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Posts Tagged ‘Bergmeister’

My original title for this post was “Nothing to Show; What Can I Say?” and began with a humorous lament over my family’s lack of family heirlooms.  However, I’ll save my attempt at humor for the Family Heirloom meme and instead focus on the one heirloom that I do have!  The theme of the 55th Carnival of Genealogy is: Show and Tell! Show us and tell us about an heirloom, a special photo, a valuable document, or a significant person that is a very special part of your family history.

My family isn’t big on holding on to things that may become heirlooms.  I have very few things that belonged to my grandparents or great-grandparents.   I cringed at the topic for this edition – the embarrassing lack of interesting things to show and tell about took me back to 3rd grade.  I brought in my “teddy bear” while a classmate brought in his grandfather’s Olympic bronze medal (I’m not kidding).

Fortunately, as I dug deeper into my roots I met a second cousin, whom I’ll call “Sis”.  We share the same great-grandparents, Joseph and Marie Bergmeister; her grandfather was my grandmother’s brother.  Apparently my grandmother’s older siblings got all of the cool stuff.  Sis showed me our great-grandfather’s regimental beer stein!  All males were required to serve in the military for two years, and he served in the Bavarian Army from 1893-95.  Regimental beer steins commemorated their service in a particular unit as a remembrance of their time in the military.  Sis also had a large, nearly poster-size photo that showed each of the individual photos of his entire military unit!  Of course, I did not have a camera with me at the time, and to this day we haven’t been able to get these artifacts in the same room as my camera.  Hopefully we’ll both have time to get together soon, but until then they are only etched in my memory so there isn’t anything to show or tell about yet.

But, later that year Sis gave me a Very Special Christmas Present.  Another beer stein that belonged to our great-grandfather!  She was willing to give it up because of my love for the Bergmeister family. I’ll never forget her generosity and love for me with that gift.  It doesn’t have the same “Wow!” factor as the military stein, but, to be honest, it’s a “wow” to me because it was his.  I have only done a small amount of research thus far – I had no idea that German beer steins have such a multitude of scholarly studies!  I’ve learned a little so far about steins in general, so for my “show and tell” I present to you…a Bavarian beer stein!

Two views of the beer stein

Two views of the beer stein

Stein lid and thumblift

Stein lid and thumblift

First, the basics…why are Germans so big on beer steins anyway?  Because Germans are big on beer.  Beer was brewed in Germany as far back as 800 BC.1 By the Middle Ages, German monasteries were brewing beer as a commercial enterprise. 2 With this much beer consumption, one needed a cup to drink it!  Our usage of stein comes from the German word steinzeugkrug, meaning a jug or tankard. In the 14th Century, Europe was hit with both the bubonic plague as well as a swarm of flies.  Some ingenious person came up with the idea of a cover for the stein to keep things out of the beer.  Laws were passed in Germany in the early 1500s that required food and beverage containers to be covered.  Hence, the beer stein as we know it today was born.  When we think of a stein, it is not just a large tankard, but one with a hinged cover that you can open with your thumb.  By the 1800s, the “covered container” laws were no longer enforced, but the lids were here to stay.3

From reading about steins, I learned that they are often difficult to date.  Usually, as in the case of this stein, there are no markings at all to indicate where or when it was manufactured, or by whom. However, there were a few things to look for in order to verify that a stein is old enough to have belonged to my great-grandfather.

This stein is made from porcelain.  The sole reason I could discern this was that the stein has a special feature found only in porcelain steins – a lithophane.  A lithophane is a panel with a relief decoration that is visible only when light passes through it.4 It is found at the bottom of the stein.  If you merely peek in at the bottom, you will not see anything at all, but the bottom will look textured and not smooth.  The image itself is visible only when you hold it up to the light – presumably, once you have tilted your head back to finish the last of your beer!  Lithophanes are created by the thickness of the porcelain.  Thinner areas allow more light to pass through and are lighter in color; thicker areas are darker.  The transparency of the porcelain creates a 3-dimensional image of intricate detail as light passes through the bottom of the stein.5 It is simply stunning, and these photos do not truly represent how beautiful it is.

View through the stein to the bottom when held towards light

View through the stein to the bottom when held towards light

Detailed view of the lithophane

Close-up view of the lithophane - note the details!

The rust-colored lines you see underneath the deer are the result of a small crack at the bottom of the stein.  The lithophanes are rather fragile and can be easily damaged.

The scenes depicted on lithophanes were quite detailed.  Subjects included wildlife, as shown on my great-grandfather’s, or scenes from taverns, occupational life.  They could also show romantic scenes such as a man and a woman holding hands.  But beware – if the scene is erotic in nature, chances are it is a reproduction and not an original stein (1850-1914).  Any lithophanes of naked women or couples were produced after World War II.6

The handle and the lid also have clues that indicate it is an original in lieu of a reproduction.  The handle is smooth, missing the “bump” that newer steins have.7 The lid, likely made of pewter, is darker on the outside than on the inside.  In newer steins, the lid is often treated with chemicals so that it is uniformly dark, or “aged”, on both the inside and the outside.  But an authentic stein lid will be darker on the outside due to oxidation. 8

In memory...

In memory...

Amid the flowers, a banner reads “Zur Erinnerung“, which means “in memory” or “remembrance“.  I have found other steins with this phrase at various online auction or memorabilia sites, but I haven’t been able to find a good explanation of its meaning.  The only time I saw this phrase in the books I consulted, it was on a regimental stein.  The main difference is the level of detail –  regimental steins are decorated in a completely different manner and show scenes of military life or the unit’s information in addition to the phrase.  This stein is more simply decorated.  It may be an anniversary stein…but what is it in remembrance of?  Did Bavarians offer steins in memory of people in addition to in memory of jobs, schools, or military service?  Unfortunately, this is one question I won’t find the answer to, even with more research.

But, it’s a beauty, isn’t it?  I’m not sure what makes it more special to me – the fact that it belonged to my great-grandfather, or the fact that it was given to me by my cousin. Thanks to her, at least I have something to Show and Tell!  Hmm, I’m suddenly quite thirsty…I think I’ll go have a beer in honor of my great-grandfather!

[Written for the 55th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Show and Tell!]

Sources:

1 “A History of Beer”, Concordia Enzian Schuhplattler, 2004, http://www.enzian.ca/history_of_beer.htm

2 Ibid

3 Gary Kirsner and Jim Gruhl, The Stein Book, (Glentiques, Ltd., 1984), 7.

4 Ibid, 326.

5 Walt Vogdes, “Porcelain Steins with Lithophanes”, Stein Collector’s International, http://www.steincollectors.org/library/articles/Lithopha/lithos.html

6 Mark Chervenka, “Regimental Beer Steins”, Antique and Collectors Reproduction News, 2004, downloaded at www.repronews.com/web_pdf/samples/06_04_cv.pdf

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

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Courtesy of footnoteMaven.com!

Courtesy of footnoteMaven.com!

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

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

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

Who Lived the Longest?

