple married in the year 1800 and would go on to have twelve children from 1800-1816. At least two children, probably more, died as infants. My third great-grandfather was their son Jakob Bergmeister, who was born on 20 March 1805. In 1808, he was only three years old and his parents were probably very happy – for if a child lived until that age, they would most likely reach adulthood. Jakob’s future wife, Anna Maria Daniel, would not be born until 1812. Jakob would live until the year 1870 and the couple would have fifteen children in nineteen years. Anna Maria was 24 when she started having babies and 43 when she stopped…no wonder she died at the age of 59!

Pfaffenhofen in 1830

My great-grandmother’s side of the family lived in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, which was considered a large “market town” even then. In 1808, it was officially formed as a “municipality”, but since the town existed since the 1300’s I haven’t quite figured out what that designation means. According to a book about the town, in 1811 (close enough), the town had 1,585 Catholics and 1 Lutheran (there would eventually be more since a Lutheran church would later be built). Living in “house #55, which later becomes the address of Löwenstraße, was the Echerer family. My fourth great-grandfather Ignaz Echerer (1765-?) was a fourth generation shoemaker married to Maria Kaillinger (1768-?), a glassmaker’s daughter. Of their eight children, my third great-grandfather was Ignaz who was born on 21 December 1803. He’ll become a fifth generation shoemaker and live until the age of 71. There were apparently nine shoemakers in Pfaffenhofen shortly before 1808, and based on what I’ve seen in the church records every one was probably an Echerer brother or cousin.

Ignaz’s future wife, Magdalena Nigg, was born on 17 May 1807 to Karl Nigg (1767-1844) and Maria Theresia Höck (1769-post 1814). Karl held a very important position in Pfaffenhofen as the Stadtzimmermeister or the Town Master Carpenter.  His father was the Stadtmaurermeister, or the Town Master Mason, and his father-in-law was a zimmermeister or Master Carpenter. Karl and Maria would have eleven children from 1795-1814.

That’s just a small look into the lives of a few of my ancestors two hundred years ago. We can’t tell much from a collection of names and dates, but with the help of some history books we are able to imagine what life might have been like. Where was your family in 1808?

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I come from a rather small family, and I didn’t even know my own first cousins until about six years ago. Once they reached adulthood, my parents kept in touch with very few of their own cousins, but they did remember a lot of names. Because our surnames are not too common, I was able to use their memories to seek out my second cousins over the years, both by email and regular mail. In every case, I offer to share my research and I beg for copies of any photos they have. Results have been mixed. Most folks are friendly, but they aren’t really interested in the genealogy details. And as for photos, no luck yet except for copies of photos already in my possession.

At the farthest extreme, one second cousin insisted that I was wrong about some facts and stopped all contact. At the opposite end of the spectrum, another became a good friend and gave me one our great-grandfather’s Bavarian beer steins for Christmas (to date, one of my bests Christmas presents ever).

One of the best connections I’ve made was more distant, both in degree and location, when I connected with my 3rd and 4th Bergmeister cousins in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.

C. Bergmeister bldg

On my first visit to Pfaffenhofen in 1998, I was awestruck to find a building in the hauptplatz with the name “C. Bergmeister” on it. It’s a bakery! My great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister was a baker! But wait…who was “C”? At that point in my research, I didn’t know. Attempts to communicate in the bakery were disastrous; my German is pitiful and their English-speaking associates must have been off that day.

After more research at home, I learned that C. Bergmeister was Castulus Bergmeister (1845-1912), son of Jakob Bergmeister (1805-1870). I descend from Jakob also, but from his son Joseph (1843-c.1885), which would make Castulus the uncle of my great-grandfather, Joseph (1873-1927), son of Joseph. Since Joseph (Jr) was married in Pfaffenhofen, worked as a baker, and his uncle owned a bakery there, chances are he worked for family – a family still running the bakery 108 years after he left Germany for the US.

