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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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“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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Pointkouski Wedding

Happy Anniversary to My Parents!

James and Anita Pointkouski

Married April 7, 1956

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