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Archive for the ‘Unusual Genealogy Resources’ Category

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… U is for Unusual Resources! I already devoted a whole post to my Uncles, so in looking for a “U” term I decided to take a look at some of the more unusual resources that are available for genealogical research. The “usual suspects” include birth, marriage, and death records, quickly followed by records related to the census, immigration and naturalization, or the military. But sometimes fantastic genealogical information hides in the most unusual places…here are some of my favorite unusual resources:

Bank records - Ancestry.com has an interesting collection of immigrant bank records. Sometimes immigrants would open an account at a bank specifically for the amount of money needed for relatives to immigrate to this country. These can serve as an alternate resource for finding immigration records. They also may provide clues to the name or address of other relatives.

Fraternal organizations – Many immigrants belonged to fraternal organizations, and some of these provided things like insurance policies – which, if available, are an alternate source for death records. I found my great-grandfather’s life insurance policy through the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) on the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s (PGSA) website. Recently I noticed that Ancestry has a similar collection of enrollment and death benefit records for Pennsylvania chapters of the Order of the Sons of Italy.

Employment records – I haven’t yet found any of my ancestors’ employment records, but I know that they exist for many companies. Sometimes these records can be found in special collections at libraries. If you’re not sure exactly where your ancestor worked, try getting a copy of their SS-5 application for Social Security, and for male ancestors try their draft registration cards.

Funeral home records – Sometimes funeral home records can provide additional information about family members that aren’t found on a death certificate. Obviously the type of information that was requested – and kept on file – varies with the funeral home. Some are available online (Ancestry has been posting more of these collections lately), but most probably reside with the funeral home itself if it’s still in existence.

Other unusual records I’ve used include consular records, coroner’s reports, police records, ethnic press newspapers, and church jubilee books. Each of these has the potential to provide some small nugget of useful information about your relatives. The key, of course, is actually finding where these unusual resources are hidden.

“Unusual” doesn’t have to just apply to the type of record or resource, but it can also describe the “out of the box” thinking that helps a researcher find information and solve research problems. Genealogist Steve Danko applies the scientific method to his research. I’ve found inspiration from a television show and use the Castle “murder board” approach. My “Pointer Sister” Caroline Pointer often takes a techno-approach to problem solving. If your usual method of problem-solving doesn’t work, try a method that is unusual to you!

Here’s to all the unusual means, methods, and records that help us find all the usual information we seek for our ancestors! What records have you used that would be described as “unusual”?

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

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Recently Ancestry.com put up a new set of records called “Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records.” The collection contains a wide variety of miscellaneous records from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  I actually found a few items of interest in the collection.  One subset of records comes from the Wackerman Funeral Home, a funeral home which still exists today but is no longer in its former location.  In these records, I found information on the funeral arrangements for my great-grandmother, Marie Bergmeister, who died in 1919 at the age of 43.  Marie (or more usually, Maria) left behind a husband, Joseph, and five children – including my grandmother Margaret, the youngest, who was not quite six years old.

The funeral home record for the costs of Marie Bergmeister's funeral, 1919.

I knew that my grandmother’s family was poor, but it was interesting to compare the bill for my great-grandmother’s burial to some of the others who died at the same time.

Casket

  • $55 – Gray crape
  • $65 – Chesnut
  • $90 – Square chesnut with ext handles
  • $125 – Solid maple
  • $200 – Solid mahoghany

Case

  • $14 – Pine
  • $35 – Chesnut

Hearse

  • $10.50 to $13.00

Service

  • $5 – Low Mass
  • $25 – Solemn Requiem

A more costly funeral found in the same records.

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In my quest to prepare for the 1940 Census by documenting all of my relatives and their potential 1940 addresses, I realized there was a relative or two I never found in earlier censuses.  One such relative was my great-grandfather’s half brother, Herman Goetz. Herman and his brother, Julius Goetz, left a rather good paper trail except I was never able to locate Herman – with certainty – in either the 1920 or 1930 Census.  The name “Herman Goetz” was not exactly “John Smith” but it was a common name among German immigrants, and I never really tried to determine if any of the Herman’s I found was “my” Uncle Herman.  Did he move out of state?  Did he return to Germany?

In genealogy, as in life, sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.  I couldn’t find Herman in the 1920 Census because he died.  It’s almost comical that I never considered that possibility until I discovered it, quite by accident, in one of Ancestry’s newer databases: Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985.

There does not appear to be a complete list of what records are included in this collection, but in my searching of various surnames I’ve found some hits in funeral home records and some Catholic cemetery records.  I found Herman in the Record Books for the John Kimmerle Funeral Homes.  He died on 11 October 1918 from pneumonia and was buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery on 18 October.  His sister, Hilaury “Laura” Bergmeister Thuman, paid for the burial.

His death in 1918 finally answers the question of why my father never heard of him – my grandmother barely knew him since she was only 5 years old when he died.

When I first began my genealogical research, I asked my dad about relatives and he said to look for his mother’s “Uncle Julius Goetz”.  Neither of her parents was named Goetz, so I wasn’t clear how he was an uncle until I found her parents’ marriage record. Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer were married in November 1897 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern (Bavaria), Germany. The record indicates that the bachelor Joseph was the son of the “deceased flour merchant Joseph Bergmeister of Munich and Ursula Dallmeier (who later married a Goetz), residing in Regensburg.”

