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Żyrardów coat of arms

Completing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge… Z is for Żyrardów! There was never any doubt what I would use for the letter “Z” – Żyrardów is a town in the Mazovia region of Poland from which my Pater great-grandparents came. It was also the very first town in Poland that I “discovered” in my family history research, so it holds a special place in my heart. In addition, it is the very first ancestral town in Poland that I visited!

I’ve written about Żyrardów before, most notably in my post entitled Żyrardów: Birth of a Modern Town. Although the town is rather modern by European standards with a “birth date” of around 1831, I’m fascinated with the town’s history.  The history is interwoven (pun actually intended) with the textile industry – an industry with which I now work indirectly. My ancestors helped Żyrardów become the largest producer of linens in the entire Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century.

Spinning cotton in the Żyrardów linen factory (date unknown)

This weekly challenge has been wonderful and I’d like to thank Alona Tester of Gould Genealogy for creating this challenge. Later this week I will post more about what I learned from participating and some ideas I have as a result of participating.

[Written for the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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St. Francis Xavier, missionary, saint, and eponym!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… X is for Xavier. While Xavier as a first name has gained popularity in the last decade or two, for centuries it was used as a middle name combined with Francis. Why? The first-middle name combination of “Francis Xavier” comes from the man first known to use it, St. Francis Xavier.

Francis Xavier was a Catholic missionary priest and co-founder of the Jesuits who lived from 1506 to 1552. Although he was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in Navarre (present-day Spain), he came to be called Francisco Xavier because of his family castle named Xavier (or Javier, or Xabier). The name is derived from the Basque word etxaberri, which means “new house.” While studying in Paris, Francis met Ignatius Loyola – they and five others founded the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as “Jesuits,” in 1534. He was ordained a priest three years later. He is remembered for his years as a missionary in India, Indonesia, and Japan where he brought Christianity to thousands.

It is not uncommon for a surname to become a given name, but what I find amazing is the widespread use of “Francis Xavier” together. The name “Francis” was always popular, and many men (or women) named Francis (or Frances) might be named after another popular Catholic saint, St. Francis Assisi. As popular as St. Francis of Assisi is, however, I’ve never seen “Assisi” – another place-name “surname” – used as a middle name. Likewise, I have many men named “Ignatius” in my family tree in either the German form of Ignaz or the Polish form of Ignacy – but none of these use “Loyola” as a middle name which would imply they were named after St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Francis Xavier, however, seems to have something rather unique about him in that both of his names are often used together. This would make more sense if perhaps the names were popular in either his home country, present day Spain, or in the countries where he ministered like India. Many names gain popularity in certain areas due to a local saint with the name.  But the names “Francis Xavier” seem to be popular worldwide. The name combination appears as Francisco Javier in Spanish-speaking countries, Francesco Saverio in Italy, Francisco Xavier in Portugal, François Xavier in France, Franciszek Ksawery in Poland, and Franz Xaver in Germany.

A little over two hundred years after St. Francis Xavier lived, his names were used in my family in Bavaria. Franz Xaver Gürtner, my 4th great-grandfather, was born on 04 September 1781 in Reichertshofen, Bavaria. His daughter, Barbara, would grow up to marry Franz Xaver Fischer (born 06 October 1813 in Agelsberg, Bavaria) in 1841. Both men are found in records listed by both “Franz Xaver” or “Fr. Xaver” as well as by just “Xaver.” In German, the name is pronounced as Ksaber.

Another Bavarian 4th great-grandfather, Ignaz Echerer (born 26 July 1765 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria), had a brother named Franz Xaver Echerer. Although St. Francis Xavier traveled around the world, as far as I can tell he never visited Germany – yet his name is very popular throughout the country centuries later.

St. Francis Xavier had a big impact on the world, especially in the countries he worked like India. However, his name had an even bigger impact in my opinion. I even have a distant cousin living today with the name Francis Xavier. Xavier is one of the only English names beginning with “X” so it stands out as unique despite the centuries of other men named F.X. How many Francis Xaviers (or just plain Xavier) are in your family tree?

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

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Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) in Old Town Warsaw. Yes, my great-grandfather lived on Beer Street!

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… W is for Warsaw! When I officially began my family history research and my father told me his grandfather, Jan Piątkowski (John Piontkowski) was from Warsaw, Poland, I thought: Yeah, right! Being a native-born Philadelphian, I am familiar with people “borrowing” my city as their place of birth because no one ever heard of the tiny suburban town they were born in. The fakers exclaim: “Well, it’s near Philadelphia!” So when I heard my great-grandfather was from Warsaw, I wondered exactly where he was born. My other great-grandfather said he was from Warsaw sometimes too, but he was from a town 27 miles away. Close doesn’t count when you’re searching for birth records.

But then a funny thing happened…I discovered he really was from Warsaw! Thanks to numerous Warsaw church records that are available online, I found my great-grandfather’s baptismal record that confirmed his birth as he reported on his Declaration of Intention. My Piątkowski family was from Warsaw!

Prior to this discovery, I visited the city in 2001. I unknowingly visited some of the family’s sights such as the Archcathedral of St. John (Archikatedra św. Jana). At the time, I had no idea my great-grandfather was baptized there. Technically, of course, it is not the same church – most of Warsaw was completely demolished in 1944-5. It is estimated that 80% of the old buildings were destroyed, including most of the Old Town area and the churches. Eventually the buildings were rebuilt – some are exact replicas of what once stood, others are not.

There is still a lot of research to do (or more accurately, there is a lot of deciphering Russian to do), but so far I have discovered that my great-grandfather’s father, Stanisław Piątkowski, was in Warsaw by 1863. It was then he married Apolonia Konopka in Holy Cross Church (Kościół św. Krzyża). Neither was originally from the city: Stanisław was from Mogilev (Belarus) and Apolonia was born in Konopki in the Augustów province.

Stanisław was listed in records as a “private official” and a valet. I have yet to determine for whom he worked, but there is one characteristic of Stanisław that sets him apart from EVERY SINGLE OTHER POLISH ANCESTOR – he could write his name. My factory workers and craftsmen – even some merchants – could not. I continue to wonder what a private official did in late nineteenth century Warsaw. At that time, Warsaw was undergoing a population boom – the city’s population more than doubled in twenty years.

Not all church records are available yet, but so far I’ve discovered two other sons of Stanisław and Apolonia, Jan’s marriage record and two children’s baptisms, and several records for the family of the brother of Jan’s wife, Rozalia Kizoweter (aka Kizeweter or Gizeweter). Since the addresses are provided in the church record, on my next visit to Warsaw I can re-visit some of the streets where they lived!

