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Class of 1948, St. Peter's Grade School, Philadelphia PA

Class of 1948, St. Peter's Grade School, Philadelphia PA

This is the time of year for graduations!  My niece will graduate 8th grade this week, so in honor of the event I’ve posted this photograph of her grandfather graduating 8th grade in 1948.  James Pointkouski is in the second row from the top, first person on the left.  Also in that row at seventh from the left is Rita Bergmeister, his first cousin. Happy Graduation to all  graduates from the Class of 2009!

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Welcome to the second annual post for the Carnival of Genealogy Swimsuit Edition.  I do confess that if I had known last year that this was an annual event, I would have saved some of the great beach photos of my Dad’s family from my post Genealogy Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition.  So this year I will turn the spotlight on my mother instead.  Here is my Mom as a young teenager with a friend – both dressed in their best swimwear!

My mother and her girlfriend, circa 1950, enjoying the sun.

My mother and her girlfriend, circa 1950, enjoying the sun.

The best thing about the photo is that they are not at the beach (or, as we say in my hometown Philly-speak, down the shore), but taking advantage of a beautiful day to catch some sun anyway.

[Submitted for the 74th Carnival of Genealogy: Swimsuit Edition]

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09 March 2010 – Correction!  This couple was mis-identified.  It is not the Tiernan-Zawodny wedding.  It is the wedding of Joseph Bergmeister and Helen Pardus.  For more info on why the identification was wrong, see Why Photographs Should Come with ID Tags.

Wedding Belles

This month’s Smile for the Camera carnival theme is “Wedding Belles”!  Last June for the “Belles and Beaus” theme I submitted a family wedding photo that featured the marriage of my grandmother’s sister – and included my grandmother as the maid of honor.  For this year’s wedding theme,  I have another great wedding photo that features their sister and her husband!

John Tiernan and Helen Zawodna, 1923

John Tiernan and Helen Zawodna, 1923

Helen, the second oldest of the Zawodny children, was the first to get married in 1923.  The wedding took place in Philadelphia, PA, most likely at St. Adalbert’s Church.  Helen was 17 years old and her husband, John Tiernan, was 22.   They would only have one child together, a son they named Thomas after John’s father.  Sadly, young Tommy died as a child.

I would like to continue to post photographs of the weddings of all six children of Joseph and Laura Zawodny, but this and the previously posted photo are the only ones I have (I do not even have my own grandparents’ wedding photo).  One that I am trying to get from cousins would make an interesting companion to the above photo.  In 1934, another Tiernan-Zawodny wedding took place.  This time it was Stanley Zawodny, Helen’s younger brother, and Elizabeth Tiernan, John’s younger sister.  Stay tuned to see if I can get a copy!

[Written for the 14th Edition of Smile for the Camera: Wedding Belles]

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Photo Mystery Solved

galecki-marriageA mystery involving one of the family photos I have posted on this site has been solved!  Oddly enough, it was not one of my Photo Mystery posts, but it can still be considered a mystery of sorts.  Last June I posted the 1925 wedding photo shown to the left for the Smile for the Camera Carnival.  I could identify the bride and groom as my grandmother’s sister, Jane Zawodna, and her husband, Sigmund Galecki.  The maid of honor is my grandmother, Mae Zawodna.  But I didn’t have a clue who the the best man was.  I could have discovered his identity if I had I checked the marriage record itself, but I had no real need for genealogical purposes so he remained a smiling mystery.

Last month, another researcher found my site – the cousins of my Galecki cousins.  Rich and Alice informed me that the best man was Rich’s Uncle Louie!  Louis Galecki was the brother of the groom, Sigmund (Rich’s Uncle Ziggy).  According to census and draft registration records, Louis was born in 1900 and Sigmund in 1903.  It’s nice to know that the attractive couples in the photograph are a pair of sisters and a pair of brothers (little did I know I could have submitted it for the “Brothers and Sisters” theme instead of the “Belles and Beaus” theme)!

I previously posted another photo of my grandmother from this wedding here.  She also saved one other photo from the wedding that includes Louis as well.  She is 18 years old and would not capture the eye of my grandfather, who was five years her junior, for a few more years (they would marry in 1930).  But looking at her expression here I can just imagine why he later gave her the nickname Killer.

