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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

Source: Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945

Sources used for this post:

Vital Records:

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

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

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

Books:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” said the man, “come on in.”

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

The Pater Family, circa 1937

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

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

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

“Age?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pointkouski Family, circa 1938-9

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

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

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

“Yes,” she replied, “that’s right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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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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Genealogists are eagerly awaiting the release of the 1940 U.S. Federal Census in April 2012 so we can track down the information on all of our relatives. While Ancestry will have the images available for free, they will probably not be indexed for some time. For me, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing…my family’s track record for being recorded and indexed correctly is 5 out of 19 attempts from 1900 through 1930. Of the 14 entries that have incorrect spellings, 8 could be found via Soundex. That left 6 families that had to be found using other search methods. These 19 only include the surnames of my four grandparents – if I added in siblings of great-grandparents and grandparents with different surnames, the error count would be even higher. Here’s a look at how my family’s names fared in census indexing so far:

The Bergmeister Family

I have a lot of entries for the Bergmeister’s. First, he’s my only great-grandparent to be enumerated on the 1900 Census having just arrived to the U.S. in time. While neither he nor his wife are still alive for the 1930 Census, their two adult sons and one daughter have their own households by then. Also, my great-grandfather had a brother who is enumerated in 1910, and his widow takes over as head of the household for 1920 and 1930. Of the nine households total, only 3 were correct: Joseph Bergmeister in 1900 and 1910, and his son Joseph Bergmeister in 1930. Fortunately, no matter how creatively the name was spelled, it managed to show up in the Soundex most of the time.

Year Person Spelling Soundex
1910 Ignatz Berzminster N
1920 Joseph Burgmaster Y
1920 Theresa Birgmister Y
1930 Theresa Burgmeister Y
1930 Max Bergmuset Y
1930 Marie Bergmeistor Y

The Pater Family

I’m always amazed that a name like “Pater” could be misspelled so often. I mean, Pointkouski I can see, but Pater? There are only four instances of my Pater family in the census: Joseph Pater in 1910, 1920, and 1930 and his son Louis with his own household in 1930. At least they got it right half of the time!

Year Spelling Soundex
1910 Potter Y
1930 Rater N

The Zawodny Family

My great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny is in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Census as well. However, you’ll only find him using a Soundex search in 1930 due to the rather creative spellings of his name.

Year Spelling Soundex
1910 Savonia N
1920 Cawodny N
1930 Zavodny Y

The Piontkowski Family

The Piontkowski’s were also in the U.S. for the 1910 through 1930 Census. I can’t tell you how long it took me to find them in 1910 – you’ll see why by the spelling shown below.

Year Spelling Soundex
1910 Kilkuskie N
1920 Pontdowke N
1930 Peontkowski Y

By 1940, only 3 of my great-grandparents are deceased. Both sets of grandparents are married, and it will be my parents’ first appearance on a federal census record! And many of the siblings of my grandparents and their cousins will have households of their own. No index? No problem! I’m already gathering the information that will help me find them in the 1940 Census: addresses! By using sources such as social security applications, draft registration cards, death certificates, city directories, and the 1930 address I should be able to get a fairly accurate idea of the various residences in 1940. I also intend to use Steve Morse’s site to determine the enumeration district (ED) where I need to begin my search. See his page on finding the ED based on 1930 addresses, or take the quiz! I can’t wait to see how all of my family names are misspelled in 1940!

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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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Imagine yourself as an immigrant to America in the early 20th century.  You are happy with your decision to leave your homeland for a new life in America. Perhaps after a few years you saved enough money to send for your wife and children to join you. You have found a job, and you have found a house to live in. Perhaps you don’t yet understand the English language perfectly yet, but you are slowly learning. You may not get much practice with English though, because  your neighbors and co-workers speak your native language. One day someone knocks on your door – they are from the government, and they ask all sorts of official questions. “Who lives here?” “What are the names of your family members?” The questions were dutifully answered.

Fast forward eighty or one hundred years. Descendents of those immigrants pour over online or microfilmed images in search of answers about their ancestors. Families are found! But…is the information correct? Most of the time, it is correct. But not always, at least not in my family. Ignoring the numerous name spelling errors, the most unusual census mistakes in my family involve relatives that were counted twice!

All My Children

The first example of this was in the 1910 census for the family of Joseph and Antonina Pater (which is listed as “Potter”, or how Pater sounds in Polish).  In 1910, most of the family was living just outside of Philadelphia in the Bucks County borough of Attleboro (today known as Langhorne). Because Antonina’s mother had recently arrived and she was the oldest family member, she is listed as the head of the household (F. Annie Pluta indexed as F. Amie Theta…seriously, it’s a wonder I find anyone in the census!).  The 70-year-old F. Annie is followed by Joseph and Antonina and their six children (although there is some confusion as some are listed as grandchildren of the head of the household and others as children). The only problem? The two eldest daughters, Frances and Eva (listed as Francesca and Edna), were already married with children and living elsewhere.

Frances’ husband Paul and their son Edmund may be enumerated as a separate family underneath the Pater clan (listed under equally mangled and hard-to-read names). Eva, her husband Edward Süsser, and their children Edward and Anna are all enumerated on the census in Dover, Morris County, New Jersey (as the “Züsser” family).  In this case, only Eva is counted twice since I did not find another listing for Frances.  I believe that the married children who were not actually living with their parents were listed simply due to a language mis-understanding when the census taker asked for the names of their children.  By 1920, the Pater parents only list those children still living with them (Walter and Victoria).