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

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

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

Variable Marriage Ages

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

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

Your Mamma was So Old…

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

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

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

Age is Mostly a State of Mind

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

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

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

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Yesterday I wrote about CCC records as a resource in Civilian Conservation Corps: A Genealogical Resource – Part 1.  When I first started my genealogical research, I decided to find out more about CCC records because my grandfather supposedly served in the Corps.

My father remembered his dad talking about the CCC, but he didn’t know any details.  In 1993, I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center to find out.  I learned that my grandfather did indeed serve with the CCC…in a manner of speaking.

On April 7, 1933, James Pointkouski applied with the U.S. Department of Labor for “Emergency Conservation Work”, another name for the CCC, just weeks after President Roosevelt began the program.  His application states that he was born in Philadelphia on July 6, 1910.  His occupation is “chaueffuer” [sic], but he had been unemployed since October, 1932.  He lists his education as 1 year at Northeast H.S. and 1 year evening at Central H.S.  He lists his parents, John and Rose, as recipients of his $25 allotment each month and their address.

The very next day, Grandpop signed his “Oath of Enrollment” at Fort Hoyle, Maryland.  In the oath, he swears and affirms “to remain in the Civilian Conservation Corps for six months … obey those in authority and observe all the rules and regulations…”  The oath also relieves the government of responsibility if he suffers injury while working, and he understands that he won’t get any allowance when he is released from camp other than transportation home.

My grandfather’s physical examination record tells me that he was 5’9″ and 150 pounds with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion.  He has good hearing, but his eyesight wasn’t that great – 20/50 in one eye and he suffered from strabismus, or “lazy eye”, in the other.  I didn’t remember that about him as he got older, but the lazy eye is apparent in photos of him when he was young.  Otherwise, he was quite healthy, which was good news considering that he was only 22 years old.  CCC members also had to receive shots for typhoid (3 doses!) and smallpox, all of which are annotated on the form.

Before I discuss the record of his service, fast-forward to a few years after I received these records.  I accompanied my father to my grandmother’s house to remove some belongings and prepare the house to be sold.  My grandfather was long deceased, and my grandmother was either in a nursing home or had just died (I can’t remember when the house was sold since she spent several years in a home).  I found very few photos or papers of genealogical interest in my grandmother’s belongings.  But, one of the few things I found was a handwritten note from my grandfather to my grandmother.  It is dated April 22, 1933 – while he was serving in the CCC!

My grandparents were not married until January, 1934, and the note offers some clues to their relationship.  It begins: “I didn’t mean it when I told you to forget me…” He goes on to encourage her and cheer her up as if he heard (through her letter?) that she was sad or depressed.   He goes on to say (in a run-on but touching sentence), “Do you realize that if I had been working steady last winter the ring I gave you for Xmas would have been an engagement ring so you must know I appreciate a lovely girl, but owing to the way things were (at) home and no work, how could I tell you how I felt toward you.” After cheering her up some more, he adds, presumably in case she didn’t get the ring reference above, “I hope to be more than a friend someday.”

He goes on to talk about “camp”:  “Well, our stay in camp is near over, we all have received our 3 shots and I hear we leave for the forests next week.  I’m feeling so good and don’t even think of rum, don’t care if I never see another drink.  Let’s forget about money.  Perk is well able to get by anywhere, I always did.  Well, goodbye Marge, I am Your one and only, Jimmy.” In the postscript he asks her to send a snapshot and adds at the end “Love + Lots of Kisses”.

April 22, 1933 letter from James Pointkouski to Margaret Bergmeister

April 22, 1933 letter from James Pointkouski to Margaret Bergmeister

I was amazed later to match the date to the time he was in the CCC.  For the first time, I could see the impact that the Great Depression had on my grandparents.  It was also interesting to see “Perk” as my grandfather’s likely nickname/alias.  His older brother, Joseph, simply dropped the actual surname of “Piontkowski” and used “Perk” for the rest of his life.  My grandfather by this time had already adopted the creative alternate spelling of “Pointkouski”, but he must have still referred to himself as Perk as a nickname.  What amazes me the most about this note is that my grandmother kept it for so long – to me, this means it was very important to her.  Could it be that, because of his note, she realized how much he loved her?

Regarding leaving camp for the forests, I looked back at his enrollment record.  From 8 April to 5 May (1933), he was stationed at Fort Hoyle, MD performing “general labor”.  His manner of performance was “satisfactory” (the form indicates that the choices are excellent, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory).  From 6-8 May, the location changes to Ellenton, PA and his manner of performance changed to “unsatisfactory”!  He was discharged from service on 11 May, well short of his six-month service requirement, due to “absence without leave”.

Why did he suddenly leave?  Did he miss the rum too much?  Or did he miss his girl Marge too much?  Was he tired of the physical labor, or did he get an actual job offer for his usual job driving a truck?  Neither of his children know the answer.  Perhaps he went home to Philadelphia for the weekend and decided to stay.  Based on his note, he obviously missed my grandmother quite a bit.  By January of the following year, they were married.  I’m not sure if he actually did get her that engagement ring or not – the marriage was precipitated by the news that my grandmother was pregnant!  She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, named James after his father, in August.

I’ll never know why my grandfather cut short his vow to the CCC, but one thing’s for sure – Perk was well able to get by.  He spent the rest of his life employed as a truck driver, raised two children, and lived happily with his girl Marge until his death in 1980.  Thanks to my grandmother saving that one small remnant of their past, I know without a doubt that he loved her a lot more than he loved working for the CCC!

For more information on the Civilian Conservation Corps and the great work they accomplished, see the links at the bottom of my previous post, Civilian Conservation Corps: A Genealogical Resource – Part 1.

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After months of being cold in Philadelphia, I relish the mere thought of summer. I’ve always loved the beach. I don’t remember many trips there as a child, but there were a few. Fortunately the beach is an easy drive away — in Philly-speak, it’s called “goin’ down the shore”. As a teenager, that meant trips to Wildwood, which recently gained bragging rights as “New Jersey’s Best Beach”. Then I discovered palm trees, which sadly are not native to New Jersey and don’t like our winter climate well enough to grow here. I fell in love with some marvelous beaches with palm trees as I had opportunities to travel, including Bellows Air Force Station in Hawaii and Luquillo, Puerto Rico. I can’t wait to see some Croatian Beaches this summer, and my new favorite closer to home is Island Beach State Park. I wonder if my love of beaches is genetic? I’m not brave enough to post my own bathing suit photos for all to see, but here are a few family photos to show that I may have inherited the beach lover’s gene!

Grandmom 1936

This bathing beauty is my grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski. It was taken in 1936. Although my grandparents enjoyed visits to Wildwood, NJ, in their later years, this was likely taken in either Atlantic City or Cape May (where her brother had a house).

Grandpop 1936

Here is the companion shot of her husband, James Pointkouski. The photo is in need of some repair to remove some purple markings, but check out this fashion statement! One-piece bathing suits for men? [Well, technically men do wear one piece bathing suits, but I meant similar to a woman’s one-piece that includes a top and bottom covering!] Who knew? And aren’t we all glad this is one fashion that hasn’t come back again?

Dad

This little cutie is their son, my father. It was taken in 1937 when he was about three years old. Based on the Boardwalk in the background, this was taken in Atlantic City (pre-casinos!). Nice shades, Dad!

