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Clockwise from top left: paternal grandfather James Pointkouski, great-grand Joseph Bergmeister, great-grand Louis Pater, my dad, great-grand Joseph Zawodny, maternal grandfather Henry Pater

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…F is for Fathers! I had a lot of different ideas for the letter “F”. Would I write about Family in general, or cheat and use Family Photographs? Or how about the Faith of my ancestors? Or the only “F” surname I have in my tree, Fischer? Or maybe the few Farmers among my ancestors? No, there was only one choice in the end. I’m one of the few American bloggers participating in the challenge, and I’ve been posting my efforts each Sunday.  This particular Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day in the United States, and what would family history be without fathers (and mothers)?

Signature of my 2nd great-grandfather on an 1866 baptismal record from Warsaw: Stanisław Piątkowski, ojciec (father)

As I’ve researched my family history, I’ve encountered many kinds of fathers. There were the prolific, such as my 3rd great-grandfather, Jakob Bergmeister, who fathered fifteen children in nineteen years. Back then, the infant mortality rate was much higher, so many of those children died. In more recent times, my one great-grandfather raised six children and my 2nd great-grandfather brought his six to the United States from Poland. I can’t think of any fathers who had only one child, but several had only two. There were young fathers, like my great-grandfather Louis Pater, who was only 18 years old when my grandfather was born. There are also some older fathers, such as my brother and our grand-uncle – both were both less than 3 months shy of 50 years old when their sons were born. Unfortunately in that same grand-uncle’s case, Joseph Perk, he is the only father on my family tree to be deceased when his child was born (one week later). Some fathers in the family lived long lives and got to know their grandchildren, while others died young and barely knew their own children. Some worked hard to provide for their families while others stumbled. But all of the fathers did their best – it’s what fathers do!  Here’s to all of the fathers on our family trees!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Ellis Island today

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series…E is for Ellis Island!  Few places in America have the legendary status of Ellis Island.  Any family history that includes early 20th century immigrants holds Ellis Island in high regard as the entryway to this country. There were other ports in the United States, but Ellis Island brought the largest number of immigrants to the U.S. and is the most well-known and perhaps the most “romanticized” of the ports that drew, in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to this country.

Ellis Island was only one stop on a very long journey, but because it was the entry point to the United States, it seems to summarize the entire immigrant experience. At some point, my ancestors made a decision to leave their homeland. In some cases, they left their parents and siblings behind and never saw them again. Maybe they left because of economic concerns, or maybe they just had adventurous spirits. All of them, I’m sure, hoped for a better life once they arrived here. As a result of that one decision, they traveled long distances from Germany and Poland to ports throughout Europe: Hamburg and Bremen in Germany, Antwerp in Belgium, and even Southampton in Great Britain. Then the transatlantic journey began – approximately two weeks at sea. Third class steerage was no vacation cruise; quarters were cramped and uncomfortable. Some of my ancestors made the journey alone, including some females, and other female ancestors bravely traveled with their young toddlers. And then…America! Their first glimpse of the new country, their hope for a new life, was Ellis Island.  I have no idea what they thought at that moment, but I do know that without that decision, without that journey, without that arrival into a melting pot of a new country with a new language and a new way of life, I would not have been born.  Or if my ancestors from different countries did happen to meet elsewhere in the same combination, I would not be American.  Therefore, I’m very grateful for their decisions and their journey that brought them to Ellis Island.

Over 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. Fortunately for their descendants who are interested in genealogy, passenger lists were required for each ship. The lists provide a wealth of information, but some years have much more than others. Besides finding out ages, occupations, and occasionally birthplaces, we also sometimes learn the physical descriptions of our ancestors. Without photographs, learning the person’s height, hair and eye color, and complexion allows us to mentally picture these travelers. The lists make the stories “real” – the first time I found one of my ancestors on a passenger list (on microfilm in pre-digital days), I let out a whoop of joy and did a genealogical happy dance.  Those names I learned were really real! That’s how my family research began – finding my family’s American beginnings in Ellis Island’s records.

I finally took my own journey to Ellis Island in the summer of 2010 with five genealogist friends. It was a wonderful experience.  I was surprised the “Great Hall” was not quite as large as it looks in photographs. What made our trip meaningful was that all of us had ancestors who arrived through that port and the realization that their fateful decision to come here shaped our own lives.

My Ellis Island Immigrants

Piontkowski (Piątkowski) Family

  • Husband Jan (34) on 04 March 1906 on SS Pennsylvania from Hamburg
  • Wife Rozalia (41) and children Jozef (3) and Janina (1) on 09 November 1906 on SS Armenia from Hamburg

Bergmeister Family

  • Husband Josef, my first direct ancestor immigrant to the United States, actually arrived via the port of Philadelphia in 1900.
  • Wife Marie (26) and daughter Marie (3) on 27 June 1901 on SS Kensington from Antwerp
  • Josef’s sister, Hilaury (23), arrived 25 July 1893 on SS Friesland from Antwerp. Their brother, Ignaz, arrived at the port of Philadelphia in 1904. Half-brother Julius Goetz (16) arrived 22 September 1902 on SS Zeeland from Antwerp. Half-brother Herman Goetz (26) arrived 03 May 1911 on SS Finland from Antwerp.

Pater Family

  • Husband Józef (40) on 18 February 1905 on SS Graf Waldersee from Hamburg
  • Wife Antonina (42) and daughters Regina (18) and Victoria (2) on 30 September 1906 on SS Blücher from Hamburg
  • Sons Wacław (17), Ludwik (14), and Stefan (12) and daughter/son-in-law Francziska and Pawel Miedzinski (Nieginski) (20 and 27) on 15 August 1907 on SS Grosser Kurfurst from Bremen.
  • Antonina’s mother, Franziska Pluta (60) on 21 June 1909 on SS Vaderland from Antwerp

Müller / Miller Family

  • My as-yet single great-grandmother, Elżbieta (18), on 16 April 1909 on SS President Grant from Hamburg
  • Her brother, sister-in-law (2 arrival records), niece, and nephew (born in U.S., left, returned to U.S. via Ellis Island) and various Miller “cousins” also arrived through Ellis Island.

