Archive for May, 2012

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series…C is for Census! Federal Census Records are one of the first tools that U.S. researchers turn to when beginning their family history research. It was my first stop when I began my research 23 years ago – back then, the most recent available census at the time was the 1910! I think the census records are even more valuable today.

While census records don’t give you exact dates or vital statistics about your family members, they do provide vital CLUES to assist in further research. The census teaches us:

  • family relationships – including occasional maiden names if in-laws are living with the family
  • approximate ages
  • addresses
  • occupations
  • for immigrants, the approximate immigration year and if naturalized or not

How accurate is the information? Well, in my family that all depends on several factors, including who provided the info, how well the informant understood English, and how close to the “event” they were at the time (for example, the immigration year is more likely to be correct five years later than 25 years later).

I’ve found a lot of family members in quite a few federal censuses, so I’ve created some rules – of course, they may only apply to my family, who tend to shy away from being “found” by future generations. But perhaps I’m not alone, so I present Donna’s Census Rules:

1. Women get younger every decade. Or so it seems…

2. Rule #1 is applied more vigorously in instances where the wife is older than the husband. Although the wife was older in one set of my grandparents, two sets of greats, and my 2nd great-grandparents, she is always either the same age as the husband or younger so as to prevent the raised eyebrows of the neighbors.

3. Just because adult children are listed with their parents doesn’t actually mean they live there, it just means the parents misunderstood the question. Keep looking, because you’ll probably find them listed elsewhere on their own. My family has inflated the official population number for decades with this rule!

4. The spelling of immigrant surnames are irrelevant for the first 25-30 or so years after immigration, then enumerators finally get it right. Overall, the 1940 census has been the most accurate with both names and ages for all of my ancestors.

5. Don’t be surprised to find extra, unknown siblings listed. Or existing, known siblings not listed. I may never know why. Or why not.

So there you have it….researching census records can be a wild, fun ride. You never know what you’ll find, but one thing’s for sure – there’s always a “happy dance” involved when you find your ancestor! Maybe someday I’ll get to explore census records for other countries, too!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Read Full Post »

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… B is for Bavaria (or Bayern in German). I’ve occasionally been asked why I identify myself as having Polish and Bavarian ancestry instead of Polish and German. Germany was unified as a nation in 1871, a mere 2 years before my great-grandfather was born and 4 years before my great-grandmother was born. They were born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, a state within the German Empire. So yes, my great-grandparents were born in Germany. But the roots of their ancestry are Bavarian! For hundreds of years their ancestors lived in Bavaria – not a small part of a German nation, but an indpendent nation of its own.

I like to describe how my ancestors’ Bavaria relates to Germany by comparing it to how the state of Texas relates to the rest of the United States. Like the southern state, Bavaria covers a large area, they “talk funny” and use different colloquial expressions, they want to secede from the union, they have many strange local traditions, and they are fiercely proud of their heritage. Oh, and they’re very friendly, too!

Bavaria as a political region has roots back to the late 5th Century when it was recognized as a Duchy. In the 17th and 18th centuries the area was known as the Electorate of Bavaria. Then, in 1806, Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire and Bavaria became the Kingdom of Bavaria. Even when Bavaria became a part of the newly formed German Empire in 1871, it still retained its name of “Kingdom” and had some special rights within the Empire such as its own Army, postal service, and railways. Throughout Bavaria’s history, it’s borders changed somewhat. It even once included Tirol, now in Austria, and Südtirol, now in northern Italy.

My ancestors mostly lived in the part of Bavaria known as “Upper Bavaria” or Oberbayern. Upper Bavaria is the southern part of Bavaria, and is called “Upper” because it is higher above sea level than the rest of Bavaria. The area includes the capital city of Munich (München) and some of the sights and events that Bavaria is most known for such as King Ludwig’s fairy tale castles and the Oktoberfest celebration.

My ahnen, or ancestors, include the following towns and surnames:

  • Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm: Echerer/Eggerer, Nigg/Nick, Höck/Heckh, Kaillinger, Paur, Singer, Zuell
  • Puch: Bergmeister, Zinsmeister
  • Agelsberg: Fischer, Guggenberger
  • Dörfl: Gürtner
  • Langenbruck: Fischer
  • Niederscheyern: Daniel, Schober
  • Aichach: Dallmaier, Eulinger
  • Reichertshofen: Gürtner, Sommer
  • Freising: Stainer
  • Friedberg: Cramer
  • Waal: Schwarzmaier

Since Bavaria is Germany’s largest state comprising 20% of its total area and is the second most populous state, I wonder why there are not more Bavarian geneabloggers. Surely there are more people tracing their Bavarian ancestry! For more information on researching your Bavarian ancestors, see Bavaria GenWeb or the Genealogy Forum Bavaria.

