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Archive for the ‘Zawodny’ Category

Ever since my first transatlantic trip in 1985, I’ve been stricken with the travel bug. There is no cure. Symptoms include a desire to wander to far-away places, hopeless daydreaming, and a joy brought on by traipsing on planes and trains. I did not think my condition was genetic as no one else in my immediate family seems to have this disease. But then I realized that about a hundred years ago, my ancestors had the ultimate travel experience. It was no Grand Tour though… It certainly wasn’t a vacation to travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a brand new life. In most cases, they never returned to their homeland again or saw the family that stayed behind.

836571. New York Public Library

While the immigrant experience in itself is quite inspiring no matter who made the journey, I am especially fascinated by my female ancestors and relatives that made this trip-of-a-lifetime. In every instance they either traveled alone or with small children to meet their husbands or other family members who were already in the United States. I can only imagine what this experience was like.

First, the hard decision was made to pack up, leave their homes behind, and travel to a foreign land – not just temporarily, but most likely forever. I stressed over moving ten miles away from my childhood home! What were the conditions like in Germany or Poland/Russia that inspired these women to leave? Was the economy bad? Little or no chance of employment? What did they hear about America that made it seem better? How long did it take to afford the move across the pond?

The next difficult part of the journey was the separation that couples endured. If you were married, usually the husband made the journey first. Presumably it was necessary for the man to find housing and employment, and then save money to send for the rest of the family’s trip.

When it came time for the women to travel, the first part of the journey involved getting to the port. In my family, several ports were used including Hamburg and Bremen in Germany, Southampton and Liverpool in England, and Antwerp in Belgium. I don’t have any first-hand accounts of their lives or of their journeys to America, but I know that travel back then was not as quick and easy as it is today (TSA rules and flight delays notwithstanding, travel really is “easy” today by comparison). So it’s my guess that even this land-based part of the trip may have been complicated. Fortunately, the railways in Europe were probably as good as they are today. But, life was different. No one had cell phones to keep in touch up to the minute. There were no baby carriages, so toddlers walked and babies were carried. My guess is that the majority of immigrants came with one suitcase at most – travelers today probably take more for an overnight trip then our ancestors carried for the trip of their lives.

The time at sea wasn’t exactly a cruise ship experience! The vast majority of immigrants, including every one of my ancestors, came over in third class steerage on steamships. If the weather was good, folks could go up on deck to pass the time. The journey, at least during the years that my ancestors traveled, took about two weeks. After arriving through Ellis Island, not everyone was reunited with their families immediately. Today we complain about security or passport lines and slow baggage retrieval. Back then, the immigrants stood in line for processing. During the peak years that my ancestors came to the US, a busy port like New York at Ellis Island processed up to 5,000 immigrants a day! In addition to the processing time, occasionally immigrants were detained. If someone looked ill, they were kept for further examination. In some cases, the unlucky person or family was deported. Can you imagine finally arriving and you still can’t see your family? Or worse still, being told you can not enter the country?

Although these ladies weren’t travelers in the “pleasure travel” or vacation sense of the word, I find their stories to be amazing…even if they settled down in the US and never traveled more than ten miles for the rest of their lives. Here are some brief portraits of the courageous women travelers in my family:

1888 – Hilaire Bergmeister
Hilaire, my great-great-aunt, is my “premiere” female traveler both in terms of being the first as well as the gutsiest! She traveled to the US on the SS Friesland alone at the age of 23. She had no family here. That alone makes her journey truly impressive to me. I’ll write more about Hilaire and her life later this week for the next Carnival of Genealogy.

Marie Bergmeister

Marie Bergmeister, Munich, Germany, circa 1890-1900

1901 – Marie Bergmeister (nee Echerer)

My great-grandmother Marie is Hillaire’s sister-in-law, but they probably had never met until both were here in the US. Marie traveled from 13-27 June on the SS Kensington via Antwerp, which is 460 miles from her home in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Germany. Marie was 26 when she made the journey with her 3-year-old daughter, Marie. They had not seen their husband and father, Joseph, for just over one year.

1903 – Wacława Zawodna (nee Slesinska)
My great-grandmother Wacława is my only ancestor to travel through the port of Philadelphia instead of Ellis Island. She sailed from Liverpool on the SS Westernland for two weeks in July. Just getting from Dobrosołowo, Poland to Liverpool was an amazing 1,100-mile trip! She was only 18 years old and traveled to meet her husband, Jozef Zawodny. He had been in the US for over a year, but the young couple had only just married weeks before he left Poland. One can imagine how anxious she was to see her new husband after such a long separation. Wacława would never see her parents again – parents who were quite unhappy with her marriage and apparently refused to communicate with her even by mail. She was the oldest daughter, and she would not see her four younger sisters for many years. In fact, when she left Poland, her youngest sister was only 2 years old!

