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Archive for August, 2012

Naturalization Certificate of Elizabeth Miller Pater, who was naturalized on December 13, 1954 at the age of 64.

Of all the great discoveries I’ve made in over twenty years of genealogical research, one of the most amazing was made just this last month! It didn’t add a generation to the family tree or uncover new names, but it brought both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Several months ago while finding my ancestors on the 1940 Census, I realized something that I should have realized a long time ago: my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater wasn’t naturalized, at least not in 1940. Even though her husband (Louis Pater) was naturalized in 1925, wives had to file separately. I searched for her papers in the same court that her husband used, but nothing was found. It finally dawned on me that she would have had to file for the Alien Registration Act in 1940. There were two things I desperately wanted to find regarding Elizabeth: her birthplace and a photograph. Would her alien registration papers help me?

I filed a request with USCIS, and they quickly located her index file. I found out that she was naturalized in 1954. I then sent for a copy of the full file. After many, many months of waiting, it finally arrived. It contained 30 pages of information, some useless and some priceless! Not only did the file include her petition and certificate for naturalization in 1954, but also her alien registration forms from 1940. I could probably write several posts about the complete documentation, but here are the highlights:

What Made Me Smile

I have written before about how difficult it was to find Elizabeth on the passenger arrival records. With a surname like Miller (or Müller), there were plenty of candidates. But I did find her eventually (see the link above). According to her passenger arrival record, she came from Żyrardów, Poland, which I assumed to be her birthplace. In the naturalization file, the first smile on my face was at the fact that the U.S. Government couldn’t locate her – at first – on the arrival records either.

Apparently my great-grandmother wished to apply for Social Security benefits, and she couldn’t get them without either proof of birth or proof of citizenship. She remembered the exact date she arrived – April 16, 1909 – but she could not remember the name of the ship. She mis-identified the port of entry as Philadlphia instead of New York, so the folks at the Immigration and Naturalization Service could not find the record. I guess Steve Morse’s site didn’t exist back then or it might have been easier for them!  The letter said:

Referring to your citizenship application in which you allege arrival at Philadelphia, PA on Apr. 16, 1909 via S.S. unknown, you are advised that all records at the port at which you claim entry have been examined and no record referring to you has been found.

I laughed….yeah, I couldn’t find her at first either! But eventually, they did, once they searched for the port of New York and looked under her maiden name. She was trying to remember an event that took place 45 years before, so her memory was a bit fuzzy on the details.

I also smiled because every paper in the packet identifies her birthplace as Żyrardów, which I assumed, and her birthdate as 21 November 1890, which I knew from other records. This made me smile because more than one researcher has been unable to find evidence of her birth in Żyrardów on that date. I know that should make me sigh, not smile, but my own conclusion based on my extensive research was exactly what she said.

What Made Me Cry

A recurring theme on this site is my desire to find photographs of my ancestors because I have so few. I even entitled one post about Elizabeth “Do you have a photo of my great-grandmother?” I did have one, and I didn’t want to be greedy because one is so much better than none at all. So when I saw Elizabeth’s photo included in the naturalization documents, I cried. It was tears of joy, but it was the first time in my life I found a new photo of a great-grandparent – the few photos of six of my greats have been with me since childhood. This one was new. She’s a bit older, and looking not-too-happy, but it brought me great joy to see her. And also to see a resemblance-she immediately reminded me of my Aunt Joan, Elizabeth’s granddaughter.

Surprise!

As I casually read through Elizabeth’s Alien Registration papers (no photo required with those, in case anyone is wondering – I will transcibe the questions on the form in a future post), one little word raised my eyebrows and would have knocked me over had I been standing up.  The question:

13. I have the following specified relatives living in the United States:

Parents: (one, none, or both) _______

Her response? One.

Um, wait… WHAT?  SHE HAD A PARENT IN THE UNITED STATES IN 1940? I had a great-great-grandparent here in the United States! That, my friends, was news to me. When she came to the country in 1909, she came alone (at age 18), and there was never any indication that either of her parents came here.

I have suspicions it was her mother (yet another future post on why I recently had those suspicions). Either way, again the surname of Miller is a bit problematic. I have found one candidate on the 1940 census for her mother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller, and none for her father, John Miller. Both were born in Poland, likely in the town of Zelów in the Łódź province, and lived in Żyrardów in the Mazovia province since before Elizabeth’s birth in 1890 and at least at the time of her immigration in 1909. Much, much more to come on this new development as I track down which parent was here, when they came, and where they lived. And the obvious…that one parent here in 1940 was also required to register as an alien (assuming they hadn’t been naturalized prior to 1940)!

That’s the great thing about genealogy – you’re always discovering and finding something to smile about (or sometimes cry about). And, there’s always the possibility that you’ll be surprised. Here’s to more great discoveries!

