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Archive for the ‘Bergmeister’ Category

MapMy Bavarian great-grandparents’ hometown was Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, just north of Munich. Only my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister, was born in the town and her family had lived there for centuries. My great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, was born nearby and went there to work for his uncle. Pfaffenhofen was the site of the couple’s wedding in 1897 and the birth of their first child a year later, a daughter. He left home in 1900 to immigrate to America, and mother and daughter joined him there in 1902. Did they ever miss their hometown? What was Pfaffenhofen like?

Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is located in the Hallertau region of Bavaria, which is the largest hop producing area in the world. The region is in Oberbayern, or Upper Bavaria, and it has a long history. The area was likely first settled by monks from the Benedictine monastery in Ilmmünster in the 8th Century. Their estate was called Pfaffenhöfe or Priests’ station and was located north of the current town. Four centuries later, Duke Ludwig I, called Ludwig the Kelheimer, founded the market town of Pfaffenhofen where the Ilm and Gerolsbach rivers meet. The town was mentioned by name as early as 1140, and by 1197 it was called a “market town”. By 1318, Pfaffenhofen was referred to as a fortified settlement.

Pfaffenhofen ad Ilm Coat of ArmsFrom 1387-1389, the Städtekrieg, a war between Swabian towns and Bavarian dukes, was fought throughout Southern Germany. Pfaffenhofen became one of the war’s victims when it was nearly completely destroyed by fire in 1388. When the town was reconstructed, it was surrounded by a circular wall with four gates and 17 towers. The Pfänderturm is one of the original 17 towers and the only one still standing today. By 1438, Pfaffenhofen officially received recognition as a “town”.

Engraving of Pfaffenhofen, 1687

[This is an engraving of Pfaffenhofen by Anton W. Ertl in 1687. The town's wall, two of the gates, and many of the towers are clearly visible.]

Another war left a significant mark on the town. In 1632, soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War were billeted to houses in town. One of the soldiers had the plague and the disease quickly spread. Of the 1,800 inhabitants, only 700 survived the outbreak. It would take Pfaffenhofen another 200 years to reach the same population.

Population growth was never a problem after that time. The town continued to attract residents. While the population was about 4,000 at the beginning of the 20th Century, it is now closer to 23,000.

The town square, or hauptplatz, has existed on roughly the same site since the town was founded centuries ago. The square has many unique and beautiful buildings. Standing majestically at one end of the square is the town’s church, St. Johannes Baptist. The church was built in 1393 in the Gothic style to replace the Romanesque style church destroyed by the 1388 fire. After The Thirty Years’ War, the interior was renovated in the Baroque style. The steeple, about 253 feet high, was first built in 1531. Destroyed by a lightening strike in June, 1768, it was immediately rebuilt. Most important for descendents of Pfaffenhofen’s Catholic residents is the existence of parish baptismal, marriage, and death records dating back to 1597.

Hauptplatz, St. John's

[Two views of St. John's Church in the Hauptplatz. The left photo is from 1875, the right from 1998.]

Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is in front of the church in the square. Erecting a white and blue painted maypole became a tradition in Bavaria in the 16th Century. In the 18th century, symbols and shields of different worker’s guilds were added to the pole, and this is how Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is decorated today.

Interior of St. John\'s church, Altar

You will also see evidence of the former worker’s guilds inside the parish church. Each guild had some church obligations as a part of the guild’s rules. Once a year each guilds 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 apostle statues honoring 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.

Because I do not read German very well, information about famous residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is difficult to find. Two individuals seem to have made a difference in the town and are worth a mention here. When I first visited Pfaffenhofen, I was surprised to see a street named after Joseph Bergmeister. They named a street after my great-grandfather? No, but they named a street after someone with the same name – his first cousin. Cousin Joseph was born on 11 August 1874, a year and a half after my great-grandfather. Unlike his older cousin, Joseph never left Pfaffenhofen. He became instrumental in introducing electricity to the town in the early 1900s. In recognition for his work, he received a medal from the town in 1934 and an honorary doctorate from the Technical College of Aachen. He died on 31 October 1950. I’m not sure when a street was named in his honor, but you can drive down Dr-Bergmeister-Strasse today! (The first name Joseph is still valued in the Bergmeister family today – you will find Joseph Bergmeisters on both sides of the ocean who are related, whether they know it or not, as 3rd and 4th cousins. In my own family there are five generations of Joseph Bergmeister’s so far.)