Louis Galecki and Mae Zawodna serve as best man and maid of honor at the wedding of their siblings, 1925

Louis Galecki and Mae Zawodna serve as best man and maid of honor at the wedding of their siblings, 1925

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There’s a new carnival in town – A Festival of Postcards.  This carnival will be a bit more challenging than the others I participate in, because I do not have a large collection of postcards – and very few related to genealogy!  But half the fun is the challenge itself, and I was delighted to find one for the inaugural edition of the festival.  The theme is Wheels.  Here’s a postcard I must have received with some photographs from my great-aunt:

Wallace's Garage in Salem, IL circa 1932; photo by Benke

Wallace's Garage in Salem, IL circa 1932; photo by Benke

This is a nice “vintage” shot of a gas station (was it called “filling station” back then?) called the Wallace Garage in Salem, IL.  If you click on the photo for a close-up view, you will see that the garage is a Texaco station that does general repairs.  They’re an official AAA station, they use Havoline engine oil, and – best of all – a sign in front advertises “modern sleeping rooms.”  It may look a little different than today’s gas stations, especially the cars to the right in the photo.  But, some things never change – just notice the woman trying to get the hose to reach to the other side of her car while the attendant seems to just be standing there watching her fumble with it.

The photographer is noted as “Benke” – apparently this was a Fred A. Benke.  He was called “Salem’s well-known photographer” by this Salem historical site, but I wish he was just a bit more well-known so I could find out more about him!

The reverse of the postcard:

Stanley dropping a line to his parents

Stanley dropping a line to his parents

It is not postmarked in Salem, Illinois but in Odessa, Texas at 7 PM on August 24, 1932.  It was mailed using a 1 cent stamp to Mr. J. Zawodny, 2512 E. Indiana Ave, Phila. Pa.  (same address as the 1930 census).  The note reads: “Well folks were making good time going to Mexico tomorrow.  Stan.”

The recipients of the postcard are my great-grandparents, Joseph and Laura Zawodny (although it’s addressed to Joseph, the note does say “folks”).  My logical assumption is that the  sender is their son, Stanley, who would have been 23 years old at the time.  My first thought was that perhaps this was a road-trip honeymoon; however, Stanley did not get married until 1934 (to Elizabeth Tiernan of Philadelphia, PA, the sister of his brother-in-law John).  I have no idea why Stan was traveling to Mexico in 1923, but hopefully he had a good time!  At least he was a thoughtful son to drop a line to his parents on the journey.

[Written for A Festival of Postcards: Wheels]

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Mom and Me, 1968

Mom and Me, 1968

I’ve been wanting to write a tribute to my mother now for quite some time, so when it was announced that the topic of this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy was mothers, I was thrilled.  But then “something” came up, as usual. Blogging, and life in general, has been non-existent for the last two weeks because I’ve been sick.  As in feeling-awful, missing-work, doctors-don’t-have-a-clue, everyone-please-stay-away-from-me sick.  But I also had what you might call writer’s block caused by the subject matter, not my clogged brain – what do I write about that sums up my mother and how much she means to me?

Mom and Me, 1975

Mom and Me, 1975

It’s not that there’s a lack of material – there’s so much to say!  Do I write about how I almost lost her (that is, she almost died) three times in my life – including the day I was born?  Or how she taught me everything I know about my faith in God?  Or how her beliefs and illnesses shaped my views on health?  Or how she’s without a doubt the World’s Greatest Cook?  Or about her extreme generosity? Or her talents as a dancer?  Or her unfulfilled dreams that could have used her other talents?  Do I talk about how she met my dad?  Or how hard it was for her to simply become a mother and the sicknesses she endured after giving birth?

I simply have too much to say about my mother, but I felt too sick these past two weeks to say any of it.  I even missed Mother’s Day itself last week.  But the  COG deadline is today, and I am finally feeling better.  I realized I can fully introduce my readers to my wonderful mother with one simple story.  While I was home sick, she brought me chicken soup.  Twice.  I’m not talking about that stuff they call “soup” that comes in a can – no, this is the real deal as only my mother (and deceased grandmother) could make it.  Oh. So. Good.  I’ve tried to duplicate this magic; I’ve failed.  To put this act of charity in perspective, I’m not a child sick in my room upstairs.  She’s 73 years old, but she drove twenty minutes to come to my house (dragging along my dad, also recovering from a bad cold).  She came because she knew it was the only thing that would help me get better.  And it did.

But I have a theory on that…I don’t think my cure came 100% from that delicious chicken soup.  No, not entirely.  I have no doubt it came from my mom’s love.  You see, she’s my chicken soup for my soul.  Who could ask for anything more?

Mom and Me, 1997

Mom and Me, 1997

[Written for the 72nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Mothers]

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In the Roman Catholic tradition, the month of May is usually the time of “First Communion.”  On Saturdays and Sundays in early May, you can still see processions of children dressed in white as they enter church to receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time.  The age for this event varies, but it usually occurs in the second or third grade.  In the past, as you will see in the “vintage” photos below, First Communion occurred in first grade.  In celebration of May and First Communions everywhere, here are some photos of my father’s First Communion Day – May 11, 1941.  Today boys don’t usually wear shorts and knee socks!

