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Back on August 9, 2009, Randy Seaver presented another Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) challenge for readers to document their sixteen great-great-grandparents.  I responded to the call with Sweet Sixteen: My Great-Great Grandparents.  But, my tree was a little bare in some spots.  I did not know at least 4 names and was “iffy” on two more.  In fact, I only had documented birth and death dates for 3 of the 16.

A few months later, I was able to update my list with A Sweeter “Sweet Sixteen” – I had documented proof of 4 of the missing names.  Then, last year I attended the NGS conference in Salt Lake City and found a lot of additional information that was previously missing with many marriage and birth records.

Today, Randy posed a very similar SNGF challenge.  I decided to take a look at my list to see what I had learned in the two years since my original post. While I still have a lot of research to do, I was able to add 4 of the “unknown” birth details into the “documented” category (which means I know the names of 8 more great-great-greats!). A bigger challenge was correcting the place names. Rather than simply put the name of the town and the current country, I attempted to figure out the town, county or equivalent, state or equivalent, and country name at the time of the event.  For my Polish ancestors, whose borders changed more frequently than I can keep track of, Steve Danko’s post on Describing Place Names in Poland was invaluable.  I hope I got them right!

Here is my revised/updated Sweet Sixteen:

Note: [d] = documented , [p]=presumed based on other documents

16. Stanisław Piątkowski

  • b. 1842, Mogilev, Mogilev Gubernia, Russian Empire [p]
  • m. Apolonia Konopka on 10 May 1863, Holy Cross Parish church in Warsaw, Warsaw Obwód, Mazowsze Voivodeship, Congress Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Warsaw before 1900]
  • Son of Ludwik Piątkowski and Benigna Kosecka

17. Apolonia Konopka

  • b. 1842, Konopki, Augustów Gubernia, Poland [p]
  • d. unknown [presumed Warsaw before 1900]
  • Daughter of Stanisław Konopka and Rozalia Karwowska

18. Jan Kiziewieter

  • b. 1831, unknown [Poland]
  • m. Marianna Ostał before 1866 [p]
  • d. unknown [between 1876-1900, presumed near Warsaw]
  • Parents’ names unknown

19. Marianna Ostał

  • b. 1833, unknown [Poland]
  • d. unknown [after 1900, presumed Warsaw]
  • Parents’ names unknown

20. Josef Bergmeister

  • b. 09 Feb 1843, Puch, Pörnbach, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • m. Ursula Dallmeier on 11 Apr 1871 in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Regensburg or München before 1885]
  • Son of Jakob Bergmeister and Anna Maria Daniel

21. Ursula Dallmeier

  • b. 17 Mar 1847, Aichach, Aichach-Friedberg, Schwaben, Bayern [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Regensberg between 1897 – 1919]
  • m2. Herman Götz by 1885 [p]
  • Daughter of Josef Dallmeier and Ursula Eulinger

22. Karl Echerer

  • b. 31 May 1846, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • m. Margarethe Fischer 18 May 1874, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed after 1882, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm]
  • Son of Ignaz Echerer and Magdalena Nigg

23. Margarethe Fischer

  • b. 21 Jan 1845, Langenbruck, Reichertshofen, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • d. 04 Oct 1895, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • Daughter of Franz Xaver Fischer and Barbara Gürtner

24. Józef Pater

  • b. 21 Sep 1864, Ruda Guzowska, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Antoninan Rozalia Pluta on 25 Aug 1885 in Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 11 Aug 1945, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA [d]
  • Son of Jan Pater and Teofilia Zakrzewska

25. Antonina Rozalia Pluta

  • b. 11 Jun 1863, Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 12 Dec 1938, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA [d]
  • Daughter of Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Wojciechowska

26. Jan Müller

  • b. unknown [presumed Bohemia]
  • m. Elżbieta Smetana by 1881 in unknown place
  • d. unknown [presumed Żyrardów, Poland after 1909]
  • Parents’ names unknown

27. Elizabeth Smetanna

  • b. unknown [presumed Bohemia]
  • d. unknown [presumed Żyrardów, Poland]
  • Parents’ names unknown

28. Wawrzyniec Zawodny

  • b. 11 July 1850, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Katarzyna Mariańska on 10 May 1875 in Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 13 Dec 1917, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Regency Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • Son of Szymon Zawodny and Katarzyna Ratajewska

29. Katarzyna Mariańska

  • b. 19 Oct 1852, Komorowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 29 Jul 1923, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Daughter of Stanisław Mariański and Michalina Radomska

30. Wincenty Ślesiński

  • b. 11 Jul 1850, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Stanisława Drogowska 03 Sep 1879 in Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 01 Jan 1919, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Son of Jozef Ślesiński and Elżbieta Michalowska

31. Stanisława Drogowska

  • b. 04 Jun 1860, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 30 Dec 1918, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Daughter of Jan Drogowski and Konstancja Kubica

My ancestry remains the same as calculated two years ago: 62.5% Polish (the guy born in what is now Belarus is ethnically Polish), 25% German (technically Bavarian since Germany did not exist as a unified state until 1871), and 12.5% presumed Czech (Bohemian).  Thanks, Randy, now those blanks are really bothering me!

My previous post discussed the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt found on Google Books, which I call “Bavaria’s Most Wanted” since it lists names and other information on men and women wanted for crimes throughout Bavaria.  In the collection from 1903, I found a relative listed in issue No. 128 dated 26 September 1903.  He is listed under the heading which is roughly translated as “Residence of the following people is requested” as follows:

8821. Bergmeister Ignaz, led. Müller von Puch, A-G. Geisenfeld, B-A. Pfaffenhofen, geb. 24.4.76 in Abensberg, B-A. Kelheim, weg Betrugs (V 135). Augsburg 19.9.1903. K. Staatsanwalt

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, No. 128, 26 September 1903

With help from my cousin Armin, I determined that the abbreviated words are:

  • led = lediger – unmarried
  • A-G = Amts-Gericht – District Court
  • B-A = Bezirks-Amt – District Office
  • geb = geboren – born
  • weg = wegen – because of
  • K = Königlicher – Royal

So the entry translates as:

8821. Bergmeister Ignaz, unmarried miller from Puch, District Court of Geisenfeld, Pfaffenhofen District, born 24 April 1876 in Abensberg, Kelheim District, because of fraud (V 135). Augsburg, 19 September 1903, State Advocate

I’m not sure what (V 135) refers to, but there is enough identifying information to know that this is my great-grandfather’s brother Ignaz. The Bergmeister’s were millers from Puch, and I knew Ignaz’s birthdate from a later record in his own handwriting. However, his birthplace of Abensberg is new information for me.

Apparently Ignaz was not “found” by the police or the court.  In the 23 October 1903 issue No. 144, an arrest warrant (Haftbefehle) is issued.  That listing says he is wanted for fraud by the State Advocate by order of the judge in Burgau and should be delivered to the nearest jail.

I would love to know what constituted “fraud” in Bavaria in 1903, but unfortunately I have no details on what led up to the warrant for his arrest.  I am doubtful, however, that Ignaz ever made it to jail, because the following June he boards the S.S. Switzerland in Antwerp, Belgium and arrives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States on June 16, 1904.

This passenger arrival record is how I discovered that Joseph Bergmeister and his sister Hilaury even had a brother – before that discovery, Ignaz was unknown to me. I knew he was their brother because the passenger arrival record listed Hilaury’s husband, Max Thuman, as the brother-in-law that paid for his passage, and the page indicated that his sister met him at the dock.

