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Archive for January, 2012

Each year, the (nonexistent) Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH) offers genealogy bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for the previous year.  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 2011 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Best Picture

 “Loved this! As if the first photo wasn’t cute enough…”  ~ Cynthia Shenette of Heritage Zen

The Best Picture award goes to Christmas: Then and Now from December.  Technically that would be the Best Pictures award since the post has two photographs.  The first is my brother and I on Christmas morning in 1971…then a do-over forty years later! It was fun to recreate. Well, it was fun until we had to get up off of the floor, and then we realized that we are forty years older.

Best Screenplay

“This may be the most amazing newspaper find I know of. Less spectacular if you lived in Germany and it was a hundred years ago, but here, now? I’m blown away by your storm. Delicious title, btw.” ~ Susan of Nolichucky Roots 

“Lucky lucky you! What a find. Maybe you should try writing a thriller… you show real talent for chapter titles.” ~ Denise Levenick, the Family Curator

The story of the 1813 thunderstorm in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, wins the award for Best Screenplay. Lightning struck the church steeple and caught fire, and the fire spread to several houses and barns.  It was raining so hard, eyewitnesses report barely being able to see in front of you. The townspeople feared that the entire town would be destroyed by fire, but two men bravely fought the fire and brought it under control. The two heroes in this dramatic story were the town’s Master Carpenter and Master Mason…and the Master Carpenter was my 4th great grandfather, Karl Nigg.

Best Documentary

“Donna, I was amazed by this post and became a follower right away. It is material like this that expands genealogy and family history not only into a source for finding ancestors but also for adding fantastic color to their lives. Wonderful!” ~ Kathy from ‘Village Life in Kreis Saarburg, Germany’ 

Another amazing Google Books find was the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, which I referred to as “Bavaria’s Most Wanted” since it lists names and other information on men and women wanted for crimes throughout Bavaria.  This would make a fascinating television series…talk about reality tv!  The papers, which date from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries, have a section for criminals called “Wanted Dead or Alive”, a “Beware” list of shifty characters, and a “Who is This?” for unidentified persons. Some photos are included, too!

Best Biography

“Great stuff, Donna!” ~ Lisa Alzo, the Accidental Genealogist

July’s post, The Fugitive Immigrant, wins for Best Biography. I found out my great-grandfather’s brother was wanted by the Bavarian authorities when he immigrated to the United States! I just wish I knew what “fraud” he committed back in 1903.

Best Comedy

Okay, sistah, but most of you will be passed out before the show even airs on the left coast.” ~ Kathryn Doyle of the California Genealogical Society and Library

“This is awesome! I re-posted it everywhere. I can’t wipe the smile off my face, it gives whole new meaning to who I think I am! =) Thanks for the fun!” ~ Jennifer

The winner of the Best Comedy award goes to February’s post, The WDYTYA Drinking Game. I couldn’t help but find the humor in genealogists’ favorite Friday night show. And, based on the comments, everyone else found the humor in my humor. But, just for the record, all I ever said was favorite beverage.  I never said it had to be alcoholic!

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

[Submitted for the 114th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The 5th Annual iGENE Awards]

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Geniaus has proposed The Bucket List GeneaMeme in which we share genealogy-related things we’d like to do.  The “rules” said to put the things you want to do in bold and the others in plain type, but since my list contains mostly things I want to do I’m just leaving it plain.

The genealogy conference I would most like to attend is… FEEFHS (Federation of East European Family History Societies) because the topics would be relevant to my research.

The genealogy speaker I would most like to hear and see is… Fred Hoffman, because he rocks and I’ve never heard him speak.

The geneablogger I would most like to meet in person is… SmallestLeaf, also known as Lisa, because we’ve become good friends and have a lot in common, but we’ve never had the opportunity to meet.

The genealogy writer I would most like to have dinner with is… Lisa Alzo, because we always have a great time when we have dinner together! [We're having dinner with Steve Danko to the left in June, 2011.]

The genealogy lecture I would most like to present is…. one that I already presented because I wouldn’t have much to prepare (either Genealogy Blogging or Finding Your Eastern European Ancestors in Russian Consular Records).