James A. Pointkouski's First Communion Day, May 11, 1941

James A. Pointkouski's First Communion Day, May 11, 1941

There are several photos of the procession of children into the church, St. Peter’s, located at 5th & Girard Avenues (today the church is also the national shrine of St. John Neumann).  In the first photo below, you can see my father as the fourth child from the left in the row closest to the nun.  He appears to have noticed the photographer!  The photo that follows shows him walking out of the photo’s range.  The final photo shows the girls in the procession – and since I’m sure that the rules did not change by the time I made my communion in 1975, the children are likely lined up in alphabetical order.  Therefore, one of those gals is likely my dad’s first cousin, Rita Bergmeister.

Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA

Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA

Dad_1stComm3

Dad_1stComm4

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It snowed last year too:  I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea. ~Dylan Thomas

My father James was the first-born son of James and Margaret Pointkouski.  Just before his eighth birthday, a new addition arrived to the household – a baby sister, Jean.  As my grandmother recuperated in the hospital, her son sent a note:

Dear mother, How are you and how is baby sister.  I am doing find. I am a good little boy.  I forgot to tell the Ladys in school that baby sister just looks like me.  I am having a good time playing after school.  I will be seeing you.  Kisses for you and baby sister. xxxxxxxxxX  P.S. By your son Jimmy

James and Jean Pointkouski, 1949
James and Jean Pointkouski, 1949

Little did Jimmy know then that history would repeat itself.  Jimmy grew up and got married.  His wife was surprised at the large age difference between brother and sister – surely they wouldn’t have children that far apart.  Their first child was a stillborn baby girl.  But a son was born the following year, James Drew.  Despite efforts to provide brothers and sisters to only-child Drew, none came.  None, that is, until shortly before Drew’s eighth birthday when a new addition arrived to the household – a baby sister, Donna.

Drew was happy at first, but quickly became dismayed and suggested that perhaps our parents ought to “return” me to the hospital as if I was broken.  When asked why, he replied, “She can’t talk and she can’t walk – she can’t do anything!”  Fortunately I got a repreive from my parents, and eventually I learned how to talk, walk, and do everything.

Drew and Donna Pointkouski, 1973
Drew and Donna Pointkouski, 1973

Having an 8-year gap between brother and sister has its ups and downs. My aunt and I had a big brother to look up to; my father and brother had a little sister to protect.  But by the time my aunt and I were old enough to really “get along” with our brothers, they were out of the house on their own.  Because of that, both brother and sister experienced life as an “only child” while also knowing the joys and sorrows of being a sibling.  One thing is for sure – no matter how old we all get, no matter if we see eye to eye or not, or have anything in common, as my mother always says, “Blood is thicker than water” – which means we’ll always be there for each other no matter what.  That’s what brothers and sisters are for!

brosista


[Written for the 11th edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Brothers & Sisters.]

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The topic for the premier edition of the Graveyard Rabbits Carnival is “exceptional finds” – share those rare and unique cemeteries, gravestones, monuments, memorials, and inscriptions.

I am one of those genealogists that likes to explore old cemeteries even while I am on vacation.  When I visited Paris, France in 2007,  Père Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise) was on the list of sights to see along with the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame.  I would consider it an exceptional find for several reasons.  First, you will see many graves that are 200 years old – for Europe, where grave recycling is the norm, so it was refreshing to see “old” graves.  Many think it is exceptional because of its size – 118 acres – or because so many famous celebrities are buried there.  What was more fascinating  to me were the larger number of non-celebrities, everyday folks like you and me, that are laid to rest beside the rich and famous – truly a reminder that we are all equal in death.  As I walked around the cemetery, I was also struck by its universality.  Although it is a Parisian cemetery, its occupants’ names spanned the globe.  In addition to French surnames, I saw American, Polish, German, and many other nationalities.

Here’s a look at some of the unique gravestones and monuments I photographed (click on thumbnail to see a larger view):

For more information about Père Lachaise, visit the following sites:

  • Père Lachaise Wikipedia entry – more photos and a list of the more famous “residents”
  • A Brief History of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
  • The cemetery’s own site – take a virtual tour

[Written for the 1st Edition of The Graveyard Rabbits Carnival: Exceptional Finds.]

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Last month, I shared photos of my great-grandmother’s sisters.  I have several more unidentified photos; I know they are of the sisters, but which one?  The three photos below are perfect for the latest edition of  the Smile for the Camera Carnival, for they certainly offer the distinctive style of dress of the 1920s.  These all appear to be photos of the same sister…is it Jane or Mary?  See my previous posts on the Slesinski sisters for other photos (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  If you enjoy identifying persons in photos, let me know which sister you think it is in the comments!  She was certainly into fashion and “costume” – the 1920s version of a “Project Runway” or Glamour fan!

photo-2photo-3photo-1

[Submitted for the 10th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Costume.]