By Any Other Name

A more curious case of double-counting happened in the 1930 census.  My Piontkowski ancestors, John and Rose, had been living in the United States for 25 years, so I would have assumed they had a better understanding of both the English language and what the census-taker wanted after having participated in two other federal censuses. The couple leaves out their daughter, who by this time had married and left the family, but counts their teenaged son, James, as well as their married son Joseph, his wife Catherine, and their daughter, Josephine. The entire family lives on N. Front Street in Philadelphia.

I knew that Joseph Piontkowski later used the surname Perk, but I never thought to look for Joseph Perk on the census.  Why should I? I had already found him living with his parents.  Only he really wasn’t living with his parents in 1930! I recently got in touch with my cousin, Joseph’s daughter, who had been researching her family.  When she wrote that she found the Perk family listed in the 1930 census, I did a double-take.  Sure enough, they are living on Hancock Street in Philadelphia about a mile away from his parents.  Listed are Joseph Perk, wife Katherine, daughter Josephine, and daughter Jean – who, based on the age of 0/12, had just been born!  Anyone without knowledge of the name change would certainly think that these were two different families, but they are the same.

I wonder how inflated the census numbers are/were due to difficulties with immigrants understanding the questions? Oh well, Eva Süsser, Joseph, Katherine, and Josephine Perk may all have been counted twice in one census or another – but at least that makes up for my grandmother Margaret Bergmeister not having been counted at all in both the 1920 and 1930 census!

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Update 2/8/2011 – see the follow-up to this post for more info!

Sometimes waiting to receive copies of records is worth the wait.  But sometimes it’s not.  Such was my adventure with USCIS, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  As I wrote in The Waiting Game in September, I requested a copy of my great-grandfather’s naturalization info. I did this despite the fact that I already knew his naturalization date and had a copy of the papers. But I was curious if there was anything else in the “file”.  I had two goals in mind.  First, I wanted to see if there was a photograph.  Many naturalization records contain photos, but my great-grandfather’s did not.  Did I have the complete package?  Since I only have one photo of him, it was worth finding out. Next, I had a mysterious addendum to his naturalization that I received from another agency – would the USCIS file contain it?

Let me start at the beginning.  Early on in my research, circa 1989-91, I found the naturalization papers for my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, at the Philadelphia City Archives.  He was naturalized in 1925 at the local level in the Philadelphia Quarter Sessions Court.  These local naturalizations were not available at the National Archives (and still aren’t, nor are they available online).  The City Archives had a file of index cards, and the archives’ personnel would photocopy the Declaration of Intent and the Petition for Naturalization for any name you found.

For reasons I can’t quite recall, in late 1992 I submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the Department of Justice, where the naturalization information was then held.  Perhaps I was looking for that elusive photo.  I didn’t get a photo then, either, but I got the previously received declaration and petition.  The difference was that this time, the birth dates of Louis’ children listed on the petition were blocked out for “privacy” concerns as the data was considered “personal”.  In addition to these two documents, they sent me a comical series of papers that was supposed to be Louis’ passenger arrival record…only every line on the manifest was blocked out.  This included his sister and brother-in-law’s lines above his.  If you are familiar with passenger arrival records, you know that if a family is traveling together, the persons listed underneath the first person usually get ditto marks for the repeated info.  Without the first family member, Louis’ passenger arrival record was a bunch of ditto marks.

I should point out that in 1992 when I received this, all five of his “children” were deceased anywhere from 20 to 50 years.  In fact, some of their birth dates were publicly available in the Social Security Death Index, one of the few sources of online information back then.  And, even though the Ellis Island web site was not yet operational (nor was Ancestry), the passenger list was fully available via the National Archives.

But I digress…  The DoJ file contained one additional piece of information – a barely legible typewritten letter from 1940.  It seemed to indicate that my great-grandfather committed a crime and was sentenced to two to four years in prison.  I can’t quite read the entire letter, but it was apparently meant to let the naturalization service know that they may have give citizenship to an unsavory character.  I assume that if he had committed further crimes, they would have deported him.

It was my inability to read this letter that led me to try the USCIS search.  After all, they talk about receiving a “file” so I didn’t know what other information might be included.

First I paid for an index search, which was unfortunate since it turned out that the “index number” was his naturalization number, which I already had.  But they don’t really tell you that and make it seem that the index search must precede the file search.  The index number cost $20 and took five months to receive.

Once I received the number, I submitted a Record Copy Request for $20.  Two months later, I received the “file”.  I received the Declaration of Intent, the Petition for Naturalization (shrunk to 8.5” x 11” or half the size of the original document), and his certificate.  The children’s birthdays were also blacked out on the Petition.  I had also received the certificate from the DoJ, but this copy was easier to read.  No photo.  No mysterious letter about his arrest.

With the above, I also received an amusing letter explaining that they “completed the review of all documents and have identified 3 pages that are We have reviewed and have determined to release all information except those portions that are exempt.”  I’m an employee of the U.S. Government, too, and we actually use spell-check and grammar-check.