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

My great-grandfather’s mother re-married a man named Goetz, so any children from her second marriage are half siblings to my Bergmeister’s.  While I have a record in Julius’ hand that lists Ursula as his mother, I only have circumstantial evidence that Herman is also her son. (The circumstantial evidence is his “connection” to both Julius and the Bergmeister family – I can now send for his death certificate to verify his parents’ names.) Even if he was a step-brother to both Julius and the Bergmeister children, he was certainly involved in their lives based on the documents I have found. Here is Herman’s “paper trail” in the United States:

22 Apr 1911 – Herman sets sail from Antwerp aboard the S.S. Finland.  He is listed as Herman Götz, a 26-year-old locksmith from Regensburg whose father, also named Herman Götz, lives in Regensburg. He is traveling to his brother, Julius Götz, who is living at 500 Lehigh Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. On 03 May 1911, Herman’s ship arrives in New York City.

24 Mar 1913 – Herman receives a marriage license to marry Florentina Bottner. He is living at 6078 Kingsessing Street (the address of his half sister, Hilaury Bergmeister Thuman, and her husband, Max) and was born on 14 May 1885 in Germany. Florentina lived at 3458 Amber Street and was born on 14 Aug 1877 in Germany.  Parents’ names were not requested on the license, and neither had been married before.

11 Apr 1913 – My grandmother, Margaret Hermina Bergmeister, is born and apparently named after her Uncle Herman. She is baptized on 13 July 1913 and her godparents are Uncle Herman Goetz and Aunt Laura Bergmeister Thuman.

12 Aug 1914 – Herman’s wife dies. Her death certificate lists her name as Mrs. Flora Goetz with the same birth date as the marriage license above. Although she is listed as married, the information is provided by her mother and the address given is that of her mother’s and the same as provided in her marriage license. She died from peritonitis “due to ruptured uterus during child birth”.

12 Sep 1918 – Herman registers for the draft. His draft card shows he is living with his sister and brother-in-law at 6078 Kingsessing Street and Laura is listed as his nearest relative. He was born on 14 May 1885.  He is naturalized, although I have not yet found his papers. He is employed as a machinist at Standard Roller Bearing Co. at 49th and Merion. His physical description: tall, stout, grey eyes, red hair.

Front of Herman Goetz's WWI Draft Registration Card.

11 Oct 1918 – Herman died from pneumonia based on information found in the funeral home records. His address is the Thumans’ address on Kingsessing Street, which is directly across the street from the cemetery in which his is buried on 14 Oct 1918, Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

What little I do know of “Uncle Herman” is sad – although he quickly found love in his new country, his wife died in childbirth the following year and he died only four years later at the age of 32.  It is also the beginning of a very sad chain of events for my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. First, in October, 1918, his half-brother Herman dies.  Less than six months later, in February, 1919, his wife Maria dies at the age of 43, which leaves him as the single parent of five children.  Later that year, in November, his brother Ignaz Bergmeister dies at the age of 43.  Joseph would only live to 54 himself, dying in 1927. Of the Bergmeister and Goetz siblings, despite the young deaths of Herman Goetz and Joseph and Ignaz Bergmeister, their sister Laura Thuman lived to 73 and Julius Goetz lived to 84. There was a 16-year age difference between Hilaury and Julius, however, so Julius was the sole surviving sibling for many years after Laura’s death in 1943.

Although my grandmother never knew her “namesake” Uncle Herman, I assume she had some familial relationship with Uncle Julius.  Although my father knew who he was, he didn’t recall meeting him and their lives overlapped by quite a bit – Julius did not die until 1971.

If it wasn’t for the “accidental” searching of this new record collection on Ancestry, I would not have solved the mystery of what happened to Uncle Herman any time soon. Although Pennsylvania death indexes were recently made available, I would not have ordered any record for a man with the name Herman Goetz without more evidence as to the correct one, which I now have. I hope to eventually find a photograph of both Uncle Julius and Uncle Herman – I recently learned the name of Julius’ grandson and plan on contacting him soon.  Even if I can’t see what Herman looked like, I’m glad I learned what I did about him so his too-short life can be remembered. That’s what family is for…

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My previous post discussed the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt found on Google Books, which I call “Bavaria’s Most Wanted” since it lists names and other information on men and women wanted for crimes throughout Bavaria.  In the collection from 1903, I found a relative listed in issue No. 128 dated 26 September 1903.  He is listed under the heading which is roughly translated as “Residence of the following people is requested” as follows:

8821. Bergmeister Ignaz, led. Müller von Puch, A-G. Geisenfeld, B-A. Pfaffenhofen, geb. 24.4.76 in Abensberg, B-A. Kelheim, weg Betrugs (V 135). Augsburg 19.9.1903. K. Staatsanwalt

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, No. 128, 26 September 1903

With help from my cousin Armin, I determined that the abbreviated words are:

  • led = lediger – unmarried
  • A-G = Amts-Gericht – District Court
  • B-A = Bezirks-Amt – District Office
  • geb = geboren – born
  • weg = wegen – because of
  • K = Königlicher – Royal

So the entry translates as:

8821. Bergmeister Ignaz, unmarried miller from Puch, District Court of Geisenfeld, Pfaffenhofen District, born 24 April 1876 in Abensberg, Kelheim District, because of fraud (V 135). Augsburg, 19 September 1903, State Advocate

I’m not sure what (V 135) refers to, but there is enough identifying information to know that this is my great-grandfather’s brother Ignaz. The Bergmeister’s were millers from Puch, and I knew Ignaz’s birthdate from a later record in his own handwriting. However, his birthplace of Abensberg is new information for me.