Another more famous Joseph from Pfaffenhofen is the poet Joseph Maria Lutz (1893-1972). He was born in Pfaffenhofen, gained recognition as a poet, and today there is a museum in his honor in town. He is also known for adding a verse to the Bavarian anthem in 1946. As there is no longer a king of Bavaria, Lutz wrote a new verse to replace the stanza about the king.

One of Joseph Maria Lutz’s poems is entitled “Hometown.” Written in 1965, the poem shares his feelings about Pfaffenhofen. The following translation was provided by Mr. Robert Wilkinson:

Hometown

The houses line themselves cuddle cozily after a fashion,

Intermittently broad and proud, intermittently narrow and aged,

The church spire points to heaven on high,

And the people are loudly singing to the chiming tower bells.

And country lanes stream in from adjacent forest and field

To become streets of prominence in both name and importance,

And in Time’s own passage finally come to stillness.

The bemused places of childhood are rekindled yet again with laughter,

And even the old fountains cascade in a trance of stillness,

as the swirling eddies made rush, silently

like life’s Insignificant Other, just as only Love can know.

And somehow even the Wind takes on a life,

Blowing in gust after gust, through the years,

And through the days, back to childhood’s Home,

As in fairy tale nights and imagined lands.

From the squares and tedious narrow alleys echo the familiar sounds,

the rolling wagon wheels, the clip-clop of stout mares,

the staccato of the blacksmith’s hammer,

or as in years of yore, the rolling barrels and the rooster’s crow.

And all that appears Close once again, is yet so Far,

And Life itself avoiding yet the grave;

strives for heavy-hearted Contentment much like a halting

song of Greeting or Return.

You, my little Town,

even if I have forgotten much,

I behold you precious still,

I, forever at Home in you.

I had the opportunity to visit my ancestors’ hometown in 1998 and 2006. I’m sure my great-grandparents would be amazed at some of the changes that have taken place. But, in many ways, they would find a lot of things the same. The apartment they lived in before coming to the US is still there, and it probably looks much the same. They might be surprised by all of the cars though!

Last Tower Standing

[This is the last tower still standing. The "Pfänderturm" or debt-tower, was built between 1388 to 1438.]

Sources for this article:

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[This post was written for the 47th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Place Called Home.]

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I have a soft spot in my heart for all of the aunts in my family tree, especially those without children. The reason for this attraction is that I find myself in the ironic position of being a genealogist without any offspring of my own. But, I do “have” children because I am an aunt! I’ll let you in on a little-known secret…when aunts are childless, they are able to give away a bigger piece of their heart to their nieces and nephews.Perhaps it’s because of my childless predicament that I am fascinated by one of my great-great aunts, Hilaire “Laura” Bergmeister Thuman. I know very little about her, but the portrait I have surmised from these few facts is worthy of my admiration. Hilaire is a somewhat mysterious figure because of the lack of information. My challenge was to write about Hilaire as a kindred spirit, a fellow aunt who clearly loved her nieces and nephews. But how do you write a biographical sketch when the details are few? These simple facts about her life may not tell readers everything about this woman, but hopefully it will show some of her key attributes that make her admirable.

Hilaire Bergmeister was born in Bavaria on 12 January 1870 to Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmaier. She was probably their first child, but the unusual fact of her birth is that her parents did not marry until 11 April 1871. While illegitimacy was not uncommon in Bavaria at that time, I find it odd that the parents would marry some time later and have more children together. Hilaire’s birth date has not been found in the church records, but the date is consistently noted throughout her life in other sources including marriage, census, and death records. Her parents’ names are also evident through some of these records; the only mystery is why this couple did not marry until their daughter was over a year old.