The letter goes on to say that “certain pages contain marks that appear to be blacked-out information.  The black marks were made prior to our receipt of the file.” Which makes me wonder…where did they get the files from?  And where are the originals?  Apparently, the City Archives has unmarked copies, but the federal agencies do not.  Do the originals exist?  If the new USCIS agency (part of the Department of Homeland Security) does not have the file that the Department of Justice had, where did those files go?

I end my quest seven months later and $40 short.  My great-grandfather didn’t need a photo for his naturalization, and I received no additional information.  Are you looking for your ancestor’s naturalization?  If I were you, I’d stick to either online resources like Ancestry or Footnote.  Or, it pays to find out if there are naturalizations at the local level.  In my case, 2 of my 3 great-grandfathers were naturalized in the Philadelphia Quarter Sessions Court.  These records are kept at the City Archives.  There is an index, but it is not online.  In fact, it’s not even computerized on site – at least not twenty years ago when I was there.  It pays to review the courts used in your area and looking at the federal courts that have been indexed.

USCIS may still be worth it to some researchers, however, because in addition to naturalization records they also hold alien registration files and visas.  Even if your ancestor was not naturalized, alien immigrants were required to register with the Government in the early 1940’s.  I still may pursue this for some of my non-naturalized relatives.

As for my hard-to-read letter detailing the alleged incarceration of my great-grandfather, I never would have known about it if I hadn’t tried the FOIA request years ago.  But where those files are now is anyone’s guess.  Since scanning has improved in the last two decades, I will try to scan the photocopy and see if I can sharpen the faded text to uncover the next part of this mystery.

For more information on Naturalization Records:

 

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…and detailing their labors

Recently I finally admitted defeat with my complete lack of organization of all things genealogical, so I’m on a crusade to rebuild my database from scratch and take care of some of those pesky little details like, oh, you know, source citations and whatnot.  In addition to documenting the sources I’ve used, I also wanted to make sure I document all of the details from documents that I may have previously neglected.

In light of this, I had a few minutes of my lunch hour to spare today so I decided to make sure I had some digital copies of certain records.  For no reason in particular, I decided to copy the U.S. World War II Draft Registration cards for my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, and his brother, Stephan.  I’ve had good luck in researching the Pater family – I know where and when they were born and can trace the family back a few generations.  But in looking at the draft cards, which undoubtedly I had already seen at some point in my research, I came upon the curious fact that in 1942 the brothers worked for the same company.

But that’s not the spooky part…

The Pater brothers worked for the Ardross Worsted Company.  The company name meant nothing to me.  But the address made my eyes widen in disbelief…it is about a half a mile from where I was sitting at my desk in work.  What are the odds of that?

Employer information from the World War II Draft Registration card for Stephan Pater. Source: Ancestry.com

I knew the entire Pater family worked in the textile mills – not only in Philadelphia, but in the town in Poland from which they immigrated, Żyrardów.   But I assumed the factories were in the neighborhood in which they lived – which is not close to the neighborhood where I work (at least when you consider that they didn’t have a car).  This factory, which is no longer standing, was literally blocks from where I work.  In another coincidence, my career involves today’s shrinking U.S. textile industry, so in yet another way I am “connected” to my ancestors (and how I knew that a “worsted” company was a textile manufacturer).

Last January I wrote a post entitled Fun with Maps in Philadelphia in which I highlighted the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.  This is a wonderful resource, and it allowed me to see my current work neighborhood through the eyes of my great-grandfather and his brother.  One of the available maps is a “Land Use Map” compiled by the Works Progress Administration in 1942 – the same year the Pater brothers registered for the “Old Man’s Draft.”  The map is available courtesy of the Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia, but the GeoHistory project provides it as an interactive map with an overlay for current map images.  Here is where the Ardross Company resided in 1942:

Location of Ardross Worsted Company, Philadelphia, in 1942.

Just when I think I have gleaned all the information I can from some particular document, I am surprised by some detail that I overlooked.  It was a pleasant surprise to find out that my great-grandfather and I worked in the same neighborhood sixty years apart!

Have you seen, virtually or in reality, the workplaces of your ancestors?  You might be surprised by what you find!

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In 1944’s movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland’s character is in love with the boy next door.  She sings about him in the appropriately titled “The Boy Next Door”, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane:

The moment I saw him smile,
I knew he was just my style,
My only regret is we’ve never met,
Though I dream of him all the while.

But he doesn’t know I exist,
No matter how I may persist,
So it’s clear to see there’s no hope for me,
Though I live at 5135 Kensington Avenue
And he lives at 5133.

How can I ignore
The boy next door?
I love him more than I can say.
Doesn’t try to please me, doesn’t even tease me,
And he never sees me glance his way.

And though I’m heart-sore
The boy next door affection for me won’t display,
I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

Fred and Dottie Kelly with their daughter Colleen.

The song is one of several Martin-Blane hits from the movie.  But did you know that it was based on a true story of a girl who fell in love with the boy next door?  Fortunately in her case, the boy did glance her way and married her or else they would have never inspired Martin and Blane to write the song!  The boy next door was Fred Kelly from Pittsburgh, PA.  Fred had an older brother that you may have heard of by the name of Eugene – otherwise known to the world as Gene Kelly who sang and danced to through the most beloved movie musicals of the 1940s and 50s.  Fred’s girl next door was Dorothy (Dottie) Greenwalt.

