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Archive for the ‘Miller’ Category

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

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

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

What Made Me Smile

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

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

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

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

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

What Made Me Cry

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

Surprise!

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

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

Parents: (one, none, or both) _______

Her response? One.

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

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

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

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

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Sto Lat – 100 Years

If my grandfather Henry Pater was still alive, today would be his 100th birthday.   This post is in his honor:

Henry Marion Pater (1912-1972)

Just the Facts:

  • Parents: Louis Pater (born Ludwik Pater, 1893-1957) and Elizabeth Miller (born Elżbieta Müller, 1891-1972)
  • Born: 25 March 1912, Langhorne, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  • Baptized: 04 April 1912, Our Lady of Grace RC Church, Penndel, PA
  • Siblings: Walter (1913-1975), Louis (1916-1940), Victor (1919-1951), Eugene (1920-1979)
  • Married: Mae Zawodna on 01 February 1930 in Bromall, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The civil marriage was blessed on 21 June 1930 at St. Adalbert’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Children: Joan and Anita
  • Died: 17 October 1972
  • Buried: 20 October 1972, Oakland Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan Pater and Richard Zukowski

Five Things About My Grandfather I Learned from Genealogical Records:

  • All four of my grandparents were first generation Americans; however, my grandfather Henry Pater was the only grandparent to actually know his own grandparents, Joseph Pater (1864-1945) and Antonina Pluta Pater (1863-1938).  He also is the only grandparent to have met one of his great-grandparents, his great-grandmother Francziska Anna Wojciechowska Pluta, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1909 and died in 1914 at the age of 74.
  • Henry was five years younger than his wife – although I would not know this from the marriage license alone since they both lied about their age.  At the time of their marriage, Henry was 17 and Mae was 22, but the record says he is 22 and she is 21!  He is also the third generation Pater male to be younger than his wife: his father Louis was 2 years younger than his mother, and his grandfather was 1 year younger than his grandmother.
  • The young age at Henry’s marriage is likely why he was married “twice” – my grandparents lived a few doors away from each other.  After their civil marriage, they each went home to their parents’ house.  Neither set of parents were happy when the news was eventually announced.  They had the marriage blessed in a Catholic Church at the insistance of the bride’s father, Joseph Zawodny (I didn’t learn this fact from the records, but I did learn the addresses and the dates of the marriages.)
  • Henry became a very young grandfather.  His first grandson, my cousin Richard “Ricky” Zukowski, was born in 1951 when Henry was 39 years old. Sadly, Ricky died at the age of 15 months. Henry would have to wait another seven years to become a grandfather again.
  • Records alone would have left me confused about Henry’s middle name if my mother didn’t know the truth. On his birth record, his name is Henry M. Pater. His baptismal record lists no middle name. His marriage record indicates the “M” is for Marion.  His death record mistakenly lists it as Martin. However the marriage record, in his own hand, is the correct name.

Henry and Mae Pater

Five Things About My Grandfather I Learned from My Mom:

  • Henry worked as a knitter in hoisery mills, and was quite accomplished at it.  He preferred working the night shift when he could operate several knitting machines at once.
  • When Henry was introduced to his future son-in-law (my father) for the first time, he said, “Call me ‘Hank'” which caused my mother and grandmother to double over in laughter because he had never, ever used that nickname before.
  • Henry called my mother “Chick” – apparently a nickname he got from a book.  His other daughter Joan was called “Jub”.  And his wife, my grandmother, was “Killer”.
  • Henry liked to read. I wonder if that’s where I got the reading gene? I wish I knew what sorts of books he liked to read.
  • Although Henry was born in the United States, he learned Polish from his parents, aunts & uncles, and grandparents. His wife Mae also learned Polish from her Polish-born parents. When the couple married and had children, they frequently communicated in Polish if they wanted to discuss something without their girls listening in on the conversation.

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Back on August 9, 2009, Randy Seaver presented another Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) challenge for readers to document their sixteen great-great-grandparents.  I responded to the call with Sweet Sixteen: My Great-Great Grandparents.  But, my tree was a little bare in some spots.  I did not know at least 4 names and was “iffy” on two more.  In fact, I only had documented birth and death dates for 3 of the 16.

A few months later, I was able to update my list with A Sweeter “Sweet Sixteen” – I had documented proof of 4 of the missing names.  Then, last year I attended the NGS conference in Salt Lake City and found a lot of additional information that was previously missing with many marriage and birth records.

Today, Randy posed a very similar SNGF challenge.  I decided to take a look at my list to see what I had learned in the two years since my original post. While I still have a lot of research to do, I was able to add 4 of the “unknown” birth details into the “documented” category (which means I know the names of 8 more great-great-greats!). A bigger challenge was correcting the place names. Rather than simply put the name of the town and the current country, I attempted to figure out the town, county or equivalent, state or equivalent, and country name at the time of the event.  For my Polish ancestors, whose borders changed more frequently than I can keep track of, Steve Danko’s post on Describing Place Names in Poland was invaluable.  I hope I got them right!

