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Archive for the ‘Carnivals (non-photo)’ Category

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 edition of the Carnival of Central & Eastern European Genealogy highlights “The Village of my Ancestor”.  Several of my ancestors came from very small villages in Poland.  In fact, my great-grandmother Rozalia Kizeweter Piątkowski was born in Mała Wieś, which translates into English as “small village.”  Eighteen villages in Poland bear this name, so  hers is also called Mała Wieś Promna because it is located in Promna borough. The village was so small, that according to Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego there were only 7 houses and 71 inhabitants in 1827 (that’s a lot of people per house!).

But, there’s not much to write about such a tiny village, so instead I’d like to introduce you to another village of another ancestor, Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater, who was born on 11 June 1863 in Mszczonów.  The title of this post was my first introduction to the name of the town, which came from the birth record of Antonina.  The record begins, as all vital records did at that time, with the words “This happened in the town of  Mszczonów…”

Mszczonów is located nearly in the center of Poland in  Żyrardów County and the Masovian Voivodeship.  As of 2004, the town had 6,310 inhabitants and could be described as a small city rather than a village.  Mszczonów has a very old history.  It was first mentioned in a document written in 1245 by Duke Konrad I, but it is believed that a settlement existed in the area from the mid-twelfth century.   A local church was established by 1324.  In 1377, Mszczonów was declared a city by Ziemowit III, Duke of Mazovia.

The area was heavily forested and was directly on a trade route that went north to south through Poland.  Initially this location attacted residents, but in the 16th century the entire town became the property of the Radziejowski family, owners of adjacent Radziejowice.  Under the family’s control, the town was not developed.  Other factors that stagnated development of the town were the wars with Sweden from 1655-1657 and the partitioning of Poland that began in 1795.  Because of the wars, the population was reduced and the lack of craftsmen reduced trade with neighboring towns.  The situation changed during the partition years of 1795-1918, when Mszczonów fell under Russian rule.  Slowly the town’s population grew, and by the early nineteenth century the town was one of the largest in Mazovia.

This is the time that my ancestors lived in Mszczonów.  My 2nd great-grandmother was Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater, born on 11 June 1863.  Her father, Ludwik Pluta, was a 19-year-old shoemaker whose father and grandfather were also shoemakers from Mszczonów.  Antonina’s mother, Franziszka Wojciechowski, was also 19 and the daughter of another shoemaker from the town.  Both Antonina and her mother would eventually leave Mszczonów to immigrate to the United States.   The records for Mszczonów held by the LDS only go back to 1808, which is not far enough back to find the birth record for Ludwik and Franziska’s grandparents who were all born around 1795-1800.  The Polish National Archives may have older records (availability can be checked online, but the site is down for service as of this writing).

Here are some photos from my visit to Mszczonów in 2001:

St. John the Baptist church in Mszczonów

A plaque on the church listing the names of the pastors from 1658-1982. Rev. Filipowicz baptized Antonina's father in 1843.

[ Submitted for the 27th edition of the Carnival of Central & Eastern European Genealogy: The Village of My Ancestor ]

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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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Poster designed by footnoteMaven.com

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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As a Polish-American interested in genealogy, I quickly learned that pronunciation is the key to everything.   How can you properly research a family if you can’t say the language correctly? I realized that there are American English pronunciations of Polish surnames and place names, and then there is the real way it is pronounced in Polish.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the Polish language with its “different” letters and consonant combinations, and I can usually figure out how a word is pronounced.  But sometimes…I get stumped.  Just the other day I learned that my great-grandmother was born in a town near Warsaw called Przybyszew.  Przybyszew?  Where do I begin?  I’d like to buy a vowel, Pat!

Fortunately, I discovered an awesome website thanks to Zenon Znamirowski from PolishOrigins.com that allows you to hear Polish words pronounced by Polish speakers!  So, how do you say Przybyszew?  Click on this link to hear it!

The site, Expressivo, is a text to speech program.  To test it out, you can enter up to 200 characters of text here and listen to the results read by several voices: Eric (male US-English), Jennifer (female US-English), Carmen (female Romanian), Jacek (male Polish), or Ewa (female Polish).  To hear Polish names or place names, I highly recommend using the two Polish voices to hear a true Polish pronunciation.

Here are several of my ancestors’ names and the towns they lived in – click the link to hear it in Polish:

Many Americans may have seen these town names in Poland and thought they knew how to pronounce them.  Try it, then click on the link and see if you were correct – you might be surprised!

Łódź Gdańsk Kraków Wrocław Częstochowa Poznań

You can tell that I had a lot of fun “playing” with this site, but other than it being cool to hear your ancestor’s name and hometown properly pronounced, why is it important?  Because knowing the correct pronunciation in an immigrant’s native language can often help you find your ancestor in records that are not spelled correctly, but are written as English-speakers heard the foreign tongue pronounced.  Obviously, this does not only apply to the Polish language, but any language other than American English.

[Submitted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: Tips, Tricks, and Websites]

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PGSA Logo

This edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks us to write about our favorite genealogical societies.  It is provident that the theme falls in the middle of Polish-American Heritage Month, because the only genealogical society that I am currently a member of is the Polish Genealogical Society of America, or PGSA.  I’ve been a member for nearly 20 years!  When I first got involved in genealogy, I realized that membership in a genealogical society could be useful to help me learn skills and information pertinent to my new hobby.  I wanted to join a local society that had meetings, lectures, a library, and experienced genealogists willing to help newcomers, but even though there were some local societies near me, none of them seemed to fit my genealogical path.

All of my great-grandparents immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, but my local genealogical societies had a greater focus on past history rather than the relatively “recent” history of the 2oth century.  For example, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has a wonderful collection of records and they also offer regular lectures and tours.  But I didn’t find much of a need for Civil War records or my city’s colonial history because my ancestors were still in Poland during those times.  So I sought ought a different sort of genealogical society – one that could help me with my unique genealogical needs – and found the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

PGSA is based in Chicago, IL and focuses on Polish and Polish-American research.  I have never been to a meeting.  I have never been to their library.  I have never been to one of their offered lectures.  But I continue to renew my membership dues.  I would love to be able to attend such things in person, but the society offers some benefits even for members that never make it to their headquarters.  I became a member to learn, and I’ve been able to do that through their publications and their library offerings.