Apparently Ignaz was not “found” by the police or the court.  In the 23 October 1903 issue No. 144, an arrest warrant (Haftbefehle) is issued.  That listing says he is wanted for fraud by the State Advocate by order of the judge in Burgau and should be delivered to the nearest jail.

I would love to know what constituted “fraud” in Bavaria in 1903, but unfortunately I have no details on what led up to the warrant for his arrest.  I am doubtful, however, that Ignaz ever made it to jail, because the following June he boards the S.S. Switzerland in Antwerp, Belgium and arrives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States on June 16, 1904.

This passenger arrival record is how I discovered that Joseph Bergmeister and his sister Hilaury even had a brother – before that discovery, Ignaz was unknown to me. I knew he was their brother because the passenger arrival record listed Hilaury’s husband, Max Thuman, as the brother-in-law that paid for his passage, and the page indicated that his sister met him at the dock.

Further research into Ignaz’s life proved the relationship.  The 1907 marriage record in New York City of Ig. N. Bergmeister and Therese Frank lists Ignaz’s parents as Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula nee Dahlmeier – Joseph’s and Hilaury’s parents.

I was curious that my grandmother, who was Ignaz’s niece, never mentioned him although she mentioned her aunt “Laura” and another uncle, Julius Goetz (after the death of her Bergmeister husband, Ursula Dahlmeier (or Dallmeier or Dallmaier) Bergmeister married Herman Goetz and had at least two more children, Herman and Julius).  After researching more about Ignaz, I found out why she never mentioned him – she probably never knew him.

In 1908, the couple had a daughter, Theresa.  A son, Charles N. Bergmeister, was born in November, 1909.  In 1910 the family lived in New York City on E. 57th Street where Ignaz worked as a driver at a brewery.  Between 1910 and 1918, the family moved to Elizabeth, NJ, where wife Theresa had lived at the time of the marriage.  The family lived at 638 Fulton Street.  Ignaz registered for the WWI draft listing his birth date as 23 April 1876 (one day off from the 1903 arrest warrant notice) and his occupation as a driver for Rising Sun Brewery in Elizabeth, NJ.  The physical description on the draft card indicates he was tall with a medium build, had blue eyes and “mixed” hair color.

Unfortunately, the next public record found for Ignaz is his death record.  He died on 19 November 1919 from cirrhosis of the liver.  He was only 43 years old; his children were only 9 and 11.  Ignaz’s widow and children are still living in the same house for the 1920 and 1930 census enumerations.

At the time of Ignaz’s death, my grandmother was only 6 years old.  Her mother died earlier that year.  Her father, Ignaz’s brother Joseph, would also die young in 1927.  Because of the distance from Elizabeth to Philadelphia, I assume that my grandmother and her older siblings did not know their cousins Theresa and Charles.

In trying to track down Ignaz’s descendants, I have not been able to find any further information on his daughter, Theresa Bergmeister.  Ignaz’s son, Charles Bergmeister, married Florence Obach and had at least two children.  Their son, Steven Charles, was born in 1943 and died in 1994.  One year later on the same date as Steven’s death, Charles died at the age of 86.  Relatives of Florence have indicated that the couple also had a daughter named Jeanne (possibly Jeanne Gelber) who is still living.

Locations for Joseph Bergmeister's birth, marriage, and children in Bavaria (Oberbayern).

Now I know about the rest of the short life of Ignaz Bergmeister, but I wish I knew more about his early life and the events that led up to being wanted for fraud.  The police listing gave me an important clue with the name of his birthplace: Abensberg.  Both Joseph and Hilaury were born in Vohburg.  The parents, Joseph and Ursula, were married in Pfaffenhofen although Joseph was from Puch. As a flour merchant, it appears that Joseph traveled around Bavaria quite a bit.  I am still searching for his death record.  Based on the birth dates for Ursula’s other children, it is assumed that Joseph (senior) died between 1876 and 1884 somewhere in Bavaria.

Of course, the story of Ignaz also raises another question – how many of Bavaria’s Most Wanted show up on passenger arrival records to the United States shortly after they make the list?  Now that would be an interesting research project!

A future post will offer some tips on using Google Books to find and use records such as the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt.

SourceBayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1903. Original from Harvard University, digitized August 5, 2008.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=4cAqAAAAYAAJ.

Source information for marriage record, death records, census records, and draft record available upon request.

 

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While doing some random Google searches, I stumbled upon a fascinating resource on Google Books – the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, or the Bavarian Central Police newspaper.  In short, Bavaria’s Most Wanted.

While my German language skills are lacking, it seems that this paper was distributed throughout Germany and perhaps neighboring countries – presumably to police departments.  Each edition lists many individuals that are wanted by the police for various crimes or for further questioning, or they are wanted by the court to serve their time. The paper is a multi-purposed resource: a “Wanted Dead or Alive” for criminals, a “Beware” list of shifty characters, and a “Who is This?” for unidentified persons.  Some listings are quite detailed and others are brief, but many include the person’s physical descriptions, identifying information such as birth dates, birth places, and occupations), and occasionally even photographs of the individuals.