Pointkouski Family

Finally, here’s the whole family seated under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City in 1937. I see by now Grandpop has given up the “onesie” bathing suit, but it looks like my dad has one on…maybe that’s why he’s crying.

Okay, I’m ready – I can hear the seagulls calling me! Let’s load up that car with beach blankets and cold drinks, and call in sick to work…it’s time to head down the shore!

[This post was written for the 49th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Swimsuit Edition.]

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Today I decided to try my luck with FamilySearch Labs latest offering, Philadelphia City Death Certificates 1803-1915.  There isn’t much available online for Philadelphia, especially post-1900 when my families were living here, so I was pleased I’d at least have a few years worth of records to search.  I entered in the usual surnames, and I quickly found death certificates for siblings of both of my grandmothers.

In the Bergmeister family, there were five children.  The first four were all born within 2-4 years of each other, but the gap between my grandmother, Margaret, and her next oldest brother, Julius, was 6 years.  I found death records for two children born in between Julius in 1907 and Margaret in 1913.  The first was a boy, Charles, who lived for 15 hours on 17 July 1909 and was listed as a premature birth.  A sister, Laura, was also born premature on 05 November 1911 and died the same day.

The Zawodny family had six children, and again there is about 2 years between each child until a 5 year gap between my grandmother’s siblings Kazimierz (known as Charley) in 1911 and Zofia (known as Dorothy) in 1916.  My grandmother used to say that she had two brothers who died as infants, and I confirmed that with the records.  Bolesław was born on 04 August 1912 and died six months later on 08 March 1913.  The cause of death is listed as acute gastroenteritis, although my grandmother seemed to remember her father slipping on an icy sidewalk while holding the baby, who then fell and died later of a head injury.  Another son,  Władysław, was born on 18 January 1914.  He died just over a year later on 27 March 1915. This time the cause of death coincided with my grandmother’s memory.  He developed infections in his mouth caused by his teeth not developing and growing properly.  My grandmother called the boys William and Walter, which roughly correspond to common English names used for those Polish names.

I’ve looked at many records in my genealogical research, and I’ve seen numerous deaths of babies in those records, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.  But these four records were different, and I was saddened to view them.  These children’s deaths were closer to me because they would have been my grandmothers’ siblings, my parents’ aunt and uncles.  How difficult it must have been for my great-grandparents to suffer these losses.  In both cases, the children died one after the other.  Also in both cases, each family then had one more child, a girl in both cases. The next generations would occasionally have miscarriages, stillborns, and infant deaths, so living in “modern” times is no guarantee of a healthy baby.  But I’m glad I found these records so their very short lives are not forgotten.

FamilySearch Labs appears to be a wonderful site.  It is easy to use, and the records were mostly transcribed correctly (my one great-grandmother’s maiden name was incorrect both times).  Another benefit is that it is FREE for all to use.  For folks that can’t afford Ancestry, this is a good alternative for a small group of records.  My only complaint is that there aren’t enough records available yet!  If enough genealogists volunteer to transcribe records, this could truly be the future of online genealogy.  I’m very excited to see that another project in the works is Philadelphia Marriage Records from 1916-1951 – I’m sure this will help me fill in even more gaps on my tree.  If you’ve tried this site and had success filling in your family’s gaps, be sure to leave a comment.

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Joseph Bergmeister

This military man in this photograph is my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927). It is the only known photo of him, but we knew little about the uniform he wore or his military service, only that he was from Bavaria. Fortunately, I worked with someone who knew everything about the German military. Just from the photograph he was able to determine exactly which uniform it was, and I was later able to confirm his guess after more research.

What you can not tell from the photo is that the uniform is light blue in color! It is from the Bavarian Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. This roughly translates to the Royal Bavarian Infantry Life Guard Regiment. The regiment began in 1814 to protect the royal family, and it was headquartered in Munich at the royal palace.

According to my co-worker, “Such troops would have been elitist by definition, and patriotic to the core. Entrance requirements and training would have more rigorous than for normal line regiments. Peacetime service would have also been markedly different from the line troops. The Leib unit would have been called upon to serve every public protocol attended by the sovereign, much like a Presidential Honor Guard today. Everything would have been ‘spit and polish’ with a high degree of military etiquette.”

I am not sure how my great-grandfather came to be in such a unit, but I know he served for only two years: 1893-95 when he was 20-22 years old. Other than this photo, a wonderful large composite photo of his entire company, and his regimental beer stein, he left no other remnants of his service. What exactly did he do? Where did he serve? Did he like it? I’m sure he’d be proud to know that he had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who served in all four branches of the U.S. military, including an Army Brigadier General and a Marine security guard.

If he did serve at the royal palace in Munich, he may have witnessed some interesting events. I found this article in the New York Times archive, dated November 16, 1893:

Royal Wedding

Was my great-grandfather was there? I don’t know, but I don’t think that the older sister got to marry her true love either…it looks like she married Count Otto von Seefried about two weeks later. I doubt he was a lieutenant in the Bavarian Army!

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MapMy Bavarian great-grandparents’ hometown was Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, just north of Munich. Only my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister, was born in the town and her family had lived there for centuries. My great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, was born nearby and went there to work for his uncle. Pfaffenhofen was the site of the couple’s wedding in 1897 and the birth of their first child a year later, a daughter. He left home in 1900 to immigrate to America, and mother and daughter joined him there in 1902. Did they ever miss their hometown? What was Pfaffenhofen like?

Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is located in the Hallertau region of Bavaria, which is the largest hop producing area in the world. The region is in Oberbayern, or Upper Bavaria, and it has a long history. The area was likely first settled by monks from the Benedictine monastery in Ilmmünster in the 8th Century. Their estate was called Pfaffenhöfe or Priests’ station and was located north of the current town. Four centuries later, Duke Ludwig I, called Ludwig the Kelheimer, founded the market town of Pfaffenhofen where the Ilm and Gerolsbach rivers meet. The town was mentioned by name as early as 1140, and by 1197 it was called a “market town”. By 1318, Pfaffenhofen was referred to as a fortified settlement.

Pfaffenhofen ad Ilm Coat of ArmsFrom 1387-1389, the Städtekrieg, a war between Swabian towns and Bavarian dukes, was fought throughout Southern Germany. Pfaffenhofen became one of the war’s victims when it was nearly completely destroyed by fire in 1388. When the town was reconstructed, it was surrounded by a circular wall with four gates and 17 towers. The Pfänderturm is one of the original 17 towers and the only one still standing today. By 1438, Pfaffenhofen officially received recognition as a “town”.

Engraving of Pfaffenhofen, 1687

[This is an engraving of Pfaffenhofen by Anton W. Ertl in 1687. The town’s wall, two of the gates, and many of the towers are clearly visible.]

Another war left a significant mark on the town. In 1632, soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War were billeted to houses in town. One of the soldiers had the plague and the disease quickly spread. Of the 1,800 inhabitants, only 700 survived the outbreak. It would take Pfaffenhofen another 200 years to reach the same population.

Population growth was never a problem after that time. The town continued to attract residents. While the population was about 4,000 at the beginning of the 20th Century, it is now closer to 23,000.