1906 – Rosalia Piontkowska (nee Kizoweter)
Great-grandmother Rosalia gets extra credit in the “gutsy” category for traveling with her 3-year-old son, Jozef, and her 1-year-old daughter, Janina, on the SS Armenia from Hamburg to New York, arriving on 10 November. She wasn’t a young mother either at age 41, and she hadn’t seen her husband Jan for over six months. I have no photos of Rosalia, but her passenger list record describes her as 5’3″ with brown hair and blue eyes. I try to picture her juggling Janina and a suitcase while trying to hold on to her toddler at the same time! If that weren’t brave enough, the journey from Warsaw, Poland to Hamburg, Germany was about 540 miles!

1906 – Antonina Pater (nee Pluta)
The Pater family arrived in the US in stages. My 2nd great-grandmother Antonina, age 42, and two of her daughters, 18-year-old Regina and 2-year-old Victoria, arrived second, which was nearly 18 months after their husband and father Jozef settled here. She would have to wait nearly a year to see another daughter and three young sons, and it would be nearly three years before she would see her mother again. Antonina and her daughters traveled on the SS Blücher from Hamburg, about 520 miles from her home in Żyrardów. I have no photos of her or these daughters, but the passenger list offers descriptions. Antonina was 5’2 3/8″, she had a sallow complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and a wrinkled forehead (as any mother separated from her children would have!). Regina was 5’3 1/2″, fair, with blond hair, gray eyes, and a round face, and little Victoria had her big sister’s coloring.

Frances Pater and Paul Nieginski

Frances and Paul Nieginski, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1940s

1907 – Franciszka Nieginski (nee Pater)

My great-great-aunt Franciszka (Frances) and her husband Pawel (Paul) were responsible for bringing my great-grandfather and his brothers to the US since their parents were already here. They traveled on the SS Grosser Kurfurst in August. Franciszka was only 20 herself, and she brought 17-year-old Wacław, 14-year-old Ludwik, and 12-year-old Stefan with her since they would not be allowed entry alone. Because Wacław suffered from some sort of illness (short left leg and a deformed chest according to the passenger list), the entire group was detained for two days for further examination, which must have been quite stressful to all.

1909 – Elizabeth Miller
My great-grandmother, known in her native language as Elżbieta Müller, was 18 when she made the long journey from Żyrardów, Poland, to New York on the SS President Grant. Not yet married, she traveled alone and met her brother, Emil. My only photo of her much older, but I’ve heard she was quite attractive in her youth. The list describes her as 4’11” with a fair complexion, light brown hair, and gray eyes. She would marry a slightly younger man, Ludwik (Louis) Pater, a little more than a year later. Both were from Zyrardow, but he came to the US almost two years before her trip.

1909 – Franciszka Pluta (nee Wojciechowska)
How I wish I had a photo of Franciszka! She is my 3rd great-grandmother, and the oldest ancestor to have made the journey to America at age 69. And she traveled alone! She is the mother of Antonina Pater, and she joins her daughter’s family after a 2-day wait in detention for a medical exam. They determined she was an “LPC” or Likely Public Charge, probably because of her age and/or health. The list describes her as 4’10”, limping, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a dark complexion. What an amazing journey for a woman her age! She lived with her daughter’s family until her death in April 1914.

Slesinski Sisters

Clockwise from top left: Jozefa/Josephine, Wacława/Laura, Marianna/Mary, Zofia/Sophie, and Janina/Jane, McKeesport, PA, circa late 1920s

1920 – The Slesinski Sisters

As mentioned above, Wacława Zawodna (nee Slesinska) had four sisters that came to the US. I haven’t yet located the arrival of Jozefa, but Marianna, Janina, and Zofia all arrived together on the SS Adriatic from Southampton in October 1920. The sisters were 24, 22, and 19 years old, and their parents had died the year before – within two days of each other on 30 December 1918 and 01 January 1919. They are coming to join their sister Jozefa and her husband in McKeesport, PA. Although they pass by big sister Wacława, who had been here for 17 years by then, the five later reconnected since I have photos of the group together.


So there you have it…some courageous travels of some amazing women. I remember the first thrill of traveling alone, the fear at being in a place where no one spoke my language, and the joyful excitement of setting off on a journey to a new place. The trip that these women made wasn’t for vacation, but was it thrilling, fearful, and joyous all at the same time? I’d like to think so, and I’d like to thank them for their inspiring courage to make that trip and begin a new life here in America.

For more information on the immigrant experience, see the following sites:

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When I first got started in genealogy, I thought the Soundex was an amazing thing. It helped me find many incorrectly written names, often simply mis-pronounced by the foreign speaker or mis-understood by the American census taker. But, the Soundex only gets you so far…some errors are just too much to overcome. For example, the Soundex assumes that the first letter of the surname is correct, but what if it’s not? Thanks to computers and indexing, finding someone on the census is a lot easier than it used to be.