I would like to go on a genealogy cruise that visits…. I don’t do cruises because I would rather spend more time in a place.  I might not say no to a Mediterranean cruise, but as far as I know I have no ancestry from that area.

The photo I would most like to find is… my Piątkowski great-grandparents, because they are the only ones for whom I don’t have a photo.

The repository in a foreign land I would most like to visit is… Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych (Poland’s National Archives) as long as I have Steve Danko along to assist.

The place of worship I would most like to visit is… the church in Dobrosołowo, Poland where my Zawodny great-grandparents married in 1902 because it’s one of my ancestral churches I have not yet visited.

The cemetery I would most like to visit is …. this is a tough one because most of my ancestors who died in Europe no longer have marked graves.

The ancestral town or village I would most like to visit is…. Dobrosołowo, Poland, because I haven’t been there yet.

The brick wall I most want to smash is…. finding Elizabeth Miller’s (Elżbieta Müller’s) birthplace, because she’s my most frustrating search!

The piece of software I most want to buy is…. Family Tree Maker 2012, because I’d like the new version and haven’t gotten around to buying it yet.

The tech toy I want to purchase next is….. a Mac, because I’m tired of Windows updates and slow response times.

The expensive book I would most like to buy is… Evidence Explained, because <whispers> I don’t actually have a copy.

The library I would most like to visit is….. the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, because I found so much the last time I was there!

The genealogy related book I would most like to write is…. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, because I have a few ideas. 

The genealogy blog I would most like to start would be about…. Catholic genealogy.  Oh wait, I already did that.  Maybe one on Bavarian genealogy if I could only find other researchers that would contribute and/or be interested in the topic.

The journal article I would most like to write would be about… Polish research, because I know a few things about it.  Note to PGSCTNE, yes, I do realize I owe your society a journal article on Polish research…it’s coming! 

The ancestor I most want to meet in the afterlife is…. my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny (1880-1944), because he had an interesting life and he seemed like a really nice guy.

As Geniaus suggested, I added a couple of my own items to the list:

The celebrity I’d most like to see on Who Do You Think You Are? is…. Johnny Galecki, so I can see if he’s related to my Galecki cousins (and it would be nice if they did some Polish research on the show).

The genealogical research skill I would most like to have is…. the sudden ability to read and comprehend Polish, Russian, and German, because it would make research so much easier.

The genealogy tech gadget I would most like to invent is…. a scanner that will automatically translate a record from a foreign language to English, because it would be not only useful but highly profitable.

The genealogical records I would most like to see become available online are…. Pennsylvania death records for the 20th Century and the entire Family History Library collection, because….well, duh, just because!

The family heirloom I would most like to own is…. my great-grandmother Zawodny’s sewing machine, because it would be cool to have it.

The living cousin I would most like to find is… any descendant of my grandfather’s brothers, Eugene Pater and Walter Miller, because I haven’t found any yet and it would be nice to connect to that branch of the family.

What’s on your genealogy bucket list?

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Flying High

Flying high somewhere between Italy and Philadelphia, April 2006.

Sometimes when things become ordinary I forget how extraordinary they are – like flying on airplanes.  It is so easy to get anywhere in the world by simply buying a ticket. It’s so easy that I forget that flight is a relatively new phenomenon. It was only about a hundred years ago that commercial flight became available, and while that may seem like a very long time ago, in the grand history of the world it’s practically yesterday.

My immigrant ancestors spent two weeks on a ship to get to America in the early 1900s.  I often wonder what they would think about the fact that I can reach their homelands today in about 8 hours. While there have been many, many inventions since they lived and died, I can’t help but think that air flight might be the one that would amaze them the most.

Although flights became available in my grandparents’ youth, it was something that only the rich could afford. None of my grandparents ever flew on an airplane. My father took his first flight in his 20s – a very short hop to Birmingham, NY for training for his job.  Even though he traveled the world as a sailor in the U.S. Navy, that short flight remains his first and only.  My mother has only flown two roundtrips in her life, and the first was not until she was in her early 50s.