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Part 1 of this series presented the photographs that led me to investigate the lives of my great-grandmother and her four sisters.  In Part 2, I detailed my genealogical research.  Years after I had completed this research, I received a happy confirmation in a rather unusual way.  My mother reconnected with her elderly aunt – the last surviving child of my great-grandmother, Laura Slesinska Zawodny.  When I met this aunt for the first time in many years, I naturally asked, “Do you have any photos?”  I hoped for more photos of her parents or of the siblings as young children.  To my surprise, she gave me a pile of photos – and nearly all were of her aunts – the Slesinski sisters.  Even more surprising?  The photos that she gave me were new to me, but they were from the same “photo session” in front of the house in McKeesport that originally prompted my research!  As a bonus, some of the photos were labeled in such a way that they actually confirmed my research.  Now I had even more faces to put to my collection of family names.

The first was labeld in a non-photo-friendly way – but there’s no doubt as to who’s who.  Here is my great-grandmother (Mom) with her sister Jane, Jane’s husband John Smilowicz, and their son Henry.  Since the 1930 census listed Henry’s age very specifically as “3 11/12″, it even provides me with an estimated time that the photos were taken – probably right around 1930 or 1931.  The back of the photo also listed thier addres – the same as the house in the 1930 census.  [I love the shadow - is that the photographer?  By the look on Henry's face, you can certainly tell where the sun was even without the prominent shadow!]

The Smilowicz Family
The Smilowicz Family with “Laura” Zawodny

Next, sister Josephine makes another appearance, this time with her husband, Vincent Sierdzki, as well as my great-grandmother.  The caption is the same as what is written on the back of the photo – in the same handwriting, and humor, as the rest of the series.

Mr. Sierdzki Incorporated
“Mr. Sierdzki Incorporated”

Jane and John Smilowicz appear in another photo, captioned “Still in Love”:

Jane and John Smilowicz
Jane and John Smilowicz

In a photo captioned “Enjoying the fun”, three children appear.  Henry Smilowicz is identified in the photo above.  In my original photo featured in Part 1, Irene Goreski was also identified.  Based on the 1930 census research, it would appear that the third child is their cousin, Boleslaw Majewski.  In 1930, he was six, Irene was five, and Henry was nearly four, so this photo is further confirmation dating the photo close to 1930.

Irene Goreski, Henry Smilowicz, and Boleslaw Majewski
Three cousins: Irene Goreski, Henry Smilowicz, and Boleslaw Majewski

Next there is a photo of the husbands.  Well, the four husbands that lived in McKeesport, anyway. I wasn’t sure based on the photos I originally had, but it appears that my great-grandfather was not present for his wife’s visit to her sisters.  Or, if he was present, he opted not to appear in the photos!  I was able to identify them based on the other photos, with the fourth man identified by default as Sophie’s husband, Joseph Goreski.  The humorous caption is again from the back of the photo.

"The Four Horsemen"
“The Four Horsemen”  from top to bottom: John Smilowicz, Vincent Sierdzki, Adolph Majewski, and Joseph Goreski – the husbands of 4 of the 5 Slesinski Sisters

Finally, the last photo from the series shows my great-grandmother, Laura Zawodny, with her brothers-in-law.

Laura and her brothers-in-law
Laura and her brothers-in-law

The above photo had the best caption of all on the back.  Based on the humorous way it is worded, I’d bet that Sophie is the writer and her husband Joseph is the photographer of the other photos!

Caption on the back of the "Laura and her brothers-in-law" photo
Caption on the back of the “Laura and her brothers-in-law” photo

I also obtained some other photos of both the sisters and their husbands that were unlabeled and not from this same photo-party.  I feel confident that I can identify who’s who in the unlabeled photos based on the job that was done to identify everyone in these photos!

Now they tell me…I did all that research to obtain the sisters’ married names when the answers were sitting in a box in my grand-aunt’s house!  Some questions still remain, however, like how my great-grandmother traveled to McKeesport to visit her sisters, if she went alone, and how long she stayed.  In any event, I am grateful to my great-aunts for not only taking these photographs during her visit, but also mailing them back to her in Philadelphia as a remembrance.  Even though I wasn’t there, I can join in their fun!

