Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2011

The Date I Was Born

This week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF) at Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings is all about the Date You Were Born.  Suddenly I was on a trip down memory lane…not to the day of my birth, but to my freshman year of college when I had to write about the day of my birth.  What did I find out?  Read all about it below – but first I will answer Randy’s specific challenge.  He asks:

1) What day of the week were you born? Tell us how you found out.

I was born on a Wednesday.  I found this out when my parents told me!

2) What has happened in recorded history on your birth date (day and month)? Tell us how you found out, and list five events.

I was born on the 67th day of 1967 (that’s March 8).  On that day in history, there are a lot of events listed in Wikipedia.  None of them, however, are earth-shattering historical events that are talked about centuries later. It appears that my birth might be the most exciting thing that ever happened that day (ahem). Here are five of the more interesting other events that have occurred on March 8th:

  • 1775 – Thomas Paine’s “African Slavery in America,” the first article in the American colonies calling for the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery, is published.
  • 1817 – The New York Stock Exchange is founded.
  • 1917 – International Women’s Day protests in St. Petersburg contributed to the February Revolution and ultimately led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, ending the Romanov dynasty in Russia.
  • 1979 – Philips demonstrates the Compact Disc publicly for the first time.
  • 1983 – President Ronald Reagan calls the Soviet Union an “evil empire”.

3)  What famous people have been born on your birth date?  Tell us how you found out, and list five of them.

Using the same page in Wikipedia, I discovered these five others with my birthday:

  • 1495 – John of God, Portuguese-born friar and saint (d. 1550)
  • 1841 – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (d. 1935)
  • 1922 – Cyd Charisse, American actress and dancer (d. 2008)
  • 1959 – Aidan Quinn, American actor
  • 1945 – Micky Dolenz, American musician (The Monkees)

If we could get all of the musicians born on 3/8 together, we’d have an interesting group with members from The Monkees, The Eagles, Three Dog Night, Iron Maiden, and Keane.  One can only imagine what that would sound like…

As I said in the beginning, I wrote an essay about the date of my birth for an English composition class in my freshman year of college.  I found it in my files after seeing Randy’s challenge.  The date I submitted it was January 22, 1986 – almost exactly 25 years ago.  I was 19 years old and still had a lot to learn about writing, life, and myself.  But my teacher, Mrs. Bonnie Balcer, loved the essay and many others that I wrote.  She praised  my writing and encouraged me so much that I credit her for my decision to abandon the ill-conceived idea that I wanted to be a teacher, and instead I majored in English.  Twenty-five years later, I still have a lot to learn about writing, life, and myself.  But I’d like to thank Mrs. Balcer, wherever she is, for pointing me in the write direction.  (In looking for this essay, I also found one from my first semester of graduate school four years later. I wrote about my recent exploits in genealogical research. The title of that paper? What’s Past is Prologue.  Yes, I will have to reprint that essay here as well…)  This would have been a lot easier to reproduce here if it weren’t for the fact that back then I wrote on a typewriter

This is the Day the Lord Has Made…Me

Wednesday, March 8, 1967 was an ordinary day in the lives of many people.  No major headlines graced the front page of the New York Times, no scientific breakthroughs were made, and no events of great historical importance took place.  Despite the mundaneness of the day, it was one of great significance to my family and me; it was the day of my birth.  However, the world only celebrates one’s birthday if he is very famous, so the world continued its life as I began mine, neither of us concerned with the other.  Looking back on that day, there were many interesting occurrences besides my birth.

The pages of the New York Times were filled with news about Vietnam.  The North Vietmanese attacked an American zone for the second time in a week.  Senator Robert F. Kennedy suggested that, in order to see if North Vietnam was sincere about wanting to negotiate, the United States should end bomb raids.

In the United States, Washington, D.C. seemed far removed from the Vietnam crisis.  The big problem there was a dispute over where to house diplomats in the city. Those uninterested in that quarrel may have fancied the rumor that Press Secretary Henry Cabot Lodge might resign. People all over the U.S. may have been happy to see that Jimmy Hoffa was finally put into prison after ten years of escaping the sentence.

Besides all of these headlines, Roman Catholics of the world were told by the Vatican that only sacred music was permitted for use in Church.  Because I grew up alien to the pre-Vatican II days, it was interesting to see the Church still receiving the impact of Vatican II at the time of my birth.