Zawodny Family

  • Husband Józef (23) on 05 April 1902 on SS Graf Waldersee from Hamburg
  • Wife Wacława arrived via the port of Philadelphia later in 1902.
  • Three of Wacława’s sisters arrived at Ellis Island on 15 October 1920 on SS Adriatic from Southampton

I have previously written about several of these immigrants as well as using passenger lists for research. Read the other posts about passenger lists and the immigration experience here.

 

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series…D is for Double Cousins! The term “double cousin” applies when cousins share ancestry through more than one line. For example, if siblings from one family marry siblings in another family, the couples’ children are first cousins through both their father’s side and their mother’s side; hence: double cousins! Double first cousins share both sets of grandparents whereas “regular” first cousins share one set.

Elizabeth and Stanley Zawodny

So far I’ve only found one instance of double cousins in my own family. My grandmother, Mae Zawodny Pater, had a brother and a sister that married siblings in the Tiernan family. Helen Zawodny (1905-1977) was the daughter of Joseph and Laura Zawodny.  Helen married John Tiernan (1901-1960), the son of Thomas and Sarah Tiernan, in 1923.

In 1930, Helen’s younger brother, Stanley (1909-1980), was living with Helen and John. In 1934, Stanley married John’s younger sister, Elizabeth (1911-1999). Therefore, the children of Helen & John and Stanley & Elizabeth are double cousins. Stanley and Elizabeth had three children (after the surname changed from Zawodny to Zowney) – all are still living today so I won’t name them for privacy reasons. Helen and John only had one child, Thomas, but unfortunately he died as a young child. Therefore the double cousin relationship in my family only existed briefly.

How many double cousins are in your family tree?

 [Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge] 

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series…C is for Census! Federal Census Records are one of the first tools that U.S. researchers turn to when beginning their family history research. It was my first stop when I began my research 23 years ago – back then, the most recent available census at the time was the 1910! I think the census records are even more valuable today.

While census records don’t give you exact dates or vital statistics about your family members, they do provide vital CLUES to assist in further research. The census teaches us:

  • family relationships – including occasional maiden names if in-laws are living with the family
  • approximate ages
  • addresses
  • occupations
  • for immigrants, the approximate immigration year and if naturalized or not

How accurate is the information? Well, in my family that all depends on several factors, including who provided the info, how well the informant understood English, and how close to the “event” they were at the time (for example, the immigration year is more likely to be correct five years later than 25 years later).

I’ve found a lot of family members in quite a few federal censuses, so I’ve created some rules – of course, they may only apply to my family, who tend to shy away from being “found” by future generations. But perhaps I’m not alone, so I present Donna’s Census Rules:

1. Women get younger every decade. Or so it seems…

2. Rule #1 is applied more vigorously in instances where the wife is older than the husband. Although the wife was older in one set of my grandparents, two sets of greats, and my 2nd great-grandparents, she is always either the same age as the husband or younger so as to prevent the raised eyebrows of the neighbors.

3. Just because adult children are listed with their parents doesn’t actually mean they live there, it just means the parents misunderstood the question. Keep looking, because you’ll probably find them listed elsewhere on their own. My family has inflated the official population number for decades with this rule!

4. The spelling of immigrant surnames are irrelevant for the first 25-30 or so years after immigration, then enumerators finally get it right. Overall, the 1940 census has been the most accurate with both names and ages for all of my ancestors.

5. Don’t be surprised to find extra, unknown siblings listed. Or existing, known siblings not listed. I may never know why. Or why not.

So there you have it….researching census records can be a wild, fun ride. You never know what you’ll find, but one thing’s for sure – there’s always a “happy dance” involved when you find your ancestor! Maybe someday I’ll get to explore census records for other countries, too!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… B is for Bavaria (or Bayern in German). I’ve occasionally been asked why I identify myself as having Polish and Bavarian ancestry instead of Polish and German. Germany was unified as a nation in 1871, a mere 2 years before my great-grandfather was born and 4 years before my great-grandmother was born. They were born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, a state within the German Empire. So yes, my great-grandparents were born in Germany. But the roots of their ancestry are Bavarian! For hundreds of years their ancestors lived in Bavaria – not a small part of a German nation, but an indpendent nation of its own.

I like to describe how my ancestors’ Bavaria relates to Germany by comparing it to how the state of Texas relates to the rest of the United States. Like the southern state, Bavaria covers a large area, they “talk funny” and use different colloquial expressions, they want to secede from the union, they have many strange local traditions, and they are fiercely proud of their heritage. Oh, and they’re very friendly, too!

Bavaria as a political region has roots back to the late 5th Century when it was recognized as a Duchy. In the 17th and 18th centuries the area was known as the Electorate of Bavaria. Then, in 1806, Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire and Bavaria became the Kingdom of Bavaria. Even when Bavaria became a part of the newly formed German Empire in 1871, it still retained its name of “Kingdom” and had some special rights within the Empire such as its own Army, postal service, and railways. Throughout Bavaria’s history, it’s borders changed somewhat. It even once included Tirol, now in Austria, and Südtirol, now in northern Italy.

My ancestors mostly lived in the part of Bavaria known as “Upper Bavaria” or Oberbayern. Upper Bavaria is the southern part of Bavaria, and is called “Upper” because it is higher above sea level than the rest of Bavaria. The area includes the capital city of Munich (München) and some of the sights and events that Bavaria is most known for such as King Ludwig’s fairy tale castles and the Oktoberfest celebration.

My ahnen, or ancestors, include the following towns and surnames:

  • Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm: Echerer/Eggerer, Nigg/Nick, Höck/Heckh, Kaillinger, Paur, Singer, Zuell
  • Puch: Bergmeister, Zinsmeister
  • Agelsberg: Fischer, Guggenberger
  • Dörfl: Gürtner
  • Langenbruck: Fischer
  • Niederscheyern: Daniel, Schober
  • Aichach: Dallmaier, Eulinger
  • Reichertshofen: Gürtner, Sommer
  • Freising: Stainer
  • Friedberg: Cramer
  • Waal: Schwarzmaier

Since Bavaria is Germany’s largest state comprising 20% of its total area and is the second most populous state, I wonder why there are not more Bavarian geneabloggers. Surely there are more people tracing their Bavarian ancestry! For more information on researching your Bavarian ancestors, see Bavaria GenWeb or the Genealogy Forum Bavaria.

