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Archive for the ‘Passenger Lists’ 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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Ellis Island today

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series…E is for Ellis Island!  Few places in America have the legendary status of Ellis Island.  Any family history that includes early 20th century immigrants holds Ellis Island in high regard as the entryway to this country. There were other ports in the United States, but Ellis Island brought the largest number of immigrants to the U.S. and is the most well-known and perhaps the most “romanticized” of the ports that drew, in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to this country.

Ellis Island was only one stop on a very long journey, but because it was the entry point to the United States, it seems to summarize the entire immigrant experience. At some point, my ancestors made a decision to leave their homeland. In some cases, they left their parents and siblings behind and never saw them again. Maybe they left because of economic concerns, or maybe they just had adventurous spirits. All of them, I’m sure, hoped for a better life once they arrived here. As a result of that one decision, they traveled long distances from Germany and Poland to ports throughout Europe: Hamburg and Bremen in Germany, Antwerp in Belgium, and even Southampton in Great Britain. Then the transatlantic journey began – approximately two weeks at sea. Third class steerage was no vacation cruise; quarters were cramped and uncomfortable. Some of my ancestors made the journey alone, including some females, and other female ancestors bravely traveled with their young toddlers. And then…America! Their first glimpse of the new country, their hope for a new life, was Ellis Island.  I have no idea what they thought at that moment, but I do know that without that decision, without that journey, without that arrival into a melting pot of a new country with a new language and a new way of life, I would not have been born.  Or if my ancestors from different countries did happen to meet elsewhere in the same combination, I would not be American.  Therefore, I’m very grateful for their decisions and their journey that brought them to Ellis Island.

Over 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. Fortunately for their descendants who are interested in genealogy, passenger lists were required for each ship. The lists provide a wealth of information, but some years have much more than others. Besides finding out ages, occupations, and occasionally birthplaces, we also sometimes learn the physical descriptions of our ancestors. Without photographs, learning the person’s height, hair and eye color, and complexion allows us to mentally picture these travelers. The lists make the stories “real” – the first time I found one of my ancestors on a passenger list (on microfilm in pre-digital days), I let out a whoop of joy and did a genealogical happy dance.  Those names I learned were really real! That’s how my family research began – finding my family’s American beginnings in Ellis Island’s records.

I finally took my own journey to Ellis Island in the summer of 2010 with five genealogist friends. It was a wonderful experience.  I was surprised the “Great Hall” was not quite as large as it looks in photographs. What made our trip meaningful was that all of us had ancestors who arrived through that port and the realization that their fateful decision to come here shaped our own lives.

My Ellis Island Immigrants

Piontkowski (Piątkowski) Family

  • Husband Jan (34) on 04 March 1906 on SS Pennsylvania from Hamburg
  • Wife Rozalia (41) and children Jozef (3) and Janina (1) on 09 November 1906 on SS Armenia from Hamburg

Bergmeister Family

  • Husband Josef, my first direct ancestor immigrant to the United States, actually arrived via the port of Philadelphia in 1900.
  • Wife Marie (26) and daughter Marie (3) on 27 June 1901 on SS Kensington from Antwerp
  • Josef’s sister, Hilaury (23), arrived 25 July 1893 on SS Friesland from Antwerp. Their brother, Ignaz, arrived at the port of Philadelphia in 1904. Half-brother Julius Goetz (16) arrived 22 September 1902 on SS Zeeland from Antwerp. Half-brother Herman Goetz (26) arrived 03 May 1911 on SS Finland from Antwerp.

Pater Family

  • Husband Józef (40) on 18 February 1905 on SS Graf Waldersee from Hamburg
  • Wife Antonina (42) and daughters Regina (18) and Victoria (2) on 30 September 1906 on SS Blücher from Hamburg
  • Sons Wacław (17), Ludwik (14), and Stefan (12) and daughter/son-in-law Francziska and Pawel Miedzinski (Nieginski) (20 and 27) on 15 August 1907 on SS Grosser Kurfurst from Bremen.
  • Antonina’s mother, Franziska Pluta (60) on 21 June 1909 on SS Vaderland from Antwerp

Müller / Miller Family

  • My as-yet single great-grandmother, Elżbieta (18), on 16 April 1909 on SS President Grant from Hamburg
  • Her brother, sister-in-law (2 arrival records), niece, and nephew (born in U.S., left, returned to U.S. via Ellis Island) and various Miller “cousins” also arrived through Ellis Island.