Hilaire’s father Joseph was a flour merchant who came from a family of millers in the small town of Puch near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. According to the record of his marriage, Ursula was the daughter of an innkeeper from the town of Aichach. Their marriage occurred in Pfaffenhofen, and the couple went on to have more children together. According to the church records in the nearby town of Vohburg a.d. Donau, a daughter Maria was born on 17 November 1871. As I have no other record of this child, it is possible that the baby died; however, another possibility is that “Maria” is actually the record of Hilaire’s birth/baptism. Many females born in this region of Bavaria were named Maria, and they usually used their middle names in everyday life since every other girl in town was named Maria. However, the date of this child’s birth does not match what is known to be Hilaire’s birth, and Hilaire’s records were constant throughout her life as reporting her birth year as 1870 and her birthday in January.

Joseph and Ursula’s next child was a son, my great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister. Joseph was born in Vohburg on 12 February 1873. Other sources record another son, Ignatz Nicholas, born on 23 April 1876, but his exact birthplace is unknown. It appears that Joseph may have traveled throughout the region as a flour merchant selling the goods his family produced at the mill in Puch.

At some point during Hilaire’s childhood, her father died. His death date is not yet firmly established, but by the year 1884 Ursula Bergmeister was remarried to Herman Goetz from Regensburg. She had at least two sons with him, half-brothers to the Bergmeister children: Herman, born on 14 May 1885, and Julius Andreas, born 9 November 1886. Both boys were born in Regensburg and it is presumed that the Bergmeister siblings lived with them.

Hilaire BergmeisterOne of the few Bergmeister photos shows Hilaire as a young woman. The photo studio was in Amberg, which is about 40 miles from Regensburg. She appears to be about 18-21 years old, so the year is between 1888 and 1891. I love the expression on her face. That mischeivous grin tells me she was the independent type…the sort of gal who was fearless and unconventional. Her emigration from Germany and her marriage to an older man, the next two “facts” in her life, add weight to my guess about her personality.

In 1893, a 23-year-old Hilaire boarded the SS Friesland in Antwerp, arriving in New York on 25 July. The passenger lists from this time period provide few details other than names and ages, so I lack the physical description or details on the destination that later arrival records provide. There was a 25 year-old “Rud. Bergmeister” on the same ship, but he is not listed with her. In fact, he is listed as a “professor” traveling in first class and the name does not match any known family members.

At some point after her arrival, Hilaire moves to Philadelphia. There is also a Bergmeister family living in Philadelphia at this time who came from Bavaria in the 1870s. However, no connection has been established between these two Bergmeister branches. Based on my research, Hilaire was the first member of my Bergmeister family to come to the United States. In the 19th Century, a young woman traveling alone and moving to a foreign country is rather inspiring, which adds to her allure.

Unfortunately there are no records to shed any light on Hilaire’s life in Philadelphia shortly after her arrival. In 1896, only three years after coming to the US, Hilaire married Maximilian Thuman, a cabinetmaker. Max, born in Regensburg in 1857, was 13 years older than Hilaire. Could they have known each other in Regensburg? It is unlikely, but possible. However, Max had been in the US since 1883 – if they were acquainted, Hilaire would have been only 13 years old when she last saw him.

Calling CardAt the time of Hilaire and Max’s marriage, she lived at 2827 Reese Street in Philadelphia. By 1900, the couple was living at 1033 Jefferson Street and Hilaire’s occupation is listed as “retail grocery”. Interestingly, one of the witnesses to Max and Hilaire’s marriage, Michael Hoffbauer, is a grocer at Hilaire’s old Reese Street address, so it is presumed that she continued to work there. Max and Hilaire bought a house at 6078 Kingsessing Avenue between 1900 and 1910, and they lived there until their deaths.

Beginning in 1900, Max and Hilaire welcomed the arrival of the first of Hilaire’s brothers from Bavaria. When Hilaire left Germany, her Bergmeister brothers were 20 and 17, and her Goetz brothers were still children aged 8 and 7. Despite their ages and the distance between them, communication must have continued through letters across the ocean. Because when each brother arrived in the US, their passenger list shows they were going to Hilaire and Max’s house and that the passage was paid for by their brother-in-law Max Thuman.

