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Archive for July, 2012

After writing about libraries this week I began to reminisce about the “olden days” of genealogical research. It wasn’t entirely a fond reminiscing either. There used to be a lot of waiting involved in research – mail a letter, wait for a response. Or send away for some records, wait for a response. Or even worse – wait for a day to make a research trip to the archives, and slowly scroll through microfilm to find your answer.

The internet changed all of that waiting for the most part, and it took away whatever patience I had left. Everything is instant now. If a question arises about a movie, historical event, a sports statistic, or just about anything, gone are the long debates over the correct answer.  Google it, declare the winner, and move on. Handwritten letters? Even email is too much anymore – we settle for text messages.

With genealogy, so many records are online and instantly accessible that when something is not online that waiting that used to seem normal now just seems long. Very long. I’ve grumbled about the waiting game before and I bring it up again because I’d have a lot of good fodder for new blog posts if only some of the genealogical “things” I’m waiting for would only arrive. I can’t remember waiting for this much information since the early days of my research. At the moment, I’m waiting for:

  • A naturalization file from USCIS  for my great-grandmother that I never thought to look for until recently. In it may be the solution to my biggest mystery – her birthplace. They did the index search quickly. But the record request? Not so much.
  • A visa file from USCIS for my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law that may provide clues as to the family left behind in Poland. Again, the index search was quick. What I want is there somewhere.
  • A death certificate from the State of New Jersey for someone who died in 1944.  The name of that someone is the same as one of my 2nd great-grandparents. The name is a bit common, but there were enough coincidental facts about this particular person that made me wonder if my 2nd great-grandmother did indeed immigrate to the U.S.  If I ever get that death certificate, I may actually know if it’s her or not.
  • My AncestryDNA results, the first genetic genealogy test I ever had. Lord only knows what that will reveal.

I wanted to send for some marriage license records from the City of Philadelphia and write to a potential cousin, but I don’t want to wait for even more mail to arrive. Genealogy-wise, each of these things will be rather exciting (except maybe that death certificate if it’s not the person I think it is). Each will probably give me something to write about here besides the Family History through the Alphabet challenge. But for now, I wait. And wait. It reminds me of the old days…but I’m too used to the new days to call them “good”!

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyz/3962573662/ Date; 2009-09-26, Author: Stuart Caie, http://www.flickr.com/photos/77047514@N00 Stuart Caie from Edinburgh, Scotland

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge…L is for Libraries! I have long been a lover of libraries. When I was a little girl, I loved to visit the library for a stack of new books to read (I still love it as a big girl, too). Since I went to high school and college in the stone age before Wikipedia, Google, and computers, I relied on the library to research my term papers (and I relied on typewriters to write them, but that’s another story…). I was downright giddy on a visit to The British Library, and the Library of Congress was also impressive. The worst thing about the big, beautiful libraries in other countries is that I can’t read all the books because I’m not fluent in foreign languages, but I can still admire the beauty of the collections. But aside from my love of books in general, where would my family history research be if it weren’t for libraries? Long ago before a multitude of information was available on the internet, the library was the sole source for any serious research.

My first visit to the Family History Library in April, 2010.

My family history research began shortly after I graduated college. My friend Marie and I were attending grad school and we started talking about family history. Specifically, we talked about our desire to know more about our respective family histories. We asked each other, “How do you get started with genealogy, anyway?” By that point in our academic lives we knew there was one place to find the answer – the library! We visited the college library together and left with a stack of genealogy how-to books (Angus Baxter’s In Search of Your European Roots is still in print!). Thus began my 20+ year journey among records, archives, microfilm, and – eventually – computers.

Libraries have always been my favorite source of books to read, but they can also be a great resource for books and other media related to genealogical research. Even though many records are now available online, the Free Library of Philadelphia remains the only place where I can see the city’s newspapers after 1920 and city directories from certain years.