Two stories particularly resembled issues of today. One concerned abortion, an issue on which people take sides today. But in 1967 there was no question – abortion was illegal unless the mother’s life was endangered. The New York State legislature rejected a bill that would make the law more lenient. Because of the 15 to 3 vote, the state was criticized as trying to “abort abortion”.

The second familiar issue was nuclear disarmament. The U.S. and Russia proposed a treaty to ban the spread of nuclear weapons, but India felt it discriminated against non-nuclear countries. India also wanted joint action against the proposal. In a modern world that is still trying to achieve disarmament, it is evident that the treaty never came to life.

Another fascinating section of the paper was the entertainment section. Because faithful viewers protested the cancellation of Gunsmoke, it was returned to the air. The TV listings for the prime time hours of the major networks resembled the daytime schedules of independent stations today. Popular shows were Lost in Space, Batman, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, Perry Mason, and The Beverly Hillbillies.  Today’s hit, The Cosby Show, was far from Bill Cosby’s mind as he enjoyed fame with I Spy. One facet of 1967 television was exactly the same as today – the soap operas. Some were General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, and Guiding Light, all of which can be seen today.

Coke is another part of our culture that is still around today, and it was in the headlines in 1967 as in recent months. There wasn’t any talk of “New Coke,” “Old Coke,” or “Coke Classic” though. The news concerned the price, which was scheduled to go up from 10 cents to 15 cents a bottle. If Coke’s price doesn’t best reflect the economy, the price of gold does – a mere $35 an ounce.

As anyone can see, the world of 1967 is both different and similar to the world of 1986. Many changes have occurred in the past 19 years, although not all of the changes were good. The world still has little concern for me, as on that cold day in March, and at times I have little concern for it. We’ve both grown a lot, but I can’t say if we’ve both “grown up.” I’m glad I did.

#

Why, oh why didn’t someone give that newborn baby her weight in gold?

Read Full Post »

Each year, the Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH) offers genealogy bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for the previous year.  After reviewing all of the entries, reading the critics’ reviews, and tallying up the votes, it’s time to roll out the red carpet and present the honors.  Welcome to the 2010 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Best Picture

“You have such neat parents! And what great pictures you have of them. Excellent story.” ~ Greta Kohl from Greta’s Genealogy Bog

The Best Picture award goes to It All Started at a Dance.  Even though this was more of a “story” post than a photographic post, the pictures helped illustrate the story of my parents.  They met at a dance, and they continued to dance.  I haven’t seen them dance for a while, but I bet they still would…if it was a good song!

Best Screenplay

“Great story! I have complete faith that eventually you will learn the rest of the story.” ~ Michelle Goodrum from The Turning of Generations

The story of my grandaunt, The Sister Who Disappeared, wins the award for Best Screenplay. Janina immigrated to the United States as an infant. Life was hard in the family’s new country, and she began working in factories as a teenager. But “Jennie” left her family for a new life with a new love…and she was never heard from again. Was her life a classic love story with a happy ending? Or a tragic tale? The film would tell Jennie’s (hopefully exciting) life story – and give me some much needed answers!

Best Documentary

“Wow. The description of the battle is breathtaking. What an amazing, horrifying first-person account. It gave me the chills. Thanks for this great series!” ~ Amy from They That Go Down to the Sea

The award for Best Documentary goes to the 5-part series on Bavarian Military Rosters. Specifically, Part 4, The Great War and the Homefront, would make a riveting tale. This episode revealed the details of the battle that cost the young German soldier, Josef Bergmeister, his life. Meanwhile, the Bergmeister cousins who immigrated to the United States faced different challenges as the Great War raged on.

Best Biography

“Now THAT was a fun read! Now if you’ll just do Donald O’Connor…” ~ Kerry from The Clue Wagon

I didn’t write many biographical sketches on my own ancestors in 2010, so my Best Biography award goes to Climbing Up Gene Kelly’s Family Tree. I’ve been devoted to Gene Kelly for so long that I know his genealogy almost as well as my own. After taking up the Carnival of Genealogy challenge to start researching someone’s ancestry from scratch, what family secrets would I uncover about my favorite film star? [Hint: His Irish eyes are smiling, but Gene also has German genes!]

Best Comedy

“Ah! The Killer Prayer Chair. Starting with this Stephen King quote set the tone and direction of this article. I knew something was coming. Just perfect. You are the master storyteller.” ~ footnoteMaven

The winner of the Best Comedy award is…The Killer Chair.  I wrote this as a Memory Monday post – just a random memory from my brain.  But it was such a funny memory that I found myself laughing almost as hard writing about it as I did when the chair tried to kill my sister-in-law and me.  There’s a story behind everything – especially inanimate objects that innocently grace the background of your family photographs.