Through the internet and some German-speaking friends, I contacted the bakery owners, and their son Hans replied in English. We exchanged emails occasionally, but when I knew I’d be “in the neighborhood” on a trip to Europe in 2006, I asked if I could visit. The next thing I knew, Bavarian hospitality was in full swing. No, we won’t recommend a hotel because you’re staying with us. No, we won’t give you directions, because we’re picking you up at the airport. Even though they weren’t even sure how I was related, they opened their homes and hearts to me. And as to how we would communicate, well, we’d figure that out when I arrive…

With some nervous trepidation on both sides, we finally met. Before dinner on my first evening there, I brought out my pedigree chart. Moments later, their chart was produced. Heads leaned over the dining table as we scrutinized each other’s data, and we simultaneously pointed to the common ancestor, Jakob. “We never knew any Bergmeister’s went to the US!” We both gained information – my research ended two generations back from Jakob with his grandfather Paul, who was born approximately in 1724 and died in 1784. Hans went back one generation more than I did! His chart named Paul’s father as Martin Bergmeister (1689-1752). This was a surprise since I thought my research in the Bergmeister’s original home village of Puch ended when the old records did.

By week’s end, my cousins’ English became far better than my German will ever be. I had many great experiences: dining with the extended family, visiting the cemetery and church, and spending an afternoon searching through boxes and boxes of unmarked photos in hopes of seeing a familiar face. It was the kind of genealogical magic I only dreamed of when I started out on this journey.

I didn’t want to show photos of my cousins without their permission, but you can see live images of the main square (hauptplatz) with Pfaffenhofen’s webcam, or you can take a virtual visit of the Bergmeister Bäckerei — serving the best pretzels in Bavaria since 1868!

[Submitted for the 40th Carnival of Genealogy: Living Relative Connections]

 

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Since the start of my research nearly twenty years ago, my most elusive ancestor has been the one whose last name I share, John Piontkowski. (That’s a whole other post as to why our last names are spelled differently!)

Back in the “pre-online” days of genealogy, one of my earliest finds was the passenger arrival record for John’s wife, Rose. She arrived in New York on the S.S. Armenia in November 1906 and was accompanied by her son Józef, age 3, and daughter Janina, age 10 months. The record indicates that they are going to their husband and father John (Jan in Polish) in Philadelphia. Because the age of Janina is so specific, I concluded that John had to arrive in the US post-conception, or approximately between May 1905 and November 1906. Of course, this assumes he is her father, but I felt that this was a reasonable assumption!

Although several men named Jan Piontkowski (and its variations) fit this timeframe, I could never prove that any were him. I was not aware of any other family members, or any other possible destinations in the US, so it was impossible to verify. Over the years I searched on many name variations as well as other ports. Even Steve Morse’s site couldn’t help me (though it did help on many other occasions)!

I could have saved myself some aggravation if I knew that he was naturalized. I’m sure I checked the indices at some point (note to beginners: keep a record of both successful searches as well as failures) because I always run through multiple family names. But somehow I missed it. Was it indexed incorrectly? The most embarrassing fact is that on the 1930 Census, it clearly says that John is naturalized. But even the census can be wrong, right?

Piontkowski signature

Then I wiled away some internet time searching on Footnote.com. On such sites, I usually find nothing, no evidence of my family’s existence. So imagine my surprise when I see a Declaration of Intention for John Piontkowski in Philadelphia! Doubtful, yet excited, I ordered it, and sure enough it appeared to be my great-grandfather. Clues in his favor were the right occupation (leather worker), birthplace (Warsaw), age (born 1871), and wife’s name (“Rosie”). I remained slightly skeptical until I saw the Petition for Naturalization, which confirmed his identity because it includes the children’s names and birthdates. I had trouble finding the petition itself because John decided to suddenly include his middle name, Bolesław, which I never knew he had. I also got a full birth date for his wife, who was five years older than her husband – a fact which gets “covered up” on various censuses.

Naturally (no pun intended), I also got John’s arrival information – the S.S. Pennsylvania, arriving in NY on 04 March 1906. I had to see the record for myself…what did I find? A non-descript entry for Johann Piatkowsky, going with a friend to “Port Chester, NY” to another friend. Basically, someone I would have assumed to be him. I may have found the name, but without some designation – even just Philadelphia as a destination – I probably would have passed this by.

