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Archive for January, 2009

The Joy of Genealogy

Here's one "gene" find that would make me do the Happy Dance (oh, like you didn't know that was coming with the subject of this COG!)

Here’s one “gene” find that would make me do the Happy Dance (oh, like you didn’t know that was coming with the subject of this Carnival of Gene-eaology!)

When I first started “doing” genealogy, any find was exciting and the cause of great joy –  whether it confirmed something I already knew or took me back one more generation.  After a while, I was surprised that the research became “routine” – not that it wasn’t exciting anymore, it was just to be expected.  If you have the luck to have records readily available that go back hundreds of years, going back a few generations will be a task on your “to do” list along with buying milk and stopping at the post office.  But, no matter how many years you’ve been searching, some finds are worthy of the genealogy “happy dance” – when you find something that makes you so happy you want to dance!

Poster by footnoteMaven.com

Poster by footnoteMaven.com

In my own research, there are quite a few remembrances of doing the happy dance that only the joys of genealogy can cause:

  • The first census find – Today, the availability of U.S. census records online has made it relatively easy to find your ancestors in those records.  But twenty years ago, it was a bit more dramatic.  When I first started my research, the latest available census record was from 1910 – and I had to look at it on microfilm at the Philadelphia branch of the National Archives. My first find was rather exciting for one simple fact – three of my four families to find were so badly misspelled that the Soundex was useless.  I wouldn’t find the others for years!
  • The immigrant hometown find – One of the most spectacular happy dances was finding IT – my immigrant ancestor’s hometown.  Each time it happened, the dancing began – for I finally had a place beyond “Poland” or “Germany” in which to search further.  The ways and hows of this particular find varied.  For one, it was through an American-born child’s baptismal record.  For another, a social security card application.  For others, it was as easy as the passenger arrival record!  No matter the source, finding the place makes you feel like a detective who has just solved the case no one else could solve!
  • The next generation find – While finding evidence of my great-grandparents’ birthplaces in Europe was exciting, even more so was finding a record of who their parents were.  It finally disproved the challenge posed when I started my research: “They didn’t keep records back then!”

[Written for the 65th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Happy Dance – the Joy of Genealogy]

Explanation to the “Really Young” or “Really Don’t Know Movie History” readers – the dancer above is Gene Kelly, one of my other “gene” hobbies.

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Part 1 of this series presented the photographs that led me to investigate the lives of my great-grandmother and her four sisters.  In Part 2, I detailed my genealogical research.  Years after I had completed this research, I received a happy confirmation in a rather unusual way.  My mother reconnected with her elderly aunt – the last surviving child of my great-grandmother, Laura Slesinska Zawodny.  When I met this aunt for the first time in many years, I naturally asked, “Do you have any photos?”  I hoped for more photos of her parents or of the siblings as young children.  To my surprise, she gave me a pile of photos – and nearly all were of her aunts – the Slesinski sisters.  Even more surprising?  The photos that she gave me were new to me, but they were from the same “photo session” in front of the house in McKeesport that originally prompted my research!  As a bonus, some of the photos were labeled in such a way that they actually confirmed my research.  Now I had even more faces to put to my collection of family names.

The first was labeld in a non-photo-friendly way – but there’s no doubt as to who’s who.  Here is my great-grandmother (Mom) with her sister Jane, Jane’s husband John Smilowicz, and their son Henry.  Since the 1930 census listed Henry’s age very specifically as “3 11/12″, it even provides me with an estimated time that the photos were taken – probably right around 1930 or 1931.  The back of the photo also listed thier addres – the same as the house in the 1930 census.  [I love the shadow – is that the photographer?  By the look on Henry’s face, you can certainly tell where the sun was even without the prominent shadow!]

The Smilowicz Family
The Smilowicz Family with “Laura” Zawodny

Next, sister Josephine makes another appearance, this time with her husband, Vincent Sierdzki, as well as my great-grandmother.  The caption is the same as what is written on the back of the photo – in the same handwriting, and humor, as the rest of the series.

Mr. Sierdzki Incorporated
“Mr. Sierdzki Incorporated”

Jane and John Smilowicz appear in another photo, captioned “Still in Love”:

Jane and John Smilowicz
Jane and John Smilowicz

In a photo captioned “Enjoying the fun”, three children appear.  Henry Smilowicz is identified in the photo above.  In my original photo featured in Part 1, Irene Goreski was also identified.  Based on the 1930 census research, it would appear that the third child is their cousin, Boleslaw Majewski.  In 1930, he was six, Irene was five, and Henry was nearly four, so this photo is further confirmation dating the photo close to 1930.

Irene Goreski, Henry Smilowicz, and Boleslaw Majewski
Three cousins: Irene Goreski, Henry Smilowicz, and Boleslaw Majewski

Next there is a photo of the husbands.  Well, the four husbands that lived in McKeesport, anyway. I wasn’t sure based on the photos I originally had, but it appears that my great-grandfather was not present for his wife’s visit to her sisters.  Or, if he was present, he opted not to appear in the photos!  I was able to identify them based on the other photos, with the fourth man identified by default as Sophie’s husband, Joseph Goreski.  The humorous caption is again from the back of the photo.

"The Four Horsemen"
“The Four Horsemen”  from top to bottom: John Smilowicz, Vincent Sierdzki, Adolph Majewski, and Joseph Goreski – the husbands of 4 of the 5 Slesinski Sisters

Finally, the last photo from the series shows my great-grandmother, Laura Zawodny, with her brothers-in-law.

Laura and her brothers-in-law
Laura and her brothers-in-law

The above photo had the best caption of all on the back.  Based on the humorous way it is worded, I’d bet that Sophie is the writer and her husband Joseph is the photographer of the other photos!