I’d like to thank the Academy for these awards, all of the great “reviews” from the critics, my adoring fans (see photo to the left), and our iGENE hostess with the mostess, Jasia!

[Submitted for the 102nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Annual iGENE Awards]

Read Full Post »

After some success at Finding Polish Records Online, I decided to snoop around some more, this time with the Poznan Project.  While many of my Polish ancestors come from the area in or around Warsaw, a whole other branch comes from the wielkopolskie province in what is known as “Greater Poland”.  I have two ancestral lines from the town of Wilczyn in this province, which is covered by the Poznan Marriage Indexing Project.  I entered some of my family surnames into the search form, and immediately I found several matches.

But one find really confused me.  The groom’s name and his parents’ names were familiar to me already.  The bride’s name and her parents’ names were too.  Except these two individuals are from different branches of my family tree!

I actually had to plot it out on paper to figure out what had happened.  The “note” in the indexed record helped as well: he was a widower; she was a widow.  Their deceased spouses’ names were my ancestors – both the deceased and the two newlyweds are my 4th great-grandparents.

After charting it out, I was able to see that my great-grandmother’s father’s maternal grandparents were Franciszek Michałowski (b. 1788) and Julianna Pałuszyńska (b.1797). Her mother’s maternal grandparents were  Józef Kubiński (b.1795) and Apolonia Lewandowska (b.1796). At some point, Franciszek died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Elżbieta Michałowska (b. 1824). Likewise, Apolonia died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Konstancja Kubińska (1818-1896).

In 1839, the widow Juliana and the widower Józef got married, which made their two daughters step-sisters. The previous year, Józef’s daughter Konstancja had already gotten married to Jan Drogowski (1818-1894).  But Juliana’s daughter, Elżbieta, was only 15 years old.  When Elżbieta eventually got married in 1844 to Józef Ślesiński (1821-1866), her step-father Józef was a witness to the marriage.

Still with me?  Elżbieta had a son, Wincenty (1850-1919).  Konstancja had a daugther, Stanisława (1860-1918).  Wincenty and Stanisława got married in 1879 and had my great-grandmother, Wacława (1885-1956) and a bunch of other children.  Although Wacława has eight great-grandparents like most of us, her father’s grandmother married her mother’s grandfather after their spouses had died!

Once I was able to see this second marriage, it actually explained what I thought was a discrepancy in the records.  In Elżbieta Michałowska’s death record, her maiden name is not listed as Michałowska, but as Kubińska – her step-father’s name.  Until finding this marriage record, I wasn’t able to figure out that apparent name change!

One find in an index led to mapping out the family tree to see the connection.  This just goes to show that you never know what you might find!  I don’t usually look for second marriages in indexes, and if I hadn’t found this I would not be able to find the death record of the widow since I’d be looking under her first husband’s surname.

Read Full Post »

Who’s Number 100,000?

Photo by Ricardo Villela on Flickr (click image to view on Flickr).

Sometime in the next 18 hours or so, someone will visit here and my site meter (on the right) will read “100,000”! That’s a lot of visitors, and I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read, comment, or just have a look around.  I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of your company.  If you are the 100,000th visitor, please leave a comment!

Read Full Post »

Meeting Great-Grandma

Playing Ancestral Roulette for Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) this week got me thinking about great-grandmothers – that is, about meeting your great-grandmother.  When I was in high school, my friend told me how lucky I was that both of my grandmothers were still living – he never knew any of his grandparents since they died before he was born.  My own father only met one grandparent, his paternal grandfather, but he died when my dad was six years old.

Sometimes longevity, child-bearing, and luck kicks in and a child’s life overlaps with that of their great-grandparent’s.  I realized that we seem to have a streak running in my own family for four generations.  The overlap was too short for the child to remember the meeting, but one can only imagine how special it must have been for the great-grandmother to hold their grandchild’s child.  I’m not able to see if this streak goes back more than four generations as I do not have all of the death dates for all of my ancestors.  For now, it applies to four generations born in the United States:

  • My grandfather, Henry M. Pater, was 2 when his great-grandmother Francziska Anna Wojciechowska Pluta died in 1914 at the age of 74.
  • My mother, Anita Pater Pointkouski, was almost 3 when her great-grandmother Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater died in 1938 at the age of 75.
  • I was 5 when my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater died in 1972 at the age of 80.  She died on my brother’s 13th birthday.
  • My niece was 2 when her great-grandmother Margaret Hermina Bergmeister Pointkouski died in 1998 at the age of 84.