[Written for the 121st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Great Discoveries]

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Photo by katieb50 under the Creative Commons license (click on image for link to katieb50’s Flickr page for this photo)

It is my pleasure to present the 4th annual Festival of Strange Search Terms – the weird, bizarre, and unusual phrases that folks have entered into search engines…and for some weird, bizarre, and unusual reason they wound up here anyway. Here are some of the best of the strange and odd search terms that have brought visitors here in 2012 – with my comments, of course! Note: these are actual search terms used!

If Only It Was That Easy

how did aunt joan die – Well, I know how my Aunt Joan died. I’m not really sure about yours.

what heritage am i – Who needs a DNA test or all that annoying research? Just Google it!

ww2 my grandpa in his uniform with my grandma – I wish finding photographs was this easy!

my grandmother in 1927 – And they really expected to find her…

find grampa – I’m tempted to Google this to see the search results. Maybe my grampa is there too!

my great great grandparents – Ta Da! I wish my smartphone was that smart. It would have saved me tons of research time.

Things That Make You Go “Huh?”

if only i had shown him my heirlooms – I so want to know the story behind this one! We need to make this a writing prompt for the next Carnival of Fictional Genealogy!

alien skulls – Hmm…

missouri recycling statistics from 2008-2011 – What’s amusing about this one is: 1) it led to my blog, which as far as I know has never mentioned  either Missouri or recycling, and 2) they stayed long enough to view two posts.

worst libraries – Why search for the best of anything when you can search for the worst?

animated obsessive compulsive – Do they mean a cartoon of an obsessive compulsive, or just an obsessive compulsive who uses a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions?

Make Me LOL

did fotomat have bathroom – While I may have wondered that as a kid, I would have never thought to search for the answer online.

if plan a doesn’t work, remember there are 25 more letters in the alphabet – If you need 26 tries to make your plan work, it’s probably not that great of an idea. Just say’n…

cat movie camera – Is this a movie camera that can only be used to film cats or one that can only be operated by cats?

a story from my past – Oh, wait, I’m drawing a blank on that memory so let me search for it online…

i used to have a life then i discovered genealogy – Didn’t we all?

This Sounds Like Fun

fountain of youth birthday party – I’ll drink to that!

time travel pictures 1940 – If they are pictures obtained by traveling back through time to 1940, then I’m all ears!

facebookancester.com [sic] – Because if they only had Facebook back then, we would now know that Grandma was often bored and played FarmVille all day.

“gene kelly’s ass” – Who could ask for anything more?

So there you have it! The next edition of the What’s Past is Prologue search term carnival will include more bizarre, freakish, and unusual ways that bring me more traffic. Until next time, I remain the Queen of Grampa’s Alien Heirlooms and Time Travel Photos of Gene Kelly’s Ass.

[Note: My past crown titles include Queen of Forgotten Unusual Facial Expressions and Dumb Mistake Cake Spelling Roulette, Queen and Super-Finder of Renegade Name-Labeled Regal Dog Portraits and Queen of Ugly Teady Beer Shakespearean Transvestite Marriage Photos. I bet you’re really jealous now.]

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Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series, P is for… Proof! I had a lot of possibilities for the letter “P” such as surnames (including my own) and town names (not to mention the country of Poland, the source of most of my ancestors). But what good is all the information we collect without proof? How do we really prove our family history? Well, there’s an “app” for that – the application of the Genealogical Proof Standard, the measure by which one’s research is credible.

The Board for Certification of Genealogists defines the Genealogical Proof Standard as a conclusion that contains five elements:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search
  • complete and accurate source citations
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

A conclusion based on all of these standards is proven, genealogically speaking. Of course, true “proof” of who are ancestors were could really only be obtained with genetic testing. But, absent the ways and means to perform such testing, the Genealogical Proof Standard is how our “evidence” is proven to be credible.

I, for one, am often stuck in the (un)reasonably exhaustive search phase – or as speaker and genealogist Warren Bittner refers to it, the “reasonably exhausting search”. Complete and accurate source citations are a continuing challenge for me, but it helps to make my case. Conflicting evidence is perhaps the most challenging part of proving a fact, but isn’t that sort of analysis and detective work what makes family history fun?

Can you prove your family history?

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

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Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… O is for Occupations! Some of the many interesting things I’ve learned while researching my family history are my ancestors’ occupations. What skills, trades, and talents are on your family tree?

I’ve written about my family’s occupations in the past, so for today’s post I’m taking a different approach to the topic of working for a living. Has your own choice of a job or a particular talent been unknowingly influenced by your ancestors?

On the episode of Henry Louis Gates’ Finding Your Roots featuring Martha Stewart, Dr. Gates seemed surprised to discover that many of Martha’s ancestors’ jobs involved such decorative arts as basket-making, iron work, and gardening. These crafts have also played a role in Stewart’s career as a decorator. But when she embarked on that career, she knew nothing of her family’s history in similar fields.

