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Archive for the ‘Carnival of Genealogy’ Category

Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton congratulates the author on her iGENE Awards.

Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton congratulates the author on her iGENE Awards.

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. In fact, I usually try to avoid listing my “favorites” at the end of the year in anticipation of the annual iGENE post. But this year, the Carnival of Genealogy is on hiatus and I missed the annual opportunity to continue the tradition. So in honor of the 85th Oscar Academy Awards tomorrow – and giving me a good reason to show the photo above – I decided to go ahead and present my own 2012 iGENE Awards anyway. So without further ado, the “Academy” has reviewed all of the entries, read the critics’ reviews, and counted all the votes…it’s time to roll out the red carpet and present the honors.  Welcome to the 2012 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Anita_1950Best Picture

 “Gorgeous!”  ~ Wendy Littrell of All My Branches

The Best Picture award goes to Sepia Saturday: Mom on a Bike from August. My mom strikes a pose in the schoolyard when she was fourteen. The photo is from 1950, but her sense of fashion is timeless!

Best Screenplay

Your post is of great of encouragement to me that those who were once ‘lost’ may indeed be (and deserve to be) ‘found’.” ~ Cynthia Shenette of Heritage Zen

31225-001The story of my great-grandfather’s cousin in His Name was Józef Pater wins the award for Best Screenplay. And what a screenplay it would make! It’s the story of a decorated war hero who became a leader in the Polish Underground to fight the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Captured by the Nazis, he is given the opportunity to escape but passes to prevent repercussions for his imprisoned wife. Transferred to Auschwitz, Józef died as a political prisoner and his story was forgotten by his extended family – until now.

Best Documentary

“What a neat find, Donna. Guess it goes to show some of the best discoveries are accidental ones.” ~ Shelley Bishop from A Sense of Family

The winner of the Best Documentary goes to What Happened to Uncle Herman? which documented my investigation of why my grandmother’s uncle seemed to disappear from records. By tracking his life events and doing some additional research, I finally discovered what happened to poor Uncle Herman.

Best Biography

“Wonderful narrative!” ~ C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon, Stanczyk – Internet Muse™

For the first time in the history of the iGENE Awards here, the winner of the Best Biography category is also the winner of the Best Screenplay. Cousin Józef was by far the most interesting life story I’ve discovered out of all of my relatives so far.

Best Comedy

SCAN0099

“I can go to bed tonight with a smile on my face.” ~ Michelle Goodrum of The Turning of Generations

The winner of the Best Comedy award goes to September’s post, I Was a Teenage Car Thief. It wasn’t so funny at the time, but incidents like this become funnier as they become history. Read about how my friend and I stole our teacher’s car in high school…or at least that’s how the story is told.

Previous iGENE Award Posts:

 

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History:  gossip well told.  ~ Elbert Hubbard

Partners in crime: Nancy and I, probably up to no good, at National Honor Society induction during junior year (fall, 1983).

I was a teenage car thief.

Or so the story goes. That isn’t quite exactly true, but it seems to be how the story is told years later!

In my girls-only Catholic high school,my friend Nancy and I were probably known more for what we didn’t do than what we did. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink. We didn’t cut class, hike our uniform skirts halfway up our thighs, and we didn’t even wear makeup.

Nancy and I were good, polite, studious young ladies who got mostly straight A’s. Boring? Well, maybe to some, but we both also happened to have a great sense of humor and a mischievous streak, so we certainly weren’t bored. And, after all, the great thing about a devious mind in a goody-two-shoes body is that you rarely ever got blamed for your own mischievousness!

In junior year, we both had the good fortune to have Mrs. Campbell for history class (we called it “World Cultures”). Not only was Mrs. Campbell very smart (little did we know then that she was a future Jeopardy contestant) and an excellent teacher, but she was fun, too! Mrs. C had a sense of humor and a mischievous streak that rivaled ours in addition to a penchant for really bad puns. Let’s just say that Nancy and I learned a lot from her.

One day Mrs. Campbell broke off into an off-topic tangent about a student who attempted a  practical joke on her and failed. With a daring twinkle in her eye, she declared, “NO ONE has ever fooled me!”

Seated on the left side of the room, I immediately turned to Nancy a few rows to my right and raised my eyebrow. Nancy discreetly caught my gaze and nodded. The game was afoot! With a silent shared glance and only the faintest hint of a smirk, Nancy and I were thinking the same exact thing: “We’ll see about that, Mrs. C!”

After class, we wondered what joke we could play on her. We quickly realized it had to involve her car in some way, for the car had become a frequent detractor from our daily lesson plan. The Campbell’s bought a brand new car, and it was a complete lemon. Never in the history of American car production had a brand new car had so many mechanical failures. They were at their wits’ end in trying to get help from the dealership.

“We should steal it,” I said.

Nancy looked slightly shocked, yet amused, and gave me a questioning look.

“Well, not really steal it…just, you know – move it. If her car wasn’t where she parked it, she’d think it was stolen!”

Nancy smiled, “That’s perfect!”

Yes, perfect, until it dawned on us, both National Honor Society scholars, that neither of us could drive yet. Our friends who could drive thought we were absolutely insane and wanted nothing to do with our devious plans.

Time for Plan B! In the end, Plan B doesn’t sound like much at all – but, history is more about how things are remembered than what actually happened. Our classmate, Deena, worked in the main office during our class period. She would enter our room with a (forged) note for Mrs. Campbell that would tell her to call the dealership about her car – urgently! That’s right, kids, there were no cell phones in the mid-80’s!

This simple message was merely meant to invoke her ire – at the car, not us – and send her into a brief tizzy of humorous car-related stories which would have the side effect of getting us off the day’s lesson plan for the rest of the period until we revealed the joke.

See, we were not quite comedic geniuses yet, just lazy history students.

On the appointed day (my fuzzy memory thinks it was possibly April Fool’s Day) and the designated time, the note arrives. Mrs. C read it and looked quite distressed. She then did something we didn’t expect – she said she’d be right back and bolted out of the room!

When our note-delivery girl returned with the second note that said something to the effect of “just kidding”, Mrs. C still wasn’t back yet. Deena saw her in the hallway talking on the pay phone. Those who knew of our plan asked us what was going on: “Who’s she calling?” Others laughed and said, “You’re both dead!”

She couldn’t possibly be calling the dealership, could she? Maybe moving her car was a better idea after all.

She returned to the room, breathless – not from the short walk to the classroom, but from all the talking she had just quickly done on her call. She was about to explain what happened when she noticed that Deena standing in the front of the room. Deena handed her the second note while backing towards the classroom door and simultaneously trying to give a death-stare to Nancy and me on our different sides of the room.

That second or two while Mrs. Campbell read the note seemed longer than waiting for the bell to end Sr. Cherubim’s class.

Then… she laughed! And then said, “Oh my God, I have to call my husband!” and ran out of the room. She quickly returned and was dismayed that his line was busy. She explained that she called him about calling the car dealership because something else was wrong with the car. By the time she finally did get in touch with him – before our class was over – he had called not only the car dealership but also the Vice President of General Motors to discuss the lack of quality of their new vehicles and their poor customer service.

Fortunately, Mr. Campbell was as easy-going as his wife and they both actually laughed at our little prank. They thought the car dealership needed to be told off anyway, and we just prompted them to do it a little faster.

My memory has faded on the detail of how Nancy and I were identified as the perpetrators, but either we openly bragged about it or she immediately guessed from our sheepish grins. I think she actually admired us after that for our brave initiative. Mrs. C was so cool that by the end of junior year, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell agreed to chaperone four friends and me on a trip to Rome after we graduated – and she kept her word!

No cars were harmed or even touched in the prank, yet forevermore Mrs. Campbell called Nancy and I her car thieves. And that is how I got my class out of a history lesson one day and went down in Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls history as a teenage car thief.

How Mrs. Campbell signed my yearbook in senior year: Dear Donna, You have a great future as a car thief.

Our prank made it into our senior yearbook as a caption on a photo of Mrs. Campbell teaching class!

Left: Nancy and Mrs. C at our friend Mary’s graduation party, June 1985. Right: Mrs. C and me expressing our dissatisfaction with the hotel in Rome, July 1985.

[Written for the 122nd Carnival of Genealogy: School Humor]

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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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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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“One hour, okay?”  He looked at me skeptically. “Then you have to come back to me. We have places to go!”

“One hour – got it!” Wow, even time travel has restrictions. I turned on the machine and within a minute I was back in 1940 and walking the streets of Philadelphia. I didn’t have much time, but fortunately I had a good idea of where to go. I was a bit nauseated at first, but my focus became clearer and I could see where I was – Thompson Street. I needed to turn down Venango Street to get to Mercer Street, my first destination.

The weather in Philadelphia on April 4, 1940 was warmer than the previous day – nearly 63 degrees and dry. People were going about their daily business and the streets were not deserted – people were out walking. Cars were few. I could hear faint sounds of Big Band music coming from a house fortunate enough to own a radio. The music was great, but I also love the fashions of the 1940′s – there’s a guy in a suit and a fedora walking down the street. I look great dressed up in a skirt, blouse, and pumps – and only in 1940 could I get away with wearing a hat!

