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Archive for the ‘Genealogical Records’ Category

Have you ever looked at a genealogical record and seen what you expected to see rather than what was actually there? Recently I started organizing data in anticipation of the 2012 release of the 1940 Census, and that includes reviewing addresses and enumeration districts from the 1930 Census.  This is how I realized that for nearly the last ten years I’ve misread one of my family’s entries.

By 1930, my grandmother’s parents were deceased.  My grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister, was only 17 years old and the youngest in the family.  Her siblings included a sister, Marie, and three brothers: Joseph, Max, and Julius. When it came to researching my families, the Bergmeister’s were the easiest. My father remembered a lot of information about his aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Unlike some other branches of my family, the Bergmeister’s didn’t try to hide from the census-takers or make up information. But after reviewing the 1930 entry, I’m left with another mystery on my hands.

Julius, Margaret, Max, Joseph, Marie - October 10, 1959

I’ve already indicated that my grandmother is nowhere to be found in either the 1920 or 1930 Census. The reasonable theory is that she was living with her aunt or visiting at the time of the Census and was simply left out of the family’s lineup (this includes by her own father in 1920). In 1930 she may have been living with the aunt or her sister, but neither household included her. Her oldest brother, Joseph, was 27 and married with two children in 1930. Also listed with his household were his two brothers. When I first found the entry, and in all the years since, it was a “given” to me that they were Max and Julius.  The names that were enumerated, however, were Julius and Gustav.  Since there are many errors on the census, I never thought much about this mix-up in names.  Until now, that is…

As I reviewed the 1930 entry, I realized that Julius is listed with the correct age, followed by “Gustav” who was a year younger.  But Max was older than Julius, so how could that be him?  Then I realized that Max’s daughter, my dad’s cousin, was born in 1930 so Max was likely already married and living on his own.  After a new search, I found 25-year-old Max (indexed under the surname Bergmuset) living with his wife, Sophia.

When did Joe get a brother named Gus?

Back to Joseph and his brothers…  Um, Gustav who?  He is listed as 21 years old, one year younger than Julius.  There’s just one problem…the Bergmeister’s didn’t have a brother named Gustav.  Or did they?  Census paranoia has now set in…could there be another brother that probably died in his 20s and therefore wasn’t know by his nieces and nephews or talked about by his brothers and sisters?

I went off on a wild goose chase to see if there may have been another brother. I’ve encountered plenty of mis-information in census records before, but I always blamed the fact that my ancestors were immigrants and likely spoke in heavily accented English.  But in this case, Joseph and his brothers were all born in Philadelphia – understanding the language would not have been a problem.

After consideration, I’ve determined that the entry for Gustav is likely a mysterious mistake and not a previously unknown sibling. First, there is no oral history of this brother – I’ve met many of my second cousins, and the family stories all have the same information. My father and several of his cousins who are older than my father have no recollection of another brother. There is no sibling named Gustav listed with the family on either the 1910 or 1920 census (but then again, my grandmother, born 1913, is fully absent from both the 1920 and 1930). If there had been a brother who died before my father and his older cousins were old enough to have known and/or remember him, that brother would have likely been buried with his parents.  That grave, purchased in 1919 upon the death of the mother of the family, had room for six, but there is no Gustav buried with them.

Finally, the most compelling reason that I doubt the existence of this brother is that there were two other children born in between Julius and Margaret that would make the birth year of 1909 (based on being 21 in 1930) impossible.  The Bergmeister’s had two premature infants who died on the same day they were born: Charles in July 1909 and Laura in November 1911.  Julius was born in June, 1907, so it is conceivable (pun intended) that another child could have been born in 1908 – but not in 1909.  But in the 1910 census, mother Marie is listed as having borne 5 children, 4 of whom are living – this would include baby Charles’ death and the births of Marie, Joseph, Max, and Julius, but no Gustav.

So young Gustav remains a mystery.  I even considered that perhaps his is the brother of Joseph’s wife, Helen Pardus.  After a quick search of Helen’s family in the earlier census records, I found many siblings – but no Gustav or any brother for the approximate year.  Joseph Bergmeister has a cousin named Charles Bergmeister who was born in 1909, but he is enumerated with his mother in Elizabeth, NJ and there is no indication that either branch of the two families were ever in touch after the deaths of their fathers, the brothers Joseph and Ignatz Nicholas Bergmeister (Joseph died in 1927 and Ignatz in 1919).

I chalk Gustav up as yet another census error. Although my grandmother is missing, I’ve found others counted twice and now a phantom brother.  I’m confident that there is no brother Gus…but as a skeptical genealogist, the parish church were the Bergmeister family was baptized will be getting a call this week!

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Did you ever have a moment in your research when you realize you made a mistake?  A rather dumb mistake?  Well, bloggers aren’t afraid to publically humiliate themselves by drawing attention to their mistakes, because our dumb mistakes can serve as a lesson to others.  What’s past is prologue, right?

I recently wrote about the sister who disappeared.  She ran off and got married to someone, name unknown, and never contacted her family again.  Or at least that’s the way the story went.  The truth is – she never contacted her brother James again, my grandfather. But she apparently kept in touch with her brother Joseph!

When I heard from Joseph’s daughter, my father’s cousin, I asked if she knew anything about her missing aunt.  She knew very little – except the aunt’s married name!  Where did my cousin get this information? From her father’s death notice.  As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”

Since Joseph, my father’s uncle, died on my father’s birthday, it was one of the few family death dates that my father knew without a doubt.  I used that date to obtain a copy of Joseph’s death certificate, which provided me with his birth date (that was later verified through other records). So why didn’t I ever search for an obituary or a death notice?  Probably because I’ve rarely found one for any of my relatives. Or, I didn’t think it would tell me anything I didn’t already know.  That would be the genea-understatement of the decade.  If I had searched for one twenty years ago at the start of my research, I would have learned the missing sister’s name and place of residence in 1953.  I also would have learned the married names of my father’s two female cousins – something my father either did not know or did not remember.

So now I know.  Finally.  Let this be a lesson to you, kids – search for every piece of information you can. 

As for the sister who disappeared?  Jean Hynes.  More to come on Aunt Jean in the future.  I’ve learned a bit about her life since finding out this vital piece of information, but I still have not discovered anything about her death.  Once I do find her death date, I’ll certainly be sure to look for a death notice or obituary!

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Imagine yourself as an immigrant to America in the early 20th century.  You are happy with your decision to leave your homeland for a new life in America. Perhaps after a few years you saved enough money to send for your wife and children to join you. You have found a job, and you have found a house to live in. Perhaps you don’t yet understand the English language perfectly yet, but you are slowly learning. You may not get much practice with English though, because  your neighbors and co-workers speak your native language. One day someone knocks on your door – they are from the government, and they ask all sorts of official questions. “Who lives here?” “What are the names of your family members?” The questions were dutifully answered.

Fast forward eighty or one hundred years. Descendents of those immigrants pour over online or microfilmed images in search of answers about their ancestors. Families are found! But…is the information correct? Most of the time, it is correct. But not always, at least not in my family. Ignoring the numerous name spelling errors, the most unusual census mistakes in my family involve relatives that were counted twice!

All My Children

The first example of this was in the 1910 census for the family of Joseph and Antonina Pater (which is listed as “Potter”, or how Pater sounds in Polish).  In 1910, most of the family was living just outside of Philadelphia in the Bucks County borough of Attleboro (today known as Langhorne). Because Antonina’s mother had recently arrived and she was the oldest family member, she is listed as the head of the household (F. Annie Pluta indexed as F. Amie Theta…seriously, it’s a wonder I find anyone in the census!).  The 70-year-old F. Annie is followed by Joseph and Antonina and their six children (although there is some confusion as some are listed as grandchildren of the head of the household and others as children). The only problem? The two eldest daughters, Frances and Eva (listed as Francesca and Edna), were already married with children and living elsewhere.

Frances’ husband Paul and their son Edmund may be enumerated as a separate family underneath the Pater clan (listed under equally mangled and hard-to-read names). Eva, her husband Edward Süsser, and their children Edward and Anna are all enumerated on the census in Dover, Morris County, New Jersey (as the “Züsser” family).  In this case, only Eva is counted twice since I did not find another listing for Frances.  I believe that the married children who were not actually living with their parents were listed simply due to a language mis-understanding when the census taker asked for the names of their children.  By 1920, the Pater parents only list those children still living with them (Walter and Victoria).