Even though my ancestry is only 1/4 Bavarian, I have fully embraced my Bavarian roots. I love Bavaria and the Bavarian people! Give me lederhosen, weisswurst and pretzels (only if the pretzels are made by my Bergmeister cousins’ bakery), “Mad” Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle, and pitcher-size servings of beer any day because I’m Bavarian!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Umlauts and ogoneks and carons… ог мий (oh my)! *

I decided to attempt the “Family History through the Alphabet” Challenge prompted by Gould Genealogy. I normally don’t participate in weekly themes, but this one allows for creativity since each individual chooses a topic (one letter per week) that pertains to their own family history. And it will definitely be challenging based on the amount of time it took me to come up with a word for the letter “A”.  A is for…Alphabets! In learning the basics of a few other languages as part of my family history research, I’ve had to learn a few new alphabets that go beyond the ABCs I’ve known since childhood.

The first foreign records I researched were in German.  Fortunately, the German alphabet is essentially the same as the English alphabet but there are four extra letters: ä, ö, ü, and ß. These are sometimes substituted with ae, oe, ue, and ss, so these new letters were not so difficult to learn. With regard to alphabetical order, these letters are usually mixed in with their base letter (a, o, u, and s) but sometimes placed afterwards. Although the order of the German alphabet is exactly the same as in English, I have found that occasionally books may have a name index that combines like-sounding letters. In one genealogy-related German book (a häuserchronik), the index order is: A, B/P, K/C, D/T, E, F/V, G, H, I/J, L, M, N, O, R, S, U, W, Z. This is likely because surname spellings were flexible until more recent times, so Bergmeister was once Per(g)meister and Fischer may have been Vischer.

The next alphabet I had to learn was Polish. The Polish alphabet has 9 vowels and 23 consonants.  Letters not found in English include: ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, and ż. There is no English q, v, or x in Polish.  And yes, there are 3 forms of “Z” – z, ź, and ż. The most critical thing to learn about these new letters is alphabetical order – they are not mixed in with their base letter counterparts but instead follow them in order.  So if a surname begins with the letter Ś like Ślesinski, it will be found in an index after all of the surnames that begin with S. It was also important to know what these letters sound like because they have no English equivalent.  That is why my original surname, Piątkowski, “translates” into English as Piontkowski – the letter “ą” sounds like “on” in English.  (How it became Pointkouski is best left to another post!)

Just when I mastered the Polish alphabet, along came the need to know Russian since many of my Polish ancestors came from the Russian-partitioned part of Poland. The Russian alphabet was not nearly as easy as either German or Polish, because Russian uses Cyrillic letters, not Latin. I still can’t figure it out, quite frankly. There are 33 letters, and while each letter has an English equivalent, genealogists have to realize that alphabetical order in Russian won’t be A, B, C, D, but instead A, Б, B, Г (in English: A, B, V, G). I find the Cyrillic letters very confusing, especially when trying to translate a name that uses the Polish alphabet into Russian.  Steve Morse’s site has several language tools that help researchers “translate” into the foreign types, both printed and handwritten. The name Piątkowski becomes Питковский in Russian.  I think; it’s all Greek to me.

Just when I thought my family history led me to all the alphabets I could possibly master, recently a new one has appeared…Czech! I am just beginning to find out more about my Bohemian ancestry. The Czech language has 31 different letters, and while it may look a little like Polish, there are some entirely different letters like č, ď, and several more. So my Polish-born Elżbieta would be Alžběta in her parents’ Czech language.

If I had only known in high school how important alphabets and languages would be to my future as a genealogist, maybe I would not have studied French and Italian – great languages for countries in which I have no ancestry. Fortunately, the Latin I took did come in handy for Catholic records in both Germany and Poland before the records were written in the native languages!

*Examples of letters with an umlaut (ü), ogonek (ą), and caron (č)

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

The Internet Archive: Wayback Machine (click on image to visit the site)

When we think of the past, we usually remember things that were a part of our lives such as cars, music, or fashions, or things from before our time that we learned about as history. The internet has only been part of our lives for a relatively short time as far as the history of the world is concerned, so while I sometimes think on the days “before” the internet, I don’t usually think about its earliest days and what it looked like. That is, until I read Go Back in Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago. The post uses the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to show screen shots of several sites including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and the New York Times. It was like the equivalent of looking at old photos of your family, friends, and self in fashions and hairstyles best kept in the past. But it was interesting to see just how “old” each of the sites looked “way back”  when and just how much the internet and technology has evolved in such a short time.

Genealogical research on the internet has shown the same leap as the sites mentioned in that article. I decided to look up some of our favorite big genealogy sites to see what is the equivalent of their old prom pictures.  While the screen shots might have that “dated” look about them, the most striking difference is that each of them have so much more information – including actual records online – than they did in the past.  Take a walk down memory lane – do you remember when the sites looked like this?

Ancestry.com on 02 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ancestry.com on 28 October 1996. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

FamilySearch.org on 08 May 1999. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ellisisland.org on 03 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Rootsweb.com (before purchased by Ancestry) on 14 June 1998. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

SteveMorse.org on 02 April 2003. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Of course, What’s Past is Prologue has looked exactly the same since its creation in 2008 except for the addition of some pages and changes to the sidebar.  But that’s just because I like the design!

SOURCE: footonoteMaven. "Earth Day - Birthday Graphic." footnoteMaven, 22 April 2009. http://www.footnotemaven.com/2009/04/earth-day-birthday.html : 2012.

The illustrious footnoteMaven and I go back a long time – from our days as war correspondents to back when we worked as sherpas leading Mt. Everest expeditions. When our mutual friend Penelope Dreadful mentioned fM’s birthday – that is, she mentioned the number being celebrated, for the day has long been a blogging holiday on my calendar – I was shocked. How could a woman who knows so much be so young? I mean, looks-wise, she’s striking, but youthful looks can lie (who knows how many surgeries could give me the same youthful countenance?). So although she looks much younger than her age, I was shocked at the number because she’s a woman of wisdom, and you don’t get wisdom with youth!

So that got me thinking…what if she’s really older than that? I smell a conspiracy. I mean, look at all the careers the woman has had!  From the dancing chorus girl on Broadway to the archaeologist who discovered an ancient civilization in the South Pacific to the sculptor whose work is in countless museums. Not to mention the time she tried a case before the Supreme Court. So how is it that this amazing woman could be younger than me?