Even though my ancestry is only 1/4 Bavarian, I have fully embraced my Bavarian roots. I love Bavaria and the Bavarian people! Give me lederhosen, weisswurst and pretzels (only if the pretzels are made by my Bergmeister cousins’ bakery), “Mad” Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle, and pitcher-size servings of beer any day because I’m Bavarian!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Read Full Post »

Umlauts and ogoneks and carons… ог мий (oh my)! *

I decided to attempt the “Family History through the Alphabet” Challenge prompted by Gould Genealogy. I normally don’t participate in weekly themes, but this one allows for creativity since each individual chooses a topic (one letter per week) that pertains to their own family history. And it will definitely be challenging based on the amount of time it took me to come up with a word for the letter “A”.  A is for…Alphabets! In learning the basics of a few other languages as part of my family history research, I’ve had to learn a few new alphabets that go beyond the ABCs I’ve known since childhood.

The first foreign records I researched were in German.  Fortunately, the German alphabet is essentially the same as the English alphabet but there are four extra letters: ä, ö, ü, and ß. These are sometimes substituted with ae, oe, ue, and ss, so these new letters were not so difficult to learn. With regard to alphabetical order, these letters are usually mixed in with their base letter (a, o, u, and s) but sometimes placed afterwards. Although the order of the German alphabet is exactly the same as in English, I have found that occasionally books may have a name index that combines like-sounding letters. In one genealogy-related German book (a häuserchronik), the index order is: A, B/P, K/C, D/T, E, F/V, G, H, I/J, L, M, N, O, R, S, U, W, Z. This is likely because surname spellings were flexible until more recent times, so Bergmeister was once Per(g)meister and Fischer may have been Vischer.

The next alphabet I had to learn was Polish. The Polish alphabet has 9 vowels and 23 consonants.  Letters not found in English include: ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, and ż. There is no English q, v, or x in Polish.  And yes, there are 3 forms of “Z” – z, ź, and ż. The most critical thing to learn about these new letters is alphabetical order – they are not mixed in with their base letter counterparts but instead follow them in order.  So if a surname begins with the letter Ś like Ślesinski, it will be found in an index after all of the surnames that begin with S. It was also important to know what these letters sound like because they have no English equivalent.  That is why my original surname, Piątkowski, “translates” into English as Piontkowski – the letter “ą” sounds like “on” in English.  (How it became Pointkouski is best left to another post!)

Just when I mastered the Polish alphabet, along came the need to know Russian since many of my Polish ancestors came from the Russian-partitioned part of Poland. The Russian alphabet was not nearly as easy as either German or Polish, because Russian uses Cyrillic letters, not Latin. I still can’t figure it out, quite frankly. There are 33 letters, and while each letter has an English equivalent, genealogists have to realize that alphabetical order in Russian won’t be A, B, C, D, but instead A, Б, B, Г (in English: A, B, V, G). I find the Cyrillic letters very confusing, especially when trying to translate a name that uses the Polish alphabet into Russian.  Steve Morse’s site has several language tools that help researchers “translate” into the foreign types, both printed and handwritten. The name Piątkowski becomes Питковский in Russian.  I think; it’s all Greek to me.

Just when I thought my family history led me to all the alphabets I could possibly master, recently a new one has appeared…Czech! I am just beginning to find out more about my Bohemian ancestry. The Czech language has 31 different letters, and while it may look a little like Polish, there are some entirely different letters like č, ď, and several more. So my Polish-born Elżbieta would be Alžběta in her parents’ Czech language.

If I had only known in high school how important alphabets and languages would be to my future as a genealogist, maybe I would not have studied French and Italian – great languages for countries in which I have no ancestry. Fortunately, the Latin I took did come in handy for Catholic records in both Germany and Poland before the records were written in the native languages!

*Examples of letters with an umlaut (ü), ogonek (ą), and caron (č)

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Read Full Post »

The Internet Archive: Wayback Machine (click on image to visit the site)

When we think of the past, we usually remember things that were a part of our lives such as cars, music, or fashions, or things from before our time that we learned about as history. The internet has only been part of our lives for a relatively short time as far as the history of the world is concerned, so while I sometimes think on the days “before” the internet, I don’t usually think about its earliest days and what it looked like. That is, until I read Go Back in Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago. The post uses the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to show screen shots of several sites including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and the New York Times. It was like the equivalent of looking at old photos of your family, friends, and self in fashions and hairstyles best kept in the past. But it was interesting to see just how “old” each of the sites looked “way back”  when and just how much the internet and technology has evolved in such a short time.

Genealogical research on the internet has shown the same leap as the sites mentioned in that article. I decided to look up some of our favorite big genealogy sites to see what is the equivalent of their old prom pictures.  While the screen shots might have that “dated” look about them, the most striking difference is that each of them have so much more information – including actual records online – than they did in the past.  Take a walk down memory lane – do you remember when the sites looked like this?

Ancestry.com on 02 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ancestry.com on 28 October 1996. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

FamilySearch.org on 08 May 1999. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ellisisland.org on 03 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Rootsweb.com (before purchased by Ancestry) on 14 June 1998. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

SteveMorse.org on 02 April 2003. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Of course, What’s Past is Prologue has looked exactly the same since its creation in 2008 except for the addition of some pages and changes to the sidebar.  But that’s just because I like the design!

Read Full Post »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 116 other followers