Caption on the back of the "Laura and her brothers-in-law" photo
Caption on the back of the “Laura and her brothers-in-law” photo

I also obtained some other photos of both the sisters and their husbands that were unlabeled and not from this same photo-party.  I feel confident that I can identify who’s who in the unlabeled photos based on the job that was done to identify everyone in these photos!

Now they tell me…I did all that research to obtain the sisters’ married names when the answers were sitting in a box in my grand-aunt’s house!  Some questions still remain, however, like how my great-grandmother traveled to McKeesport to visit her sisters, if she went alone, and how long she stayed.  In any event, I am grateful to my great-aunts for not only taking these photographs during her visit, but also mailing them back to her in Philadelphia as a remembrance.  Even though I wasn’t there, I can join in their fun!

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In Part 1 of “The Slesinski Sisters” I presented some photographs passed on to me by my grandmother that showed her mother and aunts: Laura, Josephine, Mary, Jane, and Sophie Slesinski, from “somewhere” in Poland.  The remaining photograph that I inherited from my grandmother is shown below.  All I had to begin my research were their (maiden) names – would I be able to find anything with such little information?

The Slesinski Sisters

The Slesinski Sisters

I had already researched my great-grandmother; her Polish name was Wacława, but in America she used Laura.  She came to the U.S. in 1903 following her husband, Józef Zawodny, who arrived a year earlier.  While the couple was easy to find in passenger list records, the key to Wacława’s birthplace would later come through researching her sisters.

I could not locate any of the Slesinski sisters in the census records, so I had to assume that they were married either at the time of arrival into the U.S. or at least at the time of their first census.  If they were married before they arrived here, I had no idea how to find their married names.  So I began with the assumption that they were single when they arrived – or at least some of them!

With luck, I found 3 of the 4 sisters on the same passenger arrival record: the SS Adriatic sailing from Southampton to New York, arriving on 15 October 1920. On the record, their surname was spelled Sleszynska and the first names fit with the information I had from the photographs.  Sailing together were Janina, age 19, Zofia, age 17, and Marianna, age 23.  They were all listed as dressmakers from Dobrosołowo.  Their destination was to their “brother-in-law Mr. Sioracki” at 600 Hazel Street in McKeesport, PA.

Research Tip: Be flexible with first names.  This can apply to either foreign translations like Zofia=Sophie, “adopted” names that are not translations like Wacława=Laura, or “like” variations of a name like Maria=Marianna=Mary.

Also, don’t discount similar spellings of the last name.  “Sleszynska” was similar enough to “Slesinska” to warrant a look at the record.  If the first names and ages offer a good match (and in this case, the destination), it may be the correct record.

This information meant that their sister Josephine was already married and living in McKeesport by 1920 – now I had a name to search on the 1920 census.  I wouldn’t find anything under “Sioracki” though, nor under the Soundex search, so the name was not spelled correctly.  However, I did find her using the address instead: Vincent and Josephine “Shieraski” at 600 Hazel Street.  Vincent is 33 and immigrated in 1904, while Josephine is 29 and immigrated in 1911.  One sister’s married name down, three to go!

Research Tip: Can’t find a name in an index or soundex?  It may be spelled or indexed wrong.  An alternate is to look up by address, which can be found in a variety of sources including city directories, marriage licenses, passenger lists, or personal records like photographs or family papers.

Because the three younger sisters arrived too late for the 1920 census enumeration and were not listed on the 1930, it was easy to assume that all three were married sometime during the 1920’s. The next step in the research was a search of Allegheny county marriage records through the mail.  Amazingly, all three marriage licenses were found!

  • On 14 October 1922, Maria Slesinska married Adolph Majewski
  • On 17 January 1924, Sophia Slesinska married Joseph Goreski
  • On 22 June 1925, Janina Slesinski married John Smilovicz

Research Tip: Some Polish surnames have masculine and feminine endings.  A daughter or a wife of a man with a name ending in -ski would use a -ska ending to the name.  However, this is not set in stone – especially once the couple or the woman immigrated to the U.S.  For purposes of searching records, search for both variations of the name.

Armed with the sisters’ married names, I searched the 1930 census in McKeesport.  The Majewski family lived at 804 Park Way: Adolph, age 38, Mary, age 28, and son Bolesław, age 6 (born in PA). Adolph works in a steel mill and is a WWI veteran.  This solved the mystery of who “Mr. Adolph Majewski” was on the photograph (see Part 1).  Because of his marriage to Maria/Mary, it also confirmed that the labeling on the photograph of the sisters was likely correct since Mary matches the woman standing with Adolph as “one of the family”.

Two of the sisters lived at 1202 5th Avenue.  The first family was Joseph Goreski (age 30), wife Sophia (age 21), and daughter Irene (age 5, born in PA).  Joseph also works at a steel mill.  Although listed on a different sheet, the “Sieradzki” family lived at the same address: Wincenty (age 41) and Josephine (age 38).  Wincenty (Vincent) worked as a die caster.

Finally, at 2817 Garbett Street were John Smilovicz (age 39), wife Jane (age 27), and son Henry (age 3 and 11/12, born in PA).  John works in a tin mill and was also a WWI veteran.

By researching just a few record sources I managed to find all four sisters’ marriages and a few children born by 1930.  After one sister’s social security application pointed back to Dobrosołowo, Poland – matching the passenger arrival record – I decided to find the births records of my great-grandmother and her sisters.  The three sisters’ marriage records in the U.S. provided some clues as to their parents names.  One did not list the parents at all, but the other two agreed on their father’s name – Vincent Slesinksi.  Their mother’s name was listed on one as Stella and the other as Stanislawa, but the surname matched: Drogowski (Stella was often used as an English variant for Stanislawa).  This was more information than anything I was able to uncover about my great-grandmother through her own records in the U.S.