One important note: When dealing with Polish names, “normal” indexing can be flawed. Anyone knowledgeable about Polish surnames knows that a variation of Piontkowski is Piątkowski, with the “ą” character sounding similar to the “on” sound. While soundexing would take several variations into account, a Piatkowski simply will not show up when searching for Piontkowski because of the missing consonant. Be vigilant!

The moral to the story is to search, research, and search again. While I’ll usually post about how to accurately perform research, in this case please don’t do what I did – if the census says someone is naturalized, it’s worth a look!

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Name days, which are the church’s feast day of the saint that bears one’s name, have long been considered important in many Catholic cultures. Even today in Poland, a person’s name day, called imieniny, is celebrated in lieu of or in addition to a birthday. But in the past, the name day and the birthday were the same day, because Catholic Polish tradition held that you actually named the child after the saint who held the feast on the day the child was born or baptized! Sometimes the saint’s name was used if the feast was within a few days of the child’s birth and not the same day.

My family isn’t one for tradition, but I was quite surprised when I noticed this naming trend with some of my Polish families. Józef PATER ( 1864-1945 ) and Antonina PLUTA ( 1863-1938 ) had seven children. I don’t have birth dates for the two oldest, but the others proved the “name day” theory.

Child’s Name

Day of Birth

Saint’s Feast Day

Ewa

24 Dec

22 Dec

Wacław

28 Sep

28 Sep

Ludwik

24 Aug

25 Aug

Stefan

02 Sep

02 Sep

Wiktoria

16 Dec

23 Dec

Since the family obviously took this tradition to heart, I probably could easily find the birth records for the two oldest girls without much effort – I’d simply check the dates near the feast days of Sts. Regina and Franciszka. What’s interesting to note is that all of the family members were born in Poland, and the tradition did not continue with their own children as far as I can tell. Of the children, I only have detailed descendant information on my great-grandfather, Ludwik. Despite the fact that his wife, Elżbieta MILLER (1891-1972) has a birthday on St. Elżbieta’s feast in the same way that he owes his name to his birthday, they did not carry this tradition on with their own five children.

I was curious if this was simply a quirk of this one family or not, so I checked a different side of my family tree, the ZAWODNY family. Interestingly, I found the same thing with few exceptions. Józef ZAWODNY (1880-1944) birthday was on St. Józef’s feast. His wife, Wacława ŚLESINSKI (1885-1956), does not share the feast of her patron saint, but four of her seven siblings do. Of the couple’s own six children, all born in the US from 1904 through 1916, four out of six match. I may not have the most up-to-date version of the Church’s liturgical calendar as it existed during that time period either. From what I can tell, these children didn’t follow the Polish tradition with their offspring either.

Does this hold true for every Catholic Polish family? No, of course not. But, if you see it with one or more children, then chances are it isn’t just “chance” and it can provide a clue as to other birth dates in the family. For a listing of names and a chronological listing of feasts, see the Poland Gen Web’s list of common Polish first names. Also, if you really want to know everything there is to know about Polish first names, I highly recommend First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings by William “Fred” Hoffman and George W. Helon.

Why did Poles follow this tradition? Was it an expression of their Catholic faith, or just a cultural tradition? I can’t answer that for my own family, but I’d like to think it was a little of both. But just imagine if that tradition were revived in the US today! Consider the possibilities – wouldn’t this save expecting parents from one more thing to worry about? There’s no use arguing over baby names, whether or not to use a name from his side or her side, the name of a deceased relative, or the latest celebrity fad-name. Just wait until the child arrives, look at a church calendar, and there you go – the decision is made for you! There is some risk, of course. Just two days separate your chances of being either Adam or Zenon. Or Zofia and Wacława. But I think it’s a charming glimpse into our ancestors’ lives. Today, feast days and name days are still celebrated of course. My nephew’s name day is December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, even though his birthday is in June. But if we lived one hundred years ago in Poland (or had Polish parents here in the US), his name would be Paul!