Zawodny Family

  • Husband Józef (23) on 05 April 1902 on SS Graf Waldersee from Hamburg
  • Wife Wacława arrived via the port of Philadelphia later in 1902.
  • Three of Wacława’s sisters arrived at Ellis Island on 15 October 1920 on SS Adriatic from Southampton

I have previously written about several of these immigrants as well as using passenger lists for research. Read the other posts about passenger lists and the immigration experience here.

 

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

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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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Recently I was organizing some research related to my great-grandmother’s sisters (see some photos in my 3-part series on the Slesinski Sisters that begins here).  Three of her four sisters came to the United States on the same ship in 1920.  I found their passenger arrival records many years ago early in my research.  I probably found the record in the early 1990’s, which was long before:

How did we ever find anything?  Back in those ancient days, there were only two options for finding passenger list records: 1) view indexes and arrival records at the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) branches or a LDS Family History Library, or 2) send in a search request – by mail – to NARA.  Oh, and if you did visit a NARA branch in person to research, the only branches that had New York City arrival records – and therefore Ellis Island arrivals – were New York City (then located in Bayonne, NJ) or Pittsfield, MA.

I requested the sisters’ records by mail using the appropriate government form and providing what little information I knew.  Luckily, they found them and sent me the records.  What you received back then were full size images – 17 x 22 inches.  The arrival records in 1920 had two pages of information (including relative in the home country, birthplace, and physical description), and since the three sisters were separated on two different pages, in total I received four very large sheets – well worth the money! (Read more about The Way It Was with regard to passenger lists!)

But coming back to the present…I realized I did not have a digital copy of the record.  Since it is not easy to scan such a large document, I figured I would just look it up.  Since I have a subscription to Ancestry, I went to the site and entered one of the sisters’ names.  Result: nothing.  Hmm…  I remembered the surname was misspelled on the list, so I tried Sleszynska.  Result: nothing (Actually, while writing this post I tried again, and one sister is entered with the name spelled that way; however, I must have tried her sister’s first names or misspelled her first name, because I could not find the correct entry with a name search.)

Wait a minute, I know when they came and what ship they came on – how hard can this be?  Once again, I was not able to find their records.  Finally I removed the name from the search field and looked at all the Polish women who arrived on the SS Adriatic on 15 October 1920.  By this point, I was really curious as to how their names were entered into the database.  Since I had the pertinent data, I eventually did find them…but would I have known it was them if I was searching for the very first time and wasn’t sure when they actually arrived?

Let’s look at the sisters’ names: Janina, Zofia, and Marianna Slesinska, possible spelling Sleszinska.  This is how they are indexed on the various online sites:

Ellis Island’s site lists

  • Sleszyaska, Janma
  • Sloskynska, Zonia
  • Slexzynska, Maryanna

Ancestry’s site lists

  • Sleszyuska, Jama
  • Sloszyaska, Zo??A
  • Sleszynska, Maryanna
  • There is also an entry that reads Sister in 17/18 Janna Sloszyaska

Keep in mind, if you will, that the first two sisters appear one below the other on the list…

Now, as far as Polish surnames go, this one is not too difficult.  Based on the principles of the Soundex system, only one of these listings would actually be found using a search for either Slesinska or Sleszinska, and that would be Ancestry’s entry for Maryanna Sleszynska.  For Soundex to work, you at least need right-sounding consonants in the right places! Of course, even to find that one entry you would have to either wade through all of the entries or search for the first name “Maryanna” in lieu of “Marianna”.

Even Steve Morse’s site wouldn’t find these ladies if I didn’t already know where to look!

But there is an irony to this search that made it all the more amusing.  Of all the immigrant relatives I have, and all of the passenger arrival records I have copied, this list – the one with the surname-spelling-challenged-sisters – is typewritten.  It’s not even handwriting!  But, just because it’s typewritten doesn’t mean it’s legible…let’s finally take a look at these hard-to-find ladies:

Entry on the passenger list for Maryanna Sleszynska - although some white-out would have been helpful.

Passenger list entry for "Janma" and "Zo ia" - well, at least they knew they were sisters!