The collection found on Google Books was digitized from originals at Harvard University’s Law Library. The collection includes papers published in Bavaria from 1866 to 1910.

Crime hasn’t changed much since then. The first edition found online from 1866 has a wide variety of crimes listed including rape, fraud, theft, forgery, violence, and vagrancy – and the alleged criminals are both men and women.  Maria Balthasar, a seamstress from Austria who also claims to be an actress, was wanted for misdemeanor theft. Johann Schäffer from Brixen, Tyrol, was wanted for questioning for an investigation about a brawl.  Johann Gieselbreth, a goldsmith from Linz, Tyrol, apparently disappeared with quite a bit of gold that did not belong to him. Katharina Pfeifer, a cook working for Baron Eichthal, was accused of “the crime of theft by misappropriation of silver spoons and forks, then the crime of fraud embezzlement.”

The paper does not include the type of information about the crimes that a newspaper account would, but the brief descriptions left me wanting to know more.  One particularly intriguing crime is “returning from exile” – which seems to indicate that perhaps exile from the country is a punishment for one crime and returning early is another crime on top of it.  Is that similar to breaking parole?

Naturally, the individuals I became most fascinated by were those that had their photographs printed in the paper.  I found quite a few great stories browsing through the 1903 edition.  Many photos were the typical “mug shots” – front and side view like you see today.

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, 1903, page 631. Unknown man wanted for grand larceny.

Under the headline “Unbekannter Verhafteter” – “Unknown Arrested”, this man is described as being approximately 60 years old, 1.75 meters tall, with gray hair, graying mustache, and gray eyes.  He committed grand larceny – either at the Neunkirchen train station or else that is where he was last seen. The courts believe he might be a carpenter named Sebastian Maier, who was born on 23 Mar 1853 to Christoph and Margarete Maier.

Other photos looked like upstanding, law-abiding individuals such as this attractive couple:

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, 1903, page 581. Mr. & Mrs. Ellenrieder from Munich.

This is Hugo Ellenrieder, a banker from Munich (born 1871), and his wife Elise (born 1876) nee Kahl.  The happy couple are traveling together – apparently away from Munich, where they are wanted for a fradulent admission of bankruptcy.

Some of the photos were a bit creepy, particularly the ones of dead guys in coffins:

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, 1903, page 13. Unidentified victim pulled from a river.

This poor guy is not a criminal, but an unidentified body found in the river near Bamberg.  Since the police were unable to identify the body, they printed a the photo as well as a detailed description including scars on his body and the clothes he was wearing.  His pocket contained a wallet with 7 pennies and one room key.

Just browsing through one year’s worth of the Bayerische Zentral-Polizei-Blatt and looking at only the stories with photos would provide me with several interesting blog posts.  There were sad stories like the deaf and dumb man wanted for vagrancy or the entire Gypsy family, parents and four children, wanted for begging.  These two particular crimes seem to show up frequently, and the culprits seemed to be foreigners, mentally ill, or deaf.

Occasionally the paper had photos of missing people.  One of the sadder ones was a photo of a cute young boy who had been missing from his home for months.

Some stories make me want to know more about what happened – both before the crime and after!  What ever happened to the studious-looking, bespeckled notary clerk who was wanted for embellzement?  Then there was the well-dressed, attractive, mustached Italian named Guido Wölfler.  He was a watchmaker’s assistant from Florence traveling in Germany also using the alias “Bonvini”.  It seems that Guido was wanted for embezzling a significant sum of money “to the detriment of Italian workers”.  No wonder he was in Germany…

As I wondered about “the rest of the story” for these individuals, I came upon a surprise – a name I knew. I don’t know the beginning of the story or the circumstances of the crime, but here was one tale I could tell further!  Stay tuned for my next post to learn more about the relative I found listed in Bavaria’s Most Wanted.

Sources:

Bayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1866. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized November 22, 2010.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=OQZFAAAAcAAJ

Bayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1903. Original from Harvard University, digitized August 5, 2008.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=4cAqAAAAYAAJ.

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I enjoy highlighting unusual genealogical resources – records other than vital records, passenger lists, naturalizations, and the federal census.  Recently I entered some of my “usual suspect” names into Ancestry and discovered a resource previously uknown to me: immigrant bank records.  The historical background about these records is described on Ancestry.com as follows:

In the port cities on the east coast of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century, many charitable organizations aided immigrants arriving from Europe. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was one of those organizations. There were “ethnic” or “immigrant” banks in many port cities, usually conveniently located in the Jewish neighborhoods where newly-arrived immigrants tended to settle. These banks were commercial enterprises, started mainly by established German Jews, as a place where recent immigrants could save money and arrange to purchase steamship tickets to bring their families to the United States. HIAS preserved the original records of some immigrant banks formerly operating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Blitzstein, Rosenbaum and Lipshutz/Peoples Banks.

Today, the record books of the Blitzstein Bank, Rosenbaum Bank, and Lipshutz Bank are housed at the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center (PJAC). They offer unique kinds of information, including the name and U.S. address of the person who paid for the tickets, port of entry – usually, but not always the port of Philadelphia – and intended final destination (again, not necessarily Philadelphia).