Further research into Ignaz’s life proved the relationship.  The 1907 marriage record in New York City of Ig. N. Bergmeister and Therese Frank lists Ignaz’s parents as Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula nee Dahlmeier – Joseph’s and Hilaury’s parents.

I was curious that my grandmother, who was Ignaz’s niece, never mentioned him although she mentioned her aunt “Laura” and another uncle, Julius Goetz (after the death of her Bergmeister husband, Ursula Dahlmeier (or Dallmeier or Dallmaier) Bergmeister married Herman Goetz and had at least two more children, Herman and Julius).  After researching more about Ignaz, I found out why she never mentioned him – she probably never knew him.

In 1908, the couple had a daughter, Theresa.  A son, Charles N. Bergmeister, was born in November, 1909.  In 1910 the family lived in New York City on E. 57th Street where Ignaz worked as a driver at a brewery.  Between 1910 and 1918, the family moved to Elizabeth, NJ, where wife Theresa had lived at the time of the marriage.  The family lived at 638 Fulton Street.  Ignaz registered for the WWI draft listing his birth date as 23 April 1876 (one day off from the 1903 arrest warrant notice) and his occupation as a driver for Rising Sun Brewery in Elizabeth, NJ.  The physical description on the draft card indicates he was tall with a medium build, had blue eyes and “mixed” hair color.

Unfortunately, the next public record found for Ignaz is his death record.  He died on 19 November 1919 from cirrhosis of the liver.  He was only 43 years old; his children were only 9 and 11.  Ignaz’s widow and children are still living in the same house for the 1920 and 1930 census enumerations.

At the time of Ignaz’s death, my grandmother was only 6 years old.  Her mother died earlier that year.  Her father, Ignaz’s brother Joseph, would also die young in 1927.  Because of the distance from Elizabeth to Philadelphia, I assume that my grandmother and her older siblings did not know their cousins Theresa and Charles.

In trying to track down Ignaz’s descendants, I have not been able to find any further information on his daughter, Theresa Bergmeister.  Ignaz’s son, Charles Bergmeister, married Florence Obach and had at least two children.  Their son, Steven Charles, was born in 1943 and died in 1994.  One year later on the same date as Steven’s death, Charles died at the age of 86.  Relatives of Florence have indicated that the couple also had a daughter named Jeanne (possibly Jeanne Gelber) who is still living.

Locations for Joseph Bergmeister's birth, marriage, and children in Bavaria (Oberbayern).

Now I know about the rest of the short life of Ignaz Bergmeister, but I wish I knew more about his early life and the events that led up to being wanted for fraud.  The police listing gave me an important clue with the name of his birthplace: Abensberg.  Both Joseph and Hilaury were born in Vohburg.  The parents, Joseph and Ursula, were married in Pfaffenhofen although Joseph was from Puch. As a flour merchant, it appears that Joseph traveled around Bavaria quite a bit.  I am still searching for his death record.  Based on the birth dates for Ursula’s other children, it is assumed that Joseph (senior) died between 1876 and 1884 somewhere in Bavaria.

Of course, the story of Ignaz also raises another question – how many of Bavaria’s Most Wanted show up on passenger arrival records to the United States shortly after they make the list?  Now that would be an interesting research project!

A future post will offer some tips on using Google Books to find and use records such as the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt.

SourceBayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1903. Original from Harvard University, digitized August 5, 2008.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=4cAqAAAAYAAJ.

Source information for marriage record, death records, census records, and draft record available upon request.

 

While doing some random Google searches, I stumbled upon a fascinating resource on Google Books – the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, or the Bavarian Central Police newspaper.  In short, Bavaria’s Most Wanted.

While my German language skills are lacking, it seems that this paper was distributed throughout Germany and perhaps neighboring countries – presumably to police departments.  Each edition lists many individuals that are wanted by the police for various crimes or for further questioning, or they are wanted by the court to serve their time. The paper is a multi-purposed resource: a “Wanted Dead or Alive” for criminals, a “Beware” list of shifty characters, and a “Who is This?” for unidentified persons.  Some listings are quite detailed and others are brief, but many include the person’s physical descriptions, identifying information such as birth dates, birth places, and occupations), and occasionally even photographs of the individuals.

The collection found on Google Books was digitized from originals at Harvard University’s Law Library. The collection includes papers published in Bavaria from 1866 to 1910.

Crime hasn’t changed much since then. The first edition found online from 1866 has a wide variety of crimes listed including rape, fraud, theft, forgery, violence, and vagrancy – and the alleged criminals are both men and women.  Maria Balthasar, a seamstress from Austria who also claims to be an actress, was wanted for misdemeanor theft. Johann Schäffer from Brixen, Tyrol, was wanted for questioning for an investigation about a brawl.  Johann Gieselbreth, a goldsmith from Linz, Tyrol, apparently disappeared with quite a bit of gold that did not belong to him. Katharina Pfeifer, a cook working for Baron Eichthal, was accused of “the crime of theft by misappropriation of silver spoons and forks, then the crime of fraud embezzlement.”

The paper does not include the type of information about the crimes that a newspaper account would, but the brief descriptions left me wanting to know more.  One particularly intriguing crime is “returning from exile” – which seems to indicate that perhaps exile from the country is a punishment for one crime and returning early is another crime on top of it.  Is that similar to breaking parole?

Naturally, the individuals I became most fascinated by were those that had their photographs printed in the paper.  I found quite a few great stories browsing through the 1903 edition.  Many photos were the typical “mug shots” – front and side view like you see today.

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, 1903, page 631. Unknown man wanted for grand larceny.

Under the headline “Unbekannter Verhafteter” – “Unknown Arrested”, this man is described as being approximately 60 years old, 1.75 meters tall, with gray hair, graying mustache, and gray eyes.  He committed grand larceny – either at the Neunkirchen train station or else that is where he was last seen. The courts believe he might be a carpenter named Sebastian Maier, who was born on 23 Mar 1853 to Christoph and Margarete Maier.

Other photos looked like upstanding, law-abiding individuals such as this attractive couple:

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, 1903, page 581. Mr. & Mrs. Ellenrieder from Munich.

This is Hugo Ellenrieder, a banker from Munich (born 1871), and his wife Elise (born 1876) nee Kahl.  The happy couple are traveling together – apparently away from Munich, where they are wanted for a fradulent admission of bankruptcy.

Some of the photos were a bit creepy, particularly the ones of dead guys in coffins:

Bayer. Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, 1903, page 13. Unidentified victim pulled from a river.

This poor guy is not a criminal, but an unidentified body found in the river near Bamberg.  Since the police were unable to identify the body, they printed a the photo as well as a detailed description including scars on his body and the clothes he was wearing.  His pocket contained a wallet with 7 pennies and one room key.

Just browsing through one year’s worth of the Bayerische Zentral-Polizei-Blatt and looking at only the stories with photos would provide me with several interesting blog posts.  There were sad stories like the deaf and dumb man wanted for vagrancy or the entire Gypsy family, parents and four children, wanted for begging.  These two particular crimes seem to show up frequently, and the culprits seemed to be foreigners, mentally ill, or deaf.

Occasionally the paper had photos of missing people.  One of the sadder ones was a photo of a cute young boy who had been missing from his home for months.

Some stories make me want to know more about what happened – both before the crime and after!  What ever happened to the studious-looking, bespeckled notary clerk who was wanted for embellzement?  Then there was the well-dressed, attractive, mustached Italian named Guido Wölfler.  He was a watchmaker’s assistant from Florence traveling in Germany also using the alias “Bonvini”.  It seems that Guido was wanted for embezzling a significant sum of money “to the detriment of Italian workers”.  No wonder he was in Germany…

As I wondered about “the rest of the story” for these individuals, I came upon a surprise – a name I knew. I don’t know the beginning of the story or the circumstances of the crime, but here was one tale I could tell further!  Stay tuned for my next post to learn more about the relative I found listed in Bavaria’s Most Wanted.

