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Archive for the ‘Names & Surnames’ Category

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day this week, I have chosen to highlight an Irish surname.  The only problem with that is that I personally have no Irish ancestry.  But my niece does from her mother’s paternal side!

Surname - MCGEEHAN

Meaning/Origin – The name MCGEEHAN is an anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Gaoithín or ‘son of Gaoithín’, a personal name derived from the diminutive of gaoth which means ‘clever’ or ‘wise’. (Source: Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press)

Countries of Origin - The surname MCGEEHAN is Irish.  According to the World Names Profiler, Ireland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at  49.37 per million.  The United Kingdom comes in second at 10.9, and the United States is third at 6.9.

Spelling Variations -  Other variations of McGeehan include Mageean, Mageehan, McGehan, Mac Gaoithín, MacGeehan, MacGeehin, MacGeehon, and McGeehon.

Surname Maps – The following map illustrates the frequency of the MCGEEHAN surname in Ireland in 1848-64.  The numbers on the map show the number of McGeehan households in the county found in the Primary Valuation property survey of 1848-64 (known as Griffith’s Valuation).  The surname name is found mostly in Northern Ireland.

Distribution of the McGeehan surname in Ireland, 1848-64.

SOURCE: Irish Ancestors database, http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/surname/, accessed March 13, 2010.

My Family -As I said above, I have no Irish ancestry.  However, my niece’s 2nd great-grandmother was named Nellie McGeehan (1890-1920).  Her father was Edward McGeehan, who was born in 1858 in Pennsylvania – likely in Philadelphia.  Edward’s parents were born in Ireland.

My Research Challenges – Right now the challenge with finding Edward McGeehan’s birth record is the fact that there was no civil registration required in Pennsylvania until 1860, two years after his birth.  More information about Edward’s parents may be obtained from his death record, which I have not yet found.  Census records have conflicting information, but Edward may have been a Philadelphia police officer.  His daughter Nellie married William Lee.  Unfortunately Nellie died at the age of 30, leaving behind a 10-year-old daughter, Catherine Lee.

Surname Message Boards - Ancestry has a McGeehan message board as does GenForum.

 

Links to posts about Irish Surnames and families I am researching for others can be found here.

This post is #8 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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This month’s Carnival of Genealogy celebrates women’s history month with a chance to pay a special tribute to a woman on our family tree – and her timeline in history.  This is the story of my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister.

Timeline for Maria Echerer Bergmeister

1875

February 27 – Maria Echerer is born to Karl and Margarethe Echerer in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.  She is the couple’s first-born child.

1876

August 22 – A sister, Magdalena, is born.

1878

June 25 – Maria’s paternal grandmother, Magdalena Nigg Echerer, dies.

1878

June 28 – A brother, Karl, is born.

1880

February 07 – A sister, Teresia, is born.

1882

February 20 – A sister, Cristina, is born.

1895

October 04 – Maria’s mother, Margarethe Fischer Echerer, dies at the age of 50.  Maria is 20 years old at the time of her mother’s death.

1897

November 02 – Maria marries Josef Bergmeister in Pfaffenhofen.  Karl Echerer witnesses the marriage (either her father or brother).

1898

February 27 – On Maria’s 23rd birthday, her first child is born, a daughter, also named Maria.  The family is living in house #331 in Pfaffenhofen.

1900

May 03 – Maria’s husband, Josef, sails on the SS Arargonia from Antwerp, Belgium.  He arrives in Philadelphia, PA, USA on May 18.  Once he arrives, he lives with his sister and brother-in-law, Hilaury and Max Thuman, at 1033 Jefferson Street.

1901

June 13 – Maria and daughter Maria sails on the SS Kensington from Antwerp, Belgium.  They arrive in New York, NY, USA on June 27.  Husband Josef is living at 1500 N. Warnock St. in Philadelphia.

1902

April 16 – A son, Joseph Maximilian, is born.  He is baptized at St. Peter’s and his godparents are his aunt and uncle, Hilaury and Max Thuman.

1905

May 07 – A son, Maximilian Julius, is born.  He is baptized at St. Peter’s and his godparents are his aunt and uncle, Hilaury and Max Thuman.

1907

June 16 – A son, Julius Carl, is born. He is baptized at St. Peter’s and his godparents are his aunt and uncle, Hilaury Thuman and Julius Goetz (Josef and Hilaury’s half-brother).

1909

July 17 – A son, Charles, is born.  Charles was premature and only lived for 15 hours.

1911

November 05 – A daughter, Laura, is born.  Laura was premature and died the same day.

1913

April 11 – A daughter, Margaret Hermina, is born (my grandmother).  She is baptized at St. Peter’s and her godparents are her aunt and uncle, Hilaury Thuman and Herman Goetz (Josef and Hilaury’s half-brother).

1919

February 05 – Maria dies from myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) with bronchial asthma as a contributing factor.  She is buried at Holy Redeemer Cemetery on February 8.

Maria Echerer Bergmeister 1875-1919

The ancestor I chose for my tribute is my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister.  She may seem like an odd choice, because of all the female ancestors I have traced, she has the shortest lifespan.  But I recently celebrated my 43rd birthday, and I realized she died just weeks before what would have been her 44th birthday.  She was so young – too young to die.  But in her short lifetime, she accomplished so much more than I have.  I don’t know much about her except from what I have learned from public records, but I do know she did three major things in her life for which there is no comparison in my own.  First, she got married.  Second, she left behind her homeland – a town her ancestors had lived for centuries – to live in a new country with her husband.  Finally, she had five children (and two others who died as infants).  Even though Maria died at a young age, today she has over 100 descendants.

I know a great deal about Maria’s ancestry in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Her father, Karl Echerer, was a shoemaker turned bricklayer.  His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and second great-grandfather were all shoemakers in the town of Pfaffenhofen.  Perhaps the shoemaker trade was not as needed in the mid- to late 1800s as it was in earlier centuries, because Karl was the first Echerer son to find a new occupation.  Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps (no pun intended), he took on the profession of his maternal grandfather, Karl Nigg, who was a carpenter and descended from two generations of master masons.  The house in which Maria Echerer was born, #214, had been in her father’s mother’s family since 1784 – nearly one hundred years.

Maria’s mother, Margarethe Fischer, came from a small town near Pfaffenhofen called Langenbruck and she was the daughter of a farmer.  Although she was only 27 years old when she married Karl Echerer, she was already a widow.  Her first husband had been Bartholomew Kufer from Raitbach.  I have not learned the circumstances of his death, and it is unknown if she had any children from this marriage.

Through researching church records in Pfaffenhofen, I found the baptismal records for three sisters and a brother.  I have not researched further to determine if all of Maria’s siblings lived to adulthood; however, it appears that her brother Karl marries in June, 1897.  More research is needed to learn more about Karl, who presumably stayed in Pfaffenhofen when his sister immigrated.

The Bergmeister Bakery today, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm

It is likely that Maria met Josef Bergmeister in her hometown of Pfaffenhofen.  He was born north of there in the town of Vohburg a.d. Donau, but his family was from a small town close to Pfaffenhofen called Puch.  Josef’s ancestors were millers, and the sons became either millers or related trades.  His father, also named Josef, was a flour merchant.  Josef became a baker, and it is likely that he came to Pfaffenhofen to work for his uncle, Castulus Bergmeister, who operated a bakery in the center of town.  Descendents of Castulus still run the same bakery today.