My brother and I got to experience the joy of flying a bit more often – and, despite the hassles of baggage, security lines and searches, screaming babies, and long periods of waiting and boredom, it is still a joy.  My brother first flew courtesy of the United States Marine Corps and has been on several trips on his own since then. My very first flight at the age of 18 was a doozy – a long, crowded, transatlantic charter – to Rome, Italy! I didn’t know any better at the time, but looking back with more wisdom that flight was horrendous with turbulence almost the entire time.  Having never flown before, I just thought it was a lot like riding a bus with the bumpiness and I was as happy as can be.

It would be seven years before my next flight, but since then I’ve had the good fortune to go on many.  My job occasionally requires me to travel by air – some years I’ve only traveled once or twice, but other years I’ve been on a dozen trips. I’ve also been very fortunate to fly for some of my vacations, so over the years I’ve become a rather experienced frequent flyer. But all that time up in the sky or waiting in airports makes me forget just how amazing it is to board an airplane, magically rise 5 or 6 miles up into the sky, and safely land far, far away from my home just hours later.

On one work trip, I sat and listened to the flight attendants go through the safety information for what felt like the thousandth time in my life.  After a long wait, I just wanted to get where I was going and the charm of being on a flight had long since worn off.  That is, until a child seated near me exclaimed, with all of the wide-eyed wonder only accessible to children, “Look, it’s a tiny table that opens up!” As he squealed with delight at the discovery of the tray table, I had to smile myself – yes, this flying thing and everything associated with it is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

While my trip to Rome was exciting because it was the first, and a vacation to California at age 25 was exciting just because it was a vacation to California, it was a flight when I was 28 years old that gave me a different kind of euphoria – it was my very first flight alone.  I was flying to Denver, Colorado to meet friends flying in from elsewhere. To this day, I remember waving good-bye to my father and walking through the security checkpoint – and at that moment, I felt a sense of exhilaration and broke out into a large smile. I was about to fly somewhere I had never been, I was all alone, and I thought it was the most wonderful feeling in the entire world!

As I said, my job has required me to take a fair amount of flights.  I’ve experienced some very long ones and the longest was a trip to Seoul, South Korea.  I think it took about fifteen hours, and I was very blessed that I was allowed to take First Class (a rarity in Government travel unless the flight exceeds fourteen hours!).  The shortest flight I’ve ever taken is a tie between either Norfolk or Boston – both are about 20 minutes in the air. However, one flight to Boston was so bumpy due to bad weather that it actually felt longer than the trip to Seoul! I also had a very short flight from somewhere in Florida to Pensacola, and an encounter with turbulence almost sent the world’s tiniest beverage cart flying down the aisle towards my center-of-the-back-row seat.

A U.S. Air Force C-130 military transport plane. Taken at Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, CO in February, 2003 as my teammates board the plane.

My friend Leona and I aboard the C-130, February 2003.

The most unique flights I’ve ever taken were on military aircraft. I had the privilege of flying on an Air Force C-130 from Colorado to Nevada. The flight was equipped with standard military seating, also known as “tactical configuration” which is what they use to jump out of airplanes.  There was no need to worry about my seatback being in an upright position, because military seating does not mean the standard rows of seats in a commercial airline.  Instead, there are four rows of seats going down the plane lengthwise, and the seats are made out of webbing.  So, it is the equivalent of sitting in a lawn chair for the entire flight. But at least we didn’t have to jump out of the plane…

Another military flight was far different, though. I was in a leadership program with about 50 other civilians from around the country, and one week we had to fly to several locations in North Dakota, Alaska, and Tennessee.  Rather than attempt to get commercial flights for all of us, we had a jet at our disposal piloted by a flight crew of National Guardsmen.  Since we had the flight all to ourselves, they were the most enjoyable flights I ever took. And I even sat in the cockpit part of the way from North Dakota to Alaska! Now I know for a fact that pilots have the best view of all.

This was way, way better than flying on a C-130!

The pilot was cool, but he wouldn't let me fly the plane.... Taken somewhere between North Dakota and Alaska, April 2003.

The view is one of my favorite things about flying. I have seen many awesome things from the air, and they are no less impressive at that height.  In fact, they were likely more impressive as seen from up above than from on the ground.  My first and only view of the Grand Canyon so far was from a plane about 30,000 feet in the sky – and even at that distance, I could not believe how big and beautiful it is.  Similarly, I had never seen the Mississippi River before – except from the air. I did not realize how big it is – and if it looked big from that high up, it is definitely wider than I ever imagined.