By Any Other Name

A more curious case of double-counting happened in the 1930 census.  My Piontkowski ancestors, John and Rose, had been living in the United States for 25 years, so I would have assumed they had a better understanding of both the English language and what the census-taker wanted after having participated in two other federal censuses. The couple leaves out their daughter, who by this time had married and left the family, but counts their teenaged son, James, as well as their married son Joseph, his wife Catherine, and their daughter, Josephine. The entire family lives on N. Front Street in Philadelphia.

I knew that Joseph Piontkowski later used the surname Perk, but I never thought to look for Joseph Perk on the census.  Why should I? I had already found him living with his parents.  Only he really wasn’t living with his parents in 1930! I recently got in touch with my cousin, Joseph’s daughter, who had been researching her family.  When she wrote that she found the Perk family listed in the 1930 census, I did a double-take.  Sure enough, they are living on Hancock Street in Philadelphia about a mile away from his parents.  Listed are Joseph Perk, wife Katherine, daughter Josephine, and daughter Jean – who, based on the age of 0/12, had just been born!  Anyone without knowledge of the name change would certainly think that these were two different families, but they are the same.

I wonder how inflated the census numbers are/were due to difficulties with immigrants understanding the questions? Oh well, Eva Süsser, Joseph, Katherine, and Josephine Perk may all have been counted twice in one census or another – but at least that makes up for my grandmother Margaret Bergmeister not having been counted at all in both the 1920 and 1930 census!

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Update 2/8/2011 – see the follow-up to this post for more info!

Sometimes waiting to receive copies of records is worth the wait.  But sometimes it’s not.  Such was my adventure with USCIS, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  As I wrote in The Waiting Game in September, I requested a copy of my great-grandfather’s naturalization info. I did this despite the fact that I already knew his naturalization date and had a copy of the papers. But I was curious if there was anything else in the “file”.  I had two goals in mind.  First, I wanted to see if there was a photograph.  Many naturalization records contain photos, but my great-grandfather’s did not.  Did I have the complete package?  Since I only have one photo of him, it was worth finding out. Next, I had a mysterious addendum to his naturalization that I received from another agency – would the USCIS file contain it?

Let me start at the beginning.  Early on in my research, circa 1989-91, I found the naturalization papers for my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, at the Philadelphia City Archives.  He was naturalized in 1925 at the local level in the Philadelphia Quarter Sessions Court.  These local naturalizations were not available at the National Archives (and still aren’t, nor are they available online).  The City Archives had a file of index cards, and the archives’ personnel would photocopy the Declaration of Intent and the Petition for Naturalization for any name you found.

For reasons I can’t quite recall, in late 1992 I submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the Department of Justice, where the naturalization information was then held.  Perhaps I was looking for that elusive photo.  I didn’t get a photo then, either, but I got the previously received declaration and petition.  The difference was that this time, the birth dates of Louis’ children listed on the petition were blocked out for “privacy” concerns as the data was considered “personal”.  In addition to these two documents, they sent me a comical series of papers that was supposed to be Louis’ passenger arrival record…only every line on the manifest was blocked out.  This included his sister and brother-in-law’s lines above his.  If you are familiar with passenger arrival records, you know that if a family is traveling together, the persons listed underneath the first person usually get ditto marks for the repeated info.  Without the first family member, Louis’ passenger arrival record was a bunch of ditto marks.

I should point out that in 1992 when I received this, all five of his “children” were deceased anywhere from 20 to 50 years.  In fact, some of their birth dates were publicly available in the Social Security Death Index, one of the few sources of online information back then.  And, even though the Ellis Island web site was not yet operational (nor was Ancestry), the passenger list was fully available via the National Archives.

But I digress…  The DoJ file contained one additional piece of information – a barely legible typewritten letter from 1940.  It seemed to indicate that my great-grandfather committed a crime and was sentenced to two to four years in prison.  I can’t quite read the entire letter, but it was apparently meant to let the naturalization service know that they may have give citizenship to an unsavory character.  I assume that if he had committed further crimes, they would have deported him.

It was my inability to read this letter that led me to try the USCIS search.  After all, they talk about receiving a “file” so I didn’t know what other information might be included.

First I paid for an index search, which was unfortunate since it turned out that the “index number” was his naturalization number, which I already had.  But they don’t really tell you that and make it seem that the index search must precede the file search.  The index number cost $20 and took five months to receive.

Once I received the number, I submitted a Record Copy Request for $20.  Two months later, I received the “file”.  I received the Declaration of Intent, the Petition for Naturalization (shrunk to 8.5” x 11” or half the size of the original document), and his certificate.  The children’s birthdays were also blacked out on the Petition.  I had also received the certificate from the DoJ, but this copy was easier to read.  No photo.  No mysterious letter about his arrest.

With the above, I also received an amusing letter explaining that they “completed the review of all documents and have identified 3 pages that are We have reviewed and have determined to release all information except those portions that are exempt.”  I’m an employee of the U.S. Government, too, and we actually use spell-check and grammar-check.

The letter goes on to say that “certain pages contain marks that appear to be blacked-out information.  The black marks were made prior to our receipt of the file.” Which makes me wonder…where did they get the files from?  And where are the originals?  Apparently, the City Archives has unmarked copies, but the federal agencies do not.  Do the originals exist?  If the new USCIS agency (part of the Department of Homeland Security) does not have the file that the Department of Justice had, where did those files go?

I end my quest seven months later and $40 short.  My great-grandfather didn’t need a photo for his naturalization, and I received no additional information.  Are you looking for your ancestor’s naturalization?  If I were you, I’d stick to either online resources like Ancestry or Footnote.  Or, it pays to find out if there are naturalizations at the local level.  In my case, 2 of my 3 great-grandfathers were naturalized in the Philadelphia Quarter Sessions Court.  These records are kept at the City Archives.  There is an index, but it is not online.  In fact, it’s not even computerized on site – at least not twenty years ago when I was there.  It pays to review the courts used in your area and looking at the federal courts that have been indexed.

USCIS may still be worth it to some researchers, however, because in addition to naturalization records they also hold alien registration files and visas.  Even if your ancestor was not naturalized, alien immigrants were required to register with the Government in the early 1940’s.  I still may pursue this for some of my non-naturalized relatives.

As for my hard-to-read letter detailing the alleged incarceration of my great-grandfather, I never would have known about it if I hadn’t tried the FOIA request years ago.  But where those files are now is anyone’s guess.  Since scanning has improved in the last two decades, I will try to scan the photocopy and see if I can sharpen the faded text to uncover the next part of this mystery.

For more information on Naturalization Records:

 

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After some success at Finding Polish Records Online, I decided to snoop around some more, this time with the Poznan Project.  While many of my Polish ancestors come from the area in or around Warsaw, a whole other branch comes from the wielkopolskie province in what is known as “Greater Poland”.  I have two ancestral lines from the town of Wilczyn in this province, which is covered by the Poznan Marriage Indexing Project.  I entered some of my family surnames into the search form, and immediately I found several matches.

But one find really confused me.  The groom’s name and his parents’ names were familiar to me already.  The bride’s name and her parents’ names were too.  Except these two individuals are from different branches of my family tree!

I actually had to plot it out on paper to figure out what had happened.  The “note” in the indexed record helped as well: he was a widower; she was a widow.  Their deceased spouses’ names were my ancestors – both the deceased and the two newlyweds are my 4th great-grandparents.

After charting it out, I was able to see that my great-grandmother’s father’s maternal grandparents were Franciszek Michałowski (b. 1788) and Julianna Pałuszyńska (b.1797). Her mother’s maternal grandparents were  Józef Kubiński (b.1795) and Apolonia Lewandowska (b.1796). At some point, Franciszek died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Elżbieta Michałowska (b. 1824). Likewise, Apolonia died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Konstancja Kubińska (1818-1896).

In 1839, the widow Juliana and the widower Józef got married, which made their two daughters step-sisters. The previous year, Józef’s daughter Konstancja had already gotten married to Jan Drogowski (1818-1894).  But Juliana’s daughter, Elżbieta, was only 15 years old.  When Elżbieta eventually got married in 1844 to Józef Ślesiński (1821-1866), her step-father Józef was a witness to the marriage.

