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Archive for May, 2008

After months of being cold in Philadelphia, I relish the mere thought of summer. I’ve always loved the beach. I don’t remember many trips there as a child, but there were a few. Fortunately the beach is an easy drive away — in Philly-speak, it’s called “goin’ down the shore”. As a teenager, that meant trips to Wildwood, which recently gained bragging rights as “New Jersey’s Best Beach”. Then I discovered palm trees, which sadly are not native to New Jersey and don’t like our winter climate well enough to grow here. I fell in love with some marvelous beaches with palm trees as I had opportunities to travel, including Bellows Air Force Station in Hawaii and Luquillo, Puerto Rico. I can’t wait to see some Croatian Beaches this summer, and my new favorite closer to home is Island Beach State Park. I wonder if my love of beaches is genetic? I’m not brave enough to post my own bathing suit photos for all to see, but here are a few family photos to show that I may have inherited the beach lover’s gene!

Grandmom 1936

This bathing beauty is my grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski. It was taken in 1936. Although my grandparents enjoyed visits to Wildwood, NJ, in their later years, this was likely taken in either Atlantic City or Cape May (where her brother had a house).

Grandpop 1936

Here is the companion shot of her husband, James Pointkouski. The photo is in need of some repair to remove some purple markings, but check out this fashion statement! One-piece bathing suits for men? [Well, technically men do wear one piece bathing suits, but I meant similar to a woman's one-piece that includes a top and bottom covering!] Who knew? And aren’t we all glad this is one fashion that hasn’t come back again?

Dad

This little cutie is their son, my father. It was taken in 1937 when he was about three years old. Based on the Boardwalk in the background, this was taken in Atlantic City (pre-casinos!). Nice shades, Dad!

Pointkouski Family

Finally, here’s the whole family seated under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City in 1937. I see by now Grandpop has given up the “onesie” bathing suit, but it looks like my dad has one on…maybe that’s why he’s crying.

Okay, I’m ready – I can hear the seagulls calling me! Let’s load up that car with beach blankets and cold drinks, and call in sick to work…it’s time to head down the shore!

[This post was written for the 49th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Swimsuit Edition.]

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Your ancestors were from the Big City! Or were they? I recommend using caution when it comes to researching “big city” ancestors… That’s not because it’s harder to find ancestors in big cities – in fact, sometimes it’s much easier than finding them in small towns. But researchers should use caution because sometimes the information your ancestor gave on “official” records may not be entirely accurate after all.

Well, almost from there…

Years ago my brother joined the Marines and went to boot camp. Most young adults away from home for the first time feel a combination of joy and excitement mixed with a fair amount of homesickness, and strong young men joining the Marines are no exception. To combat the homesickness, many would try to seek out others “like” them; that is, people from their hometown. On day, my brother heard, “Hey, Ski, there’s a guy in Company C from Philly, too!” When he got a free moment, he sought the guy out – “Hey, I’m from Philly – what neighborhood are you from?” The guy sheepishly replied, “Uh, I’m actually from Reading.” Reading is a town in Pennsylvania about 50 miles outside of Philadelphia. My brother must have looked confused, because the young man added some clarification, “Nobody outside of the Delaware Valley ever heard of Reading, but if I say Philly they know where I’m from!”

My brother’s tale this serves as a modern example of something our ancestors occasionally did – not quite tell the truth about their birthplace. If you’re not careful, such “white lies” can lead you down the wrong road of research.

Close enough

WarsawMy great-grandfather, Louis Pater, duly noted his birthplace as “Warsaw” on his draft registration for World War I and also World War II. Genealogists looking for the magic answer might immediately act on that vital piece of information. But careful genealogists know that it’s better to verify that fact and weigh it against all possible record sources before zoning in on the one town. You see, Louis was a lot like the young Marine from Reading – not many Americans ever heard of Żyrardów, but nearly everyone has heard of that other town nearby…Warsaw.

Weighing the evidence

Would other record sources for Louis, his siblings, and his parents match up to Louis’ draft cards? Yes and no. Some records also listed Warsaw, including his mother’s and sisters’ passenger arrival records. Other records, like his marriage and death certificates, only listed “Poland” or “Russia” as the birthplace. But the majority of other sources did list Żyrardów – most notably his passenger arrival record and naturalization papers. In fact, for immigrants, the information on the naturalizations usually holds more weight than most other documents (except, of course, for an official birth or baptismal record).