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

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“Do not be afraid! Open, in deed, open wide the doors to Christ!” ~ Blessed Pope John Paul II, October 22, 1978, homily at the Mass beginning his pontificate

In honor of the Catholic Church’s “Year of Faith” which opens on October 11, 2012, genealogy bloggers whose ancestors were members of the Catholic Faith are celebrating by showing some of the churches that inspired or comforted our ancestors or were otherwise part of their lives. Since the majority of my ancestors were Catholic (and so am I), there are a lot of churches in my family’s history. For this celebration, I chose to highlight one because I had the opportunity to walk through these doors of faith on a trip to Poland in 2001. The photos below are from that journey.

St. John the Baptist ( św. Jana Chrzciciela) church in Mszczonów, Poland

My great-great grandmother, Antonina Rozalia Pluta, was from the town of Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland. She was baptized in św. Jana Chrzciciela (St. John the Baptist) Church in 1863 and married Józef Pater there in 1885. Antonina’s parents, Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Wojciechowska, were also baptized there (1843 for Ludwik and 1840 for Franciszka) and married there in 1862. The earliest record I have found for an ancestral sacrament at the church is the baptism of my 4th great-grandfather, Jan Wojciechowski (Franciszka’s father), in 1816 – although, as you will see below, the church in 1816 was not the same as the church in 1863 through today.

The church has a very long history, as does the town. From the town’s website, I learned that the first church on the grounds was erected at the turn of the Twelfth Century and made from wood. In the years 1430-1440 Prince Ziemowit IV built a brick church, which was completely destroyed in the fire of the city in 1603. It was rebuilt 1660, but  burned down again in 1800. For many years after this fire, church services were held in a wooden chapel. The current brick church was built between 1861-1864. The cornerstone was blessed by the Archbishop of Warsaw on 11 May 1862 and the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

A plaque on the church listing the names of the pastors from 1658-1982.

[Written for the “Doors of Faith” celebration at The Catholic Gene]

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My ancestral towns

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Series… T is for Towns! When I first started researching my family history, I did not know the names of the towns from which my great-grandparents came. Now I have a plethora of exotic-sounding foreign town names from Aichach to Żyrardów and Aschau to Zelów!

I always want to learn more about each place: What’s the history of the town? What was the town like when my ancestors lived there? What does it look like today?

Gazetteers are great for a historical perspective of your ancestral town. For Germany, I’ve used the Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire (Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs) and for Poland, the Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavonic Countries (Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich).But an easy way to learn more about a town is to “Google it”! I’ve found that most towns – even some tiny ones – have websites. With the help of some online translators, you can even learn more about the town’s history from their website. Many towns even have pages that provide information in English.

Once you know the names of your ancestral towns – consider visiting in person. There’s nothing like walking in your ancestors’ footsteps to get a sense of what family history is all about.

Read past posts about some of my ancestral towns: Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.

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

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Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA, May 11, 1941.

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… R is for Religion! The faith of our fathers (and mothers) is important to genealogical research, because often times your ancestors’ places of worship kept records before the state or civil authorities did. Or, in the years after civil vital registration was mandatory, church (or synagogue, or other religious institution) record books can serve as an alternate record source to verify birth dates and other important data like parents’ names. But besides all of the wonderful record-keeping, religion can be important to family history on a much more personal level, especially if you share the faith that your ancestors handed down. Visiting the churches where your ancestors worshiped is a wonderful way to “connect” your family history from the past to the present!

My family is Roman Catholic. In records, it is hard to ascertain a person’s actual belief. In other words, just because they were baptized or married in a particular faith doesn’t mean they were devout. In my own research, I discovered that my one great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, probably was a faith-filled Catholic – he was a founding parishioner of St. Adalbert’s in Philadelphia, a “Polish” church for all the immigrants in the Port Richmond section of the city. The parish jubilee book also lists him as president of one of the charitable societies.  For other ancestors, I have no idea how active they were in the church – or not. I know that my maternal grandfather was a self-declared atheist at one point, regardless of his baptism in the Church.

As my research progressed, I discovered that not all of my ancestors were Catholic after all. My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, was Baptist. In researching her family I discovered that she descends from a unique group of individuals called the Unity of the Brethren, also called the Czech or Bohemian Brethren. The group was a Christian denomination that followed the works of the pre-reformation priest Jan Hus.

Around 1620, the counter-reformation was in full swing in Bohemia, and members of this faith were given the choice of leaving the country or practicing in secrecy (or, presumably, the choice to convert back to Catholicism). The sect continued despite persecution. In 1803, a group of these Brethren decided to leave Bohemia and they immigrated to Poland where they purchased a large amount of land and founded a new town called Zelów. It is in this Polish town that my Czech great-great grandparents were born. A sizable group of Czechs from Zelów, all textile workers, migrated north to two other Polish towns, Łódź and Żyrardów. My great-grandmother was born in Żyrardów in 1890…which explains why there are no records of her birth/baptism in the Catholic records of the town.

I’ve always been proud to be Catholic – like my Bavarian and Polish ancestors – but I was very happy to learn about this group of Protestant ancestors. Because of their faith, they took a bold step and left their homeland behind forever. Moving to a new country because of religious persecution in their homeland reminded me of the story of many of the colonial immigrants to the United States. To give up your homeland for your faith is truly a testament to your faith! The town of Zelów, Poland that was founded by the Czech immigrants is still known as the “Czech village”. I found a video online (subtitled in English) that shows the church and the town.

No matter what the religion of your ancestors was, finding out about their faith adds much to your family’s story. Some other family history faith-related posts I’ve written include Faith of Our Ancestors, Praying with My Ancestors, and First Communion, 1941 Style (from which I borrowed the great photo above). I thought religion was so pertinent to family history that I even started a whole blog about it – the Catholic Gene is a collaborative effort that reflects on the Roman Catholic faith and family history. We’ve been quiet lately, but hopefully we’ll be back to posting soon.

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

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When it comes to business and commerce, my great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States in the early years of the 20th century spent their lives working for others whether it was in textile mills, bakeries, or other factories. Some of their American-born children, however, had that good old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. One of my maternal grandmother’s brothers owned a butcher shop for many years on E. Norris Street in Philadelphia. I don’t have any photos of the shop, or of my grand-uncle Casimir Zawodny for that matter. But I do have a great photo of two of my paternal grandmother’s brothers who used their ingenuity to become businessmen at a young age. May I introduce you to Max Bergmeister, proprietor of the Lawrence Ice Company, 920 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, PA:

Julius and Max Bergmeister, the Lawrence Ice Company, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1925

Max (born 1905) is the young man leaning on the rear of the truck. His younger brother Julius (born 1908) stands at the front. I’m far from a Photo Detective and did not do much research into the time period of the photo, but based on the style of the truck and the apparent youth of the brothers I would date it to 1925-1928. The scan of the photo is not of the highest quality, but there are a number of great details in the photo if you zoom in. For example, the building directly behind the front of the truck appears to be a telegraph or telephone station (note the sign with the bell in the upper left). The store is a stationery story that sells notions – this is just visible through the windshield of the truck. The confectionary store (behind rear of truck) serves Reid’s ice cream (“It’s the Best”). Just behind Max’s head you can see signs for the Ringling Brothers Circus that was coming to town on May 16. The most interesting thing I found while zooming in on the photo is the profile of a man or woman in the window on the second story to the left of the ice cream sign.