Here is my revised/updated Sweet Sixteen:

Note: [d] = documented , [p]=presumed based on other documents

16. Stanisław Piątkowski

  • b. 1842, Mogilev, Mogilev Gubernia, Russian Empire [p]
  • m. Apolonia Konopka on 10 May 1863, Holy Cross Parish church in Warsaw, Warsaw Obwód, Mazowsze Voivodeship, Congress Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Warsaw before 1900]
  • Son of Ludwik Piątkowski and Benigna Kosecka

17. Apolonia Konopka

  • b. 1842, Konopki, Augustów Gubernia, Poland [p]
  • d. unknown [presumed Warsaw before 1900]
  • Daughter of Stanisław Konopka and Rozalia Karwowska

18. Jan Kiziewieter

  • b. 1831, unknown [Poland]
  • m. Marianna Ostał before 1866 [p]
  • d. unknown [between 1876-1900, presumed near Warsaw]
  • Parents’ names unknown

19. Marianna Ostał

  • b. 1833, unknown [Poland]
  • d. unknown [after 1900, presumed Warsaw]
  • Parents’ names unknown

20. Josef Bergmeister

  • b. 09 Feb 1843, Puch, Pörnbach, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • m. Ursula Dallmeier on 11 Apr 1871 in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Regensburg or München before 1885]
  • Son of Jakob Bergmeister and Anna Maria Daniel

21. Ursula Dallmeier

  • b. 17 Mar 1847, Aichach, Aichach-Friedberg, Schwaben, Bayern [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Regensberg between 1897 – 1919]
  • m2. Herman Götz by 1885 [p]
  • Daughter of Josef Dallmeier and Ursula Eulinger

22. Karl Echerer

  • b. 31 May 1846, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • m. Margarethe Fischer 18 May 1874, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed after 1882, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm]
  • Son of Ignaz Echerer and Magdalena Nigg

23. Margarethe Fischer

  • b. 21 Jan 1845, Langenbruck, Reichertshofen, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • d. 04 Oct 1895, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • Daughter of Franz Xaver Fischer and Barbara Gürtner

24. Józef Pater

  • b. 21 Sep 1864, Ruda Guzowska, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Antoninan Rozalia Pluta on 25 Aug 1885 in Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 11 Aug 1945, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA [d]
  • Son of Jan Pater and Teofilia Zakrzewska

25. Antonina Rozalia Pluta

  • b. 11 Jun 1863, Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 12 Dec 1938, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA [d]
  • Daughter of Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Wojciechowska

26. Jan Müller

  • b. unknown [presumed Bohemia]
  • m. Elżbieta Smetana by 1881 in unknown place
  • d. unknown [presumed Żyrardów, Poland after 1909]
  • Parents’ names unknown

27. Elizabeth Smetanna

  • b. unknown [presumed Bohemia]
  • d. unknown [presumed Żyrardów, Poland]
  • Parents’ names unknown

28. Wawrzyniec Zawodny

  • b. 11 July 1850, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Katarzyna Mariańska on 10 May 1875 in Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 13 Dec 1917, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Regency Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • Son of Szymon Zawodny and Katarzyna Ratajewska

29. Katarzyna Mariańska

  • b. 19 Oct 1852, Komorowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 29 Jul 1923, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Daughter of Stanisław Mariański and Michalina Radomska

30. Wincenty Ślesiński

  • b. 11 Jul 1850, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Stanisława Drogowska 03 Sep 1879 in Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 01 Jan 1919, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Son of Jozef Ślesiński and Elżbieta Michalowska

31. Stanisława Drogowska

  • b. 04 Jun 1860, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 30 Dec 1918, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Daughter of Jan Drogowski and Konstancja Kubica

My ancestry remains the same as calculated two years ago: 62.5% Polish (the guy born in what is now Belarus is ethnically Polish), 25% German (technically Bavarian since Germany did not exist as a unified state until 1871), and 12.5% presumed Czech (Bohemian).  Thanks, Randy, now those blanks are really bothering me!

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The Millers’ Tale: Part Three

The previous posts have discussed two other Miller families.  Part One focused on the Miller family related to Carl Mach and his wife, Sophia Miller Mach.  Part Two was about my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller and her brother, Emil Miller, and his family.  But there is yet another Miller family with a “connection” of sorts to my family.

To add to my Miller confusion, in 1910 Elizabeth Miller (she would not marry Louis Pater for a few more months) is also living on Palethorp Street at #2543.  She is listed as a border with another family named Miller – Otto, age 32, wife Stella, 28, and their children Victor, 4, and Jennie, 7.  All are Polish and born in Russia.  Also living there as a border is Olga Olchak, who will serve as a witness with Emil Miller to Elizabeth’s marriage to Louis Pater. So who is Otto?

In trying to research Otto, I have concluded that the name is incorrect in the 1910 enumeration.  I believe he is actually Adolph Miller (the German “Adi” could sound like “Otto”) and daughter Jennie is actually “Hennie,” short for Henrietta.  These names and ages match up with the Adolph Miller family in the 1920 and 1930 census.  Although the family lives in the same neighborhood and their names and ages match the family that Elizabeth lived with in 1910, I have no proof that this is the same family.  I have not been able to locate their arrival records to see who their relative in the US was.  But, I did uncover one other interesting fact that might link them to the other Millers – according to Adolph’s draft registration, he was born on 24 October 1877 in Żyrardów.

What is the result of this research besides additional questions? My “conclusion” sounds like the ending to an old-time radio serial – Is Sophia Mach a cousin of the Pater’s?  Is Emil Miller the brother of Elizabeth?  Are they siblings of Sophia Mach?  Is Elizabeth a cousin to her own husband or his parents?  Are any of the three Miller families related to each other? Stay tuned next week for more of The Millers’ Tale!

We have the Miller’s associated with Mr. Mach – his wife, Sophia (b. 1871) as well as her brothers John (b. 1881) and Carl/Charles (b. 1875) and possibly their mother, Kathalina/Karolina (b. 1845).  There are also two Miller wives – Maria (b. 1876) and Magdalena (b. 1877).  Magdalena was married to Carl and is buried with the Mach’s.

Here are two men named Karl Mueller coming to the US courtesy of Carl Mach - friend, cousin, or brother-in-law?
Here are two men named Karl Mueller coming to the US courtesy of Carl Mach – friend, cousin, or brother-in-law?