My German great-grandfather similarly named Munich, or München, as his place of origin on his passenger arrival record, as did his wife. Most of his other records, such as the draft registration or death record, listed “Germany”. When I did finally find a town name, there were at least a dozen towns with the same name to choose from. But, only one was near Munich, and that proved to be the correct one. Why did he list Munich on his passenger list? Either because he actually was living in the city prior to his departure, or because it was the closest big city to his small hometown and therefore easier to identify to a stranger. Sometimes, that big city they name may be pointing you in the right direction for further research.

Bottom Line

Does that mean you shouldn’t trust the word of ancestors from big cities? Of course not. But it does mean you have to be more careful. No matter if your ancestors emigrated from Europe or moved around a lot in the US, it definitely pays to collect all possible evidence before making a decision. And sometimes, what you read is true – one of my great-grandfathers really is from Warsaw!

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Today I decided to try my luck with FamilySearch Labs latest offering, Philadelphia City Death Certificates 1803-1915.  There isn’t much available online for Philadelphia, especially post-1900 when my families were living here, so I was pleased I’d at least have a few years worth of records to search.  I entered in the usual surnames, and I quickly found death certificates for siblings of both of my grandmothers.

In the Bergmeister family, there were five children.  The first four were all born within 2-4 years of each other, but the gap between my grandmother, Margaret, and her next oldest brother, Julius, was 6 years.  I found death records for two children born in between Julius in 1907 and Margaret in 1913.  The first was a boy, Charles, who lived for 15 hours on 17 July 1909 and was listed as a premature birth.  A sister, Laura, was also born premature on 05 November 1911 and died the same day.

The Zawodny family had six children, and again there is about 2 years between each child until a 5 year gap between my grandmother’s siblings Kazimierz (known as Charley) in 1911 and Zofia (known as Dorothy) in 1916.  My grandmother used to say that she had two brothers who died as infants, and I confirmed that with the records.  Bolesław was born on 04 August 1912 and died six months later on 08 March 1913.  The cause of death is listed as acute gastroenteritis, although my grandmother seemed to remember her father slipping on an icy sidewalk while holding the baby, who then fell and died later of a head injury.  Another son,  Władysław, was born on 18 January 1914.  He died just over a year later on 27 March 1915. This time the cause of death coincided with my grandmother’s memory.  He developed infections in his mouth caused by his teeth not developing and growing properly.  My grandmother called the boys William and Walter, which roughly correspond to common English names used for those Polish names.

I’ve looked at many records in my genealogical research, and I’ve seen numerous deaths of babies in those records, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.  But these four records were different, and I was saddened to view them.  These children’s deaths were closer to me because they would have been my grandmothers’ siblings, my parents’ aunt and uncles.  How difficult it must have been for my great-grandparents to suffer these losses.  In both cases, the children died one after the other.  Also in both cases, each family then had one more child, a girl in both cases. The next generations would occasionally have miscarriages, stillborns, and infant deaths, so living in “modern” times is no guarantee of a healthy baby.  But I’m glad I found these records so their very short lives are not forgotten.

FamilySearch Labs appears to be a wonderful site.  It is easy to use, and the records were mostly transcribed correctly (my one great-grandmother’s maiden name was incorrect both times).  Another benefit is that it is FREE for all to use.  For folks that can’t afford Ancestry, this is a good alternative for a small group of records.  My only complaint is that there aren’t enough records available yet!  If enough genealogists volunteer to transcribe records, this could truly be the future of online genealogy.  I’m very excited to see that another project in the works is Philadelphia Marriage Records from 1916-1951 – I’m sure this will help me fill in even more gaps on my tree.  If you’ve tried this site and had success filling in your family’s gaps, be sure to leave a comment.

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Mother Love

In celebration of Mother’s Day, here is a pictorial view of my maternal ancestry.

My Great-Grandmother and Grandmother

Waclawa Zawodny and Daughters

This is my great-grandmother Wacława (known as Laura) Zawodny and three of her four daughters. From left to right, Zofia (known as Dorothy, born 1916), their mother Wacława (born 1885), my grandmother Marianna (known as Mae, born 1907), and either Helen (born 1905) or Janina (known as Jen, born 1904). Approximate date of photo: 1924-1927.

My Grandmother and Mother

Mae and Anita

This is my grandmother Mae and my mother, Anita. Date of photo: July 4, 1937. My grandmother is one month away from 30 and my mother is 18 months old.

My Mother and Me

Mommy and Me

This is my mother and me at Christmas, 1968. My mom is 33 years old and I am almost 22 months old.

I Smile for the Camera

[This post was written for the 1st Smile for the Camera: A Carnival of Images.]