Then, of course, there is the Ultimate Library for genealogical research, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is truly a mecca for genealogists no matter your family’s country of origin. If you’re a genealogist and you haven’t been there yet, put it on your “bucket list” – you won’t be disappointed!

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

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…K is for Księgi Parafialne (Polish for “Church Books”) via the website http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/. If your family history is Polish, this site is a must and yet it is not mentioned very often among guides to Polish research or “best of” lists. What is it? A site that lists, by province, every town that has church books indexed. The indexes (indices) are all on other sites – this is merely an index of indexes and links are included to get you there. As such, this site is only helpful once you’ve discovered the name of the town from which your ancestors came.

First, click on “Województwa” to find the province. Since the entire site is in Polish, you must look for the Polish name of the province (Pomorskie for Pomerania, etc). Each province has a separate page with a list of towns. Find the town name in the first column, parafia / USC. If available at one of the online sites, it will be listed. The dates in the columns show what records have been indexed for Chrzty/Urodziny (Baptisms/Births), Małżeństwa (Marriages), and Zgony (Deaths). Under Strona www is a link to the web site with the indexed records. There are over a dozen sites that have images (or at least indexes) of the records available. Included among them are Geneteka, which I’ve praised here before, and the Polish church books included on FamilySearch.org. What’s not listed? Anything on microfilm available via FamilySearch – this site lists only records/indexes available online. As with any record site, some provinces have many more towns with online records available than others. But towns are added weekly and the site is a great way to keep track of  what’s available for your ancestors’ towns. There are hundreds listed – is your ancestors town among them?

On the main page next to “Województwa” you will also see “II Rzeczpospolita” or “Second Republic”. This list includes areas once associated with Poland during the interwar period. There is also a heading “Dokumenty metrykalne” which offers documents that describe the format of the records. However, as the documents are in Polish, it will not nearly be as helpful as various translation guides in English.

For those of you with Polish ancestry, how cool is it to have a site that lists all available online records? I think it’s great…I just wish Germany had a similar site! Happy searching…

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

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And they all have a name that begins with J… Top Row: Jane, Jozef, Julius, Donna Joan. 2nd Row: James, James, Jean, Josef. 3rd Row: Jane, Nicholas James. Bottom Row: Joseph, Anita Jane, Joan, James.

The Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge has been rather, er, challenging so far… I was particularly stumped with the letter “J” and I wondered if I should talk about the Joy of genealogy or the Journeys I’ve taken during my research. But the fact is that “J” is actually quite prominent in my family – that is, as the starting letter of names!  The J-names are hanging on every branch of my family tree. Sure, there are some Maria’s and Anna’s (and tons of Maria Anna’s and Anna Maria’s in Bavaria) as well as several Elizabeth’s. For the men I have a few named Louis, Karl, and Ignatz or Ignacy. But one letter is prominent by far – the letter J.  Therefore, J is for J Names!

Starting with my father’s paternal side, there is my grandfather James. James named my father James, who in turned named his son James, who in turn used James as a middle name for one of his sons. My grandfather James named his daughter Jean after his sister Jean. His brother, Joseph, named one daughter Jean and another Josephine, and his son is named John Joseph. The father of James, Jean, and Joseph? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the next branch of the family tree, grandfather James married Margaret. She can be forgiven for her lack of a J-name by the sheer number of J’s in her ancestry. Her brother Joseph was named after their father, Joseph, while brother Julius was named after Uncle Julius. Joseph’s father, Joseph, had a father named Joseph. In fact, if it wasn’t for the elder Joseph’s father, Jakob (son of Joseph!), there would be an unbroken line of seven generations of men named Joseph Bergmeister starting in 1763 until today with my 20-something cousin in Texas. Oh, and the father of the Joseph born in 1763? John (Johann in German).

On my mother’s side, neither grandparent has a J-name, but my mom’s middle name is Jane. My middle name, Joan, is the same as my mom’s sister Joan. Their father’s grandfather was named Joseph (Józef), the son of John (Jan). Their father’s other grandfather? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the final branch, my mother’s mother’s family, my great-grandfather was named – how did you guess? Joseph! He named a daughter Jane and one of his sons had a Joseph and a Joyce. My great-grandmother has sisters named Jane and Josephine. The sisters’ dad’s dad was Józef and their mom’s dad was Jan.

