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Archive for the ‘Naturalization’ Category

Proud descendant of the two gentlemen below coming it at nearly 3′ tall!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… V is for Vital Statistics! Line up your ancestors and check out their vitals!

Definition of VITAL STATISTICS

1: statistics relating to births, deaths, marriages, health, and disease
2: facts (as physical dimensions or quantities) considered to be interesting or important; especially : a woman’s bust, waist, and hip measurements
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When genealogists speak of “Vitals” we are usually referring to the information obtained from Vital Records: Births, Marriages, and Deaths. The term “Vital Statistics” refers to stats relating to these records. Although the second definition is primarily used for a woman’s physical “stats,” I’m using it in a slightly different non-sexist way. For me, Vital Statistics are the information I’ve obtained from genealogical records about my ancestors’ physical descriptions such as their height, hair color, eye color, and more. This information is especially relevant to me for the ancestors for whom I have no photograph – these “stats” are the only way for me to see what my ancestor looked like.

Where does one find such information? If your ancestor immigrated to the United States in 1906 or 1907, the passenger arrival records include the immigrant’s physical description: height, complexion, color of hair and eyes, and identifying marks. Draft registration cards are a great source of physical descriptions for male ancestors. Naturalization records also ask for physical descriptions. Other resources might include military records or employment records.

Joseph Zawodny, age 22

 When my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny filled out his WWI draft registration card in 1918, he was  38 years old. The cards were not very specific, and he listed his height and build as “medium” with brown eyes and dark hair. But what was considered medium height and build back then? The more specific information requested for his Declaration of Intention four years later in 1922 might answer that. He lists his height as 5’7-1/2″ and his weight as 164 pounds. He had a fair complexion, brown hair, and brown eyes – which fits with the black and white photograph I have of him.

Louis Pater, age 54

Then again, the records may not always be correct or consistent. Take, for example, my other great-grandfather, Louis Pater. When he arrived in the U.S. in August, 1907, he was only 14 years old. He was only 5′ tall with blond hair and blue eyes. On his WWI draft card at age 23, he said he was “tall” and “slender” with brown hair and green eyes. Four years later on his Declaration of Intention, he lists his height as 5’10” and weight as 150 pounds. He has a “dark” complexion, “dark brown” hair, and “grey” eyes. Finally, on his WWII draft card at age 48, he seems to have shrunk to 5’9″ and put on a few pounds at 190. He has a “ruddy” complexion, “brown” hair, and “brown” eyes! So, were his eyes blue, green, gray, or brown? Likely gray – that was the color of the eyes for the entire Pater family and he passed them on to his son!

I don’t have any photograph of my great-grandmother Rose Piontkowski. But because she arrived here in 1906, I know from the passenger list that at the age of 41 she was 5’3″ with brown hair and blue eyes. It’s not much, but at least it gives me some idea of what she may have looked like. I don’t have a photograph of her husband John either. He was too old for either draft, but he filed his Declaration of Intention in 1920 at the age of 49. He was 5’8″, weighed 150 pounds, had a dark complexion, brown hair, and gray eyes.

Sometimes the descriptions on the passenger lists aren’t very flattering! Take my great-great grandmother Antonina Pluta Pater. Thanks to her passenger arrival record, she will forever be known as having a “sallow” complexion and a “wrinkled forehead” in addition to her 5’2-3/8″ frame, brown hair, and blue eyes!

Vital stats such as height or eye color are obviously not as useful as actual vital statistics like birth and death dates. But, it does give us a nice “look” at our ancestors. It is also fascinating to create family trees that show things like eye color – biology class in high school suddenly becomes more interesting. So as your family tree grows, take some “measurements” along the way and see which ancestors you most resemble!

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

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

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

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

What Made Me Smile

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

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

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

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

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

What Made Me Cry

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

Surprise!

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

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

Parents: (one, none, or both) _______

Her response? One.

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

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

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

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

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In my last post, Not Worth the Wait, I complained about my research experience with USCIS, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Sometimes I complain for effect – that is, to get a response.  This time I was just publicly venting for no reason other than to post about my mysterious letter and lack of photographs.  So I was surprised when I received an email from USCIS’ Chief of the Historical Research Branch. Apparently word gets around (I didn’t realize the Department of Homeland Security read my blog)! 

I was very happy that they took the time to contact me, so I’d like to present what they had to say as a follow-up to my previous rant post.  The first error was my own.  I complained that I had the file number all along and didn’t need the index search.  But, apparently if I had looked a little more closely at the information on the USCIS web site, I would have realized the index search was not necessary at all.

Next, USCIS apologized for what I referred to as their “amusing letter”.  The letter used a “boiler plate” format, and two reviewing offices missed the grammatical errors.

But the biggest surprise of all?  USCIS did have a copy of the letter I previously received in the DoJ FOIA request years ago, and they emailed me a much more legible copy of it.  The email explained that this should have been included in the file they sent me.  USCIS said:

The omission of the letter from the copy sent to you by Genealogy was our error.  I am currently reviewing all record request procedures with the Genealogy supervisor to ensure the same error does not occur again.