I remembered a story she told me once, a long time ago. The details are hazy, as if remembering a dream. We both had a little too much to drink one night in Tangier while covering a coup, and she told me her deepest secret – she had discovered the Fountain of Youth. I thought she was drunk. I know I was. But looking back, I think she was trying to reveal her secret.

No wonder fM knows so much about history and historical records – could it actually be that she lived through it? Shades of the Departed, my butt…sure, those folks are departed from this world, but little did we know that fM knew all the folks in those photos – her family and friends from her past.

I had to find out the truth. There had to be evidence, and I had to cite it. One day, after many late nights spent searching, I finally found it. Oh. My. Gosh. Our own footnoteMaven was Polish after all.  And Catholic? Who knew! I guess when you live for so long you have to change your life story to keep things interesting. No wonder she always knew the answers to my Polish genealogical mysteries…I always wondered how a Lutheran girl of Irish stock from Missouri would know those things…  But records don’t lie! Here was my proof, a marriage record for Regina Mavin in 1803:

The is the only non-fictional element of the entire post (except, of course, fM's youth, beauty, wisdom, and the depth of our friendship).

The name Regina is Latin for “queen”. Mavin? Close enough – every genealogist knows how flexible spellings can be in records.  Queen Maven…was it really our Queen Maven marrying Mr. Miller in 1803? And does the current Mr. Maven know about this?  I traveled to Poland to the Archives to investigate further as anyone who watches WDYTYA knows that one must do. I entrusted Steve Danko‘s help, and we found more records about the former Regina Mavin that are not available online. We even found a painting of her, and that proved it once and for all, for Regina has the same striking visage as our very own fM. Yes, Queen Maven may have thought she covered up her tracks after her discovery of the secret of youth, but she underestimated the ability of a determined genealogist.

If only she told me more on that steamy night in Tangier when she drunkenly revealed her secret. Ah well, maybe someday she will reveal all. All I know is, the next time we attend a genealogy conference together, I’m bringing a supply of Lisa Alzo‘s slivovitz, a Slovakian liquor that’s better than a truth serum. Yes, someday I will get fM to tell me the location of that fountain!

#

Today is the birthday of footnoteMaven, editor/publisher of the award-winning Shades of the Departed Online Magazine. The Shadettes and Shades-dudes Staff Writers are pleased to present this Special Birthday Edition of the magazine as a tribute to their dear friend. The round-up of posts will be compiled today at The Family Curator. If you’re friends with fM too, join us in wishing her a very happy birthday. In case you were wondering, all of the above is fictional (and meant to be humorous) except for the fact that fM is young, beautiful, and my dear friend, and there was a very real marriage in 1803 in Poland of a woman named Regina Mavin. I figured it was either the fountain of youth or a time machine that was responsible for this amazing coincidence. 

My “Pointer Sister”, the lovely Caroline Pointer of For Your Family Story, has invited me to moonlight on her blog today.  She gave me a big Texan “Howdy” and even explained how we’re related.  Well, relatively speaking, that is…  Read Genealogists and the Tech Tools They Use to Research - and I’m the last of the 5-part series, so make sure you visit the previous posts if you haven’t already for some really good ideas. If you’re up for a genealogy challenge, check out Caroline’s 48-Hour Ephemera Challenge every weekend for a fun mystery research project to solve!

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.

“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!

Recently Ancestry.com put up a new set of records called “Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records.” The collection contains a wide variety of miscellaneous records from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  I actually found a few items of interest in the collection.  One subset of records comes from the Wackerman Funeral Home, a funeral home which still exists today but is no longer in its former location.  In these records, I found information on the funeral arrangements for my great-grandmother, Marie Bergmeister, who died in 1919 at the age of 43.  Marie (or more usually, Maria) left behind a husband, Joseph, and five children – including my grandmother Margaret, the youngest, who was not quite six years old.

The funeral home record for the costs of Marie Bergmeister's funeral, 1919.

I knew that my grandmother’s family was poor, but it was interesting to compare the bill for my great-grandmother’s burial to some of the others who died at the same time.

Casket

  • $55 – Gray crape
  • $65 – Chesnut
  • $90 – Square chesnut with ext handles
  • $125 – Solid maple
  • $200 – Solid mahoghany

Case

  • $14 – Pine
  • $35 – Chesnut

Hearse

  • $10.50 to $13.00

Service

  • $5 – Low Mass
  • $25 – Solemn Requiem

A more costly funeral found in the same records.

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.

In my quest to prepare for the 1940 Census by documenting all of my relatives and their potential 1940 addresses, I realized there was a relative or two I never found in earlier censuses.  One such relative was my great-grandfather’s half brother, Herman Goetz. Herman and his brother, Julius Goetz, left a rather good paper trail except I was never able to locate Herman – with certainty – in either the 1920 or 1930 Census.  The name “Herman Goetz” was not exactly “John Smith” but it was a common name among German immigrants, and I never really tried to determine if any of the Herman’s I found was “my” Uncle Herman.  Did he move out of state?  Did he return to Germany?

In genealogy, as in life, sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.  I couldn’t find Herman in the 1920 Census because he died.  It’s almost comical that I never considered that possibility until I discovered it, quite by accident, in one of Ancestry’s newer databases: Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985.

There does not appear to be a complete list of what records are included in this collection, but in my searching of various surnames I’ve found some hits in funeral home records and some Catholic cemetery records.  I found Herman in the Record Books for the John Kimmerle Funeral Homes.  He died on 11 October 1918 from pneumonia and was buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery on 18 October.  His sister, Hilaury “Laura” Bergmeister Thuman, paid for the burial.

His death in 1918 finally answers the question of why my father never heard of him – my grandmother barely knew him since she was only 5 years old when he died.

When I first began my genealogical research, I asked my dad about relatives and he said to look for his mother’s “Uncle Julius Goetz”.  Neither of her parents was named Goetz, so I wasn’t clear how he was an uncle until I found her parents’ marriage record. Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer were married in November 1897 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern (Bavaria), Germany. The record indicates that the bachelor Joseph was the son of the “deceased flour merchant Joseph Bergmeister of Munich and Ursula Dallmeier (who later married a Goetz), residing in Regensburg.”