Joseph was the first brother to join Hilaire in the US. Joseph, a baker by trade, married Marie Echerer in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in 1897, and they had a daughter, also named Marie, in 1898. In May, 1900, Joseph sailed on the SS Aragonia from Antwerp, Belgium, to New York City. Max paid for his passage, and his sister is listed on the passenger list as the relative who would meet him. Joseph stayed with the Thuman’s until he could find work and rent a house, and he is enumerated with them on the 1900 Census. The following year, Joseph’s wife and daughter made the long journey to join him in Philadelphia.

Next to arrive was Hilaire’s 16-year-old half-brother, Julius Goetz, in September 1902. He is recorded as a locksmith from Regensburg going to his brother-in-law Max Thuman. Julius also lived with the Thuman’s until he found work in a factory and a place to live. He later returns to live with them after his 1919 marriage for a brief time.

In 1904, Ignatz Bergmeister arrives in New York City in June. His passage was also paid for by Max, and the list annotates that he was “met by sister at the landing”. It is not certain if Ignatz lived in Philadelphia for a time or if he stayed in New York City. He marries in New York in 1907 and is living there in 1910, but since Hilaire met him in New York it is possible that he also came to stay with the Thuman’s in Philadelphia for a short time.

The last brother, Herman Goetz, came to America in 1911 at the age of 26. His passenger arrival record lists his brother Julius as his next of kin in America, but he lived with the Thuman’s for several years, including at the time of his marriage in 1913.

The Thuman’s were definitely involved with Joseph Bergmeister’s family. Joseph and Marie’s first son and first American-born child was Joseph, born in 1902. For his baptism, Uncle Max and Aunt Laura were his godparents. In 1905, Max was born, and the couple was once again godparents. In 1907, Julius had Aunt Laura as his godmother and his namesake Uncle Julius as his godfather. Their youngest child was Margaret, my grandmother, born in 1913. Aunt Laura again takes her place as godmother, and her godfather was Uncle Herman which explains Margaret’s unusual middle name, Hermina.

There is no evidence of what life was like for these immigrant families. How did they live? Were they happy here? Did they keep in touch with each other and visit?

The year 1919 would prove to be a tragic year for the Bergmeister families. Sometime during the year, Ignatz Bergmeister died at the age of 43. He left behind his widow Therese, 9 year-old son Charles, and 11 year-old daughter Theresa living in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Since Ignatz and his family have only recently been “discovered” and the research into his short life is ongoing, it is not know if Hilaire kept in touch with her sister-in-law and young nephew and niece.

The second tragedy to befall the family in 1919 (or possibly the first since I am unsure of the date of Ignatz’s death) was the death of Marie Bergmeister on 5 February. She died from myocarditis at the age of 44. Daughter Marie would turn 21 that month, Joseph and Max were teenagers, Julius was 12, and Margaret was only 6 years old. Marie’s death would greatly affect her husband Joseph, and his sister Hilaire stepped in to help with the children, especially Margaret.

The Bergmeister children’s lives would be further impacted by Joseph’s death eight years later at the age of 54. He died on 30 May 1927 from a kidney infection. By this time, eldest daughter Marie was 29 years old and unmarried with two children of her own: 6-year-old Marie and 2-year-old Mabel. Son Joseph was married for two years to Helen Pardis, and they had a 1-year-old daughter. Max, age 22, and Julius, age 20, moved in with their brother Joseph and his family. Young Margaret was an orphan at 14, and she always said, “Aunt Laura took good care of me.” It is presumed that Margaret lived with her aunt and uncle for some time as well as with her older sister.

Little else is known about Hilaire’s life. Descendants of each of Joseph’s five children all heard stories about Aunt Laura as “a good aunt” who “took care of them” after their parents’ untimely deaths.

Max and Hilaire Thuman

I found this photo at my grandmother’s after her death. Though the photo was unlabeled, I immediately knew that this was the Thuman’s because of the striking resemblance to the younger photo of Hilaire. By the looks on their faces and the gleam in their eyes, I can tell that they were a happy couple. Hilaire still has that mischievous smile! It was probably taken in the 1930’s.

Max Thuman died on 26 November 1941 at the age of 84 from pneumonia. Hilaire only lived for another fourteen months, dying on 6 February 1943 from cancer. She was 73 years old. They are buried together at Mount Moriah Cemetery, which is located just across the street from their home on Kingsessing Avenue.