Next are my Miller siblings, Elizabeth and Emil. Elizabeth (b. 1891) married Louis Pater in 1910 and had five sons in Philadelphia: Henry (1912), Walter (1913), Louis (1916), Victor (1919), and Eugene (1920).  Emil (b. 1881) married Sophia (b. 1885) and had at least three children: Sophia (1905), Edward (1907), and Helen (1909).  Apparently only Edward and his mother died in the United States while the others returned to Poland. Sophia may have had a sister, Anna Trepke (b. 1890), who only stayed in the US for a few months.

Adolph, or Otto, Miller is the third Miller family whose only connection to the above two families are the same home town, living on the same street, and renting a room to Elizabeth Miller.  Adolph (b. 1877) married Stella (b. 1882) and had at least two children: Henrietta (1903) and Victor (1906).

Three Miller families, two towns (Żyrardów – Philadelphia), and one street – the 2500 block of Palethorp Street.  Miller may be a common name, but it would be a significant coincidence if there is no family connection among these families.  Only more research will prove it!  Searching for a common surname has proven to be challenging, but with a little persistence you can slowly peel back the layers of history and the mystery that surrounds family history.  Or in this case – the family history of three families.

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The Millers’ Tale: Part Two

The last post, Part One, detailed the Miller family associated with Carl Mach and his wife, Sophia.  In this post, I will detail my own Miller family – and their connections to Mach and his family.

My great-grandmother, Elżbieta or Elizabeth Miller, was born on 19 November 1890 – presumably in Żyrardów although the actual record has not yet been found.  She immigrated to the U.S. on 16 April 1909 aboard the SS President Grant sailing from Hamburg to New York.  The passenger arrival record indicates that she is meeting her brother, Emil Miller, who lives on 2512 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.

eliz_nameBefore doing any actual research, I had been told some basic facts about Elizabeth and her family.  I knew that she had a brother, name unknown, with a wife, Sophie, and 3-4 children, some born in Philadelphia.  Before WWI, the brother’s family returned to Poland and was not able to come when World War I began.  Her brother died there, as well as one of his daughters.  After the war was over, Sophie eventually returned to the US (she was called Aunt Miller by her nephew, my grandfather).  Their son also returned – Edward, who was born here.  Another daughter – or possibly two daughters – remained in Poland, married, and had children – Andre and Wanda.  Edward was married to Bella, and possibly moved to Chicago.  Elizabeth had a “large family” with brothers in New York.  Sure, let’s search for some Miller boys in New York City – that ought to be easy!  But I was later amazed to verify at least some of this information.

I knew that Emil was here before his sister Elizabeth, and I found a passenger arrival record showing Emil arriving on 13 July 1905 in New York, sailing on the SS Pennsylvania from Hamburg.  Much to my surprise, the relative he is going to is none other than Mr. Carl Mach, who is listed as his brother-in-law and lives at 2518 or 2519 N. Palethorp Street.  While this seems to imply that Emil is the brother of Sophia Miller Mach (and therefore Elizabeth is her sister), my research only had more questions – the biggest of which involves the name of their mother.

Emil lists himself as Carl’s brother-in-law; however, if Kathalina is really Sophia’s mother, then, at least according to the 1910 census, she has four children still living.  If Sophia, Charles, and John are her children, that leaves room for only one other…and if Emil and Elizabeth are brother and sister, then the math doesn’t quite work out.  Plus, according to Elizabeth in various records including her social security application, her mother’s name is Elizabeth, not Kathalina or Karolina, and her father is John, not Carl.  I would argue that they may be half siblings with different mothers, but Elizabeth is younger than the others and Kathalina/Karolina, presumably the first wife, is still alive.  Instead, I think Elizabeth and Emil are related to the other Miller’s, but as cousins or aunts/uncles.

First, is this Emil on the arrival record Elizabeth’s brother?  Based on age, location, and destination, it is likely.  Elizabeth’s brother Emil is listed on both her arrival record in 1909 and on her marriage record in 1910 as a witness.  While I have no record that lists Emil’s parents’ names, Elizabeth’s SS application lists her father as John Miller and her mother as Elizabeth Smetana.  This is confirmed on her marriage record as well.  Her 1909 arrival record verifies that her father, Jan (or John), is still alive and living in Żyrardów.

Sophie Miller Mach’s records show a father’s name of Carl Miller and a mother named Katharina (per 1910 census – though difficult to read) or Karolina (per her death certificate, filled out by her husband).  So, how is Emil the brother of Sophie Mach?

In 1905, Emil’s wife and daughter, both named Sophia, arrive in the US.  The elder Sophia is 20 years old, last residence Warsaw (the closest large city to Żyrardów), and is joining her husband Emil Miller at 2518 Palethorp Street.  The daughter Sophia is 11 months old.  Note that this is the address where the Mach family is living at this time.

On the 1910 census, Emil and Sophia are living at 2512 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.  In addition to Sophia, who is now 5 years old, they have two children born in Pennsylvania: Edward, age 3, and Helena, age 1 and 3 months.  Living with the family are two boarders, Joseph Swoboda and A. Witkowski.  Joseph Swoboda is Carl Mach’s brother-in-law, which shows yet another connection to the Mach family, who is living only three doors away on Palethorp Street at #2518.

I also found a passenger arrival record listing Emil Miller on Palethorp Street as a “brother-in-law” – but I had never heard of this individual!  Anna Trepke, age 20, arrived in Philadelphia aboard the SS Merion on 11 May 1910.  Her last residence was Żyrardów.  She is listed as single – if this is accurate, she may be Sophia Miller’s sister.  If she was the wife of Emil’s brother, her last name would be Miller.  Interestingly, Anna does not stay in the United States very long.  I found her on a list of incoming passengers to the U.K. later that year.