Sources:

Bayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1866. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized November 22, 2010.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=OQZFAAAAcAAJ

Bayer[isches] Central-Polizei-Blatt. Published 1903. Original from Harvard University, digitized August 5, 2008.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=4cAqAAAAYAAJ.

Münchener politische Zeitung Issue 162, July 1813

Weather has always been big news, and the more severe the weather, the bigger the news. I was surprised to discover that the media obsession with weather-related events isn’t new – it also happened in my Bavarian ancestors’ hometown back in 1813. I recently found this newspaper account of a violent storm that occurred in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm and the fire that resulted from lightning strikes. It reads:

Bavaria. Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, 3 July 1813.  The big storm that occurred in our town on 30 June caused a great havoc, since the lightning that accompanied him seems to have uniquely discharged only here. The clouds stood so low that one flash of lightning followed another, and almost every flash fell down on earth but mainly fell on the high-pointed tower of the town’s church. A lightning flash hit a barn filled with straw in a side alley, which immediately ignited nine other hay and straw-filled barns that were mostly very old already and not well built.

Despite very nearly all the possible obstacles of nature united so that even the most determined men gave up all hope of rescuing even one single house throughout the city, every attempt was made with the greatest consternation to stop the fire line that was spreading with enormous speed during the continuing storm, which turned in all directions in rapid alternations, and with the rain pouring down where you could barely see what was in front of you.

Miraculously, after the toughest six-hour battle against the violent storm wind, the flames were pushed down on the floor and prevented from spreading further; the fire itself could only be put off today.  The courage in the apparent dangers,  the skill and presence of mind of Master Carpenter Nigg and Master Mason Pickl, which both have distinguished themselves so often in similar cases, could not be praised enough.

The fire would not have burned down so many buildings if these old buildings were not built so badly and if they had been equipped with proper fire walls. As lucky as the town was with this great misfortune, the damage that was suffered on the buildings and the carriages can be estimated at approximately 80,000 fl., not considering the fire insurance sum of 14,000 fl. for a total of 5 houses, 4 stables and 9 barns.  Several smaller building nearby were enflamed which included the buildings of three farmers, that of Franzbräuer, Kreitmaierbräuers and Zuhammers. However, no one was seriously injured during their work.

According to news received from the state court, this terrible thunderstorm was spread over many miles and caused great devastation in the forests and woods. The lightning hit very often, but nothing else was set on fire. Highly remarkable is the strange fact that two years ago on 01 July, a similar thunderstorm along with a tornado-like storm caused great devastation when a lightning strike hit the church tower of Pfaffenhofen, set a farm in the area on fire, and caused a damage of at least 50,000 fl. due to a severe rainstorm and hail.

On 30 June between 9 and 10 in the evening, a severe thunderstorm and hailstorm developed in the area of Regensburg, but it caused no significant harm in the area near the city. The storm that accompanied the thunder storm, however, destroyed century-old lime trees along the surrounding walk ways and tore down many fruit trees in the gardens within the neighborhood.  Two hours later, a torrential thunderstorm erupted in the area of Karlovy Vary (Bohemia).

The reason I was drawn to this story? Master Carpenter Nigg, one of the two named men credited with fighting the fire, is my 4th great-grandfather. Since I have difficulty finding my 20th century ancestors in newspapers, imagine my surprise when I found an ancestor in the press who lived from 1767 to 1844! I’m happy to know that he was well-regarded in the town for his courage, skill, and “presence of mind” and that it did not appear to be the first time he distinguished himself in that manner.  The storm of 30 June 1813 and the resultant fire must have been terribly frightening for his family.  At the time, Karl Nigg and his wife Maria Höck had eight young children. While I am not entirely sure if all eight children were still living since infant mortality was high at the time, at least one child was alive – my 3rd great-grandmother, Magdalena, who was six years old at the time of the storm.

SourceMünchener politische Zeitung: mit allerhöchstem Privilegium. Page 757, Issue 162, July 1813.  Publisher: Wolf, 1813. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized Sep 17, 2010.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=DidEAAAAcAAJ

Many thanks to my friend Marion for the translation.  I broke up some of the paragraphs and sentences for easier reading. And I can’t believe I was able to find a perfect post to actually use “It was a dark and stormy night” for the title!

Have you ever looked at a genealogical record and seen what you expected to see rather than what was actually there? Recently I started organizing data in anticipation of the 2012 release of the 1940 Census, and that includes reviewing addresses and enumeration districts from the 1930 Census.  This is how I realized that for nearly the last ten years I’ve misread one of my family’s entries.

By 1930, my grandmother’s parents were deceased.  My grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister, was only 17 years old and the youngest in the family.  Her siblings included a sister, Marie, and three brothers: Joseph, Max, and Julius. When it came to researching my families, the Bergmeister’s were the easiest. My father remembered a lot of information about his aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Unlike some other branches of my family, the Bergmeister’s didn’t try to hide from the census-takers or make up information. But after reviewing the 1930 entry, I’m left with another mystery on my hands.

Julius, Margaret, Max, Joseph, Marie - October 10, 1959

I’ve already indicated that my grandmother is nowhere to be found in either the 1920 or 1930 Census. The reasonable theory is that she was living with her aunt or visiting at the time of the Census and was simply left out of the family’s lineup (this includes by her own father in 1920). In 1930 she may have been living with the aunt or her sister, but neither household included her. Her oldest brother, Joseph, was 27 and married with two children in 1930. Also listed with his household were his two brothers. When I first found the entry, and in all the years since, it was a “given” to me that they were Max and Julius.  The names that were enumerated, however, were Julius and Gustav.  Since there are many errors on the census, I never thought much about this mix-up in names.  Until now, that is…

As I reviewed the 1930 entry, I realized that Julius is listed with the correct age, followed by “Gustav” who was a year younger.  But Max was older than Julius, so how could that be him?  Then I realized that Max’s daughter, my dad’s cousin, was born in 1930 so Max was likely already married and living on his own.  After a new search, I found 25-year-old Max (indexed under the surname Bergmuset) living with his wife, Sophia.

When did Joe get a brother named Gus?

Back to Joseph and his brothers…  Um, Gustav who?  He is listed as 21 years old, one year younger than Julius.  There’s just one problem…the Bergmeister’s didn’t have a brother named Gustav.  Or did they?  Census paranoia has now set in…could there be another brother that probably died in his 20s and therefore wasn’t know by his nieces and nephews or talked about by his brothers and sisters?

I went off on a wild goose chase to see if there may have been another brother. I’ve encountered plenty of mis-information in census records before, but I always blamed the fact that my ancestors were immigrants and likely spoke in heavily accented English.  But in this case, Joseph and his brothers were all born in Philadelphia – understanding the language would not have been a problem.

After consideration, I’ve determined that the entry for Gustav is likely a mysterious mistake and not a previously unknown sibling. First, there is no oral history of this brother – I’ve met many of my second cousins, and the family stories all have the same information. My father and several of his cousins who are older than my father have no recollection of another brother. There is no sibling named Gustav listed with the family on either the 1910 or 1920 census (but then again, my grandmother, born 1913, is fully absent from both the 1920 and 1930). If there had been a brother who died before my father and his older cousins were old enough to have known and/or remember him, that brother would have likely been buried with his parents.  That grave, purchased in 1919 upon the death of the mother of the family, had room for six, but there is no Gustav buried with them.