When you research someone’s life in genealogical records, you can only learn a limited amount of information…these are the facts you “know for sure”. But, there is more to the story of everyone’s life than just those few facts, those few snippets of life that are recorded in a church book or a county office or a cemetery. When I read between the lines of the facts of Hilaire’s life, what is the portrait I see?

Independent, spirited. Loving sister, wife, & aunt.

Thanks, great-great Aunt Laura, for being a “great” aunt – I’ll try to follow your example!

[This post was written for the 44th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to WomenEdit on July 1, 2008 - This post is being re-submitted to the 51st Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Independent Spirit.  I don't normally re-submit an article; however, I felt it necessary this time.  While the obvious reason is that I have just returned from a nearly 3-week long vacation and don't have much time to write a new one, the REAL reason is that I can't think of another person in my family tree that best fits the 51st COG topic.  The Call for Submissions reads: "With the upcoming July 4th holiday, there is no more perfect time to honor someone from your family whose life can be summed up in one word – INDEPENDENT! Do you have a relative who was feisty, spoke their own mind, was a bit of a free spirit? Anyone who most people might consider a “nut” on the family tree but you know they really just followed a “different tune?” We all have at least one person whose character and habits may have made them seem “ahead of their time” and now is the chance to tell us their story."  I thought long and hard about it...but none of my grandparents or great-grandparents really fit the "free spirit" label.  Since this tribute to my great-great aunt tried to emphasize her independent nature, I simply couldn't devote this COG to anyone else.  If you've read this before, my apologies...but if you're new here, I hope you enjoyed it!]

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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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Death of Jacob Zinsmeister

This is a rather unusual death record from my genealogical “collection” with an odd reason for the death. I wish they had newspapers back then – this would have made a rather interesting obituary! The record source is the Kirchenbuch records from the Catholic church in Puch, Bavaria, Germany and details the death of Jacob Zinsmeister in 1796.

Because of the unusual nature of the death, I’m not entirely certain of the Latin translation. I think it translates as follows: “On May 9 by a tree suddenly dropped from a cart in the forest of the Puch community, was killed and here buried the honest Jacob Zinsmeister, farmer, aged 56.” Either that or he died after falling from a tree. I’m also not certain of the word in the last line that seems to say “Lori” after “colonus“. Colonus is farmer, his occupation, and usually the record will indicate “hic” afterward the occupation to indicate “he lives here”, or it will name the town if it differs than the church’s town. As the town name was Puch, I am uncertain if this word is “Lori” or not and what it refers to. If there are any Latin scholars out there, feel free to chime in! I only had some high school Latin and we weren’t exactly looking at death records!

At any rate, poor Jacob died “subito” or suddenly at the age of 56. Back in 1796 he was probably considered “old” but I’ve found many others living well beyond their 50s during that same timeframe. Jacob Zinsmeister is one of my 5th great-grandfathers. He was born about 1740 presumably in Puch, which is a very small town today and must have consisted of just a few farms back then. His wife’s name was Josepha and that is all I know about her. They had a daughter named Kreszens who was born around 1777, and at least two sons. Unfortunately he died before his daughter got married. Kreszens married Joseph Bergmeister (1763-1840) in 1800. Joseph was a miller in Puch, and she bore at least twelve children! Several died as babies or young children, but at least two sons lived to adulthood and had children of their own. Kreszens Zinsmeister Bergmeister died on 8 June 1852 at the age of 75 – a much longer life than her poor dad who was killed by a falling tree!

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Bergmeister Wedding

My last “Photo Mystery” required some specialized knowledge. This one only requires your opinion! Coincidentally, I was preparing this when Jasia posted about using facial recognition software in photo identification. When I visited my Bavarian cousins, I took along a photo of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. During the visit, I had the opportunity to look through several boxes of photos belonging to my cousins. Like many of our photos, they were not labeled, so none of us knew who was actually pictured in the photos. One photo stood out – it was the wedding photograph shown above. The groom is most likely Johann Bergmeister, my cousins’ ancestor. This is my educated guess based on later photographs they had of this individual (to see a photograph of this couple a bit older, with children, see the right hand column of this page). But the man (the “best man”?) to his right looks like my great-grandfather Joseph. A lot like him – at least that’s what I think! Here are the only photos I possess of my great-grandparents, Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer Bergmeister:

Bergmeisters

My only concern is that if the wedding is actually of the Johann Bergmeister, specifically  my cousin’s grandfather, then the event took place in 1905. If this is true, then the other man is definitely not my great-grandfather – he was in the United States from 1900 and I have no other passenger record of a “visit” home.  Is it Joseph’s brother? I plan on conducting more research on Bergmeister family weddings around the years 1897-1905 to determine who the bride and groom were in addition to the rest of the wedding party. But, what do you think? Do you see a family resemblance at all?