Zawodny Census Names

An example of a family that was hard to locate in the census is my Zawodny ancestors. As Polish surnames go, the name of Zawodny isn’t all that hard or unreasonable! But if you try to find them in census records, good luck. You’ll find three different names! The family first arrived in 1902, so the first census year is 1910. This is how the family’s entry compares for 1910, 1920, and 1930:

1910 – Savonia, Joseph, age 28. Wife Mary, age 20.

1920 – Cawodny, Joseph, age 39. Wife Laura, age 36.

1930 – Zavodny, Joseph, age 50. “Sister” Laura, age 44.

As you can see, only the 1930 surname would have been found using a Soundex search. The wife’s name changes, most likely because her Polish first name Wacława doesn’t really translate into an English name, at least not the same way that Jozef becomes Joseph.

Another favorite family in census records is my Piontkowski ancestors. While the 1920 entry of “Pontdowke” and 1930’s “Peontkowski” show up in the Soundex, the family’s whereabouts in 1910 had me stumped. Finally, I found them – listed under “Kilkuskie”.  Not really an intuitive search, but the first names, ages, neighborhood, and other information all matched. The best part about their entries are the ages – while the husband’s age is or at least close to what it actually was for those census years, or ages 39-49-59, the wife seems to grow younger each decade. Perhaps it was unfashionable back then for a wife to be five years older than her husband, but her ages show up as 37-52-54 while her actual age was 44-54-64!

So, how do you find someone when the surname isn’t right and Soundex searches fail you? The old standby prior to computers was to search for the known address. In the case of these two families, they each had a different address for each census year. If a family moved frequently, even though they stayed in the same neighborhood, they’ll be difficult to find unless you know through some other means, such as a city directory, what their actual address was during the census year.

One method that I used to find these records when “last name” searches failed was to search with a combination of the first name, approximate age, and country of birth. It helps if you know at least the county or city where the family lived, because you may get over a hundred men named “Joseph” born in “Poland” or “Russia” around 1879. But, by carefully checking the other family members, you will find the family if they are there. You can also combine a search using these elements with a spouse’s first name, or a parent’s first name if you are searching for a child. Try using Steve Morse’s searches if other search sites have you stumped.

This post is an excerpt from a future article on Searching US Census Records.

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The 41st Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why? Since I have four grandparents, it’s only fair to invite one ancestor from each “side”. It would be nice to see all of my grandparents again, but since I had the opportunity to know them all to some degree, I wanted to choose other ancestors. The setting will be at my house, and my boyfriend will be in the kitchen making the meal. He’s a fantastic cook and he’d probably rather hide in the kitchen than meet any more of my relatives. He always makes a wonderful menu, and for this occasion we’d have foods from various nationalities to make everyone feel at home, including a pork dish for the Germans and pierogi for the Poles. But, he’ll also throw in some Italian food to liven things up. There will definitely be wine…several bottles of it! And most importantly, a camera! Although I can only invite four deceased ancestors, the carnival rules didn’t say anything about other living relatives allowed to attend, so I’m sure that my parents, aunt, brother, and other relatives might want to meet these particular guests of honor.

At the head of the table will be my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny (1879-1944). He was the first person I thought of without question simply because there are so many mysteries surrounding this family. Even though we all love a good mystery, it’s about time we learned the truth! As we pass the food around the table, the first question posed to Joe is: Are you really Joseph Zawodny? The short version of this particular legend is that after my great-grandfather’s death a man came to the house claiming to be the “real” Joseph Zawodny. The stranger said, “He used my name to get into the country – he’s really Joseph Mueller.” I’d dismiss the story outright if my mother wasn’t there. Though still a child, she was old enough to remember the event. I’ve found records that appear to prove he was exactly who he said he was, but…what if he was someone else? There are some other interesting questions for Joe while we have the time. Did your wife’s parents really disown her for marrying you? Why? What exactly happened that caused her to be committed to a hospital as a schizophrenic? And what happened to your brother Stefan who seems to disappear shortly after his arrival in the US?

I could pester Joe with questions all night about his family and where he came from in Poland. But let’s not ignore our other guests around the table! From my Piontkowski side, I chose the “Mrs”, Rose Piontkowski (1866-1937). Rose is my great-grandmother, but I have no photos of her and I know practically nothing about her. Because of his, she seemed like an interesting candidate to attend our dinner party. I’m intrigued by her for several reasons. Her maiden name, which I’ve yet to verify through a birth or marriage record, appears to be some variation of Kiesewetter or Kisoweter. She was born in Warsaw, but the surname sounds German, not Polish. So, tell me about yourself, Rose! Was Grandpop a “surprise” to you and John back in 1910 when you were both in your 40s? Where did your daughter disappear to and whom did she marry?