Still with me?  Elżbieta had a son, Wincenty (1850-1919).  Konstancja had a daugther, Stanisława (1860-1918).  Wincenty and Stanisława got married in 1879 and had my great-grandmother, Wacława (1885-1956) and a bunch of other children.  Although Wacława has eight great-grandparents like most of us, her father’s grandmother married her mother’s grandfather after their spouses had died!

Once I was able to see this second marriage, it actually explained what I thought was a discrepancy in the records.  In Elżbieta Michałowska’s death record, her maiden name is not listed as Michałowska, but as Kubińska – her step-father’s name.  Until finding this marriage record, I wasn’t able to figure out that apparent name change!

One find in an index led to mapping out the family tree to see the connection.  This just goes to show that you never know what you might find!  I don’t usually look for second marriages in indexes, and if I hadn’t found this I would not be able to find the death record of the widow since I’d be looking under her first husband’s surname.

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Yesterday I mentioned my “easy” online find of a 19th century Polish marriage record via a site called Geneteka.  In this post, I’ll provide more information on the site, what’s available, and how to navigate.  But first, a word on various Polish sites that offer genealogical records or indexes.

It’s becoming more and more common to find genealogical records online in the United States thanks to both “free” sites, such as FamilySearch, and paid subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Although FamilySearch and Ancestry both have some international records, not many are from Poland – which is where most of my ancestors are from.  But, there are Polish records available online – the only problem is knowing where to look.  There are several web sites and genealogical societies in Poland that are in the process of indexing millions of vital records, but most of the sites are in Polish (a notable exception to the language issue is the Poznan Project, which is in English).  There doesn’t seem to be one central online repository for these records, so finding them required some sleuthing and a heavy use of online translators to understand the Polish instructions.

Your first stop to check on availability of Polish records or indexes online should be the Indeks Indesków, which means the Index of Indexes.  It is in Polish, but it’s not too hard to figure out.  The site lists updated indexes in chronological order starting with the most recent.  But to see the entire list of what is available for each province, simply click on the name of the province (woj.) at the top of the page.  The column on the far left shows the Parafia/USC or the name of the town parish/civil registration office.  Next, the list will show what years are available online for chrzty/urodziny (christenings/births), małżeństwa (marriages), and zgony (deaths).  The final column, strona www, provides the link to the site or sites that have these indexes or records.  There are a dozen different sites!

Many of my Polish ancestors come from the mazowieckie provice and I was fortunate to discover that several of my main towns (Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Warszawa) all have either indexes or the actual records available via Geneteka.

A full and very detailed explanation of the Geneteka site has already been written by Al of Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research in June, 2009.  Please read his series of posts starting with Indexing Project – Geneteka Part One.  When you’re finished reading Al’s posts, come back here and I’ll explain my search.

Using this Geneteka search page, I entered my surname Piątkowski without the diacritical (entered as Piatkowski) in the box that says Nazwisko and clicked on the Wyszukaj button.

Search results for "Piatkowski"

Next, I chose to view the 93 marriage records listed under Warszawa to see the following results:

Search results for "Piatkowski" in marriage records for Warszawa

Scrolling down to find “Stanisław”, I see the names of my great-great-grandparents:

Piatkowski-Konopka search result

The first column is merely the number of the record within the total number of records found.  Next is the year the marriage took place, followed by the number of the record in the actual record book.  Next is the name of the groom, then the bride, and the church name.  The icon that looks like the letter “i” is included with some lines.  If you hold your mouse over the “i” you will see additional information (have an online translation tool handy).  The “A” icon will tell you who indexed the record.  Finally, the most important part of the line is the icon that reads “SKAN” at the end of the line.  This is not available for all of the indexed records, but if it is shown you are in luck – click it and you will see a scanned copy of the image.  (Note: some of the scanned images are located on the Geneteka site and others link to Polish Archives – my sample for this post links to one of the Archives so if you click on “skan” for another image it may look different than the images that follow.) First you will see the record group that the image is in, such as the following:

This page opens up after clicking on "skan" next to the Piatkowski-Konopka information.

I knew from the indexed information that I needed record number 194, so I clicked on the first image on this page.  It opens up a larger view of the records, and you can clearly read the number.  Then I used the navigation buttons on the side to find #194.

Navigate through the records until you find the correct number (located in upper left of each record).

Once you find the correct image,  you can save it to your computer.  It’s FREE!  Then all you need is either your trusty copy of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents.  Volume I:  Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman or your favorite Polish translator to help you uncover the details found in your record!

What if you find a name, but there is no “skan” at the end of the line?  That means they have not (yet?) scanned the record.  However, you now have both the year and the akt (act) number, which means you can contact the archives in that region to get a copy.  There will be a fee to obtain it, but it will be less than if you required them to research the name in the indexes themselves to find the correct year and act number.

This isn’t a full explanation of the Geneteka site – I am still figuring it all out myself.  Al already gave a very good primer on how to use the site, and I highly recommend his series that I linked to above.  My main goal in writing this post was to let others who are researching Polish ancestry know that the records are out there (to borrow a phrase from the television show X-Files).  Unfortunately, the records are being indexed by over a dozen different groups, and there is no one central site for this information.  Check the Index of Indexes to see if your ancestors’ parishes have been indexed yet.  If they haven’t – keep checking the site!  It is updated frequently.  All of the indexing sites appear to be quite active.  This marriage record only appeared in the last month.  If anyone else has good luck in finding a record on one of the many Polish sites, I’d love to hear more so leave a comment.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an “easy” button for genealogy?  Can’t find a record? Just press the “easy” button!  Well, occasionally even genealogists get lucky and find something easily.  Since so many record are available online, a lot of research can be as easy as clicking a button.  But when your ancestors lived in a state as vital-record-strict as Pennsylvania, or from parts of Poland and Germany that don’t seem to work with the big online record sites, “easy” isn’t common.

For my new year genealogy resolutions, I made a wish list list of 11 goals for 2011.  A few were research-specific, including number 9 – “Find the marriage record for Stanisław Piątkowski & Apolonia Konopka.”  I didn’t necessarily put it on the list because I thought it would be easy; it was just one of those records I needed to find in order to continue researching each of those ancestral lines.  I didn’t expect to achieve that goal eight days into the new year.  And it was easy!

I found the couple’s marriage record online.  Now, in today’s genealogical world, that doesn’t sound unusual.  It is quite common to find records online.  But a marriage record from Warsaw, Poland?  From 1863?  On a free online site that isn’t called FamilySearch and isn’t affiliated with Ancestry?  To borrow a phrase from Randy Seaver, I was genea-smacked.  If only the rest of my genealogical research could be this easy.  The source of my great-great-grandparents’ marriage record is called Geneteka.  If you want to learn more about what it is, what records are available, and how to use it, stay tuned for my next post.  If only research was always this easy…

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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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Recently I tried searching the collection of German vital records at the FamilySearch Record Search site.  There are three indexes for Germany:

The information in these indexes was extracted from original sources and entered into a database.  Because there is no list of actual sources used for the indexes, and no list of place names included, it is hard to determine if the collection is useful to your area of German research without trying a search.   (FamilySearch: If you are reading this, consider adding a listing of all localities or microfilm rolls used!)  I tried my various Bavarian lines and found a few familiar names, but to summarize my findings I will echo a previous posting of mine – An Index is Only as Good as Its Spelling.

When using these indexes, beware of name errors.  For example, I searched for the names of my 4th great-grandparents, Wolfgang and Juliana Fischer.  In my previous research using original records that were microfilmed by the LDS, I learned their names in the marriage record of their son, Franz Xaver Fischer, and his bride, Barbara Gürtner (my 3rd great-grandparents).

In this original record, I had transcribed Franz Xaver’s parents’ names as Wolfgang Fischer and Julianna Guggenberger and confirmed these names in his birth record.  On the FamilySearch site, I searched the Germany indexes for Wolfgang Fischer and found three hits in the marriage record collection.  Two are for Wolgang and Julianna’s son, Franz Xaver (his marriage to my ancestor was his second).  One is for Wolfgang and Julianna’s daughter, Therese.  Although it is the same couple, the spelling of Julianna’s maiden name is listed in 3 different ways in the index:

On 21 May 1839, Xaver Fischer marries M. Anna Breu in Pfaffenhofen.  The index has Xaver’s (or Franz Xaver, depending on the record) correct date of birth and birthplace – 06 Oct 1813 in Langenbruck.  His parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Huffenberger.  The source film number is listed as 816429, which is Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872 – Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888, Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen).