But Anna was not the only person to return to the home country. While the US did not retain outgoing passenger lists to track immigrants returning to the home country, I was actually able to confirm the family story that Emil and his family returned to Poland using records from the Russian Consular Office in Philadelphia.  These records, available through the National Archives and Records Administration, show an application for passport or visa in Russian for Emil Muller and his family.  While the date is not specific, they are filed in 1910 – presumably after Elizabeth’s marriage on 25 August.  Why did Emil return to Żyrardów?  My theory is that perhaps his father or other family member either died or was dying, but I have not been able to confirm this.  It is noted that Carl and Sophie Mach also return to Żyrardów – was it for the same reason?

I searched for the return records.  There is an arrival for Edward A. Miller returning to New York on 30 May 1927.  Is this the son of Emil and Sophia?  The list specifically names him as “Edward Arthur Miller” with a birth date of 09 February 1907 in Philadelphia; Edward was born in February 1907, but I do not have a record of Arthur as a middle name (I have not looked up his birth or baptismal record).  Even so, this Edward Miller lists 2958 Lawrence Avenue in Philadelphia as his destination – the same address as the Mach family!

On the left is Sophia Miller, known as "Aunt Miller", around 1947.  With her are Elizabeth Miller's husband, Louis Pater, and Mae Zawodna, the wife of their son Henry.

On the left is Sophia Miller, known as "Aunt Miller", around 1947. With her are Elizabeth Miller's husband, Louis Pater, and Mae Zawodna, the wife of their son Henry.

Sophia Miller, age 44 and widowed, returns from Żyrardów on 14 August 1929.  Her destination was to her son Edward on the 2500 block of Hope Street.  Remember Joseph Pater and how this story all began?  This is his house.  The only relationship between them, at least that I can figure out, is that Sophia and Edward are the sister-in-law and nephew of his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Miller Pater.  This seems to corroborate the family story as told by my grandfather that Sophia’s husband and two children, including one that was born in the U.S., did not return here.

As far as the rest of the story about this family moving to Chicago, I did find a death record for Sophie Miller in December, 1962.  I have not yet found more information on her son Edward or the family that stayed behind in Poland.

The final post in The Millers’ Tale, Part Three, will discuss yet another Miller family and come to some conclusions.

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The Millers’ Tale: Part One

Miller graphicSearching a common surname like Miller is challenging, but even more so because this particular surname is common not in one or two countries, but in many from Ireland and Great Britain and crossing throughout Europe to Russia, German, Poland, Hungary, and more.  In the U.S., there are even a mix of races that bear the name.  So where does one begin?  I started with the few facts I knew and tried to piece together “the rest of the story” through genealogical records.  This is the story of the Miller family from Poland – three Miller families, to be exact.  Are they related, or are they simply neighbors who shared a common surname?

The mystery began while researching my 2nd great-grandfather’s immigration record – but he is not a Miller!  Józef Pater, from Żyrardów, Poland, came to the US on 18 February 1905 on the SS Graf Waldersee sailing from Hamburg to New York.  On his passenger arrival record, the person there to meet him was listed as “cousin, Carl Mach, Phila. Pa. Palethorp 2518.”

The word “cousin” did not always mean a direct blood relationship – it could also be synonymous with friend or neighbor, especially if the new immigrant thought he needed family to be “let in” the new country.  But, it could also mean an actual cousin relationship – either between those two men, their wives, or some combination of each.  Thus began some extensive research on someone that I was not even sure I was related to in order to determine if a familial relationship did exist.  I was curious about who this man was and how he knew my ancestor.  If he was related, it’s best to leave no clue un-researched – you’ll never know what you might find out unless you try.

Further research about the mysterious Mr. Mach has shown no proof of any familial relationship to Józef (Joseph) Pater, his parents, or his wife, Antonina Pluta Pater.  In fact, according to census and other records, Carl is ethnically German while the Pater family is Polish.  However, Carl’s wife, Sofia, was Polish.  Because her mother and brothers were living with the Mach’s for the 1910 census, I was able to learn her maiden name – Miller.  This definitely caught my attention – while Miller is not a family surname for either Józef Pater or his wife, it would become a family name of sorts for their grandchildren when their son, Ludwig (Louis) Pater, married Elżbieta (Elizabeth) Miller several months after the 1910 census enumeration.  Is it possible that the two families, or my two great-grandparents, were distantly related as cousins?

Now there were two Miller families – the Miller’s related to Carl Mach as well as Elizabeth Miller and her family, a brother.  To add to the confusion, for the 1910 census Elizabeth is living with yet another Miller family although she is not listed as a relative.  Further research into each of these families shows that they are all from Żyrardów.  They are also all living on the same street in Philadelphia.  But are they all related?  After all, Miller is a very common surname.  But is it common enough for there to be so many families in such close proximity that are not related?

As a spelling note, the various records I have used in researching these families show two spellings for the surname, Miller and Müller.  These two spellings are used interchangeably for many of the individuals in these posts from all of the families.  For the sake of simplicity, I will only use the spelling “Miller”.  Mach is occasionally spelled as Mack.  The following first names are also interchangeable depending upon the record – the first one shown, the anglicized version, will be used throughout these posts: Carl-Karl, Carolina-Karolina, Sophia-Sophie-Zofia, John-Jan, Elizabeth-Elżbieta, Louis-Ludwig, Joseph-Józef.