Finally, the most compelling reason that I doubt the existence of this brother is that there were two other children born in between Julius and Margaret that would make the birth year of 1909 (based on being 21 in 1930) impossible.  The Bergmeister’s had two premature infants who died on the same day they were born: Charles in July 1909 and Laura in November 1911.  Julius was born in June, 1907, so it is conceivable (pun intended) that another child could have been born in 1908 – but not in 1909.  But in the 1910 census, mother Marie is listed as having borne 5 children, 4 of whom are living – this would include baby Charles’ death and the births of Marie, Joseph, Max, and Julius, but no Gustav.

So young Gustav remains a mystery.  I even considered that perhaps his is the brother of Joseph’s wife, Helen Pardus.  After a quick search of Helen’s family in the earlier census records, I found many siblings – but no Gustav or any brother for the approximate year.  Joseph Bergmeister has a cousin named Charles Bergmeister who was born in 1909, but he is enumerated with his mother in Elizabeth, NJ and there is no indication that either branch of the two families were ever in touch after the deaths of their fathers, the brothers Joseph and Ignatz Nicholas Bergmeister (Joseph died in 1927 and Ignatz in 1919).

I chalk Gustav up as yet another census error. Although my grandmother is missing, I’ve found others counted twice and now a phantom brother.  I’m confident that there is no brother Gus…but as a skeptical genealogist, the parish church were the Bergmeister family was baptized will be getting a call this week!

After hearing all of my genealogy friends talk excitedly about Jamboree for the last three years, I finally had a chance to attend the big event. Jamboree 2011, also known as the Southern California Genealogy Society’s Genealogy Jamboree, has been going strong for 42 years. The conference draws not only attendees from all over California, but others like me who traveled a long way just for the opportunity to hear some great speakers and meet some great genealogy friends. I’m glad I went – not only did I have a great time, but I learned a lot! Here are the top ten things I learned at Jamboree 2011:

1. From Warren Bittner, I learned that I’m not the only one who has to go back and research some more after I thought I found the “right” answer. In a great lecture on “Elusive Immigrants”, Warren provided great examples on how to perform exhaustive – or exhausting – research.  With great humor, he reminded us that that’s why we call it “REsearch” and he gave me some new ideas for old research problems.

2. From Lisa Louise Cooke, I learned that I need to update my version of Google Earth.  In her session on “Google Earth for Genealogy”, Lisa showed how this awesome tool can be used to aid your family research and learn more about your family’s neighborhoods.

3. I was very happy to finally attend a lecture by one of genealogy’s true “rock stars” – Stephen Morse – who has the unique ability to explain complicated ideas so that everyone can understand them.  But I was shocked to learn how many other attendees in the audience had never heard of Mr. Morse’s One-Step Webpages! Seriously? Experienced genealogists need to shout Steve’s name from our rooftops (or blogs) to make sure everyone getting started in genealogy knows his name.  I feel a blog post coming on…  The One-Step site started out as a tool to help find immigrants, but it does so much more now that every genealogist can find at least one of Steve’s tools useful.

4. The Photo Detective herself, Maureen Taylor, expertly explained “Advanced Photo Detecting – Cracking the Cold Case”.  She makes me want to dig out all of my photographs and hunt for clues.  If you ever have the opportunity to hear Maureen speak – go!  You won’t be disappointed.

5. I attended several other interesting lectures, but many of the most useful things I learned came from sidebar conversations with my fellow genealogy bloggers that took place in between lectures at either “Bloggers’ Island”, the hotel lobby, or literally beside the bar.  From these knowledgeable friends I learned several new things about new computer technology, writing, self-publishing, and researching Polish records.

6. I learned that peer pressure is alive and well as the Pointer Sisters (also known as Tonia Kendrick, Caroline Pointer, and footnoteMaven) convinced me to join the Twitter revolution. You, too, can follow my inane and/or insane comments @donnapoint if you dare.

7. I learned that pinatas don’t come pre-stuffed, and that you can’t fill them with nearly as much candy as you think you can.

8. I learned that genealogists are resourceful and well prepared.  From whom else could you get a pinata-whacker, some string, a corkscrew, and a spare pair of pajamas at a moment’s notice?

9. I learned that occasionally you know as much as the lecturer and you realize that you could have given a talk on the same topic equally well. I don’t mean this to sound snobbish; rather, sometimes you know more than you think you do.  Rather than be disappointed that I didn’t learn anything new in those lectures, I was happy to realize all my years of research has taught me something that even I can share.

10. Finally, I learned that genealogists make the best friends! I was so happy to spend some time with friends I met before, friends that I’d known online for a while but never met in person, and new friends I met for the first time.  As I said after my first genealogy conference last year, there are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met.  I won’t list all of the bloggers here as the list is lengthy, but I do want to offer some special shout-outs.  First, to my traveling companion, Lisa Alzo, thanks for putting up with me, laughing with me, and sharing your wisdom with me.  To Steve Danko and Kathryn Doyle, for the hospitality, being great tour guides, and making our trip to San Francisco so special. To Denise Levenick, for being our chauffeur, Hollywood tour guide, and provider of donuts, wine, and other goodies as needed.

Some of my non-genealogy friends and family members wonder what “new” things I could learn since I’ve been researching my family for so many years. But I came home with so many ideas…ideas for new blog posts (which this blog has lacked for months!), articles for magazines, lectures to present at other conferences, new avenues to pursue to climb over my research “walls”, and even an idea for a new business.  I have so many new ideas that I’ve had a headache for days, so for now it’s time for a nap.  But let it be a lesson learned (call it #11) – if your brain becomes bored and you lack new and/or creative ideas, go hang out with friends at a Jamboree!

To misquote Mark Twain, the rumors of my blog’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. After receiving thousands hundreds of inquiries (okay, there have only been two), I thought I should explain my AWOL status.  And I’d like to thank my one blogging friend and one German cousin for checking on my health!  I wish I had a more creative or interesting answer to the question of where I’ve been. I’m not sailing the world on my yacht, touring with the band, on my honeymoon, writing my book, deployed, or in the witness protection program. The reality is that I’ve temporarily kinda sorta lost interest in writing about my family history, and if it’s not interesting to me then I really can’t make it worthwhile for anyone else. In the past few months I discovered that if I’m not researching and blogging about it, I have more time do clean my house, go out with friends, read, and re-discover the guitar. But fear not, faithful friends, my interest in genealogy and blogging is starting to have a pulse. And after I attend a big genealogy conference this month I may actually be fired up again!

So, to my loyal readers Denise and Armin as well as anyone else who cares: I’ll be back. Sometime soon, or maybe next month. I have some stories ready to be written about some violent weather in my ancestors’ hometown, a fugitive immigrant, the “missing sister” puzzle, and a story that I’ve been trying to find the words to tell for over a year about a relative who can best be described as a true hero. Stay tuned…and thanks for hanging around.

Did you ever have a moment in your research when you realize you made a mistake?  A rather dumb mistake?  Well, bloggers aren’t afraid to publically humiliate themselves by drawing attention to their mistakes, because our dumb mistakes can serve as a lesson to others.  What’s past is prologue, right?

I recently wrote about the sister who disappeared.  She ran off and got married to someone, name unknown, and never contacted her family again.  Or at least that’s the way the story went.  The truth is – she never contacted her brother James again, my grandfather. But she apparently kept in touch with her brother Joseph!