Ava meeting Pearl, 2005.

I’m always impressed with family photographs of multiple generations.  I have no photographs of any of the above children with their great-grandmothers.  But I do have one of my younger niece.  Although she was born long after my grandmothers had died, she had one great-grandmother from her mother’s side (she died at the age of 89 when my niece was almost 2).  Although I wasn’t present when this photo was taken, I do have a fond memory of another time when these two ladies met.  My niece’s great-grandmother could not see very well, but she got close to my niece and talked softly to her.  My niece was smiling; her great-grandmother was beaming.  Although we were all to young to remember meeting our great-grandmothers, I often think of this woman’s smile as she held my baby niece.  And I know it’s the same smile, and the same love, that all the great-grandmothers before her gave to their great-grandchildren.

Did you meet your great-grandmother?

Read Full Post »

Ancestral Roulette

I’m late to the party – the Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) party brought to us each week by Randy Seaver.  This week, Randy challenged us with Ancestral Name List Roulette:

1) How old is one of your grandfathers now, or how old would he be if he had lived? Divide this number by 4 and round the number off to a whole number. This is your “roulette number.”

2) Use your pedigree charts or your family tree genealogy software program to find the person with that number in your ancestral name list (some people call it an “ahnentafel”). Who is that person?

3) Tell us three facts about that person in your ancestral name list with the “roulette number.”

My Grandpop, James Pointkouski, was born on July 6, 1910 and would be 100 right now if he were alive. Therefore, my “roulette number” is 25.  My ahnentafel #25 is my mother’s father’s father’s mother: my great-great grandmother Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater (born 11 June 1863, Mszczonów, Poland; died 12 December 1938, Philadelphia, PA, USA).

This was a fortunate roll of the roulette wheel since I actually know a few things about her!  My 3 facts about Antonina:

  • Antonina was my only 2nd great-grandmother to immigrate to the U.S., which meant my grandfather, Henry Pater, was my only grandparent that knew his grandmother (he was 26 when she died).
  • Antonina was also the only mother-in-law to any of my “greats” that lived in the same country as the couple. Rumor has it that she did not get along with her daughter-in-law Elizabeth Miller Pater (my great-grandmother).
  • Antonina died two weeks before my mother’s 3rd birthday.  One of my mother’s earliest memories is attending her great-grandmother’s wake. Her father made her kiss Antonina “good-bye”, which probably explains why my mother isn’t very fond of wakes or funerals to this day.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I mentioned my “easy” online find of a 19th century Polish marriage record via a site called Geneteka.  In this post, I’ll provide more information on the site, what’s available, and how to navigate.  But first, a word on various Polish sites that offer genealogical records or indexes.

It’s becoming more and more common to find genealogical records online in the United States thanks to both “free” sites, such as FamilySearch, and paid subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Although FamilySearch and Ancestry both have some international records, not many are from Poland – which is where most of my ancestors are from.  But, there are Polish records available online – the only problem is knowing where to look.  There are several web sites and genealogical societies in Poland that are in the process of indexing millions of vital records, but most of the sites are in Polish (a notable exception to the language issue is the Poznan Project, which is in English).  There doesn’t seem to be one central online repository for these records, so finding them required some sleuthing and a heavy use of online translators to understand the Polish instructions.

Your first stop to check on availability of Polish records or indexes online should be the Indeks Indesków, which means the Index of Indexes.  It is in Polish, but it’s not too hard to figure out.  The site lists updated indexes in chronological order starting with the most recent.  But to see the entire list of what is available for each province, simply click on the name of the province (woj.) at the top of the page.  The column on the far left shows the Parafia/USC or the name of the town parish/civil registration office.  Next, the list will show what years are available online for chrzty/urodziny (christenings/births), małżeństwa (marriages), and zgony (deaths).  The final column, strona www, provides the link to the site or sites that have these indexes or records.  There are a dozen different sites!

Many of my Polish ancestors come from the mazowieckie provice and I was fortunate to discover that several of my main towns (Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Warszawa) all have either indexes or the actual records available via Geneteka.

A full and very detailed explanation of the Geneteka site has already been written by Al of Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research in June, 2009.  Please read his series of posts starting with Indexing Project – Geneteka Part One.  When you’re finished reading Al’s posts, come back here and I’ll explain my search.

Using this Geneteka search page, I entered my surname Piątkowski without the diacritical (entered as Piatkowski) in the box that says Nazwisko and clicked on the Wyszukaj button.