[Note: Full disclosure since you may see my name on some PGSA publications…from February through September of 2009 I held the position of Publications Chair for PGSA.  In that position, I was responsible for the publication of the monthly Notebook newsletter among other things.  I resigned from the Board and this position because I felt that I could not devote the amount of time to the job that it requires and deserves.  While I am no longer associated with the PGSA’s  Board of Directors or publications in any way, I am still a member and I am writing more about my member experiences in this article.]

When I first joined PGSA, they offered two written publications – a newsletter and a longer-format journal.  Today, the only written publication is the quarterly Rodziny, edited by author William “Fred” Hoffman.  I am usually guaranteed at least one useful tidbit of information from this journal – if not more!   Fred’s wit and expertise with record translation and names makes the journal alone worth the society dues.  PGSA also issues a monthly email newsletter called the PGSA Notebook.  These publications have helped point me towards records or information of which I was previously unaware.

PGSA’s unique collection of records has also assisted me in my research.  As I said, I have never been to their library (which is the library of the Polish Museum of America), but through their website and mail services I was able to find information from Haller’s Army records, Polish Roman Catholic Union of America records, and their collection of parish jubilee books.  These records and research requests are available to both members and non-members alike, but members receive discounts on the fees.

Over the years I have wondered if it is beneficial to belong to a society that I cannot fully participate in by attending meetings and special events in person.  I’ve especially wondered this in the last two years after becoming a member of sorts in a very different genealogical society – Geneabloggers.  There are no dues, no meetings, and no “official” publications, but I have to consider it to be a genealogical society because of how much I have learned from my fellow bloggers.  In fact, the sense of community among these strangers, whose only bond is a love of genealogy and an inter-dependence on the internet, is stronger than my far-away participation in the PGSA.  But I’m not giving up on PGSA.  I continue to pay membership dues because I believe in the overall mission of PGSA, which is “to collect, disseminate and preserve information on Polish and Polish-American family history and to help its members use that information in their own research.”

If you have Polish ancestry, consider joining either PGSA or one of the other localized Polish genealogical societies (the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast has a list of Polish genealogical societies here).  In fact, I encourage you to find a genealogical society specific to your ethnic background.  The wealth of knowledge among the members of these societies will impress you, and don’t be surprised if you learn something new from them!

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about genealogical societies for the preview issue of Discovering Family History.  If you would like to read it, my article and the entire issue is available as a free download at http://www.discoveringfamilyhistory.com/DFH_OnlineFree.pdf.

Written for the 82nd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Favorite Genealogical Societies]

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We were either too poor to take a pony ride or there were no ponies in the city, because there are no “pony pictures” in my family.  But who needs a pony?  Even living in a big city like Philadelphia, we still had some tough cowboys to defend us!  Here’s my favorite photo of my brother:

Gunslinger Drew, 1961

Drew in 1961 - If he could talk, I'm sure he'd quote John Wayne: "Out here a man settles his own problems."

With a gun in one hand, and a bottle in the other, he’s off to save the world.  Or at least prevent his pacifier from being stolen.

[Submitted for the 78th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Pony Pictures]

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Do all genealogists encounter roadblocks like this?

Do all genealogists encounter roadblocks like this?

The topic for the 22nd edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy is roadblocks and breakthroughs.  I like the using the term “roadblock” for those genealogy research problems rather than the term “brickwall” because a roadblock seems more like an obstacle I can “get around” or overcome.  We can always detour our way around a roadblock; knocking down a brickwall is possible, but it requires some heavy duty equipment.  I’m an optimistic genealogist, because I believe you never really encounter a brickwall unless all possible records for an individual or a locality do not exist.  Roadblocks, however, crop up all the time – even on what seems like the simplest genealogical task.  Just like a real roadblock you might encounter while driving, you usually don’t expect it and may not know the way around it.

The most common roadblock in my research has been related to NAMES.  That is, you know what name you are looking for, but you can’t seem to FIND it in an index.  Causes for these name roadblocks include foreign spelling, foreign accents, bad handwriting, nicknames, and name changes.  Many of my ancestors’ Polish and German names have caused delays in my research, but you can often detour around the roadblock if only you know the way.  In this post, I’ll offer a few tips that may help you with name roadblocks.  Although my own ancestry is Central and Eastern European, the tips to breaking through this particular roadblock are useful no matter where your family’s history began.

1. Use alternate searches – if possible, search for the first name and other identifiers rather than the surname.  If you can’t find a family on a census record, find the possible address using other sources and then search for the address instead of the name.  I was able to find my Zawodny family this way when the census had them listed as Cawodny.

2. Get creative – if the first letter of the last name is incorrectly indexed – whether through bad handwriting or bad indexing, try variations.  Try writing out the name in the style of handwriting used at the time the record was compiled.  Would a handwritten “P” resemble an “F”?

3.  Watch out for nicknames – don’t overlook your ancestor because they are using a nickname, their middle name, or the “foreign” first name from their home country.  Ludwig, Louis, Lewis, or Lou could all be the correct first name for an individual.  Some researchers get stumped looking for Uncle Bill or Aunt Stella only to discover that they could have found the record looking for Bołesław or Stanisława.

4. Learn all about the surnames from your immigrant’s home country.  In Poland, surnames can have masculine or feminine endings – so Piontkowski’s wife or daughter is Piontkowska and Zawodny’s wife or daugher is Zawodna.  These practices were still used in the US in the early 20th Century.  Russian and some other Slavic languages use similar feminine forms.  In German, feminine forms are uncommon today, but in older records you may see the suffixes –in, -yn, -s, -z, or –en added to the male surname for feminine forms of the name.

5. Try phoenetic sound of name for alternate spelling that Soundex might not pick up.  Sometimes we forget that our immigrant ancestors had accents.  Since the information in some records came from your ancestors speaking directly to someone collecting the information, it is important to remember their native language and its pronunciations.  In many cases, the use of Soundex in indexing will cover up for many of these phoenetic mistakes – but not all.  Take time to learn the nuances of your family’s native languages.  A simple example of a mis-spelled name on a census record that was likely caused by the immigrant’s accent is my great-grandfather’s Polish surname, Pater.  It is a relatively simple name as far as Polish names go!  Rather than the English pronunciation of the name, PAY-ter, the Polish pronunciation is PAH-ter, much like the Latin word.  On the 1910 census, the family is listed as “Potter” – a reasonable assumption based on how it is pronounced.  Fortunately, Soundex will catch this error.  But what happens when the pronunciation is very different?