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Genealogists know that finding the “married names” for women is can be difficult.  Is it possible to research women without knowing who they married?  In the case of my great-grandmother’s sisters, the answer was surprisingly “Yes!”  This story is also interesting because it involves photographs – some that began the investigation, and some that proved the facts much later.  In this three-part series of posts, I’ll introduce my great-grandmother and her sisters.  This post, Part 1, shows what they looked like and offers the few bare facts I had to begin my research some twenty years ago.  Part 2 will present the facts I uncovered through genealogical records (and some tips to remember for your own research).  Part 3 will “prove” some of those facts in an unusual twist of fate involving more photographs.

It all began with a photograph.  Four photographs, to be precise.  My family did not possess many photos of our ancestors, but my grandmother did have several that were precious to me.  She gave me the four photos – three of which I will show here and one I’ll save for post #2.  The first showed her mother, my great-grandmother, on a visit to her four sisters.  My great-grandmother, Wacława Slesinska Zawodny (in Polish, the feminine form of her married last name would be Zawodna), lived in Philadelphia, PA.  Her four sisters, the Slesinski sisters, all lived in McKeesport, PA, which is located in Allegheny county near Pittsburgh, PA.  My grandmother said her mother once traveled across Pennsylvania to be reunited with her sisters.

"The Hollywood Review" - the Slesinski Sisters.

The back of the photo reads: "The Hollywood Review" - the Slesinski Sisters.

Caption of "The Hollywood Review" photo shown above.

Writing on the back of "The Hollywood Review" photo shown above.

My mother knew that the woman in the middle of the back row is Wacława, who went by the name of Laura in the U.S.  Fortunately, someone had also written everyone’s name on the back of the photo.  Because it lists Laura as “Grandmother Laura”, the unknown identifier is likely my grandmother (or one of her sisters).  The back of the photo, which is undated, had “The Hollywood Review” written in ink, presumably by one of the sisters, sent to my great-grandmother to commemorate her visit to McKeesport.  The names are written in pencil in a different handwriting.  The only incorrect label is “Great Aunt” applied to Josephine – perhaps it was meant to show respect to the fact that she and Laura are older than their sisters, but the truth is that evidence would later show all five women to be sisters.

In addition to this photo, my grandmother had one of the sisters without the child Irene in what appeared to be the same photo session – that photo will illustrate my second post on the research into the sisters’ lives.

The third photo offered a close-up of my great-grandmother and one sister.  The back of the photo is labeled, in the same pencil-handwriting as the group photo above, “Grandmother Laura and Aunt Josephine”.  I love two things about it – the close-up view of their faces, and the fact that it identifies who they are!  The photo was originally full length, but it was cut in half.  While the background appears to be the same house as the above photos, their dress is different.  Was it taken on a different visit, or just on a different day of the same visit?  Although they both look rather austere, I was amazed by the resemblance between my great-grandmother and my grandmother (her daughter).

"Laura" and Josephine

"Laura" and Josephine

Finally, the fourth photograph shows Laura and one of her sisters.  Based on the label to the above photo, it seems to be Mary with what appears to be her family.  Luckily, it was also labeled with a clue as to their identities.  Their dress is the same as the above photo.

The Majewski Family

The Majewski Family

Back of "The Majewski Family" photo

Back of "The Majewski Family" photo

The handwriting is the same as the above photos – can I assume that “Mr. Adolph Majewski” is Mary Slesinski’s husband and the boy is their son?  Is the address the house where all of these photos were taken?  When were the photos taken?

These four photographs contained the only information that I knew about my great-grandmother’s sisters.  My grandmother could not remember any of her aunts married names.  All I knew came from the photos:

  • the sisters’ first names
  • one possible husband’s name
  • one address in McKeesport

Just knowing these bare facts, could I find out more about my great-grandmother’s sisters?

Coming up in Part 2 – The Research performed to find out more about the sisters

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Once upon a time, growing up in Philadelphia, I enjoyed playing in the snow.

Building a snowman, circa winter of 1970-71

Building a snowman, circa winter of 1970-71

Brother Drew, Lou C the cat, Shona, & Donna

Winter of 1976-77. Left: Donna and friend Shona Ferguson. Right: Brother Drew, Lou C the cat, Shona, & Donna in my backyard

Sledding, circa 1978

Sledding, circa 1977. The hill became the parking garage for Frankford Hospital.

Then, I grew up.  As a grown-up, snow became rather unpleasant for two reasons.  First, I had to shovel it.  Since being cold and physical exertion don’t fall anywhere on my top 100 list of desirable things to do, you can only imagine how much I enjoy that activity.  Second, I had to drive to work in it. To educate all of the snow-lovers out there that think I’m a wimp because of that statement, the street I lived on in Philadelphia never saw a snow plow until I was in my 30’s.  Places north of us that routinely get twelve feet of snow have efficient procedures in place for its removal.  My city did not.  The main roads are plowed and salted, of course, but the “secondary” roads were not.  My parents’ street must have been a “tertiary” street, because it was left behind even when the city got around to the secondary streets (I am happy to say this has since been corrected since the late 1990’s).  As a result, once a significant snowfall occurred, our street would become a sheet of ice.  My past experience navigating a vehicle in these conditions would qualify me to drive a zamboni®.  To drive to snowless roads, one had a choice between going around a curve and up a hill, going down a steep, icy hill, or maneuvering a bit out of the way on icy but flat streets.  The latter route became my favorite – and at times I considered parking my car on the clean street and walking the 3-4 blocks to my house.