Based on the dates of the records, it appears that Maria was pregnant at the time of her marriage to Josef.  Their daughter Maria was born close to four months after the wedding – on Maria’s 23rd birthday.

Little is known about the family’s life in Pfaffenhofen or what prompted them to immigrate to the United States.  Josef had a sister, Hilaury, who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1893, and he makes the move first to meet her and her husband.  At the time he left Germany, his daughter was only 2 years old.

Maria and her daughter remained in Germany for more than a year before taking the journey to America.  Their port of departure, Antwerp, was 460 miles from Pfaffenhofen.  In researching Maria’s life, her personal memories, thoughts, and feelings are unknown – she left behind no letters or journals.  But I admire her courage.  She had not seen her husband in over a year, and she traveled a very long way, alone with a 3-year-old.

Once reunited, the couple re-started their family in earnest.  Their first son was born a little more than nine months after the reunion.  After two more sons over the next five years, Maria suffered the lost of two infants through premature births.  My grandmother, Margaret – perhaps named after Maria’s mother – was nearly premature herself.  According to the older siblings, they did not think Margaret would survive because she was so tiny.  Fortunately, especially for me, she did survive.  Sadly, she would never really get to know her own mother.

Maria's two daughters, Maria and Margaret. The photo was taken around 1919 - the year their mother died.

According to Josef and Maria’s oldest daughter, Maria was a strong-willed personality who took charge of the family – and her husband.  The children remember Maria chastising her husband, who was physically much taller; he always listened.  Maria called her husband “Sepp” – the German nickname for “Josef”.

When Maria died, her oldest daughter was weeks away from turning 21 years old.  The Bergmeister sons were 16, 14, and 11.  Young Margaret was not quite 6.  Maria’s husband Josef was greatly troubled by her death.  Josef did not take care of his own health afterwards, and he died eight years later – also very young.  The children remained close throughout their lives – bonded together in the loss of their parents.

Maria did not live a long life and I do not know much about her.  But what little I was able to discover is worthy of admiration.  She was a woman of great courage to leave her homeland and her family for a new country in which she did not know the language.  What I admire the most about her is something you can not find “recorded” in any document, but I think it is evident from the memories and character of her children.  That trait is the love she had for her husband and family.  What could be a finer legacy?  Thanks, Maria, for your courage and your love.

[ Written for the 91st Carnival of Genealogy: Tribute to Women ]

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Genealogists frequently stress the importance of labeling photographs so that future generations know who’s who.  This is true even for our own photographs that we take today.  But while we may forget who are friends were twenty years later, would we forget a relative?  I can now tell you that yes, it’s possible, especially if the photograph in question was taken before you were born.

This past weekend I started a “Bergmeister Family” group on Facebook for all of my cousins.  I asked if anyone had wedding photos of my grandmother’s siblings.  When my cousin posted this photograph of her grandparents, I nearly fell out of my chair.  This is the lovely wedding photo of Joseph Bergmeister and Helen Pardus from 1924:

Joseph Bergmeister and Helen Pardus, 1924

Why was this so surprising?  Because I own a copy of this photo!  In fact, I’ve posted this photo on this very blog.  And in that post, the photo was not identified as my dad’s uncle and his wife, but as my mom’s aunt and her husband!

I called my mother.  “I thought you said that was your Aunt Helen!  It’s Dad’s Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe!”  Without seeing the photo over the phone, she wasn’t sure what to say.  But she did say, “That’s funny, I don’t ever remember seeing a photo of my Aunt Helen.”  Perhaps she identified “Aunt Helen” and I assumed it was her aunt instead of my dad’s.  Whatever the case, I have had this couple misidentified for years!

Sometimes identification of individuals in a photo is tricky.  But my humorous story proves that sometimes you may be wrong even when a relative helps with the identification.  The funniest part of this story is that the photo was previously posted in June, 2009 as the Tiernan-Zawodny wedding.  Several of the Bergmeister-Pardus grandchildren have visited this blog, but they would not have found the photo of their grandparents since it was listed under the “Zawodny” label, so they didn’t notice the error.  What’s even funnier is that I sent the photo to my mother’s cousin who should have recognized – or rather not recognized – the faces.  Even though he is around my mother’s age and, like her, was born well after this photo, he is a blood relative to both the Tiernan’s and the Zawodny’s since one brother-sister combination married another (his parents).  But even he didn’t set me straight.

Sometimes it pays to trust your instinct…I often looked at this photo and had two thoughts.  First, the woman – or rather the woman I thought she was – looked nothing like my grandmother and her sisters.  Of course not, because she’s not related to them!  And second, the man – who I thought I was not related to – looked rather familiar.  Of course he does, because he looks very much like my great-grandfather (his father) and my father (his nephew)!

I didn’t realize I had a “photo mystery” on my hands, but it’s nice to finally find out the truth about this couple!  Now I have to, uh, amend my post about the alleged Tiernan-Zawodny wedding!

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Surname - WOJCIECHOWSKI

Meaning/Origin – The name WOJCIECHOWSKI (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the Polish first name Wojciech, which in turn comes from the root woj-, meaning “battle”, and ciech, meaning “joy”.   (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Countries of Origin – The surname WOJCIECHOWSKI is Polish.  According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at  897.5 per million.  The United States comes in a distant second at 21.68.

Spelling Variations -  Other names derived from the same root include WOJCIECHOWICZ, WOJCIESKI, and WOJCIESZEK. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman) The feminine version of the surname is WOJCIECHOWSKA.

Surname Maps - The following map illustrates the frequency of the WOJCIECHOWSKI surname in Poland. As you can see, the surname is rather popular.  There is a wide distribution across the country over 378 counties and cities.  According to Wikipedia, it is the 15th most common surname in Poland!

Distribution of the WOJCIECHOWSKI surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/wojciechowski.html, accessed February 23, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Stanisław Wojciechowski (1869-1953) was the President of Poland from 1922-26.

My Family - My Wojciechowski family comes from the town of Mszczonów, Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Maciej Wojciechowski.  I have no birth or death dates for him yet, but he was named on the marriage certificate of his son, Jan.  The line of descent is as follows: Maciej > Jan (b. c.1816, Mszczonów – d. unknown) > Franciszka (b. 01 Oct 1840, Mszczonów – d. 29 Apr 1914, Langhorne, PA, USA).  Franciszka has a special distinction in my family tree – she is my only 3rd great-grandparent to immigrate to the United States.  All that I know about her is that she married Ludwik PLUTA and had at least two children: a son, Jan, and a daughter, Antonina Rozalia.  Antonina is my 2nd great-grandmother.  She immigrated to the US with her husband, Jozef Pater, and their seven children from 1905 – 1907.  In 1909, Franciszka immigrated alone at the age of 69 to join her daugher’s family.  The passenger 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 1914.

My Research Challenges -I need to continue my research, which I plan to do on a visit to the FHL later this year.  The church records from Mszczonów are available, and I should be able to fill in some missing dates and names for this family.

Surname Message Boards - Ancestry has a Wojciechowski message board as does GenForum.

Links to all posts about my Wojciechowski family can be found here.

This post is #7 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Bring Old Photos Back to Life

Although we can’t bring our ancestors back to life, we can bring photographs of our ancestors back to life!  Not all of us have the unique talents to do this – I certainly do not.  But photo restoration professionals can transform old, scratchy, crumbly photos into “looks like new” photos that can be displayed and admired.