Many foreign languages have letters that the English alphabet does not, and each of these letters has a unique pronunciation.  Unless you know how to “say” the name in the foreign language, you may hit a roadblock.  Some examples include:

Polish ą – pronounced “ahn” but it is often transcribed as a simple “a” in English.  So the Polish surname Piątkowski may be indexed as Piatkowski.  But, if you heard the name pronounced, the English transcription should be Piontkowski.  If searching for “Piontkowski” using the Soundex code, an entry under “Piatkowski” would not show up.

Polish Ł or ł – pronounced with an English “w” sound, this Polish letter confuses non-Poles.  It may be transcribed as a simple English “L”, or the lowercase version may become a “t” since that is what it looks like.   Or the record-writer has heard the name pronouced and makes it a “W” so that the surname Łaski is indexed as it sounds to the American ear – Waski.

German ü – Americans don’t know what to make of German umlauts.  Sometimes the umlaut is simply ignored, so the surname Müller is spelled Muller.  Other times it is listed as Mueller, since the “ü” has a “ue” sound.  But just as often I have found it as Miller, as if the ü is two letter “i” – and since English doesn’t have words like Miiller, it becomes Miller.

I could continue with examples of the different letters found in foreign languages from the French ç to the Hungarian Á to the Croatian Ð.  Aside from the unique letters, researching foreign names has to take the language into consideration – a “ch” combination in one language may sound like an “English” “ch” or a “k” instead.  In German, the sound of an initial consonant “B” often sounds like a “P”.  The point is to be aware of the way the immigrant’s original language sounded, because it may account for some of the incorrect spellings you will encounter.

I can’t emphasis enough the importance of learning about the language from which the name is derived.  It may give you enough knowledge to break through that roadblock!

Recommended reading:

Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman (Polish Genealogical Society of America, Chicago, IL, 1997).

First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings by William F. Hoffman and George W. Helon (Polish Genealogical Society of America, Chicago, IL, 1998).

Dictionary of German Names by Hans Bahlow (Max Kade Institute, 2002).

[Written for the 22nd Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: Roadblocks and Breakthroughs]

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No matter where your ancestors were from, chances are that they endured tumultuous events such as famines, epidemics, and wars.  In researching my Bavarian ancestors, I’ve tried to immerse myself in the history of their towns and villages to try to understand the customs, beliefs, and society in which they lived.  If you dig deep enough, you’ll uncover many interesting events that took place during the lives of your ancestors. There aren’t any records that allow me to fully understand how these events impacted my ancestors in particular, but learning about these historical events helps to imagine what their lives were like.

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

The town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm has a long history dating back to the 12th century.  Like most areas of Europe, Pfaffenhofen has witnessed many disasters over the years.   In the middle of the 18th Century, a war raged throughout Europe called the War of Austrian Succession.  Although it is largely forgotten in history books, it could almost be called the first world war since it involved almost all of the powers of Europe. While war is often considered to be a man’s game, this one all started because of a woman – Maria Theresa of Austria.  Her father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, died without a male heir.  Charles hoped to enable Maria Theresa to take his place by persuading the various German states to agree to her succession in 1713 with the Pragmatic Sanction.

After the death of Charles in 1740, King Frederick II of Prussia protested her reign by invading  Silesia.  Thus began a long war that was a competition among various courts for a male heir with the genealogical claim to the throne to take precedence over Maria Theresa’s rule.  Frederick joined forces with France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony, while Austria garnered support from several other European forces.

The Bavarian army fought with French forces in both Silesia and Bohemia over the next few years.  This war had several campaigns fought in several countries.  Throughout, both Austria and Prussia gained allies and lost allies with some countries even switching sides.  But the war continued, and the succession issue remained unresolved although several claimed the throne.

By 1742, the war came much closer to home for my ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  By this time, the Bavarian army was still aligned with the French, and Austria had turned to Hungary for support.  The capital of Bavaria, Munich – only 33 miles south of Pfaffenhofen – fell to the Austro-Hungarian army on February 13, 1742.  Four days later, Pfaffenhofen and all of the surrounding towns located in the area between the Inn and Lech rivers were under Austrian control.

An Austrian Pandur

An Austrian Pandur

Some of the Austro-Hungarian forces were Croat mercenary soldiers called the Pandurs.  Pandur forces swept through the Bavarian countryside.  The Pandurs’ tactics would be known as guerrilla warfare today.  They were also known for their lack of discipline in which plunder was more important than their military orders.  Histories of Pfaffenhofen do not record all of the details of this invasion, but one notes the “wild hordes of terror” as the Pandurs occupied the area and resorted to robbery, murder, and fire.

All throughout this war, the simple townsfolk of Pfaffenhofen and the local farmers were expected to pay increased taxes to support the armies.  If anyone refused to pay, they were arrested.

By the end of 1742, the forces shifted and Pfaffenhofen was no longer occupied by enemy forces.  The following year, Bavaria was again invaded in May and occupied through October.  But the year of the war that is most remembered in Pfaffenhofen is 1745.  By April 12, 1745, the two armies again amassed just outside of the city.

The Franco-Bavarian army was led by General François de Ségur with about 7,000 forces.  However, Ségur was unaware that his Bavarian and Hessian reinforcements under General Törring had retreated several miles away, and he was caught off guard when the Austro-Hungarian forces arrived.  The Austro-Hungarian army was led by General Karl Josef Batthyány and consisted of 10,000 Austrian and Hungarian forces.  Batthyány  was aware of Ségur’s isolation, and attacked Pfaffenhofen on the morning of April 15, 1745.

Like most medieval cities, Pfaffenhofen was a walled town with four gates to get in or out of town.  The Austrian army, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, broke through the town wall and fighting ensued on the streets of the town with the Croat Pandurs engaging in house-to-house combat.  The French army defending the townspeople took on heavy casualties, and 300 French soldiers were captured by the enemy.

Outnumbered, Ségur was forced to withdrawn or else his army would have been completed encircled.   Some of Ségur’s Palatinate forces panicked, and in their retreat the fierce Pandurs and Hussar cavalry attacked the retreating troops.  The French forces hastily retreated with their heavy equipment getting stuck in the muddy fields outside of Pfaffenhofen; when the horses were cut free, they fled as well.  Ségur’s retreating army was literally chased by the Batthyány’s forces until that evening when the Austrians gave up pursuit.