Next, Xaver’s sister Theres Fischer, born 11 May 1816 in “Agilberg” [which is incorrectly spelled in the index and should be Agelsberg], marries Joseph Rainer on 25 Feb 1840 in Waal.  Her parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Guggenberger.  The source film number is 817563, which is Taufen 1864-1882 Heiraten, Tote 1803-1878 -  Kirchenbuch, 1551-1956, Katholische Kirche Waal (BA. Pfaffenhofen).

The third record is for Xaver’s marriage on 27 Apr 1841 in Pfaffenhofen.  Since he is now listed as a widower, it is presumed his first wife died.  His birthdate and place are the same as the previous record.  The bride’s name is listed as Barbara Hürtner (born 14 Dec  1814).  Xaver’s parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Huttenberger.  The source film number is 816429 (same as above).

So, is Julianna’s maiden name Huffenberger, Huttenberger, or Guggenberger?  Well, based on viewing the original source for Franz Xaver’s birth as well as his marriages, my guess was Guggenberger – despite the fact that the index lists her name as Huttenberger for the marriage record to my ancestress.  It should be noted that the indexer also records Gürtner as Hürtner, so maybe they had difficulty distinguishing the priest’s handwriting for G’s and H’s.

I decided to pull out my copies of the original records to see why the name’s spelling varies so much.  On the birth record for Franz Xaver, which does not appear in the FamilySearch collection of birth records, the mother’s name is clearly Guggenberger (well, it’s clear if you are used to reading German handwriting):

Mother's name in birth record for Fr. Xaver Fischer, born 06 October 1813 in Langenbruck, Bavaria. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816428, Taufen 1736-1816.

In the two marriage records for Xaver (who did not use “Franz” as a first name), it is easy to see why an indexer may have difficulty with the mother’s name.  In both records, the “gg” in the name appears to be written over a “tt”.  His father’s name is written over a crossed-out stepfather’s name since his father, Wolfgang, died when Xaver was a young boy.

Xaver's parents' names on his 1839 marriage record. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816429, Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872.

Xaver’s first wife died shortly after giving birth to their first child, Casper, in December, 1840.  The baby also died at 10 days old.  Xaver found a new wife five months later, which was a necessary custom of the time.

Xaver's parents' names on his 1839 marriage record. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816429, Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872.

As you can see from the original records, it is easy to understand why the indexer could not get the name “right”.  I would not be sure of the correct spelling unless I looked at other sources, such as Xaver’s birth.  I do not have a copy of Xaver’s sister’s marriage, which is the only one of the 3 indexed records to show “Guggenberger” as the mother’s name.  Interestingly enough, I have the record of Juliana’s second marriage after Wolfgang Fischer’s death.  In it she is listed as the widow Juliana Fischer, but her parents’ names or birth information are not provided.  I have not been able to locate the marriage of Wolfgang and Juliana either.

Just as you can’t trust online family trees without verifying the information by using original sources, you also can’t trust online indexes.  In the case of the indexes I list above, you are not able to see the original records online, but the source microfilm number is provided.  It is highly suggested that you turn to that source to confirm and verify.

Because the indexes can be wrong – as shown above – it is also recommended that you try a variety of spellings when performing name searches.  In fact, if you click on “advanced search”, you can even search for a first name “Wolfgang” and a spouse name of “Juliana”, then narrow down the results by choosing a particular collection of records (I can’t figure out how to do this in the “beta” but the regular FamilySearch allows it).  This won’t work very well with overly common names, but for unusual first names it might work.

It is also important to note that FIRST names don’t follow any set rules in the indexes either.  For example, Josef may be indexed as Josef, the anglicized Joseph (though it wasn’t likely to actually say that in the German record), or the Latinized Josephum.

While these indexes can be a useful tool in guiding you to other sources, they are just that – a tool.  The indexes should not be used as an original source, but instead should lead you to that original record source.  Take note of the record’s source information, look up that microfilm roll in the catalog, and then order it to check it for yourself.

When you try the indexes, keep an open mind when it comes to spellings, because you might miss out on a potential source if you are too “strict” with your spelling choices!

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Genealogical research used to be all about waiting.  When I began researching my roots twenty years ago, very few records were available online.  Actually, I don’t think any records were available online.  Researching the records I needed involved driving to their physical location to slowly scroll through microfilm.  Usually you would first have to find a record in an index film, and then perform a similar scroll through another film to find the record.

Now, I’m spoiled.  That same research process today takes seconds thanks to sites like Familysearch.org and Ancestry.com that have many records available online.  But, unfortunately, our ancestors’ pasts haven’t been completely digitized yet, so occasionally I still have to rely on microfilm as well as another of my research techniques from those early days – the mail.

Pennsylvania is one of those states that restricts access to vital records after 1906 and does not allow records to be posted online*.  The requester also has to be related to the deceased and provide a lot of the information that is usually the reason one requests such a record in the first place.  Regular postal mail today is called “snail mail” for a reason, and it is even more so applicable when waiting for a requested record from the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records.  On June 14, I requested two death certificates.  For one, I knew the exact death date.  For the other, I knew the month and year of death.  My checks were cashed on June 29.  And I waited.  And waited.

When I wrote this post earlier this week, I was still waiting.  But as luck would have it, I finally received the records before I could complain about it by posting this to my blog.  The receipt date was September 16 – a mere three months after I requested it.  Oddly enough, I pulled out some notebooks from the beginning days of my research – and was surprised by what I found.  I was more organized back then, so I recorded dates for my record requests and receipts.  Not only did the death records cost $3 in 1990 vs. today’s $9, but the average response time was three weeks.   Also, you weren’t required to already know all of the facts on the record you were requesting!

Sometimes even information you can order online requires playing the waiting game. Around the same time I ordered those death certificates, I placed a request for an index search from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).  I actually already know the person’s naturalization date and have a copy of the papers; however, I requested the search to see if any additional papers are included in this ancestor’s file.  I’m still waiting for that response.  The website indicates that they are currently processing requests from mid-May, so I may have an answer by Thanksgiving.

While Familysearch.org has made genealogists’ lives easier with many records available online, they haven’t yet completed the monumental task of digitizing their entire catalog.  For the rest of those records, the waiting game is just like it used to be back in those early days of my research.  I’m gearing up to drive to my local Family History Center to order a microfilm.  Then I’ll wait.  And maybe call to see if they forgot to call me.  Then wait some more.  Then pray that the record I am looking for can actually be found on that particular film.

As images fly by on my computer screen via blog posts, tweets, RSS feeds, emails, and Facebook status updates, I will (not so) patiently wait for the mailman and the FHL microfilm delivery phone call to arrive.  The waiting game can be difficult if you’ve been spoiled over the last twenty years by technological advances, but the results, once eventually received, are as sweet as they ever were.

*For information on a grass roots effort to make Pennsylvania’s vital records more accessible, see the People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access  (PaHR-Access).

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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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In 1944’s movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland’s character is in love with the boy next door.  She sings about him in the appropriately titled “The Boy Next Door”, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane:

The moment I saw him smile,
I knew he was just my style,
My only regret is we’ve never met,
Though I dream of him all the while.

But he doesn’t know I exist,
No matter how I may persist,
So it’s clear to see there’s no hope for me,
Though I live at 5135 Kensington Avenue
And he lives at 5133.

How can I ignore
The boy next door?
I love him more than I can say.
Doesn’t try to please me, doesn’t even tease me,
And he never sees me glance his way.

And though I’m heart-sore
The boy next door affection for me won’t display,
I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

Fred and Dottie Kelly with their daughter Colleen.

The song is one of several Martin-Blane hits from the movie.  But did you know that it was based on a true story of a girl who fell in love with the boy next door?  Fortunately in her case, the boy did glance her way and married her or else they would have never inspired Martin and Blane to write the song!  The boy next door was Fred Kelly from Pittsburgh, PA.  Fred had an older brother that you may have heard of by the name of Eugene – otherwise known to the world as Gene Kelly who sang and danced to through the most beloved movie musicals of the 1940s and 50s.  Fred’s girl next door was Dorothy (Dottie) Greenwalt.