Max started out in the ice business, but by the 1930’s he owned what was called a “soda fountain” in those days. My dad was the envy of the neighborhood because his uncle had a candy and ice cream store! He owned the business for many years. His brother Julius worked as a driver, but at some point he became a Philadelphia fireman and had a long career with Engine Co. 51 in the same neighborhood. Another driver used to deliver ice cream to Max’s store – a young man named James Pointkouski (see a 1937 photo of James and his ice cream delivery truck here). One day James noticed the girl behind the counter. Excited, he asked Max, “Who is that?” Max responded with an indifferent shrug, “Oh, that’s just my sister.” I guess I should be grateful to Max for being a businessman, because at that moment his friend and deliveryman James met his future wife, Margaret. It would take many more years before they would become known as my grandparents.

[Written for the 120th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Business and Commerce]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…K is for Księgi Parafialne (Polish for “Church Books”) via the website http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/. If your family history is Polish, this site is a must and yet it is not mentioned very often among guides to Polish research or “best of” lists. What is it? A site that lists, by province, every town that has church books indexed. The indexes (indices) are all on other sites – this is merely an index of indexes and links are included to get you there. As such, this site is only helpful once you’ve discovered the name of the town from which your ancestors came.

First, click on “Województwa” to find the province. Since the entire site is in Polish, you must look for the Polish name of the province (Pomorskie for Pomerania, etc). Each province has a separate page with a list of towns. Find the town name in the first column, parafia / USC. If available at one of the online sites, it will be listed. The dates in the columns show what records have been indexed for Chrzty/Urodziny (Baptisms/Births), Małżeństwa (Marriages), and Zgony (Deaths). Under Strona www is a link to the web site with the indexed records. There are over a dozen sites that have images (or at least indexes) of the records available. Included among them are Geneteka, which I’ve praised here before, and the Polish church books included on FamilySearch.org. What’s not listed? Anything on microfilm available via FamilySearch – this site lists only records/indexes available online. As with any record site, some provinces have many more towns with online records available than others. But towns are added weekly and the site is a great way to keep track of  what’s available for your ancestors’ towns. There are hundreds listed – is your ancestors town among them?

On the main page next to “Województwa” you will also see “II Rzeczpospolita” or “Second Republic”. This list includes areas once associated with Poland during the interwar period. There is also a heading “Dokumenty metrykalne” which offers documents that describe the format of the records. However, as the documents are in Polish, it will not nearly be as helpful as various translation guides in English.

For those of you with Polish ancestry, how cool is it to have a site that lists all available online records? I think it’s great…I just wish Germany had a similar site! Happy searching…

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

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Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… B is for Bavaria (or Bayern in German). I’ve occasionally been asked why I identify myself as having Polish and Bavarian ancestry instead of Polish and German. Germany was unified as a nation in 1871, a mere 2 years before my great-grandfather was born and 4 years before my great-grandmother was born. They were born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, a state within the German Empire. So yes, my great-grandparents were born in Germany. But the roots of their ancestry are Bavarian! For hundreds of years their ancestors lived in Bavaria – not a small part of a German nation, but an indpendent nation of its own.

I like to describe how my ancestors’ Bavaria relates to Germany by comparing it to how the state of Texas relates to the rest of the United States. Like the southern state, Bavaria covers a large area, they “talk funny” and use different colloquial expressions, they want to secede from the union, they have many strange local traditions, and they are fiercely proud of their heritage. Oh, and they’re very friendly, too!

Bavaria as a political region has roots back to the late 5th Century when it was recognized as a Duchy. In the 17th and 18th centuries the area was known as the Electorate of Bavaria. Then, in 1806, Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire and Bavaria became the Kingdom of Bavaria. Even when Bavaria became a part of the newly formed German Empire in 1871, it still retained its name of “Kingdom” and had some special rights within the Empire such as its own Army, postal service, and railways. Throughout Bavaria’s history, it’s borders changed somewhat. It even once included Tirol, now in Austria, and Südtirol, now in northern Italy.

My ancestors mostly lived in the part of Bavaria known as “Upper Bavaria” or Oberbayern. Upper Bavaria is the southern part of Bavaria, and is called “Upper” because it is higher above sea level than the rest of Bavaria. The area includes the capital city of Munich (München) and some of the sights and events that Bavaria is most known for such as King Ludwig’s fairy tale castles and the Oktoberfest celebration.

My ahnen, or ancestors, include the following towns and surnames:

  • Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm: Echerer/Eggerer, Nigg/Nick, Höck/Heckh, Kaillinger, Paur, Singer, Zuell
  • Puch: Bergmeister, Zinsmeister
  • Agelsberg: Fischer, Guggenberger
  • Dörfl: Gürtner
  • Langenbruck: Fischer
  • Niederscheyern: Daniel, Schober
  • Aichach: Dallmaier, Eulinger
  • Reichertshofen: Gürtner, Sommer
  • Freising: Stainer
  • Friedberg: Cramer
  • Waal: Schwarzmaier

Since Bavaria is Germany’s largest state comprising 20% of its total area and is the second most populous state, I wonder why there are not more Bavarian geneabloggers. Surely there are more people tracing their Bavarian ancestry! For more information on researching your Bavarian ancestors, see Bavaria GenWeb or the Genealogy Forum Bavaria.

Even though my ancestry is only 1/4 Bavarian, I have fully embraced my Bavarian roots. I love Bavaria and the Bavarian people! Give me lederhosen, weisswurst and pretzels (only if the pretzels are made by my Bergmeister cousins’ bakery), “Mad” Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle, and pitcher-size servings of beer any day because I’m Bavarian!

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

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Józef Pater's prisoner photo. Source: Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau

Who was Józef Pater?  I came upon Józef by accident while searching for my 2nd great-grandfather of the same name. I discovered that this particular Józef was my ancestor’s nephew, his brother Marcin’s son. What I learned with that search result was a forgotten story of a family – my family – who perished in the Holocaust.