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Austria, with about 800 casualties, was the clear “winner” of the battle, while the Franco-Bavarian forces lost 2,400.  As a result of the defeat, Bavaria’s leader Maximilian III Joseph gave up the war that his father had begun.  He made peace with Maria Theresa through the Treaty of Füssen on April 22, 1745.  Oh, and Törring, the guy who left Ségur outnumbered?  He was fired.  The peace treaty took Bavaria officially out of the War of Austrian Succession, leaving Austria with only three other fronts to fight in Silesia, Italy, and the Netherlands.  In the end, after years of bloodshed, Maria Theresa’s claim to the throne did prevail when her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, became Emperor on September 13, 1745.

The battle definitely had an impact on the townspeople of Pfaffenhofen.  One can only assume that they were all inside the walls of the town when the attack occurred.  The only place of refuge nearby would have been the monastery at Scheyern, where it was reported that the monks only escaped the looting of the Pandurs because a wounded Austrian officer being tended by the monks would not allow it.  Two brave priests left the walls of the monastery to administer last rites to soldiers dying in the fields.

Most of the accounts of the battle were in German, and I relied on poor translations from online translators.  I was able to get the general idea that the invading Army left the town a mess.  Some of the town’s court records seem to indicate that residents petitioned the town for assistance after their homes were looted and severely damaged.  One resident, Georg Gerhauser, reported that he, his wife, and their eight children could not even attend church services on Good Friday because they lacked the appropriate clothing after Austrian soldiers looted their home.  Food was also scarce in the days following the battle.

This battle must have been quite terrifying to the farmers and merchants of the area.  The battle took place on the day of the calendar that happened to be Holy Thursday in the Roman Catholic Church calendar that year.  This is the feast prior to the day Christ died when Catholics remember His Last Supper and the gift of the Eucharist.  As a special feast, this likely would have been a religious holiday in the town in which everyone would have attended Mass – but I doubt their plans went as scheduled that fateful day.

At this time I have several ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  Bernhard Eggerer, my 5th great-grandfather, was born in 1721 and would have been about to turn 24 at the time of the battle.  Did he fight in the army?  Did he defend his town as a simple shoemaker?  I don’t know, but he did survive this event.  He would marry 17 years later and have 8 children before dying in 1778 at the age of 57.

Other ancestors residing in Pfaffenhofen in 1745 include Matthias Kaillinger, a glassmaker, Michael Paur, a carpenter, and possibly Phillip Nigg, a mason.  I have not found Philip’s birth record yet, but he marries in town eight years after the battle.  One thing is certain – after all of the street fighting and looting, the skills of all three gentlemen would have been put to good use after the battle ended!  I also had my Bergmeister ancestor, Johann Paul Bergmeister, living in the nearby town of Puch and running the grain mill.  With all of the havoc in the fields, one can only wonder the impact on the family’s business as a result.

In reviewing my ancestral records, I do not appear to have any deaths on that day, so my families were safe after the fighting ended.  Now that I have learned about this event, I want to review the death records to see if any soldier or civilian deaths are recorded in the church books. It is apparent in these few accounts I uncovered that although the battle itself was relatively short in duration, the town took a long time to recover from it.

[Written for the 77th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Disasters Our Ancestors Lived Through]

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Everyone remembers their first time with a certain fondness, even if later times surpass the first experience in any way.  I am referring, of course, to vacations.  Do you remember your first time?

My family could not afford to take vacations.  I remember a trip or two to the Jersey shore, and one trip to the Pocono Mountains.  As a teenager, I had some weekend trips to a mountain home that belonged to our parish priest.  But that was the extent of vacations during my youth.  Unfortunately, I never had the quintessential family vacation experience.  Despite this deprivation, or maybe because of it, I somehow developed the wanderlust.  My first real vacation experience did not involve my family, but a newly-formed family of friends. It was July, 1985; I was eighteen years old.  Our destination?  Rome, Italy.

Too many years have passed to remember all of the details about how it came to be, or why Rome was our destination of choice.  My partner-in-crime throughout high school was my friend Lou, who was like a brother to me.  He had plans to enter the seminary after high school, and he talked about one day visiting Rome.  I’m sure his enthusiasm rubbed off on me, but I must have also had an interest in Italy of my own since I chose Italian for my language requirement in junior and senior year.

The idea must have begun between Lou and me, but I took the lead to make it happen.  My history teacher was Mrs. Campbell, a fun-loving, wise-cracking lady who loved to travel and loved to teach her students about those places and their history.  Towards the end of junior year, I remember asking her, “So, Mrs. C., how about taking a bunch of us to Rome after we graduate next year?” She looked at me for a few seconds, then smiled a sly grin and said “Why not?” If it wasn’t for her, our trip would not have happened!

Our entire group in St. Peter's Square - July 9, 1985 - Rome, Italy

Our entire group in St. Peter's Square - July 9, 1985 - Rome, Italy

Our merry band of travelers began to form.  The group consisted of eight teens and four adults.  First, I asked two girlfriends from school, Sandy and Mary Frances.  Lou asked one of his classmates, Dennis, who I also knew from grade school.  Mrs. Campbell obviously asked her husband.  Also included were their daughter, Mimi, who was two years younger than the rest of us, and their niece, Alexis, who was the youngest of the group at 13.  Mimi asked her friend Lisa, whose mother Liz also came along.  Finally, Lou and I asked an adult that we knew from our church, Tom, who readily jumped at the chance to visit Rome (apparently because Lou mentioned something about a private audience with Pope John Paul II…fifteen years later the now-Father Lou gave me that opportunity, but unfortunately Tom wasn’t on our second trip!).

And so it happened that my very first plane ride was transatlantic.  We had turbulence nearly the entire time.  Since I had never flown before, I thought it was all quite normal – similar to riding a bus on a bumpy road.  We were all giddy with excitement – especially those of us sans-parents because of the feeling of adventure and freedom.  We didn’t necessarily know what to do with that freedom, but the mere thought of having it seemed monumental at the time.