Fred and Dottie really did grow up on Kensington Street in Pittsburgh, but their actual addresses didn’t fit the music as well as 5133 and 5135.  Based on the 1930 census, 13-year-old Frederick Kelly lived at 7514 Kensington Street, and 8-year-old Dorothy Greenwalt lived at 7530.  It wasn’t exactly “next door”, but it was close enough for the youngsters to meet and fall in love.

Kelly household at 7514 Kensington St. in the 1930 Federal Census for Pittsburgh, PA.

Greenwalt household at 7530 Kensington St on the same page.

Fred and Dottie married during Broadway rehearsals for the Irving Berlin show “This is the Army” in which Fred was performing.  Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane were also involved with the production, and they asked the newlyweds how they met.  Dottie replied, “I just adored the boy next door.”  Then the couple showed the writers their driver’s licenses to prove it!  Martin and Blane wrote “The Boy Next Door” with Fred and Dottie in mind.  The song went on to be a huge hit and was recorded by many other artists besides Judy Garland.

In my own family, I also discovered an instance of a girl marrying the boy next door – my grandparents.  In the 1930 census, we see 18-year-old Henry Pater living at 2506 Indiana Avenue in Philadelphia, and 22-year old May (Mae) Zawodny living at 2512.  While it is true that the couple lived at those addresses, the “facts” as shown on the census are a bit confusing.  First, both Henry and Mae were already married but are shown as living with their parents.  That they were living in separate addresses despite their marriage is likely true, because at the time of the marriage on 01 Feb 1930, Henry was only 17 years old.  The couple didn’t quite tell their parents right away, and it wasn’t until they were married in a church ceremony in June that they were able to live together.

The Zawodny and Pater households in the 1930 Federal Census for Philadelphia, PA.

Mae and Henry Pater with daughter Anita (1937).

In the Pater household, Henry is listed as single.  But the enumeration record for the Zawodny household is not correct at all.  The father, Joseph, is listed as a widow.  However, his actual living wife, Laura, is listed as a sister.  Mae is shown as married for two months, which is true, but she is listed as a “daughter-in-law” to Joseph, not as his daughter.  Also, her presumed husband is listed as Charles, who was in fact her brother and still single at 19 years old.  If only I could see film or video of the visit of the census-taker to their household…I am sure my grandmother was behind the mis-information!

While Henry and Mae didn’t have a song written about them like Fred and Dottie, they are yet another tale of a girl falling in love with “the boy next door” – or on the same street, anyway.  Have you looked closely at the census records in your family?  Did anyone fall in love with the boy (or girl) next door?

Source Information:

  • Kelly-Greenwalt Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll  1977; Page: 27B; Enumeration District: 229.
  • Pater-Zawodny Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2110; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 914.
  • Photo of Fred, Dottie and Colleen Kelly used with permission from Colleen Kelly Beaman.   Please see her web site, Dance Kelly Style, for more information on Fred Kelly and the Kelly family’s legacy of dance.
  • For more even more information on Fred Kelly, see his biography on my Gene Kelly site.  To see a photo of his childhood home on Kensington Street, see the biography on Marc Baron’s site.
  • For more information on the Pater and Zawodny families, continue to read this blog or click on the surnames in the side bar!

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How is Josef Bergmeister related to “my” Josef Bergmeister?

Our story began when I discovered a reference to a Josef Bergmeister who died fighting for Germany in World War I.  This Josef was from Puch, the hometown of my great-grandfather of the same name.  The town is very small, so I assumed they were related.  Thanks to Ancestry’s release of the Bavarian World War I Personnel Rosters, I learned more about Josef, including when he was born, his parents’ names, and how he died in 1916.  In fact, I learned about many other Bergmeister men, too.  Although the indexing is not yet complete (see the main search page for more details), there are thirteen Bergmeister men listed.  Of these, eight are directly related to my great-grandfather – including Josef whose name was inscribed on the memorial in Puch.  With the help of my cousin Armin Bergmeister, I’ve assembled the following tree showing the names of the Bergmeister men up until the World War I timeframe. Click on the image to enlarge.

The soldier Josef and my great-grandfather Josef are first cousins once removed.  Josef’s own first cousin, Anton, also died in the war just weeks before him.  With their deaths, the Bergmeister family in the town of Puch ended.  Other Bergmeister relatives had moved to other towns in Bavaria as well as the United States, but nearly three hundred years of the Bergmeister family in Puch came to an abrupt end.  Both Josef and Anton were second cousins to my grandmother and her three brothers that were born in the United States (and their German-born sister).

My great-grandfather also lost two of his second cousins in the war, Sigmund and Hermann.  Two of his third cousins (Andreas and Magnus) fought as well as his third cousin’s son, Anton, and his 5th cousin Ignatz.

I chose to focus on the soldier Josef for this story, but each of the soldier’s stories – as gleaned from the rosters – is worth remembering.  Unfortunately, we have no photograph of Josef, but thanks to my cousin Armin I can share a photograph of one of these Bergmeister soldiers, Sigmund – Armin’s grandfather.  Sigmund died on 15 August 1916 at the age of 31, leaving behind one child.   His brother Hermann died less  than two years later at the age of 24, leaving behind two children.

Lieutenant Sigmund Bergmeister, 1885-1916

There are many men named Josef on the Bergmeister family tree.  I am currently familiar with cousins from three distinct lines of descent: 1) my own family’s descent through Josef (son of Josef, son of Jakob, son of Josef), 2) the line descended from Johann (son of Castulus, son of Jakob, son of Josef), and 3) the line descended from the soldier Sigmund (son of Sebastian, son of Simon, son of Josef).  In my own American line, the name Joseph Bergmeister was passed on and is currently owned by a handsome young man, my second cousin once removed.  He is the sixth straight Joseph/Josef Bergmeister – and would have been the 8th straight if it weren’t for his 4th great-grandfather, Jakob.  There is also a current Josef Bergmeister in Germany, my 3rd cousin once removed and a very charitable host along with his brother Hans and their wives.  They are both descended from the Castulus line. (See a photo of Castulus as well as my Josef on The Bergmeister Family page!)

So, one mystery was solved.  Thanks to the Bavarian military rosters, I now know more about Josef Bergmeister, the previously unknown soldier, as well as many other Bergmeister cousins my great-grandfather left behind when he came to America.

But wait!  Now there’s a new mystery…how are we all related to the other five men named Bergmeister listed in the personnel rosters?  We already have a hint that the “other” Philadelphia Bergmeister family is originally from the town of Hoerdt and is related to at least one of these men.  As to how far back we have to go to connect the two, and who the other four men are, those are mysteries still waiting to be solved!

Need help figuring out relationships and what “removed” cousins are?  See The Family Relationship Chart

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What happened at the battle that cost Josef his life?  How were his American cousins affected by the same war?

In Part 3 we read Josef Bergmeister’s service record and discovered that he died as a result of injuries sustained during the battle of Fleury-Thiaumont in July, 1916.  Today’s post will discuss this battle in more detail.

The town names of Fleury and Thiaumont may not be familiar, but surely everyone has heard of the Battle of Verdun, the bloodiest and perhaps the longest battle in history.  The Battle of Verdun was a series of battles from 21 February – 19 December 1916 between the German and French armies on the Western Front.  The numbers alone paint a picture of what happened there.  In the end, an estimated 250,000 men were killed, and another 500,000 were wounded.  Approximately 40 million artillery shells were used by both sides during the fight.  The battlefield itself was not very large – just a long and narrow piece of land.

During the Battle of Verdun, the town of Fleury changed hands between the German and the French sixteen times.  The town was completely destroyed and is uninhabited today.  To the German army, the small town was the gateway to Verdun, which in turn would lead directly to Paris.  During the month of June, 1916, the Germans fought hard to move into the town.  By the end of June, it was reported that it was unbearably hot.

On 23 June, the Germans launched a chemical attack with 110,000 grenades of poisonous gas.  Although many French soldiers died from the chemical attack, their gas masks withstood the gas better than the Germans had expected.  But the chemical gas, constant bombardment from artillery, and the oppressive heat were all affecting the troops; both sides described the terrible stench from corpses rotting in the heat.  Josef Bergmeister’s first cousin, Anton Bergmeister, from the 10th Infantry Regiment, was killed here on 24 June at the age of 19.