After extreme-shoveling and driving on ice, snow lost any appeal it may have once had in my youth.  Even though Philadelphia does not usually get much snow during winter, we have had our incidents.  The most famous of all was the Blizzard of 1996 which took place from January 6-8.  Although the blizzard hit most of the East Coast, Philadelphia had the distinction of receiving more snow than anywhere else.  The offical snowfall total was 30.7 inches, and of that, 27.6 inches fell in a 24-hour period – a new record.

My parents' backyard after the Blizzard of '96.  Compare to the Winter 1976-77 photos above - it is the same fence.

My parents' backyard after the Blizzard of '96. Compare to the Winter 1976-77 photos above - it is the same fence.

With that much snow, the city had difficulty plowing even the main roads – there was no hope for neighborhood streets.  There was simply nowhere to put all of the snow, so they dumped it into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, which later caused flooding problems.  The main concern for my family was how to eventually drive off of the street.  In fact, my mother and I were scheduled to go to Florida the following week – the only time we’ve ever traveled anywhere together.  We were convinced we’d still be snowed in by then.  But, fortunately, a miraculous pick-up truck with a plow attached came down our street.  We still had to shovel about five feet of the street to get to that lane, but it was better than all of it!

Besides the occasional 2-3 feet of snow, even more spectacular was the Ice Storms that occurred frequently during the winter of 1993-94.  At this time (as well as the Blizzard of ’96), I had a 22-mile commute to work down I-95, a road that can be deadly even on sunny and dry days thanks to Philadelphia drivers (and this was before everyone had a cell phone stuck to their face).  Pretty?  Yes!  Fun?  You’ve got to be kidding.

As for winter sports, I skied.  Once.  The best part about it was coming in from the cold to a warm place and having something hot to drink.  It’s just not for me, probably because my body is colder than average and it is just uncomfortable to be below sixty degrees.

This is the story of my discontent of winter.  Why do I live in Philadelphia?  I ask myself that question often.  It’s home.  It may not be forever, but for now it’s home.  The “fun” part of winter got left behind with my childhood, never to return.  Well, maybe it will return some day…if I get to spend winter somewhere warm.  The photo below was taken in December, and I was  finally content during winter!

Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, December 2002

Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, December 2002

[Written for the 64th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Winter Photo Essay.]

Essay title is a play on Shakespeare’s famous line from Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York” (also used as a novel title by John Steinbeck.)

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A funny thing happened on my way to the 9th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival…  I found a pile of photos with unidentified persons that fit this edition’s theme:

Who Are You – I Really Want To Know? Show us that picture that you found with your family collection or purchased, but have no idea who they might be.

However, as I sorted through the pile, I actually figured out who some of the unknowns were!  In one instance, I had some photographs of some World War I soldiers.  I knew they were not blood relatives, but after rummaging through the photos I realized the gentlemen strongly resembled some older guys in another photo (my great-grandmother’s brothers-in-law).  Since I knew who the old guys were, I performed some “facial recognition” and reasonably concluded who was who (stay tuned for those photos in a future post).  For two other photos, I decided to ask my mother.  I thought I asked once before, but perhaps I didn’t write down her answers.  She identified one unknown boy and half of a pair of unknown men.  But that was just a small portion of several unknowns – there are still many more to identify.  Here’s an interesting one for the carnival:

cimg0095The photo has no identifying markings.  I obtained it while visiting my cousins in Bavaria.  We were searching through boxes of their old, unlabeled photos in an attempt to find one that looked like my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, who was their ancestor’s first cousin.  It’s debatable if we found one or not, but in the course of our investigation my cousin Emilie found this one.  She reasoned that it must have been taken in the United States because of the English words, so therefore someone in my family may have sent it back to Germany.  Unfortunately, I don’t recognize any of these men. My great-grandfather’s brother, Ignaz, listed his occupation as “driver” in the 1910 Census, but it was for a brewery.  On his World War I draft registration card, he indicates he is a driver for “Rising Sun Brewery” in Manhattan.  So, although he was a driver, I can’t say for sure if the driver is him since I have no photographs of Ignaz.