I only have one photograph of my mother’s family, which consists of my mother, her sister, and their parents.  The condition of the photo makes it difficult to even describe it as a photograph.  It appears to be a photographic copy of a photograph that was printed in a home photography studio by my aunt’s first husband.  The date of the photograph is July 4, 1937; the copy would have been made around 1950.  It is in very poor condition:

"Original" unrestored photo of the Pater family on July 4, 1937

In this photo my grandmother is almost 30 years old, my mother is 1 1/2, my grandfather is 25, and my aunt is almost 5.  No other photo of the four together remains.  I have other photographs of my grandfather with his daughters at their weddings, but my grandmother is not in those photos.  I had this crumbling photo for years, and one day I wondered why I never bothered to get it restored to a more acceptable state.  My mother is the last surviving member of the family…wouldn’t it be nice to give her a “fixed” photograph?

Although I have done very minor restoration work on my own computer, such as repairing color fading or minor scratches, the extent of the damage of this photograph obviously required a professional.  I called upon the “Queen Of Restoration,” Janine Smith, of Landailyn Research and Restoration.  Take a look at her beautiful handiwork!

The photograph of the Pater family brought back to life!

I can’t thank Janine enough for all of her hard work on this restoration.  And my mother was quite impressed as well!  In addition to the Landailyn Research and Restoration website, also check out other samples of Janine’s restoration work on her blog, Janinealogy.

Do you have any old family photographs in your collection that are ripped, cracked, torn, wrinkled, faded, or damaged?  You do?  Then what are you waiting for?  Bring those photos back to life!  You will be glad that you did.

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The word prompt for the 20th edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival is Valentine!  Here’s a photo of a couple who were each other’s valentines for a long time – my grandparents.  When the photo was taken, they had been married for 23 years.  James Pointkouski first saw Margaret Bergmeister working at a stored owned by her brother.  He was friends with the brother, and immediately asked him who she was.  Like a typical brother, he replied, “Her? Oh, she’s just my sister” as if that meant she was nothing special.  But she was special to “Jimmy” and he immediately pursued her and eventually married her.  Her brother didn’t mind!

James and Margaret Pointkouski, 1957

Submitted for the 20th Edition of Smile for the Camera: Valentine

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How is Josef Bergmeister related to “my” Josef Bergmeister?

Our story began when I discovered a reference to a Josef Bergmeister who died fighting for Germany in World War I.  This Josef was from Puch, the hometown of my great-grandfather of the same name.  The town is very small, so I assumed they were related.  Thanks to Ancestry’s release of the Bavarian World War I Personnel Rosters, I learned more about Josef, including when he was born, his parents’ names, and how he died in 1916.  In fact, I learned about many other Bergmeister men, too.  Although the indexing is not yet complete (see the main search page for more details), there are thirteen Bergmeister men listed.  Of these, eight are directly related to my great-grandfather – including Josef whose name was inscribed on the memorial in Puch.  With the help of my cousin Armin Bergmeister, I’ve assembled the following tree showing the names of the Bergmeister men up until the World War I timeframe. Click on the image to enlarge.

The soldier Josef and my great-grandfather Josef are first cousins once removed.  Josef’s own first cousin, Anton, also died in the war just weeks before him.  With their deaths, the Bergmeister family in the town of Puch ended.  Other Bergmeister relatives had moved to other towns in Bavaria as well as the United States, but nearly three hundred years of the Bergmeister family in Puch came to an abrupt end.  Both Josef and Anton were second cousins to my grandmother and her three brothers that were born in the United States (and their German-born sister).

My great-grandfather also lost two of his second cousins in the war, Sigmund and Hermann.  Two of his third cousins (Andreas and Magnus) fought as well as his third cousin’s son, Anton, and his 5th cousin Ignatz.

I chose to focus on the soldier Josef for this story, but each of the soldier’s stories – as gleaned from the rosters – is worth remembering.  Unfortunately, we have no photograph of Josef, but thanks to my cousin Armin I can share a photograph of one of these Bergmeister soldiers, Sigmund – Armin’s grandfather.  Sigmund died on 15 August 1916 at the age of 31, leaving behind one child.   His brother Hermann died less  than two years later at the age of 24, leaving behind two children.

Lieutenant Sigmund Bergmeister, 1885-1916

There are many men named Josef on the Bergmeister family tree.  I am currently familiar with cousins from three distinct lines of descent: 1) my own family’s descent through Josef (son of Josef, son of Jakob, son of Josef), 2) the line descended from Johann (son of Castulus, son of Jakob, son of Josef), and 3) the line descended from the soldier Sigmund (son of Sebastian, son of Simon, son of Josef).  In my own American line, the name Joseph Bergmeister was passed on and is currently owned by a handsome young man, my second cousin once removed.  He is the sixth straight Joseph/Josef Bergmeister – and would have been the 8th straight if it weren’t for his 4th great-grandfather, Jakob.  There is also a current Josef Bergmeister in Germany, my 3rd cousin once removed and a very charitable host along with his brother Hans and their wives.  They are both descended from the Castulus line. (See a photo of Castulus as well as my Josef on The Bergmeister Family page!)

So, one mystery was solved.  Thanks to the Bavarian military rosters, I now know more about Josef Bergmeister, the previously unknown soldier, as well as many other Bergmeister cousins my great-grandfather left behind when he came to America.

But wait!  Now there’s a new mystery…how are we all related to the other five men named Bergmeister listed in the personnel rosters?  We already have a hint that the “other” Philadelphia Bergmeister family is originally from the town of Hoerdt and is related to at least one of these men.  As to how far back we have to go to connect the two, and who the other four men are, those are mysteries still waiting to be solved!

Need help figuring out relationships and what “removed” cousins are?  See The Family Relationship Chart

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What happened at the battle that cost Josef his life?  How were his American cousins affected by the same war?

In Part 3 we read Josef Bergmeister’s service record and discovered that he died as a result of injuries sustained during the battle of Fleury-Thiaumont in July, 1916.  Today’s post will discuss this battle in more detail.

The town names of Fleury and Thiaumont may not be familiar, but surely everyone has heard of the Battle of Verdun, the bloodiest and perhaps the longest battle in history.  The Battle of Verdun was a series of battles from 21 February – 19 December 1916 between the German and French armies on the Western Front.  The numbers alone paint a picture of what happened there.  In the end, an estimated 250,000 men were killed, and another 500,000 were wounded.  Approximately 40 million artillery shells were used by both sides during the fight.  The battlefield itself was not very large – just a long and narrow piece of land.

During the Battle of Verdun, the town of Fleury changed hands between the German and the French sixteen times.  The town was completely destroyed and is uninhabited today.  To the German army, the small town was the gateway to Verdun, which in turn would lead directly to Paris.  During the month of June, 1916, the Germans fought hard to move into the town.  By the end of June, it was reported that it was unbearably hot.

On 23 June, the Germans launched a chemical attack with 110,000 grenades of poisonous gas.  Although many French soldiers died from the chemical attack, their gas masks withstood the gas better than the Germans had expected.  But the chemical gas, constant bombardment from artillery, and the oppressive heat were all affecting the troops; both sides described the terrible stench from corpses rotting in the heat.  Josef Bergmeister’s first cousin, Anton Bergmeister, from the 10th Infantry Regiment, was killed here on 24 June at the age of 19.

By mid-July, the Germans were in control of Fleury, but there were many small attacks in the area in an effort to gain high ground and some fortifications.  On 12 July, the French received orders to regain Fleury.  A fierce battle was fought from 15-19 July in which each side attempted to gain more ground.