Really, I’m not making this up…it’s all in on the family tree!

Sure, there are some other names on the family tree, but none come close to the amount of J-names. Oddly enough, I have yet to uncover a single surname that starts with the letter J. Maybe I will find one in my research one day. If I do, I can place a sure bet that if I find a man with a “J” surname, his first name will almost certainly be Joseph or John and if it’s a woman she’ll likely be Jane, Jean, Joan, or Josephine!

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

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…I is for Imieniny! Imieniny is the Polish word for name days. Many countries celebrate name days or feast days which were originally based on saints’ feast days in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. As a primarily Roman Catholic country, Poland enthusiastically celebrates imieniny. However, my family history research discovered something rather unique about Poland’s imieniny. Many Polish Catholics used the liturgical calendar not to celebrate a feast day after a child was named – but to actually name the child.

In several of my Polish families, every child’s name is based on a saint’s feast on or near the date of birth. At first I thought my great-grandfather, Ludwik (Louis) Pater, was named after his maternal grandfather, Ludwik Pluta. But I soon noticed a naming pattern among the Pater children – they were not being named after relatives, but after the saints on whose feast they were born. My great-grandfather was born on 24 August 1893, and his grandfather was born on 21 August 1843. The feast of St. Ludwik is 25 August!

This wasn’t just a coincidence – every single child of my great-great grandparents Józef and Antonina Pater is named after a saint’s feast near their birthday – and Józef and Antonina and their siblings are as well! Based on my research, the Pater children did not pass on this tradition when it came time to name their own children.

Not every Polish ancestor followed this tradition, but many did. I last wrote about this tradition in a post called Polish Names and Feast Days in 2008 –  the third post written for this blog. As my research continues, I’m finding more and more ancestors named after the saint’s feast near their birth.

I always thought the imieniny naming tradition was fun and it would certainly take the stress off of parents who debate over names for their child – just let the church’s calendar decide for you. Then again, there is a certain risk involved, for not every name is equally liked! Your first name is very important for your sense of identity, so I can’t help but wonder how name choices affect people. Just by the random chance of the day you were born could have christened you Adam (24 December) or Zenon (22 December), Aniela (31 May) or Zuzanna (24 May).

Of course, if you weren’t named after the saint whose feast happened to fall on your day of birth, you can always celebrate your imieniny anyway by finding the corresponding saint on the calendar. Any reason for a party (and cake) is a good reason, so take a look at the list of names and celebrate your name day!

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

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…H is for History. Researching your family history isn’t just about the history of your family, but it’s about how your family fit into the history of the world. Genealogy puts a face on history – the faces of your ancestors. When we learn about a particular time period, we wonder how our ancestors were affected by the events. And just maybe we can learn something from our family’s past.  After all, what’s past is prologue, right?

While researching my family, I’ve learned a lot of interesting historical facts that I never knew before. Some of these events are not well known and would have held little interest to me, but knowing my own ancestors were a part of it makes it more significant and meaningful. I’ve learned about Haller’s Armythe Polish Army in France during World War I led by General Haller. Over 25,000 Polish immigrants to the United States and Canada volunteered to serve and fight for their homeland’s independence including my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, who had been in the U.S. for ten years.

I also learned about Häuserchronik - house histories published in Germany that present  a centuries-old city directory loaded with extra-special information such as marriages and occupations. It was great to learn the name of the hometown of my Bavarian immigrants, but knowing that several generations of my family lived in the same house for over a hundred years makes the town’s history more personal.

So many other Historical events took on a more personal connection through my research, whether it was the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Holocaust, an obscure battle in the War of Austrian Succession, or the saint who once played in my own backyard. History is all around us! Take the time to learn all about the time periods, places, and events during which your family lived.

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

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