If Józef’s cousins in the United States knew of his fate, it never reached the ears of their descendents. Most of what I learned about my courageous cousin came from sources written in Polish, but even those sources were limited and hard to find. The few facts I was able to piece together paint an interesting portrait of the man.  Who was Józef Pater?  He was an artist, a decorated soldier, a government employee, and a leader in the Polish Resistance.  He was a son, brother, husband, and father. He was Catholic, and he was Polish. He died at Auschwitz. Who was Józef Pater?  He was my cousin.

Józef Pater was born on 31 July 1897 in Żyrardów, Błoński powiat, Warszawske gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire. He was the son of Marcin and Paulina (nee Dreksler) Pater, both 37 years old. The family moved to Częstochowa by the time Józef was in middle school. Beginning in 1914, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow to study painting.

As a teenager – as early as age 15 – Józef Pater became involved in politics by joining the Polish Socialist Party – Revolutionary Faction (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna – Frakcja Rewolucyjna), or PPS. The PPS was a pro-Polish independence party founded in 1892 that sought ideals such as equal rights for all citizens (regardless of race, nationality, religion and gender), a universal right to vote, freedom of speech, assembly, and press, and basic labor laws such as minimum wage, an 8-hour workday, and a ban on child labor. The “Revolutionary Faction” developed in 1906 under the leadership of Józef Piłsudski and the primary goal was to restore a democratic, independent Poland.

In November 1914, at the age of 17, Józef Pater served in the Polish Legions, a Polish armed force created in August of that year also by Józef Piłsudski.  The Legions became an independent unit within the Austro-Hungarian Army.  Józef Pater’s service began in the 1st Squadron of the 1st Lancer regiment in the First Brigade led by Piłsudski.  In July 1916, Pater was in the 6th Infantry regiment.  During these years, the Polish Legions, many of whom like Józef were citizens of Russia, took part in many battles with the Imperial Russian Army.

A short biographical sketch of Józef Pater that I found in Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944 indicates that beginning in November 1916, he worked in boards of recruitment in Siedlce and Łuków. However, it is highly likely that Pater was part of the Polish Legions that were involved in the so-called Oath Crisis.  When the Central Powers created the Kingdom of Poland on 05 November 1916, it was essentially a “puppet state” of Germany and not independent at all. In July 1917, the Central Powers demanded that the soldiers of the Polish Legions swear allegiance and obedience to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.  Based on the example of their leader, Piłsudski, the majority of the soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Legions declined to make the oath. The soldiers who were citizens of Austria-Hungary were sent to the Italian front as part of the Austro-Hungarian Army, and the soldiers from the rest of occupied Poland were sent to prisoner of war camps.  Since Pater is listed later in life as a member of the Association of Former Political Prisoners of the former Revolutionary Faction, it is assumed that he was one of the young soldiers interred for refusing to take the oath.  Later, in 1932, he was the president of the Kutno branch of the Association of Former Ideological Prisoners.

On 04 October 1917, the 20-year-old Józef Pater married Helena Feliksa Palige in All Saints Church (Wszystkich Świętych) in Warsaw.

Signatures on the marriage record of Jozef Pater and Helena Palige.

From November 1918 to November 1920, Józef Pater served as a volunteer in the Polish Army. At some point he must have continued his studies at the Academy, for he was awarded a diploma in 1921 as an artist-painter.  Pater rejoined the army in November 1924 and served there as non-commissioned officer in 4th air regiment.  He retired from military service on 31 December 1929.

While I have little more than dates and assignments about Pater’s time in the military, I found one fact that speaks volumes: he was decorated four times with Cross of Valour and also with the Cross of Independence with Swords.  The Cross of Valour is a Polish military decoration created in 1920 for one who has demonstrated deeds of valor and courage on the field of battle.  Józef received the decoration the maximum amount allowed – four times.  It is unknown if he received the commendation for his actions with the Legions in World War I, or if it was for any actions during the Polish-Soviet War from 1920 – 1923.  The Cross of Independence is one of Poland’s highest military decorations.  There are three classes, and the Cross of Independence with Swords is the rarest of the three.  Developed in 1930, it was awarded to those who laid foundations for the independence of Poland before or during World War I. Józef Pater received this honor in 1931.

Józef Pater may have been a painter, but I’m not sure he ever painted for a living because following his busy military career he began to work as a clerk for the government.  From 1930 to 1933 he worked in the towns of Toruń, Kutno, and Grodzisk Mazowiecki, and from January 1934 to June 1935 he worked as a clerk in the Broadcasting Agency of the Polish Radio in Warsaw. In 1935, Józef Pater became town councilor in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and he still held this position when Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939.

The invasion by Germany was far more than a military occupation.  According to Poland’s Holocaust by Tadeusz Piotrowski, the Germans attempted to remove Polish culture and way of life through closing the banks, devaluing the currency, confiscating possessions, destroying libraries, forbidding the teaching of Polish history, and banning Polish music.  Himmler would announce on 15 March 1940:

“All Polish specialists will be exploited in our military-industrial complex.  Later, all Poles will disappear from this world. It is imperative that the great German nation considers the elimination of all Polish people as its chief task.” (Piotrowski, 23)

Within a month of Poland’s invasion (by one source, another says a few months later), Józef Pater became the chief commanding officer (listed in narratives as having the rank of “Major”) of a Polish Resistance group called the Gwardia Obrony Narodowej (National Defense Guard) or GON.  In April 1940, the GON was joined with the Związek Czyny Zbrojnego (Association of Arms) or ZCZ.  This group joined with several other Resistance groups in October 1940 to establish the Konfederacja Narodu, or National Confederation – the main Polish underground organization throughout the war. The National Confederation organized a single armed force for the good of the Polish nation.

Józef Pater became one of the many leaders of the underground.  From January 1941, he was in charge of police and security issues for the movement.  Most participants in the Resistance movement were known to each other only by code names.  Józef Pater used the names of “Inżynier” – in English, “Engineer” – as well as the name “Orlot,” which does not have a direct English translation but is a fighting eagle.

The symbol of the Polish Underground is the flag of the Armia Krajowa; the symbol on the flag is a combination of letters "P" and "W" for Polska Walcząca or Fighting Poland.

The role of the Polish Underground during the German occupation was twofold.  First, they were to do everything possible to make the lives of the German military as miserable as possible.  That meant sabotage, disruption of supply lines or communication, theft, damage to equipment, and similar acts. In addition to acts of destruction, the Resistance movement also sought to keep hope alive for the Polish people. Since the only authorized press was German, the Underground published and disseminated accurate information about the war to the Poles as well as getting the message out of the country. In addition, the Underground movement’s message fostered a sense of fierce pride among the Poles and offered hope that their culture and nation would survive.