Other awesome sights from the sky include the Norfolk Bay Bridge Tunnel where you get an incredible view of the disappearing road as it goes underwater – and then reappears.  I’ve seen a close up view of the skyscrapers of New York City, and I’ve even flown over Citizens Bank Park during a Phillies game.  The single most incredible sight was during that “private” flight to Alaska.  The pilot was granted permission to take the plane as close as possible to Mt. McKinley. It was a beautiful, clear day and the pilot announced that he was going to take us for a closer view. The friend next to me and I were leaning over in our seats to look out the window.  “Is that it?” he asked, pointing to one of the mountains. I didn’t know.  “Maybe,” I said, “it looks pretty big.”  We were looking down at some mountains trying to determine which one Mt. McKinley actually was when suddenly this massive mountain appeared next to the window at eye level.  In fact, we had to look up to see the top of it. We both said simultaneously, “Wow – that’s it!” I’ve seen many mountains from the air, but I have never seen anything quite as big as that one.

Mt. McKinley from the sky...awesome! Taken in April, 2003.

What’s my favorite view from the sky? I have two.  First, I love looking out and seeing a brilliant blue sky and a carpet of clouds. I know that everyone below those clouds is having a cloudy, dreary, and rainy day. But from my view, the sun is shining! It reminds me that life is all a matter of perspective, and sometimes from a 30,000 ft. view things don’t seem quite as bad.  Next, my favorite site is the view as the plane approaches home. It is fun to go away, and amazing to see beautiful sights from the sky. But I really feel like I’m flying high when I come home again.

My ancestors never got to experience the wonder of flight – but did they feel that same “coming home” feeling when they saw America for the first time?

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The Sound of Music Effect

The Von Trapp Family as portrayed in the 1965 film, "The Sound of Music"

Does your family history suffer from The Sound of Music effect?  What’s that, you ask? Well, it is not when your family has a penchant for suddenly breaking into song about their favorite things or when saying good-night is an elaborate Broadway production. The term came to me after I recently watched Sound of Music both on stage and on film and I became interested in the real Von Trapp family.

The enormously popular musical film The Sound of Music premiered in 1965 and was based on the the 1959 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The story, if you’ve lived in a cocoon for years and never heard it, is about a novice nun-turned nanny for a widower’s seven children who falls in love with the dad, marries him, brings the joy of music into their lives, teaches the children to sing beautifully, and escapes the evil Nazis in a late-night chase over the Alps. But the best part of the story? It’s based on a true story!

Ay, there’s the rub, as Hamlet would say. “Based on a true story” and “true story” are not the same thing.

As it turns out, both the Broadway and the movie version of the family’s story are somewhat more dramatic than the German movie and memoir of the family’s lives. Being more dramatic obviously makes the story infinitely more interesting. Escaping the Nazis by traveling on foot over the Alps to Switzerland? Wow! Except, in reality, the very real Von Trapp family “escaped” Austria a full two years before the Anschluss (and seven years after the couple got married). And they left by train. In broad daylight. To go to Italy, where they were citizens based on Georg von Trapp’s birplace. No Nazis were in pursuit.

To disappoint The Sound of Music fans even further, I should point out that the children’s names were all changed and Georg was neither as wealthy nor as strict as the movie portrayed.

Hence, what I have christened as The Sound of Music effect…when the true story is, well, just a story.  But when the story “based on a true story” is A STORY!

Sometimes we have The Sound of Music effect in our own family stories. While the majority of our family histories were not livened up for the sake of dramatic license on the silver screen, they may have been spruced up…for the sake of the story.

Face it, what’s the more exciting story?

Choice A: Grandpop couldn’t afford a ticket/was on the run from the authorities so he stowed away on the ship.  OR

Choice B: Grandpop bought a ticket, boarded the steamship, and spent two weeks with hundreds of other immigrants in steerage.

Yup, Choice A wins every time.