The town square, or hauptplatz, has existed on roughly the same site since the town was founded centuries ago. The square has many unique and beautiful buildings. Standing majestically at one end of the square is the town’s church, St. Johannes Baptist. The church was built in 1393 in the Gothic style to replace the Romanesque style church destroyed by the 1388 fire. After The Thirty Years’ War, the interior was renovated in the Baroque style. The steeple, about 253 feet high, was first built in 1531. Destroyed by a lightening strike in June, 1768, it was immediately rebuilt. Most important for descendents of Pfaffenhofen’s Catholic residents is the existence of parish baptismal, marriage, and death records dating back to 1597.

Hauptplatz, St. John's

[Two views of St. John’s Church in the Hauptplatz. The left photo is from 1875, the right from 1998.]

Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is in front of the church in the square. Erecting a white and blue painted maypole became a tradition in Bavaria in the 16th Century. In the 18th century, symbols and shields of different worker’s guilds were added to the pole, and this is how Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is decorated today.

Interior of St. John\'s church, Altar

You will also see evidence of the former worker’s guilds inside the parish church. Each guild had some church obligations as a part of the guild’s rules. Once a year each guilds celebrated their own special Mass, with special times for each guild. For example, the brewers’ Mass was celebrated on Monday after New Year’s while the tailors’ was on the Monday after Easter week.

Because of the guilds close association with the church, when the church was remodeled in 1671, the artist Johann Bellandt of Wessobrunn carved a number of apostle statues honoring the guilds: Mathew for the butchers, Phillip for the bakers, John for the brewers, Bartholomew for the leather artisans, Jacob for the weavers, and Simon for the tailors.

Because I do not read German very well, information about famous residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is difficult to find. Two individuals seem to have made a difference in the town and are worth a mention here. When I first visited Pfaffenhofen, I was surprised to see a street named after Joseph Bergmeister. They named a street after my great-grandfather? No, but they named a street after someone with the same name – his first cousin. Cousin Joseph was born on 11 August 1874, a year and a half after my great-grandfather. Unlike his older cousin, Joseph never left Pfaffenhofen. He became instrumental in introducing electricity to the town in the early 1900s. In recognition for his work, he received a medal from the town in 1934 and an honorary doctorate from the Technical College of Aachen. He died on 31 October 1950. I’m not sure when a street was named in his honor, but you can drive down Dr-Bergmeister-Strasse today! (The first name Joseph is still valued in the Bergmeister family today – you will find Joseph Bergmeisters on both sides of the ocean who are related, whether they know it or not, as 3rd and 4th cousins. In my own family there are five generations of Joseph Bergmeister’s so far.)

Another more famous Joseph from Pfaffenhofen is the poet Joseph Maria Lutz (1893-1972). He was born in Pfaffenhofen, gained recognition as a poet, and today there is a museum in his honor in town. He is also known for adding a verse to the Bavarian anthem in 1946. As there is no longer a king of Bavaria, Lutz wrote a new verse to replace the stanza about the king.

One of Joseph Maria Lutz’s poems is entitled “Hometown.” Written in 1965, the poem shares his feelings about Pfaffenhofen. The following translation was provided by Mr. Robert Wilkinson:

Hometown

The houses line themselves cuddle cozily after a fashion,

Intermittently broad and proud, intermittently narrow and aged,

The church spire points to heaven on high,

And the people are loudly singing to the chiming tower bells.

And country lanes stream in from adjacent forest and field

To become streets of prominence in both name and importance,

And in Time’s own passage finally come to stillness.

The bemused places of childhood are rekindled yet again with laughter,

And even the old fountains cascade in a trance of stillness,

as the swirling eddies made rush, silently

like life’s Insignificant Other, just as only Love can know.

And somehow even the Wind takes on a life,

Blowing in gust after gust, through the years,

And through the days, back to childhood’s Home,

As in fairy tale nights and imagined lands.

From the squares and tedious narrow alleys echo the familiar sounds,

the rolling wagon wheels, the clip-clop of stout mares,

the staccato of the blacksmith’s hammer,

or as in years of yore, the rolling barrels and the rooster’s crow.

And all that appears Close once again, is yet so Far,

And Life itself avoiding yet the grave;

strives for heavy-hearted Contentment much like a halting

song of Greeting or Return.

You, my little Town,

even if I have forgotten much,

I behold you precious still,

I, forever at Home in you.

I had the opportunity to visit my ancestors’ hometown in 1998 and 2006. I’m sure my great-grandparents would be amazed at some of the changes that have taken place. But, in many ways, they would find a lot of things the same. The apartment they lived in before coming to the US is still there, and it probably looks much the same. They might be surprised by all of the cars though!

Last Tower Standing

[This is the last tower still standing. The “Pfänderturm” or debt-tower, was built between 1388 to 1438.]

Sources for this article:

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[This post was written for the 47th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Place Called Home.]

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“You look just like your mother.” I heard this frequently growing up, and it wasn’t too hard to believe given that we both wore glasses and had similar hair color. And we’re both attractive (hey, I didn’t inherit modesty…) But then someone else would comment, “Oh, you look so much like your father.” Hmm… which is it? Because last I looked, Mom and Dad don’t look anything alike!

I’ve become fascinated with family resemblances, especially since my brother started having children of his own. While I’m extremely flattered by all of my co-workers who insist my eldest niece looks just like me, I’m starting to see her mother’s face every time I look at her. My younger niece also looks like her mother, except she has beautiful blue eyes (as opposed to her mother’s beautiful hazel-green eyes). The only person with blue eyes on either side of the family is my father, and we’re all amazed that the recessive gene finally broke through. My little nephew, however, is a clone of my brother, who in turn looked like our father – except my nephew also got his Pop-Pop’s blue eyes over his father’s brown ones.

As children grow up, and even as we age as adults, our looks change, so it is possible that one day we look more like one parent and the next day the other. But some traits are constant. My brown eyes? They’re from Mom, courtesy of the Zawodny brown trumping the Pater gray, but the shape comes from the Pater’s. My curly hair? Thanks, Dad, courtesy of the Bergmeister’s. I won’t assign any blame for the nearsightedness or other health issues. But what about those other traits – the non-physical elements that make us who we are? Is it possible to draw a personality family tree?

My parents each had many talents that I inherited, and many I did not. I owe my sense of humor to my father – to this day I can’t mention him to a school friend without the person commenting, “Your dad is so funny!” Well, I’m not quite that hysterical, but my odd, dry sense of humor – and the desire to make others laugh – definitely comes from Dad (but my laugh itself comes from my maternal grandmother’s one big, loud HA!). Mom has some wonderful talents including cooking, sewing, and dancing. Sadly, I inherited none of them! But, I did inherit her creativity. I apply it in different ways than she did, but it’s all Mom. And even though I am still learning to cook and not nearly as wonderful as she is or my grandmother was, at least I have their fine taste for good, home-cooked meals made with love. I may not be able to dance like either of my parents, but I sure do love movie musicals thanks to them!