A photo of Bavarian soldiers in the trenches at Fleury used with permission from The Soldier's Burden, http://www.kaiserscross.com/40047/124001.html.

Josef Bergmeister’s brigade (8th Company, 11th Bav. Infantry Regiment, 12th Bav. Brigade, 6th Bavarian Division) has missed the fighting in this area and had been fighting in St. Mihiel.  His regiment went into the front lines on 17-18 July and suffered such losses that a telegraph was sent to immediately send 500 replacement troops.  Did Josef know that his cousin Anton was killed at Thiaumont just weeks earlier?

Josef was injured by an artillery shell on 18 July in his arm and leg.  After being transferred to a hospital, he died on 01 August.  His comrades and his enemies continued the fight, and with each battle the area around Fleury and Thiaumont is captured and re-captured over and over with little meaning to the overall war effort.  Thousands lay dead on the battlefield.

Josef’s entire division left Verdun on 5 August, and by early September they were fighting another well-known and long series of battles: the Somme.  The division again endured considerable losses.  The Battle of Verdun continued through December 1916.  The final statistics show French casualties at Verdun as 371,000, including 60,000 killed, 101,000 missing and 210,000 wounded. Total German casualties are recorded as 337,000 men. The statistics also confirm that at least 70% of the Verdun casualties on both sides were the result of artillery fire.  Men like Josef Bergmeister that were taken from the battlefield to hospitals were given burials in cemeteries, but it is estimated that 100,000 men remain on the battlefield today – buried where they fell.

The site The Soldier’s Burden offers a detailed glimpse into the lives of the soldiers on all “sides” of the war and gives testament to their struggles and losses.  On a page recounting the battle in which Josef Bergmeister died, another Bavarian soldier, Hans Heiß of the Bavarian Leib Regiment, describes the battle.  I have reprinted most of the description with permission here:

A red streak in the starry night, then another, then another. They burst into red stars. Are they fireworks? A game? No, they are serious, deadly serious. Whizzing over Fleury and Douaumont. The Frenchies had noticed that we were being relieved and had called up an artillery barrage. A barrage meant hell!

Run Comrades, run for your lives!

There is the railway embankment… a ghostly area, keep running. The first salvo comes screaming in… flames, smoke… keep running… move forward. Into the hollow ground beyond… here hell opened up! Whizzing, Howling, gurgling the shells come in. Black earth, smoke and flames shoot up into the air. A wall of death.

Panting, the breath is stilted. Jumping from shell hole to shell hole… through! then FORWARD! Keep running!

Up the embankment, stumbling, falling. The heart beating in the throat…falling, getting up, continuing. Foam on the lips… up there, the large shell crater… get into it! Once there you can get your breath back. Almost there, there where they are all headed for.

Whizz, bang! Flame and smoke… right in the heavy shell hole! Don’t go in, pass it by!

Here they crawl forward, blood stained and blackened by smoke “Kamerad! Kamerad! For God’s sake… help me!” “And me!” “And me!”

Cannot, have to get forward into position… don’t listen, don’t look! Go past! Move… faster!

…. There! There! It is terrible, someone is burning. He tosses his burning backpack away but his uniform is burning. Ha, ha, ha! Laughing, laughing at the sky…he has gone mad.

Burying the head in the sand. See nothing, Hear nothing, think nothing!  Think nothing!

Then it was over and we could move forward.

It will be four days in the front line now. Four endless, terrible, desperate days. And four terrible nights. And if we survive… the same road through hell back again.

Two men pass carrying in a wounded man wrapped in a shelter half.  A whizz and a bang. Flame and smoke, all three men are swept away, the medics and wounded man ripped apart, gone forever. No! No! No further! Throw it all away, the backpack, rifle, gasmask… and now run! Run! Run far away.. far away from this hell…

Fleury today. The depressions remain from the artillery fire. Photo courtesy of Chris Boonzaier.

New York Times headline, December 31, 1918.

Meanwhile, in the United States German immigrants were far from the battlefield, but life was difficult in other ways.  The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  Germans living in the U.S. were warned to obey the law and surrender any weapons, explosives, or radios.  Any who did not comply were arrested.  Any non-naturalized German that was believed to be aiding the enemy were arrested and interred.  By December, 1917, all male Germans in cities with populations over 5,000 had to report to either the post office or police station to register; the same rules applied to female Germans the following May.

Most of these records no longer exist, but I did once see the list of Philadelphia “enemy alien registrations” (now missing).  In it were the names and addresses of my great-grandparents, Josef (now known as Joseph) and Marie Bergmeister, and their 20-year-old German-born daughter, Marie.  My great-grandfather had not yet declared his intent to become a citizen of the United States, but he had lived in the country since 1900.  Their four American-born children were safe from the registration requirements.

The Joseph Bergmeister living in America, despite being considered an “enemy alien” required to register with the authorities, was also required to register for the selective service act.  On 12 September 1918, he registered for military service with the U.S. draft board in Philadelphia, PA, but he was never called into service by the U.S. military.  Joseph’s brother Ignatz also registered with the draft board in Elizabeth, NJ on the same day.

Joseph Bergmeister's WWI draft card. Note that the German-born "Joseph" still signs his name Josef!

My relatives left no diaries or letters to reveal what they thought about these regulations, or about the war with their homeland, or if they knew the fate of their cousins in Germany or even kept in touch after immigration.  One can only wonder what it felt like to suddenly be considered “the enemy” in the country you called home for so many years.

In Part 5, the final post in this series on the Bavarian Military Rosters, we will discover how closely the two Josef Bergmeister’s are related and see how many Bergmeister men were involved in the war fighting for Germany.

Sources:

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Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record

Who was Josef Bergmeister? How did he die?

In Part 1 of this series on Bavarian Military Rosters, I discovered an “unknown soldier” in the German Army that was likely related to my great-grandfather of the same name.  In Part 2, I presented what the Bavarian Military Personnel Record Books, or Kriegsstammrolle, looked like during World War 1.  Today we will explore the personnel record of the mysterious Josef Bergmeister – and finally learn the details of his short life and death.

Here is Josef’s personnel record (click on the image  – when it appears on the page, click again for a close-up):

Record for Josef Bergmeister. SOURCE: Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 > Band 00278-04011. Infanterie > Band 000344-02336. Infanterie-Regimenter > Band 01198-01258. 11. bayer. Infanterie-Regiment > 1227. Kriegstammrolle: Bd. 1

Before transcribing and translating the record, there are some sites will offer other researchers some assistance.  First, one must be familiar with German handwriting.  The best site I have seen on this topic is How to Read German Handwriting.  In addition, it may be useful to become familiar with some German military terms.  A good resource is the German-English Military Dictionary, which was compiled by the U.S. military in 1944.

First, the transcription of Josef’s record:

1.  Iaufende Nummer: 462

2.  Dienstgrad: Inf[antrist]

3.  Vor- und Familienname: Josef Bergmeister

4.  Religion: kath[olisch]

5.  Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt): Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern/ Datum der Geburt:19.04.1894

6.  Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe): Ökonom / Wohnort: Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

7.  Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist: ledig

8.  Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern: Johann und Therese Bergmeister, Ökonom, Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

9.  Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron: 11. I[nfantrie)-R[egiment], 8. Kp [=Kompanie]

10.  Dienstverhältnisse: a) frühere, b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung:

a)  ./.

b) 1915   1.7. b. II./E. 13. Inf. Rgt. 1. Rekr Depot als Rekrut
1915   12. 7 z. Rekr. Depot III b. A. K Komo F versetzt
1915   30.9 z. 10. I. R. 11. Kp. in Feld
1915   5.11. z. 8./11. I. R. versetzt

11.  Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen:  ./.