“Can’t you try it for just one night?” ~ Marinella

If events were only judged by their beginnings, our trip was doomed from the second we arrived.  Whatever could go wrong, did.  Our group booked the trip through a company that specialized in student tours, and they joined us with two other similarly sized groups – one from Connecticut, and one from New Jersey not too far away from our home in Philadelphia.  When the large group arrived at the hotel, I guess you could say they weren’t quite ready for us.  Our first few hours were spent waiting in the hot Roman July sun outside of the hotel’s lobby.  Eventually we were assigned rooms, but the rooms were inoperable and in some cases still under construction!  We spent hours waiting for the adults to sort out all of the issues.

“We pulled up to this dilapidated graffiti-covered dive called the Hotel G—–.  We all just looked at each other and laughed.” ~ Donna’s trip journal

It was advantageous that Mr. & Mrs. Campbell were our leaders – a building inspector for the city of Philadelphia and a high school history teacher were used to dealing with surly, uncooperative people on a daily basis, and their experience helped us resolve many of the problems. But that first day, after a very long journey and no sleep on the plane, it did not feel like we were in Rome at all.  In fact, we were quite miserable.  This is what we looked forward to for so long?

“So far, Rome is truly dismal.” ~ Mimi’s trip journal

The next day, our group began the official tour.  Our first stop was the Colosseum .  You can read about how big the Colosseum is, and you can see photographs or videos.  But until you are standing next to it (or driving by it), it is difficult to comprehend its sheer size.  When I saw it for the first time, it hit me – we really were in Rome!

Lou, Mimi, Donna, and Lisa inside the Colosseum

Lou, Mimi, Donna, and Lisa inside the Colosseum

We spent nine days at a rapid touring pace including one day in Florence.  The highlights were many: St. Peter’s basilica, the Wednesday audience with a young Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s square, the Sistine Chapel, Piazza Navona, St. John Lateran, the catacombs, the Duomo in Florence.  The Eternal City embraced my soul – and it has not let go since.  I fell in love with Rome, with Italy, with travel.  Not to mention Italian food, the hotness of Italian men, the buzzing passionate pace, and a nice little thing called asti spumante.

“By Tuesday, Lexi’s Marinella impersonation was perfect, and she had become our mascot.  By Thursday, she had thrown away her shell, probably somewhere near the ‘Wedding Cake'” ~ Mimi

In addition to the wonderful and historic sights, we had a beautiful sense of camaraderie.  Mostly, we laughed.  I think I laughed more in nine days than I have laughed in the last nine months.  Most of the laughter involved the problems and issues we encountered, whether it was our incompetent “guide”, Marinella, who seemed to know less about her city’s history than we did and only took us to guides or restaurants in which she’d get a commission, or the strange bellhop at the hotel, nicknamed Quasimodo, whose job seemed to involve silently lurking in the hallway and leaving large bundles of laundry on the stairs.  Whenever Marinella led the bus tour, we were sure to drive past the Victor Emmanuel monument, also known as the “Wedding Cake”, at least six times…regardless of what direction we were supposed to be traveling.

“Let me get this straight – she’s Italian and doesn’t know the Pope has a Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square with thousands of people?” ~ Lou

Because we were so young and the trip was so monumental, it became larger than life in our memories.  We reminisced afterward – and still do as if the trip only happened last year. Remember the time Louie was late for the bus?  Remember when Tom serenaded the old Italian lady?  Remember how happy we were to survive that taxi ride?  Remember when Marinella asked Mrs. C. if the Pope could change the audience so we could go to Florence on Wednesday?  Remember the songs we made up?

“Hey, they’re talking Italian on my Walkman!” ~ Dennis

Ever since, 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.  Did it take on this significance because it was my first real vacation?  Or was it the location that made it so special?  Perhaps it was the group of people I traveled with?  Or merely the fact that I was eighteen and it showed me a whole world existed outside of my tiny life?

In front of Bernini's Foutain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona: Dennis, Sandy, Donna, Lexi, Lisa, Mimi, Mary Fran, and Lou

In front of Bernini's Foutain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona: Dennis, Sandy, Donna, Lexi, Lisa, Mimi, Mary Fran, and Lou

Despite the wanderlust it awakened in me, I didn’t take another real vacation again for seven years, and I didn’t go to Europe again for thirteen years.  Not for a lack of desire, but either a lack of means or traveling companions.  But since that second trip to Europe, travel is a regular, recurring, and essential part of my life.  I’ve been fortunate to have visited many of the world’s cities: London, Munich, Prague, Warsaw, Paris, Brussels, Seoul. I’ve enjoyed them all, but my favorite city always shall be my first true love, Rome.  I’ve been back to Rome three times in the last nine years – sometimes I visit sights I have not seen, and other times I return to my favorite places.  Every trip to Rome has been special and memorable for different reasons.  But the most memorable trip of all was the very first.

We left Rome and headed back home on July 14, 1985.  We were exhausted but refreshed, complaining yet laughing, sad to leave but happy we went.  We left Rome twenty four years ago today, but the experience of that trip has never left me.

[Written for the 76th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: How I Spent My Summer Vacation]

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Welcome to the second annual post for the Carnival of Genealogy Swimsuit Edition.  I do confess that if I had known last year that this was an annual event, I would have saved some of the great beach photos of my Dad’s family from my post Genealogy Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition.  So this year I will turn the spotlight on my mother instead.  Here is my Mom as a young teenager with a friend – both dressed in their best swimwear!

My mother and her girlfriend, circa 1950, enjoying the sun.

My mother and her girlfriend, circa 1950, enjoying the sun.

The best thing about the photo is that they are not at the beach (or, as we say in my hometown Philly-speak, down the shore), but taking advantage of a beautiful day to catch some sun anyway.

[Submitted for the 74th Carnival of Genealogy: Swimsuit Edition]

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Poster designed by www.footnotemaven.com

Poster designed by http://www.footnotemaven.com

The topic for this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is The Good Earth, and we are invited to tell about our ancestors’ ties to the land.  When I first saw the topic, I doubted I’d have much to say.  My immediate ancestors – and myself – are from a very large city, so there are no farmers among us.  Even some of my immigrant ancestors came from large cities like Warsaw or Munich, or from industrialized towns like Żyrardów.  Even those from smaller towns seemed to have occupations that dealt more with crafts, building, or mercantile goods rather than “the earth”.  But, I soon realized that unless you are descended from royalty, you don’t have to go back many generations to find an ancestor who was truly tied to the land in some way.  As I looked through my records, I found farmers on all sides of my family.  Here is their brief story.