Research in Poland proved to be difficult despite these many facts.  Fortunately, the youngest child, who happened to be Sophia (Zofia), was born in Dobrosołowo – the other children were found in nearby towns.   And there were more than five children in the family!  Birth records were found for the following children of Wincenty (Vincent) Slesinski and Stanislawa Drogowska:

  • Wacława Marianna, 29 Aug 1880
  • Józefa, 01 Jan 1883
  • Feliks, 24 Dec 1885
  • Konstancja, 18 Jul 1888 – 13 Aug 1889
  • Wincenty, 03 Apr 1893 – 02 Apr 1896
  • Marianna, 06 Apr 1896
  • Janina, 12 Dec 1898
  • Zofia, 10 Aug 1901

The birth records proved what the photographs showed: there was a large gap in the ages between the oldest and youngest sister – 21 years!  In fact, Zofia (Sophie) was only two years old when Wacława (Laura) left for America!   The sisters also seemed to shave a few years off of their ages for the census-takers, but that was common and is the main reason why census records are not completely reliable for ages. It is uncertain what became of their brother Feliks – no death record was found in Poland, but no definitive immigration record was found in the U.S. either.

I was even able to find the “end of the story” with regard to my great-grandmother’s sisters – they are all buried in St. Mary’s Polish Cemetery in McKeesport, PA, and a survey of the tombstones is available online.  While the birth years on tombstones can never be regarded as accurate, at least the death years can. The deaths are recorded as follows:

  • SIERADZKI, Wincenty 1888 – 1969
  • SIERADZKI, Jozefa S. 1891 – 1964
  • MAJEWSKI, Adolph 1892 – 1973
  • MAJEWSKI, Marya 1900 – 1955
  • SMILOWICZ, John 1888 – 1974 (Pvt US Army WWI)
  • SMILOWICZ, Jennie 1904 – (no death date listed)
  • GORESKI, Joseph 1900 – 1976
  • GORESKI, Sophia 1908 – 1990

Research Tip: EVIDENCE…which record do you believe?  For a birth year, birth or christening records obviously hold more weight than a person’s marriage record (they may have been underage, considered “too old” to be getting married for the first time, or older than their spouse), census record (they may be trying to stay young, or embarrassed if they are older than a spouse), or a death record (the person giving the information may not know the truth).

I assumed this was “the end” of my research into the Slesinski sisters.  While I had not done any research on the three children identified on the 1930 census – my grandmother’s first cousins – I had gone back to Poland and learned the names of not only their parents, but also their grandparents!  I was well on the way to continuing my research backwards into the Slesinski ancestry.  But a funny thing happened on the way…my research was “confirmed” in an unusual way.

Coming up in Part 3 – My research is confirmed!  By more photographs!

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Genealogists know that finding the “married names” for women is can be difficult.  Is it possible to research women without knowing who they married?  In the case of my great-grandmother’s sisters, the answer was surprisingly “Yes!”  This story is also interesting because it involves photographs – some that began the investigation, and some that proved the facts much later.  In this three-part series of posts, I’ll introduce my great-grandmother and her sisters.  This post, Part 1, shows what they looked like and offers the few bare facts I had to begin my research some twenty years ago.  Part 2 will present the facts I uncovered through genealogical records (and some tips to remember for your own research).  Part 3 will “prove” some of those facts in an unusual twist of fate involving more photographs.

It all began with a photograph.  Four photographs, to be precise.  My family did not possess many photos of our ancestors, but my grandmother did have several that were precious to me.  She gave me the four photos – three of which I will show here and one I’ll save for post #2.  The first showed her mother, my great-grandmother, on a visit to her four sisters.  My great-grandmother, Wacława Slesinska Zawodny (in Polish, the feminine form of her married last name would be Zawodna), lived in Philadelphia, PA.  Her four sisters, the Slesinski sisters, all lived in McKeesport, PA, which is located in Allegheny county near Pittsburgh, PA.  My grandmother said her mother once traveled across Pennsylvania to be reunited with her sisters.

"The Hollywood Review" - the Slesinski Sisters.

The back of the photo reads: "The Hollywood Review" - the Slesinski Sisters.

Caption of "The Hollywood Review" photo shown above.

Writing on the back of "The Hollywood Review" photo shown above.

My mother knew that the woman in the middle of the back row is Wacława, who went by the name of Laura in the U.S.  Fortunately, someone had also written everyone’s name on the back of the photo.  Because it lists Laura as “Grandmother Laura”, the unknown identifier is likely my grandmother (or one of her sisters).  The back of the photo, which is undated, had “The Hollywood Review” written in ink, presumably by one of the sisters, sent to my great-grandmother to commemorate her visit to McKeesport.  The names are written in pencil in a different handwriting.  The only incorrect label is “Great Aunt” applied to Josephine – perhaps it was meant to show respect to the fact that she and Laura are older than their sisters, but the truth is that evidence would later show all five women to be sisters.

In addition to this photo, my grandmother had one of the sisters without the child Irene in what appeared to be the same photo session – that photo will illustrate my second post on the research into the sisters’ lives.

The third photo offered a close-up of my great-grandmother and one sister.  The back of the photo is labeled, in the same pencil-handwriting as the group photo above, “Grandmother Laura and Aunt Josephine”.  I love two things about it – the close-up view of their faces, and the fact that it identifies who they are!  The photo was originally full length, but it was cut in half.  While the background appears to be the same house as the above photos, their dress is different.  Was it taken on a different visit, or just on a different day of the same visit?  Although they both look rather austere, I was amazed by the resemblance between my great-grandmother and my grandmother (her daughter).

"Laura" and Josephine

"Laura" and Josephine

Finally, the fourth photograph shows Laura and one of her sisters.  Based on the label to the above photo, it seems to be Mary with what appears to be her family.  Luckily, it was also labeled with a clue as to their identities.  Their dress is the same as the above photo.

The Majewski Family

The Majewski Family

Back of "The Majewski Family" photo

Back of "The Majewski Family" photo

The handwriting is the same as the above photos – can I assume that “Mr. Adolph Majewski” is Mary Slesinski’s husband and the boy is their son?  Is the address the house where all of these photos were taken?  When were the photos taken?