Many other family history myths may be the result of The Sound of Music effect. Was your ancestor descended from a Cherokee princess? Was the family’s name changed at Ellis Island? Are you related to someone really famous in history? These are all great stories.  But are they true, or merely based on a true story? These stories may be true – but only solid genealogical research will answer the question. Chances are there is a kernel of truth in the exciting story – but just a kernel. The true stories are often…well, ordinary, everyday, and somewhat boring. But not to a genealogist or a family historian! Being chased by the Nazis is certainly a dramatic story, but the ordinary tale can be just as much fun.

Does your family history suffer from The Sound of Music effect?

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Happy New Year! Did you resolve to clean out your clutter?

Donna’s Picks

“Donna’s Picks” was once my occasional weekly feature of noteworthy articles – now it feels more comfortable to roundup my “picks” once a month.  Here are January’s goodies including a couple of genealogy blogs that are new finds!

I recently discovered a relatively new blog, Alabama Genealogy and Ramblings by Randall Dickerson (1-19-2012: Note – Randall changed his blog name! It’s now Alabama Free-Ranging Organic Genealogy at the same address). Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even looked at a blog with that title because I have no Southern roots whatsoever. But I’m sure glad I stopped by, for not only does Randall have great posts, but he has one of the funniest and most entertaining About Me pages I’ve ever read!  (Yes, Randall, I had to look up “Vexillology”.) Check out The “Do List”; My New Year’s Resolution Concepts in which he proposes concepts that will allow all of us to be more productive. One of his good posts from December is Trying to like Ancestry.Com – Disaster in Grafting My Family Tree in which he shares his frustration over what happens when you splice another’s tree into your own.

Dawn Westfall has been blogging since September at Wisteria where she writes about her maternal Dutch roots and paternal Southern roots. I naturally gravitate towards humorous posts, and I got a chuckle out of Famous Relatives. Well, that’s one way to finally get kids interested in genealogy. There are at least three other genealogy bloggers that share my interest in science fiction and will find her famous relative as cool as I did!

In what happens to be yet another humorous post, Jenny Lanctot in Are My Roots Showing? (which is a fabulous blog title!) gets an unexpected chuckle from a Family Search indexer in Wisdom Wednesday – Search Terms and Spelling. With my surname, I’ve had my share of misspellings so it made me chuckle, too.

Just to prove I also enjoy serious posts, I was fascinated by More Than Meets the Eye – Tuesday’s Tip in Heritage Zen by Cynthia Shenette. I have always loved looking at what else is in the photo besides the “main” subject. Cynthia presents to great photographs with tons of details in the background.  But – for the record – Cynthia writes some wickedly humorous posts – see the evidence with her last COG entry, What the Dickens 2, Or More Tales from Hell’s Kitchen – Advent Calendar, Grab Bag.  I’m still laughing!

What’s Past at What’s Past is Prologue ~ What You May Have Missed

One Year Ago:

ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore – one of the best town databases you may not know about

Two Years Ago:

Cousins, Countries, and War – the start of my 5-part series on the Bavarian Military Rosters available on Ancestry.com

Three Years Ago:

Fun with Maps in Philadelphia – a look at some nifty mapping tools to see what my hometown looked like back when my great-grandparents came to town

Four Years Ago:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – In my very first COG entry ever, I imagine inviting four very different ancestors to dinner to solve a few mysteries.

What’s Prologue at What’s Past is Prologue ~ Coming Up

A post coming soon will ask you if your family history is like a famous musical from the 1960s…and if your family history has something in common with that story, well…let’s just say it’s not a compliment and you have your research cut out for you. I also hope to resurrect the “Memory Monday” personal reflection posts this year – starting in January!  If you also read my collaborative blog, The Catholic Gene, join us the week of 29 January as we remember/celebrate Catholic Schools Week.

Thanks for reading, following, and subscribing!

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Ryan, Beckett, and Castle in front of the murder board (Seamus Dever, Stana Katic, and Nathan Fillion in Castle's Season 3 episode "Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind"). Accessed via Castle-Fans.Org on January 9, 2012.