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

My great-grandfather’s mother re-married a man named Goetz, so any children from her second marriage are half siblings to my Bergmeister’s.  While I have a record in Julius’ hand that lists Ursula as his mother, I only have circumstantial evidence that Herman is also her son. (The circumstantial evidence is his “connection” to both Julius and the Bergmeister family – I can now send for his death certificate to verify his parents’ names.) Even if he was a step-brother to both Julius and the Bergmeister children, he was certainly involved in their lives based on the documents I have found. Here is Herman’s “paper trail” in the United States:

22 Apr 1911 – Herman sets sail from Antwerp aboard the S.S. Finland.  He is listed as Herman Götz, a 26-year-old locksmith from Regensburg whose father, also named Herman Götz, lives in Regensburg. He is traveling to his brother, Julius Götz, who is living at 500 Lehigh Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. On 03 May 1911, Herman’s ship arrives in New York City.

24 Mar 1913 – Herman receives a marriage license to marry Florentina Bottner. He is living at 6078 Kingsessing Street (the address of his half sister, Hilaury Bergmeister Thuman, and her husband, Max) and was born on 14 May 1885 in Germany. Florentina lived at 3458 Amber Street and was born on 14 Aug 1877 in Germany.  Parents’ names were not requested on the license, and neither had been married before.

11 Apr 1913 – My grandmother, Margaret Hermina Bergmeister, is born and apparently named after her Uncle Herman. She is baptized on 13 July 1913 and her godparents are Uncle Herman Goetz and Aunt Laura Bergmeister Thuman.

12 Aug 1914 – Herman’s wife dies. Her death certificate lists her name as Mrs. Flora Goetz with the same birth date as the marriage license above. Although she is listed as married, the information is provided by her mother and the address given is that of her mother’s and the same as provided in her marriage license. She died from peritonitis “due to ruptured uterus during child birth”.

12 Sep 1918 – Herman registers for the draft. His draft card shows he is living with his sister and brother-in-law at 6078 Kingsessing Street and Laura is listed as his nearest relative. He was born on 14 May 1885.  He is naturalized, although I have not yet found his papers. He is employed as a machinist at Standard Roller Bearing Co. at 49th and Merion. His physical description: tall, stout, grey eyes, red hair.

Front of Herman Goetz's WWI Draft Registration Card.

11 Oct 1918 – Herman died from pneumonia based on information found in the funeral home records. His address is the Thumans’ address on Kingsessing Street, which is directly across the street from the cemetery in which his is buried on 14 Oct 1918, Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

What little I do know of “Uncle Herman” is sad – although he quickly found love in his new country, his wife died in childbirth the following year and he died only four years later at the age of 32.  It is also the beginning of a very sad chain of events for my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. First, in October, 1918, his half-brother Herman dies.  Less than six months later, in February, 1919, his wife Maria dies at the age of 43, which leaves him as the single parent of five children.  Later that year, in November, his brother Ignaz Bergmeister dies at the age of 43.  Joseph would only live to 54 himself, dying in 1927. Of the Bergmeister and Goetz siblings, despite the young deaths of Herman Goetz and Joseph and Ignaz Bergmeister, their sister Laura Thuman lived to 73 and Julius Goetz lived to 84. There was a 16-year age difference between Hilaury and Julius, however, so Julius was the sole surviving sibling for many years after Laura’s death in 1943.

Although my grandmother never knew her “namesake” Uncle Herman, I assume she had some familial relationship with Uncle Julius.  Although my father knew who he was, he didn’t recall meeting him and their lives overlapped by quite a bit – Julius did not die until 1971.

If it wasn’t for the “accidental” searching of this new record collection on Ancestry, I would not have solved the mystery of what happened to Uncle Herman any time soon. Although Pennsylvania death indexes were recently made available, I would not have ordered any record for a man with the name Herman Goetz without more evidence as to the correct one, which I now have. I hope to eventually find a photograph of both Uncle Julius and Uncle Herman – I recently learned the name of Julius’ grandson and plan on contacting him soon.  Even if I can’t see what Herman looked like, I’m glad I learned what I did about him so his too-short life can be remembered. That’s what family is for…

In only 35 days genealogy geeks everywhere will rejoice in the release of the 1940 Census. It will be the first Federal Census in which my parents make an appearance. When I came up with 12 Genealogy Goals for 2012, goal #3 was to “Find all my relatives in the 1940 census.”  But just how many relatives is that? Until I started gathering notes, I didn’t realize just how much my great-grandparents’ families grew from the time of their immigration between 1900 and 1909 to 1940.  Here is a chart that outlines the, er, relative growth of the families:

The additions in the great-grandparent generation or above were immigrations, and decreases were due to deaths. The additions for the grandparents and below were births. I’m counting my paternal grandmother in the above counts because she was alive, but I’ve yet to actually find her on any census ever. And I’m not double counting the several relatives that were counted more than once in prior censuses!  The spouse category includes all spouses of any generation that are not directly related to me. So, it appears I only have to find 108 relatives. 

The good news is, this is roughly about 32 households.  Of those 32 households, 27 live in the city of Philadelphia which had a 1940 population of “only” 1.93 million.  It appears I have my work cut out for me! 

What am I doing to prepare for the research? Well, other than mapping out the list of individuals that should be alive, I’m trying to determine their 1940 addresses.  Mostly I’m relying on the 1930 addresses, but in some cases I’m using other available documents like death or marriage records if the events took place closer to 1940. I even have my grandfather’s driver’s license from 1940, so I am confident I can find my father at that address with his parents.

After compiling a list of the possible addresses and/or what the 1930 ED (enumeration district) was if I’m using that address, I then head to Steve Morse’s Unified 1940 Census ED Finder. Unfortunately, for a city as large as Philadelphia the result usually yields two or more possible ED numbers based on either the 1930 ED or an actual street address.  To narrow it down even further, I am literally mapping out the address and relying on Steve’s links to the descriptions or maps of the EDs.

While this whole exercise would bore most of my non-genealogy friends to tears, the research has been fun.  Well, not as much fun as converting surnames to Soundex codes back in the day and scrolling through microfilm, but fun. While an index will certainly make research easier, I’m still confident that the ease of using free digitized images will make finding all 108 relatives relatively easy.  And I’m sure I’ll find some surprises once I find these families!