These four photographs contained the only information that I knew about my great-grandmother’s sisters.  My grandmother could not remember any of her aunts married names.  All I knew came from the photos:

  • the sisters’ first names
  • one possible husband’s name
  • one address in McKeesport

Just knowing these bare facts, could I find out more about my great-grandmother’s sisters?

Coming up in Part 2 – The Research performed to find out more about the sisters

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Title page from McElroy's Philadelphia City Directory, 1858
McElroy’s Philadelphia City Directory, 1858

If you have roots in Philadelphia (or southern New Jersey…more on that later), or if you are simply interested in maps or history, there is a very interesting site called the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.  There are many useful resources here.  On the Resource Browser page, you’ll find all sorts of interesting things including browse-able city directories from 1856, 1858, 1861, and 1866 as well as various maps and aerial photos.  But to really see the maps in their full glory, and see the usefulness of modern technology at its finest, visit the Interactive Maps Viewer.  There you can view the city’s current street maps on top of historical maps from various years including 1942, 1903, and even 1855.

Besides being a lot of fun, these overlays are extremely useful for genealogical research.  For example, you’ve found an address from a census record, draft card, or city directory, but the street does not show up on Google Maps because it is no longer in existence or no longer called by the same name.  Although you can’t search for it by name, you can easily scan the current neighborhood and see the old names underneath.  As a “big” example of such a name change, I used the map to go to where John F. Kennedy Blvd is today.  This is the sprawling boulevard that leads up to the city’s Art Museum.  By unchecking the overlay for the current street map, I could clearly see the street’s previous name: Pennsylvania Boulevard.

The 1942 maps have many businesses, and especially factories, that have long since closed up shop.  By looking at your ancestor’s neighborhood, you can see many of the businesses that were in existence back then.  Or, you can see your ancestor’s place of employment on the map if you find the address via draft registration cards or social security applications. In the screen shot below you can see an example of some of the business names.

Factories in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, 1942
Factories in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, 1942

For me, it was interesting to see some streets from the city’s history that are now gone due to things like the construction of I-95.  Even more fun is to view the “newer” neighborhoods, such as Northeast Philadelphia where I grew up, and see few streets on the old maps.  Instead, most of the area is farms, and some wealthier individuals that owned a lot of land are noted by name on the map.

For those with New Jersey roots, there is a 1930 aerial map.  Many current neighborhoods did not exist back then!

If you are having trouble locating a Philadelphia street on a current map of the city, a wonderful site is the Historic Street Name Index at PhillyHistory.org.  The image below is a partial screen shot to provide an example.  In this case, it clearly shows the name change of three different streets to Alaska, then Alaska St. also changes to Kater.  It also tells you what year the name change occurred and if the street is still in existence today.

The Historic Street Name Index
The Historic Street Name Index

Any city goes through many changes throughout its history.  Of course, some things remain the same.  You can still find Independence Hall in the same place as it was in 1776!

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Miriam recently challenged genea-bloggers to write about their brickwall ancestors.  In my case, I don’t have brickwalls so much as avenues of research I have not yet pursued.  One of my goals for 2009 was to find some missing details in my Bavarian ancestors.  In the case of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, I can document his ancestry back to the 1600’s, and I’m still going backward once I find time to get back to the family history library.  I was fortunate that the church records exist for the towns of Puch, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, and surrounding towns.  But, my research is far from complete – even though I can provide death dates for Joseph’s paternal grandparents, great-grandparents, and even his 2nd great-grandparents, I have no idea when his parents died.   But, I do have some clues from my research.  Here I present my research plan and ask readers to examine my evidence, logic, and path forward, and offer a critique or advice to set me on the right path.

Goal: Find death records for Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz

Facts:  Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmeier were married on 10 May 1871 in Vohburg a.d. Donau.  He was a flour merchant, born on 9 Feb 1843 in Puch as the son of Jakob Bergmeister, a miller born in Puch, and Anna née Daniel, born in Niederscheyern.  Ursula Dallmeier was born in Aichach on 17 Mar 1847, the daughter of innkeeper Joseph Dallmeier from Aichach and Ursula née Eulinger.  The date of the secular marriage was 11 Apr 1871, and it occurred in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  [Source: marriage record from Kath. Stadtpfarramt, Vohburg a.d. Donau, obtained 11 Dec 1995]

Joseph and Ursula went on to have at least 4 children:

1)      Hillaury Bergmeister, b. 12 January 1870 [Source: her marriage and death record, birth record not yet found]

2)      Maria Bergmeister, b 17 November 1871.  It is unknown if Maria survived infancy.  [Source: Vohburg parish register, FHL film 1271862]

3)      Joseph Bergmeister, b. 12 February 1873 (my great-grandfather) [Source: Vohburg parish register, FHL film 1271862]

4)      Ignaz Bergmeister, b. 23 April 1876 [Source: New York City marriage record in 1907 and WWI draft card in 1918; birth records not yet searched]

Clues:  In November 1897, their son Joseph gets married in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm (for more details, see The Bergmeister Family page).  There is an important clue in the marriage record.  It records the bachelor Joseph as the son of the “deceased flour merchant Joseph Bergmeister of Munich and Ursula Dallmeier (who later married a Goetz), residing in Regensburg.”  [Source:  Marriage record for Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer, Standesamt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, obtained 04 Nov 1993.]

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

The re-marriage of Ursula to Mr. Goetz (whose first name was later identified as Herman in their son’s marriage record) did not come as a complete surprise, because my grandmother had an “uncle” Julius Goetz.  More research revealed at least two more children of Ursula Bergmeister Goetz, half-siblings to the Bergmeister children.  They are:

1)     Herman Goetz, born 14 May 1885 [Source: Marriage license 1913, WW I Draft card 1918]

2)     Julius Andreas Elias Goetz, born 09 Nov 1886 in Regensburg [Source: Declaration of Intention 1908, Naturalization 1911, WW I Draft card 1917]

On the marriage record for Julius in 1919, the license lists the “residence of father” as “Germany” and “residence of mother” as “dead”. [Source: Clerk of Orphans’ Court, Philadelphia, Marriage License #1919-415062.]  The marriage license for Herman in 1913 is a different format and does not ask about parents.