Next around the table is one of my other great-grandmothers, Elizabeth Pater (1891-1972), who was born Elżbieta Müller (or Miller). I actually met her! But, she died when I was five so I have no memory of her. I want to meet her because my mother says I have her eyes…and because I can’t figure out what town she was actually born in even though some records say she was born in Żyrardów. So, Liz, was your family really from Bohemia originally? Why did they go to Poland? You were in the US for less than a year when you married Louis, who had been here for three years…what’s up with that, Liz? You were both from the same town – did you promise to marry as young teenagers? Did you have any other siblings here besides your brother Emil? When he went back to Poland in 1910 with your nieces, what became of them? Tell me about your mother-in-law since you’re my only great-grandmother who didn’t have an ocean between the two of you!

My Bergmeister-Echerer ancestors from Bavaria are the only ones not yet represented. As much as I’d love to meet one of my great-grandparents, I decided to reach farther back. Way back…I’ve researched back to the 1600s with the Echerer family and they are still located in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm as shoemakers. But for this event I’ve chosen my 4th great-grandfather, Karl Nigg (also Karl Nick, 1767-1844), whose daughter married one of those Echerer shoemakers in 1844 just months before his own death. Karl was the stadtzimmermeister (Town Master Carpenter) of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm around 1800, roughly two hundred years ago. He was also the son of the stadtmaurermeister, or Town Master Mason, Phillip Nigg (or Phillip Nick). I’m fascinated by what life was like in the town back then. So, Karl, how’s work as a carpenter? Tell me what happened when Napoleon’s troops came around near Pfaffenhofen. When Napoleon declared that all monasteries had to be “secularized”, you went to Scheyern Abbey to literally measure the church to determine its worth for the state – was that problematic for you, or was it simply part of your job? Why did you decide to become a carpenter like your father-in-law instead of a mason like your father and grandfather? What was it like having eleven children? I think Karl would be fascinated by the 21st century, even more so than the other guests who were born in the late 1800s. There would be a language barrier since he probably spoke only German, but we have a translator already present – Joe Zawodny spoke German!

All in all, I think there would be some VERY interesting conversation around the table! But, you know how family gatherings go…Isn’t it always the same with these family dinners? After a couple of hours I’d have a hard time keeping Joe away from the wine, keeping Rose out of the kitchen where she’d show the cook how gołąbki should really be made, keeping Liz away from my boyfriend, and keeping Karl from demolishing and re-building my poorly-constructed house. Okay, folks, it’s time for you to go home!

[Submitted for the 41st Carnival of Genealogy: Dinner with 4 Ancestors]

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Joseph Zawodny, c.1914

Joseph Zawodny, c.1914

This photo of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, is one of two that I am fortunate enough to own. It’s a nice portrait, though slightly damaged – the top of his head missing was not the fault of my talent (or lack thereof) at cropping photos. But what intrigues me the most is what I don’t know – what’s the lapel pin or medal he’s wearing? I’ve tried to enlarge it, but the original photo is not high quality and attempts at enlarging just the pin haven’t made that area any clearer as you can see below. So now I’m calling on all armchair photograph detectives for help – can you solve the mystery?

Here are some facts for background information:

Subject: Joseph (Józef) Zawodny

Date: approximately 1914, based on a notation on the back of the photograph, “age 35″.

Place of Photograph: taken at “J. Peel” studios in Philadelphia. The photographer had two locations listed, but based on where the Zawodny family lived it was probably taken at the studio at 3060 Richmond Street.

Joseph was born in 1879 in Poland in a small town near Dobrosołowo, Konin. He married Waclawa Ślesinska on 28 January 1902 and left Poland two months later, arriving in New York in April, 1902. His wife would follow in 1903, and they settled in Philadelphia to raise a family. Although he was rumored to have served in the military (whether it be the German, Prussian, Russian, or Polish army), I have not found evidence of this in the marriage record. He was only 23 years old when he left Poland. However, could this be a military insignia from one of those armies? He did not serve in the US military, at least not that I have found so far. Another legend puts him in the Merchant Marines, but my grandmother was a good story-teller and enjoyed flash over fact so I’ve put little faith in that one.What is this?

Could the medal be related to some sort of Polish fraternal society?

Joseph was active in his parish, St. Adalbert’s in Philadelphia. He also had an insurance policy with the PRCUA, the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1927 and died in 1944.

If anyone has any ideas on the mystery insignia, please leave a comment!

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

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

Child’s Name

Day of Birth

Saint’s Feast Day

Ewa

24 Dec

22 Dec

Wacław

28 Sep

28 Sep

Ludwik

24 Aug

25 Aug

Stefan

02 Sep

02 Sep

Wiktoria

16 Dec

23 Dec

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

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

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

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

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