A few months ago I watched all the past episodes of the television crime drama Castle (ABC, Monday nights at 10:00 PM Eastern). I’ve always had a thing for romantic comedy shows about crime-solving duos. Castle didn’t disappoint and it’s now one of my favorite shows. It has good plots, interesting and well developed characters, subtle humor, and a hint of romance. While I enjoy the show more for the character relationships, I have to admit the characters’ crime-solving skills are impressive. I had a sudden realization of why that might appeal to me…those skills would work equally well in genealogy! After all, we may not be solving crimes, but we genealogists are solving mysteries all the time!  So I offer my favorite detectives as our new research role models…

On Castle, the NYPD homicide unit, led by Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), sets up a “murder board” for each new case.  They take a white board and start with a photo of the victim and some pertinent facts. Next they add information on potential suspects, witnesses, and a timeline of events leading up to the murder.  The character of Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a best-selling mystery author who “assists” the detectives on their cases.  Castle usually adds the “outside the box” thinking on how all of the pieces of the mystery fit together with how he, as a writer, would have written the story.

The “murder board” concept is perfect for solving genealogical mysteries. In fact, I realized I’ve had a murder board for years without calling it that.  The victim is the research problem – in my case, the birthplace of my great-grandmother Elizabeth (Elżbieta) Miller Pater. The suspects are the potential places based on clues I’ve found in my research of documents such as passenger list records and other documents that contain information about an immigrant’s birthplace.

On the show Castle, sometimes the detectives really think a particular suspect is the killer – the suspect was in the right place at the right time, had means and motive to commit the crime, and all of the facts seems to support the person as the one who did it.  But sometimes there’s a problem…the suspect “alibis out”.  That’s the term the show uses when a suspect has an alibi that checks out upon further review, so he or she could not have committed the crime because there is some evidence that places the person in another place at the same time.  In genealogical research, we often think we have the right answer based on sources that seem to indicate it’s correct.  But then the answer alibis out.  All records – including some in my great-grandmother’s handwriting – point to the town of Żyrardów as her birthplace.  But Żyrardów  is the wrong suspect – the town alibis out!  When the records were checked, the record for her birth was not found.

What’s next? In solving the murder mystery on Castle, the team turns to other sources such as witnesses or financial records that might lead to more clues or more suspects.  Sometimes they take a closer look at the timeline to see if they missed something in their initial research.  All of these actions have a lot to teach genealogists looking to solve their mysteries when the Number One Suspect alibis out.  In short, look for more clues!  Are there any witnesses?  Maybe older family members recall information that was passed down about the mystery.  Who else was connected to the mystery/victim?  Turn to records for siblings, collateral relatives, or even neighbors of the person you are trying to find. When did things happen? Sometimes just creating a timeline for an individual can help cross some suspected places, times, or events off of the list of suspects.

No matter what avenue your research takes, using the murder board concept can be very helpful – write it all down and plot it all out.  Even the negative searches – the suspects with alibis – need to be listed so you remember what resources you’ve already checked. Often in the show, the characters literally stare at the board trying to see if they missed something that will lead to a new search for a new suspect – or a new search for a former suspect who’s alibi was questionable or unproven. Often Castle will find a new direction based on his unique writer’s view of the “story”. Likewise, it benefits genealogists to re-view information, and to re-search, in order to find that missing piece to the puzzle.  It also helps to get help from someone like Castle – someone not so closely related to the case who might have a different view of those same facts.

I don’t have an actual physical board of information for the case of my great-grandmother’s birthplace, but after watching a few seasons of Castle I’m beginning to think it might be a good idea to throw all the pertinent facts up on the wall, or at least down on paper. This will enable me to review the facts and review the suspects and perhaps finally solve this mystery.  Where is Mr. Castle when I need him? I could use his help!

~ ~ ~

While we’re at it, let’s use a murder board to solve the mystery of how the actor who plays Castle, Nathan Fillion, who has French-Canadian and Irish ancestry, can look like the long-lost twin of genealogist Matthew Bielawa, who has Ukrainian and Galician Polish ancestry.  Hmm, have we ever seen Nathan and Matthew in the same room together?  I think a DNA test is in order…

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Welcome to the very first “Surname Saturday” of 2012.  Somehow I managed to go through all of 2011 without a single surname post! But I have many more family names to get to, so I am hoping to post a different Surname Saturday at least once a month.  Let’s see what happens this year…

Surname - ZAKRZEWSKI

Meaning/Origin – The name ZAKRZEWSKI is derived from the Polish town names of Zakrzew or Zakrzewo or from the Polish word krzew meaning “shrub”.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Country of Origin – The surname ZAKRZEWSKI is Polish.  According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at  374.78 per million.  Germany is second with  a distant 13.8 per million.  The United States comes in next at 9.19.