I quickly found Mercer Street. I knew the real census enumerator had been there the day before; I was just an interloper. I hoped my plan would work to avoid any suspicion as to who I really was. I tried to look official and get to know the neighbors on my way to almost the center of the block – 3553 Mercer Street. As I passed by #3505, a young girl came out carrying an even younger girl.  Were they sisters? I heard the older say, “Come on, Peanut, I’ll get you home.”  Oh my, I thought, that’s Rita Mroz and – no way!  Rita lived with her 3 sisters, 2 brothers, and Polish-born parents, but the little “Peanut” she was carrying was definitely not her sister. In fact, she was heading right towards my destination!  I watched while Rita safely delivered the young girl back home.

There it is!  3553 Mercer Street.  A 7-year-old girl sat on the front step, looking quite unhappy that her younger sister arrived back home.

Wow, this is too much! If I could only tell Aunt Joan about this, she would laugh so hard!  “Hi!” I said, “I love your curly hair.”

“I’m not allowed to talk to strangers,” replied the girl. And with that, she ran inside.

I knocked, and a handsome man came to the door. I was momentarily stunned, but I quickly recovered. “I work for the Government,” I stammered. Well, at least that’s not a lie. I explained that although the census enumerator had been there the day before, I was a supervisor performing a spot-check to ensure that the responses were recorded properly.

“Sure,” said the man, “come on in.”

As I sat down, I tried to look around without looking like I was casing the house for a future robbery. I could smell something wonderful – Oh my God, it’s Nan’s chicken soup! I silently wondered how I could ingratiate myself to the point of being invited for dinner. I heard a female voice call out from the kitchen, “Henush, who is it? Whoever it is, we don’t want any.” I thought, Hi, Nan! If she only knew…

The Pater Family, circa 1937

Her husband yelled an explanation back and I saw her take a peek from the kitchen. She looked so young! And pretty!

“Now, let’s see,” I said. I acted professionally and began asking all of the enumerator’s questions. “Name?”

“Henry Pater.” Boy, I thought, Mom was right about those grey eyes! He’s so much more handsome than any photo I ever saw.

“Age?”

“Twenty-eight.” Wow, kudos for telling the truth, Grandpop. Once we got to the same question for his wife, Mae, I heard her yell, “Twenty-seven!”  He looked over his shoulder and whispered, “I told the enumerator yesterday 31, but she’s really 32. Just don’t tell I told you!”

I learned about 7-year-old Joan and 4-year-old Anita, the “peanut” I saw earlier. Upon hearing her name, she appeared and hid behind her father’s leg. “This is Anita,” he said, “but I like to call her Chick!”  Anita giggled.

Finally, Henry told me his father-in-law, Joseph Zawodny, also lived there. Henry told me that Joseph was married. I didn’t need to ask where his wife was – I knew she was in a mental hospital. I would visit her on another trip back to the past. Where are you, I thought.  As if he heard me, I saw an older man peer out of the kitchen and ask Henry something in Polish. If only I could answer back or get the chance to talk to him! There is so much I want to know, and I’d like to know him so much.

I knew my time was running out.  Reluctantly, I thanked the Pater family and took my leave, waving bye to little Anita on my way out. I’m off to see your future husband now.

How do I get from the Port Richmond neighborhood to Northern Liberties fast? Sometimes future technology has its advantages, and I found my way more quickly than I thought possible.  Suddenly I was walking along Germantown Avenue. I couldn’t go up and down every street with my limited time – when I saw the meat packing plant on the corner of 3rd and Thompson, I knew I was in the right place. The census-taker wouldn’t walk these streets for two more days, but fortunately my destination was right on the corner so I didn’t have to fake my way through several houses.

Right on the corner at 1300 Germantown Avenue, I spotted a young boy sitting on the front step. I was stunned and forgot where I was. “Nick?” I asked.

The Pointkouski Family, circa 1938-9

The curly-haired boy looked up at me and smiled. “No, I’m Jimmy and I’m 5. I’ll be 6 this summer,” he said proudly, blue eyes sparkling.

“Oh,” I said, “it’s nice to meet you, Jimmy! I have a nephew named Nick – he’s 4 going on 5 this summer and he sure looks a lot like you!”

Suddenly a woman came to the door and she didn’t look happy that I was talking to her son. After I explained about the census, she invited me in and once again I tried to look around the home’s interior. This house rented for $5 more than my last stop, and I wanted to see if it was worth the extra money.  I also couldn’t stop looking at the woman, Margaret Pointkouski.  As I took down the information she provided, I questioned the spelling. “That’s with a U, not a W?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “that’s right.”

Margaret looked so – what was the word? Young! She was 28 years old – well, that’s what she told me, but I knew her 28th birthday would actually be the following week!  Just then the door opened and a young man entered. “Well, hello!” he said as he tipped his hat and leaned over to kiss Margaret.

Just as with Henry, the 29-year-old James looked so much more handsome than any photos I had ever seen. I couldn’t help but smile back.  When he heard who I was, or at least who I was pretending to be, he commented that he didn’t know there were “lady census takers”.

At that, Margaret rolled her eyes, “Oh, Pop!”

I said, “They thought some people might answer more questions from a woman.”

“Sure,” the elder Jimmy said, “I’ll tell you anything!”  He added, “I hope you get all of your info recorded.”

“Oh, I will,” I assured him. Just maybe not today.

The Pointkouski household was small with only the couple and their young son, Jimmy. I was bursting to tell Margaret that she would get pregnant late the following year and have a daughter, but I knew it wasn’t my place to speak of such things.

I asked my questions – not the ones I wanted to ask; I could not ask those questions. Like where are your siblings living right now? I hadn’t visited them yet. Oh, there were so many questions I could not ask. But I asked the “official” questions and I was very happy to hear the answers. All I kept thinking was: this is so cool!

I said my good-byes to 1940 and powered down the machine. Suddenly my boyfriend appeared, “Time’s up – let’s go out to eat. Did you find everyone you were looking for?”

“Not everyone, but it’s a start.  They’ll all still be there when I go back.”

###

[Written for the 117th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: 1940!]

I actually wrote this the night before the carnival topic was announced. I’ve told a few stories on this blog, but I never presented factual information in such a fictional way.  Technically, I’d call this creative non-fiction. To me, talking about finding a genealogical record (on my “machine”, aka my laptop) can sound a little boring, at least to non-genealogists. But how could a science fiction lover like myself resist seeing that search for the record as time travel! The idea took hold and would not let go.  Face it – bringing up those images, walking through the neighborhoods, reading all about the families – it is the closest thing we can get to time travel!

The Census facts came from the actual 1940 Census (source citations upon request, I used Ancestry to access). I saw the path the enumerator took and learned about the neighborhood layout from a combination of current maps and a 1942 map of Philadelphia courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network. What was the weather like on those April days in 1940? Well, I learned about temperature and precipitation totals from The Franklin Institute! I knew about fashion from the movies and my parents. I have an idea what the characters looked like from photographs. As for the personalities of the individuals – everything I know, I learned from my parents. Of my grandparents, I knew my maternal grandmother the best.  Second would be my paternal grandmother, with my paternal grandfather third.  Least of all, I knew, or rather didn’t really know, my maternal grandfather – he died when I was five years old and I only met him a few times. I’m glad I could get to know them all in the 1940 Census!

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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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The theme for the 113th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is: A Charles Dickens Christmas. In the spirit of Dickens, I was visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future…

Christmas, 1971

Here’s a photo of my big brother and me on Christmas Day in 1971.  I have a unique ability to talk people into doing crazy things for the sake of photography, so in the spirit of brotherly love (just like our hometown, Philadelphia), we re-created the scene forty years later.

Christmas, 2011

The audience for the recreation shot included our parents, my brother’s wife (the photographer), and his three youngest children…who could not stop laughing.

Christmas Future

For the image of Christmas Future, we first considered using my niece and one of the nephews.  However, the one time I would not want all three kids in a picture is the one time they’d protest about not being in it, so we avoided any sibling rivalry on Christmas Day.  We thought about using our parents, which is likely what we will look like in another 30 years. But, given the fact that my brother and I are a bit younger and had difficulty not only recreating the pose, but also getting up off the floor, we decided against it or we’d still be trying to help them stand up.  I try not to envision the future too often since it rarely turns out as I plan, but I hope that in another forty years I’ll still be celebrating Christmas with my brother and his family – and some grandnieces and grandnephews and other loved ones!

[Written for the 113th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Charles Dickens Christmas]

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Two views of St. John the Baptist Church in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm - from 1875 on the left and 1998 on the right.

My family’s history in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bavaria, Germany, goes back several hundred years.  While that’s a long way back with regard to genealogical research, the town itself is much older than my family’s history recorded in its church registers.  Pfaffenhofen was officially recorded as a town in 1438, but earlier chronicles mention the town as far back as 1140.  The town’s population expanded significantly over the years, but it also decreased due to events such as plagues and wars.  If I could go back in time to visit the town, at least one thing would look the same – the town’s Roman Catholic parish church, St. John the Baptist (Stadtpfarrkirche St. Johannes Baptist), has always resided at one end of the town square.