The person I found in the index was Zofia Mach, but not much info is provided from the index alone.  It simply provides her name as the Passenger, as well as the Account Open Date (24 March 1929), Purchaser’s Name (Carl Mach), the Bank (Lipshutz/Peoples Bank) and the Order Number.  To obtain an actual copy of the record, instructions are provided on the JewishGen site with a separate page for each of the 3 banks that are indexed.  For the Lipshutz/Peoples Bank, a copy of the record can be obtained from the Philadelphia Jewish Archives (see below for more info).  I knew from my research that Carl and Sophie Mach lived in Philadelphia, so it was likely the correct family.  I was curious enough about what other information could be obtained from these bank records to send $9 to find out.  Here is a copy of the record I received:

SOURCE: Lipshutz/Peoples Bank Passage Order Book Records, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center

SOURCE: Lipshutz/Peoples Bank Passage Order Book Records, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center

I already knew Carl’s address and relationship to Sophia/Zofia.  Normally, one would expect that Zofia’s passenger arrival record would be easy to find without this record as a resource.  However, in this case, Zofia’s record is indexed incorrectly in Ancestry.com’s database: she is listed as Sofia Wach although her name in the passenger list itself is Sofie Mach.  Because of the mis-indexing, I used the ship name and date on this bank record to find her arrival record and may not have found it without the extra info. (Although the typewritten info shows departure from Hamburg to Philadelphia, the ship and date noted in handwriting at the bottom traveled from Copenhagen to New York.)

Two other interesting tidbits came from this record.  First, it lists Sophia’s address in Żyrardów, Poland.  Although I could not find it on a modern map of the town, the information could still come in handy for research in Poland.  Second, it’s the first time I’ve seen the cost of a ticket to America on any of the records I’ve found.  A second class ticket cost $143.  In the 1920’s, that was a significant sum of money – note that her husband had this bank account for five years before she made the journey.

The records of the three Philadelphia banks are also available on microfilm through the LDS Family History Library., and you can search the records via the JewishGen site if you do not have access to Ancestry.com.  See the detailed pages at JewishGen on their US databases page under Pennsylvania.  Be aware that the family I researched was not Jewish!  One did not have to be Jewish to have an account at these banks.

In total there are approximately 138,000 records among the three banks ranging from 1890 through 1949.  If you had relatives living in or near Philadelphia, it may be worth a quick search – especially if you have had difficulty locating their passenger arrival record.

Although the sites indicate that the records are held by the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center, they wrote in their response that they are moving to the Temple University-Urban Archives Center “in late Spring”.  So if you are planning to request a record, you may want to call either archive first prior to writing.

In the case of Sophia Mach, this was actually her second journey to America!  Since Mach is not one of my family surnames in the sidebar, I’ll write more later this week on why they are a subject of my research.  Are they related to my family?  More to come…

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Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

One unusual record source for those with Polish ancestry is Haller’s Army records.  What was Haller’s Army?  During World War I, Poland did not exist on any “official” map of the world.  General Jozef Haller formed a regiment of Poles in France to join the fight in the name of their homeland, with the ultimate goal of Polish independence.  They were also known as the Blue Army because of the color of their uniforms.

Many people have never heard of Haller’s Army or of their contributions during “the Great War”.  Because it isn’t well known, many Americans of Polish descent may be very surprised to find out that their ancestors, who had already immigrated to the U.S. prior to 1917, volunteered to fight for the Polish Army in France under Haller.  It is estimated that nearly 25,000 Polish men, immigrants to the U.S. and Canada, volunteered and fought in France.  Most were recent immigrants who had not yet become American or Canadian citizens.  Despite immigrating to a new country, these young men were fiercely proud of their homeland.  They willing volunteered to fight for Poland’s democracy and independence.  Because of the Partitions of Poland, none had grown up in a free Poland, and Haller’s Army was the first free Polish Army since Napoleon’s time.  At the war’s end on November 11, 1918, when Poland officially regained its independence, Haller’s Army continued the fight in the Polish-Soviet War until 1921.

Did Your Ancestor Volunteer?

The Polish Genealogical Society of America holds the recruitment records, and while the records themselves are not available online, the index is searchable by surname at the PGSA site.  If you find a match, the records can be obtained through PGSA by mail for a minimal donation – see complete information on how to order copies at http://www.pgsa.org/hallerreqform.htm.

I’ve referred to this as an index of those that volunteered for Haller’s Army, but if you find your relative’s name it does not necessarily mean they served.  A search for the surname “Pater” found several matches, but I was surprised to find “Ludwik Pater” from Philadelphia.  Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis, my great-grandfather.  I ordered a copy to see what I could learn.  The form is in Polish, as are the applicant’s responses, but the volunteer who looked up the record also provided a translation for most of the entries.  An online copy of the form is available in English here.  For the responses, a Polish-English dictionary will help.

The record provides a wealth of genealogical information including date and place of birth, address, marital status and number of children, name and address of nearest relative in both America and Poland, and a full physical description.  The U.S. WWI Draft records are similar and from the same time period, but the form for Haller’s Army is more detailed regarding relatives both at home and in Poland as well as the physical description, which includes not just the eye and hair color, but also height, weight and other features such as teeth, chin, and “distinguishing marks”.

Another feature of the Haller’s Army recruitment papers is some very detailed questions that could offer clues for searching other records.  The form asks:

  • Are you a citizen of the United States of America (second papers)?
  • Did you serve in the Army?  Type of arms?  How long?  Rank upon discharge?
  • What Polish organizations in America do you belong to?
  • If you belong to the Falcons, for how long…and do you hold any office?