The Miller’s and Mach’s

The first family to investigate was Carl Mach and his Miller in-laws.  I was able to find quite a bit of information about Carl in records that are readily available.  Carl Mach was born on 24 September 1871 in Friedrichsgratz, Germany, the son of John and Caroline Mach.  This town is now Grodziec, Poland, located near the current border of Austria and the Czech Republic.  Although this is only the birthplace of Carl and not, as far as I can determine, the birthplace of any of my direct Miller ancestors, this town’s history adds credence to some of the unconfirmed stories about my great-grandmother.  The town was founded by Protestant Czech immigrants, called the Bohemian Brethren, who were fleeing religious persecution in the mid 18th century.  The town, then in Prussia, was called Bedrichuv Hradec.  In German it was called Friedrichsgratz in honor of Prussia’s Frederick II, who was trying to re-settle the area after the devastation of the Silesian wars between Austria and Prussia.  The Czech Hradec became Grodziec in Polish.  The mix of Czech, German, and Polish settlers were weavers, and many later moved to the larger towns of Łódż and Żyrardów, both of which were places of residence for my Miller families.

Żyrardów is listed as Carl Mach’s last residence in Poland on both his passenger arrival records and on his naturalization record.  He likely married Sophia Miller around 1895, possibly in Żyrardów.  Sophia was born on 27 February 1872 to Carl Miller and Carolina Bornof.  On 18 April 1903, the couple immigrated to the United States aboard the SS Pretoria sailing from Copenhagen to New York.  The relative they are meeting is Carl’s cousin, “J. Helmansh” at 2326 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.  I have been unable to find more information about this individual.

By 1910 the couple is living on 2518 N. Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.  Several Miller relatives begin to immigrate, all declaring Carl Mach as their brother-in-law on their passenger arrival records.

First was John Miller who arrived on 22 November 1906.  He was 22 years old and from Warsaw, but the list indicated that he had lived in London for the last 3 years.  He was going to his brother-in-law, Carl Mach, on 2518 Palethorp Street.

On 27 October 1907, two married women arrive in Philadelphia – 31-year-old Maria Miller and 30-year-old Magdalena Miller.  The passenger arrival record is a bit confusing as to the relationship – they are listed as both the cousin and sister of each other.  The relative they are going to is Maria’s husband c/o K. Mach at 2518 Palethorp.  The list indicates that they were met “by cousins, same name, here 4 months.”

1910 Mach excerptIn the 1910 Census, Carl Mach is listed as the head of the household at 2518 N. Palethorp.  In addition to wife Sophia, Kathalina (or Karolina) Miller, age 65, is listed as Carl’s mother-in-law.  Two brothers-in-law are also residing with them: Carl Miller, age 35, and John Miller, age 29.  Both brothers are listed as single; their presumed mother is listed as a widow.  I attempted to find passenger arrival records for Carl and Kathalina, but I was unsuccessful so far.

I did find a WWI draft card for John with the right age and address.  It lists his birth date as 24 December 1883.  He is living at 2519 Palethorp with his nearest relative as Charles Miller on 3200 Lee Street.  Is Charles really Carl?  There is a WWI draft registration card for Charles Miller, 3235 N. Lee Street, who was born on 09 September 1875 in Russia.  He is also a weaver and lists his nearest relative as his wife, Mary Miller.  Was Mary the “Maria” on the 1907 passenger list?

Sometime between 1911 and 1917, Carl and Sophia leave the United States and return to Żyrardów.  The exact year is not clear because the information is crossed out and written over on Carl’s return arrival record.  Carl returns to the United States aboard the SS Mongolia, which arrived in New York on 11 September 1923.  He lists his sister, Karolina Swoboda, as his relative in the U.S.   In 1924, Carl is living at 2519 Palethorp Street.  On 23 April 1924, Carl declared his intention to become a citizen and was living down the street at 2540 N. Palethorp.

Sophia joins her husband on April 6, 1929, arriving aboard the SS Hellig Olav that sailed to New York from Copenhagen.  I wrote more about Sophia’s return ticket in Bank Records: Another Resource for Tracing Immigrants, which was about an unusual record group in Ancestry’s catalog, the Philadelphia Immigrant Bank records.

By 1929, the Mach’s were living at 2958 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, about a mile away from their previous home on Palethorp Street.  His naturalization petition was filed in January, 1929 and finalized on April 25, 1929.  They would remain at this address until their deaths.  Sophia died on 07 January 1941, and Carl died the following year on 27 October 1942.  Both are buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia.  They did not have any children.  The only relative of Carl himself that I was able to find is his sister, Karolina, who was married to Joseph Swoboda.  When I went to Greenmount Cemetery to visit the grave of Carl and Sophia, I also discovered the fate of one of the Miller “sister-in-laws”.  Although there is no headstone for her, Magdalena Miller is also buried there.  According to her death certificate, she died on April 1, 1910 and was the wife of Carl Miller of 2536 Palethorp Street.

It is unfortunate that no one ever put the final date on Carl's headstone, giving his life an unfinished appearnace.

It is unfortunate that no one ever put the final date on Carl's headstone, making his life seem unfinished.

In Part Two of The Millers’ Tale, I’ll provide the details on my Miller family and try to figure out how or if they are connected to Mr. and Mrs. Mach.

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Yesterday I celebrated the 100th anniversary of my great-grandmother’s arrival to the U.S.  Unfortunately, I did not include a photo of her, Elizabeth Miller Pater, with the post.  Even though she is the only great-grandparent who was alive during my lifetime, I have only one photo of her.  As you can see below, it is not in the best condition.   She is the little lady in the center of the photograph, seated third from the left.  We have no idea who the other individulas are, though the woman to the right of her resembles Elizabeth’s husband’s sister.

Elizabeth Miller Pater and unidentified friends/family at a picnic in 1947.

Elizabeth Miller Pater (center) and unidentified friends or family at a picnic in 1947.

My mother remembers seeing a beautiful photo of Elizabeth as a young woman, but we do not know what happened to it after Elizabeth’s death in 1972.  That side of my family has been a bit of a mystery, so I’d like to post some names in an attempt to perhaps find some cousins (and cousins with photos would be a bonus!).