When I heard from Joseph’s daughter, my father’s cousin, I asked if she knew anything about her missing aunt.  She knew very little – except the aunt’s married name!  Where did my cousin get this information? From her father’s death notice.  As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”

Since Joseph, my father’s uncle, died on my father’s birthday, it was one of the few family death dates that my father knew without a doubt.  I used that date to obtain a copy of Joseph’s death certificate, which provided me with his birth date (that was later verified through other records). So why didn’t I ever search for an obituary or a death notice?  Probably because I’ve rarely found one for any of my relatives. Or, I didn’t think it would tell me anything I didn’t already know.  That would be the genea-understatement of the decade.  If I had searched for one twenty years ago at the start of my research, I would have learned the missing sister’s name and place of residence in 1953.  I also would have learned the married names of my father’s two female cousins – something my father either did not know or did not remember.

So now I know.  Finally.  Let this be a lesson to you, kids – search for every piece of information you can. 

As for the sister who disappeared?  Jean Hynes.  More to come on Aunt Jean in the future.  I’ve learned a bit about her life since finding out this vital piece of information, but I still have not discovered anything about her death.  Once I do find her death date, I’ll certainly be sure to look for a death notice or obituary!

Genealogists really love Friday nights since the return of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are (WDYTYA) . Well, knowing our crowd, we loved Friday nights even before the show’s return, but this makes the start of the weekend even more fun.  We like to watch it, we like to criticize it, we like to blog about it, we like to tweet about it, we like to discuss it.  Face it – WE LIKE IT! To add to the fun, I offer the WDYTYA Drinking Game.  Unlike most stunts, you actually are encouraged to try this at home rather than while you’re out!  The rules are simple – just before showtime grab a glass, can, or bottle of your favorite beverage.  If one of the following events happens during the show, take a swig of your favorite swill:

* The celebrity finds new information and remarks, “Well, I guess I have to go to <insert town, state, or country> now!” – one drink

* The celebrity goes back several generations in two minutes or less – one drink for each generation

* There is a plug for Ancestry in the show – one drink if Ancestry is accessed by a researcher, and two drinks if by the celebrity

* The celebrity finds a photograph of their ancestor in a library or archive – one drink, two if it’s a tintype

* During the commercial break, there’s a commercial for Ancestry – one drink, and get up to refill during the other commercials

* White gloves are used to handle a document – one drink

* White gloves are NOT used to handle a document – two drinks, three if you tweet The Photo Detective or footnoteMaven to complain about it

* The celebrity says, “Wow!” after a find – one drink (Caution notice: after seeing the coming attractions for the Rosie O’Donnell episode, make sure your DVR is set if your beverage of choice is alcoholic, because you might be passed out before the show is over.)

* The celebrity compares the ancestor’s life story to their own – one drink

* A genea-colleague tweets, “Hey, I’m related to <celebrity’s ancestor> too!” during the show – one drink, two drinks if you are related too, three if you call in to Geneabloggers Radio to talk about it

* While watching,  you think “I could have found that!” – one drink, two drinks if you can formulate a proper source citation for it while drinking

* The celebrity takes notes – one drink, two drinks if they use a computer.

* A genea-colleague tweets, “Hey, my ancestors are from <celebrity’s ancestor’s location> too!” during the show – one drink, two drinks if yours are from there too

* You know the librarian, archivist, or genealogist who is helping the celebrity on the show – one drink

* You are the librarian, archivist, or genealogist who is helping the celebrity on the show – buy a few cases of beverages and host a party for the rest of us

Enjoy the show tonight, and remember – do try this at home!  Add your own suggestions in the comments…

As an author of one or two blogs and a reader of, well, a whole lot of blogs, I started to think about readability. Things like font and background colors have an obvious affect on how easy – or hard – it is to visually read a blog. But there are other less obvious choices that we make as bloggers that may not come to mind.  Here are my thoughts on five ways to make our blogs more “reader friendly” – what are yours?

Make Your Blog Mobile Ready

With the proliferation of internet-capable mobile devices, a lot of blog reading is done on a rather small screen instead of a large computer monitor.  Therefore, help your readers out by making your site mobile ready!  What is the difference, you ask?  If your blog isn’t mobile ready, it appears on a mobile device the same as it does on a computer, which means it is either “squished” or you can only see a limited portion of text without scrolling horizontally.  Without the mobile ready setting, this blog is difficult to read on a mobile device:

When your blog is mobile ready, it will appear on a mobile device in a format that is easier to read:

How do you make a blog mobile ready?  WordPress bloggers can go to their Dashboard, Appearance, Extras.  Check the box next to “Display a mobile theme when this blog is viewed with a mobile browser”.  Click on “Update Extras” and you’re ready for the small screen.  Users of the Blogger platform must log on to draft.blogger.com instead of the usual Dashboard in order to see this setting.  Then under Settings, go to Email & Mobile and select “Yes, On mobile devices, show the mobile version of my template.”  Click on “Save Settings” and your blog is ready.  No matter which blog program you use, choosing the mobile ready option does not change the way your template looks on a “regular” computer.

Tell Them Who You Are

Sometimes I’ll find a new blog and want to send the author an email, but I can’t find any contact information! Whether you use your own name or a pseudonym, you’ll have more authority if you let your readers know something about you.  Most bloggers recommend using an “About Me” page to provide your readers with some background information or credentials.  For genealogy blogs, an “About Me” page can be useful to also provide information about your surnames and/or locations of research!  Most importantly, have an email address so that readers who are shy about commenting publicly have a way to get in touch.

Make it Easy to Comment

If you have a blog, you love to get comments, right?  Comments let bloggers know that someone is actually reading what they write!  Unfortunately, many everyday readers are not active participants or commenters because commenting can sometimes require too many steps.  To a computer-savvy blogger, using “Open ID” is no big deal.  Neither is word verification (although personally I find it rather annoying).  But to an ordinary reader, these steps make can make commenting not worth the trouble.  If you use word verification, review comments before they appear on the page, or don’t allow anonymous comments because you’re afraid of spam cluttering up your posts, consider using a spam catcher plug-in instead.  It solves the spam problem but let’s readers comment more easily. Recently there was a huge comment discussion after a great post by Amy Coffin at We Tree Genealogy called Genealogy Blogs: A Comment on Comments (psst – be sure to read the comments!)  Also see Amy’s follow-up post Genealogy Blogs Part 2: Readers Weigh in With Comments (this overlaps with my “Tell Them Who You Are” note above as well).

Give Feedback

Now that you’ve made it easier for readers to comment on your posts, don’t forget to respond!  It isn’t necessary to respond to each and every comment left on your blog, but responding does let readers know that you care about their feedback.  It is especially essential to comment back if a reader asks a question.  Taking the time to comment back to your readers allows your blog to become an open discussion forum – your readers will appreciate your feedback as much as you appreciate theirs.

Offer a Full Feed RSS

This can be a point of contention in the blogging world, but I think that providing a full RSS feed to your blog is more useful to readers.  The cons: 1) readers won’t actually visit your site, and 2) splogging or scraper sites will steal your content.  Let’s discuss the visitor issue first… Every blogger want readers to visit their site and see the hard work you put into your design or fancy widgets or other blog “bling”.  I love my site’s design and the header I designed, and I want others to see it.  But, the reality is – there isn’t always time to visit every blog, every day. Blog readers allow us to read a multitude of blogs without having to visit every one. Also, if you are reading blogs on a mobile device, it may be slightly more difficult to switch back and forth between a blog reader and a web browser.  My favorite reason for using full feeds is because my employer used to block all Blogger and WordPress sites, but Google Reader was allowed.  Every day at lunch I could get caught up on my blog reading, but I could only visit the actual sites if I bookmarked them for later. Reading blogs this way doesn’t mean that I don’t ever visit actual blogs – I do!  When a post captures my attention, I usually want to visit the site to comment.