Responses to these questions could lead you to naturalization, military, or fraternal organization records.  [Note: The Falcons were established in Chicago in 1887 as an immigrant aid society concerned with physical education, Polish culture and heritage, and gaining Polish independence.  The organization still exists today.]

My great-grandfather filled out his registration card for the U.S. Draft on June 5, 1917.  At the time, he was 23 years old with a wife and 3 young children.  On November 12, 1917, he volunteered for Haller’s Army.  I had never heard about military service during a war by any member of the family, so I assumed he wasn’t accepted because he had a family to support (which is why he was not drafted by the U.S.).  As I researched this article and found the English translation of the form, I learned, with some surprise, that he was sent to the training camp in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on November 18, 1917 – less than a week after he volunteered.  But the information provided by the PGSA didn’t indicate an actual record of service in the Army, so what happened?

I’m not sure, and I’m rather puzzled to finally notice that he went to training camp!  I will have to investigate this further.  I do know that he was home in Philadelphia by May, 1918 because his fourth son, Victor Pater, was born the following January.  If he did make it through the training camp successfully, he could not have served in the Army long enough to make the journey to France to fight.

It does speak volumes about the Polish character if young men like my great-grandfather were willing to fight for their homeland – even though they no longer lived there.  My great-grandfather immigrated at the age of 14 and had lived here ten years by the time he volunteered, but he felt strongly enough about the cause for Polish independence to fight in a foreign land.

If you have Polish ancestry, it’s worth typing your surname into PGSA’s index search to discover if your ancestor played a role in Haller’s Army.  The Haller’s Army website best describes these Polish immigrants, recent arrivals to a new country but with a deep love for the old country.  The site proclaims: “They fought for their family. They fought for their ancestors. They fought for their freedom. Most of all they fought for their homeland – Poland.”

[Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image: Polish_Army_in_France_WWI_recruitment_poster.jpg]

For more information on Haller’s Army:

[Posted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: research experiences and techniques.]

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Yesterday I wrote about CCC records as a resource in Civilian Conservation Corps: A Genealogical Resource – Part 1.  When I first started my genealogical research, I decided to find out more about CCC records because my grandfather supposedly served in the Corps.

My father remembered his dad talking about the CCC, but he didn’t know any details.  In 1993, I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center to find out.  I learned that my grandfather did indeed serve with the CCC…in a manner of speaking.

On April 7, 1933, James Pointkouski applied with the U.S. Department of Labor for “Emergency Conservation Work”, another name for the CCC, just weeks after President Roosevelt began the program.  His application states that he was born in Philadelphia on July 6, 1910.  His occupation is “chaueffuer” [sic], but he had been unemployed since October, 1932.  He lists his education as 1 year at Northeast H.S. and 1 year evening at Central H.S.  He lists his parents, John and Rose, as recipients of his $25 allotment each month and their address.

The very next day, Grandpop signed his “Oath of Enrollment” at Fort Hoyle, Maryland.  In the oath, he swears and affirms “to remain in the Civilian Conservation Corps for six months … obey those in authority and observe all the rules and regulations…”  The oath also relieves the government of responsibility if he suffers injury while working, and he understands that he won’t get any allowance when he is released from camp other than transportation home.

My grandfather’s physical examination record tells me that he was 5’9″ and 150 pounds with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion.  He has good hearing, but his eyesight wasn’t that great – 20/50 in one eye and he suffered from strabismus, or “lazy eye”, in the other.  I didn’t remember that about him as he got older, but the lazy eye is apparent in photos of him when he was young.  Otherwise, he was quite healthy, which was good news considering that he was only 22 years old.  CCC members also had to receive shots for typhoid (3 doses!) and smallpox, all of which are annotated on the form.

Before I discuss the record of his service, fast-forward to a few years after I received these records.  I accompanied my father to my grandmother’s house to remove some belongings and prepare the house to be sold.  My grandfather was long deceased, and my grandmother was either in a nursing home or had just died (I can’t remember when the house was sold since she spent several years in a home).  I found very few photos or papers of genealogical interest in my grandmother’s belongings.  But, one of the few things I found was a handwritten note from my grandfather to my grandmother.  It is dated April 22, 1933 – while he was serving in the CCC!

My grandparents were not married until January, 1934, and the note offers some clues to their relationship.  It begins: “I didn’t mean it when I told you to forget me…” He goes on to encourage her and cheer her up as if he heard (through her letter?) that she was sad or depressed.   He goes on to say (in a run-on but touching sentence), “Do you realize that if I had been working steady last winter the ring I gave you for Xmas would have been an engagement ring so you must know I appreciate a lovely girl, but owing to the way things were (at) home and no work, how could I tell you how I felt toward you.” After cheering her up some more, he adds, presumably in case she didn’t get the ring reference above, “I hope to be more than a friend someday.”

He goes on to talk about “camp”:  “Well, our stay in camp is near over, we all have received our 3 shots and I hear we leave for the forests next week.  I’m feeling so good and don’t even think of rum, don’t care if I never see another drink.  Let’s forget about money.  Perk is well able to get by anywhere, I always did.  Well, goodbye Marge, I am Your one and only, Jimmy.” In the postscript he asks her to send a snapshot and adds at the end “Love + Lots of Kisses”.