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The idea for a second post came easily enough after reading Lisa’s recent post at 100 Years in America. Inspired after reading a Smithsonian magazine article on the year 1908, she writes about what her ancestors were doing in that year and challenges others to do the same. What a great idea, and a nice way to get my feet wet with this blog. Plus, in order to write about it I’m actually forced to organize my research (or rather, a mess of paper) to answer the question! [Photo of St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, where my Bergmeister family worshiped.] St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia

For my Bergmeister family, 1908 was probably a very busy year since the household consisted of four children under the age of ten. My grandmother was not among them though – she would not be born for another five years! Thirty-five year-old Joseph had been in the US for ten years by this time, and wife Maria and daughter Maria for eight. By 1908, he was working as a baker in Philadelphia. How different that was from working as a baker in his native Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is anyone’s guess. Although his father was deceased and his mother was far away in Germany, Joseph wasn’t far from his immediate family because his sister Hillarie emigrated to Philadelphia first. Besides Hillarie, brother Ignatz was living in New Jersey, and half-brother Julius Goetz had just arrived in Philadelphia.

With the Piontkowski’s, my grandfather was a couple of years away from birth, and since his parents John and Rose were in their late 30s he probably wasn’t even a thought for the future. They had their hands full with a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, both of whom were born in Poland. John and Rose were probably still getting used to America because they had only arrived 2-3 years earlier. It was probably quite a challenge to learn a new language, but I’m sure that Philadelphia was as bustling as their old home town, Warsaw, Poland.

The Zawodny family had been in the US for about six years. Their family was growing and would eventually include six children. But in 1908, my great-grandparents Joseph and Wacława had three young girls at home – all under the age of four. This includes my grandmother Marianna, who was only born the previous August. Even though she was an infant, I’d like to think she was already bossing her big sisters around. Marianna Zawodna is my only grandparent that was alive in the year 1908.

The Pater family was just getting settled in the US. Joseph and Antonina arrived with their six children in various stages from 1905 through 1907. Their son Ludwig, or Louis, is one of my youngest great-grandparents and was only 15 years old that year. He was already hard at work in one of the textile mills in Philadelphia, not far removed from the family’s recent past in the textile town of Żyrardów, Poland. He may have even been awaiting the arrival of his future wife, Elżbieta Miller, since she came from the same town. Since the facts show that he arrived as a young teenager in 1907, she arrived in 1909, and they were married in 1910, it’s plausible that they already knew each other. But in 1908, 17-year-old Elżbieta was still living in Żyrardów with her parents. Her brother Emil, however, was already in Philadelphia for three years, and one can only wonder if they exchanged letters across the Atlantic.

One hundred years…a lot can happen in a century. The world has certainly changed a great deal in that time. And in just that short amount of time, four immigrant families came to a new world, had children of their own, worked, laughed, cried, lived, and died. Their legacies include hundreds of descendants, and I count myself lucky to be among them.

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Welcome

Hello, my name is Donna Pointkouski and welcome to my new genealogy blog, “What’s Past is Prologue”. I have been involved in researching my family’s history since 1989. When I started, I knew nothing at all about my eight immigrant great-grandparents except their names and a rather vague idea of what countries they came from.

It’s been a good journey! I’ve learned a lot about some of my great-grandparents and have traced their ancestry back centuries. Some of the others are still almost as much a mystery as when I started my research. But that’s the beauty of genealogy…once you start, it’s always with you. There is always some mystery to solve, some person to find, some route to pursue. And, if you’ve traced back every single line of your own roots, there are similar questions about your friends’ families!

Since learning how to research I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in some different aspects of genealogy, including being a province host for two provinces on Poland Gen Web and teaching non-credit genealogy classes at a Philadelphia university. Both of these projects involve my friend Marie, and the two of us began our respective research together after years of wondering exactly how to do it. My latest genealogical “expansion” is writing articles for genealogy magazines such as Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy (and a soon-to-be-announced new genealogy magazine for beginners!).

My intent of this blog is to share my family research as well as stories, techniques, and tips. I hope to accomplish quite a few things with this blog, including:

-find more cousins, including some that might have an interest in genealogy, and share our family information

-find others researching the towns or areas where my ancestors lived

-share (hopefully) useful information regarding how to research

-join the great community of genea-bloggers for fellowship, to learn from them, and to share our passion for genealogy in cyberspace

-develop my writing so that I can continue writing magazine articles on genealogy as well as other topics

-organize my research, which will become a necessity if I hope to blog about it on a regular basis!

Thanks for stopping by! Do drop in from time to time if you have an interest in genealogy. If you like something you see here, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email!

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