St. John the Baptist Church was originally built in a Romanesque style, but the church – and much of the town – was destroyed in a fire in 1388.  In 1393, the church was rebuilt in a Gothic style.  In 1670-72, the interior of the church was renovated into the Baroque style we see today throughout most of Bavaria.  The steeple was struck by lightning in 1768 and rebuilt the same year.

I’ve documented my Pfaffenhofen ancestors back to the 1670s due to the church records of St. John the Baptist.  The Echerer (Eggerer), Höck, Nigg, and Paur families worshiped at this church for generations.  My great-grandparents, Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer, were married here in 1897 and baptized their first child, Maria Bergmeister, there in 1898.  One hundred years later, I became the first descendent to re-visit the church.

Interior of St. John the Baptist church, Altar

The interior of St. John the Baptist is very ornate with many paintings and statues, which is typical of the Baroque style and also typical of Bavarian Catholic churches.  Some might call Baroque churches ostentatious, but the style is meant to be dramatic in order to have an emotional effect.  What was emotional for me, however, was knowing that my ancestors worshiped in that very place so many years ago.

Since my Pfaffenhofen ancestors were craftsmen – primarily shoemakers, masons, and carpenters – I liked seeing evidence of the trade guild’s in the church’s interior. Each guild had some church obligations as a part of the guild’s rules. Once a year each guild celebrated their own special Mass, with special times for each guild. For example, the brewers’ Mass was celebrated on Monday after New Year’s while the tailors’ was on the Monday after Easter week.  Because of the guilds close association with the church, when the church was remodeled in 1671, the artist Johann Bellandt of Wessobrunn carved a number of statues of the apostles in honor of the guilds: Mathew for the butchers, Phillip for the bakers, John for the brewers, Bartholomew for the leather artisans, Jacob for the weavers, and Simon for the tailors.  I did not seem to find an apostle representing my ancestors’ trades though!

[Written for the 109th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Places of Worship]

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Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.  ~ Voltaire

Growing up, I ate dinner with my entire family – mom and dad, my brother, and my maternal grandmother (Nan) – seated around the same table eating a home-cooked meal.  I didn’t realize there was any other definition of “dinner”. I went to a friend’s house once and learned that there was such a thing as canned ravioli.  Fascinated at first, I was quickly repulsed after a taste. It sure wasn’t what Mom or Nan made.

As much as food made with love played a role in my life, the comfort of a family dinner came more from the family than the dinner entrée itself.  All the food was great (well, except for liver…I don’t wish to discuss it to this day, nor smell it). Specific memories are few, perhaps because all of the food was great and we tend to remember extraordinary events more than the ordinary.  And even though she never seemed to measure anything, use a recipe, or do the same thing twice, certain foods I’d call Mom’s specialties because they were always so good.  The legendary chicken soup, for example.  She made it just like Nan – and I am still not successful in trying to duplicate it. Mom’s roast chicken, stuffing, and mashed potatoes were the best.  From my younger years, I also remember that Nan’s homemade noodles for the chicken soup and her “dumplings” were extraordinary.  If the cooking gene is passed on through mitochondrial DNA, I may have a fighting chance of becoming a good cook one day.

Thanksgiving at the Pointkouski’s in 1994 with some of Mom’s standard best cooking. L-R: Mom, Lou, Dad, Lou’s mom Marge, Mr. & Mrs. S.

I never knew I had it so good – Mom made some of the best food I ever ate. I’d usually watch her cook and occasionally attempt to figure out how something was being made, but there was one thing that always got in the way of writing down a recipe – Mom never did the same thing twice.  If I’d ask how much of an ingredient just went into the pot, she’d look at me as if I had asked a question in a foreign language.  She didn’t follow recipes – she just cooked. “You’ll understand one day when you have to cook,” she explained.

But there is another category of Mom’s cooking that is even more memorable than the everyday favorites she made – her one-hit wonders.  While not using recipes is great for creativity, it sometimes makes it difficult to repeat a good thing exactly the same way.  She might make the dish again, but sometimes it didn’t taste quite as good as the first time.  Three one-hit wonders stand out in my memory as those special creations whose exact recipes were never to be duplicated again.

First, the cream puff.  It was December, 1985, and I had just finished exams for my very first semester of college. It was a Tuesday evening, and I was looking forward to watching Moonlighting when Mom decided to make some pastries.  As a treat, for no apparent “reason”, Mom made cream puffs.  The pastries were light and fluffy; the cream was oh-so-creamy and rich.  Simply put, the joy I felt about successfully ending my first college semester, a fun episode of my favorite show, and the expectation of a Christmas holiday was delectably combined into a food – this cream puff.  I don’t remember why Mom made them, but I certainly remember how good they tasted.

Mom’s next one-hit wonder was rather different from a pastry.  I have no specific memory of when or why, but I was in my 20s or early 30s when she decided to make her own eggrolls.  Lots of vegetables and chicken or shrimp were chopped, rolled, and fried.  The “recipe” was simple – but no matter how many times we made them after this first time, they never seemed to taste the same and were merely good instead of achieving the greatness of that first batch of eggrolls.

Finally, my Mom usually made me a cake for my birthday.  My cake of choice is always chocolate with vanilla frosting.  The frosting was always confectioner’s sugar with butter and maybe some cream cheese.  Sometimes she used a boxed cake mix, but one year she made the cake from scratch and used cocoa powder I had brought home from London and gave her as a gift.  The result was the ultimate re-gifting – while all of her cakes were good, this cake was The Best Birthday Cake Ever.  I think my parents and I almost ate the whole cake in one sitting.  Again, we don’t really know why it tasted the way it did – far be it from Mom to pay attention to ingredients she was throwing in the bowl.  But I can still remember feeling a childlike delight at the result.

Eventually I moved out and learned that in order to eat, I’d have to cook.  And as it turned out, Mom was right – you don’t need recipes once you know your way around a kitchen.  I should have known – are mothers ever really wrong?  In the years since, I’ve managed to make a few meals that have become my own personal standards and I’ve had a few one-hit wonders of my own.  My cooking may not always be as good as Mom’s, but I won’t stop trying!  Fortunately I can still call her for advice when I’m in the middle of destroying making something for dinner.  It’s like having my own personal “lifeline” with Julia Child on the line – “So, how do you know when the fill-in-the-blank is done again?”  Her answer?  It’s always right.

Written for the 108th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Food!

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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]

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It’s that time of year again! The 101st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks us to make our genealogy research and writing plans for 2011.  But before I can look ahead, it’s time to take a peek in the rear-view mirror for a moment because one year ago today in the 87th COG I listed my genea-resolutions for this year.  How did I do?  Well, I said I would:

  • Go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – DONE! I attended the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference in April, 2010.  While I was there, I was able to complete a lot of research in the library and I had a great time meeting my genealogy and blogging friends.
  • Go back one more generation – FAILED, but not for a lack of trying.  My main goal was to find the birth record of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater.  I tried, and my hired researcher tried, but it hasn’t been accomplished – yet.  I chose two other lines to “go back” on but didn’t quite get to those either.  It’s too bad I didn’t name my Zawodny and Ślesiński lines last year, because I did go back one more on each.
  • Keep writing – FAILED MISERABLY with too few posts here and almost no magazine articles (only one published this year, and one that’s been “on hold” by the magazine for about eight months).
  • Find photographs – FAILED.  I can’t believe I can meet so many second cousins virtually and in  person and not see a single photograph of any of my grandparents or great-grandparents.  Maybe next year…

That was then, this is now.  The best thing about celebrating the New Year is starting over, and you need a plan to get started.  I tried listing just a few things last year and didn’t quite accomplish them.  But I’m pretty optimistic this week after a not-so-great-year, and I’m ready for new challenges.  So why not come up with eleven goals for 2011? (Note To Self when I read this next year: don’t wait until the last minute to write your “goals for next year” post, and do it before drinking some wine.)

Here is what I hope to accomplish with my genealogy in 2011 (in no particular order of importance):

  1. Attend the 2011 Southern California Genealogy Jamboree.
  2. Obtain a public speaking “gig” on a genealogical topic.
  3. FIND the Polish birth record of Elizabeth Miller Pater (Elżbieta Müller).
  4. Put my 2-year-old research plan into action to find the death dates of my 2nd great-grandparents in Bavaria.
  5. Post more frequently here (my goal from the blog’s beginning was always 3/week or 12/month).
  6. View the box of photos that my one cousin has in his possession (or get a restraining order put in against me while trying…LOL).
  7. Get back to writing for some genealogy magazines, even if it’s only a few articles.
  8. Either get back to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or at least rent a few films from my local one.
  9. Find the marriage record for Stanisław Piątkowski & Apolonia Konopka.
  10. Get organized by starting my database over from scratch to include all source information.
  11. Re-visit Poland and explore some of my ancestral towns.