All I know is that in the original NARA indexes, Zofia really is listed as “Zofia Sleszynska” – for that is how I found these ladies in the first place!  The old adage is true…computers are only as good as what goes into them.  The moral of the story is…if you can’t find someone in an online index, it doesn’t mean they are not there – it just means they are hard to find!

By the way, you can still order passenger arrival list copies from NARA using the form via mail or online.  I wonder if you still get the 17″ x 22″ images?

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microfilmThis week I am highlighting some random facts about passenger lists.  Today’s post won’t offer any helpful searching hints or useful sites.  Instead, let’s journey down memory lane to the good old days before we did our research on the internet.  Wait, why exactly do we call them the good old days?

If you are a “new” genealogist, you may be surprised to learn that in those dark old days before passenger arrival records were available online, copies could be obtained from NARA. They still can be ordered from NARA, but most people choose to save a digital copy from the various search sites, or simply print their own copy instead.  But back then, getting a copy through NARA was the only way to “own” the image.  The best thing about it? The photocopy measured 17” x 22” – big enough to read every detail!  I have wondered if this was close to the size of the original documents (I’ve asked NARA but did not receive an answer).  Being able to print a manifest sheet on your own computer is wonderful, but shrinking it to 8 ½ x 11” just isn’t the same.

Also back before the lists were available online, the index/soundex to the lists consisted of microfilmed index cards that would reference a group and a line number.  The group number was the page, and the line was the line on that page. That does not sound very difficult, but the problem was that the pages were not clearly numbered.  In fact, there were usually multiple numbers, either handwritten or stamped, at the top of every page. Case in point – here are two images…one is the left-hand side of the top of the page, the other is the right-hand side.  Note the multiple numbers!

pl 1Will the real page number please reveal yourself?

pl 2

Once you figured out which one of these was the actual group number, then it was easy.  But, jumping directly to the page in question is a big time saver in research!  I consider this one to be like the difference between using a tv remote and getting up to change the channel on the television (if you’re old enough to remember what that was like).  Sure, you can change it by hand, but it’s so much easier to change it from the couch!

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This week I am highlighting some random facts about passenger lists.  Today’s random question: did you ever wonder what all those scribbles are on the manifest?

The best information I have ever found on the various markings is at Manifest Markings hosted on Jewish Gen.  If you have immigrant ancestors and have not seen this site, you are in for a delightful learning experience.  You’ll learn all about the miscellaneous letters, numbers, and checkmarks that fill up every square inch of the arrival record.

If you’ve been searching for immigrant ancestors in the passenger lists, you may have noticed that some names have dates and numbers that appear to be added around the name in a different handwriting.  Often these are records of naturalization proceedings for the immigrant.

A passenger's record of nauralization years after his arrival in the U.S.

A passenger's record of nauralization years after his arrival in the U.S.

Another useful bit of information is the casual X that marks the spot next to some passengers names, but not all.  If you see an X next to your immigrant’s name, that is a sign that they were detained at the port for some reason.  Often, if you scroll to the very end of the ship’s lists, you may find more info on why they were detained or for how long.

This is a detainee list at the end of a ship's arrival records.  The last entry shows my great-grandfather with his brothers, sister, and brother-in-law.

This is a detainee list at the end of a ship's arrival records. The last entry shows my great-grandfather with his brothers, sister, and brother-in-law.

In the above instance, my great-granfather and his family were detained because his older brother had a physical deformity.  Fearing he would be a “LPC” or Likely Public Charge (unable to work and required to live off of government assistance), he needed to be examined by a doctor.  Also, two of the boys were under 16 years old and traveling with their older sister and her husband.

This case was a “special inquiry” and they were detained for several days. But most of the detainees were simply held to telegraph for money so that they could travel to their final destination.

Overall, this is a very useful site to help you get a better understanding of the passenger arrival records as well as the process that the immigrant had to go through in order to enter the country.

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This week I am highlighting some random things about passenger arrival records.  Today’s focus: accidental discoveries in Ancestry.com records!

Friends in the Days Before Facebook

For some ports, Ancestry.com indexes don’t just have the names of the passengers, but also the names of their friends that were already in the U.S. waiting for them.

For Philadelphia passenger lists, I found this out quite by accident.  What this means is that if you enter a name into the search field, you’ll get hits not only for manifests with immigrants of that name, but also if that person was listed as the point-of-contact for an immigrant.  This is an excellent way to find possible relatives!