April 22, 1933 letter from James Pointkouski to Margaret Bergmeister

April 22, 1933 letter from James Pointkouski to Margaret Bergmeister

I was amazed later to match the date to the time he was in the CCC.  For the first time, I could see the impact that the Great Depression had on my grandparents.  It was also interesting to see “Perk” as my grandfather’s likely nickname/alias.  His older brother, Joseph, simply dropped the actual surname of “Piontkowski” and used “Perk” for the rest of his life.  My grandfather by this time had already adopted the creative alternate spelling of “Pointkouski”, but he must have still referred to himself as Perk as a nickname.  What amazes me the most about this note is that my grandmother kept it for so long – to me, this means it was very important to her.  Could it be that, because of his note, she realized how much he loved her?

Regarding leaving camp for the forests, I looked back at his enrollment record.  From 8 April to 5 May (1933), he was stationed at Fort Hoyle, MD performing “general labor”.  His manner of performance was “satisfactory” (the form indicates that the choices are excellent, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory).  From 6-8 May, the location changes to Ellenton, PA and his manner of performance changed to “unsatisfactory”!  He was discharged from service on 11 May, well short of his six-month service requirement, due to “absence without leave”.

Why did he suddenly leave?  Did he miss the rum too much?  Or did he miss his girl Marge too much?  Was he tired of the physical labor, or did he get an actual job offer for his usual job driving a truck?  Neither of his children know the answer.  Perhaps he went home to Philadelphia for the weekend and decided to stay.  Based on his note, he obviously missed my grandmother quite a bit.  By January of the following year, they were married.  I’m not sure if he actually did get her that engagement ring or not – the marriage was precipitated by the news that my grandmother was pregnant!  She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, named James after his father, in August.

I’ll never know why my grandfather cut short his vow to the CCC, but one thing’s for sure – Perk was well able to get by.  He spent the rest of his life employed as a truck driver, raised two children, and lived happily with his girl Marge until his death in 1980.  Thanks to my grandmother saving that one small remnant of their past, I know without a doubt that he loved her a lot more than he loved working for the CCC!

For more information on the Civilian Conservation Corps and the great work they accomplished, see the links at the bottom of my previous post, Civilian Conservation Corps: A Genealogical Resource – Part 1.

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The CCC, or the Civilian Conservation Corps, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. In 1933 during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt found a unique way to combat the country’s unemployment crisis. The Civilian Conservation Corps was created on March 21, 1933 and today is one of the best known results of Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. Even if young people today have never heard of the Corps, it is likely that they have benefited from the Corps’ work, for it was active in every state and left a valuable “footprint” behind.

CCC members were recruited through local welfare boards. To join, a young man had to be between the ages of 18-25 and be unemployed or have an unemployed father. War veterans of any age could also join. The men committed to a six-month enrollment that could be extended for up to two years. CCC workers were housed and fed on-site at campsites, and they earned about $30 per month – with the requirement that $25 be sent home to their family. The camps were run by the Army, but it was a civilian organization.

Besides benefiting young unemployed men and their families, the CCC had a great impact on the country that is still felt today. They built roads, planted trees, strung telephone lines, and improved state and national parks by building campsites and trails. By 1935, over a half million men were members of the Corps. The CCC was disbanded in 1942, mostly because of America’s entry in the war and the ongoing draft.

Did your ancestor serve in the CCC?

If your grandfather or other relative served in the CCC, you may be able to find his enlistment papers. The records are held by the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. These records are not available online. For more information on writing to NARA, please see the CCC Alumni site guidelines or the James F. Justin CCC Museum guidelines.

Some information sites indicate that you will need to have your ancestor’s company number and year served in order to obtain the records. However, the name and state may be enough to locate the record. You will also need to know the person’s birth date and proof of death. Available records include the person’s enlistment form, record of physical examination, and discharge information. From these, there is enough information to determine where the person worked, and there are many sites available in each state about the CCC from which you can determine what the person may have actually worked on during their service. Who knows…the trees your grandfather once planted are likely still providing shade in the nearby state park today!

I remember learning about the CCC in history class, and even then I thought it was a great idea. With the current economy, unemployment, and “green” movement, I think the CCC should be re-instated as a means to give young disadvantaged men meaningful work. When I learned about the CCC, I didn’t have any personal connection to the organization…or did I? Stayed tuned for “Part 2: My Grandfather Served in the CCC…Sort Of” for a description of my grandfather’s rather brief experience with the CCC and what I discovered in his records.

For more information:

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An oft-repeated phrase when one enters an old house is “if these walls could speak, the stories they’d tell.” In Germany, it is possible for the walls to speak about the families that lived there for centuries in the form of a book called a häuserchronik.

What would you say if I told you there might be a book that is like a City Directory, only it is listed by street addresses and also records deed transactions of the houses? And, the book also contains some personal information about the residents, including occupations, marriage information, and more? Well, if your ancestors came from Germany, there really may be such a book!

When I first visited the town my Bavarian ancestors came from, I was given a “häuserchronik” as a gift. The full title of the book, published in 1982, is Häuserchronik der Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidel. It provided tons of genealogical information that was later verified by researching decades of church records. I couldn’t believe that such things existed…and that you don’t hear more about them!