12.  Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen: 20.09.15 – 15.7.16 Kämpfe auf den Maashöhen; 15.7. – 8.7.16 Kämpfe um Fleury und Zwischenwerk Thiaumont

[Written in the section underneath: ]  Pocken- Typhus- und Cholera-Schutzimpfung vorgenommen
Am 18.07.1916 dh. A. G. [= durch Artilleriegranate] am r[echten] Fuß u[nd] l[inken] Arm schwer verwundet u[nd] ins Feldlaz[arett] No. 5 der H.gr. I. d. eingeliefert. Am 20.7.1916 ins Etappenlazarett Pierrepont (:Schule:) überführt und dortselbst am 1.8.1916 nachm[ittags] 6:15 verstorben. Todesursache: Bruch r[echter] Oberschenkel (: Amputation) u[nd]Gasphlegmon.  Am 2.08.16 auf dem Militärfriedhof zu Pierrepont beerdigt. Grab No 493.  Anerkannt 18.9.1916 Leutnant d[er] R[eserve] u[nd] Komp[anie]-Führer

Rather than translate the record word for word into English, I will sum up the pertinent details.  Josef Bergmeister was born on 19 April 1894 in Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria to Johann and Therese Bergmeister.  He was an “economist” in Puch and single.  Josef entered the army as a recruit on 01 July 1915.  He was originally assigned to the 10th Infantry Regiment as an infantryman, but in November 1915 the regiment was combined with another and became the 11th Infantry Regiment.  On 15-18 July 1916 his unit took part in the battles at Fleury and Thiaumont in France.  On 18 July, Josef was severely wounded by an artillery shell.  He was taken to a field hospital and transferred to another hospital at Pierrepont on 20 July.  At 6:15 on 01 August, Josef died.  His cause of death is listed as amputation of crushed thigh and gangrene.  The following day he was buried in Grave No. 493 at the military cemetery in Pierrepont.  He was 22 years old.

Three Bavarian infantry soldiers in 1914.

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29007475@N08/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With this record, I finally knew who Josef was.  Before I could connect him to my own Bergmeister family, I wanted to find out more about the battle in which he died.  My knowledge of World War I was poor, and now I was curious to learn more.  Part 4 will provide more details about this horrific battle which was part of a series of battles between the German and French armies from February through December of 1916 – the Battle of Verdun.  It will also give a glimpse into what life in America was like for German immigrants.  Finally, Part 5 will sort out who’s who in the Bergmeister family – how are the “Josefs” related?

Many thanks to my cousin (and Josef’s cousin) Armin Bergmeister for the record transcription and help with the translation into English!

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The Bavarian Military Rosters – What were they? What does it say?

In Part 1 – Cousins, Countries, and War – I spoke of the discovery of a German soldier with my great-grandfather’s name – Josef Bergmeister.  This particular Josef came from the same town my great-grandfather was born in – were they related?  Thanks to a new group of records available on Ancestry.com, I was about to find out.  But first, what are these records?  What information do they have?  And more importantly – what do the German words mean?

[Note: A subscription to Ancestry.com is required to view these records.  If you do not have a subscription, check on availability at your local library.]

The main search page (image shown above) for the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 is found here.  Whether you search for a surname or for a particular individual, you will notice what appears to be more than one entry per person in the search results.  For example, a search for “Josef Bergmeister” resulted in the following hits:

Based on the birth dates and town names, there appear to be records for two different men named Josef Bergmeister.  Why are there several records for each?  Because these personnel record books, or Kriegstammrolle, were kept for each military unit.  If a soldier was transferred to another unit, he was recorded in the personnel records for the new unit as well as the old.  In addition, there is a separate roster for the soldiers who died.  To get a soldier’s full story, you should look at each of the search results.

Fortunately, the personnel rosters seem to follow the same format.  Each book has two pages with fifteen columns of information.  The following images show the column headings and the English translations.

1 – Iaufende Nummer – Seriel Number

2 – Dienstgrad – Rank

3 – Vor- und Familienname – First and Last Name

4 – Religion – Religion

5 – [top] Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt) – Location (County, State of Birth)

[bottom] Datum der Geburt – Date of Birth

6 – [top] Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe) – Occupation (literally „position in life“) (Profession, Company)

[bottom] Wohnort – Place of Residence

7 – Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist – First and Last Name of Wife; Number of Children; Note that the person is Single

8 – Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern – First and Last Names, Occupation, and Place of Residence of Parents

9 – Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron) – Military Unit (Company, Squadron)

10 – Dienstverhältnisse – Service Relationship

a) frühere – earlier

b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung – after mobilization

11 – Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen – Orders, Decorations, and Other Awards

12 – Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen – Battles; Remarkable Acheivements

13 – Kommandos und besondere Dienstverhältnisse. Kriegsgefangenschaft.  – Commands and Special Service Conditions.  Prisoner of War.

14 – Führung. Gerichtliche Bestrafungen Rehabilitierung. – Leadership.  Judicial Punishments Rehabilitation.

15 – Bemerkungen – Remarks

Now that we know what the columns mean, how do we actually read a handwritten record?

Coming up in Part 3 we’ll transcribe and translate the service record for Josef Bergmeister.  As you can see from the information above, the record will tell us quite about about his life as well as his death.

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Who was a German soldier who bore my great-grandfather’s name?

In 1998, I visited my Bavarian great-grandparents’ town for the first time.  I was not well-prepared to do any genealogical research because the trip came about as a convenient accident, not through careful planning.  While I was in the general area for work-related travel, I knew I had to make a detour to their town, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Back then, I hadn’t traced either family too far back, but through my great-grandparents’ marriage record I knew that he, Josef Bergmeister, was from the nearby town of Puch, and she, Maria Echerer, was from Pfaffenhofen.

Some friends from a different region of Germany met me there – they thought it would be an amusing weekend trip to visit a “foreign” area of their own country and see their American friend.  One joked about this tiny town they drove through called Puch.  “Wait,” I said, “that’s my great-grandfather’s town!  Can you show it to me?”  They said yes, but assured me that it was so tiny, there wasn’t much to see.

The next day, we drove a 2-car convoy to Puch from Pfaffenhofen (approximately 8 miles).  They drove the lead car and came to a stop in what was presumably the center of town.  My friend got out of the car and  came up to my window asking, “Is there anything to actually see here?”

I was busy squinting over his shoulder.  “Yes,” I replied, pointing beyond where he stood, “there’s that!”

Memorial in Puch, Bavaria, Germany to the dead and missing soldiers from both world wars.

Who is Josef Bergmeister?

Who is this Josef Bergmeister?

We had stopped directly in front of a war memorial – every European town, no matter how small or large, has one.  On this particular monument to the sons of Puch who perished in the world wars, I noticed a familiar name – Josef Bergmeister, who died in 1916.  Another Josef Bergmeister from Puch?  Surely it was a cousin, or perhaps a nephew!  I took a photo of the monument and knew I’d find the answer one day.

My research continued on the Bergmeister line, but I focused on going backward so I never fully investigated the Josef who had died fighting in the war.  I eventually even met Bergmeister cousins who still live in Pfaffenhofen, but when I asked about the Puch relatives, they merely replied, “There are no more Bergmeisters in Puch.”