Perhaps my list is too much wishful thinking and not enough realism, but one can’t achieve anything without a plan in place.  Can I do it?  Only time will tell…tune in next year and find out!

[Submitted for the 101st Carnival of Genealogy: My Genealogy Research/Writing Plan for 2011]

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Poster courtesy of footnoteMaven.com

Come one, come all, to family reunion event of the year!  It’s the 100th edition of the Carnival of GenealogyCarnival? No, not the kind of carnival with rides and cotton candy!  In the blogging world, a carnival is an event that offers bloggers the opportunity to write a post centered around a different topic.  The Carnival of Genealogy (COG), created by Jasia of Creative Gene, is celebrating its 100th edition…a noteworthy event in the blogging world!  For this special edition, the topic is “There’s One in Every Family” – what that one is depends on your own interpretation and imagination!

Jasia has Polish ancestry like me, and in Poland there is a special saying used on birthdays and other occasions, “Sto Lat!”  Literally, it means “one hundred years”, and it a wish for many more birthdays to celebrate.  So I’m sure Jasia won’t mind if I refer to this COG as the Sto Lat Edition – join me in wishing her a joyous Sto Lat by submitting your post.  The COG has been a wonderful mainstay of the genealogy blogging community – may there be many more editions that enable us to share our family histories with each other.

Jasia’s dream for the 100th COG is to have a family reunion of sorts with contributions from past contributors as well as new bloggers.  Can we help her reach her goal of 100 submissions?  There are already about 40, so we have quite a few more to go to reach the goal by the deadline of December 1st.  I think we can do it!  Show your spirit, and join in the fun.  Whether you’ve submitted before or not doesn’t matter – you’re part of our family anyway.  Please help Jasia get 100 submissions…I’d hate to have to write another dozen submissions just from me, or strongarm some of my fellow genea-brothers and genea-sisters into submitting more than one, but that’s what I’ll do if I have to!  For more information, see Jasia’s Important COG Reminder and submit your blog article to the 100th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using the carnival submission form. I’ll see you at the reunion!

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There’s one in every family…the one who vanished.  Or at least seems to have vanished.  That mysterious figure that family members whisper about.  That person known in name only with no photographs as a remembrance.  That relative about whom know one really knows what happened.

My grandfather’s sister, the aunt my father never met, ran away and disappeared.  At least that’s how the story goes.  I was successful in documenting the beginning of her life, but then she disappears from public records without a trace.  She is the family legend – the one who disappeared.

Janina Piątkowska was born on December 29, 1905 in Warsaw, Poland to Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia nee Kizoweter.  The family lived in the Wola section of the city, and she was baptized at St. Stanisława Church.  Janina had an older brother, Józef, who was born two years earlier.

Just a few months after Janina was born, her father left for the United States.  He settled in Philadelphia, PA and found work in the same occupation he had in Poland – leatherworking.  He also began using his Americanized name, John Piontkowski.  It would be over six months before the rest of the family could join him in America.  In late October, 1906, Rozalia boarded the SS Armenia in Hamburg, Germany with 3-year-old Józef and almost 1-year-old Janina.  They arrived at Ellis Island on November 10, 1906.

By 1910, the Piontkowski family was living on Huntingdon Street in Philadelphia (listed as the Kilkuskie family in the census).  On July 6, 1910, my grandfather James was born.  He would later be called the “surprise” baby; mother Rose was 44 and father John was 39.

In 1920, the family lived on Waterloo Street in Philadelphia.  John worked in a leather factory, 18-year-old Joseph worked in a file factory, and teenager “Jennie” worked as a cigarette-maker in a cigarette factory.  Nine-year-old James attended school, and mother Rose did not work outside of the home.  Later that year, John formally declared his intent to become a U.S. citizen.

In 1922, John filed his petition for naturalization, and all three children – Joseph, Jennie, and James – were still listed as living with him.  His naturalization was finalized on May 11, 1923.

In the 1930 census, the family lives in yet another Philadelphia residence – this one on N. Front Street. Joseph is now married, and his wife Catherine and their 2-year-old daughter Josephine are living with John and Rose.  Twenty-year-old James is living with them, but his sister Jennie is no longer with them.  Where did she go?

The story of “Jennie” – also called by her birth name “Janina” and “Jean” or “Jeannie” – was passed on from my grandfather to his children.  I have no other documented facts about her beyond the 1922 petition of her father, just the story as told by her younger brother.  He said that she was working as a waitress and met a “rich” doctor.  They fell in love, he offered to “take her away” from the drudgery of the family’s working-class life, and they “ran off” to Florida.  End of story.

My grandfather never heard from his sister again.  I searched the Philadelphia marriage indexes for a marriage record, but did not find one.  This isn’t necessarily unusual – although my grandparents and one set of great-grandparents all lived in Philadelphia at the time of their marriage, they actually got married in three different towns outside of the city’s limits.  But without knowing Jennie’s married name, I haven’t been able to find out any more information about her.  The only certainty is that she did either run away or move away and never had contact with her family again.  Did she know that her mother died in 1937?  Or that her father tragically took his own life in 1942?  Her older brother Joseph, who used the surname Perk, died in 1953, leaving young children from two different marriages.

At the age of 43, my grandfather had lost all of his immediate family members – except possibly for his big sister.  He even named his daughter Jean in honor of his sister, but neither Jean nor his son James would ever meet their mysterious aunt.

If Jennie really did fall in love and run away to get married, it may be most romantic story in my family’s history – even more so if she married a wealthy doctor who could give her luxuries she never knew in childhood.  Did she live happily ever after?  Or did she encounter tragedy?  I certainly hope that her life was long and happy.  Did she have children?  If she did, did she tell them her birth name and where she grew up?  Unfortunately, there are some questions that are not easily answered when researching family history, especially when it’s a family mystery.

There’s one unsolved mystery in every family, and mine is my grandaunt Jennie.  I know a little about the beginning of her life; I hope to one day learn the truth about the rest of it.  Whether it’s a romantic dream or a tragic tale, you probably have one, too – there’s one in every family!

Photo courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.  No, this isn’t Jennie, but I thought it best represented her story!

[Submitted for the 100th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy - There's One in Every Family!]

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Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

~ Faith of Our Fathers1

The theme for the 99th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is Religious Rites.  My ancestry is mostly Polish and a quarter Bavarian.  Since Poland is about 99% Roman Catholic and Bavaria is the Catholic region of Germany, it is no surprise that my family is Catholic.  I come from a long line of Catholic ancestors with the exception of one great-grandmother who was Protestant.

For my Catholic ancestors in Poland and Bavaria, religion played a major role in everyday social and cultural life of the towns and villages.  All of the vital records I’ve found for these ancestors come directly from church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials.  It is easy to see that my ancestors’ lives were intertwined with the church’s rites – many of my ancestors were baptized, married, and laid to rest in the same parish.  It is impossible to know if my ancestors had a strong faith or if the church merely represented a cultural presence in their lives.  Regardless of the answer, I am Catholic today by choice, but also in part due to the faith of all the fathers and mothers in my family history.

Top Row: My Grandmother and her two children - my father and aunt. Bottom Row: My brother, me, and my niece. All photos were taken on the day we received First Holy Communion.

Once my ancestors immigrated to the United States, they continued to practice their faith and their American-born children were baptized, made communion, confirmed, and married in the church.  Whether or not my great-grandparents or grandparents had a strong faith, it was still passed down.  Today, my parents, brother, and I all share a deep love for our Roman Catholic faith.  For us, the celebrations of baptism, Holy Communion, confirmation, and marriage are not merely excuses for a worldly celebration, but they represent defining moments in our walks with God.

Faith is a rather serious topic, and since my genealogy adventures are usually on the lighter side, I’ve decided to approach the topic a little differently.  In honor of the seven sacraments2 celebrated by Catholics, I present a list of unique, odd, or curious facts about my family’s participation in religious rites!

7 Sacramental Fun Facts About My Family

1.       My maternal grandfather, Henry Pater, did not know he was baptized at all much less in the Catholic Church.  When he and his wife had their civil marriage blessed in the church, the record indicates that he received a dispensation, presumably for not being Catholic.  However, I found the record of his baptism at Our Lady of Grace Church in Langhorne, PA.  My mother theorizes that since his mother was the Protestant in the family and they were living with his father’s Catholic parents and grandmother, the Catholic half of the family must have had him baptized without his mother’s knowledge!

2.       We do not know where my paternal grandfather, James Piontkowski (later known as Pointkouski), was baptized.  I plan on searching the churches near the address the family lived in 1910 when he was born, but Philadelphia is a very large city with many Catholic churches.  The irony of not knowing where he was baptized in the city is that I found his brother’s baptismal record at Św. Stanisława in Warsaw, Poland – another very large, very Catholic city.  I thought that would be impossible to locate the correct church, but it was an easy find.  Surprisingly, I found out that Philadelphia has more churches than Warsaw!  According to the 1912 Catholic Enclyclopedia3, Warsaw had 414,620 Catholics and only 40 churches and chapels.  In comparison, the 1911 entry for Philadelphia4 indicated that there were 525,000 Catholics in the city in 1910 with 434 churches!