Here is an example of one entry found in the book. The house is currently known in the town as Löwenstraße 14, formerly Judengasse 11. Before that, the house had a number assigned to it. Beginning in 1676, it was 67 II District. From 1810-1861, it was house #55. And from 1862-1927, it was house #79. In old towns such as Pfaffenhofen, houses were numbered as they were built. So, house #10 was not necessarily in between houses #9 and #11 – it could be on the other side of town! Occasionally, the houses were renumbered, probably because by then it became too difficult to find an address! At this particular house, the record begins back in 1614! My ancestors appear in the house’s record in 1746 as follows [translated to English, with my comments in brackets]:

1746, 4 Jan
Eger, Bernhard, shoemaker – purchased (Kaufsumme or “sum”) for “280 fl”
[According to the book’s preface, in 1982 the “fl” or gulden was equal to about 1.71 Marks. Today, that’s roughly 236 Euros! He was about 25 years old at the time.]

1746, 21 Jun
The above marries Arnold, Maria Anna, from Jägern/Edlmünster
[She’s not my ancestor…she dies in April, 1761 at age 35 during childbirth.]

1761, 30 Oct
Eggerer (Eger), Bernhard, widower, shoemaker, marries Stainer, Maria Margarete, from Freising
[Note the changing spelling of the surname, which will change one more time in a later entry before “stabilizing” – it was common for names to change over time as spelling became more formal and/or more people became literate. Unfortunately, he dies 17 years later in June, 1778 after they’ve had many children, including my ancestor Ignaz.]

1778, 18 Jul   Eggerer, Maria Margarete, shoemaker’s widow
[This entry shows that changes were made to the records for events such as the husband’s death.]

1797, 10 Jan
Echerer (Eggerer), Ignaz, son, and Maria Anna, born Kaillinger, glassmaker’s daughter
[He was 32 years old; they married on 22 Jan 1797]

1844, 13 Feb
Echerer, Ignaz, son, marries Nigg, Magdalena
[He was 41 years old; they married on 19 Feb 1844]

1847, 12 Jun
He sells to a new family for 1400 fl, or 1200 Euros in 1982 money. Interestingly enough, the new owner sells it three years later for 2400 fl, proving that “house flipping” isn’t such a modern concept.

So, where did the family go? The house had been in the family for 100 years. The answer was also in the book. They moved to a different house, the current address of which is Schulstrasse 5. This house is even older than the previous one, as the records begin back in 1511! What is interesting is the immediate history prior to the purchase by Ignaz. Before I had done research with the church records, I would have only looked for his surname and ignored the rest. But, after complete research, I know the full story of the family relationships, so I will back up a bit in the house’s history.

1784, bought for 420 fl by Höck, Johann, master carpenter

1794, 12 Apr, daughter Therese marries

1794, 26 Apr, Nick, Karl, Town Master Carpenter

1844, 02 May, Nick, Rosalie, daughter, marries Aicher, Christian, master carpenter

It is from this couple that Ignaz and Magdalena buy the house for 3,980 fl. We saw from the previous entry that Nigg is Magdalena’s maiden name. Rosalie is her sister, Karl is her father (so she was born in this house), and the owner back in 1784 was her grandfather! After the couple purchases the house, it remains in the family until 1899. My great-grandmother, Maria Echerer, was born there in 1875 to Karl Echerer, son of Ignaz and Magdalena, and Margarethe Fischer. It appears that the house was owned by my great-grandmother’s brother, Karl, from 1896 to 1899 when he sold it for 10,800 Marks.

As you can see from the above example, there is an extraordinary amount of genealogical data to be found in such books. Other entries were less detailed, but nearly every house’s history had some information on marriages, including where the spouse may have come from if the town was not the same, and occupations. It appears based on the above that a new entry was made after the death of a spouse, a marriage, or the passing of the house to a son or daughter, which is why this sort of history has more in common with deed records than what Americans would call “city directories”.

But, where do you find such a treasure if it exists for your town? Well, it’s not easy. What makes the search even more complicated are the different names that Germans use. For my town of Pfaffenhofen, the book is called a häuserchronik. But similar information might be found in a heimatbuch, or town history. Some towns even have something called a ortssippenbuch or ortsfamilienbücher, which are books containing the genealogical data of an entire town or village. None of these useful resources are maintained in one place, so they are difficult to find.

First, I would try a search at www.familysearch.org for your family’s town – there are some of the above resources that would be listed if they are microfilmed.

Next, simply search on www.google.com for your town name, plus one of the above words.

You can also find success at German bookstores. One useful site that seems to have many “historical” books – and also has an English search page – is www.zvab.de. Put the town name in the subject search and see what you find!

Did you know that there are foreign versions of E-bay? You’re more likely to find a German book on Germany’s E-bay at www.ebay.de. Search for the town name, or even a surname. I found many heimatbucher waiting to be found by genealogists. It does help if you speak the language, though. While ordering via E-bay isn’t that difficult in any language, once you get the book it helps to be able to decipher the contents! I have several German books, but I don’t read German. If I did, or if I tried a little harder with a dictionary, I might know a lot more about my ancestors’ towns by now.

Finally, there is a database available at www.ortsfamilienbuecher.de that has listings of some “town heritage books”. I have not found an online resource that lists “häuserchronik” books specifically, but a local heritage book may also have genealogical information. You may have better luck contacting town or local archives to determine if any exist for your town.

Good luck, and I hope you all find similar genealogical treasures from your ancestors’ towns.

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