By mid-July, the Germans were in control of Fleury, but there were many small attacks in the area in an effort to gain high ground and some fortifications.  On 12 July, the French received orders to regain Fleury.  A fierce battle was fought from 15-19 July in which each side attempted to gain more ground.

A photo of Bavarian soldiers in the trenches at Fleury used with permission from The Soldier's Burden, http://www.kaiserscross.com/40047/124001.html.

Josef Bergmeister’s brigade (8th Company, 11th Bav. Infantry Regiment, 12th Bav. Brigade, 6th Bavarian Division) has missed the fighting in this area and had been fighting in St. Mihiel.  His regiment went into the front lines on 17-18 July and suffered such losses that a telegraph was sent to immediately send 500 replacement troops.  Did Josef know that his cousin Anton was killed at Thiaumont just weeks earlier?

Josef was injured by an artillery shell on 18 July in his arm and leg.  After being transferred to a hospital, he died on 01 August.  His comrades and his enemies continued the fight, and with each battle the area around Fleury and Thiaumont is captured and re-captured over and over with little meaning to the overall war effort.  Thousands lay dead on the battlefield.

Josef’s entire division left Verdun on 5 August, and by early September they were fighting another well-known and long series of battles: the Somme.  The division again endured considerable losses.  The Battle of Verdun continued through December 1916.  The final statistics show French casualties at Verdun as 371,000, including 60,000 killed, 101,000 missing and 210,000 wounded. Total German casualties are recorded as 337,000 men. The statistics also confirm that at least 70% of the Verdun casualties on both sides were the result of artillery fire.  Men like Josef Bergmeister that were taken from the battlefield to hospitals were given burials in cemeteries, but it is estimated that 100,000 men remain on the battlefield today – buried where they fell.

The site The Soldier’s Burden offers a detailed glimpse into the lives of the soldiers on all “sides” of the war and gives testament to their struggles and losses.  On a page recounting the battle in which Josef Bergmeister died, another Bavarian soldier, Hans Heiß of the Bavarian Leib Regiment, describes the battle.  I have reprinted most of the description with permission here:

A red streak in the starry night, then another, then another. They burst into red stars. Are they fireworks? A game? No, they are serious, deadly serious. Whizzing over Fleury and Douaumont. The Frenchies had noticed that we were being relieved and had called up an artillery barrage. A barrage meant hell!

Run Comrades, run for your lives!

There is the railway embankment… a ghostly area, keep running. The first salvo comes screaming in… flames, smoke… keep running… move forward. Into the hollow ground beyond… here hell opened up! Whizzing, Howling, gurgling the shells come in. Black earth, smoke and flames shoot up into the air. A wall of death.

Panting, the breath is stilted. Jumping from shell hole to shell hole… through! then FORWARD! Keep running!

Up the embankment, stumbling, falling. The heart beating in the throat…falling, getting up, continuing. Foam on the lips… up there, the large shell crater… get into it! Once there you can get your breath back. Almost there, there where they are all headed for.

Whizz, bang! Flame and smoke… right in the heavy shell hole! Don’t go in, pass it by!

Here they crawl forward, blood stained and blackened by smoke “Kamerad! Kamerad! For God’s sake… help me!” “And me!” “And me!”

Cannot, have to get forward into position… don’t listen, don’t look! Go past! Move… faster!

…. There! There! It is terrible, someone is burning. He tosses his burning backpack away but his uniform is burning. Ha, ha, ha! Laughing, laughing at the sky…he has gone mad.

Burying the head in the sand. See nothing, Hear nothing, think nothing!  Think nothing!

Then it was over and we could move forward.

It will be four days in the front line now. Four endless, terrible, desperate days. And four terrible nights. And if we survive… the same road through hell back again.

Two men pass carrying in a wounded man wrapped in a shelter half.  A whizz and a bang. Flame and smoke, all three men are swept away, the medics and wounded man ripped apart, gone forever. No! No! No further! Throw it all away, the backpack, rifle, gasmask… and now run! Run! Run far away.. far away from this hell…

Fleury today. The depressions remain from the artillery fire. Photo courtesy of Chris Boonzaier.

New York Times headline, December 31, 1918.

Meanwhile, in the United States German immigrants were far from the battlefield, but life was difficult in other ways.  The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  Germans living in the U.S. were warned to obey the law and surrender any weapons, explosives, or radios.  Any who did not comply were arrested.  Any non-naturalized German that was believed to be aiding the enemy were arrested and interred.  By December, 1917, all male Germans in cities with populations over 5,000 had to report to either the post office or police station to register; the same rules applied to female Germans the following May.

Most of these records no longer exist, but I did once see the list of Philadelphia “enemy alien registrations” (now missing).  In it were the names and addresses of my great-grandparents, Josef (now known as Joseph) and Marie Bergmeister, and their 20-year-old German-born daughter, Marie.  My great-grandfather had not yet declared his intent to become a citizen of the United States, but he had lived in the country since 1900.  Their four American-born children were safe from the registration requirements.

The Joseph Bergmeister living in America, despite being considered an “enemy alien” required to register with the authorities, was also required to register for the selective service act.  On 12 September 1918, he registered for military service with the U.S. draft board in Philadelphia, PA, but he was never called into service by the U.S. military.  Joseph’s brother Ignatz also registered with the draft board in Elizabeth, NJ on the same day.

Joseph Bergmeister's WWI draft card. Note that the German-born "Joseph" still signs his name Josef!

My relatives left no diaries or letters to reveal what they thought about these regulations, or about the war with their homeland, or if they knew the fate of their cousins in Germany or even kept in touch after immigration.  One can only wonder what it felt like to suddenly be considered “the enemy” in the country you called home for so many years.

In Part 5, the final post in this series on the Bavarian Military Rosters, we will discover how closely the two Josef Bergmeister’s are related and see how many Bergmeister men were involved in the war fighting for Germany.

Sources:

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Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record

Who was Josef Bergmeister? How did he die?

In Part 1 of this series on Bavarian Military Rosters, I discovered an “unknown soldier” in the German Army that was likely related to my great-grandfather of the same name.  In Part 2, I presented what the Bavarian Military Personnel Record Books, or Kriegsstammrolle, looked like during World War 1.  Today we will explore the personnel record of the mysterious Josef Bergmeister – and finally learn the details of his short life and death.

Here is Josef’s personnel record (click on the image  – when it appears on the page, click again for a close-up):

Record for Josef Bergmeister. SOURCE: Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 > Band 00278-04011. Infanterie > Band 000344-02336. Infanterie-Regimenter > Band 01198-01258. 11. bayer. Infanterie-Regiment > 1227. Kriegstammrolle: Bd. 1

Before transcribing and translating the record, there are some sites will offer other researchers some assistance.  First, one must be familiar with German handwriting.  The best site I have seen on this topic is How to Read German Handwriting.  In addition, it may be useful to become familiar with some German military terms.  A good resource is the German-English Military Dictionary, which was compiled by the U.S. military in 1944.

First, the transcription of Josef’s record:

1.  Iaufende Nummer: 462

2.  Dienstgrad: Inf[antrist]

3.  Vor- und Familienname: Josef Bergmeister

4.  Religion: kath[olisch]

5.  Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt): Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern/ Datum der Geburt:19.04.1894

6.  Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe): Ökonom / Wohnort: Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

7.  Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist: ledig

8.  Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern: Johann und Therese Bergmeister, Ökonom, Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

9.  Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron: 11. I[nfantrie)-R[egiment], 8. Kp [=Kompanie]

10.  Dienstverhältnisse: a) frühere, b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung:

a)  ./.

b) 1915   1.7. b. II./E. 13. Inf. Rgt. 1. Rekr Depot als Rekrut
1915   12. 7 z. Rekr. Depot III b. A. K Komo F versetzt
1915   30.9 z. 10. I. R. 11. Kp. in Feld
1915   5.11. z. 8./11. I. R. versetzt

11.  Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen:  ./.