It remained a mystery.  I could have looked further into birth and death records to find the answer, but the records available from the Family History Center ended in 1900 and I did not write to the church or town directly for more information.

Josef remained my own personal “unknown soldier” – until now.  Recently Ancestry.com added a new set of records to their growing international collection – the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918.  While my direct ancestors immigrated to the United States more than a decade before the first world war, I was able to find out significant information about the lives and deaths of the cousins they left behind.

Join me this week as I explore these records and tell Josef’s story.  Today’s introduction is Part 1 of a 5-part series which will include the following:

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Surname - FISCHER

Meaning/Origin – The surname FISCHER really does mean “fisher” as in “fisherman.”  According to the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, the frequency of the name in Germany “is evidence of the former importance of this ancient occupation.”   I find it ironic that my particular Fischer’s were actually farmers!

Countries of Origin – The surname FISCHER is German; however the English spelling FISHER is considered to be of English origin.  If you are descended from a FISHER, you could have English ancestry or German ancestry in which the “C” was dropped to anglicize the name.  In fact, nearly every country has an “equivalent” name derived from the occupation of fisherman.  According to the Internet Surname Database,

Recorded in several spelling forms including the popular Fisher (English), Fischer (German), Fiszer (Czech and Polish), Visser (Dutch), de Vischer (Flemish), Fiser (Danish), Fisker (Norwegian), and many others, this interesting surname does seem to have a pre 7th century Old English origin. If so it is from the word ‘fiscere‘ meaning to catch fish, and it may be an occupational name for a fisherman, or it may be a topographical name for someone who lived near a fish weir on a river. Here the derivation is from the word “fisc” plus the Middle English “gere” a development of the Old Norse “gervi” meaning weir or apparatus. It may in some case be an Ashkenazic name for a fisherman from the Yiddish word “fisher“.

According to the World Names Profiler, for the spelling FISCHER the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Germany with 3,369 individuals per million, Switzerland wtih 3,104, and Austria with 2,139.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Hungary (605), Denmark (559), Luxembourg (553), the United States (359), and Canada (267).  The English spelling FISHER seems to be slightly less popular, and the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Australia with 1,211 individuals per million, the United Kingdom with 1,087, the United States with 914, Canada with 864, and New Zealand with 821.

Spelling Variations - As noted above, the most common variation is FISHER.  German variations include Fäscher, Ficher, Fischera, Fascher, and Vischer.

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the FISCHER surname in Germany and Austria. According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/fischer.html, there are nearly 102,000 people with the surname in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in California.  In Germany, there are 270,000 people with the surname, which makes it the 4th most popular surname in the country.  Even without the numbers, the surname’s popularity is evident on the map:

Distribution of the surname FISCHER in Germany.

SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed January 16, 2010.

In Austria, the name was the 15th most common surname, and most Fischer’s live in the Wien area.

Distribution of the surname FISCHER in Austria.

SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed January 16, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – There are many, many famous people with this surname including American chess champion Bobby Fischer, American actress Jenna Fischer, and German historian Fritz Fischer.  Wikipedia has a list of all the famous people with the Fischer surname.

My Family -My FISCHER family comes from Bavaria, and it is the surname of my great-great-grandmother, Margarethe Fischer.  My line of descent is as follows: Wolfgang Fischer (1775-1820) > Franz Xaver (b. 06 Oct 1813 in Agelsberg – d. unknown) > Margarethe (b. 21 Jan 1845 in Langenbruck – d. 04 Oct 1895 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm).

Margarethe married Karl Echerer on 18 May 1874 after her first husband, Bartholomew Kufer, died.  Their first child was Maria, born on 27 February 1875 – my great-grandmother.  Maria married Joseph Bergmeister in 1897 and they immigrated to the United States.  More information on their children can be found on the Bergmeister Family Page.  Maria’s youngest child, my grandmother, was named Margaret – presumably after her mother’s mother.  Margarethe and Karl had at least three other daughters, Magdalena, Teresia, and Christina, but I have not yet discovered if they lived to adulthood.  They also had at least one son, Karl, who was born on 28 June 1878.

My Research Challenges -My Fischer line is short so far.  The towns of Agelsberg and Langenbruck are very small, and the church is located in a town called Fahlenbach.  The LDS has microfilmed church records for this town going back to 1732, so I should be able to learn the names of the parents of Wolfgang Fischer.

Other Fischer Families -With a name as common as Fischer, there are a lot of other people researching Fischer’s!  There is a Fischer Family Genealogy Forum as well as an Ancestry Fischer Message Board. Fishergenealogy.com has a list of those researching both the Fischer and Fisher surnames.

Links to all posts about my Fischer family can be found here.

This post is #6 of an ongoing series about surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Surname - ZAWODNY

Meaning/Origin – The name ZAWODNY (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the Polish word zawodny, meaning “unreliable” or “deceptive”.  The root zawod- comes from the word zawieść, which means to disappoint or deceive. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman and the University of Pittsburgh Online Polish-English Dictionary.)

Countries of Origin – The surname ZAWODNY is Polish.

Spelling Variations -  Other names derived from the same root include ZAWODNIAK, ZAWODNIK, or ZAWODZIŃSKI. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)  in the U.S., the name can be mis-spelled as ZAVODNY because of the way it is pronounced in Polish. The feminine version of the surname is ZAWODNA.

Surname Maps – The following map illustrates the frequency of the ZAWODNY surname in Poland. There are only about 500 people with the surname ZAWODNY spread out over 67 different counties and cities.  My immigrant ancestor with this name came from the area just to the right of the upper red concentration.

Distribution of the ZAWODNY surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/zawodny.html, accessed January 8, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Janusz Zawodny (b. 1921) is an author and historian.  He found in the Polish Army during World War 2 and is well known for his books Death in the Forest: The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre and Nothing But Honor: The Story of the Warsaw Uprising, 1944.

My Family – My Zawodny family comes from the town of Dobrosołowo, Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Szymon Zawodny, likely born around 1820 and deceased by his son’s marriage in 1875.  He married Katarzyna Ratajewska.  My line of descent is as follows: Wawrzyniec (b. 1853 – d. 13 Dec 1917, Dobrosołowo) > Józef (b. 29 Jan 1880, Komorowo – d. 09 Jun 1944, Philadelphia, PA, USA) > daughter Marianna (b. 02 Aug 1907 – d. 30 Apr 1986 Philadelphia, PA).  Marianna, my grandmother “Mae”, had several sisters and two brothers to carry on the family name.  One brother changed the surname though – see my biography of Joseph Zawodny for more information.  From the brother who did not change his name, there are male descendants today.  My great-grandfather Joseph also had a brother, Stefan or Steve, who was born in 1882 and immigrated in 1903.

My Research Challenges -I need to continue my research. Although I have death records for Wawrzyniec Zawodny and his wife Katarzyna (Marianska) and their marriage record, I do not have birth records for either.  I only have their parents names from the marriage certificate.  Also, I need to find more information on my great-grandfather’s brother Stefan since he “disappears” after his arrival to the U.S.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a very inactive message board.  There are some other Zawodny families in the U.S. in Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Links to other posts about my Zawodny family can be found here.

This post is #5 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Surname - PLUTA

Meaning/Origin – The name PLUTA (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the Polish word pluć, meaning “to spit”.  Pluta means “spitter” or bad weather!  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Countries of Origin - The surname PLUTA is Polish. According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at 385 per million. Germany is next at almost 15 per million, with Canada at 8 and the United States at 6.75.