When my eldest niece was about 3 years old, her grandfather – not my father, but her other grandfather, who had known me since I was a child – declared that she gave him “the Donna look”. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a slightly-condescending-what-are-you-kidding-me? look. Ten years later, she’s still giving The Look, and every time she tries it on me, I burst out laughing. I invented that look, so it doesn’t have its desired effect. Or did I invent it? It isn’t too difficult to imagine my grandmother getting punished for using “the look”! Maybe that is where I first learned it! Let’s just say that stubbornness runs in the family.

My youngest niece is now almost 3 years old, and she has a rather devious look that I also recognize quite well. Something interesting and creative will always be happening wherever she goes… Isn’t that the same smirk I see in the photo of my great-great-aunt? I can just imagine her beating up on her younger brother, my great-grandfather, the way little Ava pounces on hers. If deviousness is a trait, we have it and wear it proudly.

Many other interests and personality traits of mine lead me to believe I was adopted… I was recently pleasantly surprised to learn that my maternal grandfather was a voracious reader – so am I! But did he like Shakespeare or science fiction? I sure hope so, because no one else in the family does. Am I the only traveler? Well, maybe I inherited that gene from my immigrant ancestors, for wasn’t their immigration really an extreme form of travel? It’s ironic I now visit their homelands for pleasure. But there is one interest or trait that I definitely did not inherit…my love for genealogy. You see, no one else in the family is interested in that!

[Photo Collage of Pointkouski Babies from Donna’s personal collection. Top row – Natalie in 1995, Donna in 1967, and Ava in 2006. Also known as two sisters with their aunt in the middle. Bottom row – James in 1935, Nicholas James in 2007, and James Drew in 1959. Also known as Nicky in between his grandfather and father. The boys actually look much more alike than these photos show, but I’m pressed for time to meet the carnival deadline. Trust me – no DNA test needed to prove the physical traits in these three handsome men!]

[This post was written for the 46th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Family Traits!]

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I have a soft spot in my heart for all of the aunts in my family tree, especially those without children. The reason for this attraction is that I find myself in the ironic position of being a genealogist without any offspring of my own. But, I do “have” children because I am an aunt! I’ll let you in on a little-known secret…when aunts are childless, they are able to give away a bigger piece of their heart to their nieces and nephews.Perhaps it’s because of my childless predicament that I am fascinated by one of my great-great aunts, Hilaire “Laura” Bergmeister Thuman. I know very little about her, but the portrait I have surmised from these few facts is worthy of my admiration. Hilaire is a somewhat mysterious figure because of the lack of information. My challenge was to write about Hilaire as a kindred spirit, a fellow aunt who clearly loved her nieces and nephews. But how do you write a biographical sketch when the details are few? These simple facts about her life may not tell readers everything about this woman, but hopefully it will show some of her key attributes that make her admirable.

Hilaire Bergmeister was born in Bavaria on 12 January 1870 to Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmaier. She was probably their first child, but the unusual fact of her birth is that her parents did not marry until 11 April 1871. While illegitimacy was not uncommon in Bavaria at that time, I find it odd that the parents would marry some time later and have more children together. Hilaire’s birth date has not been found in the church records, but the date is consistently noted throughout her life in other sources including marriage, census, and death records. Her parents’ names are also evident through some of these records; the only mystery is why this couple did not marry until their daughter was over a year old.

Hilaire’s father Joseph was a flour merchant who came from a family of millers in the small town of Puch near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. According to the record of his marriage, Ursula was the daughter of an innkeeper from the town of Aichach. Their marriage occurred in Pfaffenhofen, and the couple went on to have more children together. According to the church records in the nearby town of Vohburg a.d. Donau, a daughter Maria was born on 17 November 1871. As I have no other record of this child, it is possible that the baby died; however, another possibility is that “Maria” is actually the record of Hilaire’s birth/baptism. Many females born in this region of Bavaria were named Maria, and they usually used their middle names in everyday life since every other girl in town was named Maria. However, the date of this child’s birth does not match what is known to be Hilaire’s birth, and Hilaire’s records were constant throughout her life as reporting her birth year as 1870 and her birthday in January.

Joseph and Ursula’s next child was a son, my great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister. Joseph was born in Vohburg on 12 February 1873. Other sources record another son, Ignatz Nicholas, born on 23 April 1876, but his exact birthplace is unknown. It appears that Joseph may have traveled throughout the region as a flour merchant selling the goods his family produced at the mill in Puch.

At some point during Hilaire’s childhood, her father died. His death date is not yet firmly established, but by the year 1884 Ursula Bergmeister was remarried to Herman Goetz from Regensburg. She had at least two sons with him, half-brothers to the Bergmeister children: Herman, born on 14 May 1885, and Julius Andreas, born 9 November 1886. Both boys were born in Regensburg and it is presumed that the Bergmeister siblings lived with them.

Hilaire BergmeisterOne of the few Bergmeister photos shows Hilaire as a young woman. The photo studio was in Amberg, which is about 40 miles from Regensburg. She appears to be about 18-21 years old, so the year is between 1888 and 1891. I love the expression on her face. That mischeivous grin tells me she was the independent type…the sort of gal who was fearless and unconventional. Her emigration from Germany and her marriage to an older man, the next two “facts” in her life, add weight to my guess about her personality.

In 1893, a 23-year-old Hilaire boarded the SS Friesland in Antwerp, arriving in New York on 25 July. The passenger lists from this time period provide few details other than names and ages, so I lack the physical description or details on the destination that later arrival records provide. There was a 25 year-old “Rud. Bergmeister” on the same ship, but he is not listed with her. In fact, he is listed as a “professor” traveling in first class and the name does not match any known family members.

At some point after her arrival, Hilaire moves to Philadelphia. There is also a Bergmeister family living in Philadelphia at this time who came from Bavaria in the 1870s. However, no connection has been established between these two Bergmeister branches. Based on my research, Hilaire was the first member of my Bergmeister family to come to the United States. In the 19th Century, a young woman traveling alone and moving to a foreign country is rather inspiring, which adds to her allure.

Unfortunately there are no records to shed any light on Hilaire’s life in Philadelphia shortly after her arrival. In 1896, only three years after coming to the US, Hilaire married Maximilian Thuman, a cabinetmaker. Max, born in Regensburg in 1857, was 13 years older than Hilaire. Could they have known each other in Regensburg? It is unlikely, but possible. However, Max had been in the US since 1883 – if they were acquainted, Hilaire would have been only 13 years old when she last saw him.

Calling CardAt the time of Hilaire and Max’s marriage, she lived at 2827 Reese Street in Philadelphia. By 1900, the couple was living at 1033 Jefferson Street and Hilaire’s occupation is listed as “retail grocery”. Interestingly, one of the witnesses to Max and Hilaire’s marriage, Michael Hoffbauer, is a grocer at Hilaire’s old Reese Street address, so it is presumed that she continued to work there. Max and Hilaire bought a house at 6078 Kingsessing Avenue between 1900 and 1910, and they lived there until their deaths.

Beginning in 1900, Max and Hilaire welcomed the arrival of the first of Hilaire’s brothers from Bavaria. When Hilaire left Germany, her Bergmeister brothers were 20 and 17, and her Goetz brothers were still children aged 8 and 7. Despite their ages and the distance between them, communication must have continued through letters across the ocean. Because when each brother arrived in the US, their passenger list shows they were going to Hilaire and Max’s house and that the passage was paid for by their brother-in-law Max Thuman.