I have not had the time to investigate further, but if I were the photoMaven, I would probably pursue it this way:

  • What is the approximate date of the photo based on the clues provided by the car (style of the car, the tires, etc)
  • Where was the “Broad Way Garage Livery”?  (I have tried simple Google searches without success.)
  • Can the fashions of these gentlemen offer any clues about the time period?

Who are you guys?  I really want to know!

[Written for the 9th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Who are you?]

See some of my other Photo Mysteries.

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Christmas Memories

Here’s a look at some of my family’s favorite Christmas memories!

Note: This is my first attempt using Slide.  There is not as much control as I’d like, but it was a little faster than creating an avi or mpg of my own.  But, the music isn’t alwasy timed the same, so sometimes it ends perfectly at the last shot, and other times it starts repeating the photos!

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stocking

The word prompt for the 8th Edition of Smile For The Camera is Stocking Stuffer: Show us that picture that would make a great Stocking Stuffer and tell us whose stocking you’d stuff. My stocking stuffer is my nephew all dressed up for Christmas in his “Santa” hat (even if you can’t quite see the red part) and garland beads:

Nicholas, December 2007

Nicholas, December 2007

I’d stuff him in the stockings of any of my friends who need a smile or a hug.  Because how can you look at him and not smile?

[Note to Nicky's sisters: I usually provide equal time to all of my gorgeous and much loved nieces and nephews, but your little brother won out on this occasion when I had to choose just one photo with a Christmas theme...don't worry, you'll get your spotlight - there is plenty of room on Aunt Donna's blog!]

[Written for the 8th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Stocking Stuffer!]

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Researchers in Poland this week confirmed that the skeletal remains found in a Frombork cathedral are indeed those of Nicolaus Copernicus.  There are many amazing things about this story.  Copernicus has been dead for 465 years, yet genetic researchers were able to confirm the remains through DNA testing, comparing DNA found in the bones to DNA retrieved from hairs found in a book that the astronomer owned.  They were not sure that the remains were his because his grave in the cathedral was unmarked.  But what I found even more remarkable about this story was the fact that researchers used the skull to create a computer-generated reconstruction of what he may have looked like – hence the title of this post.  The image looks a lot like paintings that exist of him.  There are many articles about this discovery; this one includes the reconstructed photo.

Does anyone else find it fascinating that a 16th Century skeleton can lead to DNA verification as well as an image of what he looked like?  One dissenting view, found on the blog to Discover magazine, wonders why it is considered acceptable to do this.  The article states:

While exercises like this are of historical interest, to me they’ve always raised the question as to when a set of remains becomes fair game for mucking about. If you were to dig up poor great aunt Edna, extract her skull, and sent it off to a lab in Sweden, you might be looked upon as being disrespectful or worse. But, digging about to find the remains of Copernicus is apparently completely OK, and was actually ordered by the local Catholic bishop. So when does this happen? Is there something like the copyright system where the right to be outraged by disturbance of a grave expires after a certain number of years? Is it more like radioactivity of the soul, where the connection to something sacred fades with an e-folding time?

I wasn’t quite as cynical when I heard the news, but the author does make a good point.  When is it acceptable to move/mess with someone’s remains?  But, I have to admit, all I could think about is what would happen if we just happened to have access to the bones of our ancestors…you know, those pesky ones that we don’t have any photos of?  It also made me think of these poor fellows:

Former residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.

Former residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.

These skulls were in an outdoor alcove of the cemetery church in Pfaffenhofen, called St. Andreas.  I’m still not sure why they’re on the shelf instead of in the ground!

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The word prompt for the 7th Edition of the Smile for the Camera carnival is Oh, Baby! The only hard thing about this topic was choosing which photos of my babies!  Well, not my babies, my NAN: Nieces and Nephew.  The acronym also conveniently fits their names as well – Natalie, Ava, and Nicholas.  That works until April/May, when the as-yet-unnamed next nephew arrives!  I can’t wait to see him, but until then I can’t get enough of my other NAN.  Here they are as babies, and I think you’ll agree with the proud aunt that they’re as cute as can be.

baby-mosaic-smile7

[Submitted for the 7th Edition of Smile for the Camera: Oh, Baby!]

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The word prompt for the 6th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival is Funny Bone: Show us that picture that never fails to bring a smile to your face! An amusing incident, a funny face, an unusual situation.  Well, I’d say that this photo combines an amusing incident, some funny faces, and a rather unusual situation…

Frank and Jim, 1977

Frank and Jim, 1977

No, they are not really ugly women.  And they’re not transvestites either!  They are the two guys who tickled my funny bone throughout my childhood: my dad and his buddy, Frank.