Spelling Variations - PLUTA is the most common variation of the name, but other names derived from the same root include PLUCIK, PLUCIŃSKI, PLUTECKI, PLUTOWSKI, AND PLUWAK.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Surname Maps – The following map illustrates the frequency of the PLUTA surname in Poland.  There are about 15,258 people with the surname PLUTA spread out over 320 different counties and cities.  The greatest concentration are in the city of Warsaw (Warszawa) with over 400 residents.

Pluta Poland Map

Distribution of the PLUTA surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/pluta.html, accessed November 14, 2009.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Wilhelm Pluta (1910-1986) was a bishop in Poland who is now a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic church.

My Family – This is the surname of my great-great-grandmother.  My Pluta family comes from the town of Mszczonów, Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Ludwik Pluta, born around 1790-1800 and deceased by his son’s marriage in 1842.  He married Helena Redłowska.  My line of descent is as follows: Ignacy (b. 1821) > Ludwik (b. 26 Aug 1843 – d. by 1885) > daughter Antonina Rozalia (b. 11 Jun 1863, Mszczonów – d. 12 Dec 1938, Philadelphia, PA, USA).  Antonina had at least one brother to carry on the family name, Jan Pluta.  He was living in Żyrardów at the time of his mother’s immigration to the US in 1909.

Antonina Pluta married Józef Pater in August 1885.  They immigrated to the U.S. with their seven children from 1905-1907.  More information is found on the Pater Family Page.

My Research Challenges -I need to continue my research.  On a trip to Poland, the priest at the church in Mszczonów was unable to find the baptismal record of Ignacy in 1821, which is the presumed year based on his marriage record from 1842.  The Family History Library has microfilmed church records for this town from 1808 to 1877, so I need to take a closer look myself.  The records are not early enough to find Ignacy’s father’s (Ludwik) birth, but I may be able to find the marriage record for Ludwik and Helena Pluta.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a Pluta message board here.

Links to other posts about my Pluta family can be found here.

This post is #4 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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As a Polish-American interested in genealogy, I quickly learned that pronunciation is the key to everything.   How can you properly research a family if you can’t say the language correctly? I realized that there are American English pronunciations of Polish surnames and place names, and then there is the real way it is pronounced in Polish.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the Polish language with its “different” letters and consonant combinations, and I can usually figure out how a word is pronounced.  But sometimes…I get stumped.  Just the other day I learned that my great-grandmother was born in a town near Warsaw called Przybyszew.  Przybyszew?  Where do I begin?  I’d like to buy a vowel, Pat!

Fortunately, I discovered an awesome website thanks to Zenon Znamirowski from PolishOrigins.com that allows you to hear Polish words pronounced by Polish speakers!  So, how do you say Przybyszew?  Click on this link to hear it!

The site, Expressivo, is a text to speech program.  To test it out, you can enter up to 200 characters of text here and listen to the results read by several voices: Eric (male US-English), Jennifer (female US-English), Carmen (female Romanian), Jacek (male Polish), or Ewa (female Polish).  To hear Polish names or place names, I highly recommend using the two Polish voices to hear a true Polish pronunciation.

Here are several of my ancestors’ names and the towns they lived in – click the link to hear it in Polish:

Many Americans may have seen these town names in Poland and thought they knew how to pronounce them.  Try it, then click on the link and see if you were correct – you might be surprised!

Łódź Gdańsk Kraków Wrocław Częstochowa Poznań

You can tell that I had a lot of fun “playing” with this site, but other than it being cool to hear your ancestor’s name and hometown properly pronounced, why is it important?  Because knowing the correct pronunciation in an immigrant’s native language can often help you find your ancestor in records that are not spelled correctly, but are written as English-speakers heard the foreign tongue pronounced.  Obviously, this does not only apply to the Polish language, but any language other than American English.

[Submitted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: Tips, Tricks, and Websites]

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Here are two photographs of World War I veterans.  Both gentlemen married my great-grandmother’s sisters (surname: Slesinski).  The photos contained no identifying information; however, I have identified these men based on labeled photographs taken around 1930 which were featured in a previous post, The Slesinski Sisters: Part 3 – Research Confirmed.

Adolph Majewski

Adolph Majewski

John Smilovicz

John Smilovicz

I thank them for their service to this country, as well as all veterans and military members currently serving in harm’s way.  Thank you!

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In August, Randy Seaver created an informative Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) challenge to name our sixteen great-great grandparents, provide their pertinent dates and locations, and calculate one’s ethnic background.  My response to his challenge was a post called Sweet Sixteen: My Great-Great Grandparents. But I couldn’t name all sixteen.  In my post, I lamented the fact that certain branches on my family tree were little more than twigs.  In particular, my patrilineal line had three unknowns and a maybe.

Today, I know their names.

Thanks to my Piontkowski (Piątkowski) great-grandparents’ marriage record, I can add names to the first four slots of my Sweet Sixteen list, making it much, much sweeter.  They are:

  1. Stanisław Piątkowski (ahnentafel#16)
  2. Apolonia Konopka (ahnentafel#17)
  3. Jan Kiziewieter (possibly misspelled on the record; later known as Kizoweter) (ahnentafel#18)
  4. Marianna Ostał (ahnentafel#19)

More to come on the record itself and its details once I get a copy.  Many thanks to Zenon Znamirowski of Polish Origins for finding this for me!  (You’ll also be hearing more about Polish Origins™ soon when I have a special interview with Zenon – stay tuned!)

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Slesin, PolandSurname – SLESINSKI or ŚLESIŃSKI

Meaning/Origin – The name SLESINSKI or ŚLESIŃSKI (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the place name Ślesin, a town in central Poland near Konin founded in 1231.  The suffix -ski is usually added to a person or place name to indicate a relationship such as “son of” or “from”.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Countries of Origin – The surnames of SLESINSKI and ŚLESIŃSKI are Polish. According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at 11.73 per million.  The United States comes in a distant second at 1.48.   The results are the same for either spelling.

Spelling Variations - The main Polish spelling of this name is ŚLESIŃSKI; however, because of the unique characters it is often written as SLESINSKI.  Other variations include ŚLESZYŃSKI and ŚZLESZYŃSKI.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the ŚLESIŃSKI and SLESINSKI surnames in Poland.  According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/slesinski.html, there are about 363 people with the surname Slesinski in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in New York state.  The Polish surname map shows only 400 people with the surname ŚLESIŃSKI spread out over 78 different counties and cities.  The greatest concentration are in Grodzisk Mazowiecki with 40 residents.

Distribution of the Ślesiński surname in Poland.

Distribution of the Ślesiński surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/%25C5%259Blesi%25C5%2584ski.html, accessed October 23, 2009.

For a very different map, I entered the American spelling without the Polish letters  – SLESINSKI.  Only two people in Poland use that spelling!

Distribution of the Slesinski surname in Poland.

Distribution of the Slesinski surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/slesinski.html, accessed October 23, 2009.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – I could not find any famous folks, but there is the Kanał Ślesiński, a water channel in Poland that connects the Warta River with Lake Golplana.

My Family – This is the surname of my great-grandmother (my mother’s mother’s mother).  My Ślesiński family comes from Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Maciej Ślesiński, born around 1800 likely in Ślesin, Poland.  My line of descent is as follows: Józef (b. 1821, Ślesin) > Wincenty (b. 1851, Wilczyn) > daughter Wacława (b. 29 Aug 1880, Wilczyn).