On 15 February 1941, Józef Pater – and presumably his wife, Helena – were arrested in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and sent to Pawiak Prison in Warsaw.  Pawiak was used by the German Gestapo for interrogations, usually brutal in nature, as well as for executions.  It is estimated that at least 100,000 Catholics and Jews were sent to Pawiak – approximately 37,000 were executed there, and 60,000 were sent to various concentration camps.

In a book called Meldunek z Pawiaka I was able to learn about Józef’s character as well as the bravery of those involved in the underground movement.  Franciszek Julian Znamirowski, commander of the ZCZ, became friends with Józef Pater in 1940 as co-conspirators when their two resistance organizations joined forces.  Znamirowski survived the war and described Pater in a letter to author Zygmunt Śliwicki in 1970:

“The man was courageous, generous, friendly, a great patriot, the soul of a painter, and devoted to his family.  He downplayed the danger.  He lived in Grodzisk Mazowiecki with his family. He had a radio and listened to messages, sending them in a secret letter. At this he was caught, and we lost him. When I learned about the arrest and his confinement in the Pawiak, without much thinking I decided to move out and help him escape.”

It was rumored that Pater had typhus and was in the prison hospital, so Znamirowski obtained fake documents that identified him as a doctor of infectious diseases.  Znamirowski told the guards that he was Pater’s family doctor, and he bribed them with money for entry to the prison.  He described Pater as being very surprised to see him.  Contrary to the rumor, he was not sick at all.  He was wearing pajamas, and the two retreated to the bathroom to talk without fear of wiretaps.  They talked “freely about everything” for an hour.

Znamirowski explained that he was there to help Pater escape – he believed it was possible.  However, Józef’s wife, Helena, was also imprisoned there.  Józef feared that if he escaped without her, there would be reprisals and she would suffer even more.  He asked Znamirowski if he could return with enough money to buy their way out of the prison with the guards.

Znamirowski recalled in 1970:  “He [Pater] asked urgently for help by buying him out, and it was a lot of money.  We were not able to collect the cash.  He was being interrogated, but he did not incriminate anybody. He held out heroically. He authorized me to take over the organization and manage it in accordance with his ideas.”  It was the last time Znamirowski ever saw him.

On 17 April 1942 Józef Pater was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oświęcim.  He was registered as Polish political prisoner and received the number 31225.  He died there on 24 June.

Józef’s wife, Helena Palige Pater, was presumably arrested at the same time and also sent to Pawiak.  On 22 September 1941, she was transported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and was killed (date unknown). Ravensbrück, located in northern Germany, was known as the women’s concentration camp.

Józef’s older brother, Bronisław (born 06 September 1890), was also involved with the Resistance. On 17 January 1943 he was sent to Majdanek concentration camp and was killed (date unknown).

One source (Za Murami Pawiaka) reports that there were two sons of Józef and Helena that were also killed in the camps.  Another book, Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944, reports that one son, also named Bronisław (born 1920), was killed at Majdanek; however, there is conflicting information because there were two men named Bronisław Pater, one the brother and one the son of Józef. One of these two was transported to Majdanek on 17 January 1943 and never returned.  They may have both died at that particular camp, but I lack the appropriate evidence to say for sure.

Reports differ widely on the number of deaths in the country of Poland at the hands of the Nazi regime. The commonly accepted number is six million Poles – both Catholics and Jews – died, which was roughly 17% of the total population of Poland before the war. It is estimated that of the six million Polish deaths, three million were Jewish and three million were Catholic. As the Jewish population of Poland was much smaller, Germany killed about 85% of Poland’s Jewish population and about 10% of Poland’s Catholic population.

Józef, Bronisław, Helena, Bronisław.  Their names were forgotten in my family.  May we never forget them again.

###

The brothers Józef and Bronisław Pater are first cousins of my great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater and his brothers (Wacław, Stefan) and sisters (Franciszka, Ewa, Wiktoria).  Louis’ father, also Józef Pater, is Józef’s uncle and a brother to his father, Marcin Pater.  My ancestor Józef immigrated to America in 1905.  His nephews would have been 15 and 7 years old at that time.  My great-grandfather Louis did not leave Poland until August, 1907, and he was living with his adult sister, Franciszka.  Given that Franciszka married Paweł Niedzinski (Nieginski) in Częstochowa in June, 1906, it is likely that both branches of the Pater family left Żyrardów and were living in Częstochowa together.  Louis/Ludwik was nearly 14 years old when he left Poland; cousin Józef was 10 and Bronisław was 17.

This post has literally been a couple of years in the making.  I had help with some initial research by footnoteMaven, and I would not have known much without some translations by Maciej Róg.  I was further assisted with both research and translations by Matthew Bielawa .  Their help is greatly appreciated!

Source: Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945

Sources used for this post:

Vital Records:

Parafia Matki Bożej Pocieszenia (Żyrardów, Błoński, Warszawske, Vistula Land, Russian Empire), “Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów 1897 [Records of Births, Marriages, Deaths 1897],” page 160, entry 637, Józef Pater, 31 Jul 1897; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl,  Archiwum Państwowe m. st. Warszawy, Oddział w Grodzisku Maz. (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=1265d&sy=134&kt=1&skan=0635-0638.jpg)

Parafia Wszystkich Świętych (Warszawa, Warszawaske, Regency Kingdom of Poland), “Akta małżeństw 1917 [Records of Marriages 1917],” page 67, entry 133, Józef Pater and Helena Feliksa Palige, 04 Oct 1917; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl, Księgi metrykalne parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wszystkich Świętych w Warszawie (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=9264d&sy=341&kt=1&skan=133.jpg)

Death record 12625/1942, Józef Pater, 24 June 1942. Biuro informacji o byłych więźniach, Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau (Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau)

Books:

Dębski, Jerzy and State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Death Books from Auschwitz: Remnants. München : K.G. Saur, 1995.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof.  Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1996.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof. Słownik Biograficzny Konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944.  Warszawa: Instytut Wydawniczy PAX, 1987.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

Piotrowski, Tadeusz.  Poland’s Holocaust. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1998.

Wanat, Leon. Za Murami Pawiaka. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1972.

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“One hour, okay?”  He looked at me skeptically. “Then you have to come back to me. We have places to go!”

“One hour – got it!” Wow, even time travel has restrictions. I turned on the machine and within a minute I was back in 1940 and walking the streets of Philadelphia. I didn’t have much time, but fortunately I had a good idea of where to go. I was a bit nauseated at first, but my focus became clearer and I could see where I was – Thompson Street. I needed to turn down Venango Street to get to Mercer Street, my first destination.