Joseph was the first brother to join Hilaire in the US. Joseph, a baker by trade, married Marie Echerer in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in 1897, and they had a daughter, also named Marie, in 1898. In May, 1900, Joseph sailed on the SS Aragonia from Antwerp, Belgium, to New York City. Max paid for his passage, and his sister is listed on the passenger list as the relative who would meet him. Joseph stayed with the Thuman’s until he could find work and rent a house, and he is enumerated with them on the 1900 Census. The following year, Joseph’s wife and daughter made the long journey to join him in Philadelphia.

Next to arrive was Hilaire’s 16-year-old half-brother, Julius Goetz, in September 1902. He is recorded as a locksmith from Regensburg going to his brother-in-law Max Thuman. Julius also lived with the Thuman’s until he found work in a factory and a place to live. He later returns to live with them after his 1919 marriage for a brief time.

In 1904, Ignatz Bergmeister arrives in New York City in June. His passage was also paid for by Max, and the list annotates that he was “met by sister at the landing”. It is not certain if Ignatz lived in Philadelphia for a time or if he stayed in New York City. He marries in New York in 1907 and is living there in 1910, but since Hilaire met him in New York it is possible that he also came to stay with the Thuman’s in Philadelphia for a short time.

The last brother, Herman Goetz, came to America in 1911 at the age of 26. His passenger arrival record lists his brother Julius as his next of kin in America, but he lived with the Thuman’s for several years, including at the time of his marriage in 1913.

The Thuman’s were definitely involved with Joseph Bergmeister’s family. Joseph and Marie’s first son and first American-born child was Joseph, born in 1902. For his baptism, Uncle Max and Aunt Laura were his godparents. In 1905, Max was born, and the couple was once again godparents. In 1907, Julius had Aunt Laura as his godmother and his namesake Uncle Julius as his godfather. Their youngest child was Margaret, my grandmother, born in 1913. Aunt Laura again takes her place as godmother, and her godfather was Uncle Herman which explains Margaret’s unusual middle name, Hermina.

There is no evidence of what life was like for these immigrant families. How did they live? Were they happy here? Did they keep in touch with each other and visit?

The year 1919 would prove to be a tragic year for the Bergmeister families. Sometime during the year, Ignatz Bergmeister died at the age of 43. He left behind his widow Therese, 9 year-old son Charles, and 11 year-old daughter Theresa living in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Since Ignatz and his family have only recently been “discovered” and the research into his short life is ongoing, it is not know if Hilaire kept in touch with her sister-in-law and young nephew and niece.

The second tragedy to befall the family in 1919 (or possibly the first since I am unsure of the date of Ignatz’s death) was the death of Marie Bergmeister on 5 February. She died from myocarditis at the age of 44. Daughter Marie would turn 21 that month, Joseph and Max were teenagers, Julius was 12, and Margaret was only 6 years old. Marie’s death would greatly affect her husband Joseph, and his sister Hilaire stepped in to help with the children, especially Margaret.

The Bergmeister children’s lives would be further impacted by Joseph’s death eight years later at the age of 54. He died on 30 May 1927 from a kidney infection. By this time, eldest daughter Marie was 29 years old and unmarried with two children of her own: 6-year-old Marie and 2-year-old Mabel. Son Joseph was married for two years to Helen Pardis, and they had a 1-year-old daughter. Max, age 22, and Julius, age 20, moved in with their brother Joseph and his family. Young Margaret was an orphan at 14, and she always said, “Aunt Laura took good care of me.” It is presumed that Margaret lived with her aunt and uncle for some time as well as with her older sister.

Little else is known about Hilaire’s life. Descendants of each of Joseph’s five children all heard stories about Aunt Laura as “a good aunt” who “took care of them” after their parents’ untimely deaths.

Max and Hilaire Thuman

I found this photo at my grandmother’s after her death. Though the photo was unlabeled, I immediately knew that this was the Thuman’s because of the striking resemblance to the younger photo of Hilaire. By the looks on their faces and the gleam in their eyes, I can tell that they were a happy couple. Hilaire still has that mischievous smile! It was probably taken in the 1930’s.

Max Thuman died on 26 November 1941 at the age of 84 from pneumonia. Hilaire only lived for another fourteen months, dying on 6 February 1943 from cancer. She was 73 years old. They are buried together at Mount Moriah Cemetery, which is located just across the street from their home on Kingsessing Avenue.

When you research someone’s life in genealogical records, you can only learn a limited amount of information…these are the facts you “know for sure”. But, there is more to the story of everyone’s life than just those few facts, those few snippets of life that are recorded in a church book or a county office or a cemetery. When I read between the lines of the facts of Hilaire’s life, what is the portrait I see?

Independent, spirited. Loving sister, wife, & aunt.

Thanks, great-great Aunt Laura, for being a “great” aunt – I’ll try to follow your example!

[This post was written for the 44th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to WomenEdit on July 1, 2008 – This post is being re-submitted to the 51st Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Independent Spirit.  I don’t normally re-submit an article; however, I felt it necessary this time.  While the obvious reason is that I have just returned from a nearly 3-week long vacation and don’t have much time to write a new one, the REAL reason is that I can’t think of another person in my family tree that best fits the 51st COG topic.  The Call for Submissions reads: “With the upcoming July 4th holiday, there is no more perfect time to honor someone from your family whose life can be summed up in one word – INDEPENDENT! Do you have a relative who was feisty, spoke their own mind, was a bit of a free spirit? Anyone who most people might consider a “nut” on the family tree but you know they really just followed a “different tune?” We all have at least one person whose character and habits may have made them seem “ahead of their time” and now is the chance to tell us their story.”  I thought long and hard about it…but none of my grandparents or great-grandparents really fit the “free spirit” label.  Since this tribute to my great-great aunt tried to emphasize her independent nature, I simply couldn’t devote this COG to anyone else.  If you’ve read this before, my apologies…but if you’re new here, I hope you enjoyed it!]

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

836571. New York Public Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Bergmeister

Marie Bergmeister, Munich, Germany, circa 1890-1900

1901 – Marie Bergmeister (nee Echerer)

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

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

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

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

Frances Pater and Paul Nieginski

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

1907 – Franciszka Nieginski (nee Pater)

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

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

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

Slesinski Sisters

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

1920 – The Slesinski Sisters

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


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

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

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Death of Jacob Zinsmeister

This is a rather unusual death record from my genealogical “collection” with an odd reason for the death. I wish they had newspapers back then – this would have made a rather interesting obituary! The record source is the Kirchenbuch records from the Catholic church in Puch, Bavaria, Germany and details the death of Jacob Zinsmeister in 1796.

Because of the unusual nature of the death, I’m not entirely certain of the Latin translation. I think it translates as follows: “On May 9 by a tree suddenly dropped from a cart in the forest of the Puch community, was killed and here buried the honest Jacob Zinsmeister, farmer, aged 56.” Either that or he died after falling from a tree. I’m also not certain of the word in the last line that seems to say “Lori” after “colonus“. Colonus is farmer, his occupation, and usually the record will indicate “hic” afterward the occupation to indicate “he lives here”, or it will name the town if it differs than the church’s town. As the town name was Puch, I am uncertain if this word is “Lori” or not and what it refers to. If there are any Latin scholars out there, feel free to chime in! I only had some high school Latin and we weren’t exactly looking at death records!