Fred and Dottie really did grow up on Kensington Street in Pittsburgh, but their actual addresses didn’t fit the music as well as 5133 and 5135.  Based on the 1930 census, 13-year-old Frederick Kelly lived at 7514 Kensington Street, and 8-year-old Dorothy Greenwalt lived at 7530.  It wasn’t exactly “next door”, but it was close enough for the youngsters to meet and fall in love.

Kelly household at 7514 Kensington St. in the 1930 Federal Census for Pittsburgh, PA.

Greenwalt household at 7530 Kensington St on the same page.

Fred and Dottie married during Broadway rehearsals for the Irving Berlin show “This is the Army” in which Fred was performing.  Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane were also involved with the production, and they asked the newlyweds how they met.  Dottie replied, “I just adored the boy next door.”  Then the couple showed the writers their driver’s licenses to prove it!  Martin and Blane wrote “The Boy Next Door” with Fred and Dottie in mind.  The song went on to be a huge hit and was recorded by many other artists besides Judy Garland.

In my own family, I also discovered an instance of a girl marrying the boy next door – my grandparents.  In the 1930 census, we see 18-year-old Henry Pater living at 2506 Indiana Avenue in Philadelphia, and 22-year old May (Mae) Zawodny living at 2512.  While it is true that the couple lived at those addresses, the “facts” as shown on the census are a bit confusing.  First, both Henry and Mae were already married but are shown as living with their parents.  That they were living in separate addresses despite their marriage is likely true, because at the time of the marriage on 01 Feb 1930, Henry was only 17 years old.  The couple didn’t quite tell their parents right away, and it wasn’t until they were married in a church ceremony in June that they were able to live together.

The Zawodny and Pater households in the 1930 Federal Census for Philadelphia, PA.

Mae and Henry Pater with daughter Anita (1937).

In the Pater household, Henry is listed as single.  But the enumeration record for the Zawodny household is not correct at all.  The father, Joseph, is listed as a widow.  However, his actual living wife, Laura, is listed as a sister.  Mae is shown as married for two months, which is true, but she is listed as a “daughter-in-law” to Joseph, not as his daughter.  Also, her presumed husband is listed as Charles, who was in fact her brother and still single at 19 years old.  If only I could see film or video of the visit of the census-taker to their household…I am sure my grandmother was behind the mis-information!

While Henry and Mae didn’t have a song written about them like Fred and Dottie, they are yet another tale of a girl falling in love with “the boy next door” – or on the same street, anyway.  Have you looked closely at the census records in your family?  Did anyone fall in love with the boy (or girl) next door?

Source Information:

  • Kelly-Greenwalt Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll  1977; Page: 27B; Enumeration District: 229.
  • Pater-Zawodny Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2110; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 914.
  • Photo of Fred, Dottie and Colleen Kelly used with permission from Colleen Kelly Beaman.   Please see her web site, Dance Kelly Style, for more information on Fred Kelly and the Kelly family’s legacy of dance.
  • For more even more information on Fred Kelly, see his biography on my Gene Kelly site.  To see a photo of his childhood home on Kensington Street, see the biography on Marc Baron’s site.
  • For more information on the Pater and Zawodny families, continue to read this blog or click on the surnames in the side bar!

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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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Surname – PATER

Meaning/Origin – The name PATER comes from the Latin pater, meaning “father”.  In English, it is pronounced PAY-ter or PAH-ter.  Hear it pronounced by a Polish speaker here.

Countries of Origin – The surname Pater can be found in several countries.  According to the World Names Profiler, the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are the Netherlands, with 176, and Poland with 115.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Luxembourg (43), France (8), Belgium (7), Canada (6), United States (6), and Germany (5).  Although Great Britain is not currently listed with a high frequency, in past centuries Pater was also considered to be a British name.

Spelling Variations - The spelling does not vary in the Netherlands, but in Poland you will find a few variations, including Patera, Paterak, Paterała, Paterek, Paterkiewicz, and Paterski. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the PATER surname in the Netherlands and Poland.  According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/pater.html, there are about 1,500 people with the surname in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in Pennsylvania.

Distribution of the surname Pater in the Netherlands.

Distribution of the surname Pater in the Netherlands.

SOURCE: familienaam.nl database, http://www.familienaam.nl/, accessed October 10, 2009.

Distribution of the Pater surname in Poland.

Distribution of the Pater surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/pater.html, accessed October 10, 2009.

Famous Individuals with the SurnameWalter Horatio Pater (4 August 1839 – 30 July 1894) was an English writer and art critic (see some of his works here at Project Gutenberg).  Jean-Baptiste Pater (29 December 1695 – 25 July 1736) was a French painter.

My Family – My Pater family comes from Poland.  My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Hilary Pater, born between 1800-1814 in Poland.  My line of descent is as follows: Jan (b. 1834, Kamieńskie Budy) > Jozef Pater (b. 21 Sep 1864, Ruda Guzowska, which later became Żyrardów) > Ludwik (Louis) (b. 24 Aug 1893, Żyrardów) > Henry (b. 25 Mar 1912, Philadelphia).  Jozef and his family immigrated to the U.S. (Philadelphia, PA) from 1905 to 1907.

A female Pater (daughter of Jozef) may have settled in New Jersey or New York with her husband and family.  The family is rumored to have cousins in Chicago as well (possibly owners of a movie theater in the 1940’s).