In Poland, the cycles and seasons of family life were deeply rooted in the seasons of the earth and the harvest.  Because Poland was a Catholic nation, the harvest and all of the work required for it to happen were also deeply connected to the Church.  Harvesting almost always began on July 25, the feast of St. Jacob and would begin with the celebration of the Mass and special prayers.  Following tradition, the first stalks of grain that were cut were placed in the sign of the cross, and those first stalks were often cut by the farmer’s daughter.

The days of a farmer were long – from first light to sundown.  The day would end with another prayer.  After the harvest was over, the final stalks harvested were also of great importance with one area always left unharvested no matter how small the plot of land.  Great celebrations were held after the harvest was over in thanksgiving, often involving the entire community. Most of the harvesters were not land-owners, but peasants who worked for them.  It is difficult to tell from vital records if the term “farmer” implies that the man owned land or merely worked on another’s. but many farmers worked as day laborers on other’s lands.

Among my Polish ancestors, I have found several farmers or day laborers including my 3rd great-grandfather Józef Ślesiński (c.1821 – 30 Nov 1866), my 2nd great-grandfather Wawrzyniec Zawodny (c.1853 – 13 Dec 1917), and my 4th great-grandfather Karol Zakrzewski (c.1800 – c.1858).

The Bavarian countryside near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.  Photo taken by the author, 1998.

The Bavarian countryside near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany. Photo taken by the author, 1998.

The agricultural life in Bavaria, Germany, was very similar to Poland in both the religious connection as well as the fact that there were different classes of farmers.  Even after the Protestant Reformation swept through Germany, Bavaria remained devoutly Catholic.  The religious customs related to the harvest are remarkably similar to Poland’s customs and included prayers and festivals.  The harvest was a community event even in large towns where the majority of residents were not involved in agricultural labor.  After all, the farmer’s successful harvest meant that the shoemaker could buy food at the market to feed his family.  Even today Germans take special pride in their farmers.  The photo below is not from Bavaria, but the Tirol section of Austria.  Both regions have similar traditions and celebrate the harvest with parades and traditional costumes.

Even the cows in Tirol (and Bavaria) take farming seriously! This is a farmer's parade in Innsbruck, Austria.  Photo taken by the author, 1998.

Even the cows in Tirol (and Bavaria) take farming seriously! This is a farmer's parade in Innsbruck, Austria. Photo taken by the author, 1998.

Bavaria had more class distinctions for farmers than in Poland where you were either a land-owner or you worked for someone else.  In Bavaria, the different designations were mainly for tax purposes.  A bauer owned a whole farm, a halbbauer owned half, and a viertelbauer owned a quarter.  Then there was the söldner, who owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  That may sound small, but there is even a lower designation – a poor häusler owned a house, but not the land on which it sat.

I first came across these farmer names when I discovered my 4th great-grandfather, Wolfgang Fischer (1775 – 1820) from the small town of Agelsberg.  In the birth record for his son Franz Xaver, who was born in 1813, Wolfgang’s occupation was listed as söldner.  It was an unfamiliar term, and according to my German dictionary it meant mercenary.  Mercenary?  As in a soldier of fortune, perhaps hired out to neighboring countries?  I quickly discovered the Bavarian meaning of the word in addition to its other definition.  A sölde is a small house with a garden, and as I indicated above a söldner owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  My mercenary was a poor farmer!

Wolfgang is the only farmer I have found in my Bavarian ancestry so far, but there is another family that made a living off of the “good earth” – the Bergmeister family of millers.  As owners of a mill in the town of Puch, the family would have had a higher economic and social standing than the poor famer; however, his entire operation was dependent upon the success of the farmers’ harvest.  The earliest record of the family’s ownership of the mill is around 1700.  Ownership was passed to the oldest son for many generations.  I lost track of who owned the mill in the mid-1800’s because I am  descended from that generation’s second son, but the second and third sons continued in related businesses – one was a flour merchant, the other a baker.

Farming is back-breaking work – work that is often taken for granted today.  In my ancestors’ times it was likely even harder work without the assistance of machinery and motorized tools.  The closest I come to such labor of the earth is mowing my lawn – and though I do use machinery to assist me, I still complain about the manual labor.  Next time, I’ll try to remember all of my farmer and miller ancestors who worked long days tilling the earth and growing food for their lords, families, and neighbors.

 

 

Sources used in this article:

 

Dieter Joos, “A Brief Description of a Typical Southern German Village in Past Centuries”, (Ueberlingen, Germany, 1999).  Available online at http://geisheimer.org/info/germ/village.htm

 

Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Polish Customs, Traditions, & Folklore, (New York, Hippocrene Books, 1993), 145-157.

John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, (London, 1809), 30-33.  Google Book Search.  Retrieved on May 27, 2009.

[Written for the 73rd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Good Earth]

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Mom and Me, 1968

Mom and Me, 1968

I’ve been wanting to write a tribute to my mother now for quite some time, so when it was announced that the topic of this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy was mothers, I was thrilled.  But then “something” came up, as usual. Blogging, and life in general, has been non-existent for the last two weeks because I’ve been sick.  As in feeling-awful, missing-work, doctors-don’t-have-a-clue, everyone-please-stay-away-from-me sick.  But I also had what you might call writer’s block caused by the subject matter, not my clogged brain – what do I write about that sums up my mother and how much she means to me?

Mom and Me, 1975

Mom and Me, 1975

It’s not that there’s a lack of material – there’s so much to say!  Do I write about how I almost lost her (that is, she almost died) three times in my life – including the day I was born?  Or how she taught me everything I know about my faith in God?  Or how her beliefs and illnesses shaped my views on health?  Or how she’s without a doubt the World’s Greatest Cook?  Or about her extreme generosity? Or her talents as a dancer?  Or her unfulfilled dreams that could have used her other talents?  Do I talk about how she met my dad?  Or how hard it was for her to simply become a mother and the sicknesses she endured after giving birth?