3.       My mother and aunt have the unique designation of being the oldest baptismal candidates in my family tree.  Their father was the agnostic son of the Catholic-Protestant marriage, and their mother was the lukewarm daughter of Catholics.  For whatever the reason, my aunt, who was born in 1932, and my mother, who was born in 1935, were both baptized together at Nativity B.V.M. – around 1938-39, likely at the insistence of their maternal grandfather.  My mother was old enough to remember walking into the church, and she remembers her horror when the baptismal waters wet her fancy new dress.  My aunt just remembers being embarrassed that she was so old and getting baptized like a baby.

4.       In Philadelphia, or upon meeting a fellow Philadelphian, it is common to ask, “What parish are you from?” rather than “What neighborhood are you from?”  The Catholic identity was so strong, and the parish boundary rules were so strict, that parishes and neighborhoods were one and the same.   I received the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, and Confirmation in the same parish (Our Lady of Calvary).  While my parents and grandmothers also received the sacraments in the same parishes (St. Peter’s, Nativity B.V.M., and St. Adalbert’s), my brother and grandfathers did not.  My maternal grandmother can add to her list one more sacrament received at the same parish – Marriage.

5.       I never thought to ask my parents about their Confirmation names until writing this post.  In the Catholic tradition in the U.S., the candidate often adopts the name of a saint that they admire.  In my family, the confirmation names of my father, mother, brother, and me are John, Patricia, Richard, and Jamie.

6.       If it was not for the baptismal record of a collateral relative, I never would have found the birthplace of my Bavarian great-grandparents.  All other records including passenger lists and death records did not list the town from which the Bergmeister’s came.  It was only in looking for their children’s baptismal records that the town was identified; their oldest son’s record listed the town name!  This information may not always be included, but the fact that they attended a German-speaking Catholic church helped (St. Peter’s).

7.       According to Canon Law, a person’s baptismal register should also include annotations for their confirmation and marriage or holy orders.  I’m not sure when this rule was instituted – I’ve occasionally seen it in my ancestors’ records, but not always.  But I have a rather curious honor – I entered my confirmation date into my own baptismal record!  In 1981 my friend and I were helping out at school, and one of the tasks that Sister needed help with was the recording of confirmation data in the parish registers, including our class’s confirmation from 1979.  Since I was baptized in the same parish (my friend was not), I got to annotate my own baptismal record.  I don’t think too many folks can say they’ve done that one.

Down in adoration falling,

Lo! the sacred Host we hail,

Lo! o’er ancient forms departing

Newer rites of grace prevail;

Faith for all defects supplying,

Where the feeble senses fail.

~ Tantum Ergo5

References:

1Faith of Our Fathers is a hymn with words by Frederick W. Faber, 1849 and the refrain (cited above) by James G. Walton, 1874.

2Get out your catechism, class!  If you forgot what all seven are (or if you are not Catholic), they are: Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

3Palmieri, A. (1912). Archdiocese of Warsaw. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 30, 2010 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15555a.htm

4Loughlin, J. (1911). Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 30, 2010 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11793b.htm

5Tantum Ergo is a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas written in 1264.

[Submitted for the 99th Carnival of Genealogy: Religious Rites]

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This month’s COG (for which I am late…the dog ate my homework, Teacher Jasia!) asked us to Research From Scratch by starting a search on someone else’s family tree.   When I began my own family research about 21 years ago, there were not any records available on the internet.  Lately I’ve wondered how much I could have found if I had waited until today to begin my search and how much easier it would have been.  This challenge was an opportunity to find out. The subject of my experiment: actor-singer-dancer-director Gene Kelly.  As most visitors to this site have since surmised, Gene Kelly is what I call my “other gene hobby.”  Gene was well known for his smiling “Irish eyes”, but I was curious about his Canadian and German ancestry as well.  Starting from scratch, how much could I find in a few hours?  In that short amount of time, I learned a lot about his ancestry.  But I also learned some research lessons that I’d like to share.

Start by interviewing your family, but don’t believe everything they say as fact.

When I began my own research, I started by asking my parents questions about their parents and grandparents, and I also referred to an interview with my grandmother when I was in grade school and needed to complete a family history project.  That same advice holds true today – you need basic facts about a family to begin your research.  In the case of my subject, I couldn’t actually talk to Mr. Kelly.  So instead I turned to the only biography that was written during his lifetime in which the author interviewed Kelly himself.

The book is Gene Kelly by Clive Hirschhorn (Chicago : H. Regnery, 1975).  While it is not entirely accurate – especially since it begins with the incorrect birth date of its subject – it was a way to get basic information about his brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents – as close as I can get to acquring the info from Gene himself.

From the first chapter of the biography, I learned enough basic facts to begin my research on the Kelly family:

  • Gene’s parents were James Patrick Joseph Kelly and Harriet Curran.  They married in 1906.
  • Both came from large families; James was one of eleven children, and Harriet one of 13.
  • Harriet’s father, Billy Curran, “had emigrated to New York from Londonderry in 1845…via Dunfermline in Scotland.”  Billy met “Miss Eckhart”, of German descent, married and moved to Houtzdale, PA.  They later moved to Pittsburgh.
  • Billy died before 1907 from pneumonia after he was left in the cold at night after being robbed.
  • There were 9 Curran children, and 4 who died, but only 7 are named: Frank, Edward, Harry, John, Lillian, Harriet, and Gus.
  • James Kelly was born in Peterborough Canada in 1875
  • James died in 1966, and Harriet died in 1972.  Of Harriet, Mr. Hirschhorn says, “No one quite knows whether she was 85, 87, or 89.”

In addition to Gene’s parents’ info were the basics about their children.  In birth order, the Kelly family included Harriet, James, Eugene Curran, Louise, and Frederic.  Gene was born on August 23, 1912.  This is plenty of information to begin a search.  But, don’t believe everything you read or everything your family members tell you – sometimes the “facts” can be wrong, and only research will find the truth!

Census records are a great place to begin your research.

Back in 1989, my research began at the National Archives with the U.S. Federal Census records.  Of course, back then the first available census was from 1910, and none of the records were digitized.  Today, I still think census records are the best place to start researching a family.   I used Ancestry.com and began with the 1930 census.  Despite many “James Kelly” families in Pittsburgh, PA, it was relatively easy to find the entire Kelly clan.  As I continued backward with earlier census records and Harriet Kelly’s Curran family, I found some similarities to issues I had in my own family research:

  • Names can be misspelled.  I expected this with Zawodny and Piontkowski, but not with Curran!  The Curran family is listed as “Curn” on the 1900 census.
  • Ages are not necessarily correct.  It seems that Harriet Curran Kelly has a similar condition to many of my female ancestors – she ages less than ten years every decade and grows younger!
  • Information can differ from census to census, and these conflicts can only be resolved by using other record resources.  Despite birth year variations for both Gene’s mother and father, James Kelly’s immigration year differed on each census as did Harriet’s father’s birthplace (Pennsylvania, Ireland, or Scotland?).
  • Finding in-laws is a bonus, and a great way to discover maiden names.  If I didn’t already know that Harriet’s maiden name was Curran (from Gene’s biography – and it is also Gene’s middle name), I would have discovered it on the 1930 census since her brother Frank Curran was living with the Kelly family.  Also, I knew Harriet’s mother’s maiden name was “Eckhart” from the biography, and the 1880 census of the Curran family lists her brother and sisters – James, Jennie, and Josephine Eckerd.

In the few hours of research on census records alone, I was able to trace Gene’s father only to 1910 after his marriage to Harriet.  In 1900 he was single, and I was unable to find a recent Canadian immigrant named James Kelly.  Gene’s maternal line ran dry with the Curran’s in 1880.  William Curran and Mary Elizabeth “Eckhart” married after 1870.  There are too many William Curran’s from Ireland to determine the correct one, and I was unable to locate the Eckhart family prior to 1880.

Naturalization records provide the best information – after 1906.

The signature of Gene Kelly’s father from his “declaration of intention” petition in 1913.

Ancestry.com also provided James Kelly’s naturalization record.  In addition to confirming his birth in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada in 1875 (also found in Ancestry’s World War 1 Draft records), the petition lists his immigration information and the birthdates of the first 4 Kelly children (youngest son Fred was not born at the time of his father’s naturalization).  Unfortunately the record does not list the birthplace of Harriet other than as Pennsylvania.  Was it in Houtzdale, PA, where her parents resided in 1880 or elsewhere?

Although Ancestry has Canadian census records, I was unable to definitely find James Kelly in Ontario on the 1881 or 1891 census.

The internet helps you find a lot of information, but not everything is online.