For example, a search for “Emil Muller” yielded the following results:

Ancestry screen Emil

But who are those last two people?  Their names are not Emil Muller!  Both listed someone by that name as their friend in this country.  See the detail on Anna Trepke’s record under “Friend’s Name”:

Ancestry screen Emil 2

In this particular instance, Anna wound up being a sister-in-law of the Emil Muller that I was researching (based on his home address and relationship on the record).  The name was previously unknown to me before beginning the search.

I have only found this for Philadelphia passenger arrival records so far.The results were the same when I used Steve Morse’s One-Step Search for the Philadelphia arrivals.  The major difference is that Ancestry brought up the “friend” records in addition to the records for passengers with that name.  For Steve’s site, you have to enter the name as either the passenger or the friend.

Steve’s search also has the “friend” field listed for New York arrival records, but I tried various names that I know were listed as the friend on arrivals and the search (forwarded to Ancestry) did not find any of them.  I don’t believe this field is indexed as it is for Philadelphia passenger arrival records.  I have not tried any other ports, but if you find “friends” indexed in other records, please leave a comment!

Just Passing Through

Immigrants who sailed from English ports like Liverpool and Southampton may still be found in the Hamburg, Germany passenger list indexes!  Why?  Because many European immigrants first sailed from Hamburg to Great Britain to get to their ship that would take them to America.

This was another accidental find while searching for one of my surnames.  I knew my great-grandfather’s brother, Stefan Zawodny, sailed from Liverpool on 16 May 1903 and arrived in Philadelphia on 30 May.  So I was surprised to find a record in the Hamburg indexes, because I assumed they were passengers sailing from Hamburg to various ports.  I had forgotten about the indirect sailings from Hamburg to Great Britain.  In the Hamburg passenger lists I found him departing for Liverpool on 08 May!

Find more information about the Hamburg passenger lists here.  This highlights the fact that our ancestors had a very long journey to get to the United States.

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of my great-grandmother, Elżbieta Müller, to the United States.  She soon Americanized her name to Elizabeth Miller, and the following year became Elizabeth Pater after marriage.

The SS President Grant

The SS President Grant

Elizabeth sailed on the SS President Grant, a ship of the Hamburg-American line.  The ship left Hamburg, Germany, on April 3, 1909, and arrived at Ellis Island in New York City on April 16th.  The passenger arrival records for 1909 include a number of details that are not found on earlier records.  From Elizabeth’s arrival record, I learned the following information: She was an 18-year-old Polish dressmaker from “Zieraldow, Russia” who was able to read and write.  Her nearest relative in Poland was her father, Jan Müller, in Zieraldow.  Her destination was Philadelphia, PA to go to her brother, Emil Müller, at 2512 Palethorp Street.  The manifest indicates she was in posession of $4, but then “None” was written over it.  The record provides a physical description of her having light brown hair, gray eyes, and a height of 4’11”.  Her place of birth is indicated as Zieraldow, Russia.

Passenger arrival record of Elżbieta Müller, April 16, 1909, page 1 (click for larger image)

Passenger arrival record of Elżbieta Müller, April 16, 1909, page 1. She is on line #22. (click for larger image)

Page #2 of Elżbieta Müller's passenger manifest. (click for larger image)

Page #2 of Elżbieta Müller's passenger manifest. (click for larger image)

I take a special delight in her arrival above all other immigrant ancestors, because it is an example of one of my biggest mistakes in my genealogical research.  A name like “Elizabeth Miller” is very common, so her record was rather difficult to find.  There were immigrants that bore that name from Ireland, England, Russia, Poland, Germany, and Hungary.  Many years ago, very early in my genealogical quest, I thought I found her record.  Only to find out years later that I was wrong – and in fact, I had been tracing the incorrect family and birthplace all the while.  I forget exactly what prompted me to take a second look, but I’ll never forget my reaction to finding her actual record that I discuss above…”She’s from Żyrardów?!” I knew that the “Zieraldow” on the record was merely Żyrardów misspelled.  I kept repeating it to myself, smiling at my error.  You see, my first surprise was that my great-grandparents were not a married couple when they “came over”.  I wondered how they managed to marry the year after her arrival when my great-grandfather had been here for a few years as a young teenager.  The answer?  They were from the SAME TOWN – which is how I knew that “Zieraldow” was a misspelling (which I naturally proved through research as any genealogist would).