Based on information in the IGI, my great-grandfather’s cousins remained in Żyrardów – Jozef (son of Marcin, brother of my Jozef) died in 1942 at the age of 45, and his son Bronislaw died in 1943 at the age of 22.  I can only assume they died as a result of the war, but more research is needed about their lives and deaths.

My Research Challenges – I need to find evidence of Hilary’s birth, marriage, and death in Polish records.  He was named on his son’s marriage record, but I have not yet located his own records.  I would like to trace the name as far back as possible to determine if the family immigrated to Poland from somewhere else.  In addition, I would like to track down the descendants of my grandfather’s (Henry’s) brothers, Walter Pater and Eugene Pater (Walter used the alias Walter Miller) and fill in some missing information about my great-grandfather’s sisters and their families.

Other Pater Families – The Family Organisation Pater in the Netherlands is led by Bram Pater.  They have researched over 30,000 names in seven different Pater lines – including some in Poland (though not my own branch).  If you can read Dutch, check it out!

Surname Message Boards – There is a rather inactive message board on Ancestry here.

Miscellaneous - The American Soundex code for Pater is P360 and the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex Code is 739000.  There are 386 individuals in the U.S. Social Security Death Index with the surname Pater (four are related to me – Elizabeth, Henry, Mae, and Eugene).

Links to other posts about my Pater family can be found here. I also have a Pater Family page with photos and more information on my particular Pater line.

This post is #1 of an ongoing series about surnames.

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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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Joan Pater, 1932

Joan Pater, 1932

Joan Delores Pater was born on August 30, 1932 in Philadelphia, PA.  She was the first born child of Henry and Mae Pater.  Their family was made complete three years later with the birth of a second daughter, Anita Jane, who was born in 1935. Despite their closeness in age, the two sisters did not get along from the time they were children.  Each had different interests and hobbies from their youth through to adulthood.  Both, however, had a great sense of humor!  For several years, the Pater girls and their parents lived on Mercer Street with their maternal grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, until his death in 1944.

Joan's wedding portrait, 1949

Joan's wedding portrait, 1949

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan & Richard

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan & Richard

In 1949, Joan married at age 17 – the third generation of Pater’s to do so.  Both her father, Henry, and her grandfather, Louis, were 17 when they got married – both to slightly older women.  She married a boy from the neighborhood, Richard.  Although they were happy while dating, marriage was not what she expected.  Her husband’s personality seemed to change overnight, and he became verbally and physically abusive.  Despite these difficulties, the couple had a son, Richard, on August 22, 1951.

Ricky

My cousin Ricky

Baby Ricky became the joy of their lives, but he also brought great sadness.  Ricky was born with a heart defect, and he never properly matured or learn to talk or walk.  He was a happy baby, and he loved to flirt with ladies!  His short life ended on December 9, 1952.  He was only fifteen months old.  His entire family was devastated by the death — his mother Joan most of all.  After that experience, she knew that she did not want to have any more children because the pain of losing one was too great. Joan and Richard remained married, but their son’s death added to their marital problems.  The couple split up about five years later.

Joan began to work as a secretary at Anheuser-Busch in Philadelphia – much to her family’s amusement for she lacked the two skills essential for secretarial work, stenography and typing.  Joan simply made up her own style of shorthand, and she must have learned how to type because she remained with the company for several years!

Aunt Joan holding Donna Joan (that's me), April 1967

Aunt Joan holding Donna Joan (that's me), April 1967

Joan’s sister, Anita, married in 1956 and had two children, Drew in 1959 and myself in 1967.  We gave Joan a new job: Aunt Joan.  She relished the role of aunt; we became “her kids”.  When Drew was very young, Joan lived with the family for about two years.  Even after moving, she visited on weekends to “play”. When I was in kindergarten, Aunt Joan accompanied my mother as chaperones on a field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo.  One day several weeks after the trip, she came with my mother to pick me up from school.  One of my classmates who had been in our group on the field trip recognized her.  The girl shouted loudly, “I know you - you’re from the zoo!”

Another memorable recognition, or more appropriate, a mis-recognition, occurred years later.  In 1978, my mother had surgery.  Aunt Joan went with my brother and I to pick her up from the hospital.  As we all stood with my mother waiting for her discharge, a nurse brought over a wheelchair.  Wheeling past my mother directly to Aunt Joan, the nurse asked her to get in.  “It’s not for me! How bad do I look?” she yelled as we all laughed.

Joan and Ken Silvers, 1993

Joan and Ken Silvers, 1993

In 1978, Aunt Joan became re-acquainted with someone she knew from the neighborhood where she lived as a teenager – Ken Silvers.  Ken had also been married and divorced, and he had two preteen daughters.  Joan and Ken fell in love, and this time the marriage was forever. Ken was a former Navy submariner who had served on the USS Tusk. That experience, as well as time spent as a commercial tugboat captain, gave him a love for boating that he passed on to Joan.  For many years, they belonged to the Wissinoming Yacht Club in Philadelphia.  Despite the name, there was nary a yacht among the members’ boats, which were mainly powerboats, sailboats, or cruisers – which is what my new Uncle Ken owned.  On their small boat, Uncle Ken’s seat was labeled as “the Captain’s Chair” – but Aunt Joan’s was labeled as “the Admiral’s Chair”!