Wincenty did have at least one son to carry on the surname, Feliks, who was born on 24 Dec 1885.  I am not sure if Feliks survived to adulthood.  Wacława Ślesińska married Józef Zawodny in 1902 and immigrated to the U.S. (Philadelphia, PA) the same year.  Wacława’s four sisters also immigrated to the U.S. after their father’s death on 01 Jan 1919 and settled in McKeesport, PA.

My Research Challenges – Wincenty Ślesiński died in Dobrosołowo, near Wilczyn, two days after his wife died.  His wife, Stanisława Drogowska, was about 58 years old.  Wincenty was about 68 years old.  If Poland had obituaries during this time period in a town as small as Dobrosołowo, I would like to learn more about the circumstances of their deaths.  At this time, World War I was raging and their town, in the Russian Empire until Poland returned to Europe’s map, was extremely close to the German border.

It is interesting that my earliest ancestors with this name were recorded as having been from the town of Ślesin.  There are still microfilmed records available to allow me to pursue research on this line when I have the time.

Other Ślesiński Families – One site I would like to highlight is not about genealogical research, but it is about family.  Lori Ann Slesinski was 24 years old when she went missing in June, 2006, from Auburn, Alabama.  Please take a look at this site and contact the authorities listed if you have any information.

Surname Message Boards – None – please leave a comment if you find any.

Miscellaneous - The American Soundex code for Slesinski is S425 and the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex Code is 484645.  There are 159 individuals in the U.S. Social Security Death Index with the surname Pater (as far as I know, none are related to me – the Slesinski sisters all married and no longer used their maiden names).

Links to other posts about my Slesinski family can be found here.

This post is #3 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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This week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF) by Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings asks

1) Pick one of your four great-grandparents – if possible, the one with the most descendants.

2) Create a descendants list for those great-grandparents either by hand or in your software program.

3) Tell us how many descendants, living or dead, are in each generation from those great-grandparents.

4) How many are still living? Of those, how many have you met and exchanged family information with? Are there any that you should make contact with ASAP? Please don’t use last names of living people for this – respect their privacy.

I seem to always use my Bergmeister Family as an example for SNGF, but that is the family in which I have not only had success in tracing ancestors backward, but also success in tracing cousins forward.  So for my example of my family’s increase, I will use my great-grandparents Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927) and Marie Echerer Bergmeister (1875-1919).  Their descendants are:

  • 5 Children (all deceased) – I only remember meeting 2.
  • 14 Grandchildren (8 living / 6 deceased)  – I only met 3 of the living and 1 deceased.
  • 30 Great-grandchildren (28 living / 2 deceased) – I met 7 and “e-met” 6 more.
  • 48 Second great-grandchildren (all living, not counting some adopted and step-children) – I’ve met 9.
  • At least 2 Third great-grandchildren so far…

    As best I can determine, Joseph and Marie Bergmeister have 99 descendants so far – not bad for a couple that didn’t live long enough to see their youngest child reach adulthood.  Marie was just shy of 44 years old when she died.  Joseph died at age 54, but he was able to see his first 3 grandchildren before he died.

    Research on this branch has been satisfying because of all the second cousins I have come to know, mostly via email.  At least one descendant of each of the four other Bergmeister children are in contact with me, and we are beginning to discuss the possibility of a family reunion!  Stay tuned here for more details.  I still have work to do in getting to know some more of my cousins, but this is by far the branch of the family that is the most interested in our history.

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    Surname – ECHERER

    Meaning/Origin – I have not found a definitive answer on the origin of the ECHERER name, but it may be related to ECKER or EGGER.  According to the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, these names are found frequently near Munich and they mean “from the dwelling place on the corner (uff der Egg)”.  The name may also be derived from the place name Eger or Egerer.

    Countries of Origin – The surname Echerer is German.  According to the World Names Profiler, the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Austria with only 2.58 individuals per million, and Germany with .82.  It is not a very common name. The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are the United States (.13) and Spain (.1).

    Spelling Variations - As noted above, the “CH” is often noted as “GG” or “CK”. In my own family, in the earlier records the name was spelled EGER, EGGER, or EGGERER and stabilized as ECHERER in the 1700s.  My grandmother’s sister thought her mother’s name was ECKERT based on the pronunciation, and she adopted that variation as her surname.

    Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the ECHERER surname in Austria and Germany. According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/echerer.html, there are about 50 people with the surname in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in South Carolina.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Austria.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Austria.

    SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed October 11, 2009.

    In Austria, the name was found in three different counties.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Germany.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Germany.

    SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed October 11, 2009.

    In Germany, there are about 56 people in seven different counties, all located in close proximity in Bavaria.  The highlighted district to the far right is Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, the town from which my Echerer family came.  A heavier concentration of Echerer’s is just to the left in Landkreis Aichach-Friedberg.

    Famous Individuals with the SurnameMercedes Echerer (b. 16 May 1963) is an Austrian actress and politician.  Wikipedia has a list of several famous people with the EGGER surname, a variation of ECHERER.

    My Family – My Echerer family comes from Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in Bavaria, and it is the surname of my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister.  Her family history goes back for generations in the town of Pfaffenhofen.  In fact, I have not yet completed the research.  The church records begin in the 1500’s, and I am certain that I can continue to trace the family to the earliest history of the town.

    My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Leonard EGERER, a shoemaker born in the 1630’s (the spelling transitions to ECHERER in the late 1700s). My line of descent is as follows (all born and died in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm): Leonard (b. 1677) > Bernhard (1721-1778) >Ignaz (1763-?) >Ignaz (1803-1874) > Karl (1846-post 1882) > Maria (1875-1919).  Maria married Joseph Bergmeister in 1897 and they immigrated to the United States.  More information on their children can be found on the Bergmeister Family Page.  Maria had at least one brother who was named Karl after his father.  Karl was born on 28 June 1878.

    My Research Challenges -My Echerer line has been one of the easiest to trace back so far, and one of the few that reaches back to the 1600s.  My challenges are 1) to continue with the research until the records end, 2) discover what happened to my great-grandmother’s brother, Karl (do his descendants still live in Pfaffenhofen?), and 3) attempt to “connect” the various Echerer families to one common ancestor (see Other Echerer Families below).

    The surname Echerer as written in German "Sütterlin" script.

    The surname Echerer as written in German "Sütterlin" script.

    To see your surname in Sütterlin script, go to Write Your Name in Suetterlin. This script was mostly used in the 20th Century, but it shows the difficulty of researching in foreign records.

    Other Echerer Families – As you can see from the maps, the name is very uncommon.  Therefore, we all must be related, right?  One possible “cousin” (at least that’s what we call each other) is the Echerer family currently located in South Carolina.  Scott Echerer has done an excellent job of documenting the various Echerer branches in the United States on his page USA Echerer Family Tree.  Scott’s ancestors immigrated to the U.S. in 1930 from Neukirchen, a town in Bavaria close to Pfaffenhofen. I have not yet taken the time to research the Neukirchen Echerer’s to see if there is any connection to the Pfaffenhofen family back in time.  Scott still has cousins in Bavaria from this line.  Scott also documents another U.S. Echerer family descended from Anton Echerer from Bohemia.

    In addition, there is the Echerer Family website run by Michael Echerer from Munich.

    Surname Message Boards – None, but there is an Egerer board.

    Miscellaneous - The American Soundex code for Echerer is E266.  There are 6 individuals in the U.S. Social Security Death Index with the surname Echerer (none are related to me).

    Links to all posts about my Echerer family can be found here.

    This post is #2 of an ongoing series about surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

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