When I found this record, her real arrival record, there were several facts that confirmed or provided adequate proof that it was the correct person, including her age, father’s name, and brother’s name and address.

eliz_name1I noticed that the manifest had a big “X” next to her line number.  That is a signal that the passenger was detained for some reason, and there may be more information available.  For more information, see A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations. The key to finding  the additional information is to find the manifest (on either microfilm on online records), then scroll to the very end of the records for that ship and date of arrival.  At the end of the “normal” manifest listings, there is a record of detained passengers.  It appears that they detained Elizabeth because she had no money to get to Philadelphia, so she had to telephone her brother for money.  They discharged her from Ellis Island the following day, April 17th.  I wonder what was more stressful – traveling alone to a new country, or being held overnight once she got there?

Record of Detained Aliens on the USS President Grant.  Elizabeth's entry is line #248. (Click for larger image.)

Record of Detained Aliens on the USS President Grant. Elizabeth's entry is line #248. (Click for larger image.)

Besides my delight with this find after such a long search for the correct record, finding Elizabeth’s arrival was fun for me because she has the distinction among all of my great-grandparents and immigrant ancestors of being the only one that I met.  I don’t remember the event or how many times I actually met her, but my mother tells me that Elizabeth held me on her lap on at least one occasion.  To me, this knowledge gave me a more tangible “link” or connection to my immigrant ancestors.  She became more than a name or a face in a fuzzy photograph – I met her, even if I was too young to remember it.  My great-grandmother died in 1972 when I was five years old.

Today I commemorate her arrival to the U.S. and honor her for making that long journey alone to begin a new life in a new country.  Welcome to America, Elizabeth!  I am certainly glad you came.

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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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Ever since my first transatlantic trip in 1985, I’ve been stricken with the travel bug. There is no cure. Symptoms include a desire to wander to far-away places, hopeless daydreaming, and a joy brought on by traipsing on planes and trains. I did not think my condition was genetic as no one else in my immediate family seems to have this disease. But then I realized that about a hundred years ago, my ancestors had the ultimate travel experience. It was no Grand Tour though… It certainly wasn’t a vacation to travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a brand new life. In most cases, they never returned to their homeland again or saw the family that stayed behind.

836571. New York Public Library

While the immigrant experience in itself is quite inspiring no matter who made the journey, I am especially fascinated by my female ancestors and relatives that made this trip-of-a-lifetime. In every instance they either traveled alone or with small children to meet their husbands or other family members who were already in the United States. I can only imagine what this experience was like.

First, the hard decision was made to pack up, leave their homes behind, and travel to a foreign land – not just temporarily, but most likely forever. I stressed over moving ten miles away from my childhood home! What were the conditions like in Germany or Poland/Russia that inspired these women to leave? Was the economy bad? Little or no chance of employment? What did they hear about America that made it seem better? How long did it take to afford the move across the pond?

The next difficult part of the journey was the separation that couples endured. If you were married, usually the husband made the journey first. Presumably it was necessary for the man to find housing and employment, and then save money to send for the rest of the family’s trip.

When it came time for the women to travel, the first part of the journey involved getting to the port. In my family, several ports were used including Hamburg and Bremen in Germany, Southampton and Liverpool in England, and Antwerp in Belgium. I don’t have any first-hand accounts of their lives or of their journeys to America, but I know that travel back then was not as quick and easy as it is today (TSA rules and flight delays notwithstanding, travel really is “easy” today by comparison). So it’s my guess that even this land-based part of the trip may have been complicated. Fortunately, the railways in Europe were probably as good as they are today. But, life was different. No one had cell phones to keep in touch up to the minute. There were no baby carriages, so toddlers walked and babies were carried. My guess is that the majority of immigrants came with one suitcase at most – travelers today probably take more for an overnight trip then our ancestors carried for the trip of their lives.