Based on the above facts, I can make reasonable assumptions about the approximate time and place of the deaths of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz.

Assumptions – Death of Joseph Bergmeister

Estimated years: 1876 – 1884 – based on the birth of his youngest identified son, Ignaz, and his wife’s first child in her re-marriage.

Estimated place: Munich – based on his son Joseph’s marriage record.

Alternate place: Regensburg – based on the location of his wife’s re-marriage

Negative search: Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm

Assumptions – Death of Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz

Estimated years: 1897 – 1919 – based on the fact that she was still alive at the time of son Joseph’s marriage and she was not by the time of Julius’.  It is noted, however, that Julius immigrated in 1902 at the age of 16 – perhaps she died in that year.

Estimated place: Regensburg – based on her residence at the time of Joseph’s marriage and her Goetz sons’ birthplace.

Next step – where do I search for these death records?

Unfortunately, the FHL does not have church records on microfilm for such large cities as München (Munich) or Regensburg.  In each instance, I would have to write to either the civil or the episcopal archive. I am not sure if the lack of a date will be problematic – the ranges are too broad.  Although I have written to the archives in the past to get some of this information, it has been so long that I am not even sure which office to write to, or if they can perform such a search without a more specific date.  I could either make an attempt with a letter, or I can find a researcher in Bavaria to investigate further.

More clues – I may be able to narrow down the years by searching additional records (none of which are available either online or through the Family History Center) including:

  • Census records – After Germany was united in 1871, a census was conducted every five years between 1880 and 1910.  I am not sure where to obtain this information.
  • City directories – Both Munich and Regensburg are large cities.  If city directories exist, they may help pinpoint not only the year of death (especially for Joseph), but also a potential parish to find a church record.
  • Marriage record of Ursula Bergmeister and Herman Goetz – it is possible that the record of Ursula’s second marriage may reveal more about her husband Joseph’s death.

Any comments on my research to date, the assumptions, or where to go next will be greatly appreciated.  The following is a map that outlines the German locations noted above.

Detailed map of Bavaria showing all locations from Regensburg in the northeast to Munich in the south which are mentioned in the records for the lives of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz.  Where are their final resting places?

Detailed map of Bavaria showing all locations from Regensburg in the northeast to Munich in the south which are mentioned in the records for the lives of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz. Where are their final resting places?

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The “Donna’s Picks” feature returns after a lengthy hiatus!  I may not have “picks” every week anymore, but I will occasionally highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.  For this comeback edition, enjoy the following links!

History - In this news article from Science Now, read about an interesting archeological find in Germany.  Researchers now believe that the Romans were in Germany for centuries later than previously assumed.

Genealogical Records
– Genealogy and Family History posted an informative article called “Before Ellis Island: Passenger Arrivals at Castle Garden, New York“.  Ellis Island gets more attention, but if your ancestors arrived earlier this article might provide some clues on where to look for evidence of their arrival.

Genealogy Blog
– I would like to highlight one of the “newer” genealogy blogs, They that go down to the sea.  Amy has been blogging since November about her Canadian, Scottish, English, Swedish, and American roots.  “Blogling” Amy describes her blog as follows: “While I like charts and graphs as much as the next researcher, my real passion lies in family stories, treasured family objects, and images.  If there was such a thing as an ‘interdisciplinary genealogist,’ I would be one.”  I am certainly enjoying her stories, and I’m sure you will, too!

Genealogy Blogger Challenge – Miriam at Ancestories asks, “Who Are Our Brickwall Ancestors, and Why Aren’t We Blogging About Them Regularly?” Good question!  From the resultant applause in the comments, we’ll be reading much more about everyone’s “brickwall” ancestors – and hopefully helping each other, as Reagan said, break down those walls!  If you’re not sure how to post your problem, Miriam even provided a very useful format to use.

Blogging - A blog about books and reading I’ve recently discovered called Sophisticated Dorkiness is presenting a “Blog Improvement Project” – “a year-long challenge that will consist of twice-monthly activities to improve your blog.”  Week One’s focus is Setting Goals.  Whether you are a new blogger or have been blogging for a while, if you are looking to improve your work than this project may be the challenge for you!

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness – Finally, over on the PHILLY-ROOTS list, a Rootsweb mailing list, one helpful genealogist has been transcribing and posting lists found in her own newspaper research, such as death notices or marriage license notices appearing on particular dates.  This is especially helpful to other researchers since even non-subsribers can find these names via an archive search of the mailing list.  The researcher, Debbie, closes her posts with “Do a good deed for someone today” – she is certainly doing good deeds for other genealogists – perhaps we can follow her example.  The next time you run across some information that isn’t related to YOUR family, why not consider posting a message to a mailing list so that others can benefit?  There are over 30,000 mailing lists on the Rootsweb-Ancestry network – find one for your surname or locality of interest.  If you don’t want any more email in your in-box, you can subscribe via RSS to read in any blog reader.

cog64That’s all for this week!  Don’t forget the deadline for the 64th Carnival of Genealogy this week (see the end of the 63rd edition for details)!

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Once upon a time, growing up in Philadelphia, I enjoyed playing in the snow.

Building a snowman, circa winter of 1970-71

Building a snowman, circa winter of 1970-71

Brother Drew, Lou C the cat, Shona, & Donna

Winter of 1976-77. Left: Donna and friend Shona Ferguson. Right: Brother Drew, Lou C the cat, Shona, & Donna in my backyard

Sledding, circa 1978

Sledding, circa 1977. The hill became the parking garage for Frankford Hospital.