Spelling Variations - Other names derived from the same root include ZAKRZEWICKI and ZAKRZEWICZ. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman) The feminine version of the surname is ZAKRZEWSKA.

Surname Map – The following map illustrates the frequency of the ZAKRZEWSKI surname in Poland. The name is far more popular than many of my other Polish surnames with over 13,000 individuals listed with the surname. As you can see by all the colors on the map, people with this surname live just about everywhere in Poland in most of the counties and cities.

Distribution of the ZAKRZEWSKI surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/zakrzewski.html, accessed January 6, 2012.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Given the popularity of the name as shown on the map, it’s no surprise that a fair amount of famous Poles have the surname. From politicians to athletes, there’s a whole list on Wikipedia.  I wonder if any are my cousins?  The most famous Pole with this surname is Ignacy Wyssogota Zakrzewski (1745-1802), who was a nobleman during the final years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was involved with the creation of the Constitution.  Look at his photo on Wikipedia – doesn’t this guy look like a twin of George Washington? Although the name does have noble roots, my family were farmers so it is likely they adopted the surname by choice instead of birth.

My Family – My Zakrzewski family comes from the vicinity of the town of Żyrardów in the Masovian Voivodeship (województwo mazowieckie). My earliest known ancestor is Karol Zakrzewski who was born around 1800 (based on his daughter’s birth record) and died before 1859 (based on his daughter’s marriage record). Karol married Rozalia Kowalewska. Their daughter Teofilia is my third great-grandmother. Teofila Zakrzewska was born on 27 Dec 1840 in Maryampol, Masovian Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland.  On 10 October 1859 in Wiskitki Teofilia married Jan Pater (born c.1833, Kamienskie – died 04 September 1908 in Żyrardów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire.  I have ten children documented for Jan and Teofilia born between 1860 and 1884.  Teofilia Zakrzewska Pater died on 16 November 1907 in Żyrardów.  At the time her her death, her son Józef Pater had already been in America for two years.  Her teenaged grandson Ludwik (my great-grandfather), had left to join his parents just three months prior to her death.  She had many other grandchildren still living in Żyrardów at the time of her death and the death of her husband almost one year later.

My Research Challenges - I recently found the death records for Teofilia Zakrzewska Pater from 1907 on the Geneteka site, and I had her birth and marriage from previous research on microfilm.  The key is to find the marriage of her parents, Karol and Rozalia ZAKRZEWSKI from 1840 or earlier.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a Zakrzewski message board.  There are some Zakrzewski graves listed at Find A Grave here.

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

This post is #11 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Tomorrow will mark the 4th blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue.  I don’t know what surprises me more – that I’ve been blogging for four years or that I still have some ideas left!

I didn’t post as often as I would have liked to this past year, but I still managed to garner 39,000 visitors! I’m very grateful to everyone that stopped by to read, look around, comment, and/or write to me with kind words.

Some of my top posts this year in terms of visits were ones written a while ago. This past year I had 9,700 hits on Philadelphia Marriage Records Online (June, 2008), 1,500 on Bavarian Main Street (June, 2009), and almost 1,400 on Fotomat…What’s That? (November, 2010). Some posts written this year that had the highest number of hits were Finding Polish Records Online from January with 1,060 hits and The WDYTYA Drinking Game from February with almost 800 and also was the most commented post with 30 comments. I have to say, that post was the most fun I had (on this blog) all year!

Besides the drinking game post, my favorites from the last year were:

Research Resources:

My Family Research:

Personal Reflection:

Once again, thanks to all of my faithful readers and friends.  When I started this endeavor, I had no idea where it would lead. But so far, I’ve really enjoyed the ride. I’ve made some great friends, learned how to write better, organized my research, and found many cousins.  As my one of my favorite actors once sung, “Who could ask for anything more?”

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