Search results for "Piatkowski"

Next, I chose to view the 93 marriage records listed under Warszawa to see the following results:

Search results for "Piatkowski" in marriage records for Warszawa

Scrolling down to find “Stanisław”, I see the names of my great-great-grandparents:

Piatkowski-Konopka search result

The first column is merely the number of the record within the total number of records found.  Next is the year the marriage took place, followed by the number of the record in the actual record book.  Next is the name of the groom, then the bride, and the church name.  The icon that looks like the letter “i” is included with some lines.  If you hold your mouse over the “i” you will see additional information (have an online translation tool handy).  The “A” icon will tell you who indexed the record.  Finally, the most important part of the line is the icon that reads “SKAN” at the end of the line.  This is not available for all of the indexed records, but if it is shown you are in luck – click it and you will see a scanned copy of the image.  (Note: some of the scanned images are located on the Geneteka site and others link to Polish Archives – my sample for this post links to one of the Archives so if you click on “skan” for another image it may look different than the images that follow.) First you will see the record group that the image is in, such as the following:

This page opens up after clicking on "skan" next to the Piatkowski-Konopka information.

I knew from the indexed information that I needed record number 194, so I clicked on the first image on this page.  It opens up a larger view of the records, and you can clearly read the number.  Then I used the navigation buttons on the side to find #194.

Navigate through the records until you find the correct number (located in upper left of each record).

Once you find the correct image,  you can save it to your computer.  It’s FREE!  Then all you need is either your trusty copy of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents.  Volume I:  Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman or your favorite Polish translator to help you uncover the details found in your record!

What if you find a name, but there is no “skan” at the end of the line?  That means they have not (yet?) scanned the record.  However, you now have both the year and the akt (act) number, which means you can contact the archives in that region to get a copy.  There will be a fee to obtain it, but it will be less than if you required them to research the name in the indexes themselves to find the correct year and act number.

This isn’t a full explanation of the Geneteka site – I am still figuring it all out myself.  Al already gave a very good primer on how to use the site, and I highly recommend his series that I linked to above.  My main goal in writing this post was to let others who are researching Polish ancestry know that the records are out there (to borrow a phrase from the television show X-Files).  Unfortunately, the records are being indexed by over a dozen different groups, and there is no one central site for this information.  Check the Index of Indexes to see if your ancestors’ parishes have been indexed yet.  If they haven’t – keep checking the site!  It is updated frequently.  All of the indexing sites appear to be quite active.  This marriage record only appeared in the last month.  If anyone else has good luck in finding a record on one of the many Polish sites, I’d love to hear more so leave a comment.

Read Full Post »

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an “easy” button for genealogy?  Can’t find a record? Just press the “easy” button!  Well, occasionally even genealogists get lucky and find something easily.  Since so many record are available online, a lot of research can be as easy as clicking a button.  But when your ancestors lived in a state as vital-record-strict as Pennsylvania, or from parts of Poland and Germany that don’t seem to work with the big online record sites, “easy” isn’t common.

For my new year genealogy resolutions, I made a wish list list of 11 goals for 2011.  A few were research-specific, including number 9 – “Find the marriage record for Stanisław Piątkowski & Apolonia Konopka.”  I didn’t necessarily put it on the list because I thought it would be easy; it was just one of those records I needed to find in order to continue researching each of those ancestral lines.  I didn’t expect to achieve that goal eight days into the new year.  And it was easy!

I found the couple’s marriage record online.  Now, in today’s genealogical world, that doesn’t sound unusual.  It is quite common to find records online.  But a marriage record from Warsaw, Poland?  From 1863?  On a free online site that isn’t called FamilySearch and isn’t affiliated with Ancestry?  To borrow a phrase from Randy Seaver, I was genea-smacked.  If only the rest of my genealogical research could be this easy.  The source of my great-great-grandparents’ marriage record is called Geneteka.  If you want to learn more about what it is, what records are available, and how to use it, stay tuned for my next post.  If only research was always this easy…

Read Full Post »

Happy New Year! “Donna’s Picks” is my occasional feature to highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.   Sit back and enjoy the following links:

Calling All Young Genealogists – If you are a genealogist and a student between the ages of 18-25, considering applying for a grant to attend the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in June.  The grant is in honor of The Family Curator’s mother, Suzanne Freeman, and you can read all about it in Young Genealogists Invited to Apply for Grant to Attend 2011 SCGS Jamboree [January 5].  What a wonderful idea in memory of a wonderful woman!