Then, I grew up.  As a grown-up, snow became rather unpleasant for two reasons.  First, I had to shovel it.  Since being cold and physical exertion don’t fall anywhere on my top 100 list of desirable things to do, you can only imagine how much I enjoy that activity.  Second, I had to drive to work in it. To educate all of the snow-lovers out there that think I’m a wimp because of that statement, the street I lived on in Philadelphia never saw a snow plow until I was in my 30’s.  Places north of us that routinely get twelve feet of snow have efficient procedures in place for its removal.  My city did not.  The main roads are plowed and salted, of course, but the “secondary” roads were not.  My parents’ street must have been a “tertiary” street, because it was left behind even when the city got around to the secondary streets (I am happy to say this has since been corrected since the late 1990’s).  As a result, once a significant snowfall occurred, our street would become a sheet of ice.  My past experience navigating a vehicle in these conditions would qualify me to drive a zamboni®.  To drive to snowless roads, one had a choice between going around a curve and up a hill, going down a steep, icy hill, or maneuvering a bit out of the way on icy but flat streets.  The latter route became my favorite – and at times I considered parking my car on the clean street and walking the 3-4 blocks to my house.

After extreme-shoveling and driving on ice, snow lost any appeal it may have once had in my youth.  Even though Philadelphia does not usually get much snow during winter, we have had our incidents.  The most famous of all was the Blizzard of 1996 which took place from January 6-8.  Although the blizzard hit most of the East Coast, Philadelphia had the distinction of receiving more snow than anywhere else.  The offical snowfall total was 30.7 inches, and of that, 27.6 inches fell in a 24-hour period – a new record.

My parents' backyard after the Blizzard of '96.  Compare to the Winter 1976-77 photos above - it is the same fence.

My parents' backyard after the Blizzard of '96. Compare to the Winter 1976-77 photos above - it is the same fence.

With that much snow, the city had difficulty plowing even the main roads – there was no hope for neighborhood streets.  There was simply nowhere to put all of the snow, so they dumped it into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, which later caused flooding problems.  The main concern for my family was how to eventually drive off of the street.  In fact, my mother and I were scheduled to go to Florida the following week – the only time we’ve ever traveled anywhere together.  We were convinced we’d still be snowed in by then.  But, fortunately, a miraculous pick-up truck with a plow attached came down our street.  We still had to shovel about five feet of the street to get to that lane, but it was better than all of it!

Besides the occasional 2-3 feet of snow, even more spectacular was the Ice Storms that occurred frequently during the winter of 1993-94.  At this time (as well as the Blizzard of ’96), I had a 22-mile commute to work down I-95, a road that can be deadly even on sunny and dry days thanks to Philadelphia drivers (and this was before everyone had a cell phone stuck to their face).  Pretty?  Yes!  Fun?  You’ve got to be kidding.

As for winter sports, I skied.  Once.  The best part about it was coming in from the cold to a warm place and having something hot to drink.  It’s just not for me, probably because my body is colder than average and it is just uncomfortable to be below sixty degrees.

This is the story of my discontent of winter.  Why do I live in Philadelphia?  I ask myself that question often.  It’s home.  It may not be forever, but for now it’s home.  The “fun” part of winter got left behind with my childhood, never to return.  Well, maybe it will return some day…if I get to spend winter somewhere warm.  The photo below was taken in December, and I was  finally content during winter!

Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, December 2002

Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, December 2002

[Written for the 64th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Winter Photo Essay.]

Essay title is a play on Shakespeare’s famous line from Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York” (also used as a novel title by John Steinbeck.)

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A funny thing happened on my way to the 9th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival…  I found a pile of photos with unidentified persons that fit this edition’s theme:

Who Are You – I Really Want To Know? Show us that picture that you found with your family collection or purchased, but have no idea who they might be.

However, as I sorted through the pile, I actually figured out who some of the unknowns were!  In one instance, I had some photographs of some World War I soldiers.  I knew they were not blood relatives, but after rummaging through the photos I realized the gentlemen strongly resembled some older guys in another photo (my great-grandmother’s brothers-in-law).  Since I knew who the old guys were, I performed some “facial recognition” and reasonably concluded who was who (stay tuned for those photos in a future post).  For two other photos, I decided to ask my mother.  I thought I asked once before, but perhaps I didn’t write down her answers.  She identified one unknown boy and half of a pair of unknown men.  But that was just a small portion of several unknowns – there are still many more to identify.  Here’s an interesting one for the carnival:

cimg0095The photo has no identifying markings.  I obtained it while visiting my cousins in Bavaria.  We were searching through boxes of their old, unlabeled photos in an attempt to find one that looked like my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, who was their ancestor’s first cousin.  It’s debatable if we found one or not, but in the course of our investigation my cousin Emilie found this one.  She reasoned that it must have been taken in the United States because of the English words, so therefore someone in my family may have sent it back to Germany.  Unfortunately, I don’t recognize any of these men. My great-grandfather’s brother, Ignaz, listed his occupation as “driver” in the 1910 Census, but it was for a brewery.  On his World War I draft registration card, he indicates he is a driver for “Rising Sun Brewery” in Manhattan.  So, although he was a driver, I can’t say for sure if the driver is him since I have no photographs of Ignaz.

I have not had the time to investigate further, but if I were the photoMaven, I would probably pursue it this way:

  • What is the approximate date of the photo based on the clues provided by the car (style of the car, the tires, etc)
  • Where was the “Broad Way Garage Livery”?  (I have tried simple Google searches without success.)
  • Can the fashions of these gentlemen offer any clues about the time period?

Who are you guys?  I really want to know!

[Written for the 9th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Who are you?]

See some of my other Photo Mysteries.