The time at sea wasn’t exactly a cruise ship experience! The vast majority of immigrants, including every one of my ancestors, came over in third class steerage on steamships. If the weather was good, folks could go up on deck to pass the time. The journey, at least during the years that my ancestors traveled, took about two weeks. After arriving through Ellis Island, not everyone was reunited with their families immediately. Today we complain about security or passport lines and slow baggage retrieval. Back then, the immigrants stood in line for processing. During the peak years that my ancestors came to the US, a busy port like New York at Ellis Island processed up to 5,000 immigrants a day! In addition to the processing time, occasionally immigrants were detained. If someone looked ill, they were kept for further examination. In some cases, the unlucky person or family was deported. Can you imagine finally arriving and you still can’t see your family? Or worse still, being told you can not enter the country?

Although these ladies weren’t travelers in the “pleasure travel” or vacation sense of the word, I find their stories to be amazing…even if they settled down in the US and never traveled more than ten miles for the rest of their lives. Here are some brief portraits of the courageous women travelers in my family:

1888 – Hilaire Bergmeister
Hilaire, my great-great-aunt, is my “premiere” female traveler both in terms of being the first as well as the gutsiest! She traveled to the US on the SS Friesland alone at the age of 23. She had no family here. That alone makes her journey truly impressive to me. I’ll write more about Hilaire and her life later this week for the next Carnival of Genealogy.

Marie Bergmeister

Marie Bergmeister, Munich, Germany, circa 1890-1900

1901 – Marie Bergmeister (nee Echerer)

My great-grandmother Marie is Hillaire’s sister-in-law, but they probably had never met until both were here in the US. Marie traveled from 13-27 June on the SS Kensington via Antwerp, which is 460 miles from her home in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Germany. Marie was 26 when she made the journey with her 3-year-old daughter, Marie. They had not seen their husband and father, Joseph, for just over one year.

1903 – Wacława Zawodna (nee Slesinska)
My great-grandmother Wacława is my only ancestor to travel through the port of Philadelphia instead of Ellis Island. She sailed from Liverpool on the SS Westernland for two weeks in July. Just getting from Dobrosołowo, Poland to Liverpool was an amazing 1,100-mile trip! She was only 18 years old and traveled to meet her husband, Jozef Zawodny. He had been in the US for over a year, but the young couple had only just married weeks before he left Poland. One can imagine how anxious she was to see her new husband after such a long separation. Wacława would never see her parents again – parents who were quite unhappy with her marriage and apparently refused to communicate with her even by mail. She was the oldest daughter, and she would not see her four younger sisters for many years. In fact, when she left Poland, her youngest sister was only 2 years old!

1906 – Rosalia Piontkowska (nee Kizoweter)
Great-grandmother Rosalia gets extra credit in the “gutsy” category for traveling with her 3-year-old son, Jozef, and her 1-year-old daughter, Janina, on the SS Armenia from Hamburg to New York, arriving on 10 November. She wasn’t a young mother either at age 41, and she hadn’t seen her husband Jan for over six months. I have no photos of Rosalia, but her passenger list record describes her as 5’3″ with brown hair and blue eyes. I try to picture her juggling Janina and a suitcase while trying to hold on to her toddler at the same time! If that weren’t brave enough, the journey from Warsaw, Poland to Hamburg, Germany was about 540 miles!

1906 – Antonina Pater (nee Pluta)
The Pater family arrived in the US in stages. My 2nd great-grandmother Antonina, age 42, and two of her daughters, 18-year-old Regina and 2-year-old Victoria, arrived second, which was nearly 18 months after their husband and father Jozef settled here. She would have to wait nearly a year to see another daughter and three young sons, and it would be nearly three years before she would see her mother again. Antonina and her daughters traveled on the SS Blücher from Hamburg, about 520 miles from her home in Żyrardów. I have no photos of her or these daughters, but the passenger list offers descriptions. Antonina was 5’2 3/8″, she had a sallow complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and a wrinkled forehead (as any mother separated from her children would have!). Regina was 5’3 1/2″, fair, with blond hair, gray eyes, and a round face, and little Victoria had her big sister’s coloring.

Frances Pater and Paul Nieginski

Frances and Paul Nieginski, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1940s

1907 – Franciszka Nieginski (nee Pater)

My great-great-aunt Franciszka (Frances) and her husband Pawel (Paul) were responsible for bringing my great-grandfather and his brothers to the US since their parents were already here. They traveled on the SS Grosser Kurfurst in August. Franciszka was only 20 herself, and she brought 17-year-old Wacław, 14-year-old Ludwik, and 12-year-old Stefan with her since they would not be allowed entry alone. Because Wacław suffered from some sort of illness (short left leg and a deformed chest according to the passenger list), the entire group was detained for two days for further examination, which must have been quite stressful to all.