12.  Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen: 20.09.15 – 15.7.16 Kämpfe auf den Maashöhen; 15.7. – 8.7.16 Kämpfe um Fleury und Zwischenwerk Thiaumont

[Written in the section underneath: ]  Pocken- Typhus- und Cholera-Schutzimpfung vorgenommen
Am 18.07.1916 dh. A. G. [= durch Artilleriegranate] am r[echten] Fuß u[nd] l[inken] Arm schwer verwundet u[nd] ins Feldlaz[arett] No. 5 der H.gr. I. d. eingeliefert. Am 20.7.1916 ins Etappenlazarett Pierrepont (:Schule:) überführt und dortselbst am 1.8.1916 nachm[ittags] 6:15 verstorben. Todesursache: Bruch r[echter] Oberschenkel (: Amputation) u[nd]Gasphlegmon.  Am 2.08.16 auf dem Militärfriedhof zu Pierrepont beerdigt. Grab No 493.  Anerkannt 18.9.1916 Leutnant d[er] R[eserve] u[nd] Komp[anie]-Führer

Rather than translate the record word for word into English, I will sum up the pertinent details.  Josef Bergmeister was born on 19 April 1894 in Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria to Johann and Therese Bergmeister.  He was an “economist” in Puch and single.  Josef entered the army as a recruit on 01 July 1915.  He was originally assigned to the 10th Infantry Regiment as an infantryman, but in November 1915 the regiment was combined with another and became the 11th Infantry Regiment.  On 15-18 July 1916 his unit took part in the battles at Fleury and Thiaumont in France.  On 18 July, Josef was severely wounded by an artillery shell.  He was taken to a field hospital and transferred to another hospital at Pierrepont on 20 July.  At 6:15 on 01 August, Josef died.  His cause of death is listed as amputation of crushed thigh and gangrene.  The following day he was buried in Grave No. 493 at the military cemetery in Pierrepont.  He was 22 years old.

Three Bavarian infantry soldiers in 1914.

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29007475@N08/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With this record, I finally knew who Josef was.  Before I could connect him to my own Bergmeister family, I wanted to find out more about the battle in which he died.  My knowledge of World War I was poor, and now I was curious to learn more.  Part 4 will provide more details about this horrific battle which was part of a series of battles between the German and French armies from February through December of 1916 – the Battle of Verdun.  It will also give a glimpse into what life in America was like for German immigrants.  Finally, Part 5 will sort out who’s who in the Bergmeister family – how are the “Josefs” related?

Many thanks to my cousin (and Josef’s cousin) Armin Bergmeister for the record transcription and help with the translation into English!

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The Bavarian Military Rosters – What were they? What does it say?

In Part 1 – Cousins, Countries, and War – I spoke of the discovery of a German soldier with my great-grandfather’s name – Josef Bergmeister.  This particular Josef came from the same town my great-grandfather was born in – were they related?  Thanks to a new group of records available on Ancestry.com, I was about to find out.  But first, what are these records?  What information do they have?  And more importantly – what do the German words mean?

[Note: A subscription to Ancestry.com is required to view these records.  If you do not have a subscription, check on availability at your local library.]

The main search page (image shown above) for the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 is found here.  Whether you search for a surname or for a particular individual, you will notice what appears to be more than one entry per person in the search results.  For example, a search for “Josef Bergmeister” resulted in the following hits:

Based on the birth dates and town names, there appear to be records for two different men named Josef Bergmeister.  Why are there several records for each?  Because these personnel record books, or Kriegstammrolle, were kept for each military unit.  If a soldier was transferred to another unit, he was recorded in the personnel records for the new unit as well as the old.  In addition, there is a separate roster for the soldiers who died.  To get a soldier’s full story, you should look at each of the search results.

Fortunately, the personnel rosters seem to follow the same format.  Each book has two pages with fifteen columns of information.  The following images show the column headings and the English translations.

1 – Iaufende Nummer – Seriel Number

2 – Dienstgrad – Rank

3 – Vor- und Familienname – First and Last Name

4 – Religion – Religion

5 – [top] Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt) – Location (County, State of Birth)

[bottom] Datum der Geburt – Date of Birth

6 – [top] Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe) – Occupation (literally „position in life“) (Profession, Company)

[bottom] Wohnort – Place of Residence

7 – Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist – First and Last Name of Wife; Number of Children; Note that the person is Single

8 – Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern – First and Last Names, Occupation, and Place of Residence of Parents

9 – Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron) – Military Unit (Company, Squadron)

10 – Dienstverhältnisse – Service Relationship

a) frühere – earlier

b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung – after mobilization

11 – Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen – Orders, Decorations, and Other Awards

12 – Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen – Battles; Remarkable Acheivements

13 – Kommandos und besondere Dienstverhältnisse. Kriegsgefangenschaft.  – Commands and Special Service Conditions.  Prisoner of War.

14 – Führung. Gerichtliche Bestrafungen Rehabilitierung. – Leadership.  Judicial Punishments Rehabilitation.

15 – Bemerkungen – Remarks

Now that we know what the columns mean, how do we actually read a handwritten record?

Coming up in Part 3 we’ll transcribe and translate the service record for Josef Bergmeister.  As you can see from the information above, the record will tell us quite about about his life as well as his death.

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Who was a German soldier who bore my great-grandfather’s name?

In 1998, I visited my Bavarian great-grandparents’ town for the first time.  I was not well-prepared to do any genealogical research because the trip came about as a convenient accident, not through careful planning.  While I was in the general area for work-related travel, I knew I had to make a detour to their town, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Back then, I hadn’t traced either family too far back, but through my great-grandparents’ marriage record I knew that he, Josef Bergmeister, was from the nearby town of Puch, and she, Maria Echerer, was from Pfaffenhofen.

Some friends from a different region of Germany met me there – they thought it would be an amusing weekend trip to visit a “foreign” area of their own country and see their American friend.  One joked about this tiny town they drove through called Puch.  “Wait,” I said, “that’s my great-grandfather’s town!  Can you show it to me?”  They said yes, but assured me that it was so tiny, there wasn’t much to see.

The next day, we drove a 2-car convoy to Puch from Pfaffenhofen (approximately 8 miles).  They drove the lead car and came to a stop in what was presumably the center of town.  My friend got out of the car and  came up to my window asking, “Is there anything to actually see here?”

I was busy squinting over his shoulder.  “Yes,” I replied, pointing beyond where he stood, “there’s that!”

Memorial in Puch, Bavaria, Germany to the dead and missing soldiers from both world wars.

Who is Josef Bergmeister?

Who is this Josef Bergmeister?

We had stopped directly in front of a war memorial – every European town, no matter how small or large, has one.  On this particular monument to the sons of Puch who perished in the world wars, I noticed a familiar name – Josef Bergmeister, who died in 1916.  Another Josef Bergmeister from Puch?  Surely it was a cousin, or perhaps a nephew!  I took a photo of the monument and knew I’d find the answer one day.

My research continued on the Bergmeister line, but I focused on going backward so I never fully investigated the Josef who had died fighting in the war.  I eventually even met Bergmeister cousins who still live in Pfaffenhofen, but when I asked about the Puch relatives, they merely replied, “There are no more Bergmeisters in Puch.”

It remained a mystery.  I could have looked further into birth and death records to find the answer, but the records available from the Family History Center ended in 1900 and I did not write to the church or town directly for more information.

Josef remained my own personal “unknown soldier” – until now.  Recently Ancestry.com added a new set of records to their growing international collection – the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918.  While my direct ancestors immigrated to the United States more than a decade before the first world war, I was able to find out significant information about the lives and deaths of the cousins they left behind.

Join me this week as I explore these records and tell Josef’s story.  Today’s introduction is Part 1 of a 5-part series which will include the following:

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October is Polish-American Heritage Month!  The Polish American Center describes this event as “a national celebration of Polish history, culture and pride.”  Even if you don’t have any Polish ancestry, it’s a great time to learn more about Polish history and culture.  Last year What’s Past is Prologue hosted a month-long Polish History and Culture Challenge – all contributions can be found in this post.  I’m not quite as organized this year, but I want to offer some tips on celebrating your Polish heritage with the Top Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month:

If you have Polish Ancestry…

  • Locate an immigrant ancestor’s place of origin ~ Ancestry magazine has a great guide to help here.
  • Find a church record for one of your ancestors ~ here are some translation aids to help once you find it.
  • Find and translate the Słownik Geograficzny entry for your ancestor’s hometown ~ here’s a guide to assist.
  • Learn the origin and meaning of one of your Polish surnames ~ read my interview with author Fred Hoffman, and then run out to buy his books on Polish surnames!
  • Join a Polish genealogical society ~ such as the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

And even if you’re not Polish…

  • Read a book by a Polish author ~  Many are available in English translations.  Are you a science fiction fan? Try Stanisław Lem.  Enjoy non-fiction?  Try Ryszard Kapuściński.  In the mood for sweeping romantic historical epics?  Definitely try Henryk Sienkiewicz.
  • Learn about an event in Polish history ~ Several important anniversaries occurred or will occur in 2009, such as the 230th anniversary of the death of General Casimir Pulaski (father of the American Cavalry) and the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
  • Watch a Polish movie ~ Try Three Colours (Polish: Trzy kolory), the collective title of the trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland’s Europa, Europa, or Katyń, directed by Andrzej Wajda.
  • Make a recipe for some Polish food ~ who wouldn’t want some pierogi?  Did you hear about the Polish nun who has become a best-selling cookbook author?
  • Learn how to polka! ~ Sheri gave us a good intro to the polka for my Polish History and Culture Challenge!