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Religion and Genealogy

Today Craig at Geneablogie posted about a new the crisis with Catholics, Mormons at Odds Over Genealogical Records?  In his post, Craig mentions the news report about Catholic dioceses forbidding LDS access to church records for fear of the Mormon practice often referred to as baptizing the dead.  Craig notes that several of us genea-bloggers are Catholic, so I’d like to offer my thoughts as well.

I saw the story on some Catholic blogs I read before it made it to the genealogy blogs, and I struggled with how to address it here.  Frankly, I’m surprised it took so long for this to happen – I was surprised that records were made available at all after I learned that the Mormons use them for their faith, so to speak, in addition to their genealogy.  Other faith groups have often complained about the “re-baptism” of deceased ancestors into the Mormon faith, most especially Jews, who were greatly (and rightly) offended by this practice. 

As a genealogist, I am saddened to think that one day records may not be available – for without them, I would know very little about my ancestors.  That is to say, without the Mormons taking those records, microfilming them, and making them available for me to look at. 

As a Catholic, I can sort of understand why the Church, or why other faith groups, find offense in the Mormon tenent that they can baptize any deceased person into their faith.  When I first heard of this, I was somewhat taken aback.  What?  They can make my great-grandfather Mormon?  He’d “roll over” as the expression goes.  I think my great-grandmother was Protestant, but I haven’t prayed to “make” her accept my faith today!  It was her life to live, and I respect her choices and her life.

I say I “sort of” understand because I find it more humorous than offensive.  To me, my faith is very important.  I love being Catholic, and I love the Church.  Because I have accepted this particular faith as “my” faith, I obviously think it’s better – at least for me – than other faiths.  If you can’t believe in your particular faith all the way, what’s the point of believing it?  As such, it doesn’t matter to me if some other faith decides to make me one of their own long after I’m gone.  Why?  Because my faith is chosen by me and nothing will change that unless it’s my decision.  If any Jew, Muslim, Mormon, or Protestant wants to pray for me or if they want to pray to convert me, okay!  I doubt I’ll be leaving my faith any time soon, but I’ll accept your prayers on my behalf.  I respect other religions, but they can’t change me or my faith whethere through prayer, re-baptism, or any other practice.  

As Kimberly Powell points out, the Mormom re-baptism isn’t “valid” in the sense of the Catholic faith – so denying them access to the records to prevent this is only hurting those of us who use them to enrich our understanding of our family history.  Can’t we all just get along and respect that we all believe different things?  I think the Mormons need to separate their religion from their genealogical efforts…for them, the two may be intertwined, but for others it is confusing.  As Craig said, we all need each other.  And we’re likely all related, too. 

On a completely unrelated note, this is my first-ever post written remotely on a laptop.  And I like it!  I think I have to get one of these…

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Joseph Bergmeister

This military man in this photograph is my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927). It is the only known photo of him, but we knew little about the uniform he wore or his military service, only that he was from Bavaria. Fortunately, I worked with someone who knew everything about the German military. Just from the photograph he was able to determine exactly which uniform it was, and I was later able to confirm his guess after more research.

What you can not tell from the photo is that the uniform is light blue in color! It is from the Bavarian Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. This roughly translates to the Royal Bavarian Infantry Life Guard Regiment. The regiment began in 1814 to protect the royal family, and it was headquartered in Munich at the royal palace.

According to my co-worker, “Such troops would have been elitist by definition, and patriotic to the core. Entrance requirements and training would have more rigorous than for normal line regiments. Peacetime service would have also been markedly different from the line troops. The Leib unit would have been called upon to serve every public protocol attended by the sovereign, much like a Presidential Honor Guard today. Everything would have been ‘spit and polish’ with a high degree of military etiquette.”

I am not sure how my great-grandfather came to be in such a unit, but I know he served for only two years: 1893-95 when he was 20-22 years old. Other than this photo, a wonderful large composite photo of his entire company, and his regimental beer stein, he left no other remnants of his service. What exactly did he do? Where did he serve? Did he like it? I’m sure he’d be proud to know that he had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who served in all four branches of the U.S. military, including an Army Brigadier General and a Marine security guard.

If he did serve at the royal palace in Munich, he may have witnessed some interesting events. I found this article in the New York Times archive, dated November 16, 1893:

Royal Wedding

Was my great-grandfather was there? I don’t know, but I don’t think that the older sister got to marry her true love either…it looks like she married Count Otto von Seefried about two weeks later. I doubt he was a lieutenant in the Bavarian Army!

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