Elizabeth Miller married Louis Pater in 1910.  They had five sons: Henry, Walter, Louis, Victor, and Eugene.  All of the sons were born in either Langhorne, PA, or Philadelphia.  Most were involved in the same trade as their parents – working in textile factories in Philadelphia.

Henry, the oldest, was my grandfather.  Two of the sons died young from tuberculosis – Louis in 1940 at the age of 24, and Victor in 1951 at the age of 32.  Neither Louis nor Victor had any children.

Walter was born on 08 July 1913 and died in April 1975.  At some point during his life, he changed his surname (most likely not legally as one would today) from Pater to Miller, his mother’s maiden name.  This is the name under which his death is registered; however, it is not clear if he used Miller for marriage or as the surname for his children.  Walter was married at least three times, possibly to a Jean and two women named Helen.  He has two known children: Barbara Patsy (estimated birth year 1938-1940) and Louis (estimated birth year 1941-1943).

Eugene was born on 19 July 1920 and died in January 1979.  It is not known when he was married or to whom, but he had at least three children: Gloria Jean (estimated birth year 1945), Larry (Lawrence? Laurence?), and Pauline (who was called Polly).  Larry and Polly were younger than Gloria Jean.

Because of the surname change to the more common name of Miller, and because of the female children, I have not had success in tracing these cousins. If there are any Pater or Miller descendents from these individuals, I would love to hear from you!  For more information on the Pater family’s ancestry, as well as a photograph of Louis Pater (the husband of Elizabeth) and their oldest son, Henry, see the Pater Family Page.

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

The SS President Grant

The SS President Grant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of my more popular posts has been Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online.  As that post indicates, the FamilySearch site’s collection of Philadelphia Marriage Records is great online tool for searching for marriage information.  The collection is a listing of marriage licenses issued in Philadelphia from 1885-1951.  While these records are technically an “index” they are not searchable – to find a particular person, you must browse through the records.  This is easy for the years 1885 to 1938 because the list is alphabetical.  For the remaining years, the last names were entered in the order of application, so it takes some manual searching to find a particular person.

In my previous post, I lauded the availability of these records – not only can we search online, but they are free!  But I’ve also come across some comments on mailing lists and message boards from some disappointed individuals who were unable to find their ancestors’ marriage records in this index.  When you know a couple lived in the city, and you have an approximation of when they married, why can’t they be found in the index of Philadelphia marriage license records?  Simply put, many Philadelphia residents went elsewhere to get married.  This occurred mostly due to marriage laws that differed from state to state.  These laws that govern how marriages may be entered into and officiated are at the state level, not federal, so the rules vary.

For this reason, some couples married out of state, or at least outside of the borders of the city of Philadelphia.  The Pennsylvania rules that they may have been circumventing usually involved age or the waiting period.  In the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a law was passed on October 1, 1885 that required marriage licenses to be obtained prior to a couple marrying.  The county clerk of the orphans’ court was required to keep the records.  At this time, the information required by the couple was rather simple and included the names of the couple, birth dates and places of birth, occupations and current residences, any previous marriage(s), and if the parties are related or not.

On September 11, 1885, the New York Times printed a short article about the new law that was excerpted from The Philadelphia Times:

Some of the interrogatories will be embarrassing in special cases, but the law is inexorable and they must be answered.  The clerk of the court will be liable to fine if he fails to enforce the law to the letter, and parties answering falsely will be subject to the penalty of perjury.

One of the requirements of this new law made the marriageable age 21.  For anyone under 21, the consent of the parents was required.  Suddenly, an out-of-state marriage market was born!

Camden, NJ

One of the earliest locations for Philadelphians to marry was one of the closest and easily reached: Camden, New Jersey, located directed across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.  By 1888 the newspapers were complaining that Pennsylvania’s marriage license law was creating a “knot-tying business” for “love-sick couples” in Camden, “where impertinent questions are not asked, and where the performance of the marriage ceremony is not hedged about with restrictions.”

By 1891, Camden was called “the Gretna Green of the Union”.  Gretna Green was a small town in Scotland known for runaway weddings.  A New York Times’ article explains that those “unable or unwilling to procure a license” in Philadelphia simply traveled to Camden for a quick and quiet marriage.  The statistics cited in the article show that only 634 marriages were performed in Camden in 1885, the year that Pennsylvania changed their law.  By 1890, the entire state of New Jersey had 15,564 marriages with one-third performed in Camden – “although the population of that city is less than one-fifteenth of the population of the State.

My great-grandparents were Philadelphia residents who contributed to the booming marriage trade in Camden.  In 1910, Louis Pater celebrated his 17th birthday on August 24th.  Three days later, he married Elizabeth Miller.  On the marriage certificate, Louis’ age is listed as 22.  Elizabeth is listed as 20 although she would only turn 19 in another three months.  Elizabeth’s parents were in Poland – she had only immigrated the previous year – but her brother Emil served as a witness.  It is assumed that Louis did not think his parents would approve of the marriage at his young age.

Although Ancestry.com has marriage records from “Camden County, NJ, 1837-1910″ it is likely that these are moreso county records than those from the city of Camden.  Not only did I not find my great-grandparents’ marriage in this database, but it consists of only 6,000 records.  Given the marriage boom in Camden after 1885, it is assumed that the city of Camden’s records are not included here.

The city of Camden’s web page indicates that “Birth, Death, and Marriage Certificates can be aquired (sic) for anyone that was born, died, or married in the City of Camden. These certificates can be picked up in room 103 of City Hall or mailed directly to you.”