In everyone’s family there seems to be a “birthday season” in which many family events fall in the same month.  In my family, February is not one of those months.  So I was rather surprised as I looked through some of my genealogical data that February had a huge significance in the life of one of my ancestral families, the Bergmeister family.  I’m sure that after you “collect” hundreds of ancestors, there are bound to be a lot of common dates among the data.  But the sheer preponderance of February dates is striking.  I first noticed the coincidence just back in my grandmother’s generation, because both of my great-grandparents and one of their children had February dates.  But the closer attention I paid to the family, the more February events turned up.

To start, we have to go way back – seven generations before my grandmother!  I will call this Generation 0, and the sole February event is the death of Elisabeth Bergmeister, wife of Jakob, on 25 Feb 1725.

In Generation 1, the son of Jakob and Elisabeth, Martin, marries Ursula Pedenpöckh on 16 Feb 1716.

In Generation 2, Martin and Ursula’s son, Johann Paul, was born on 25 Feb 1721.

In Generation 3, J. Paul’s son, Joseph, was also born on 25 Feb in the year 1763, his father’s 42nd birthday.

In Generation 4, Joseph’s son, Jakob, married Anna Maria Daniel.  Anna Maria Bergmeister died on 02 Feb 1871.

In Generation 5, Jakob and Anna Maria had two children born in February.  The first was my great-great grandfather, Joseph, who was born on 09 Feb 1843.  His brother, Castulus, was born on 25 Feb 1845, his grandfather’s birthday (except his grandfather was deceased by then).

In Generation 6, Joseph had a son, also named Joseph (my great-grandfather), who was born on 12 Feb 1873.  Joseph the younger’s wife, Maria Echerer, also had a February birthday – she was born on 27 Feb 1875.  She would also later die in February, on 05 Feb 1919. Joseph’s sister, Hilaurie Bergmeister Thuman, would also die in February on 06 Feb 1943.

In Generation 7, my grandmother’s older sister, Maria, was born on 27 Feb 1898, her mother’s 23rd birthday.

I haven’t looked more closely at the dates I’ve collected for my father’s cousins and their children to see if this trend continues.  The February dates stopped in my immediate family, but I bet I have some cousins celebrating birthdays this month…after all, it’s a family tradition!

I hope your Valentine is as cute as this!

Donna’s Picks

“Donna’s Picks” was my occasional weekly feature of noteworthy articles that has now become a monthly roundup.  Here are February’s goodies!

Nun Maintains Polish Ties Through 100 Year Family Correspondence, an article by Susan Klemond in National Catholic Register, is a great story about two families keeping in touch across the miles – and across generations! [February 12]

Twenty-Five Ways to Come Up With Great Ideas for Your Writing by Ali on Aliventures may spark your creativity whether you are writing your family history, trying to come up with blog posts – or if you’re writing some fiction on the side. [February 1]

What’s with the SSDI and the petition? by Pat Richley-Erickson, otherwise known as DearMyrtle, sums up the recently “controversy” over the Social Security Death Index.  [February 12]

The 50 Questions in the 1940 Census – Tuesday’s Tip by Nancy at My Ancestors and Me gives us a glimpse of the types of information we’ll get when the 1940 Census is made available this April. [February 7]

More Than Meets The Eye (Again): A Tuesday’s Tip Follow Up! by Cynthia Shenette at Heritage Zen offers some great advice on reviewing the photos in our collections.  Cynthia says, “if you have a group of photos or materials that seem to be related in some way make sure you view them together and consider the group as a whole” – see her post on the discovery she made doing just that.   [January 31]

Set in Stone? by Bill West at West in New England reminds us not to believe everything we read…even if it’s written in stone! [January 29]

The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Genealogists by Randall Dickerson from Free-Range Organic Genealogy (formerly known as Alabama Genealogy and Ramblings) humorously ponders the question of what species of genealogist we all belong to.  As Randall points out, take note that “Any resemblance between these descriptions and any genealogist, alive or dead, is unintended, a coincidence, and a darn shame.” [January 29]

What’s Past at What’s Past is Prologue ~ What You May Have Missed

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Four Years Ago:

What’s Prologue at What’s Past is Prologue ~ Coming Up

I had quite a few posts planned for February…but here it is and the month is half over and I haven’t quite gotten to my ideas yet.  I hope to post in the next month about some finds in a new collection at Ancestry.com, the preponderance of February dates in one of my ancestral families, and my preparations for the 1940 Census.

As always, thanks for reading, following, and subscribing!

Each year, the (nonexistent) Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH) offers genealogy bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for the previous year.  After reviewing all of the entries, reading the critics’ reviews, and tallying up the votes, it’s time to roll out the red carpet and present the honors.  Welcome to the 2011 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Best Picture

 “Loved this! As if the first photo wasn’t cute enough…”  ~ Cynthia Shenette of Heritage Zen

The Best Picture award goes to Christmas: Then and Now from December.  Technically that would be the Best Pictures award since the post has two photographs.  The first is my brother and I on Christmas morning in 1971…then a do-over forty years later! It was fun to recreate. Well, it was fun until we had to get up off of the floor, and then we realized that we are forty years older.

Best Screenplay

“This may be the most amazing newspaper find I know of. Less spectacular if you lived in Germany and it was a hundred years ago, but here, now? I’m blown away by your storm. Delicious title, btw.” ~ Susan of Nolichucky Roots 

“Lucky lucky you! What a find. Maybe you should try writing a thriller… you show real talent for chapter titles.” ~ Denise Levenick, the Family Curator

The story of the 1813 thunderstorm in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, wins the award for Best Screenplay. Lightning struck the church steeple and caught fire, and the fire spread to several houses and barns.  It was raining so hard, eyewitnesses report barely being able to see in front of you. The townspeople feared that the entire town would be destroyed by fire, but two men bravely fought the fire and brought it under control. The two heroes in this dramatic story were the town’s Master Carpenter and Master Mason…and the Master Carpenter was my 4th great grandfather, Karl Nigg.

Best Documentary

“Donna, I was amazed by this post and became a follower right away. It is material like this that expands genealogy and family history not only into a source for finding ancestors but also for adding fantastic color to their lives. Wonderful!” ~ Kathy from ‘Village Life in Kreis Saarburg, Germany’ 

Another amazing Google Books find was the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, which I referred to as “Bavaria’s Most Wanted” since it lists names and other information on men and women wanted for crimes throughout Bavaria.  This would make a fascinating television series…talk about reality tv!  The papers, which date from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries, have a section for criminals called “Wanted Dead or Alive”, a “Beware” list of shifty characters, and a “Who is This?” for unidentified persons. Some photos are included, too!