Jim and Frank were not only comedians (or should I say comediennes?), but also dancers.  They got their start in “show business” because of their wives, Anita and Lillian.  Both women were active in the “Mother’s Association” of Archbishop Ryan High School for Boys1.  Every year, the moms would “put on a show”, and many of the dads joined in.  While my mom and her friend stuck to dancing, my dad and Frank were funny guys, so they became the principal comedy directors of the shows.

The guys’ comedy routines didn’t always involve dressing up as women, but some did.  This kept me, as a child, alternating between laughing hysterically and embarrassed to death.  For example, one of their first cross-dressing comedic stunts involved them playing the “Tinettes” – back-up singer/dancers in an Ike and Tina Turner number, “Proud Mary”.  Since the costumes were designed and purchased by the performers, there was much discussion concerning what they would wear.  I remember tagging along with the two couples to the local K-Mart.  Both men grew quite excited to find a display of inexpensive silver sandals that would go perfect with their shiny silver dresses.  You’ve never truly been embarrassed until your dad (or your husband, looking at things from my mom’s point of view now), takes off his shoes in the middle of the aisle at K-Mart to try on ladies’ shoes.

Their performances were anything but embarrassing though – they were really good!  The pair made a terrific Elton John and Kiki Dee (with Frank showing some leg as Kiki), as well as the Tin Man and Scarecrow in a funny Wizard of Oz skit.  Once, the two performed a great tap-jazz routine (as men, not women!) with the show’s choreographer, who – many years later – would become my eldest niece’s maternal grandmother.  Neither man knew how to dance before these shows – at least not the “performing on stage” kind of dancing.  The choreographer was an excellent dance teacher, and the ladies performed all sorts of amazing dances from tap to jazz and even a routine on roller skates!  As I look back now, I realize that 31 years ago my parents were the age I am now, and I am amazed by the wonderful shows they put together!

Back to the funny guys as shown above…their final performance in these shows was their pièce de résistance.  I don’t remember how it came about, but the plan was for them to perform a ballet.  It could have been a slapstick routine full of pratfalls, but unless you’re as talented as Ray Bolger, there’s a chance that it wouldn’t “work”.  Instead, the men decided to dress in women’s costumes – tutu included – and perform a straight ballet (no pun intended).  That is, an actual ballet that two women would perform, with all of the technically correct dance steps, without cracking so much as a smile.  They practiced for what seemed like forever; they were determined to get it right.  I still have my father’s typewritten instructions to himself to help him memorize the steps.  The music?  Why, a serious ballet with a comic twist requires one piece of music: The Nutcracker Suite.

The night was November 19, 1977 and the show was called “Musical Moments” that year.  After intermission, it was the third number.  The auditorium was dark; the crowd restless.  Anticipation was in the air, at least from where I sat with my aunt and my mother, who was not performing that year.  The curtains opened, and the music began…the audience became quiet, subdued by the classical music.  Then, the dancers appeared on stage, each starting from opposite ends of the stage.  We held our breath…there were some seconds of polite silence – did the audience think they were unattractive women?  Suddenly someone in the audience yelled, “Oh my gosh, they’re men!”  The entire auditorium erupted into laughter…and the men continued their dance, straight-faced, hitting all of their marks and dancing a saut de chat that would make any female ballet dancer envious.  They tickled some funny bones that night!  And some of us are still laughing about it.

[1] I would later go to Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls.  The two schools shared the library, the chapel, and the auditorium.  We were separated by gates, shark-infested waters, and some don’t mess with me nuns and friars.  We used to joke that they’d have to rename the school Archbishop Ryan High School for People if it ever went co-ed.  It did become co-ed (shortening the name after the words High School) three years after I left; it is one of the largest Catholic high schools in the country although the student population isn’t nearly as high as the combined population when I was there.  My graduating class of just girls totaled 525; the boys’ school had a similar number that year.  The school’s auditorium holds around 2,000 people.  On my first day of high school I was nervous, but we all had to report to the auditorium first.  Since I had spent so much time there while I was still in grade school and my parents were practicing for the shows, it put me at ease.

[Written for the 6th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Funny Bone.]

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The prompt for the 5th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival is Crowning Glory: Show us those wonderful photographs of hairdos and maybe even a few don’ts. Don’t limit yourself to just hair fashion through the ages, got a great photograph of a hat, helmet, bonnet, or some other interesting headgear?

Well, it just so happens that the Pointkouski children seem to have a “thing” for funky headcoverings and/or hairdos.  Let me show you what I mean…

I would like to think that perhaps they take after their Aunt Donna:

But it’s more likely that they take after their Daddy:

Then again, the reality is that we all take after Pop-Pop:

Apparently humor is genetic!

[This post submitted for the 5th Edition of Smile for the Camera!]

Mosaics were made using Big Huge Labs Mosaic Maker.

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