Polish-PrideKiss Us, We’re Polish (and Proud…)!

As always, I encourage my readers to also check out some great blogs of my fellow Polish-American genea-bloggers:
Steve’s Genealogy Blog ~ read about Steve’s visit to Poland, or see samples of expert translation of vital records!
Creative Gene ~ Jasia writes about “genealogy and more” including her Polish heritage, Detroit Polonia, and Polish crafts!
Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research ~ Al’s blog gives you exactly what’s in the title of his blog – solid genealogy research that serves as an example to us all!

If you have a blog about Polish genealogy, history, heritage, or culture, tell us about it in the comments!

(Polish Pride image from the Polish Heritage Gift Shop – buy your favorite Pole an expression of pride today!)

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This week Randy’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun asked us to do a scavenger hunt to find a family member in the census.  All of my great-grandparents were immigrants, and I’ve found them on the census records long ago to initially start my research (so many years ago that, at the time, the last available census was the 1910).  All eight were here for the 1910 and thereafter, and only one, Joseph Bergmeister, was in the US in time for the 1900 Census. Many of their census records were extremely hard to find because the surnames were misspelled or mis-indexed.  But I eventually managed to find them as well as their siblings.  Five of my great-grandparents had siblings immigrate as well – I’ve found all 15 siblings so far!  But there is one strange census-related mystery that continues to bother me…my grandmother is simply not there!

Margaret Bergmeister was born in 1913, so she would be seven years old in 1920 and living with her three older brothers, older sister, and her widowed father – the mother died in 1919.  Although the family name is misspelled as “Burgmaster”, the family is relatively easy to find since both names are in the same soundex code.  The entire family is living at 1016 Orkney Street in Philadelphia – minus Margaret.1

There is no way to know for sure why she is missing, but my theory is that she was visiting her aunt and uncle on the day of the enumeration.  Max and Hilarie Thumann are living at 6078 Kingsessing Street in Philadelphia (indexed on Ancestry as Mat and Halmie)2.  With them are Hilarie’s half-brother Julius Goetz and his wife Anna.  But no Margaret!

It is possible that Margaret was visiting her aunts and uncles on the day of the enumeration and her father did not tell the enumerator about her because she was literally not home on 07 January 1920.  On 08 January, another enumerator arrived at the Thumann’s door, but it is possible they did not mention Margaret because she did not live there.  Other possibilities such as adoption are out of the question since Margaret’s birth was verified – not to mention the fact that she looks just like her brothers and sister!

I figured Margaret would be much easier to find in 1930 as a 17-year-old.  Wrong again.  By 1930 her father is now also deceased.  Margaret’s oldest brother, also named Joseph, is 27 years old and married with a son and daughter of his own.  They are living at 311 Wildey Street in Philadelphia3 (and on this census page, the enumerator thoughtfully printed each surname in very neat block letters).  Living with Joseph are his two single brothers, aged 22 and 21.

It was assumed that Margaret, still a minor, was living with her oldest sister, Marie.  Marie was living in the rear apartment at 1302 Germantown Avenue4.  She was unmarried with two young daughters, aged 9 and 5.  But no sister Margaret to be found.

Was Margaret with her aunt in 1930?  The Thumann’s, now 72 and 60 years old, were living at the same house5.  Although they have a boarder living with them, their niece is not there. Nor is she listed with her Uncle Julius Goetz, who was living on 1112 Sauger Street.

So where was my 17-year-old grandmother?  It wasn’t imperative to find her in the census – I know her birth date and her parents’ names.  But, where is she?  It’s still a mystery!   For all the genealogical help the census has given me, the simple question of where my grandmother was at ages 7 and 17 is still a mystery!

Source Citations:

1Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 16, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  T625_1618; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 346; Image: 511.

2Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 40, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  T625_1641; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 1495; Image: 917.

3Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2099; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 543; Image: 619.0.

4Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2099; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 552; Image: 911.0.

5Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2130; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 223; Image: 111.0.

6Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2106; Page: 25B; Enumeration District: 874; Image: 753.0.


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At the entrance to Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia

At the entrance to Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia

Earlier this month I visited Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia.  I was hoping to find a tombstone for a couple that is connected, though likely not related, to my family – Carl and Sophia Mach.  I have been researching this couple for an upcoming post, so I thought a visit to their grave would be appropriate to “end” the story, so to speak.  While there, I wanted to re-visit the grave shared by my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, and his father, Joseph Pater, even though their grave is not marked with a stone.

Greenmount Cemetery is located at 4301 N. Front Street in Philadelphia (phone 215-329-4747).  I hoped to find out more about the history of the cemetery, but so far I have not been able to discover much information.  I was surprised by the sheer size of the cemetery – approximately 75 acres.  There are thousands of graves, and it is still being used today as a “active” burial ground.

The cemetery was opened around 1875.  Much like the neighborhood it resides in, the ethnicity of the cemetery “residents” has changed over the years.  Some of the oldest graves from the early 1900′s have German names as well as Irish and Polish.  The newer graves have many other nationalities including those with ancestry from various Asian and Latin American countries.

I was pleasantly surprised that the office was not only open and staffed, but eager to assist me.  A gentleman looked up my family names in a card catalog and checked to see if there were others with the surname besides those I mentioned.  This was fortunate, because I had forgotten that in addition to my great and 2nd great-grandfather, my great-grandmother was also buried here with her son.  If the staff member had not asked me if she was a relative, I would have missed the opportunity to visit her grave, which held an even bigger surprise – a tombstone!  This was surprising for two reasons – first, not many of my relatives have tombstones, which is why I don’t show any photographs of them on this site.  But I was more surprised because I thought I remembered visiting this cemetery before in the early 1990s, shortly after beginning my genealogical research.  And if I am correct in that memory, I distinctly remember that there was no tombstone – which means I either just thought I visited this particular cemetery or I somehow didn’t find the right grave when I did!

One of the few tombstones in my family: my great-grandmother, Elizabeth PATER, and her son Louis

One of the few tombstones in my family: my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, and her son Louis

Another reason that the card information was helpful is that, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Mach, their grave contained two other individuals that did not have tombstones.  I was able to surmise the relationship of these individuals to the Mach’s because of my earlier research.

Besides looking up the family information, I was provided with detailed maps of the sections that held the requested graves and directions on how to find the sites.  Not all cemetery offices are this friendly to researchers, so this was a delight – especially since I was short on time for the visit.  The cemetery is so large that graves would be next to impossible to find without a map.

Although there is little historical information about this cemetery on the internet (or an official site for the cemetery itself), some of the internment records are available on microfilm from both the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Family Search.  The FHC film rolls are:

  • Cemetery records, A-G 1880-1929 -  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503333 ]
  • Cemetery records, G-K 1880-1929 -  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503334 ]
  • Cemetery records, L-M 1880-1929 -  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503335 ]
  • Cemetery records, M-W 1880-1929 -  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503336 ]
  • Cemetery records, W-Z 1880-1929 -  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503337 ]
  • Cemetery records, A-K 1930-1966 -  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503338 ]
  • Cemetery records, K-Z 1930-1966 -  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503339 ]

The cemetery is also listed on Find a Grave with more photos and information about some graves of famous professional baseball players who are buried there.

Greenmount Cemetery is so large, you forget you are in the middle of a busy section of Philadelphia.

Greenmount Cemetery is so large, you forget you are in the middle of a busy section of Philadelphia.

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