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Happy Blogiversary

partyI’m posting this a few hours before the Big Day, but January 6th is the one year blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue!  It took me a year to realize the irony of the random date I chose to begin this blog, for January 6th is traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany.  In addition to its use as the feast of the Magi’s visit to the Christ child (and their realization of Who He Is), the word has taken on the broader meaning of the original Greek word, which according to Webster can refer to a “sudden manifestation or perception of the meaning of something” or “an illuminating discovery or realization”.  I’m surely not suggesting that my blogging has caused any ephiphanies for my readers, but the act of writing this blog has definitely been an epiphany for me!  In retrospect, it was the perfect day on which to start a blog.

I’m also glad I started blogging at this time of year, when it’s natural to review the “old” year and set goals for the “new” one.  I’m amazed that I’ve had just over 23,000 visitors in the past year!  I appreciate each and every one of you – because, no matter how much fun I have talking to myself, it’s much more fun when I realize that someone is actually reading my musings.  I considered posting a “year in review” list of my favorites, but I realized that I’ve done this not too long ago, twice.  In September, I celebrated my 100th post with a look at how well I did or did not meet my original intent from my welcome message.  Later that same month, I participated in the “Getting to Know You” challenge and mentioned some of my personal favorites.

Just to update, my “top posts” from September are still my top posts, just with higher numbers!  I’m still too wordy, and my goal of offering “research tips” seems to have been overcome with a need to write personal reflections instead.  I think all blogs are a work in progress, and the one thing I am happy with is the fact that I’ve kept it going.  Best of all, I still have a lot of ideas!  If I was retired, had a clone, or had twelve more hours each day I could post more often, but I will aim for three times a week until there is more time or more of me to devote to it.

One of the other “best” things about this venture is the rest of the “genea-blogging” community.  Not only have I made some great friends, but I have continually been inspired by their blogs.  Now I’m armed with new tips to find my ancestors and inspiration to write and create more and more until I run out of time.  Thanks to all of my new friends, those who have left all of the great comments, those who subscribe, and the silent, lurking, yet faithful readers who come back again and again.  I didn’t quite know what to expect, but my personal epiphanies about genealogy, writing, friendship, and life in general have been many.  Thank you for your support!

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I had been avoiding the “99 Things” meme that’s been all the rage for about a week on other genealogy blogs, mostly because I didn’t think that anyone particularly cared about what things I’ve done or have not done.  But, three things made me change my mind: 1) Other posts I had planned to write are not written yet, 2) “everyone else is doing it”, and 3) Becky and Thomas upped the ante and made it more interesting to genealogists.

First, the original list.  I’ve seen it on so many blogs that I can’t give credit to whomever was the first, because I have no idea who started it now!  Here’s my take:

Things you’ve already done: bold face type
Things you’d like to do: italicize
Things you haven’t done and don’t care to: plain type

  1. Started your own blog.
  2. Slept under the stars.
  3. Played in a band. (Sort of…)
  4. Visited Hawaii. (Twice!)
  5. Watched a meteor shower.
  6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
  7. Been to Disneyland/world. (Both)
  8. Climbed a mountain. (A small one, but still…)
  9. Held a praying mantis.
  10. Sang a solo. (Unless singing in the shower counts…)
  11. Bungee jumped.
  12. Visited Paris.
  13. Watched a lightning storm at sea. (I wasn’t at sea while watching it, but on a restaurant on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ.  But the storm itself was at sea.)
  14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.
  15. Adopted a child.
  16. Had food poisoning. (Ties in with #7 – got it at Disneyland)
  17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
  18. Grown your own vegetables.
  19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
  20. Slept on an overnight train.  (I’ve slept on plenty during the day though! Does an overnight ferry count?)
  21. Had a pillow fight.
  22. Hitch hiked.
  23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill. (Ferris Bueller fans, unite!)
  24. Built a snow fort. (Back when snow was fun.)
  25. Held a lamb.
  26. Gone skinny dipping.
  27. Run a marathon.
  28. Ridden a gondola in Venice.  (How about “Watched other people ride in gondolas in Venice”?
  29. Seen a total eclipse.
  30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.
  31. Hit a home run.
  32. Been on a cruise. (Assuming a 3-day Maine windjammer cruise counts.)
  33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.
  34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors. (Germany, and two of the several places in Poland)
  35. Seen an Amish community. (I’ve seen plenty of Amish, since their community is only about two hours away, but not the community itself.)
  36. Taught yourself a new language.
  37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
  38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.
  39. Gone rock climbing.
  40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person.
  41. Sung Karaoke.
  42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.
  43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.
  44. Visited Africa.
  45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.
  46. Been transported in an ambulance.
  47. Had your portrait painted.
  48. Gone deep sea fishing.
  49. Seen the Sistine chapel in person.
  50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (Well, to the second level – the top was CLOSED when I was there.)
  51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling.
  52. Kissed in the rain.
  53. Played in the mud.
  54. Gone to a drive-in theater.
  55. Been in a movie.
  56. Visited the Great Wall of China.
  57. Started a business.
  58. Taken a martial arts class
  59. Visited Russia.
  60. Served at a soup kitchen.
  61. Sold Girl Scout cookies.
  62. Gone whale watching.
  63. Gotten flowers for no reason.
  64. Donated blood.
  65. Gone sky diving.
  66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.
  67. Bounced a check.
  68. Flown in a helicopter.
  69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
  70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.
  71. Eaten Caviar.
  72. Pieced a quilt.
  73. Stood in Times Square.
  74. Toured the Everglades.
  75. Been fired from a job.
  76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.
  77. Broken a bone.
  78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
  79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.
  80. Published a book.
  81. Visited the Vatican. (Four times.)
  82. Bought a brand new car.
  83. Walked in Jerusalem.
  84. Had your picture in the newspaper.
  85. Read the entire Bible.
  86. Visited the White House.
  87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
  88. Had chickenpox.
  89. Saved someone’s life.
  90. Sat on a jury.
  91. Met someone famous.
  92. Joined a book club.
  93. Lost a loved one.
  94. Had a baby.
  95. Seen the Alamo in person.
  96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.
  97. Been involved in a law suit.
  98. Owned a cell phone.
  99. Been stung by a bee.