1909 – Elizabeth Miller
My great-grandmother, known in her native language as Elżbieta Müller, was 18 when she made the long journey from Żyrardów, Poland, to New York on the SS President Grant. Not yet married, she traveled alone and met her brother, Emil. My only photo of her much older, but I’ve heard she was quite attractive in her youth. The list describes her as 4’11” with a fair complexion, light brown hair, and gray eyes. She would marry a slightly younger man, Ludwik (Louis) Pater, a little more than a year later. Both were from Zyrardow, but he came to the US almost two years before her trip.

1909 – Franciszka Pluta (nee Wojciechowska)
How I wish I had a photo of Franciszka! She is my 3rd great-grandmother, and the oldest ancestor to have made the journey to America at age 69. And she traveled alone! She is the mother of Antonina Pater, and she joins her daughter’s family after a 2-day wait in detention for a medical exam. They determined she was an “LPC” or Likely Public Charge, probably because of her age and/or health. The list describes her as 4’10”, limping, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a dark complexion. What an amazing journey for a woman her age! She lived with her daughter’s family until her death in April 1914.

Slesinski Sisters

Clockwise from top left: Jozefa/Josephine, Wacława/Laura, Marianna/Mary, Zofia/Sophie, and Janina/Jane, McKeesport, PA, circa late 1920s

1920 – The Slesinski Sisters

As mentioned above, Wacława Zawodna (nee Slesinska) had four sisters that came to the US. I haven’t yet located the arrival of Jozefa, but Marianna, Janina, and Zofia all arrived together on the SS Adriatic from Southampton in October 1920. The sisters were 24, 22, and 19 years old, and their parents had died the year before – within two days of each other on 30 December 1918 and 01 January 1919. They are coming to join their sister Jozefa and her husband in McKeesport, PA. Although they pass by big sister Wacława, who had been here for 17 years by then, the five later reconnected since I have photos of the group together.


So there you have it…some courageous travels of some amazing women. I remember the first thrill of traveling alone, the fear at being in a place where no one spoke my language, and the joyful excitement of setting off on a journey to a new place. The trip that these women made wasn’t for vacation, but was it thrilling, fearful, and joyous all at the same time? I’d like to think so, and I’d like to thank them for their inspiring courage to make that trip and begin a new life here in America.

For more information on the immigrant experience, see the following sites:

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One of my goals this year is to get organized, which includes all of my genealogical files as well as the rest of my house and my life in general. As any genealogist can tell you, especially one who hasn’t filed their “finds” in a while, this can be quite a time-consuming undertaking. Anything researchers find that can make your life easier later is worthy of sharing with others. So, Donna’s Organizational Tip of the Day — use extract forms to record information! Most of us have seen various free extract forms for census records, but what about ship’s passenger lists? You could create your own, but someone named Lisa Perkins has already done the work. An Italian genealogy site has a wonderful collection of Manifest Extract Forms that are freely available in both PDF or html format.

What are they? Extract forms are used to record information “extracted” from record sources. Because the information recorded on passenger lists varied over time, four different forms are listed for four time periods: 1893-1906, 1907-1918, 1919-1925, and post-1925. While there are no forms for lists prior to 1893, you can easily create your own. Before 1893, however, there is far less “personal” information included on each passenger. Depending on the year of arrival, you can gain a wealth of information about your ancestor, including their place of birth. Also interesting are the questions about their appearance such as height, hair color, and eye color. If you don’t have a photograph of an ancestor, at least this can help you imagine their basic appearance.

Why are they useful? Forms such as these are useful for several reasons. First, they can help you get your information organized so you don’t have to search through various papers or images to find what you are looking for. In fact, you don’t even have to print out a copy of the actual list unless you need it for another reason, such as illustrating your family history book. Using the extract forms instead of saving the actual files can save you “filing cabinet” space, whether you file papers or file images on your hard drive. The forms are also useful in noticing facts that may have been overlooked in your initial “find” such as that interesting column entitled: Ever been in the US before? When and where? Because of the hard-to-decipher handwriting on some lists, and the jumble of names thrown together, this can easily be overlooked.

Check out the Manifest Extract Forms site, download the forms, and get your information organized!

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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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