As for the sites that turn Really Simple Syndication into Really Simple Stealing, they are out there and always will be.  There are a few things you can do to make it harder for these unscrupulous sites to steal your content, including adding a copyright notice at the bottom of every post and using Google Alerts to “find” your content online.  The genealogy community has been successful in going after splogging sites in the past.  But, if content theft is really a source of contention for you, then stick with partial RSS feeds – just realize you might lose a few readers along the way.   If you want to learn more about dealing with content theft, see Thomas MacEntee’s Resources on Blog Content and Copyright Theft and Lorelle VanFossen’s The Growing Trends in Content Theft: Image Theft, Feed Scraping, and Website Hijacking.

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

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

All My Children

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

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

By Any Other Name

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

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

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

In my last post, Not Worth the Wait, I complained about my research experience with USCIS, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Sometimes I complain for effect – that is, to get a response.  This time I was just publicly venting for no reason other than to post about my mysterious letter and lack of photographs.  So I was surprised when I received an email from USCIS’ Chief of the Historical Research Branch. Apparently word gets around (I didn’t realize the Department of Homeland Security read my blog)! 

I was very happy that they took the time to contact me, so I’d like to present what they had to say as a follow-up to my previous rant post.  The first error was my own.  I complained that I had the file number all along and didn’t need the index search.  But, apparently if I had looked a little more closely at the information on the USCIS web site, I would have realized the index search was not necessary at all.

Next, USCIS apologized for what I referred to as their “amusing letter”.  The letter used a “boiler plate” format, and two reviewing offices missed the grammatical errors.

But the biggest surprise of all?  USCIS did have a copy of the letter I previously received in the DoJ FOIA request years ago, and they emailed me a much more legible copy of it.  The email explained that this should have been included in the file they sent me.  USCIS said:

The omission of the letter from the copy sent to you by Genealogy was our error.  I am currently reviewing all record request procedures with the Genealogy supervisor to ensure the same error does not occur again.

When a naturalized citizen was convicted of a crime, the court would notify the cognizant INS office.  The office would then investigate to see if the person had committed any crimes in the five-year period prior to their naturalization.  In my great-grandfather’s case, his record was clean and this was his first offense. Now that I have a legible letter with a conviction date, I can investigate further.  And maybe, like Sheri suggested in the comments of the last post, find my missing photo.  Unfortunately it will be a mug shot, but a photo is a photo!

USCIS said, “We do our best to learn lessons from experiences such as yours to improve the USCIS Genealogy Program.”  This is great news to genealogists everywhere!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on Naturalization Records:

 

This week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF) at Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings is all about the Date You Were Born.  Suddenly I was on a trip down memory lane…not to the day of my birth, but to my freshman year of college when I had to write about the day of my birth.  What did I find out?  Read all about it below – but first I will answer Randy’s specific challenge.  He asks:

1) What day of the week were you born? Tell us how you found out.

I was born on a Wednesday.  I found this out when my parents told me!

2) What has happened in recorded history on your birth date (day and month)? Tell us how you found out, and list five events.

I was born on the 67th day of 1967 (that’s March 8).  On that day in history, there are a lot of events listed in Wikipedia.  None of them, however, are earth-shattering historical events that are talked about centuries later. It appears that my birth might be the most exciting thing that ever happened that day (ahem). Here are five of the more interesting other events that have occurred on March 8th:

  • 1775 – Thomas Paine’s “African Slavery in America,” the first article in the American colonies calling for the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery, is published.
  • 1817 – The New York Stock Exchange is founded.
  • 1917 – International Women’s Day protests in St. Petersburg contributed to the February Revolution and ultimately led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, ending the Romanov dynasty in Russia.
  • 1979 – Philips demonstrates the Compact Disc publicly for the first time.
  • 1983 – President Ronald Reagan calls the Soviet Union an “evil empire”.

3)  What famous people have been born on your birth date?  Tell us how you found out, and list five of them.

Using the same page in Wikipedia, I discovered these five others with my birthday:

  • 1495 – John of God, Portuguese-born friar and saint (d. 1550)
  • 1841 – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (d. 1935)
  • 1922 – Cyd Charisse, American actress and dancer (d. 2008)
  • 1959 – Aidan Quinn, American actor
  • 1945 – Micky Dolenz, American musician (The Monkees)

If we could get all of the musicians born on 3/8 together, we’d have an interesting group with members from The Monkees, The Eagles, Three Dog Night, Iron Maiden, and Keane.  One can only imagine what that would sound like…

As I said in the beginning, I wrote an essay about the date of my birth for an English composition class in my freshman year of college.  I found it in my files after seeing Randy’s challenge.  The date I submitted it was January 22, 1986 – almost exactly 25 years ago.  I was 19 years old and still had a lot to learn about writing, life, and myself.  But my teacher, Mrs. Bonnie Balcer, loved the essay and many others that I wrote.  She praised  my writing and encouraged me so much that I credit her for my decision to abandon the ill-conceived idea that I wanted to be a teacher, and instead I majored in English.  Twenty-five years later, I still have a lot to learn about writing, life, and myself.  But I’d like to thank Mrs. Balcer, wherever she is, for pointing me in the write direction.  (In looking for this essay, I also found one from my first semester of graduate school four years later. I wrote about my recent exploits in genealogical research. The title of that paper? What’s Past is Prologue.  Yes, I will have to reprint that essay here as well…)  This would have been a lot easier to reproduce here if it weren’t for the fact that back then I wrote on a typewriter

This is the Day the Lord Has Made…Me

Wednesday, March 8, 1967 was an ordinary day in the lives of many people.  No major headlines graced the front page of the New York Times, no scientific breakthroughs were made, and no events of great historical importance took place.  Despite the mundaneness of the day, it was one of great significance to my family and me; it was the day of my birth.  However, the world only celebrates one’s birthday if he is very famous, so the world continued its life as I began mine, neither of us concerned with the other.  Looking back on that day, there were many interesting occurrences besides my birth.

The pages of the New York Times were filled with news about Vietnam.  The North Vietmanese attacked an American zone for the second time in a week.  Senator Robert F. Kennedy suggested that, in order to see if North Vietnam was sincere about wanting to negotiate, the United States should end bomb raids.

In the United States, Washington, D.C. seemed far removed from the Vietnam crisis.  The big problem there was a dispute over where to house diplomats in the city. Those uninterested in that quarrel may have fancied the rumor that Press Secretary Henry Cabot Lodge might resign. People all over the U.S. may have been happy to see that Jimmy Hoffa was finally put into prison after ten years of escaping the sentence.

Besides all of these headlines, Roman Catholics of the world were told by the Vatican that only sacred music was permitted for use in Church.  Because I grew up alien to the pre-Vatican II days, it was interesting to see the Church still receiving the impact of Vatican II at the time of my birth.

Two stories particularly resembled issues of today. One concerned abortion, an issue on which people take sides today. But in 1967 there was no question – abortion was illegal unless the mother’s life was endangered. The New York State legislature rejected a bill that would make the law more lenient. Because of the 15 to 3 vote, the state was criticized as trying to “abort abortion”.

The second familiar issue was nuclear disarmament. The U.S. and Russia proposed a treaty to ban the spread of nuclear weapons, but India felt it discriminated against non-nuclear countries. India also wanted joint action against the proposal. In a modern world that is still trying to achieve disarmament, it is evident that the treaty never came to life.