At any rate, poor Jacob died “subito” or suddenly at the age of 56. Back in 1796 he was probably considered “old” but I’ve found many others living well beyond their 50s during that same timeframe. Jacob Zinsmeister is one of my 5th great-grandfathers. He was born about 1740 presumably in Puch, which is a very small town today and must have consisted of just a few farms back then. His wife’s name was Josepha and that is all I know about her. They had a daughter named Kreszens who was born around 1777, and at least two sons. Unfortunately he died before his daughter got married. Kreszens married Joseph Bergmeister (1763-1840) in 1800. Joseph was a miller in Puch, and she bore at least twelve children! Several died as babies or young children, but at least two sons lived to adulthood and had children of their own. Kreszens Zinsmeister Bergmeister died on 8 June 1852 at the age of 75 – a much longer life than her poor dad who was killed by a falling tree!

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Bergmeister Wedding

My last “Photo Mystery” required some specialized knowledge. This one only requires your opinion! Coincidentally, I was preparing this when Jasia posted about using facial recognition software in photo identification. When I visited my Bavarian cousins, I took along a photo of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. During the visit, I had the opportunity to look through several boxes of photos belonging to my cousins. Like many of our photos, they were not labeled, so none of us knew who was actually pictured in the photos. One photo stood out – it was the wedding photograph shown above. The groom is most likely Johann Bergmeister, my cousins’ ancestor. This is my educated guess based on later photographs they had of this individual (to see a photograph of this couple a bit older, with children, see the right hand column of this page). But the man (the “best man”?) to his right looks like my great-grandfather Joseph. A lot like him – at least that’s what I think! Here are the only photos I possess of my great-grandparents, Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer Bergmeister:

Bergmeisters

My only concern is that if the wedding is actually of the Johann Bergmeister, specifically  my cousin’s grandfather, then the event took place in 1905. If this is true, then the other man is definitely not my great-grandfather – he was in the United States from 1900 and I have no other passenger record of a “visit” home.  Is it Joseph’s brother? I plan on conducting more research on Bergmeister family weddings around the years 1897-1905 to determine who the bride and groom were in addition to the rest of the wedding party. But, what do you think? Do you see a family resemblance at all?

Are they the same person?

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

Zawodny Census Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In a post earlier this month, Lisa at 100 Years in America posed an interesting New Year challenge to other genea-bloggers: Where was your family in 1908? Several bloggers answered the challenge, including myself. Before I could list a round-up here, Lisa did it herself in this post entitled “Snapshots of the World Back in 1908”.

Why, it was almost like an interim carnival of genealogy! The many answers to that one question offered a fascinating glimpse, or a snapshot to steal Lisa’s description, into our ancestors’ lives one hundred years ago. Which caused me to wonder – just how far back do we all go? Do we know where our ancestors were two hundred years ago? So, now I pose this challenge to myself and anyone else who wants to answer the call: Where was your family in 1808?

In 1808, none of my ancestors were in the United States, which was only 32 years old! My own ancestors come from Poland and Germany, but they didn’t arrive in the US until the early 20th Century… Just to put things into an historical perspective, neither country actually existed as a country back in 1808! For that matter, Poland didn’t really exist in 1908 either. As a country, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years beginning in 1795 and ending with the First World War. The area was divided through various “partitions” among Poland’s powerful neighbors: Russia, Austria, and Prussia (Germany). My family comes from the areas that belonged to both Prussia and Russia. Unfortunately, I don’t know specifics about my Polish ancestors in 1808 – not because I’ve hit a “brick wall” in my research, but I just haven’t had the time to research beyond the 1820s-1850s. The films are available for quite a few years beyond that, so I hope to go back further when I take a research trip to Salt Lake City later this year. One important note about Poland in 1808: Prussia ceded some territory after being defeated by Napoleon, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was formed in 1807. It would only last until 1815, but there were roughly 2.4 million inhabitants who could call themselves part of a mostly independent Polish state. But more importantly for genealogists, the Napoleonic Code was introduced in 1808 which mandated civil registration! Many of the records available today begin in the year 1808.

In 1808, Germany was a collection of duchies and independent states; the nation as we know it today was not unified until 1871. This is one of the reasons that I usually refer to my ancestors as “Bavarian” in lieu of “German”. In 1808, I know a lot about my Bavarian ancestors and the towns in which they lived. To set the stage, I’d like to give a little bit of the area’s history. Around 1799-1800, Bavaria was occupied by both the French and the Austrians as loyalties and friends and enemies were shuffled. In 1801, an edict of religious tolerance was declared – the area remains predominantly Catholic, but all faiths were welcome to live there. In 1802, a law was passed for mandatory elementary education. In 1806, Bavaria joined the Confederation of the Rhine under Napoleon (he sure got around, didn’t he?), and Bavaria became the Kingdom of Bavaria under the leadership of King Maximilian I. Bavaria was a unified state that abolished many of the privileges of the nobility and the clergy, and in 1808 they adopted a constitution that was fairly ahead of its time with regard to an individual’s rights. The population of Bavaria in 1808 was about 3.2 million.

My Bergmeister family was not yet in the “big” town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, and they lived in a rather small town nearby called Puch in “house #17”. My fourth great-grandparents were Joseph Bergmeister (1763-1840) and Kreszens Zinsmeister (1777-1852). What I find amazing is their life-spans – he lived until the age of 77 and she lived until 75, which far exceeded their later descendents who lived in more modern times. Joseph was a miller like his father before him and his sons after. The couple married in the year 1800 and would go on to have twelve children from 1800-1816. At least two children, probably more, died as infants. My third great-grandfather was their son Jakob Bergmeister, who was born on 20 March 1805. In 1808, he was only three years old and his parents were probably very happy – for if a child lived until that age, they would most likely reach adulthood. Jakob’s future wife, Anna Maria Daniel, would not be born until 1812. Jakob would live until the year 1870 and the couple would have fifteen children in nineteen years. Anna Maria was 24 when she started having babies and 43 when she stopped…no wonder she died at the age of 59!

Pfaffenhofen in 1830

My great-grandmother’s side of the family lived in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, which was considered a large “market town” even then. In 1808, it was officially formed as a “municipality”, but since the town existed since the 1300’s I haven’t quite figured out what that designation means. According to a book about the town, in 1811 (close enough), the town had 1,585 Catholics and 1 Lutheran (there would eventually be more since a Lutheran church would later be built). Living in “house #55, which later becomes the address of Löwenstraße, was the Echerer family. My fourth great-grandfather Ignaz Echerer (1765-?) was a fourth generation shoemaker married to Maria Kaillinger (1768-?), a glassmaker’s daughter. Of their eight children, my third great-grandfather was Ignaz who was born on 21 December 1803. He’ll become a fifth generation shoemaker and live until the age of 71. There were apparently nine shoemakers in Pfaffenhofen shortly before 1808, and based on what I’ve seen in the church records every one was probably an Echerer brother or cousin.