Census records can only get you so far before you need vital records.  While many states also have these records online, Gene Kelly’s ancestors settled in the same state as mine, Pennsylvania, which is not one of the “friendlier” states when it comes to accessing vital records.  If I were to continue with the Kelly research, vital records would have to be obtained offline.  It would be useful to obtain the marriage record for William Curran and Mary Elizabeth Eckhart, which may have occurred in Clearfield County since that was their residence in 1880.  Finding this record would reveal both sets of parents’ names and possibly birth information for William and Mary Elizabeth.  For the Kelly side of the family, I would likely attempt to obtain James Kelly’s birth record in Peterborough.

 [Side note: I have met several of Kelly’s relatives.  One cousin has delved deeper into the Peterborough roots of the Kelly family as well as James Kelly’s maternal line, the Barry family.  There is an interesting newspaper article on a house that may have belonged to the Canadian Kelly’s called One Little House Leads to Many Connections.]

Conclusion

I was able to confirm many of the intial facts I started with, but I didn’t learn any essential information in addition to those facts.  Specifically, I hoped to learn more about Gene’s maternal grandmother’s German roots, but I was unable to find out anything more about the Eckhart – Eckerd family using Ancestry.com alone.  More offline research is learn more about this branch of the family.  I did learn more about Gene’s aunts and uncles – this is important because researching collateral lines can lead to important information about shared direct ancestors.  Finally, I learned that it is much easier to start from scratch now than it was 21 years ago.  Even though the record sources I used were the same, digitization and the internet has made it much faster to find information!  And easier, which is great because it will hopefully prompt more people to start from scratch!  What are you waiting for?  Start researching your family!

[Submitted (late) for the 97th Carnival of Genealogy: Research from Scratch]

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We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~Japanese Proverb

It all started at a dance. The day was Sunday, March 13, 1955. The place was the gymnasium at St. Boniface Church in Philadelphia. The event was insignificant to most of the world, but highly significant to my life – it was the night my parents met for the first time.

My mother, Anita, loved to dance. She briefly took dance lessons as a child and loved tap and ballet, but her parents could not afford the classes. Instead, she settled for neighborhood dances, mostly held in church and school gyms. Each dance “specialized” in a particular age group from pre-teen to older teens, to almost-adult and beyond. My mother and her girlfriends practiced dancing on the sidewalk in front of their houses, and an older woman who lived nearby showed them some steps.

On the evening in question, my mother was 19 years old. She had “outgrown” the fun dances at St. Matt’s, so she and some girlfriends decided to try the Sunday night dance at St. Boniface. It was her first and only visit there.

My father, Jim, also frequented neighborhood dances in his teen years, and St. Boniface was close to where he lived at the time. The boys danced as a way to meet girls, and they learned by watching others dance. He was 20 years old, lived with his parents, and made $1 per hour hanging garage doors for a company two doors away from his home.

Neither remembers what music was played that night, but a live band performed. When Jim asked Anita to dance, he remembers being glad he had his “little black book” and a pen with him. He asked for her phone number; she gave it to him.

Anita and Jim in 1955

Anita and Jim in 1955

Their first official date was to see a movie (neither can remember which one). Afterward, they went to the Mayfair Diner. During their meal, Jim proclaimed that he really wanted to get married. Surprised that a young guy would want marriage, my mother asked why. “Well,” he said, “it sure would be nice to have someone cook dinner and iron my shirts.” My mother replied, “You don’t need a wife, you need a maid.”

When Jim asked Anita out again, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go. She didn’t know what to say, so she did what nearly everyone has done at some point to avoid rejecting a date – she lied. She pretended she was too sick to go out. That night, he sent her two dozen roses as a get well wish, which made her feel even more guilty about lying. They did go out again, and again, and they were married a little more than one year later on April 7, 1956.

It all began at a dance, and dancing stayed a part of their lives in some way or another. When they were a young married couple, they occasionally went to the nightclubs in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. But besides social dancing, dance became a bigger part of their lives in another way – show business!

In 1973, my brother began high school and the school had a parents’ association that put on shows as a fundraiser. My parents became involved with the shows. The mothers would perform various types of chorus line numbers from jazz to tap. Once, they even performed a number on roller skates! My father’s comedic dance routines have already been mentioned in other posts, but he also became an accomplished serious dancer as well and appeared in some jazz and tap numbers.

Rehearsal for a dance number, circa 1974-5

The choreographer for these shows, Miss Kay, was a dance teacher and ballroom dancer. She had a tremendous talent for teaching dance, and my mother marveled about how she took a bunch of mothers aged from mid-30s through 50s who knew little about dancing and was able to create entertaining numbers in which they all looked like stars.

Mom performing in a tap number to Elton John's "Honky Cat", 1973

My mother was so impressed with Miss Kay’s teaching abilities that I suddenly was enrolled in a tap dance class with other girls my age (around 7-8). Either I was not talented, or not interested, or Miss Kay finally met her match…I quit after a few classes. Oddly enough, I returned to Miss Kay’s classroom with my mother – about twenty years later! At this time, Miss Kay wasn’t just my parents’ friend, she had become my brother’s mother-in-law. The second time around I did learn a few things about tap dancing, but I’ll never be Ann Miller!

My mother’s love of dance was passed on to me, but for me it was a love of watching dancing, especially Gene Kelly movies. But I long to dance… I once  had great fun taking a swing dance class, and I’d love to learn ballroom dancing. The real dancer in the family is my niece, the granddaughter of both my mother and Miss Kay. She has their talent (and her mother’s dancing talent), and is so good that she could easily make a career of it if she wishes.

My parents weren’t pros, but they loved dancing for the fun of it.  And if they hadn’t enjoyed dancing so much, they might have never met! May their dance continue for many more years!

Anita and Jim dancing in 1993

[Submitted for the 92nd Carnival of Genealogy: Dance!]

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This month’s Carnival of Genealogy celebrates women’s history month with a chance to pay a special tribute to a woman on our family tree – and her timeline in history.  This is the story of my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister.

Timeline for Maria Echerer Bergmeister

1875

February 27 – Maria Echerer is born to Karl and Margarethe Echerer in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.  She is the couple’s first-born child.

1876

August 22 – A sister, Magdalena, is born.

1878

June 25 – Maria’s paternal grandmother, Magdalena Nigg Echerer, dies.

1878

June 28 – A brother, Karl, is born.

1880

February 07 – A sister, Teresia, is born.

1882

February 20 – A sister, Cristina, is born.

1895

October 04 – Maria’s mother, Margarethe Fischer Echerer, dies at the age of 50.  Maria is 20 years old at the time of her mother’s death.

1897

November 02 – Maria marries Josef Bergmeister in Pfaffenhofen.  Karl Echerer witnesses the marriage (either her father or brother).

1898

February 27 – On Maria’s 23rd birthday, her first child is born, a daughter, also named Maria.  The family is living in house #331 in Pfaffenhofen.

1900

May 03 – Maria’s husband, Josef, sails on the SS Arargonia from Antwerp, Belgium.  He arrives in Philadelphia, PA, USA on May 18.  Once he arrives, he lives with his sister and brother-in-law, Hilaury and Max Thuman, at 1033 Jefferson Street.

1901

June 13 – Maria and daughter Maria sails on the SS Kensington from Antwerp, Belgium.  They arrive in New York, NY, USA on June 27.  Husband Josef is living at 1500 N. Warnock St. in Philadelphia.

1902

April 16 – A son, Joseph Maximilian, is born.  He is baptized at St. Peter’s and his godparents are his aunt and uncle, Hilaury and Max Thuman.

1905

May 07 – A son, Maximilian Julius, is born.  He is baptized at St. Peter’s and his godparents are his aunt and uncle, Hilaury and Max Thuman.

1907

June 16 – A son, Julius Carl, is born. He is baptized at St. Peter’s and his godparents are his aunt and uncle, Hilaury Thuman and Julius Goetz (Josef and Hilaury’s half-brother).

1909

July 17 – A son, Charles, is born.  Charles was premature and only lived for 15 hours.

1911

November 05 – A daughter, Laura, is born.  Laura was premature and died the same day.

1913

April 11 – A daughter, Margaret Hermina, is born (my grandmother).  She is baptized at St. Peter’s and her godparents are her aunt and uncle, Hilaury Thuman and Herman Goetz (Josef and Hilaury’s half-brother).

1919

February 05 – Maria dies from myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) with bronchial asthma as a contributing factor.  She is buried at Holy Redeemer Cemetery on February 8.

Maria Echerer Bergmeister 1875-1919

The ancestor I chose for my tribute is my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister.  She may seem like an odd choice, because of all the female ancestors I have traced, she has the shortest lifespan.  But I recently celebrated my 43rd birthday, and I realized she died just weeks before what would have been her 44th birthday.  She was so young – too young to die.  But in her short lifetime, she accomplished so much more than I have.  I don’t know much about her except from what I have learned from public records, but I do know she did three major things in her life for which there is no comparison in my own.  First, she got married.  Second, she left behind her homeland – a town her ancestors had lived for centuries – to live in a new country with her husband.  Finally, she had five children (and two others who died as infants).  Even though Maria died at a young age, today she has over 100 descendants.