De-Cluttering for Genealogists – A common theme this week among my genea-friends seems to be working on new year’s goals that involve getting organized.  There’s no better way to tackle your unorganized pile of genea-clutter than taking it one step at a time starting with DearMYRTLE’s 2011 January Organization Checklist [posted January 1].  I swore I was going to follow Myrt’s checklists faithfully two years ago when they were first published, but I never got around to it.  This year!  Now the monthly checklists are updated and full of very helpful suggestions and solutions.

Uncover the Story – Now that your desk is clear, read Leslie Albrecht Huber’s Uncovering the Stories of Immigrant Ancestors [January 3] based on her recent magazine article.  She offers tips on how to turn the dry genealogical “facts” into an interesting story.

No Response? – If you’ve written a query to a church and didn’t get a response, read the Ancestral Archaeologist’s reasons why you didn’t in Why the Dog Ate My Church Records Request [Jaunary 5].

Keeping Up with the Joneses? – Read Elyse’s 3 Tips for Researching Common Surnames [January 5] on Else’s Genealogy Blog.  And if you don’t have Smith and Jones in your family tree, I know this would work on Kowalski in Poland or Schmidt in Germany!

And Now for Something Completely Different – If you want your blog and your writing to stand out from the crowd, why not Be the Chicken Nugget in a Bag of Vegetables? [January 5 on Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer]

Finally! A Tombstone Tuesday I Can Relate To (since my family has few tombstones).  Susan Peterson takes a light-hearted look at the death of our beloved gadgets in Tombstone Tuesday – Sending My Stuff to the Technology Graveyard [January 4] on Long Lost Relatives.

Happy ancestor hunting!  Stop back next time for more of Donna’s Picks!

Read Full Post »

Three Years of Blogging


Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr

What’s Past is Prologue is three years old tomorrow!  It’s hard to believe that so much time has gone by.  Most (honest) bloggers, no matter the subject of their blog, will tell you that they had no idea what they were doing when they started.  After three whole years I can unequivocally say that I still have no idea what I’m doing.  But it’s been a fun ride!

My blog’s odometer will flip past the 100,000 milestone this month, and I am humbled and grateful that so many folks stop by just to read what I have to say.  [Hmm, who will be my 100,000th visitor? If it’s you, email me!] Last year wasn’t an easy one when it came to blogging, and it shows in the frequency – or lack thereof – and the quality of my posts.  Despite the fact that I posted only half as much as my first year of blogging in 2008, I had almost double the number of visitors.  Many thanks to Genea-musings and Creative Gene as the top two sites who sent many visitors to here by linking to my stories!  Thanks also to all of my fans who voted to make my blog one of Family Tree Magazine’s Top 40 Genealogy Blogs of 2010 (and who nominated me for 2011)!

Some of my most popular posts from 2008 and 2009 continued to rack up the visits with Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online (June, 2008) pulling in over 6,700 visitors in 2010 and I Remember Betsy (March, 2009) with over 4,900.   Looking at only the posts I wrote last year, the most popular has been Climbing Up Gene Kelly’s Family Tree (September) with nearly 400 hits.  Rounding out 2010’s greatest hits (in terms of visitors) were parts 1-4 of my 5-part series on Bavarian Military Rosters (January), my surname series on FISCHER (January), The Boy Next Door (April), How I Spent My Genealogy Vacation (May), Lessons Learned from WDYTYA (March), and The Address Book (March).

The posts with the most visitors don’t always equate to the author’s favorites, but this year there is some overlap.  I avoided the end-of-year “Best of” lists on all the genealogy blogs knowing my blogiversary was coming up, so here are my 10 favorite posts of 2010:

A Killer Chair – borrowing Greta’s Memory Monday idea, I wrote about seven different memories throughout the year.  While they technically had nothing to do with genealogy, they were among my favorite posts to write.  This August memory is a favorite just for the laugh it gave me to remember that event.

It All Started at a Dance – March’s submission for the 92nd Carnival of Genealogy was about my parents, how they met, and how dancing remained a part of their lives for a while.  I was honored when it was selected as the Featured Article for the COG!

Genealogical Smackdown: Colonials vs. Immigrants – My October post on which researchers have it harder is a favorite because I attempted writing it for months before finally finishing it.  It didn’t offer any groundbreaking conclusions, but it was something I wanted to publically ponder for a while, and I was pleased to finally pose the question to other genealogists to fight (nicely) amongst themselves.  The answer is still pending (unless you belong entirely to one camp or the other, then the answer is quite clear!).