I simply have too much to say about my mother, but I felt too sick these past two weeks to say any of it.  I even missed Mother’s Day itself last week.  But the  COG deadline is today, and I am finally feeling better.  I realized I can fully introduce my readers to my wonderful mother with one simple story.  While I was home sick, she brought me chicken soup.  Twice.  I’m not talking about that stuff they call “soup” that comes in a can – no, this is the real deal as only my mother (and deceased grandmother) could make it.  Oh. So. Good.  I’ve tried to duplicate this magic; I’ve failed.  To put this act of charity in perspective, I’m not a child sick in my room upstairs.  She’s 73 years old, but she drove twenty minutes to come to my house (dragging along my dad, also recovering from a bad cold).  She came because she knew it was the only thing that would help me get better.  And it did.

But I have a theory on that…I don’t think my cure came 100% from that delicious chicken soup.  No, not entirely.  I have no doubt it came from my mom’s love.  You see, she’s my chicken soup for my soul.  Who could ask for anything more?

Mom and Me, 1997

Mom and Me, 1997

[Written for the 72nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Mothers]

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71st Carnival of Genealogy

Welcome to the 71st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy!  The topic for today was Local History! As genealogists, we are used to tracing our ancestors and the history of the places they lived. But not all of us live where our ancestors did – do we take the time to see the history all around us? Well, based on the response – yes, we do take the time!  Come and read some fascinating entries on what proved to be an interesting topic.  In the twenty-five submissions presented here, you will read about some amazing historical places, events, and people located in sixteen U.S. states and two Canadian provinces!

Carol Wilkerson presents MacArthur Left But Volckmann Remained posted at iPentimento | Genealogy and History. Even though Russell Volckmann was a WWII hero, Carol’s husband was never taught about him in any of his schooling.

Kiril Kundurazieff presents Hunting Down the Honeymoon Hotel: A Genealogical Adventure posted at Musings of a Mad Macedonian. This picture filled Detective Tale is about a, um, Honeymoon Hotel, on the Boardwalk in Newport Beach, Ca., a hotel with a history going back to 1904. With just a receipt with no address, or city, for the hotel, Kiril used his investigative skills to find the place, which was where his parents spent their honeymoon in 1958. $43 for a 6 day stay.  You can’t buy a Love Nest for that much money today, hee, hee!

Elyse Doerflinger presents A California Port Town – COG posted at Elyse’s Genealogy Blog. Elyse wrote about San Pedro, California – the port town right next to the Los Angeles Harbor.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino presents My Hometown: Methuen, Massachusetts posted at Acadian Ancestral Home. My Hometown: Methuen, Massachusetts provides an insight to local history as well as the history of America. As an Acadian researcher it also tells about the Acadian families exiled to Methuen in the winter of 1755-56 when exiled from Nova Scotia by British Governor Charles Lawrence.

Elizabeth Powell Crowe presents Wordless Wednesday/Carnival of Genealogy 71st Edition posted at Crowe’s Nest by Elizabeth Powell Crowe.  Huntsville, Alabama (where Elizabeth was born) recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding at the Big Spring.

Earline Bradt presents COG Local History – “The Tomato Capital of Canada”, Leamington, Ontario posted at Ancestral Notes. Though close to one of the first areas to be revealed after the last ice age, and 40 miles away from one of the earliest explored areas of the New World, Leamington, in Essex County, Ontario was one of the last to be settled.

Leah Kleylein presents Random Notes: COG – Historic King of Prussia Inn posted at Random Notes. Leah offers a short history of the King of Prussia Inn, located in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault presents Kahnawa:ke – Home of the Haudenosaunee « A Canadian Family posted at A Canadian Family. Evelyn lives on land that rightly belongs to the Mohawk of Kahnawake.

Linda Hughes Hiser presents Carnival of Genealogy–George Ornan Willet posted at Flipside. Linda writes: “What a great topic! I found out that the street where I live was named for my town’s first mayor.”

Denise Olson presents Living History posted at Moultrie Creek. Denise’s family research turns up centuries-old ties to her home town.

John Newmark presents July 2, 1917 – East St. Louis posted at TransylvanianDutch. 92 years ago one of the bloodiest race riots in our nation’s history occurred three miles from the office building in which John works today.

Ruby Coleman presents Rails Then and Now in Nebraska posted at Nebraska Roots and Ramblings. The railroad coming through Nebraska was instrumental in the history of the nation as well as locally. North Platte, Nebraska as a terminal had a colorful history that is to this day of historical interest.

Cheri L. Hopkins presents “GERONIMO”, High Flying War Dog of the 507th ! posted at THOSE OLD MEMORIES. Geronimo, the WWII CANINE paratrooper of the 507th, was a favorite figure in the history of Alliance Nebraska. This a short story tribute to this awesome soldier.

Midge Frazel presents Williams LATHAM posted at Granite in My Blood. Gravestones and their resting places in greater Bridgewater MA owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Williams Latham, local author and historian.

Kris P presents Carnival time! Peabody, MA « From the seed to the branches posted at From the seed to the branches. Read about a “proud Southern girl” who winds up on the North shore of Massachusetts.

Amanda presents The Erie Canal posted at A Tale of Two Ancestors.  Amanda connects her current location, Syracuse, NY, with the home of her ancestors in Buffalo, NY.

Sheri Fenley presents San Joaquin County Local History – A Sack of Flour posted at The Educated Genealogist.  Read about San Joaquin County and the famous sack of flour!

Randy Seaver presents A Victorian House in San Diego – turned into a box posted at Genea-Musings. Randy’s favorite house in San Diego has a history, but it’s hidden beneath the exterior paint and stucco.

Bill West presents West in New England: LOCAL HISTORY – THE NORTH ABINGTON RIOT posted at West in New England. One August day in 1893 all heck broke loose in North Abington Center and became the North Abington Riot!

Cherie presents 71st Carnival of Genealogy: Local History posted at Still Digging for Roots.  Cherie recently discovered a local hero of the Spanish-American War.

Julie Cahill Tarr presents David Davis (1815-1886) posted at The Graveyard Rabbit of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Bloomington, Illinois is rich with history. There are many places and people of interest, but this post focuses on one gentleman, David Davis.

Greta Koehl presents Tinner Hill: Desegregation, Graveyards, and My Fireplace posted at Greta’s Genealogy Bog. What could desegregation, graveyards, and my fireplace possibly have in common? They all have a connection to Tinner Hill. Greta feels very privileged to live within walking distance of this community and thinks you will find its history as fascinating as she does.