Ignaz’s future wife, Magdalena Nigg, was born on 17 May 1807 to Karl Nigg (1767-1844) and Maria Theresia Höck (1769-post 1814). Karl held a very important position in Pfaffenhofen as the Stadtzimmermeister or the Town Master Carpenter.  His father was the Stadtmaurermeister, or the Town Master Mason, and his father-in-law was a zimmermeister or Master Carpenter. Karl and Maria would have eleven children from 1795-1814.

That’s just a small look into the lives of a few of my ancestors two hundred years ago. We can’t tell much from a collection of names and dates, but with the help of some history books we are able to imagine what life might have been like. Where was your family in 1808?

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I come from a rather small family, and I didn’t even know my own first cousins until about six years ago. Once they reached adulthood, my parents kept in touch with very few of their own cousins, but they did remember a lot of names. Because our surnames are not too common, I was able to use their memories to seek out my second cousins over the years, both by email and regular mail. In every case, I offer to share my research and I beg for copies of any photos they have. Results have been mixed. Most folks are friendly, but they aren’t really interested in the genealogy details. And as for photos, no luck yet except for copies of photos already in my possession.

At the farthest extreme, one second cousin insisted that I was wrong about some facts and stopped all contact. At the opposite end of the spectrum, another became a good friend and gave me one our great-grandfather’s Bavarian beer steins for Christmas (to date, one of my bests Christmas presents ever).

One of the best connections I’ve made was more distant, both in degree and location, when I connected with my 3rd and 4th Bergmeister cousins in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.

C. Bergmeister bldg

On my first visit to Pfaffenhofen in 1998, I was awestruck to find a building in the hauptplatz with the name “C. Bergmeister” on it. It’s a bakery! My great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister was a baker! But wait…who was “C”? At that point in my research, I didn’t know. Attempts to communicate in the bakery were disastrous; my German is pitiful and their English-speaking associates must have been off that day.

After more research at home, I learned that C. Bergmeister was Castulus Bergmeister (1845-1912), son of Jakob Bergmeister (1805-1870). I descend from Jakob also, but from his son Joseph (1843-c.1885), which would make Castulus the uncle of my great-grandfather, Joseph (1873-1927), son of Joseph. Since Joseph (Jr) was married in Pfaffenhofen, worked as a baker, and his uncle owned a bakery there, chances are he worked for family – a family still running the bakery 108 years after he left Germany for the US.

Through the internet and some German-speaking friends, I contacted the bakery owners, and their son Hans replied in English. We exchanged emails occasionally, but when I knew I’d be “in the neighborhood” on a trip to Europe in 2006, I asked if I could visit. The next thing I knew, Bavarian hospitality was in full swing. No, we won’t recommend a hotel because you’re staying with us. No, we won’t give you directions, because we’re picking you up at the airport. Even though they weren’t even sure how I was related, they opened their homes and hearts to me. And as to how we would communicate, well, we’d figure that out when I arrive…

With some nervous trepidation on both sides, we finally met. Before dinner on my first evening there, I brought out my pedigree chart. Moments later, their chart was produced. Heads leaned over the dining table as we scrutinized each other’s data, and we simultaneously pointed to the common ancestor, Jakob. “We never knew any Bergmeister’s went to the US!” We both gained information – my research ended two generations back from Jakob with his grandfather Paul, who was born approximately in 1724 and died in 1784. Hans went back one generation more than I did! His chart named Paul’s father as Martin Bergmeister (1689-1752). This was a surprise since I thought my research in the Bergmeister’s original home village of Puch ended when the old records did.

By week’s end, my cousins’ English became far better than my German will ever be. I had many great experiences: dining with the extended family, visiting the cemetery and church, and spending an afternoon searching through boxes and boxes of unmarked photos in hopes of seeing a familiar face. It was the kind of genealogical magic I only dreamed of when I started out on this journey.

I didn’t want to show photos of my cousins without their permission, but you can see live images of the main square (hauptplatz) with Pfaffenhofen’s webcam, or you can take a virtual visit of the Bergmeister Bäckerei — serving the best pretzels in Bavaria since 1868!

[Submitted for the 40th Carnival of Genealogy: Living Relative Connections]

 

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The idea for a second post came easily enough after reading Lisa’s recent post at 100 Years in America. Inspired after reading a Smithsonian magazine article on the year 1908, she writes about what her ancestors were doing in that year and challenges others to do the same. What a great idea, and a nice way to get my feet wet with this blog. Plus, in order to write about it I’m actually forced to organize my research (or rather, a mess of paper) to answer the question! [Photo of St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, where my Bergmeister family worshiped.] St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia

For my Bergmeister family, 1908 was probably a very busy year since the household consisted of four children under the age of ten. My grandmother was not among them though – she would not be born for another five years! Thirty-five year-old Joseph had been in the US for ten years by this time, and wife Maria and daughter Maria for eight. By 1908, he was working as a baker in Philadelphia. How different that was from working as a baker in his native Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is anyone’s guess. Although his father was deceased and his mother was far away in Germany, Joseph wasn’t far from his immediate family because his sister Hillarie emigrated to Philadelphia first. Besides Hillarie, brother Ignatz was living in New Jersey, and half-brother Julius Goetz had just arrived in Philadelphia.

With the Piontkowski’s, my grandfather was a couple of years away from birth, and since his parents John and Rose were in their late 30s he probably wasn’t even a thought for the future. They had their hands full with a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, both of whom were born in Poland. John and Rose were probably still getting used to America because they had only arrived 2-3 years earlier. It was probably quite a challenge to learn a new language, but I’m sure that Philadelphia was as bustling as their old home town, Warsaw, Poland.

The Zawodny family had been in the US for about six years. Their family was growing and would eventually include six children. But in 1908, my great-grandparents Joseph and Wacława had three young girls at home – all under the age of four. This includes my grandmother Marianna, who was only born the previous August. Even though she was an infant, I’d like to think she was already bossing her big sisters around. Marianna Zawodna is my only grandparent that was alive in the year 1908.

The Pater family was just getting settled in the US. Joseph and Antonina arrived with their six children in various stages from 1905 through 1907. Their son Ludwig, or Louis, is one of my youngest great-grandparents and was only 15 years old that year. He was already hard at work in one of the textile mills in Philadelphia, not far removed from the family’s recent past in the textile town of Żyrardów, Poland. He may have even been awaiting the arrival of his future wife, Elżbieta Miller, since she came from the same town. Since the facts show that he arrived as a young teenager in 1907, she arrived in 1909, and they were married in 1910, it’s plausible that they already knew each other. But in 1908, 17-year-old Elżbieta was still living in Żyrardów with her parents. Her brother Emil, however, was already in Philadelphia for three years, and one can only wonder if they exchanged letters across the Atlantic.

One hundred years…a lot can happen in a century. The world has certainly changed a great deal in that time. And in just that short amount of time, four immigrant families came to a new world, had children of their own, worked, laughed, cried, lived, and died. Their legacies include hundreds of descendants, and I count myself lucky to be among them.

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