That was the original list of experiences.  Then, Becky Wiseman wrote her post, The 99 Things Meme, with a twist at the end.  Bouncing off of a question posted by the MoSGA Messenger, she added thirty genealogical things and asked if we could come up with 99.  As I worked on this post to add my own 30 to the list, Thomas MacEntee came up with a bunch more.  Since my list was ready to post, I’ve added Thomas’ suggestions starting with #61.

  1. Belong to a genealogical society.
  2. Researched records onsite at a court house.
  3. Transcribed records.
  4. Uploaded tombstone pictures to Find-A-Grave.
  5. Documented ancestors for four generations (self, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents)
  6. Joined Facebook.
  7. Cleaned up a run-down cemetery.
  8. Joined the Genea-Bloggers Group.
  9. Attended a genealogy conference.
  10. Lectured at a genealogy conference.
  11. Spoke on a genealogy topic at a local genealogy society.
  12. Been the editor of a genealogy society newsletter.
  13. Contributed to a genealogy society publication.
  14. Served on the board or as an officer of a genealogy society.
  15. Got lost on the way to a cemetery.
  16. Talked to dead ancestors.
  17. Researched outside the state in which I live.
  18. Knocked on the door of an ancestral home and visited with the current occupants.
  19. Cold called a distant relative.
  20. Posted messages on a surname message board.
  21. Uploaded a gedcom file to the internet.
  22. Googled my name.
  23. Performed a random act of genealogical kindness.
  24. Researched a non-related family, just for the fun of it.
  25. Have been paid to do genealogical research.
  26. Earn a living (majority of income) from genealogical research.
  27. Wrote a letter (or email) to a previously unknown relative.
  28. Contributed to one of the genealogy carnivals.
  29. Responded to messages on a message board.
  30. Was injured while on a genealogy excursion.
  31. Know a cousin of the 4th degree or higher.
  32. Disproved a family myth through research.
  33. Got a family member to let you copy photos.
  34. Used a digital camera to “copy” photos or records.
  35. Translated a record from a foreign language.
  36. Found an immigrant ancestor’s passenger arrival record.
  37. Looked at census records on microfilm, not on the computer.
  38. Used microfiche.
  39. Visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
  40. Visited more than one LDS Family History Center.
  41. Visited a church or place of worship of one of your ancestors.
  42. Taught a class in genealogy.
  43. Traced ancestors back to the 18th Century.
  44. Traced ancestors back to the 17th Century.
  45. Traced ancestors back to the 16th Century.
  46. Can name all of your great-great-grandparents.
  47. Found an ancestor’s Social Security applciation.
  48. Know how to determine a soundex code without the help of a computer.
  49. Used Steve Morse’s One-Step searches.
  50. Own a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills.
  51. Helped someone find an ancestor using records you had never used for your own research.
  52. Visited the main National Archives building in Washington, DC.
  53. Visited the Library of Congress.
  54. Have an ancestor who came over on the Mayflower.
  55. Have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War.
  56. Taken a photograph of an ancestor’s tombstone.
  57. Became a member of the Association of Graveyard Rabbits.
  58. Can read a church record in Latin.
  59. Have an ancestor who changed their name.
  60. Joined a Rootsweb mailing list.
  61. Participated in a genealogy meme
  62. Created family history gift items (calendars, cookbooks, etc.)
  63. Performed a lookup
  64. Took a genealogy seminar cruise
  65. Convinced a relative must have arrived here from outer space
  66. Found a disturbing family secret
  67. Told others about that disturbing family secret
  68. Combined genealogy with crafts (family picture quilt, scrapbooking)
  69. Think genealogy is a passion not a hobby
  70. Assisted finding next of kin for a deceased person (Unclaimed Persons)
  71. Taught someone else how to find their roots
  72. Lost valuable genealogy data due to a computer crash or hard drive failure
  73. Been overwhelmed by available genealogy technology

Can we reach 99 by day’s end?

Update at 6:15 PM – I think we’ve reached 99 –  visit Becky’s original post for the updated list!

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To the Nines!

2 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 9

Nearly everyone is familiar with the phrase “dressed to the nines”, which means dressed up fancily or fashionably.  But why to the nines?  Why not dressed to the eights or sevens?

No one really knows where the phrase “to the nines” originated.  Some think that the earliest reference is a poem by Robert Burns in 1791 called Poem on Pastoral Poetry in which he notes that “Thou paints auld Nature to the nines.”  Did Burns invent the phrase?  Other theories link the phrase to the nine muses of classical mythology or the Nine Worthies of the Middle ages.  Or, perhaps being “to the nines” is close to being perfect on a scale of one to ten.  Whatever the origin, the phrase has become a part of the English language to mean superlative, or to the highest degree.  Therefore, in honor of the new year of 2009, I offer a salute “to the Nines” – the years of history ending in 9!

It takes 9 months to be born, cats have 9 lives, there are 9 choirs of angels, and there’s even a “Love Potion No. 9″!  In honor of 2009, I plan on taking a look at those other years ending in 9 throughout history – or at least throughout the history of my ancestors.  Beginning with the earliest period that I’ve traced my family history to, I’ll look back on certain decades in history and significant events that occurred in “9” years –  both in terms of world history as well as my family’s history.  I’ll skim along through decades in the beginning, but once I reach the twentieth century I’ll take a closer look at the decades that made up my grandparents and parents lives.  My first “9 Year” was 1969, but since I was only two years old, I can’t say it made a big impression on me.  But 1979, 1989, and 1999 did make an impression, and I will write a memoir-style post about the impact of those specific years on my life.

Welcome to 2009, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading my “To the Nines” series over the next several months!

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