I was not as surprised as Dr. Gates because I have experienced exactly the same thing in my own family history research when comparing some of my ancestors’ occupations to that of my brother and myself.

My brother has some similarities to our great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. Joseph’s primary occupation in life was a baker – my brother is not. However, we found a curious connection in another earlier occupation of Joseph’s. During his mandatory military service in the Bavarian Army, Joseph served in the Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. This roughly translates to the Royal Bavarian Infantry Life Guard Regiment. This elite regiment protected the royal family, and was headquartered in Munich at the royal palace. Our great-grandfather served in this unit from 1893-95 when he was only 20 to 22 years old.

When my brother was 21 years old, he joined the United States Marine Corps, another elite branch of the military known for their rigorous training and “spit and polish” image, much like the Leib Regiment. While in the Marines, my brother served as an Embassy security guard, which would have had similarities to the Leib Regiment not only in function – as a protection and security unit – but also in form in terms of strict protocol and image.

While these two military jobs were similar, my brother’s later career mirrored Joseph’s Leib Regiment service even more closely. Years later, my brother served in the state police. His time in service included working on the executive protection detail guarding the governor. Coincidentally, the uniform of the Leib Regiment and the state police have one remarkable similarity – they coat/shirt of each uniform are a bright light blue.

As for my own career, I’ve spent the last twenty years as a “civil servant”. I was surprised to discover that the career I stumbled upon by accident is closely interwoven with the careers of multiple ancestors. None were civil servants, but their jobs instead are directly related to the industry that I’ve worked with in my government job – the U.S. clothing, textile, and footwear industry. I’ve worked with this shrinking domestic industry, one that is nearly entirely dependent upon the military, for my entire career.

When I first started my job in 1992, I knew that my maternal grandparents had worked in the textile factories that once populated Philadelphia. But after that, as I spent more spare time researching my genealogy, I began to uncover more generations involved with this industry – a whole collection of weavers, seamstresses, cloth merchants, and shoemakers! Some of these occupations are on both my father’s and mother’s side of the family tree including generations of both Bavarian and Polish shoemakers. My maternal grandfather’s family, all weavers, came from Żyrardów, Poland – a town founded to produce textiles. It soon became the largest textile-producing town in the entire Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century. I may not weave fabric or make clothes or shoes myself, but thanks to my desk job I know more about these industries than I ever thought possible.

I wondered about other occupational connections in the family. My father worked as an accountant, and while I haven’t found any bean counters in his family’s history, I realized that in his younger days he was quite talented at construction-type jobs around the house. Did that talent stem from his Bavarian carpenter and mason ancestors? My mother also worked as a bookkeeper and a bank teller, but her dream job, and her talent, was designing and making clothes. Did that passion come from her weaving ancestors?

Perhaps we have a genetic memory within us that calls us to certain occupations or pastimes. I’d like to think so, but then again maybe it’s just a matter of some remarkable coincidences. I’d like to know who the historian in the family was… Because I think I inherited that gene!

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

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Continuing with the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… N is for Napoleon! Napoleon may have been a dictator, but he did a few other things as well – one thing in particular that may even have an impact on your family history research today. In 1804 he instituted the Civil Code, which is now known as the Napoleonic Code. It was adopted throughout many of the lands he conquered, and it remained in effect after his death. The Civil Code granted many things we take for granted today such as freedom of religion and equality. Of course, it stated other things that we wouldn’t necessarily be happy with today like patriarchal power – in other words, husbands rule the household. But genealogically speaking, we have Napoleon and his code to thank for civil registration of vital events such as births, marriages, and deaths. The Roman Catholic church had been keeping records prior to this – in some places for centuries – but the Civil Code made the record-keeping a state function.

The Code spelled out exactly what must be recorded in the vital records, and the information required was more than what was customarily kept in church record books. For example, a religious baptismal record would likely indicate the child’s name, date of birth, date of baptism, parents’ names, godparents’ names, and the location. Napoleonic birth records required the exact time of birth as well as the full names, ages, residences, and professions of the parents and witnesses. Napoleonic marriage records are rather detailed and include the ages, residences, and professions of the bride and groom, their parents, and the witnesses. I don’t think the Napoleonic death records are as detailed as those for birth and marriage because it lacks the cause of death and the birthplace of the deceased. But, the Civil Code required that these events be registered within the community whereas prior to this it was merely a religious function.

The Civil Code was adopted in countries occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and became the basis of law in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Romania, and parts of Germany. I gave an example of a Napoleonic birth record in the Baptism of Jozef Piontkowski. Learn more about translating Polish vital records in the Napoleonic format at this link.