When a naturalized citizen was convicted of a crime, the court would notify the cognizant INS office.  The office would then investigate to see if the person had committed any crimes in the five-year period prior to their naturalization.  In my great-grandfather’s case, his record was clean and this was his first offense. Now that I have a legible letter with a conviction date, I can investigate further.  And maybe, like Sheri suggested in the comments of the last post, find my missing photo.  Unfortunately it will be a mug shot, but a photo is a photo!

USCIS said, “We do our best to learn lessons from experiences such as yours to improve the USCIS Genealogy Program.”  This is great news to genealogists everywhere!

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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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One of the dangers facts about being a genealogist is that no matter what you read, you will read it through a genealogist’s eyes.  It’s like having a genea-lens, and your observation of the world focuses on different things.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

For example, November 13 was the Catholic feast day of St. Frances Cabrini.  I don’t know anything about Mother Cabrini except that she was a nun, she has a college named after her in my area, and I once visited a shrine in Colorado that had a large statue of her.  In reading a snippet about her on her feast day, I had to stop after I read  that she “was the first American citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church…”

My genea-lens zoomed in…American citizen, eh?  We’ll see about that!  So I set off to find the good sister’s immigration record and naturalization papers.  And, because some of our government records are as trusty as the good-old-Catholic-school permanent record, I found it!

The first American-citizen saint was born Francesca Saverio Cabrini on July 15, 1850 in Italy.  She was 27 years old when she became a nun and added the name Xavier in honor of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest.  Sr. Frances Xavier Cabrini became a teacher, and she eventually founded an order of missionary sisters in 1880.  Although her hope was to travel to the East as a missionary, the Pope asked her to instead travel West to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States.  She immigrated herself in 1889 and petitioned for citizenship in 1909.

Mother Cabrini's petition for naturalization. Source: Ancestry.com

By the time of Mother Cabrini’s death in 1917, she and her order had founded 67 schools, orphanages, and other institutions throughout the United States as well as in Europe and South America.  She became a saint in 1946 and is the patron saint of immigrants.

So the next time you’re researching passenger arrival or naturalization records, use your genea-lens.  Who knows, maybe your ancestor stood in line with a future saint to enter this country!

[One "Get Out of Hell Free" card a la The Educated Genealogist to the first person who can correctly identify the first American-born saint…no cheating with Google!]

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Since the start of my research nearly twenty years ago, my most elusive ancestor has been the one whose last name I share, John Piontkowski. (That’s a whole other post as to why our last names are spelled differently!)

Back in the “pre-online” days of genealogy, one of my earliest finds was the passenger arrival record for John’s wife, Rose. She arrived in New York on the S.S. Armenia in November 1906 and was accompanied by her son Józef, age 3, and daughter Janina, age 10 months. The record indicates that they are going to their husband and father John (Jan in Polish) in Philadelphia. Because the age of Janina is so specific, I concluded that John had to arrive in the US post-conception, or approximately between May 1905 and November 1906. Of course, this assumes he is her father, but I felt that this was a reasonable assumption!

Although several men named Jan Piontkowski (and its variations) fit this timeframe, I could never prove that any were him. I was not aware of any other family members, or any other possible destinations in the US, so it was impossible to verify. Over the years I searched on many name variations as well as other ports. Even Steve Morse’s site couldn’t help me (though it did help on many other occasions)!

I could have saved myself some aggravation if I knew that he was naturalized. I’m sure I checked the indices at some point (note to beginners: keep a record of both successful searches as well as failures) because I always run through multiple family names. But somehow I missed it. Was it indexed incorrectly? The most embarrassing fact is that on the 1930 Census, it clearly says that John is naturalized. But even the census can be wrong, right?

Piontkowski signature

Then I wiled away some internet time searching on Footnote.com. On such sites, I usually find nothing, no evidence of my family’s existence. So imagine my surprise when I see a Declaration of Intention for John Piontkowski in Philadelphia! Doubtful, yet excited, I ordered it, and sure enough it appeared to be my great-grandfather. Clues in his favor were the right occupation (leather worker), birthplace (Warsaw), age (born 1871), and wife’s name (“Rosie”). I remained slightly skeptical until I saw the Petition for Naturalization, which confirmed his identity because it includes the children’s names and birthdates. I had trouble finding the petition itself because John decided to suddenly include his middle name, Bolesław, which I never knew he had. I also got a full birth date for his wife, who was five years older than her husband – a fact which gets “covered up” on various censuses.

Naturally (no pun intended), I also got John’s arrival information – the S.S. Pennsylvania, arriving in NY on 04 March 1906. I had to see the record for myself…what did I find? A non-descript entry for Johann Piatkowsky, going with a friend to “Port Chester, NY” to another friend. Basically, someone I would have assumed to be him. I may have found the name, but without some designation – even just Philadelphia as a destination – I probably would have passed this by.

One important note: When dealing with Polish names, “normal” indexing can be flawed. Anyone knowledgeable about Polish surnames knows that a variation of Piontkowski is Piątkowski, with the “ą” character sounding similar to the “on” sound. While soundexing would take several variations into account, a Piatkowski simply will not show up when searching for Piontkowski because of the missing consonant. Be vigilant!

The moral to the story is to search, research, and search again. While I’ll usually post about how to accurately perform research, in this case please don’t do what I did – if the census says someone is naturalized, it’s worth a look!

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