Jasia presents Brief History of Saint Joseph, Michigan posted at Creative Gene. Jasia’s new home town is Saint Joseph, Michigan. It’s a wonderful resort town on the shores of Lake Michigan. Come read about it’s history and see some fabulous vintage postcards of days gone by!

footnoteMaven presents From the Flames My Home posted at footnoteMaven.  fM’s home was built as the result of the careless act of John E. Back, June 6, 1889.  But she writes, “Perhaps he did us all a favor.”

And finally, Donna Pointkouski presents Shadows of History in My Backyard posted here at What’s Past is Prologue.  Donna wonders if the history of her new town in New Jersey could compete with her hometown of Philadelphia, PA.  It can! Read about the shadows of history she discovered right in her backyard.

This concludes this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.  I hope you enjoyed learning about each other’s hometowns and their fascinating histories, people, and places as much as I did.

Now it is time for the next Call for Submissions! The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: Mothers! Mother’s Day is right around the corner and this is the perfect time to honor your mother, grandmother, godmother, step mother, den mother, aunt, neighbor, or friend who happens to be a mother. If you’ve written about your own mother for the COG before, consider writing about another mom on your family tree. Let’s make all our moms famous! The deadline for submissions is May 15th and next edition will be hosted at Creative Gene.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using the carnival submission form. Please use a descriptive phrase in the title of any articles you plan to submit and/or write a brief description/introduction to your articles in the “comment” box of the blogcarnival submission form. This will give readers an idea of what you’ve written about and hopefully interest them in clicking on your link. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Thanks for the COG poster, fM!

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I was born and raised in Philadelphia, one of the most historic cities in the U.S.  Even so, my neighborhood was far removed from the main historic sites like the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house, or Independence Hall.  So far removed that the neighborhood is usually called the Far Northeast.  As the name implies, it is to the far northeast of the city bordering Bucks County, Pennsylvania and it was not fully incorporated into the city limits until 1854.

Since this area of the city was mostly “settled” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we never knew that it even had a history.  But local streams had exotic Indian names like Neshaminy and Poquessing so we could only imagine what that history may have been.  I eventually learned that the area was once the land of the Lenape. The Lenape land became farm land for English and Swedish settlers, then summer homes for Philadelphia’s wealthy elite, then the sprawling middle class pseudo-suburb that it remains today.  Within all of those various uses for the land lies a rich history.  A saint played in my backyard.  A Founding Father was born just a few miles away. William Penn’s surveyor, who planned the city of Philadelphia, chose this area to live.  And perhaps most exciting of all, George Washington’s army camped a mile away on their way to Yorktown and marched down what is now called Frankford Avenue.

When the time came to purchase a home, I decided to leave my old neighborhood and I set my sights on “East Philadelphia” – otherwise known as New Jersey.  I used to drive through the area of Palmyra and Riverton, and I liked the old houses and charming vibe.  But could these sleepy towns compete with Philadelphia’s history?  I soon learned that history is all around us – sometimes even in our own backyard.

Palmyra, my new hometown, was only officially formed in 1894.  But the history of the land itself was as fascinating as my old neighborhood’s history!  Originally this area was also the land of the Lenape and served as a vast hunting area for the community.  In 1689, the first settlers showed up – the Swedes – and it became the northern portion of New Sweden.

About three generations later, descendants of one of those first Swedish settlers, Elias Toy, built a stone farmhouse in 1761.  That house, slightly modified in the ensuing years, still serves as a residence — about 100 yards from my backyard!  It is the oldest house in Palmyra and the surrounding area.  The view of it from my backyard  is blocked by trees, but here’s a view from the road on its other side.

The Toy-Morgan House, Palmyra, NJ, originally built in 1761.
The Toy-Morgan House, Palmyra, NJ, originally built in 1761.

The Toy family had about 300 acres of farmland and orchards, and most of this area forms the town of Palmyra today, most notably my own property and street!  According to Life on the Delaware: A History of Palmyra, “legend has it that Benjamin Franklin paused here more than once while on his voyages to visit his son.”  The house remained in the possession of the Toy family until 1848, when it was sold to the Morgan’s – another family that had lived in the area for many generations. He  expanded the size of the house in 1853 to its present form. You can read more about the house in a recent article or see a rather historic drawing of the house that looks remarkably like today’s photo.

This is the view from the Toy-Morgan House looking north at the Delaware River
This is the view from the Toy-Morgan House looking north at the Delaware River. That’s an abandoned Philadelphia factory to the left on the other side.

The area surrounding this house changed over the years.  In the 1830s the railroad tracks were laid and the Camden & Amboy Railroad made the area more town-like than farmland.  Then it was referred to as “Texas” – and perhaps there was a bit of a wild west feel with horses and farms.  But in 1849, the name Palmyra first appears on a map of Burlington County, reportedly christened by another Toy family descendant.

What I find interesting about the Palmyra, Riverton, and Cinnaminson area in New Jersey is that you can still see remnants of several eras of the area’s history – the shadows of history left behind.  These shadows create some remarkable juxtapositions.  For example, the Toy-Morgan house reminds us of the early settlers, but its view of the river is now partially blocked by condominiums. The local produce market, Hunter’s Farm in Cinnaminson, has a sign announcing “Settled 1760″, but there is a Wal-mart and a highway about a mile down the road.  In Riverton and in some sections of Palmyra, there are brightly colored Victorian houses that have been gracing the streets for 150 years with newer homes mixed in between.  The new “light rail” uses the old railroad tracks from the 1830’s.  Along the river, some of the magnificent summer mansions of wealthy Philadelphians mingle with newer, more modest, modern homes.  And, though the median income for the town was $51,000  according to the 2000 census, it’s the home of a car dearlership where you can buy a Bentley or an Aston-Martin.  If you look beyond the new and the modern, you’ll see a fragment or a shadow of  history from one time period or another.

I have taken great pride in researching the places my ancestors lived and worked.  Some of the town histories from Poland and Bavaria go back to the middle ages!  Back when their hometowns were established, mine was wilderness whose history remains hidden. Who would have thought there could be so much history in my own backyard?

Spring beckons as the sun sets over the Delaware River in Palmyra, NJ.
Spring beckons as the sun sets over the Delaware River in Palmyra.

[Written for the 71st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Local History.]

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