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

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This is a great photograph of my mother in 1950. She was only 14 years old yet to me she looks glamorous and sophisticated. But what’s funny about this photo is that my mother always said she never really learned how to ride a bike. I saw her ride one once, but she was a bit unsteady and gave up quickly. Even if it’s not her bicycle, you have to admit it makes a nice fashion accessory!

Posted for Sepia Saturday #138

 

 

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Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… M is for Maps! What do maps have to do with family history? Maps can mean a lot to research – after all, how can you find the history of your family if you don’t know where to look? Maps can help us look in the right direction in many different ways. Here are some of my favorite kinds of maps or map sites that I use in my research:

Google Maps – Besides helping me find my way between a myriad of places, I use Google Maps to look up all sorts of locations in my family history research. I can use it to see a town in Europe – or to see if that town name actually exists. Or, I can look up a census address to see if the house is still there, and if a “Street View” exists I can even see how the location looks today. For cluster research, I can create a custom map and “pin” all of the locations of a particular family or group of neighbors.

Historic Maps – I love historic map sites! What genealogist doesn’t? One of my favorites for my hometown research is the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network interactive map viewer. I can see past maps of the city layered on top of today’s map (using Google Maps). My favorite is the 1942 Land Use map that includes businesses, factories, churches, and more. With this old map, I can literally walk around the neighborhood of my ancestors and “see” what they saw as they walked the streets of Philadelphia. (See my previous post, Fun with Maps in Philadelphia, for more on the site.) Old maps of Europe were essential to my research to determine country borders – was it Poland or Russia? Bavaria or Austria?

Factories in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, 1942

Pinpointing a town with maps – Sites like the JewishGen Gazetteer (formerly called the ShtetlSeeker) can not only show you a town on the map, but show you towns within a ten-mile radius. You can also search for a town name phonetically, which is  useful for misspelled town names. The Gazetteer contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Learn more about it in my previous post, ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore.

Surname Maps are a very different sort of map that also have a place in family history. Several sites allow you to create a map of surname distribution in a particular country. The maps are usually based on current data, such as census records or phone books. Such maps can lead you to potential relatives back in the old country or even validate your place of origin. I try to use a surname map in each of my Surname Saturday posts to illustrate the name’s distribution. Frankly, they are really just plain fun. I recently entered a rather unusual surname into a surname map-maker for Poland and found a total of one person with that name – in exactly the same town my ancestor came from. Hello, cousin?

How have maps helped your family history research?

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

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When it comes to business and commerce, my great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States in the early years of the 20th century spent their lives working for others whether it was in textile mills, bakeries, or other factories. Some of their American-born children, however, had that good old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. One of my maternal grandmother’s brothers owned a butcher shop for many years on E. Norris Street in Philadelphia. I don’t have any photos of the shop, or of my grand-uncle Casimir Zawodny for that matter. But I do have a great photo of two of my paternal grandmother’s brothers who used their ingenuity to become businessmen at a young age. May I introduce you to Max Bergmeister, proprietor of the Lawrence Ice Company, 920 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, PA:

Julius and Max Bergmeister, the Lawrence Ice Company, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1925

Max (born 1905) is the young man leaning on the rear of the truck. His younger brother Julius (born 1908) stands at the front. I’m far from a Photo Detective and did not do much research into the time period of the photo, but based on the style of the truck and the apparent youth of the brothers I would date it to 1925-1928. The scan of the photo is not of the highest quality, but there are a number of great details in the photo if you zoom in. For example, the building directly behind the front of the truck appears to be a telegraph or telephone station (note the sign with the bell in the upper left). The store is a stationery story that sells notions – this is just visible through the windshield of the truck. The confectionary store (behind rear of truck) serves Reid’s ice cream (“It’s the Best”). Just behind Max’s head you can see signs for the Ringling Brothers Circus that was coming to town on May 16. The most interesting thing I found while zooming in on the photo is the profile of a man or woman in the window on the second story to the left of the ice cream sign.

Max started out in the ice business, but by the 1930’s he owned what was called a “soda fountain” in those days. My dad was the envy of the neighborhood because his uncle had a candy and ice cream store! He owned the business for many years. His brother Julius worked as a driver, but at some point he became a Philadelphia fireman and had a long career with Engine Co. 51 in the same neighborhood. Another driver used to deliver ice cream to Max’s store – a young man named James Pointkouski (see a 1937 photo of James and his ice cream delivery truck here). One day James noticed the girl behind the counter. Excited, he asked Max, “Who is that?” Max responded with an indifferent shrug, “Oh, that’s just my sister.” I guess I should be grateful to Max for being a businessman, because at that moment his friend and deliveryman James met his future wife, Margaret. It would take many more years before they would become known as my grandparents.

[Written for the 120th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Business and Commerce]

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