Ken served as “Commodore” of their yacht club for some years, and he occasionally wore a “Captain’s” hat.  Once, around 1978-79, the pair took the boat down to Atlantic City for the weekend.  While at a bar at one of the brand new casinos, they couldn’t believe how nice the bartender was and how they kept getting free drinks.  Later that night, they realized why – Captain & Tennille” were playing at the casino!  While my aunt & uncle did not necessarily resemble the singing duo, a huge hit at the time, my uncle’s mustache and captain’s hat were enough to confuse the bartender!

Aunt Joan and Aunt Donna on "the boat" with Natalie, 2001

Aunt Joan and Aunt Donna on "the boat" with Natalie, 2001

As I grew up, I tried to visit Aunt Joan when I could.  At a minimum, visits would take place for birthdays and other holidays.  My favorite visits were during the summertime when I would not visit their house, but the boat instead.  Occasionally, my uncle would take us for a ride on the Delaware River.  Other times, we’d simply sit on the boat at the dock.  We’d always have food – with my aunt trying to get me to eat as much of it as possible.  This became a much-loved ritual.  Often, Uncle Ken would grill lobster tails on a little propane grill.  Alternately, we’d have steamed crabs or even steak.  As we enjoyed the food, Uncle Ken would smile, wink, and remark, “What are the poor people eating tonight?”  It became our signature comment every time we feasted on the boat.

In 2004, I visited on August 29th to celebrate Aunt Joan’s 72nd birthday, which was the next day.  It was a great visit!  The weather was beautiful – sunny, but not hot, with a cool breeze.  We took the boat out for a short ride on the river, then returned to the dock for a meal of crabs and beer.  And birthday cake!  It was relaxing and fun, and I remember talking with my aunt about how good she looked for her age.  She commented on how good she felt.  Looking back, I wish I had stayed just a little longer to visit.  My last memory of my aunt is her waving good-bye from the dock as I drove away.  She died suddenly six days later from a heart attack.

I realize now that there are a lot of things I never got to know about my aunt’s life.  But, after her death, I realized one thing for sure – I was loved – truly, deeply, unconditionally.  I didn’t always give her the respect or love I should have, but I loved her – just probably not as much as she loved me.  Since I am also an aunt without any children of my own, I now understand her in a completely different way.  I hope that my nieces and nephews will know how much I love them like the way I know Aunt Joan loved us all.  I miss you, Aunt Joan!

frame2In Loving Memory

Joan Delores Pater Silvers

30 Aug 1932 – 04 Sep 2004

[Written for the 68th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to Women]

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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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Since today is “Labor Day” in the United States, I wanted to take a look at my ancestors’ occupations.  Some of the jobs are still performed in much the same way today as they were in my ancestors’ times.  My grandfather James Pointkouski (1910-1980) was born in the right century to be a truck driver, and the medium-size delivery trucks he drove are quite similar to those used by his fellow Teamsters today.  My great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927) was a baker, an occupation that has changed very little over centuries – in fact, today his cousins are still making wonderful things in the same bakery his uncle founded in 1868.  My carpenter ancestors, 4th great-grandfather Karl Nigg (1767-1844) and 5th great-grandfather Johann Baptiste Höck (1700’s), would be in as much demand today as they were back then.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a good carpenter these days?  Similarly, Karl’s father and grandfather, Phillip Nigg ( ?-1774) and Martin Nigg (or Nick), were masons – bricklayers.  The construction business will always be in demand!

But many other jobs of my ancestors no longer exist in the same way. Some of the factory jobs of my 20th Century ancestors, such as the Pater family who all worked in clothing factories as weavers, still exist – but you won’t find the industry as prevalent in the United States as it was when they were working.  Many of the other occupations of my ancestors have become outdated with modern times. For example, one of my 5th great-grandfathers, Franciszek Świerczyński of Mszczonów, Poland, was a carriage-maker in the 1800’s.  Since carriages have been replaced by cars, I imagine that he’d be in another line of work today.

I have shoemakers on both sides of my family.  My 4th great-grandfather, Ignacy Pluta (1821-?) from Mszczonów, Poland (he married the daughter of the carriage-maker), was one as was his father, Ludwik Pluta.  In Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, I have traced over six generations of shoemakers from my Echerer line.  The first Echerer son to be something other than a shoemaker was Karl (1846-1880s), who took up the occupation of his mason great-grandfather instead.  While we still need shoes today, their construction has changed.  Some shoes today are still hand-crafted with leather, probably using the same methods my ancestors used.  Most shoes are mass-produced, and it would be hard to make a living as a shoemaker today unless you were a factory worker.

The more you research your genealogy and the farther back you go, the more interesting occupations you’ll find.  Some will be “modern”, like my innkeeper ancestor.  Others, like the glassmaker, still exist but today the job is more of a “craftsman” trade or art that is more specialized.  Again, modern machinery makes many of the things our ancestors once made by hand.

One of the more unique occupations in my family history is that of my 3rd great-grandfather, Franz Xaver Fischer (1813-?) from Agelsberg in Bavaria.  He was listed as a söldner, which translates as mercenary.  Mercenary?  I was intrigued and pictured a soldier of fortune, hired out to neighboring countries.  Until I learned the Bavarian meaning of the word… A sölde is a small house with a garden.  For tax purposes, there were different designations for farmers.  A bauer owned a whole farm, a Halbbauer owned half, and a Viertelbauer owned a quarter.  Then there was the söldner, who owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  My mercenary was a poor farmer!  Well, not too poor – there was a further designation called häusler - they owned a house, but not the land.