Another fascinating section of the paper was the entertainment section. Because faithful viewers protested the cancellation of Gunsmoke, it was returned to the air. The TV listings for the prime time hours of the major networks resembled the daytime schedules of independent stations today. Popular shows were Lost in Space, Batman, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, Perry Mason, and The Beverly Hillbillies.  Today’s hit, The Cosby Show, was far from Bill Cosby’s mind as he enjoyed fame with I Spy. One facet of 1967 television was exactly the same as today – the soap operas. Some were General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, and Guiding Light, all of which can be seen today.

Coke is another part of our culture that is still around today, and it was in the headlines in 1967 as in recent months. There wasn’t any talk of “New Coke,” “Old Coke,” or “Coke Classic” though. The news concerned the price, which was scheduled to go up from 10 cents to 15 cents a bottle. If Coke’s price doesn’t best reflect the economy, the price of gold does – a mere $35 an ounce.

As anyone can see, the world of 1967 is both different and similar to the world of 1986. Many changes have occurred in the past 19 years, although not all of the changes were good. The world still has little concern for me, as on that cold day in March, and at times I have little concern for it. We’ve both grown a lot, but I can’t say if we’ve both “grown up.” I’m glad I did.

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Why, oh why didn’t someone give that newborn baby her weight in gold?

Each year, the 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 2010 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Best Picture

“You have such neat parents! And what great pictures you have of them. Excellent story.” ~ Greta Kohl from Greta’s Genealogy Bog

The Best Picture award goes to It All Started at a Dance.  Even though this was more of a “story” post than a photographic post, the pictures helped illustrate the story of my parents.  They met at a dance, and they continued to dance.  I haven’t seen them dance for a while, but I bet they still would…if it was a good song!

Best Screenplay

“Great story! I have complete faith that eventually you will learn the rest of the story.” ~ Michelle Goodrum from The Turning of Generations

The story of my grandaunt, The Sister Who Disappeared, wins the award for Best Screenplay. Janina immigrated to the United States as an infant. Life was hard in the family’s new country, and she began working in factories as a teenager. But “Jennie” left her family for a new life with a new love…and she was never heard from again. Was her life a classic love story with a happy ending? Or a tragic tale? The film would tell Jennie’s (hopefully exciting) life story – and give me some much needed answers!

Best Documentary

“Wow. The description of the battle is breathtaking. What an amazing, horrifying first-person account. It gave me the chills. Thanks for this great series!” ~ Amy from They That Go Down to the Sea

The award for Best Documentary goes to the 5-part series on Bavarian Military Rosters. Specifically, Part 4, The Great War and the Homefront, would make a riveting tale. This episode revealed the details of the battle that cost the young German soldier, Josef Bergmeister, his life. Meanwhile, the Bergmeister cousins who immigrated to the United States faced different challenges as the Great War raged on.

Best Biography

“Now THAT was a fun read! Now if you’ll just do Donald O’Connor…” ~ Kerry from The Clue Wagon

I didn’t write many biographical sketches on my own ancestors in 2010, so my Best Biography award goes to Climbing Up Gene Kelly’s Family Tree. I’ve been devoted to Gene Kelly for so long that I know his genealogy almost as well as my own. After taking up the Carnival of Genealogy challenge to start researching someone’s ancestry from scratch, what family secrets would I uncover about my favorite film star? [Hint: His Irish eyes are smiling, but Gene also has German genes!]

Best Comedy

“Ah! The Killer Prayer Chair. Starting with this Stephen King quote set the tone and direction of this article. I knew something was coming. Just perfect. You are the master storyteller.” ~ footnoteMaven

The winner of the Best Comedy award is…The Killer Chair.  I wrote this as a Memory Monday post – just a random memory from my brain.  But it was such a funny memory that I found myself laughing almost as hard writing about it as I did when the chair tried to kill my sister-in-law and me.  There’s a story behind everything – especially inanimate objects that innocently grace the background of your family photographs.

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

[Submitted for the 102nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Annual iGENE Awards]

After some success at Finding Polish Records Online, I decided to snoop around some more, this time with the Poznan Project.  While many of my Polish ancestors come from the area in or around Warsaw, a whole other branch comes from the wielkopolskie province in what is known as “Greater Poland”.  I have two ancestral lines from the town of Wilczyn in this province, which is covered by the Poznan Marriage Indexing Project.  I entered some of my family surnames into the search form, and immediately I found several matches.

But one find really confused me.  The groom’s name and his parents’ names were familiar to me already.  The bride’s name and her parents’ names were too.  Except these two individuals are from different branches of my family tree!

I actually had to plot it out on paper to figure out what had happened.  The “note” in the indexed record helped as well: he was a widower; she was a widow.  Their deceased spouses’ names were my ancestors – both the deceased and the two newlyweds are my 4th great-grandparents.

After charting it out, I was able to see that my great-grandmother’s father’s maternal grandparents were Franciszek Michałowski (b. 1788) and Julianna Pałuszyńska (b.1797). Her mother’s maternal grandparents were  Józef Kubiński (b.1795) and Apolonia Lewandowska (b.1796). At some point, Franciszek died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Elżbieta Michałowska (b. 1824). Likewise, Apolonia died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Konstancja Kubińska (1818-1896).

In 1839, the widow Juliana and the widower Józef got married, which made their two daughters step-sisters. The previous year, Józef’s daughter Konstancja had already gotten married to Jan Drogowski (1818-1894).  But Juliana’s daughter, Elżbieta, was only 15 years old.  When Elżbieta eventually got married in 1844 to Józef Ślesiński (1821-1866), her step-father Józef was a witness to the marriage.

Still with me?  Elżbieta had a son, Wincenty (1850-1919).  Konstancja had a daugther, Stanisława (1860-1918).  Wincenty and Stanisława got married in 1879 and had my great-grandmother, Wacława (1885-1956) and a bunch of other children.  Although Wacława has eight great-grandparents like most of us, her father’s grandmother married her mother’s grandfather after their spouses had died!

Once I was able to see this second marriage, it actually explained what I thought was a discrepancy in the records.  In Elżbieta Michałowska’s death record, her maiden name is not listed as Michałowska, but as Kubińska – her step-father’s name.  Until finding this marriage record, I wasn’t able to figure out that apparent name change!

One find in an index led to mapping out the family tree to see the connection.  This just goes to show that you never know what you might find!  I don’t usually look for second marriages in indexes, and if I hadn’t found this I would not be able to find the death record of the widow since I’d be looking under her first husband’s surname.

Photo by Ricardo Villela on Flickr (click image to view on Flickr).

Sometime in the next 18 hours or so, someone will visit here and my site meter (on the right) will read “100,000”! That’s a lot of visitors, and I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read, comment, or just have a look around.  I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of your company.  If you are the 100,000th visitor, please leave a comment!

Playing Ancestral Roulette for Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) this week got me thinking about great-grandmothers – that is, about meeting your great-grandmother.  When I was in high school, my friend told me how lucky I was that both of my grandmothers were still living – he never knew any of his grandparents since they died before he was born.  My own father only met one grandparent, his paternal grandfather, but he died when my dad was six years old.