If Genealogists Ruled the Television Networks – In February, I wondered what television would be like if genealogists were in charge – see the comments for more great ideas!

The Walk Home – This was my first “Memory Monday” post.  Again, not much to do with genealogical research, but a nice walk down memory lane.  I wish I knew what my ancestors’ walks home were like.

The Bavarian Military Rosters – Rounding out my ten favorites is my 5-part series on using the Bavarian Military Rosters on Ancestry.com.  Part 1, Cousins, Countries and War, shows my inspriration for using these records – a possible cousin to my great-grandfather of the same name.  Part 2, The Bavarian Military Rosters, explained what they are and how to read one.  In Part 3, Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record, I finally learn about the life and death of the mysterious stranger.  Part 4, The Great War and the Homefront, provides details on the battle as well as what my great-grandfather faced in the U.S.  In Part 5, The Bergmeister Family Tree, I listed all of the known male lines from 1650 to WWI to show how the U.S. immigrants and German WWI soldiers were related.

This year I hope to post more frequently and write about more research, tips, memories, and humorous musings.  Thanks for coming along with me for the ride – let’s get this show on the road!

Read Full Post »

Beginner researchers often post on mailing lists or genealogy forums, “Does anyone know where town xyz is?”  The typical answer from those “in the know” is a question:  Have you tried ShtetlSeeker?

ShtetlSeeker is an online database developed by JewishGen.  Researchers with no Jewish ancestry may not have heard of it, but if you haven’t you’re missing out on one of the best geographic resources on the internet.  Despite its name, it’s not just for Jewish communities (shtetl is a Yiddish word meaning “town”).  It is a database containing information on all towns in 45 different countries of Central & Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.  If your ancestors were Jewish, there is a separate search form that only looks at the towns with Jewish populations.

What’s so great about this particular database?  There are so many great features that it makes ShtetlSeeker far superior to any other online database or any paper map (and I am very fond of paper maps).  Here are some of the things that I especially like:

He said Woodge not Łódź

The database uses the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex for a “sounds like” search.  The Daitch-Mokotoff soundex is more useful for Slavic or Yiddish pronunciations than the “regular” American soundex, which is especially useful if you have Eastern European ancestry.  Let’s say you asked Grandpa where he was born, and he tells you “Mishzinof” in Poland.  Chances are you didn’t ask him to spell it, and there is no town with that name – at least not spelled the way you heard it.  If you enter MISHZINOF into the search form for a “sounds like” search, you will get 18 possible matches based on the similarity in pronunciation between the search term and the correct language’s spelling.  While you do not need to enter a search term with any special characters, the result will provide you with the correct accented letters in the native language.

Widen the search area

If your ancestors were like mine, they may have said they were from the “big city” nearby (Munich) when they were really from a smaller town that no one ever heard of (Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm).  I am currently researching an ancestor who listed a somewhat large town, Żyrardów, as her birthplace.  A search of the records didn’t find her family, so now I am looking at the towns closest to Żyrardów.  I could open up a map to do this.  Or, I can use ShtetlSeeker to find towns in a ten mile radius with the click of a button.

The beginning of a list of 190 places within ten miles of Zyrardow, Poland.

And then it was called…

Names change, especially town names in central and eastern Europe.  One feature of the database is that you not only see what the town may have been called at a particular time in recent history, but what it was called in other languages.  For example, you can quickly learn that Gdańsk, Poland, was once Danzig, Germany.  Or that my own Polish ancestors’ town, Żyrardów, was called Ruda Guzowska before 1833.  Or that Pécs, Hungary could also be known as Pečuh [Croatian], Pečuj [Serbian], Peçuy [Turkish], Fünfkirchen [German], Pětikostelí [Czech], Päťkostolie [Slovak], Pięciokościoły [Polish], Cinquechiese [Italian], Quinque Ecclesiae [Latin], or Cinq-Églises [French].

Places don't move, but country's boundaries do!

Multiple Towns

Above I indicated that one of my Pfaffenhofen ancestors said they were from Munich.  When I initially found the town name, written as “Pfaffenhoven” in a baptismal record, I discovered there were several towns in Germany with that name.  But, he said he was from Munich, so which of the many towns with that name are close to Munich?  With ShtetlSeeker, you can see a town’s distance from another town as a reference point.

Eeenie, meenie, minie, mo, which Ostroleka did they come fro'?

If you are Jewish, it’s even better!