Let’s salute all of our hard-working ancestors today.  I wonder what they’d think about some of today’s job titles.  “A program manager?  What the heck is that?”

Research tip: Translate your ancestors’ unusual occupations with these helpful sites:

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Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

One unusual record source for those with Polish ancestry is Haller’s Army records.  What was Haller’s Army?  During World War I, Poland did not exist on any “official” map of the world.  General Jozef Haller formed a regiment of Poles in France to join the fight in the name of their homeland, with the ultimate goal of Polish independence.  They were also known as the Blue Army because of the color of their uniforms.

Many people have never heard of Haller’s Army or of their contributions during “the Great War”.  Because it isn’t well known, many Americans of Polish descent may be very surprised to find out that their ancestors, who had already immigrated to the U.S. prior to 1917, volunteered to fight for the Polish Army in France under Haller.  It is estimated that nearly 25,000 Polish men, immigrants to the U.S. and Canada, volunteered and fought in France.  Most were recent immigrants who had not yet become American or Canadian citizens.  Despite immigrating to a new country, these young men were fiercely proud of their homeland.  They willing volunteered to fight for Poland’s democracy and independence.  Because of the Partitions of Poland, none had grown up in a free Poland, and Haller’s Army was the first free Polish Army since Napoleon’s time.  At the war’s end on November 11, 1918, when Poland officially regained its independence, Haller’s Army continued the fight in the Polish-Soviet War until 1921.

Did Your Ancestor Volunteer?

The Polish Genealogical Society of America holds the recruitment records, and while the records themselves are not available online, the index is searchable by surname at the PGSA site.  If you find a match, the records can be obtained through PGSA by mail for a minimal donation – see complete information on how to order copies at http://www.pgsa.org/hallerreqform.htm.

I’ve referred to this as an index of those that volunteered for Haller’s Army, but if you find your relative’s name it does not necessarily mean they served.  A search for the surname “Pater” found several matches, but I was surprised to find “Ludwik Pater” from Philadelphia.  Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis, my great-grandfather.  I ordered a copy to see what I could learn.  The form is in Polish, as are the applicant’s responses, but the volunteer who looked up the record also provided a translation for most of the entries.  An online copy of the form is available in English here.  For the responses, a Polish-English dictionary will help.

The record provides a wealth of genealogical information including date and place of birth, address, marital status and number of children, name and address of nearest relative in both America and Poland, and a full physical description.  The U.S. WWI Draft records are similar and from the same time period, but the form for Haller’s Army is more detailed regarding relatives both at home and in Poland as well as the physical description, which includes not just the eye and hair color, but also height, weight and other features such as teeth, chin, and “distinguishing marks”.

Another feature of the Haller’s Army recruitment papers is some very detailed questions that could offer clues for searching other records.  The form asks:

  • Are you a citizen of the United States of America (second papers)?
  • Did you serve in the Army?  Type of arms?  How long?  Rank upon discharge?
  • What Polish organizations in America do you belong to?
  • If you belong to the Falcons, for how long…and do you hold any office?

Responses to these questions could lead you to naturalization, military, or fraternal organization records.  [Note: The Falcons were established in Chicago in 1887 as an immigrant aid society concerned with physical education, Polish culture and heritage, and gaining Polish independence.  The organization still exists today.]

My great-grandfather filled out his registration card for the U.S. Draft on June 5, 1917.  At the time, he was 23 years old with a wife and 3 young children.  On November 12, 1917, he volunteered for Haller’s Army.  I had never heard about military service during a war by any member of the family, so I assumed he wasn’t accepted because he had a family to support (which is why he was not drafted by the U.S.).  As I researched this article and found the English translation of the form, I learned, with some surprise, that he was sent to the training camp in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on November 18, 1917 – less than a week after he volunteered.  But the information provided by the PGSA didn’t indicate an actual record of service in the Army, so what happened?

I’m not sure, and I’m rather puzzled to finally notice that he went to training camp!  I will have to investigate this further.  I do know that he was home in Philadelphia by May, 1918 because his fourth son, Victor Pater, was born the following January.  If he did make it through the training camp successfully, he could not have served in the Army long enough to make the journey to France to fight.

It does speak volumes about the Polish character if young men like my great-grandfather were willing to fight for their homeland – even though they no longer lived there.  My great-grandfather immigrated at the age of 14 and had lived here ten years by the time he volunteered, but he felt strongly enough about the cause for Polish independence to fight in a foreign land.

If you have Polish ancestry, it’s worth typing your surname into PGSA’s index search to discover if your ancestor played a role in Haller’s Army.  The Haller’s Army website best describes these Polish immigrants, recent arrivals to a new country but with a deep love for the old country.  The site proclaims: “They fought for their family. They fought for their ancestors. They fought for their freedom. Most of all they fought for their homeland – Poland.”

[Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image: Polish_Army_in_France_WWI_recruitment_poster.jpg]

For more information on Haller’s Army:

[Posted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: research experiences and techniques.]

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Courtesy of footnoteMaven.com!

Courtesy of footnoteMaven.com!