The weather in Philadelphia on April 4, 1940 was warmer than the previous day – nearly 63 degrees and dry. People were going about their daily business and the streets were not deserted – people were out walking. Cars were few. I could hear faint sounds of Big Band music coming from a house fortunate enough to own a radio. The music was great, but I also love the fashions of the 1940’s – there’s a guy in a suit and a fedora walking down the street. I look great dressed up in a skirt, blouse, and pumps – and only in 1940 could I get away with wearing a hat!

I quickly found Mercer Street. I knew the real census enumerator had been there the day before; I was just an interloper. I hoped my plan would work to avoid any suspicion as to who I really was. I tried to look official and get to know the neighbors on my way to almost the center of the block – 3553 Mercer Street. As I passed by #3505, a young girl came out carrying an even younger girl.  Were they sisters? I heard the older say, “Come on, Peanut, I’ll get you home.”  Oh my, I thought, that’s Rita Mroz and – no way!  Rita lived with her 3 sisters, 2 brothers, and Polish-born parents, but the little “Peanut” she was carrying was definitely not her sister. In fact, she was heading right towards my destination!  I watched while Rita safely delivered the young girl back home.

There it is!  3553 Mercer Street.  A 7-year-old girl sat on the front step, looking quite unhappy that her younger sister arrived back home.

Wow, this is too much! If I could only tell Aunt Joan about this, she would laugh so hard!  “Hi!” I said, “I love your curly hair.”

“I’m not allowed to talk to strangers,” replied the girl. And with that, she ran inside.

I knocked, and a handsome man came to the door. I was momentarily stunned, but I quickly recovered. “I work for the Government,” I stammered. Well, at least that’s not a lie. I explained that although the census enumerator had been there the day before, I was a supervisor performing a spot-check to ensure that the responses were recorded properly.

“Sure,” said the man, “come on in.”

As I sat down, I tried to look around without looking like I was casing the house for a future robbery. I could smell something wonderful – Oh my God, it’s Nan’s chicken soup! I silently wondered how I could ingratiate myself to the point of being invited for dinner. I heard a female voice call out from the kitchen, “Henush, who is it? Whoever it is, we don’t want any.” I thought, Hi, Nan! If she only knew…

The Pater Family, circa 1937

Her husband yelled an explanation back and I saw her take a peek from the kitchen. She looked so young! And pretty!

“Now, let’s see,” I said. I acted professionally and began asking all of the enumerator’s questions. “Name?”

“Henry Pater.” Boy, I thought, Mom was right about those grey eyes! He’s so much more handsome than any photo I ever saw.

“Age?”

“Twenty-eight.” Wow, kudos for telling the truth, Grandpop. Once we got to the same question for his wife, Mae, I heard her yell, “Twenty-seven!”  He looked over his shoulder and whispered, “I told the enumerator yesterday 31, but she’s really 32. Just don’t tell I told you!”

I learned about 7-year-old Joan and 4-year-old Anita, the “peanut” I saw earlier. Upon hearing her name, she appeared and hid behind her father’s leg. “This is Anita,” he said, “but I like to call her Chick!”  Anita giggled.

Finally, Henry told me his father-in-law, Joseph Zawodny, also lived there. Henry told me that Joseph was married. I didn’t need to ask where his wife was – I knew she was in a mental hospital. I would visit her on another trip back to the past. Where are you, I thought.  As if he heard me, I saw an older man peer out of the kitchen and ask Henry something in Polish. If only I could answer back or get the chance to talk to him! There is so much I want to know, and I’d like to know him so much.

I knew my time was running out.  Reluctantly, I thanked the Pater family and took my leave, waving bye to little Anita on my way out. I’m off to see your future husband now.

How do I get from the Port Richmond neighborhood to Northern Liberties fast? Sometimes future technology has its advantages, and I found my way more quickly than I thought possible.  Suddenly I was walking along Germantown Avenue. I couldn’t go up and down every street with my limited time – when I saw the meat packing plant on the corner of 3rd and Thompson, I knew I was in the right place. The census-taker wouldn’t walk these streets for two more days, but fortunately my destination was right on the corner so I didn’t have to fake my way through several houses.

Right on the corner at 1300 Germantown Avenue, I spotted a young boy sitting on the front step. I was stunned and forgot where I was. “Nick?” I asked.

The Pointkouski Family, circa 1938-9

The curly-haired boy looked up at me and smiled. “No, I’m Jimmy and I’m 5. I’ll be 6 this summer,” he said proudly, blue eyes sparkling.

“Oh,” I said, “it’s nice to meet you, Jimmy! I have a nephew named Nick – he’s 4 going on 5 this summer and he sure looks a lot like you!”

Suddenly a woman came to the door and she didn’t look happy that I was talking to her son. After I explained about the census, she invited me in and once again I tried to look around the home’s interior. This house rented for $5 more than my last stop, and I wanted to see if it was worth the extra money.  I also couldn’t stop looking at the woman, Margaret Pointkouski.  As I took down the information she provided, I questioned the spelling. “That’s with a U, not a W?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “that’s right.”

Margaret looked so – what was the word? Young! She was 28 years old – well, that’s what she told me, but I knew her 28th birthday would actually be the following week!  Just then the door opened and a young man entered. “Well, hello!” he said as he tipped his hat and leaned over to kiss Margaret.

Just as with Henry, the 29-year-old James looked so much more handsome than any photos I had ever seen. I couldn’t help but smile back.  When he heard who I was, or at least who I was pretending to be, he commented that he didn’t know there were “lady census takers”.

At that, Margaret rolled her eyes, “Oh, Pop!”

I said, “They thought some people might answer more questions from a woman.”

“Sure,” the elder Jimmy said, “I’ll tell you anything!”  He added, “I hope you get all of your info recorded.”

“Oh, I will,” I assured him. Just maybe not today.

The Pointkouski household was small with only the couple and their young son, Jimmy. I was bursting to tell Margaret that she would get pregnant late the following year and have a daughter, but I knew it wasn’t my place to speak of such things.

I asked my questions – not the ones I wanted to ask; I could not ask those questions. Like where are your siblings living right now? I hadn’t visited them yet. Oh, there were so many questions I could not ask. But I asked the “official” questions and I was very happy to hear the answers. All I kept thinking was: this is so cool!

I said my good-byes to 1940 and powered down the machine. Suddenly my boyfriend appeared, “Time’s up – let’s go out to eat. Did you find everyone you were looking for?”

“Not everyone, but it’s a start.  They’ll all still be there when I go back.”

###

[Written for the 117th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: 1940!]