Elkton, MD

Another town famous for out-of-state marriages was Elkton, MD.  Located in northern Maryland, the town is situated close to Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Until 1938, there was no waiting period required between the marriage application and the ceremony, so the town became known for “quick” weddings similar to Las Vegas decades later.  The following sign recognizes Elkton’s role in the history of marriage in the Northeastern US:

Historical Marker in Elkton indicating that the town was the "Marriage Capital of the East"

Historical Marker in Elkton indicating that the town was the "Marriage Capital of the East"

I do not have any direct ancestors who got married in Elkton, but I’m sure there are some collateral relatives who did.  If you can’t find a marriage record, try Elkton.  Records can be searched through the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cecil County, Maryland.  See their site for more information.

Other Pennsylvania Counties

It makes sense to travel across state lines to marry if Pennsylvania had “restrictive” laws regarding the marriageable age and a waiting period.  However, there was another option – the couple simply didn’t tell the truth on their applicatoin.  But, sometimes they did not want to lie about their ages in the city of Philadelphia.  In my own family history, both sets of grandparents got married in Delaware County – despite the fact that it is in Pennsylvania and therefore governed by the same laws as the city of Philadelphia.  Perhaps they were afraid that the city could “look it up” and discover their fib?  All I know is that both towns are a bit out of the way for me today and I have a car and highways; my grandparents did not.

In the Pater family, history repeated itself with another 17-year-old groom.  My grandfather, Henry Pater, was two months shy of his 18th birthday when he traveled to Broomall, PA with his intended, Mae Zawodna.  On the license application, Henry lists his birth year as 1907 instead of 1912, therefore making himself almost 23 years old.  Mae, who actually was born in 1907 and was five years older than Henry, listed her birth year as 1908 – making herself appear to be 21 rather than 22 and a half.  Neither family looked kindly upon the wedding, and in fact in the 1930 census a few months later they are each enumerated with their own parents – living a few doors away from each other.  Eventually they told their families they were married, and in June of the same year their marriage was blessed in a Catholic church.

My other grandparents traveled to Media, PA for their wedding in 1934.  James Pointkouski accurately reported his age as 23, but Margaret Bergmeister makes herself one year older – reporting her age as 21.  In reality, she would turn 21 a few months later.  She also provides an address for her parents; however, both had been deceased for some time.  They may have feared someone in Philadelphia confirming her birth record, which would have made her ineligible for marriage without the consent of her guardian.  But they also did not want to wait an extra few months – their son would be born seven months later.

Couples had many reasons to marry in seemingly unlikely places.  If the law required parental consent, a waiting period, or even proof of either a divorce or death of a prior marriage, some couples traveled to avoid the hassle.  Or they traveled to the next county to avoid the neighbors seeing the marriage notice published in the newspaper.  This was by no means unique to the Philadelphia area – Elkton, MD received couples from up and down the East Coast, and other states have similar “Gretna Green” locations such as the Kentucky and Ohio River Valley border. If you have trouble finding Grampa’s marriage record – look around the neighboring counties or states!

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Zyrardow on the mapMy immigrant ancestors came from many different places. Some came from large capital cities that had very old beginnings and long histories (Warsaw, Poland). Other hometowns were not as large as a city, but they were large market towns born in the 1300’s that continue to have vibrant communities today (Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Germany and Mszczonów, Poland). Some of my ancestors came from much smaller places, centuries-old farmlands that evolved from feudal lands to modern villages (Puch, Germany and Komorowo, Poland). But of all the hometowns of my ancestors, the one that first captured my heart isn’t very old at all. In fact, compared to the ancient histories of these other places, it is modern in comparison. Although it lacks a history as long as other European towns, it makes up for it with the interesting way in which it was born. The town is Żyrardów, Poland.

The biography of Żyrardów begins in France. In 1810, the French government had a competition for inventors to create a mechanical linen spinning mill. The prize to the successful inventor was 1 million francs. One enterprising engineer, Philippe de Girard (1775-1845) from Lourmarin, succeeded. But with the fall of Napoleon, France could not pay the prize. Girard’s luck went from bad to worse as he endured debt, business failures, and bankruptcy. But his luck turned in 1825, when the government of the Kingdom of Poland invited him to help create a textile industry in Poland based on his invention.

Zyrardow coat of armsGirard originally opened a factory in Marymont, 2 miles outside of Warsaw, in 1831. For unknown reasons, Girard moved the operation two years later to a small farming village and forested area called Ruda Guzowska, approximately 27 miles WSW of Warsaw. This factory was very successful. More and more workers came to the area, and the settlement grew larger. In Girard’s honor, Ruda Guzowska was renamed Żyrardów. In the Polish language, the letter “ż” is pronounced similarly to the letter “g” in the French language: Żyrardów means “of Girard”. Girard was not able to see the success of his namesake town, however; he died in 1845, a year after returning to France to open more linen factories.

Arial View

Żyrardów continued to thrive in Girard’s absence. The factory was taken over by a pair of German industrialists, and by 1880 they employed 5,600 workers. The town literally grew around the factory building, and today it is one of the best preserved towns to see 19th Century architecture. It resembles a university town, with nearly every building – from the factory, to the apartment-style homes, to the churches and hospital – made from the same red brick. The area grew from a small farming village to an industrial settlement of approximately 175 acres. By 1880 the factory had 16,000 spindles with over 1,650 mechanical looms, and the value of their annual production (in 1880) was 2.2 million Silver Rubles. The former forest and farmland became responsible for the majority of linen production for the Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century.

Workers in ZyrardowOne unique aspect of the town is that it was multi-cultural. The majority of workers were Poles, but there were also a large number of ethnic Germans working there as well. The factory itself had German managers, and there were also a number of Czechs, Scots, and Irish. The town itself had both a Roman Catholic church and an Evangelical Lutheran church, and there was a thriving Jewish community as well. The Słownik Geograficzny entry from 1895 indicates that the town had 7,126 registered inhabitants by 1880, including 5,134 Catholics, 1,541 Protestants, 244 Jews, and 207 belonging to other denominations.