I know a great deal about Maria’s ancestry in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Her father, Karl Echerer, was a shoemaker turned bricklayer.  His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and second great-grandfather were all shoemakers in the town of Pfaffenhofen.  Perhaps the shoemaker trade was not as needed in the mid- to late 1800s as it was in earlier centuries, because Karl was the first Echerer son to find a new occupation.  Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps (no pun intended), he took on the profession of his maternal grandfather, Karl Nigg, who was a carpenter and descended from two generations of master masons.  The house in which Maria Echerer was born, #214, had been in her father’s mother’s family since 1784 – nearly one hundred years.

Maria’s mother, Margarethe Fischer, came from a small town near Pfaffenhofen called Langenbruck and she was the daughter of a farmer.  Although she was only 27 years old when she married Karl Echerer, she was already a widow.  Her first husband had been Bartholomew Kufer from Raitbach.  I have not learned the circumstances of his death, and it is unknown if she had any children from this marriage.

Through researching church records in Pfaffenhofen, I found the baptismal records for three sisters and a brother.  I have not researched further to determine if all of Maria’s siblings lived to adulthood; however, it appears that her brother Karl marries in June, 1897.  More research is needed to learn more about Karl, who presumably stayed in Pfaffenhofen when his sister immigrated.

The Bergmeister Bakery today, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm

It is likely that Maria met Josef Bergmeister in her hometown of Pfaffenhofen.  He was born north of there in the town of Vohburg a.d. Donau, but his family was from a small town close to Pfaffenhofen called Puch.  Josef’s ancestors were millers, and the sons became either millers or related trades.  His father, also named Josef, was a flour merchant.  Josef became a baker, and it is likely that he came to Pfaffenhofen to work for his uncle, Castulus Bergmeister, who operated a bakery in the center of town.  Descendents of Castulus still run the same bakery today.

Based on the dates of the records, it appears that Maria was pregnant at the time of her marriage to Josef.  Their daughter Maria was born close to four months after the wedding – on Maria’s 23rd birthday.

Little is known about the family’s life in Pfaffenhofen or what prompted them to immigrate to the United States.  Josef had a sister, Hilaury, who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1893, and he makes the move first to meet her and her husband.  At the time he left Germany, his daughter was only 2 years old.

Maria and her daughter remained in Germany for more than a year before taking the journey to America.  Their port of departure, Antwerp, was 460 miles from Pfaffenhofen.  In researching Maria’s life, her personal memories, thoughts, and feelings are unknown – she left behind no letters or journals.  But I admire her courage.  She had not seen her husband in over a year, and she traveled a very long way, alone with a 3-year-old.

Once reunited, the couple re-started their family in earnest.  Their first son was born a little more than nine months after the reunion.  After two more sons over the next five years, Maria suffered the lost of two infants through premature births.  My grandmother, Margaret – perhaps named after Maria’s mother – was nearly premature herself.  According to the older siblings, they did not think Margaret would survive because she was so tiny.  Fortunately, especially for me, she did survive.  Sadly, she would never really get to know her own mother.

Maria's two daughters, Maria and Margaret. The photo was taken around 1919 - the year their mother died.

According to Josef and Maria’s oldest daughter, Maria was a strong-willed personality who took charge of the family – and her husband.  The children remember Maria chastising her husband, who was physically much taller; he always listened.  Maria called her husband “Sepp” – the German nickname for “Josef”.

When Maria died, her oldest daughter was weeks away from turning 21 years old.  The Bergmeister sons were 16, 14, and 11.  Young Margaret was not quite 6.  Maria’s husband Josef was greatly troubled by her death.  Josef did not take care of his own health afterwards, and he died eight years later – also very young.  The children remained close throughout their lives – bonded together in the loss of their parents.

Maria did not live a long life and I do not know much about her.  But what little I was able to discover is worthy of admiration.  She was a woman of great courage to leave her homeland and her family for a new country in which she did not know the language.  What I admire the most about her is something you can not find “recorded” in any document, but I think it is evident from the memories and character of her children.  That trait is the love she had for her husband and family.  What could be a finer legacy?  Thanks, Maria, for your courage and your love.

[ Written for the 91st Carnival of Genealogy: Tribute to Women ]

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Each year, the Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH) offers genea-bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for the previous year.  After reviewing all of the entries and deliberating with great care, it’s time to roll out the red carpet and present the honors.  Welcome to the 2009 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Best Picture

“What a great picture! How can things get better when you’ve got both a bottle AND a pacifier!”~ Leah Kleylein from Random Notes ~

I see he’s already perfected the Clint Eastwood stare. What a tough guy!” ~ Denise Olson from Moultrie Creek ~

The “Best Picture” category honors the “Best Old Family Photo” that appeared on What’s Past is Prologue in 2009.  And the winner is…Blazing Diapers from August 14, 2009.  The subject of the photo, my brother, may dispute whether it qualifies as an “old” family photo or not, but it is in black and white!  This photo beat out more vintage family photos as my favorite because it was a rare snapshot taken by my parents that seemed to capture the essence of who their little boy would grow up to be!

Runner-Up: February’s Fashions of the 1920’s – My great-grandmother’s sister strikes a dramatic pose in these stylish photos.

Best Screenplay

“Great post…Rome is a heck of a first vacation.” ~ Tim Agazio from Genealogy Reviews Online ~

“What an amazing first vacation. Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos. Makes me want to hop on a plane.” ~ Tracy from The Pieces of My Past ~

Which family story shared in 2009 would make the best movie?  Without a doubt, The Innocents Abroad from July 14, 2009.  While it was more of a story of my personal history in lieu of family history, it would definitely make the best movie – a side-splitting comedy.  Four adults and eight teens on a whirlwind trip through Rome – can the city survive their visit?  This would have been a John Hughes film for sure!  The movie is still being cast at press time, but it is rumored that Kathy Bates will star as the history teacher leading the teens.  Anne Hathaway and Sandra Bullock are fighting over the role of me.

Runner-Up: March’s I Remember Betsy – How my life intersected with actress Betsy Blair’s.  Betsy’s own life  story is worthy of a movie, but for the story of how the former Hollywood star welcomed the starstruck “kid” into her home would make a great one too!

Best Documentary

“I’m sitting on the ‘edge of my seat’ in anticipation of reading ‘the rest of the story’ as Paul Harvey says…” ~ Becky Wiseman from kinexxions ~

“Enjoyed reading this multi-part story on your search, research & confirmation!” ~ Wendy Littrell from All My Branches ~

The “Best Documentary” category offered a wide variety of eligible posts, which included any informational article about a place, thing, or event involving my family’s history.   The winner is the 3-part series The Slesinski Sisters from January, 2009.  This documentary starts with a mystery – how do you find female ancestors with just a few clues?  Part 2 highlights the research, and part 3 confirms it with a surprise cache of photographs.

Runner-Up: Another 3-part series, The Millers’ Tale from September, 2009. Three families with the surname Miller, all coming from the same town in Poland to Philadelphia, and all living on the same street – are they related?

Best Biography

“What a beautiful tribute to your beloved aunt!”  ~ Lisa from 100 Years in America~

“Your Aunt was beautiful bride, and from you shared with us, a beautiful person. Thanks for telling her story.” ~ Bill West from West in New England ~

The best biographical article in 2009 is Memories of Aunt Joan posted on March 15, 2009. I was missing my Aunt Joan, so I wrote a tribute with some facts, photos, and funny stories about her life.  Remembering and laughing at those good times make me smile even though I still miss her.

Runner-Up: I didn’t write any other biographies this past year (other than the Betsy Blair piece that’s the Runner-Up in the Best Screenplay category).  But my uncles got equal time in the Carnival of Genealogy entry from April – Uncle, Uncle!

Best Comedy

“Wow – you have really neat parents! I can see where your creative humor comes from…” ~ Greta Koehl from Greta’s Genealogy Bog ~

What was the best funny story, poem, joke, photo, or video that I shared on my blog in 2009? For the second year in a row the award goes to a Smile for the Camera entry…photos and stories of my father’s show-biz days are far funnier than anything I write!  The winner is…A Different Kind of Bling from August 10, 2009.

Runner-Up: While it did not appear here on this blog, it was written by me!  My Runner-Up is my Weekend with Shades debut for The Humor of It Column, Off With Their Heads! It’s still my favorite column!

I’d like to thank the Academy, and our Carnival of Genealogy hostess, Jasia, for a wonderful chance to look back on our blogs.

[Written for the 90th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Third Annual iGene Awards, The Best of The Best!]