I actually wrote this the night before the carnival topic was announced. I’ve told a few stories on this blog, but I never presented factual information in such a fictional way.  Technically, I’d call this creative non-fiction. To me, talking about finding a genealogical record (on my “machine”, aka my laptop) can sound a little boring, at least to non-genealogists. But how could a science fiction lover like myself resist seeing that search for the record as time travel! The idea took hold and would not let go.  Face it – bringing up those images, walking through the neighborhoods, reading all about the families – it is the closest thing we can get to time travel!

The Census facts came from the actual 1940 Census (source citations upon request, I used Ancestry to access). I saw the path the enumerator took and learned about the neighborhood layout from a combination of current maps and a 1942 map of Philadelphia courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network. What was the weather like on those April days in 1940? Well, I learned about temperature and precipitation totals from The Franklin Institute! I knew about fashion from the movies and my parents. I have an idea what the characters looked like from photographs. As for the personalities of the individuals – everything I know, I learned from my parents. Of my grandparents, I knew my maternal grandmother the best.  Second would be my paternal grandmother, with my paternal grandfather third.  Least of all, I knew, or rather didn’t really know, my maternal grandfather – he died when I was five years old and I only met him a few times. I’m glad I could get to know them all in the 1940 Census!

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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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Sometimes my genealogical research takes an organized and methodical approach akin to the scientific method – or at least obsessive compulsive disorder.  And then other times my research resembles the dog in the animated movie Up who gets distracted every time a squirrel runs past him.  While the former research approach may be more useful when it comes to documenting sources or following the genealogical proof standard, the latter can be much more serendipitous and fun.  You never really know what you’ll find when you don’t start off searching for anything in particular or you go down roads you didn’t intend to follow!

Such was the case one day in my web surfing when I took my own advice (see #9 of my Top Ten More Ways to Celebrate Pol-Am Heritage Month) and searched for a town website.  My maternal grandmother’s mother’s side (surnames Ślesiński, Drogowski, Michałowski, Kubicki) comes from the town of Wilczyn in Poland (powiat Koniń, Wielkopolskie).  The town’s borders have shifted as Poland’s have.  According to the site:

During the pre-Partition period Wilczyn belonged to Trzemeszno county (small town about 30 km from Wilczyn), and to Powidz county (small town near Strzelno) during the Napoleon Campaign 1793 – 1812. From 1812 to 1815 it belonged to Pyzdry county and after the Vienna Treaty got included in Konin county. From 1867 to 1934 Wilczyn belonged to Slupca county and from 1934 again to Konin, where it lies to present day.

The town’s website, http://www.gminawilczyn.pl, has some English translations but is mostly in Polish.  Some words are easy to translate, such as historia, and using an online translator can usually give you the essential meaning of the text.  I clicked on the link for dokumenty and wondered what sorts of documents were on the site.  Clicking on the first document, I found a birth certificate:

SOURCE: http://www.gminawilczyn.pl/ under "Dokumenty"

I know enough genealogical Polish to read the record for the birth of Józefa Drogowska, born 23 November 1865 to Jan Drogowski and Konstancja Kubicka. Wait a minute! Those names sound familiar…the parents are my 3rd great-grandparents! Józefa is the sister of my 2nd great-grandmother, Stanisława Drogowska (born 04 Jun 1860 in Wilczyn – died 30 Dec 1918 in Dobrosołowo).  There are only four documents on the site, and this is one.  There is no explanation as to why this particular document is shown on the site.  It is also shown with the images under Wirtualne muzeum or virtual museum.  I would love to know why it is posted on the site and if a descendent of Józefa was responsible for posting it. Now I have real research to do!

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Daj mi buzi - give me a kiss!

Everyone can have fun celebrating Polish-American Heritage Month, as we proved yesterday. But if you have Polish ancestry, there are also some fun genealogical things you can do.  Today I present:

Top Ten Genealogical Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month

1. Listen to Polish pronunciation of names and places with Expressivo.  I wrote about it here but the company has since changed the site so the links don’t play the recordings.  However, it will take you to the new site, Ivona text to speech.  You can still enter some words or phrases and choose the Polish voices to “speak” to you.

2. Learn to decipher a Polish record.  These translation aids can help.

3. Learn all about Polish genealogical research.  Start with Poland Gen Web or Polish Roots or Polish Origins.  Or, read a book such as Going Home:  A Guide to Polish-American Family History by Jonathan D. Shea or Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy by Ceil Wendt Jensen.

4. Explore the Polish records on Family Search. They don’t have much yet, but the good news is that there are some!

5. Explore Geneteka’s records.  I wrote a primer here.

6. Virtually visit some of Poland’s Archives.  Stanczyk presents a list here.

7. Join a Polish genealogical society.  Perhaps PGSA or PGSCTNE?  There are many!

8. Browse the Poland-related mailing lists at Rootsweb. Here’s a list of all, just look around for Polish-related lists.

9. See if there’s a website for your ancestor’s hometown.  Try a Google search, or else try the town name in between “www” and “pl”.

10. Create a surname map for one of your Polish surnames. It’s both fun and educational!

So there you have it.  How are you celebrating Polish-American Heritage Month?

 

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Kiss me....I'm approximately 31.25% Polish!

Did you know that October is Polish-American Heritage Month?  Although the month is nearly half over, there is still plenty of time to celebrate.  This weekend I’ll be speaking at conference by the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast (PGSCTNE). I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun discussing Polish genealogy.  But if you’re not Polish, don’t feel left out – there are a lot of ways to celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month even if you are not lucky enough to be Polish-American!  And so I present…

The Top Ten Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month – If You’re Polish or Not!

1. Read Polish literature.  Henryk Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize in 1905 for his achievements as an epic writer – try With Fire and Sword, the first of an epic trilogy.  Or read literature about Poland, such as the historical novel by American James C. Martin, Push Not the River.

2. See a Polish movie. Try Three Colours (Polish: Trzy kolory), the collective title of the trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski.

3. Eat Polish food (and drink). Who wouldn’t want some pierogi? Or kruschiki?  Just be careful of too much vodka when learning these recipes.

4. Learn to Polka. It’s a lot of fun – and great exercise, too!

5. Visit Poland virtually on tv or the internet.  PBS travel hosts Rick Steves and Burt Wolf have both visited Polish cities.  Or try some YouTube videos such as this one.

6. Learn about Poland’s history. Poland has a long, rich history.

7. Celebrate your name day. Birthdays are overrated, but name days are fun!

8. Wish someone “sto lat” on their birthday.  Or sing it to them instead!

9. Read a biography of a famous Pole.  Try Witness to Hope if you’re a fan of Pope John Paul II or The Peasant Prince about Tadeusz Kościuszko and his role in the American Revolution.