Best Biography

“Great stuff, Donna!” ~ Lisa Alzo, the Accidental Genealogist

July’s post, The Fugitive Immigrant, wins for Best Biography. I found out my great-grandfather’s brother was wanted by the Bavarian authorities when he immigrated to the United States! I just wish I knew what “fraud” he committed back in 1903.

Best Comedy

Okay, sistah, but most of you will be passed out before the show even airs on the left coast.” ~ Kathryn Doyle of the California Genealogical Society and Library

“This is awesome! I re-posted it everywhere. I can’t wipe the smile off my face, it gives whole new meaning to who I think I am! =) Thanks for the fun!” ~ Jennifer

The winner of the Best Comedy award goes to February’s post, The WDYTYA Drinking Game. I couldn’t help but find the humor in genealogists’ favorite Friday night show. And, based on the comments, everyone else found the humor in my humor. But, just for the record, all I ever said was favorite beverage.  I never said it had to be alcoholic!

I’d like to thank the Academy for these awards, all of the great “reviews” from the critics, my adoring fans, and our iGENE hostess with the mostess, Jasia!

[Submitted for the 114th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The 5th Annual iGENE Awards]

Geniaus has proposed The Bucket List GeneaMeme in which we share genealogy-related things we’d like to do.  The “rules” said to put the things you want to do in bold and the others in plain type, but since my list contains mostly things I want to do I’m just leaving it plain.

The genealogy conference I would most like to attend is… FEEFHS (Federation of East European Family History Societies) because the topics would be relevant to my research.

The genealogy speaker I would most like to hear and see is… Fred Hoffman, because he rocks and I’ve never heard him speak.

The geneablogger I would most like to meet in person is… SmallestLeaf, also known as Lisa, because we’ve become good friends and have a lot in common, but we’ve never had the opportunity to meet.

The genealogy writer I would most like to have dinner with is… Lisa Alzo, because we always have a great time when we have dinner together! [We're having dinner with Steve Danko to the left in June, 2011.]

The genealogy lecture I would most like to present is…. one that I already presented because I wouldn’t have much to prepare (either Genealogy Blogging or Finding Your Eastern European Ancestors in Russian Consular Records).

I would like to go on a genealogy cruise that visits…. I don’t do cruises because I would rather spend more time in a place.  I might not say no to a Mediterranean cruise, but as far as I know I have no ancestry from that area.

The photo I would most like to find is… my Piątkowski great-grandparents, because they are the only ones for whom I don’t have a photo.

The repository in a foreign land I would most like to visit is… Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych (Poland’s National Archives) as long as I have Steve Danko along to assist.

The place of worship I would most like to visit is… the church in Dobrosołowo, Poland where my Zawodny great-grandparents married in 1902 because it’s one of my ancestral churches I have not yet visited.

The cemetery I would most like to visit is …. this is a tough one because most of my ancestors who died in Europe no longer have marked graves.

The ancestral town or village I would most like to visit is…. Dobrosołowo, Poland, because I haven’t been there yet.

The brick wall I most want to smash is…. finding Elizabeth Miller’s (Elżbieta Müller’s) birthplace, because she’s my most frustrating search!

The piece of software I most want to buy is…. Family Tree Maker 2012, because I’d like the new version and haven’t gotten around to buying it yet.

The tech toy I want to purchase next is….. a Mac, because I’m tired of Windows updates and slow response times.

The expensive book I would most like to buy is… Evidence Explained, because <whispers> I don’t actually have a copy.

The library I would most like to visit is….. the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, because I found so much the last time I was there!

The genealogy related book I would most like to write is…. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, because I have a few ideas. 

The genealogy blog I would most like to start would be about…. Catholic genealogy.  Oh wait, I already did that.  Maybe one on Bavarian genealogy if I could only find other researchers that would contribute and/or be interested in the topic.

The journal article I would most like to write would be about… Polish research, because I know a few things about it.  Note to PGSCTNE, yes, I do realize I owe your society a journal article on Polish research…it’s coming! 

The ancestor I most want to meet in the afterlife is…. my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny (1880-1944), because he had an interesting life and he seemed like a really nice guy.

As Geniaus suggested, I added a couple of my own items to the list:

The celebrity I’d most like to see on Who Do You Think You Are? is…. Johnny Galecki, so I can see if he’s related to my Galecki cousins (and it would be nice if they did some Polish research on the show).

The genealogical research skill I would most like to have is…. the sudden ability to read and comprehend Polish, Russian, and German, because it would make research so much easier.

The genealogy tech gadget I would most like to invent is…. a scanner that will automatically translate a record from a foreign language to English, because it would be not only useful but highly profitable.

The genealogical records I would most like to see become available online are…. Pennsylvania death records for the 20th Century and the entire Family History Library collection, because….well, duh, just because!

The family heirloom I would most like to own is…. my great-grandmother Zawodny’s sewing machine, because it would be cool to have it.

The living cousin I would most like to find is… any descendant of my grandfather’s brothers, Eugene Pater and Walter Miller, because I haven’t found any yet and it would be nice to connect to that branch of the family.

What’s on your genealogy bucket list?

Flying High

Flying high somewhere between Italy and Philadelphia, April 2006.

Sometimes when things become ordinary I forget how extraordinary they are – like flying on airplanes.  It is so easy to get anywhere in the world by simply buying a ticket. It’s so easy that I forget that flight is a relatively new phenomenon. It was only about a hundred years ago that commercial flight became available, and while that may seem like a very long time ago, in the grand history of the world it’s practically yesterday.

My immigrant ancestors spent two weeks on a ship to get to America in the early 1900s.  I often wonder what they would think about the fact that I can reach their homelands today in about 8 hours. While there have been many, many inventions since they lived and died, I can’t help but think that air flight might be the one that would amaze them the most.

Although flights became available in my grandparents’ youth, it was something that only the rich could afford. None of my grandparents ever flew on an airplane. My father took his first flight in his 20s – a very short hop to Birmingham, NY for training for his job.  Even though he traveled the world as a sailor in the U.S. Navy, that short flight remains his first and only.  My mother has only flown two roundtrips in her life, and the first was not until she was in her early 50s.