The town was not without discord, however. Rather than ethnic disputes, there were employment disagreements. The government did not allow unions, but the workers were concerned about working conditions and low wages. There were many strikes at the factory throughout its history, beginning with the first in 1883.

Naturalization for Louis Pater

My Pater family immigrated from this town from 1905-1909; it was the place they called home. They were all weavers, which means they all worked in the factory. I don’t know why they left, but maybe they thought they could earn better wages in the United States. All of them became weavers in Philadelphia’s textile industry. My great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater and his father, my 2nd great-grandfather Józef Pater, were born in Żyrardów (Louis in 1893, and Józef in 1864). Józef’s father, Jan, was born in Ruda Guzowska around 1834. Jan’s father Hilary pre-dates Żyrardów’s history and was born in a small village nearby.

RC Church, WiskitkiI had the opportunity to visit Żyrardów in 2001. It was a sudden visit with not enough advance planning, but I was grateful to see the town. My Pater ancestors were baptized and married in the nearby village of Wiskitki, and I was thrilled when my guide was able to sweet-talk the young priest into opening the church for me. My family probably attended this church because the main Catholic church in Żyrardów was not built until 1903. Wiskitki is a settlement that dates from 1221, with the first mention of “town” status in 1349. Over the centuries, the town declined and became smaller. After World War II, Wiskitki and Żyrardów were combined as one district, but in 1975 Wiskitki once again received rights as an independent town.

My Miller / Müller family also immigrated from Żyrardów; however, I have not yet found a birth certificate as proof that anyone was actually born in the town. My research indicates that the Miller family may be among the ethnic Germans from Bohemia that emigrated to the area to work in the textile industry. My great-grandmother’s brother, Emil, immigrated to the United States. In 1910, he and his family returned to Żyrardów – perhaps because of the death of his father. When the first World War broke out, the family could not return. Emil died in Żyrardów. His wife and American-born son later returned to the US, but his Polish-born daughter and American-born daughter remained.

Besides my ancestors, Żyrardów was the birthplace of some more famous citizens, including the Polish writer Paweł Hulka-Laskowski (1881-1946) and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller (b. 1946).

Sources for this article:

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

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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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Name days, which are the church’s feast day of the saint that bears one’s name, have long been considered important in many Catholic cultures. Even today in Poland, a person’s name day, called imieniny, is celebrated in lieu of or in addition to a birthday. But in the past, the name day and the birthday were the same day, because Catholic Polish tradition held that you actually named the child after the saint who held the feast on the day the child was born or baptized! Sometimes the saint’s name was used if the feast was within a few days of the child’s birth and not the same day.

My family isn’t one for tradition, but I was quite surprised when I noticed this naming trend with some of my Polish families. Józef PATER ( 1864-1945 ) and Antonina PLUTA ( 1863-1938 ) had seven children. I don’t have birth dates for the two oldest, but the others proved the “name day” theory.

Child’s Name

Day of Birth

Saint’s Feast Day

Ewa

24 Dec

22 Dec

Wacław

28 Sep

28 Sep

Ludwik

24 Aug

25 Aug

Stefan

02 Sep

02 Sep

Wiktoria

16 Dec

23 Dec

Since the family obviously took this tradition to heart, I probably could easily find the birth records for the two oldest girls without much effort – I’d simply check the dates near the feast days of Sts. Regina and Franciszka. What’s interesting to note is that all of the family members were born in Poland, and the tradition did not continue with their own children as far as I can tell. Of the children, I only have detailed descendant information on my great-grandfather, Ludwik. Despite the fact that his wife, Elżbieta MILLER (1891-1972) has a birthday on St. Elżbieta’s feast in the same way that he owes his name to his birthday, they did not carry this tradition on with their own five children.

I was curious if this was simply a quirk of this one family or not, so I checked a different side of my family tree, the ZAWODNY family. Interestingly, I found the same thing with few exceptions. Józef ZAWODNY (1880-1944) birthday was on St. Józef’s feast. His wife, Wacława ŚLESINSKI (1885-1956), does not share the feast of her patron saint, but four of her seven siblings do. Of the couple’s own six children, all born in the US from 1904 through 1916, four out of six match. I may not have the most up-to-date version of the Church’s liturgical calendar as it existed during that time period either. From what I can tell, these children didn’t follow the Polish tradition with their offspring either.

Does this hold true for every Catholic Polish family? No, of course not. But, if you see it with one or more children, then chances are it isn’t just “chance” and it can provide a clue as to other birth dates in the family. For a listing of names and a chronological listing of feasts, see the Poland Gen Web’s list of common Polish first names. Also, if you really want to know everything there is to know about Polish first names, I highly recommend First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings by William “Fred” Hoffman and George W. Helon.

Why did Poles follow this tradition? Was it an expression of their Catholic faith, or just a cultural tradition? I can’t answer that for my own family, but I’d like to think it was a little of both. But just imagine if that tradition were revived in the US today! Consider the possibilities – wouldn’t this save expecting parents from one more thing to worry about? There’s no use arguing over baby names, whether or not to use a name from his side or her side, the name of a deceased relative, or the latest celebrity fad-name. Just wait until the child arrives, look at a church calendar, and there you go – the decision is made for you! There is some risk, of course. Just two days separate your chances of being either Adam or Zenon. Or Zofia and Wacława. But I think it’s a charming glimpse into our ancestors’ lives. Today, feast days and name days are still celebrated of course. My nephew’s name day is December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, even though his birthday is in June. But if we lived one hundred years ago in Poland (or had Polish parents here in the US), his name would be Paul!

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