10. Learn more about Polish customs.  From art to clothing to holiday traditions, Poland has a custom for everything.

Tomorrow I will continue this post with the Top Ten Genealogical Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month.  Some of the things might interest non-Poles, but you’ll get more out of it if you’re actually Polish.  And if you’re not, you’ll want to be.  Really…

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Two views of St. John the Baptist Church in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm - from 1875 on the left and 1998 on the right.

My family’s history in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bavaria, Germany, goes back several hundred years.  While that’s a long way back with regard to genealogical research, the town itself is much older than my family’s history recorded in its church registers.  Pfaffenhofen was officially recorded as a town in 1438, but earlier chronicles mention the town as far back as 1140.  The town’s population expanded significantly over the years, but it also decreased due to events such as plagues and wars.  If I could go back in time to visit the town, at least one thing would look the same – the town’s Roman Catholic parish church, St. John the Baptist (Stadtpfarrkirche St. Johannes Baptist), has always resided at one end of the town square.

St. John the Baptist Church was originally built in a Romanesque style, but the church – and much of the town – was destroyed in a fire in 1388.  In 1393, the church was rebuilt in a Gothic style.  In 1670-72, the interior of the church was renovated into the Baroque style we see today throughout most of Bavaria.  The steeple was struck by lightning in 1768 and rebuilt the same year.

I’ve documented my Pfaffenhofen ancestors back to the 1670s due to the church records of St. John the Baptist.  The Echerer (Eggerer), Höck, Nigg, and Paur families worshiped at this church for generations.  My great-grandparents, Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer, were married here in 1897 and baptized their first child, Maria Bergmeister, there in 1898.  One hundred years later, I became the first descendent to re-visit the church.

Interior of St. John the Baptist church, Altar

The interior of St. John the Baptist is very ornate with many paintings and statues, which is typical of the Baroque style and also typical of Bavarian Catholic churches.  Some might call Baroque churches ostentatious, but the style is meant to be dramatic in order to have an emotional effect.  What was emotional for me, however, was knowing that my ancestors worshiped in that very place so many years ago.

Since my Pfaffenhofen ancestors were craftsmen – primarily shoemakers, masons, and carpenters – I liked seeing evidence of the trade guild’s in the church’s interior. Each guild had some church obligations as a part of the guild’s rules. Once a year each guild celebrated their own special Mass, with special times for each guild. For example, the brewers’ Mass was celebrated on Monday after New Year’s while the tailors’ was on the Monday after Easter week.  Because of the guilds close association with the church, when the church was remodeled in 1671, the artist Johann Bellandt of Wessobrunn carved a number of statues of the apostles in honor of the guilds: Mathew for the butchers, Phillip for the bakers, John for the brewers, Bartholomew for the leather artisans, Jacob for the weavers, and Simon for the tailors.  I did not seem to find an apostle representing my ancestors’ trades though!

[Written for the 109th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Places of Worship]

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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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Münchener politische Zeitung Issue 162, July 1813

Weather has always been big news, and the more severe the weather, the bigger the news. I was surprised to discover that the media obsession with weather-related events isn’t new – it also happened in my Bavarian ancestors’ hometown back in 1813. I recently found this newspaper account of a violent storm that occurred in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm and the fire that resulted from lightning strikes. It reads:

Bavaria. Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, 3 July 1813.  The big storm that occurred in our town on 30 June caused a great havoc, since the lightning that accompanied him seems to have uniquely discharged only here. The clouds stood so low that one flash of lightning followed another, and almost every flash fell down on earth but mainly fell on the high-pointed tower of the town’s church. A lightning flash hit a barn filled with straw in a side alley, which immediately ignited nine other hay and straw-filled barns that were mostly very old already and not well built.

Despite very nearly all the possible obstacles of nature united so that even the most determined men gave up all hope of rescuing even one single house throughout the city, every attempt was made with the greatest consternation to stop the fire line that was spreading with enormous speed during the continuing storm, which turned in all directions in rapid alternations, and with the rain pouring down where you could barely see what was in front of you.

Miraculously, after the toughest six-hour battle against the violent storm wind, the flames were pushed down on the floor and prevented from spreading further; the fire itself could only be put off today.  The courage in the apparent dangers,  the skill and presence of mind of Master Carpenter Nigg and Master Mason Pickl, which both have distinguished themselves so often in similar cases, could not be praised enough.

The fire would not have burned down so many buildings if these old buildings were not built so badly and if they had been equipped with proper fire walls. As lucky as the town was with this great misfortune, the damage that was suffered on the buildings and the carriages can be estimated at approximately 80,000 fl., not considering the fire insurance sum of 14,000 fl. for a total of 5 houses, 4 stables and 9 barns.  Several smaller building nearby were enflamed which included the buildings of three farmers, that of Franzbräuer, Kreitmaierbräuers and Zuhammers. However, no one was seriously injured during their work.

According to news received from the state court, this terrible thunderstorm was spread over many miles and caused great devastation in the forests and woods. The lightning hit very often, but nothing else was set on fire. Highly remarkable is the strange fact that two years ago on 01 July, a similar thunderstorm along with a tornado-like storm caused great devastation when a lightning strike hit the church tower of Pfaffenhofen, set a farm in the area on fire, and caused a damage of at least 50,000 fl. due to a severe rainstorm and hail.

On 30 June between 9 and 10 in the evening, a severe thunderstorm and hailstorm developed in the area of Regensburg, but it caused no significant harm in the area near the city. The storm that accompanied the thunder storm, however, destroyed century-old lime trees along the surrounding walk ways and tore down many fruit trees in the gardens within the neighborhood.  Two hours later, a torrential thunderstorm erupted in the area of Karlovy Vary (Bohemia).

The reason I was drawn to this story? Master Carpenter Nigg, one of the two named men credited with fighting the fire, is my 4th great-grandfather. Since I have difficulty finding my 20th century ancestors in newspapers, imagine my surprise when I found an ancestor in the press who lived from 1767 to 1844! I’m happy to know that he was well-regarded in the town for his courage, skill, and “presence of mind” and that it did not appear to be the first time he distinguished himself in that manner.  The storm of 30 June 1813 and the resultant fire must have been terribly frightening for his family.  At the time, Karl Nigg and his wife Maria Höck had eight young children. While I am not entirely sure if all eight children were still living since infant mortality was high at the time, at least one child was alive – my 3rd great-grandmother, Magdalena, who was six years old at the time of the storm.

SourceMünchener politische Zeitung: mit allerhöchstem Privilegium. Page 757, Issue 162, July 1813.  Publisher: Wolf, 1813. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized Sep 17, 2010.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=DidEAAAAcAAJ

Many thanks to my friend Marion for the translation.  I broke up some of the paragraphs and sentences for easier reading. And I can’t believe I was able to find a perfect post to actually use “It was a dark and stormy night” for the title!

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