My brother and I got to experience the joy of flying a bit more often – and, despite the hassles of baggage, security lines and searches, screaming babies, and long periods of waiting and boredom, it is still a joy.  My brother first flew courtesy of the United States Marine Corps and has been on several trips on his own since then. My very first flight at the age of 18 was a doozy – a long, crowded, transatlantic charter – to Rome, Italy! I didn’t know any better at the time, but looking back with more wisdom that flight was horrendous with turbulence almost the entire time.  Having never flown before, I just thought it was a lot like riding a bus with the bumpiness and I was as happy as can be.

It would be seven years before my next flight, but since then I’ve had the good fortune to go on many.  My job occasionally requires me to travel by air – some years I’ve only traveled once or twice, but other years I’ve been on a dozen trips. I’ve also been very fortunate to fly for some of my vacations, so over the years I’ve become a rather experienced frequent flyer. But all that time up in the sky or waiting in airports makes me forget just how amazing it is to board an airplane, magically rise 5 or 6 miles up into the sky, and safely land far, far away from my home just hours later.

On one work trip, I sat and listened to the flight attendants go through the safety information for what felt like the thousandth time in my life.  After a long wait, I just wanted to get where I was going and the charm of being on a flight had long since worn off.  That is, until a child seated near me exclaimed, with all of the wide-eyed wonder only accessible to children, “Look, it’s a tiny table that opens up!” As he squealed with delight at the discovery of the tray table, I had to smile myself – yes, this flying thing and everything associated with it is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

While my trip to Rome was exciting because it was the first, and a vacation to California at age 25 was exciting just because it was a vacation to California, it was a flight when I was 28 years old that gave me a different kind of euphoria – it was my very first flight alone.  I was flying to Denver, Colorado to meet friends flying in from elsewhere. To this day, I remember waving good-bye to my father and walking through the security checkpoint – and at that moment, I felt a sense of exhilaration and broke out into a large smile. I was about to fly somewhere I had never been, I was all alone, and I thought it was the most wonderful feeling in the entire world!

As I said, my job has required me to take a fair amount of flights.  I’ve experienced some very long ones and the longest was a trip to Seoul, South Korea.  I think it took about fifteen hours, and I was very blessed that I was allowed to take First Class (a rarity in Government travel unless the flight exceeds fourteen hours!).  The shortest flight I’ve ever taken is a tie between either Norfolk or Boston – both are about 20 minutes in the air. However, one flight to Boston was so bumpy due to bad weather that it actually felt longer than the trip to Seoul! I also had a very short flight from somewhere in Florida to Pensacola, and an encounter with turbulence almost sent the world’s tiniest beverage cart flying down the aisle towards my center-of-the-back-row seat.

A U.S. Air Force C-130 military transport plane. Taken at Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, CO in February, 2003 as my teammates board the plane.

My friend Leona and I aboard the C-130, February 2003.

The most unique flights I’ve ever taken were on military aircraft. I had the privilege of flying on an Air Force C-130 from Colorado to Nevada. The flight was equipped with standard military seating, also known as “tactical configuration” which is what they use to jump out of airplanes.  There was no need to worry about my seatback being in an upright position, because military seating does not mean the standard rows of seats in a commercial airline.  Instead, there are four rows of seats going down the plane lengthwise, and the seats are made out of webbing.  So, it is the equivalent of sitting in a lawn chair for the entire flight. But at least we didn’t have to jump out of the plane…

Another military flight was far different, though. I was in a leadership program with about 50 other civilians from around the country, and one week we had to fly to several locations in North Dakota, Alaska, and Tennessee.  Rather than attempt to get commercial flights for all of us, we had a jet at our disposal piloted by a flight crew of National Guardsmen.  Since we had the flight all to ourselves, they were the most enjoyable flights I ever took. And I even sat in the cockpit part of the way from North Dakota to Alaska! Now I know for a fact that pilots have the best view of all.

This was way, way better than flying on a C-130!

The pilot was cool, but he wouldn't let me fly the plane.... Taken somewhere between North Dakota and Alaska, April 2003.

The view is one of my favorite things about flying. I have seen many awesome things from the air, and they are no less impressive at that height.  In fact, they were likely more impressive as seen from up above than from on the ground.  My first and only view of the Grand Canyon so far was from a plane about 30,000 feet in the sky – and even at that distance, I could not believe how big and beautiful it is.  Similarly, I had never seen the Mississippi River before – except from the air. I did not realize how big it is – and if it looked big from that high up, it is definitely wider than I ever imagined.

Other awesome sights from the sky include the Norfolk Bay Bridge Tunnel where you get an incredible view of the disappearing road as it goes underwater – and then reappears.  I’ve seen a close up view of the skyscrapers of New York City, and I’ve even flown over Citizens Bank Park during a Phillies game.  The single most incredible sight was during that “private” flight to Alaska.  The pilot was granted permission to take the plane as close as possible to Mt. McKinley. It was a beautiful, clear day and the pilot announced that he was going to take us for a closer view. The friend next to me and I were leaning over in our seats to look out the window.  “Is that it?” he asked, pointing to one of the mountains. I didn’t know.  “Maybe,” I said, “it looks pretty big.”  We were looking down at some mountains trying to determine which one Mt. McKinley actually was when suddenly this massive mountain appeared next to the window at eye level.  In fact, we had to look up to see the top of it. We both said simultaneously, “Wow – that’s it!” I’ve seen many mountains from the air, but I have never seen anything quite as big as that one.

Mt. McKinley from the sky...awesome! Taken in April, 2003.

What’s my favorite view from the sky? I have two.  First, I love looking out and seeing a brilliant blue sky and a carpet of clouds. I know that everyone below those clouds is having a cloudy, dreary, and rainy day. But from my view, the sun is shining! It reminds me that life is all a matter of perspective, and sometimes from a 30,000 ft. view things don’t seem quite as bad.  Next, my favorite site is the view as the plane approaches home. It is fun to go away, and amazing to see beautiful sights from the sky. But I really feel like I’m flying high when I come home again.

My ancestors never got to experience the wonder of flight – but did they feel that same “coming home” feeling when they saw America for the first time?

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