Are they the same person?

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I come from a rather small family, and I didn’t even know my own first cousins until about six years ago. Once they reached adulthood, my parents kept in touch with very few of their own cousins, but they did remember a lot of names. Because our surnames are not too common, I was able to use their memories to seek out my second cousins over the years, both by email and regular mail. In every case, I offer to share my research and I beg for copies of any photos they have. Results have been mixed. Most folks are friendly, but they aren’t really interested in the genealogy details. And as for photos, no luck yet except for copies of photos already in my possession.

At the farthest extreme, one second cousin insisted that I was wrong about some facts and stopped all contact. At the opposite end of the spectrum, another became a good friend and gave me one our great-grandfather’s Bavarian beer steins for Christmas (to date, one of my bests Christmas presents ever).

One of the best connections I’ve made was more distant, both in degree and location, when I connected with my 3rd and 4th Bergmeister cousins in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.

C. Bergmeister bldg

On my first visit to Pfaffenhofen in 1998, I was awestruck to find a building in the hauptplatz with the name “C. Bergmeister” on it. It’s a bakery! My great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister was a baker! But wait…who was “C”? At that point in my research, I didn’t know. Attempts to communicate in the bakery were disastrous; my German is pitiful and their English-speaking associates must have been off that day.

After more research at home, I learned that C. Bergmeister was Castulus Bergmeister (1845-1912), son of Jakob Bergmeister (1805-1870). I descend from Jakob also, but from his son Joseph (1843-c.1885), which would make Castulus the uncle of my great-grandfather, Joseph (1873-1927), son of Joseph. Since Joseph (Jr) was married in Pfaffenhofen, worked as a baker, and his uncle owned a bakery there, chances are he worked for family – a family still running the bakery 108 years after he left Germany for the US.

Through the internet and some German-speaking friends, I contacted the bakery owners, and their son Hans replied in English. We exchanged emails occasionally, but when I knew I’d be “in the neighborhood” on a trip to Europe in 2006, I asked if I could visit. The next thing I knew, Bavarian hospitality was in full swing. No, we won’t recommend a hotel because you’re staying with us. No, we won’t give you directions, because we’re picking you up at the airport. Even though they weren’t even sure how I was related, they opened their homes and hearts to me. And as to how we would communicate, well, we’d figure that out when I arrive…

With some nervous trepidation on both sides, we finally met. Before dinner on my first evening there, I brought out my pedigree chart. Moments later, their chart was produced. Heads leaned over the dining table as we scrutinized each other’s data, and we simultaneously pointed to the common ancestor, Jakob. “We never knew any Bergmeister’s went to the US!” We both gained information – my research ended two generations back from Jakob with his grandfather Paul, who was born approximately in 1724 and died in 1784. Hans went back one generation more than I did! His chart named Paul’s father as Martin Bergmeister (1689-1752). This was a surprise since I thought my research in the Bergmeister’s original home village of Puch ended when the old records did.

By week’s end, my cousins’ English became far better than my German will ever be. I had many great experiences: dining with the extended family, visiting the cemetery and church, and spending an afternoon searching through boxes and boxes of unmarked photos in hopes of seeing a familiar face. It was the kind of genealogical magic I only dreamed of when I started out on this journey.

I didn’t want to show photos of my cousins without their permission, but you can see live images of the main square (hauptplatz) with Pfaffenhofen’s webcam, or you can take a virtual visit of the Bergmeister Bäckerei — serving the best pretzels in Bavaria since 1868!

[Submitted for the 40th Carnival of Genealogy: Living Relative Connections]

 

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