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.” ~ Mark Twain

The 52nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy focuses on the topic of “age”:
Take some time to look over the data that you have collected on members of your family tree, and share a story of age with us … With the understanding that “age is often a state of mind”, share your family story about someone whose story stands out because of their age, either young or old.

I am one of those people that will read an obituary for any centenarian.  I am amazed by their lives, simply because of their sheer length and how much they saw the world change during that time.  Some graduated from high school and college before my parents were born, and many spent my entire lifetime as a widow or widower.  Their lives fascinate me, and I really wish I was related to one of these long-living people because it would make a great story.  My friend’s grandmother lived to 101!  But, as you will see in my musings on age, none of my ancestors have made it that long (yet).  I have no ancestors who climbed Mt. Everest or graduated from Harvard at advanced ages, nor do we have any child prodigies either…yet.  But, hopefully I’ve found just a few fascinating “age” facts among my seemingly boring ancestors that make them “stand out” in the crowd.

Who Lived the Longest?

My Ancestor Who Lived the Longest is my grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski.  She died at the age of 84 years 9 months, beating my other grandmother by six years.  My grandfathers died young by comparison at 69 and 60 years old.  I do not have all of the exact dates for my entire family tree, but I was surprised to discover that of all those “greats”, none lived as long as Margaret (even though some came close).

Margaret’s older sister, Marie, wins the distinction of being my Collateral Relative Who Lived the Longest.  She died in 1990 a few weeks past her 92nd birthday.  She will not hold the title for much longer though, because my Oldest Living Collateral Relative is “Aunt Dot”, my other grandmother’s younger sister, who is currently 92 years, 6 months, and counting!

While these older relatives all lived in the 20th Century, I was surprised to discover that some of the ancestors further back in my family tree actually lived much longer than some of my other “modern” ancestors.  For example, my grandmother Margaret far outlived her own parents.  Her father Joseph Bergmeister died at the age of 54, and her mother Marie Echerer was only 43.  Yet each of her parents had ancestors who survived to what I thought were very old ages for the times.  Even though her father Joseph lived longer than his own father by more than ten years, his great-grandparents lived to the ages of 77 and 75 in the mid-1800s.  His wife Marie’s great-grandfather also lived to 77 around the same time.

Variable Marriage Ages

My research has shown that marriage customs vary from country to country.  In Bavaria, the groom was usually in his mid-to-late 30s – or even his early 40s – while the bride was usually in her 20s.  I think this was mostly due to the long period of training for craftsmen to become a full member of a guild, which would then give them the economic capability to support a family.  In fact, the guild required that a newly professed member become married shortly after being accepted into the guild or they were disqualified.  Many young women died in childbirth, so the widower would seek to marry another young woman – in some cases, this further increased the age discrepancy.  If the woman was strong and survived many pregnancies, sometimes the men would die in their 50s or 60s – leaving a widow with many small mouths to feed.  Further research will tell me if these ages were common only to craftsmen – my assumption is that farmers married much younger than their 30s!

In Poland, the marriage custom was very different.  My research has shown that most couples married when they were in their early 20s, or even at 18 or 19.  The Ancestor Who Married at the Youngest Age is my Polish great-grandfather, Louis Pater, who married his almost 19-year-old bride the day after his 17th birthday (here in the U.S.).

Your Mamma was So Old…

While the media might make you believe that “older” mothers, meaning women over 40, are “new” to the modern age, this isn’t quite true.  My “Oldest Mother” Ancestor is my great-grandmother, Rozalia Kizoweter Piontkowska, who delivered my grandfather in 1910 just weeks before her 44th birthday!

But I have some even crazier mammas in my family tree… Jakob Bergmeister married Anna Daniel in 1835 when they were 30 and 23 – young by Bavarian marriage standards.  They proceeded to have 15 children in 19 years – Anna was 24 at the birth of her first child and 43 at the birth of her last!  Infant mortality was very high though – at least 7 died as infants.  Of the rest, the fate of 5 are not certain, but 3 others lived to adulthood.  As for the parents, Jakob died at the age of 65 in 1870.  Anna died one year later at the age of 58 (probably from exhaustion!).

Maybe Jakob was trying to model his prolific marriage on that of his own parents, Joseph Bergmeister and Kreszens Zinsmeister.  When they married in 1800, Joseph was 37 and Kreszens was considerably younger at 23.  They started having children right away.  In the end, they had 12 children in 16 years, with Kreszens 23 years old for the first and 39 for the last.  Of these children, I can not yet account for the fate of 8, but there are 2 confirmed infant deaths and at least 2 who lived to enjoy adulthood.

Age is Mostly a State of Mind

I don’t know much else about her other than “vital statistic” dates and a few other facts, but based on numbers alone I’d have to award my 3rd great-grandmother, Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta, the Most Amazing Feat for an Older Woman award.  At the “young” age of 69, she boarded a passenger ship to travel from Poland to the United States, alone.  According to the passenger arrival record, she was 4’10” and limping, but she made the journey!  She spent those last years in the U.S. living with her daughter’s family, and she died at the age of 73 in 1914.

So there you have it – just a few “facts of age” from Donna’s family tree.  While I don’t have any centenarians, you really can’t say “never” when it comes to genealogy.  Who knows what I’ll discover next as I record and transcribe dates?  And who knows how long the current generation will live?  We might just have a centenarian in the family yet!

[Written for the 52nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Age]

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