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The 87th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks us to reveal our “New Year’s Resolutions” – specifically our “genea-resolutions”, or how we plan to approach our family history in 2010!  As with any New Year resolution, it’s best to first ask myself how I did with last year’s resolutions.  In the 63rd COG last December, I listed four goals.  If I had to grade myself on how well I accomplished them, I must say that I failed miserably in most cases.  For 2009 I wanted to:

  • Go back one more generation on each of my great-grandparents’ lines – this was accomplished for my Piontkowski great-grandparents when I received a copy of their marriage record and learned their parents’ names.  But I was not able to do much research on any other lines.
  • Get back to the library – I did visit the Family History Library once, just to see if my old “indefinite” film was still there.  I’ve decided that to do this right, I have to go to Salt Lake City – using my local FHC will take too much time and money.  In addition, they have hours that don’t suit my schedule, it is always noisy there, and they have only one microfilm copier machine that is always in use by someone else.
  • In a combination of the above two goals, I wanted to find some missing details on my Bavarian ancestry.  Although I developed a research plan earlier this year, I never acted on it.  Yet.
  • Keep writing – Despite some “good” articles that appeared here, this was another failure.  I only wrote one magazine article all year, and someone else published my book idea in May.  Unfortunately, I also did not do a very good job with posting frequently with only 91 posts published this year (before this one) versus 146 in 2008.  December was a particularly bad month for posting.  On the plus side, I did begin a humor column for Shades of the Departed, which became a cool online magazine in November and December!

How do I approach my family history in 2010?  Especially given the fact that so many of 2009’s resolutions were not fulfilled?  Well, the New Year can be a time for new beginnings in your life and it’s no different with researching family history.  Even if I failed to accomplish everything we hoped to do this year, the only way to move forward is to dust myself off, re-evaluate those goals, and try again.  On that optimistic note, here are my genea-resolutions for 2010:

  • Go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – hopefully for the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference in April, 2010.  This will give me access to the films I need for further research and the opportunity to meet many of my genea-blogger friends!
  • Go back one more generation – instead of thinking of each of my eight great-grandparents’ lines like I did a year ago, this year I will limit this resolution somewhat with the following sub-goals:  1) I want to find the birth record of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, to confirm the names of her parents; 2) continue back one generation on the Piontkowski and Kizoweter lines; and 3) fill in some missing details on my Bavarian ancestors.
  • Keep writing – this one stays the same as last year’s goal: keep posting here a few times each week and get back to writing articles for the genealogy magazines.
  • Find photographs – this is more of a wish than a resolution, but at least four cousins have hinted at family photographs.  I resolve to once again try to obtain copies of these mysterious photos.

Here’s wishing you all the best in your genealogical endeavors in 2010!

[Written for the 87th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: New Year's Resolutions]

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Why I Love the COG

I love COGMy blogging adventure called What’s Past is Prologue began on January 6, 2008.  But I had been reading genealogy blogs for several months prior to beginning my own.  The one aspect of genealogy blogs that I really enjoyed reading the most was the Carnival of Genealogy.  Twice a month bloggers would take on the challenge of writing around a theme – and it always amazed me that each article was somehow different and new despite the common topic.  And I simply adored the way the COG hostess with the mostess, Jasia, pulled it all together in a charming and fun way.  This is so much fun, I have to try this…thus my blog was born.  After all, one needed to have a blog to participate in the COG!

My very first COG was #40: Living Relative Connections.  My submission, Finding Cousins in Bavaria, was only the 5th post on my blog.  I was hooked.  Since then, I have participated in 32 different editions of the COG with a total of 33 posts (one post was submitted for two different COG topics, and for two COGs I submitted two posts).  In the last two years, I have only missed submitting posts for twelve editions of the COG, and four of those editions were in the last two months due to vacation or work priorities.  I even had the extreme pleasure of serving as COG hostess on two different occasions: #54 – The Family Language and #71 – Local History.

Since I’ve admitted starting my blog partially to participate in the COG and I’ve mentioned how often I’ve played along, it’s apparent that the Carnival of Genealogy is meaningful to me, my writing, and my genealogy.  But why?  For me, blogging has been more about writing than about research, and the COG continually offers me a new way to be creative with my genealogical writing.  It’s always suspenseful to be surprised by the next topic – and then I hurriedly wonder what I could write about.

In my own 33 COG posts, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my writing.  The COG has also helped my genealogical research with topics like the two “Tribute to Women” COGs  – #44 and #68.  For the first, I wrote a biography of a great-aunt that I did not know much about in Hilaire Bergmeister: A Tribute to An Aunt.  For the latter, I wrote a tribute to an aunt near and dear to my heart in Memories of Aunt Joan.  One submission taught me how to craft a story out of bare facts, while the other taught me how to craft a portrait out of heartfelt memories.

The COG gave me the opportunity to take raw genealogical facts – bland ones like ages and occupations – and try to create an interesting post.  Or, I reflected on topics I never would have thought to write about like politics or language.  Or  I got to show off some family photos that I loved only to find out that others thought they were pretty cool too.

But my absolute favorite COG topics are the ones that made me remember.  I never intended to write memoir style posts about myself on the blog – it was supposed to be about genealogy!  But what is more genealogical than your own memories?  Some COG topics in particular challenged me to do this, and they are my favorites:

  • My Big, Old, Fast Favorite Car – the title says it all – about The Torino, “a legend, a chrome-bumpered baby-blue 4-wheeled Millennium Falcon — in other words, not too pretty on the outside, but oh could that baby move!”
  • Cats Ruled This Family – about our three cats who “lived with us the longest and felt more like ‘family’ – becoming personalities as real as the fickle old uncle who feigns dislike of everyone, the ‘few watts short’ cousin always needing help, or the grandfather with the gruff exterior but the heart of gold.”
  • The Innocents Abroad – about my vacation as a teenager to Rome, “this 1985 trip became not just my first vacation, but the vacation to end all vacations.  I’d have fun on other trips to other places, but the memories of this one held a prominent place in my mind. “

But the COG is so much more than just me and my writing.  By reading everyone else’s submissions, I’ve learned new research tips and new ways of writing or “presenting” information.  But even more than that – I’ve laughed, cried, and smiled at some of the best “amateur” writing I’ve ever read.  And friends, writers love to read good writing…it is how we grow and learn.

The COG is not merely a writing prompt, but a “carnival” where we all gather together to share our stories.  It is in this virtual “sharing” that I have learned the most about writing and reflecting on family history.  These posts from fellow genea-bloggers touched me so much that I did not even have to look through past COGs to find them – they were already ingrained in my memory.  “DO THIS” they say. “WRITE LIKE THIS” and you, too, may touch a stranger’s heart.  Let me share with you some of those special posts by others that impacted me in different ways.

I laughed.

“Yeah, it’s a Mustang. Or… maybe it’s a Maverick. Something like that.” ~ Jasia

I love humorous writing.  I try, and sometimes I succeed, but to me there is nothing greater than writing something that makes another person laugh out loud.  In COG #45, Jasia of Creative Gene wrote “It was an Ugly Car!” and made me laugh out loud!  Her story of her ugly car was told in such a way that it was simple and perfect – a short tale with language that Twain would have chuckled at.  It is not easy to tell a story that packs a laugh, and Jasia did it well.

I cried.

“Sometimes in family history there are so many questions left unanswered that ancestors take with them to the afterlife. Why? Because there was no one there to challenge them, to question them.” ~ Thomas

It was only the second COG I ever participated in, #41.  This was a creative topic – if you could have dinner with four ancestors, who would they be and why?  I had fun with this one and tried to be humorous.  But the post that impacted me the most was by Thomas MacEntee of Destination: Austin Family.  Thomas wrote “A Dinner of Remembrance”.  I read it one morning in work, and I cried at my desk.  First I was struck by his sheer creativity in the way he presented the story of his dinner with his ancestors.  But the emotional impact came from his one dinner guest who is still alive, but not…his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.  I am very fortunate because I do not have personal knowledge of this disease.  I could read about it in news reports, but I felt like I could understand its impact by reading about Thomas’ imaginary dinner.  I have struggled writing about some topics that are buried deep within my heart.  With this tale, Thomas showed me that you can unbury your emotions and write about them beautifully.

I waited…in suspense.

“My Mother could take no more. All she wanted was to know if she still had a home.” ~ fM

I have been repeatedly touched, amazed, and awed by the writing of footnoteMaven at both footnoteMaven and Shades of the Departed.  So, it is difficult to choose just one post of hers that stands out.  I decided on a relatively recent one of Maven’s that she submitted for #77 called “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!” for the sheer suspense of her story of living through a tornado.  I was blown away – no pun intended.

I smiled.

“Did you sign this yourself?” Mrs. Katzman asked, sternly. “Yes,” I lied. ~ Steve

They say it’s the simple things in life that make us happy, yet those simple things can be so hard to write about.  Steve Danko of Steve’s Genealogy Blog made it look so easy in his COG #44 submission, “Mrs. Katzman, Children’s Librarian”.  I challenge you to read this and not feel as if you’re standing next to the 6-year-old boy determined to get his first library card.  Simple, charming – wonderful!  How many Mrs. Katzmans have we all known?  But have we written about them?  Why not?

There are many other talented writers besides these four friends who submit to the COG and continually inspire me!  If you don’t read every submission, it’s time to start because you’ll never know when one will stand out from the rest and truly touch you.  If you don’t submit to the COG, now’s the time to try!  It is a wonderfully challenging way to get creative with your family history.  Don’t be shy – we want to hear your story.

[Written for the 84th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: What the COG means to me!]

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