Sometimes longevity, child-bearing, and luck kicks in and a child’s life overlaps with that of their great-grandparent’s.  I realized that we seem to have a streak running in my own family for four generations.  The overlap was too short for the child to remember the meeting, but one can only imagine how special it must have been for the great-grandmother to hold their grandchild’s child.  I’m not able to see if this streak goes back more than four generations as I do not have all of the death dates for all of my ancestors.  For now, it applies to four generations born in the United States:

  • My grandfather, Henry M. Pater, was 2 when his great-grandmother Francziska Anna Wojciechowska Pluta died in 1914 at the age of 74.
  • My mother, Anita Pater Pointkouski, was almost 3 when her great-grandmother Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater died in 1938 at the age of 75.
  • I was 5 when my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater died in 1972 at the age of 80.  She died on my brother’s 13th birthday.
  • My niece was 2 when her great-grandmother Margaret Hermina Bergmeister Pointkouski died in 1998 at the age of 84.

Ava meeting Pearl, 2005.

I’m always impressed with family photographs of multiple generations.  I have no photographs of any of the above children with their great-grandmothers.  But I do have one of my younger niece.  Although she was born long after my grandmothers had died, she had one great-grandmother from her mother’s side (she died at the age of 89 when my niece was almost 2).  Although I wasn’t present when this photo was taken, I do have a fond memory of another time when these two ladies met.  My niece’s great-grandmother could not see very well, but she got close to my niece and talked softly to her.  My niece was smiling; her great-grandmother was beaming.  Although we were all to young to remember meeting our great-grandmothers, I often think of this woman’s smile as she held my baby niece.  And I know it’s the same smile, and the same love, that all the great-grandmothers before her gave to their great-grandchildren.

Did you meet your great-grandmother?

I’m late to the party – the Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) party brought to us each week by Randy Seaver.  This week, Randy challenged us with Ancestral Name List Roulette:

1) How old is one of your grandfathers now, or how old would he be if he had lived? Divide this number by 4 and round the number off to a whole number. This is your “roulette number.”

2) Use your pedigree charts or your family tree genealogy software program to find the person with that number in your ancestral name list (some people call it an “ahnentafel”). Who is that person?

3) Tell us three facts about that person in your ancestral name list with the “roulette number.”

My Grandpop, James Pointkouski, was born on July 6, 1910 and would be 100 right now if he were alive. Therefore, my “roulette number” is 25.  My ahnentafel #25 is my mother’s father’s father’s mother: my great-great grandmother Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater (born 11 June 1863, Mszczonów, Poland; died 12 December 1938, Philadelphia, PA, USA).

This was a fortunate roll of the roulette wheel since I actually know a few things about her!  My 3 facts about Antonina:

  • Antonina was my only 2nd great-grandmother to immigrate to the U.S., which meant my grandfather, Henry Pater, was my only grandparent that knew his grandmother (he was 26 when she died).
  • Antonina was also the only mother-in-law to any of my “greats” that lived in the same country as the couple. Rumor has it that she did not get along with her daughter-in-law Elizabeth Miller Pater (my great-grandmother).
  • Antonina died two weeks before my mother’s 3rd birthday.  One of my mother’s earliest memories is attending her great-grandmother’s wake. Her father made her kiss Antonina “good-bye”, which probably explains why my mother isn’t very fond of wakes or funerals to this day.

Yesterday I mentioned my “easy” online find of a 19th century Polish marriage record via a site called Geneteka.  In this post, I’ll provide more information on the site, what’s available, and how to navigate.  But first, a word on various Polish sites that offer genealogical records or indexes.

It’s becoming more and more common to find genealogical records online in the United States thanks to both “free” sites, such as FamilySearch, and paid subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Although FamilySearch and Ancestry both have some international records, not many are from Poland – which is where most of my ancestors are from.  But, there are Polish records available online – the only problem is knowing where to look.  There are several web sites and genealogical societies in Poland that are in the process of indexing millions of vital records, but most of the sites are in Polish (a notable exception to the language issue is the Poznan Project, which is in English).  There doesn’t seem to be one central online repository for these records, so finding them required some sleuthing and a heavy use of online translators to understand the Polish instructions.

Your first stop to check on availability of Polish records or indexes online should be the Indeks Indesków, which means the Index of Indexes.  It is in Polish, but it’s not too hard to figure out.  The site lists updated indexes in chronological order starting with the most recent.  But to see the entire list of what is available for each province, simply click on the name of the province (woj.) at the top of the page.  The column on the far left shows the Parafia/USC or the name of the town parish/civil registration office.  Next, the list will show what years are available online for chrzty/urodziny (christenings/births), małżeństwa (marriages), and zgony (deaths).  The final column, strona www, provides the link to the site or sites that have these indexes or records.  There are a dozen different sites!

Many of my Polish ancestors come from the mazowieckie provice and I was fortunate to discover that several of my main towns (Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Warszawa) all have either indexes or the actual records available via Geneteka.

A full and very detailed explanation of the Geneteka site has already been written by Al of Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research in June, 2009.  Please read his series of posts starting with Indexing Project – Geneteka Part One.  When you’re finished reading Al’s posts, come back here and I’ll explain my search.

Using this Geneteka search page, I entered my surname Piątkowski without the diacritical (entered as Piatkowski) in the box that says Nazwisko and clicked on the Wyszukaj button.

Search results for "Piatkowski"

Next, I chose to view the 93 marriage records listed under Warszawa to see the following results:

Search results for "Piatkowski" in marriage records for Warszawa

Scrolling down to find “Stanisław”, I see the names of my great-great-grandparents:

Piatkowski-Konopka search result

The first column is merely the number of the record within the total number of records found.  Next is the year the marriage took place, followed by the number of the record in the actual record book.  Next is the name of the groom, then the bride, and the church name.  The icon that looks like the letter “i” is included with some lines.  If you hold your mouse over the “i” you will see additional information (have an online translation tool handy).  The “A” icon will tell you who indexed the record.  Finally, the most important part of the line is the icon that reads “SKAN” at the end of the line.  This is not available for all of the indexed records, but if it is shown you are in luck – click it and you will see a scanned copy of the image.  (Note: some of the scanned images are located on the Geneteka site and others link to Polish Archives – my sample for this post links to one of the Archives so if you click on “skan” for another image it may look different than the images that follow.) First you will see the record group that the image is in, such as the following:

This page opens up after clicking on "skan" next to the Piatkowski-Konopka information.

I knew from the indexed information that I needed record number 194, so I clicked on the first image on this page.  It opens up a larger view of the records, and you can clearly read the number.  Then I used the navigation buttons on the side to find #194.

Navigate through the records until you find the correct number (located in upper left of each record).

Once you find the correct image,  you can save it to your computer.  It’s FREE!  Then all you need is either your trusty copy of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents.  Volume I:  Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman or your favorite Polish translator to help you uncover the details found in your record!

What if you find a name, but there is no “skan” at the end of the line?  That means they have not (yet?) scanned the record.  However, you now have both the year and the akt (act) number, which means you can contact the archives in that region to get a copy.  There will be a fee to obtain it, but it will be less than if you required them to research the name in the indexes themselves to find the correct year and act number.

This isn’t a full explanation of the Geneteka site – I am still figuring it all out myself.  Al already gave a very good primer on how to use the site, and I highly recommend his series that I linked to above.  My main goal in writing this post was to let others who are researching Polish ancestry know that the records are out there (to borrow a phrase from the television show X-Files).  Unfortunately, the records are being indexed by over a dozen different groups, and there is no one central site for this information.  Check the Index of Indexes to see if your ancestors’ parishes have been indexed yet.  If they haven’t – keep checking the site!  It is updated frequently.  All of the indexing sites appear to be quite active.  This marriage record only appeared in the last month.  If anyone else has good luck in finding a record on one of the many Polish sites, I’d love to hear more so leave a comment.

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