I recently researched a friend’s grandfather, who listed his birthplace on a draft registration card as “Chernovitz, Austria”.  As there is no town with that specific name, I tried the ShtetlSeeker to perform a “sounds like” search.  The search result was a list of dozens of possibilities located in Poland, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and other countries.  Then it dawned on me…my friend and his ancestors are Jewish!  After I limited the search to only towns with Jewish communities in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, the result was reduced to one:  Chernivtsi, Ukraine.  The findings show that pre-WWI the town was known as Czernowitz and was part of the Austrian Empire, so it is likely the correct birthplace for his grandfather.  There are also links to other databases on the JewishGen site related to the town.

Some of the additional town resources for Jewish communities.

Other Cool Tools

There are a few other cool things about the database, such as:

  • Links to actual maps – see the town and its region on multiple online map sites
  • Latitude and Longitude data for the town
  • 3 types of searches – Jewish Communities, places by name (all localities in Central and Eastern Europe), and location (localities within a certain distance of a given latitude / longitude coordinates).

If you have never used ShtetlSeeker, try it!  You may just find where you are searching for…

Read Full Post »

The following article first appeared on January 9, 2010 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed magazine.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.While these were my “top ten photo resolutions for 2010″, they can apply to 2011, too.  Besides, who keeps the resolutions they make? We can merely recycle them from year to year!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Beginning a new year is a time for reflection when most people think back on the previous year and try to challenge themselves to improve various faults and foibles.  Of course, before beginning a new year we have to end the previous one, and that’s usually a time for partying.  Therefore, most of our resolutions to change ourselves may have been half-heartedly assembled in the throes of a party-induced hangover, which is why these great ideas tend to fizzle out quicker than a cheap sparkler.  So take your time before making resolutions – think about it!  To help you out, I’ve decided to come up with my top 10 resolutions specifically for Shades of the Departed readers, so they are all related to photographs.  But they are also written by me, the resident humor columnist, so…let’s just say you might want to think about these as well before making any final resolutions!

10 – If you are photographing a group of children, add a “silly face” photo in the session.  It will keep them interested, less cranky, and may even make them smile for more photos.  Plus, they’ll be laughing at the silly photo for years to come.  That is, until they reach the age when they begin dating and you share it with their prospective paramour…then it’s not so funny.

 

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ262-128224

 

9 – Don’t wait – get all of those damaged photos restored.  I recently had a professional restore an old photograph of my mother as a child with her older sister and parents.  My mother commented, “I haven’t seen the photo look like this for sixty years!”

8 – Pay attention to the background in your photos – or even the foreground – so your shot doesn’t have any distractions from the main subject.

7 – Remember to “strike a pose” for a memorable shot!

 

 

6 – Be creative and have fun with your photography!  Consider creating optical illusions with some forced perspective shots to liven up your vacation album.

5 – Remember that pets are people, too.  They really don’t enjoy dressing up in costumes any more than people do – except they are less vocal about it.  Come to think of it – your babies are people, too.  They will show their displeasure by their expressions, but remember that they will get vocal about it once they’re old enough to talk!

4 – When it takes forty or fifty tries to get the kids to a) sit still, b) look at the camera, c) smile, and d) do a, b, and c all at the same time, it is okay to delete some of those motion-blurred, crying, and cranky shots.  Save a few though – they could prove useful to embarrass those children fifteen years later. (Also see #10)

3 – Since you are always the one taking photos, make sure you get some of yourself.  Only ask someone else to take it – unless you have very long arms or a timer on your camera, most self-portraits are not very flattering.

 

Image designed by footnoteMaven

 

2 – Keep shoes in shoeboxes, not your photographs.  Get them out of the boxes – and off of your hard drives – and into frames or albums to display around your home or office.  Don’t be too busy taking photos to remember the joy in looking at them and remembering the fun.

And the number one photo resolution is –

The Cross Counter, which is useful for mugging your relatives. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress LC-USZ62-105001

1 – Forget mug shots – mug your relatives for copies of family photos!  Are you, like me, tired of waiting for family members to dig out those precious photographs you’ve heard so much about but have never seen?  It’s time to take matters into your own hands.  I resolve to sit on doorsteps until they find the photos and reveal them to me.  I have a feeling some of my cousins may be entering the Relative Protection Program, a distant cousin of the Witness Protection Program, that seeks to protect the innocent from a hungry photograph-hound like myself.  But hey, I’m a genealogist, so I ought to be able to track them down!

#

All photographs from the collection of the author except as noted.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers