Ten Years!

Photo by Neil Alexander McKee https://flic.kr/p/p7Xs8S

What’s Past is Prologue is ten years old! Or, as my nieces and nephews proudly say when they reach the same milestone – double digits! So how to celebrate a decade of blogging (well, most of a decade…I’ve slacked off in old age)? With a top ten list, of course. I’m often asked to speak in work at retirements, and my comedy of choice is always a top ten. This one is actually serious though, because I really have experienced so many wonderful things as a result of blogging. And so I present…

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned in Ten Years of Blogging

1-Cousins are out there! I come from a “small” family, but other generations weren’t as small as my own. I’ve “found” and met so many cousins as a result of blogging here. Second, third, fourth…even sixth cousins! Cousins from each of my grandparents’ lines, from all over the United States and all over the world. I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet several of my newfound family face to face, and I’ve gotten to know the rest online.

2-Writing is a solo endeavour, but it’s infinitely more fun as part of a blogging community. I began blogging after stumbling upon several other really great genealogy blogs. I didn’t know these people, and we had never met. Yet when I began my own blog, I was welcomed into a community of fellow genea-bloggers. While it began as a virtual community, I’ve been able to meet many at genealogy conferences and become “live” friends. Their humor, talent, and comeraderie means a lot to me!

3-Blogging is like a time capsule, because if you do it long enough you realize just how much has changed since you began. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined using DNA to find cousins and solve mysteries. While some records were online back then (unlike when I first began my research), I wouldn’t have dreamed just how many would become available, including many vital records from Poland online for free

4-Yes, Virginia, other people do actually read your blog. Even the most modest blogger has to get excited to see comments on their blog. People are reading what I wrote! The most gratifying lesson wasn’t necessarily that others were reading what I wrote, but that they were actually helped by what I wrote. I was occasionally able to introduce readers to new resources, and I enjoyed hearing about their success stories via comments.

5-Ask, and you shall receive. Blogging is a great forum for finding solutions to your genealogical problems. I received help and advice from readers! From photo restoration to photo facial comparison to record look-ups or suggestions, I’ve gotten a lot of tips and pointers along the way.

6-Telling their stories matters. Through this forum, I was able to tell stories – stories about my direct and collateral ancestors, and even my own story at times. In telling their stories, they are not forgotten.

7-Blogging is a great motivation to get organized. It actually forced me to organize my research so that I could turn the facts and figures into a story or add graphics and photos.

8-This blog serves as a documentation of my own genea-journey. As I look back at older posts, I’m amazed at the number of holes I filled in and walls I broke down in the last ten years. The missing sister? I learned her married name. Photos of my great-grandmother? Found! Trying to solve the mysteries of my Miller family? Completed (though not yet fully written about)! Filling in the details on my “sweet sixteen”? Check! (I’ve updated it twice over the years, but the last one – linked in the question – still isn’t the most up-to-date!)

9-Blogging helped me improve my writing. Well, it helped me practice my writing on a regular basis at least in the blog’s early years. And practicing anything will always make you better and more comfortable.

10-Through this blog, I was able to flex my creative muscles. I need creativity in my life. While writing about genealogy doesn’t seem all that creative since it’s mostly facts and figures, the creativity came through in trying to tell the stories or come up with a story to fit a theme. From the Carnival of Genealogy (I really miss it!) to 52 Ancestors (incomplete, but fun) to the A-Z Family History Challenge, my writing muscles got a creative workout and I loved the challenge! I also got to share my humor in many ways, and I was happy to learn I can actually make others laugh with my writing.

Thanks for reading and journeying along with me over the last decade. What does the future hold? Well, after all, what’s past is prologue! The biggest change I’ve made in ten years (other than not posting on a regular basis) is that — finally, after ten years — I changed the design and layout last night. I’m still getting used to the new look, but it’s time for a change. Here’s to the next ten – or more! Sto lat!

2017: A Look Back

In my first year of blogging, on New Year’s Eve I took my first look back at the year 2008. Tonight is my tenth look in the review mirror at my own year. I have come to enjoy this tradition. I sometimes dread the thought of summing up an entire year’s worth of experiences in about a thousand words, yet I relish the process I use to really review what I experienced and what I learned. Both the good and bad all gets mixed up into one unique recipe that is that year and no other.

One year ago, I was ardently, anxiously, and desperately waiting for 2017 to begin. I needed something new after the difficulties of 2016, and I hoped I’d find it. Oddly, I found something new in the same old – the same job, family, friends, and hobbies that I always had. I discovered the freedom of acceptance and enjoyed (mostly) everything about the year I “turned” 50.


Ancestral church in Wilczyn (St. Ursula’s)

As this is a genealogy blog, I always begin with reviewing my genealogical finds. Surprisingly, there’s no end to discoveries even after all these years. This year I traveled back to Poland and visited thirteen different ancestral towns. They ranged from small villages to large cities, from wielkopolska (Greater Poland) to mazowieckie (Mazovia). In most of these places, the only thing remaining from my ancestors’ days was the parish church, but I enjoyed the experience of just being there. When I first visited Auschwitz in 2001, I had no idea that one of my cousins died there. This time, I proudly told his story to my fellow pilgrims and was shocked when I realized that I’d be there on the 75th anniversary of his death.

One of my big genealogical mysteries was solved rather easily. I was never able to find the birth record of my great-great grandfather, Wawrzyniec (Lawrence) Zawodny. Despite the evidence that had been right in front of me for years, it took the help of another to discover that I couldn’t find it because it didn’t exist – Zawodny was his stepfather’s surname and Wawrzyniec’s birth record is under his actual surname, Ratajczyk.

My blogging lagged once again except for an unusual flurry of posts in August, but despite another “break” I’m happy with the posts I did write this year. I am still finding new cousins from my Czech-Polish line all over the world! Offline, I organized the information on one grandparent’s line, and I sorted through DNA matches to discover new cousins.


Not my birthday cake, but Pope St. John Paul II’s favorite cake, kremowka, in his hometown of Wadowice, Poland.

It was a year of several big family milestones and personal anniversaries. The biggest event, at least for me, was my birthday – a half century is something to celebrate! Other significant personal anniversaries included fifteen years of home ownership and 25 years on the job. Smaller, yet still significant to me, was passing the 1,000th day of daily journaling (today is Day #1,218)! In my family, my youngest nephew celebrated his First Communion and the elder hit double digits. My youngest niece grew much closer to my height, and my oldest niece not only graduated college, but also got a great job in the real world of “adulting.”

I feel fortunate that I got to do a few things and visit a few places for the very first time. On my trip to Poland, I had been to several of the sites on a prior trip. But I was able to visit the beautiful towns of Gdańsk and Zakopane for the first time and dip my toes into the Baltic Sea. More importantly, I got to finally meet a long-time Polish friend in person, meet two Polish genealogists I’ve known a long time, and spend time in that beautiful country with two of my best friends. Another first time visit was to Williamsburg, Virginia, and some new experiences included seeing the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra and the Harlem Globetrotters (with my niece and nephews, of course, but I have wanted to see them since I was 12 years old!).

It was a good year for entertainment with plays (sadly, only one Shakespeare), musicals (Finding Neverland was my favorite), and concerts. My favorite movies that I watched at home were Hidden Figures and Lincoln. In the movie theater, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Wonder Woman, was not at all surprised that I was once again enthralled by Kenneth Branagh, and very surprised by how disappointed I was by The Last Jedi.

On television, the usual occurrence – a favorite show got cancelled – followed by an absolute first a few days later – it was uncancelled! Timeless lives on! Sadly, my new favorite Will did not survive, but I loved its energy, actors, character development, pro-Catholic angle, and inclusion of Robert Southwell as a character.

Of the more than 70 books I read, three stuck out that are the types of novels I usually like to read: Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson, Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett, and Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland. But I picked up some random selections at the library – things I may have normally overlooked, and they turned out to be memorable because of the characters or the story: The Reminders by Val Emmich, Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson, and The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl. The book that most impressed me this year was non-fiction: A Pope and a President by Paul Kengor.

For music I mostly listened to old favorites, but some of those old favorites had new recordings. Dan Wilson’s Re-Covered and Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life were great albums, while Hanson’s “I Was Born” and Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” (and the Piano Guys’ cover of it) stuck in my head.

In the recipe that became 2017, I subtracted a misguided hope that caused me pain and added more of the interaction and activities that make me feel fully alive. I discovered what worked for me this year (acceptance, a positive attitude, more prayer, and making time for fun or inspiring things) and what needs more work next year (not enough time with people I love and definitely not enough exercise).

I love the juxtapositions and the paradoxes and the serendipities that every year brings. It’s always the same old, yet always new. I embraced everything that 2017 offered, or at least tried to. I lived the big, shiny events and lived the dull, daily routine. I planned and hosted a conference for 700 people, yet couldn’t figure out what to make for dinner on most nights. I re-connected with an old friend and made a few new ones while trying to forget about the friendships that faded away.

I thought there was room for something in my life that I thought I needed. There wasn’t. There isn’t. Only when it was gone did I discover that sometimes you already have enough. Who I am is, strangely, enough.  And that’s all that matters.

May 2018 bring you peace, joy, and love!

Ferdinand’s German Road Trip – Part 12 – Frankfurt

When I last wrote in this series (a mere two and a half years ago), I was halfway through a pile of postcards that I titled “Ferdinand’s German Road Trip.” [See the link at the end to view past posts.] In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a visit. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). 101 years later, Laura’s album of postcards found its way to me. Viewing them is like taking a trip back in time!

This week’s card is dated three days his visit to Burg Eltz. (Ferdinand’s “home base” for the trip is Offenbach.)

23 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Schützen-Brunnen, Zoologischer Garten, Frankfurt

Back: He may be at the zoo, but he has nothing to say about it!

The postcard reads:

Offenbach a/m 26.9.12

Eure Carte vom 13ten habe ich erhalten und freue mich jedes mal wen ich von Euch höre vielleicht komme ich auch mal nach Regensburg wir fahren sehr weit mit dem Auto. Schworg ist in München kommt zu mir nächstens. Ich fahre nach Darmstad morgen. Grüße an Alle Bekannten


Offenbach a/m 26.9.12

I received your card from the 13th and rejoice every time I hear from you. Perhaps I will come to Regensburg sometime. We drive very far with the car. Schworg is in Munich and visits me soon. I am going to Darmstadt tomorrow. Greetings to all

In these notes to his friends, Ferdinand has continually been grateful for their communication to him while he was away (what I wouldn’t give to have the other half of the conversation!). He also writes frequently of traveling by car, which in 1912 would have been quite the luxurious novelty. Again he references a mutual friend by the nickname “Schworg” and keeps them updated on his next travel spot. What he fails to say, however, is anything about his trip to the zoo in Frankfurt which is pictured on the postcard!

The card depicts the Schützen-Brunnen, a fountain at the zoo that was erected in 1894 by sculptor Rudolf Eckhardt. It stood nearly 46 feet high and was a symbol for the still-young German empire under Kaiser Wilhelm. The statue/fountain was inaugurated on August 24, 1894 in memory of the Bundesschießen, a sports shooting competition, which was held in Frankfurt in 1862 and 1887.

Another view of the Schutzen-brunnen

But, as we have discovered in our own country, even large statues do not withstand time. In this case, it wasn’t politics that toppled the massive monument, but economic-political reasons. It was destroyed due to “Metallspende des deutschen Volkes” – “Metal Donation by the German People” – which took place during both wars. Amazingly, it survived World War 1 unscathed. But in 1940, the reich needed more metal for weapons. Statues, church bells, and anything made of metal (trophies, flagpoles, lids on beer steins) was donated to be melted down. And it it wasn’t donated, it was a capital offense!

And so, the city of Frankfurt lost the Schützen-Brunnen. It makes me wish that Ferdinand had more to say about it. Or the zoo itself, which was founded in 1858 and is the second oldest zoo in Germany (after Berlin’s).

Part 12 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

The Solar Eclipse…of 1887

Today, 21 August 2017, much of the United States will be in the path for viewing a solar eclipse. I wondered if the event would be scary for young children that don’t yet understand the scientific concept of what is happening. Then again, even when you do understand it, seeing the sun blotted out is still a little unsettling. I looked to see if there was a similar eclipse that my ancestors may have witnessed, and there was.

On August 19, 1887 a total solar eclipse was visible in Europe, Asia, and the Arctic. The path of totality stretched over Germany and Poland (and all the way to Japan). It occurred very early in the morning, just after sunrise. Where were my ancestors on this date?

My Bavarian great-grandparents were teenagers at the time. Josef Bergmeister was 14 years old and living in Regensburg with his family including a sister (17), brother (11), and two half-brothers who were just toddlers (1 and 2). Miles away in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Josef’s future wife, Maria Echerer, was 12 years old and had several younger brothers and sisters. I can imagine that at that age it would have been a very exciting event. I’m not sure what the weather was like in their hometowns that day, but in Berlin, north of where they lived, it was reported that its 1.3 million residents were disappointed due to severe cloudy weather.

In Poland, my Piątkowski great-grandfather, Jan, was 16 years old and living in Warsaw with his parents and sisters. His future wife, Rozalia Kieswetter, was 21 years old and also lived in the city with many brothers and sisters. Warsaw was not in the path of totality, and many residents traveled to Vilnius to get a better glimpse of the event. Apparently the weather was better there. According to the Polish version of the eclipse’s Wikipedia page, the eclipse was described in a letter to a magazine as follows (translation by Google Translate):

“The sun disk was surrounded by a bright, silvery crown and with rays of uneven length; By using the binoculars they were able to see mainly at the bottom of the sun, red explosions, appearing and disappearing momentarily – they were shaped like tongues or slightly curly tails.”

A painting of the 1887 solar eclipse by Wilhelm Kranz

Elsewhere in Poland, my great-grandfather Józef Zawodny and his future wife, Wacława Ślesiński, were only 7 years old and both living in the area near Wilczyn. My final set of great-grandparents, Ludwik Pater and Elżbieta Miller, were not yet born! But, their parents were living in Żyrardów near Warsaw. Antonina Pater, my great-great grandmother, was about 7.5 months pregnant at the time with her daughter, Franciszka. The Miller’s already had three children under the age of six. Given the bad “reviews” of the eclipse due to weather, they may not have seen anything at all.

One of Poland’s literary greats, Bolesław Prus, witnessed the eclipse and wrote about it for a newspaper. But he also incorporated it into one of his famous novels, Faraon (Pharaoh), written in 1895. In the climactic scene of the novel, Pharoah’s nemesis uses his knowledge of the coming eclipse to pretend that he has actual power over the sun (Mark Twain would steal Prus’ idea in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court!).

I had to laugh at the fact that weather ruined the eclipse in 1887. Living in Philadelphia, nearly every time we’re scheduled to witness a solar or lunar eclipse, or an event like a comet or meteor shower, we tend to have bad weather (not so for today’s forecast). So I sympathize with the Europeans of 1887!

I did find one other interesting note in reviewing data on past solar eclipses. In 1925, all of my great-grandparents described above (included the two that weren’t yet born in 1887) were living in Philadelphia (one was deceased by then) and had teenagers, my future grandparents. There was a solar eclipse visible in Philadelphia on January 24, 1925. I can imagine my grandparents being told, “Back when I was your age, we had an eclipse back home. Not much to see though…”

Surname Saturday: EICHINGER

Surname Saturday


Meaning/Origin – The Eichingre surname is not specifically listed in the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, which is the reference book I usually use for my German surnames. However, other surnames with the prefix “Eich” (such as Eicher, Eichler, Eichner, Eichmann) all come from the German word eiche, which means “oak” and indicate a dwelling place under the oaks.

Countries of Origin – The surname Eichinger is German. According to the World Names Profiler, the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Austria with 314 individuals per million, Germany with 61, and Hungary with 17.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Luxembourg (8.5) and Switzerland (6.3).

Spelling Variations – Variations include AICHINGER, which was the earlier/older spelling of the name in my own family.

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the EICHINGER surname in Austria and Germany. Not surprisingly, the areas in Germany with the higher concentration is exactly where my family was located.

Distribution of the EICHINGER surname in Austria.

SOURCE: Surname Distribution Maps of Austria, http://namenskarten.lima-city.at/en/ accessed August 16, 2017.

Distribution of the EICHINGER surname in Germany

SOURCE: Surname Mapping database, http://www.verwandt.de/karten/absolut/eichinger.html, accessed August 16, 2017.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Bernd Eichinger (1949-2011) was a German film producer. He was executive director of Constantin Film, one of the most successful German film companies. His best known American films were The Neverending Story, The Name of the Rose, and Fantastic Four. Nina Eichinger (born 1981, Munich) is Bernd Eichinger’s daughter and an actress in Germany. Martin Eichinger (born 1949) is an American sculptor. Under the alternate (and older) spelling of the name, Gregor Aichinger (c. 1565 – 21 January 1628) was a German composer and organist to the Fugger family of Augsburg in 1584.

My Family – My EICHINGINGER family comes from Bavaria. First from Oberbayern, or Upper Bavaria, but prior to that from the area just to the northwest, Niederbayern, or Lower Bavaria. It is interesting that in the earliest instances of the name in my family, they lived in the “Wald” region of Lower Bavaria, which is called Bayerischer Wald or the Bavarian Forest. That fact makes me wonder if the family’s name did indeed derive from the fact that they lived near the oaks!

My earliest ancestor with this name is Michael Aichinger who is named in the marriage record of his son, Egidi Aichinger, which took place in 1640 in Kirchberg im Wald. Each successive generation lived in a different town in that region including Grünbach and Hintberg. In the late 1700s/early 1800s – just when the spelling of the surname changed in records to EICHINGER, my line moved to Upper Bavaria in the area around Dachau including the towns of Oberweilbach, Deggendorf, Asbach, and Prittlbach.

My line of descent is as follows: Michael Aichinger > Egidi Aichinger > Andreas Aichinger (c. 1641-1711) > Johann Aichinger (1688-1749) > Josef Aichinger (c.1720-1789) > Josef Eichinger (1754-1817) > Georg Eichinger (1793-1855) > Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr (1820-?) > Ursula Dallmayr Bergmeister Götz (1846-1911) > Josef Bergmeister (1873-1927) > Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski (1913-1998) > my father > me.

My Research Challenges – My challenge in researching this name was that I mis-translated the maiden name of my ancestor Ursula Dallmayr in her marriage record. For years I searched for the Eulinger family from Aichach instead of the Eichinger family from Asbach. It is so much easier to research using the correct name and location!

This post is #13 of an ongoing series about my family’s surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

Life in America (Part 3)

This 3-part series of posts uses my cousin’s interview in 1985 with the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Part 1 tells the story of Ludwig and Mary Schultz, who came to America in 1912 and temporarily left their five children with Mary’s parents. In Part 2, their daughter, Louise, discusses  living with her grandparents and the eventual journey across the ocean to join their parents.  In today’s post, Part 3 will tell more about what happened after their arrival, how the family left behind fared in Poland after they left, and how everyone’s life eventually turned out.

The Family Left Behind

Before discussing the Schultz family’s life in America, one interesting question asked by the interviewer in 1985 was: “Do you have any idea of what would have happened to you if you stayed in Poland, if you hadn’t come here?”

Louise responded: “Pretty awful, because we came in 1913 and in 1914 the first World War broke out.” What happened to the grandparents, uncles, and aunts they left behind?

The children’s grandfather and Alfred’s father, Jan Miller, died just three weeks after they left Poland. He passed away on 25 August 1913, leaving Elżbieta a widow with three children still at home: Paweł, Ludwik, and Zofie.

When the war began, Żyrardów was on the front line. Hundreds of workers were drafted into the army. Because of the decrease in workers and the lack of raw materials, the factory began to reduce production. Food prices increased. As German troops made their way through Russian Poland, martial law was declared.

In early 1915, goods, raw materials, and machines were removed from the factory. The town was deserted due to forced digging of trenches, general displacement, and epidemics of infectious diseases. The worst came after the collapse of the front line of Płock-Bzura-Rawka. On the night of July 16, 1915, the retreating Russian army blew up the main factory buildings. By the end of 1915, the town was under German occupation. During that time, charity committees were abolished and strict food regulation was imposed.

In an article in The New York Times on October 26, 1915 (originally printed in The Chicago Tribune on September 24), reporter James O’Donnell Bennett writes about crossing “Russian Poland” which at that time in the war was in German or Austrian control. He writes:

Often in the last five days I have made the experiment of looking out over the wide landscape to see if I could find an unscathed tract of country. Always the experiment is a failure. Always a shattered church tower notches itself against the sky or a battered village lies crumpled at the edge of fields.

The reporter mentions several towns his party traveled through, including Żyrardów. He describes the whole country as “flyblown and sodden and a ‘nobody cares’ atmosphere envelops it…It is all waste and wreckage, wreckage and waste, a land of grime and ruin and sour smells, of silent fields and slatternly women, of weary sentries…”

Louise said her aunt eventually told her what it was like during the war and “how awful it was when the German army went through the town.” Louise realized that she and her siblings “just missed the horror of a war. They used to hide in cellars and had no food. My grandmother went from one farm to another to beg for a piece of bread.”

Ludwik Miller

I am not certain exactly what happened to Paweł Miller. According to Louise, her aunt Zofie said he was part of the Soviet roundups in Żyrardów that sent residents to Siberia. He did not return from the exile and presumably died there. Their sister, Karolina Miller Razer, may have suffered the same fate; Zofie said she died “in prison”.

Ludwik Miller, a young teenager, either joined or was conscripted into the Russian Army sometime during the Great War. He survived the experience and lived a long life. Ludwik did not immigrate to America. He married twice and had no children, and owned a footwear store in Żyrardów. He died there sometime after 1977.

Elizabeth Smetana Miller with great-granddaughter, Lucille (Louise’s daughter). Long Island, NY, 1925.

The oldest brother, Emil Miller, who was the first of the family to immigrate to America, actually returned to Poland in 1913 after the death of his father. He brought his wife and their children, two of whom were born in America, but after the war began there was no way to leave. Emil and one of his daughters died in Poland during the war. Emil’s wife, Zofja, and American-born son Edward could finally return to America in 1927 (Edward) and 1929 (Zofja). Another daughter stayed behind in Żyrardów.

Widowed Elżbieta and her youngest child, Zofie, would eventually immigrate to America themselves. They sailed aboard the Megantic from Liverpool and arrived in Portland, Maine on 10 December 1920.  Elżbieta, or Elizabeth as she was called in America, lived for a time with Alfred in New York, then with Mary in New Jersey.  She died on 08 November 1944.

The Schultz Family in America

Finally in America after a long, scary journey, Louise said, “My first impression was pretty awful! Because [in Poland] we lived surrounded by trees and orchards and little houses by themselves.” In America, they lived in downtown Manhattan “on 16th Street, that’s where we moved first. The place looked dirty to me, crowded dirty.”  But the family adjusted. Louise was particularly good at learning the new language and communicating on behalf of her parents who, according to her, did not make as much of an effort in assimilating.

The Schultz Family in America, circa 1923. Top row from left: Louise, Mary, Ludwig, Edward. Bottom row from left: Walter, Julia, Henry.

The Schultz family enjoyed their new lives in America. They lived in Brooklyn, then in New Jersey’s Somerset county. Eventually they moved to Metuchen in Middlesex county, New Jersey. Ludwig died in 1950 at the age of 77, and Mary in 1969 at the age of 85.

Henry, who never married, was the first of the Schultz children to die in 1954 at only 46 years old. Edward married and had three children; he died in 1984 at the age of 75. Walter, a decorated U.S. Army Air Corps veteran, died in 1986 at the age of 78. Louise, the source of this wonderful story, married twice and had two daughters; she died in 1990 at the age of 87. The youngest, Julia, married and moved to California where she had two children; she died in 2003 at the age of 93.

I should also note what happened to Alfred Miller, the brave teenaged uncle who brought his nieces and nephews to America! Alfred lived with the Schultz family for some time. In 1921, he got married. The couple had a daughter in 1922 and a son in 1926. Alfred died in 1969, two months after his sister Mary, in Piscataway, NJ.

The only Miller sibling that I did not provide an update on was Elizabeth, my great-grandmother. See her story and a photograph of her with her brother Alfred, sister Mary, and some of the Schultz children here.

Louise Schultz Nagy

When Louise was 82 years old, she was interviewed about the journey she took as a young girl for the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Thanks to that transcript, I was able to learn not only about traveling by ship to America, but also a little about her family, what life was like in Poland before and after she left, and her impressions about life in America. Thank you, cousin Louise, for sharing your journey with all of us!

The Journey to America (Part 2)

This 3-part series of posts uses my cousin’s interview in 1985 with the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Part 1 tells the story of Ludwig and Mary Schultz, who came to America in 1912 and temporarily left their five children with Mary’s parents. In today’s post, Part 2, their daughter, Louise, discusses  living with her grandparents and the eventual journey across the ocean to join their parents.

Crossing the Border

When Ludwig and Mary finally earned enough money to reunite with their children, their young Uncle Alfred was to be their guardian throughout the journey. Louise explains,

“My uncle, he was the ‘main cheese’ in the whole thing. He was like our father, mother, the whole thing – everything rolled into one. And he spoke for us, to whomever he had to speak, for everything.”

Uncle Alfred was seventeen years old! His older sister, my great-grandmother, immigrated alone four years earlier at the age of 18. Somehow I think her trip was much easier.

Louise explains that they all needed passports to travel, and they were expensive. They were purchased on what she calls “the black market” and “the underground” in order to get across the border from Poland to Germany, “because we had to get to Hamburg to get the ship.” They left after midnight, “in the black of night.”  Louise remembered crossing a “narrow little bridge” over water. Even though she was the oldest at 10 years old, she became afraid. Uncle Alfred carried the children over one by one, depositing them on the other side, in order to get them all across.

Louise describes having very little with them:

“You didn’t have matching luggage or anything like that. You just took a sheet or something, a rag, and you folded your belongings and you tied it in the four corners.”

Their most important belongings went into a wicker basket. However, as the family was crossing the border, Alfred was told to leave the meager baggage with someone who would take it to the port where they could pick it up. When Alfred went to retrieve it with a claim ticket, but their baggage was not there. Louise remembers that he “went two or three times, then he gave up, very down-hearted.” The unscrupulous man had stolen their belongings! “It didn’t only happen to us,” she said, “it happened to many families.”

What made this situation more difficult is that the youngest, Julia, was only 3 and still needed diapers. Louise had primarily responsibility for her little sister while Alfred cared for the three boys, and it was difficult to care for her without a change of clothes.

Journey by Ship

Louise’s (Ludwika Kazimira) Inspection Card

The party of six managed to travel to the port of Hamburg, over 500 miles away, and  boarded the S.S. Amerika on 06 August 1913.

The S.S. Amerika on the Hamburg-American Line

Once aboard the ship, the journey was even more difficult. They all suffered from “sea sickness, constantly.”  She describes the ship’s steerage compartment as being “one big floor of everybody. There was men, women, children; all languages, all nationalities.” Cups were given out, one per person. “But they didn’t give us enough. So in the nighttime, my brother would creep under somebody’s bunk and get extra cups.”

Louise said that every morning a man would yell, “Rouse, rouse, rouse” and they would have to quickly get out. “Everybody was like soldiers in the army. You had to get out that time and just go up on deck.” She thinks they would clean or sanitize the steerage floor at this time to prevent an outbreak of disease among the passengers.

Breakfast was served. “In the morning you got coffee. There was no such thing as children getting something different, that’s all you got. It was coffee, and Russian black bread or some kind of rolls.” At dinner, “we sat at these long tables, everybody together. We got a herring thrown on the plate and boiled potatoes.”

Arrival at Ellis Island

They finally arrived in New York City on 17 August. Louise remembers taking a ferry from the ship to Ellis Island. She explained,

“My parents came to pick us up the same day the ship landed. However, our name was Schultz, and my uncle’s name was Miller. I think we went under his name because he was the adult. When my parents came to pick us up, my father told the names. They said there’s no Schultz, he couldn’t find it. And my father didn’t believe them. He argued back and forth, but they couldn’t help him out. So they went home and they came back the next day. That means we had to spend a whole night there [at Ellis Island] and it was very scary to me.”

The family’s names listed on the passenger arrival record

Before they realized they were to be detained, they were processed through and had medical examinations. Louise remembered,

“They would examine your eyes, your chest, and your body in general, to see if you were healthy enough to come here if you didn’t have any contagious diseases. Consumption was a horror word, and I remember one man in particular – he must have been found consumptive and I remember him crying because he had to go back and couldn’t come into this country.”

In the Great Hall, “there were very few seats. It was so packed that you were almost standing close together. And I remember it was in August; it was very hot.” The hall “had such a resonance, the sound, the acoustics.” Several times a day a man would go up on a platform and call out names, which mean that someone was there to pick you up and you were allowed to leave. “And we waited and waited, we went each time they were calling the names.”

The Great Hall at Ellis Island – taken by the author on August 7, 2010

They continued to wait for their parents. After names were called, “everybody dispersed, just sat around or walked around waiting for the next call. And then it was night time and there were long tables for eating a little supper. I don’t remember the meals too much; the only thing I remember is that it was the very first time in our lives that we had slices of white bread. In Russia it was black bread!”

The doctors performing the examinations wore “white coats” but the other officials at Ellis Island wore uniforms. Louise thought they looked “like conductors on the street cars with peaked hats” and navy blue uniforms. They were “very abrupt, very short” and wanted everyone to “move, move, go, go, come.”

On 18 August, a presumably anxious Ludwig and Mary returned to collect their children. Louise said her father “went home very upset” that first day and “he didn’t know what to make of it.” The next morning, he returned and “made the official let him look at the book.” The official let him see the list, and he quickly found the names for his brother-in-law, Alfred Miller, and the five Schultz children. Louise remembers that they had to go outside, and a chain-linked fence separated the new immigrants from the family members that came to pick them up. “We had to identify each other,” Louise remembered,

“Now, I was the oldest, and the younger children did not know my parents. My mother had gotten stouter; she was a slim lady when she left us. And my father changed. So I had a rough time, but I had to say ‘Yes, that’s my father and that’s my mother’ and we finally went through the gates. That was it, we were finally in this country!”

In Part 3, we will learn more about what life was like for the family in America — and what life was like for the family they left behind in Poland.

Life in Poland and the Decision to Leave (Part 1)

In the early days of my genealogical research (early 1990s), I was at an archive or a library and I stumbled upon a database to search for interviews in the Ellis Island Oral History Project. [Note: You can now search the project online, but not all of the interviews are available online. The story I am about to tell is not.]  I ran some of my great-grandparents’ surnames through, but did not get any hits. Then I tried the name of the town from which my mother’s paternal grandparents came: Żyrardów.  The search resulted in one hit – an interview with Louise Nagy. The name meant nothing to me. Even if it was indexed with her maiden name, Schultz, it still would have meant nothing. Żyrardów was a large town, and she was one of many residents who immigrated to America.

Fast forward about twenty years. I finally discovered my great-grandmother’s family. Elizabeth Pater’s maiden name was Miller, so it was a difficult search. But I discovered that she had several brothers and sisters. One sister, Mary, married a man named Schultz. They had five children: Louise, Edward, Henry, Walter, and Julia. I made contact with Julia’s daughter, who is my mother’s second cousin. She shared many wonderful photographs and provided me with many names and dates that I had not yet researched.

After corresponding by email for a few weeks, she wrote: “You might find this interview of my Aunt Louise interesting. It’s all about when they came over from Poland and landed in New York.” Attached was the transcript of her interview from the Ellis Island Oral History Project! Yes, her aunt – and my cousin – was the same Louise Nagy I had “found” and passed over so many years ago.

In my rush of research on the Miller and Schultz families in the weeks before that email, I had just located the passenger arrival record of the five Schultz children with their uncle, Alfred Miller. They immigrated in 1913 when Alfred was only 17 years old, and he led his nieces and nephews, aged 10, 9, 6, 5, and 3, on the long journey. That 10-year-old was Louise, who would eventually bear the surname Nagy through her second marriage; she is my great-grandmother’s niece. Now, thanks to an interview that took place in 1985 with the former 10-year-old, I was able to learn not only about the journey to America, but also about life in Żyrardów and living with her Miller grandparents, my great-great grandparents. There was also a tape recording, though not complete, of the interview, so I could actually hear the 82-year-old remember her trip to America from 72 years earlier.

I would like to share Louise’s story in a 3-part series not only because her story is so interesting, but because it is similar to the story of many of our ancestors who immigrated from Poland and other parts of Europe in the early twentieth century.

Before I jump right to the story of the journey by ship to America, I’d like to put the journey in historical context and describe her family’s situation at the time.

[Note: Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis; Ludwig is the German form. Ludwig Schultz used the German form of the name, while his brothers-in-law with the same first name used the Polish form, Ludwik.]

The Szulc / Schultz and Miller Families

Louise’s parents were Ludwig Schultz (Polish spelling: Szulc) and Mary Miller. Ludwig was born in 1873, possibly in Żyrardów like his wife, Mary, who was born there in 1884. Ludwig became a silversmith. According to the interview with Louise, the family used to travel for her father’s work. The Schultz children were all born in Zhytomyr, Volhynia (present day Ukraine). Their children were: Louise (Ludwika Kazmiera), born in 1903; Edward, born in 1904; Henry, born in 1906; Walter (Władysław), born in 1908; and Julianna (Julia), born in 1909.

The Schultz Family and Alfred Miller in 1910

By 1912, the family moved to Żyrardów, which is where Mary Miller Schultz was born and her parents and family still lived.

Mary’s parents were Jan Miller, born in 1849, and Elżbieta Smetana, born in 1858. Both were born in the town of Zelów, a town founded by a community of Protestant Czechs whose ancestors had lived in Poland for over 100 years to escape persecution in their homeland. In the late 1870s, several families from Zelów, including the Miller’s and Smetana’s, moved to Żyrardów for better prospects. Żyrardów was thriving thanks to the town’s linen factory, a major producer of linen for the Russian Empire.

Jan and Elżbieta likely married in Żyrardów around 1880. They had eight children (who survived to adulthood):

  • Emil, born 22 December 1881, married Zofja Jelinek in 1902; immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in 1904; returned to Poland after 1913.
  • Marya (Mary), born 24 March 1884. Mary married Ludwig Szulc; their children are the subject of this series of posts.
  • Karolina, born 12 March 1886, married Julian Razer in 1903; lived in Łódz in 1913.
  • Elżbieta (Elizabeth), born on 19 November 1890, immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in 1909; married Ludwik (Louis) Pater in 1910.
  • Paweł, born 11 December 1893; lived in Żyrardów.
  • Alfred, born 18 April 1896; would immigrate to New York in 1913 with Mary’s children.
  • Ludwik, born in 1900; lived in Żyrardów.
  • Zofia, born 03 April 1903; lived in Żyrardów, immigrated to U.S. in 1920.

When Mary and Ludwig moved back to Żyrardów in 1912, two of Mary’s siblings had already separately immigrated to America (Philadelphia, PA): brother Emil and sister Elżbieta (my great-grandmother). Another sister, Karolina, was married by this time and possibly living in Łódz with her family. The four younger siblings remained in the Miller household: Paweł, Alfred, Ludwik, and Zofia. Their ages at the time were 19, 16, 12, and 9.

Life Under Russian Rule

What was it like living in Żyrardów in 1912? Although it was a multi-cultural town with Poles, Jews, Germans, and Czechs living together, the town was under Russian rule. According to Louise, “It was hard being that it was under.the Czar’s rule. My father got politically mixed-up and he came home shot in the arm once. After a certain hour in the evening, you were afraid to go out at night.”

In Żyrardów, and likely throughout Poland, people talked about America. Louise remembered everyone talking about America:

“You make out good in America. That’s all you heard: gold on the streets of America. You could be anything you want and make a lot of money, even if it was a dollar a day.”

Those thoughts, according to Louise, are what gave her mother, Mary, the “courage to push.”

It was decided that Ludwig would travel to America first since the family could not afford to all travel together. Louise describes her mother as being the driving force behind the family’s move. “She got him out first,” she said. “She sold things [to pay for the journey], and he wasn’t very daring – she was the pusher. That’s my mother; she was an adventurist.”

Ludwig departed from Hamburg, Germany aboard the S.S. Amerika on May 30, 1912 and he arrived in New York City on June 9th. However, Louise said he

“didn’t make much of an effort to learn English fast enough, and he didn’t know how to look at “The World” – the newspaper was the greatest for people finding jobs, but you had to know under which column to look for what you were going to do. And, he didn’t have anyone to help him too much.”

In New York City, Louise remembered that

“everybody lived in little cliques: the Polish, the Ukrainian, the Russian. So they would help each other out. Maybe one knew a few words more than the other. They used to live maybe ten or twelve people in one room, because one was helping the other to get established.”

But “living with other people” wasn’t for Ludwig. Louise said, “Within six months he wrote to my mother not to get ready to come because he’s coming back.” How did Mary respond to his declaration?  According to Louise, she said, “No, you’re not coming back! I’m coming over there.”  Mary sold whatever else she had and left her five children with their grandparents.

Mary immigrated in November aboard the Mauretania departing from Liverpool. She arrived in New York City on November 22, 1912. Louise describes what happened once Mary arrived in America: “She was very fast in finding her type of work [sewing machine operator]. And she made money, and she made a definite decision: ‘I’m going to get all of my children here and we’re staying, no matter how bad it is.'”

Meanwhile, back in Poland…

In hopes of improving all of their lives, Mary made the difficult decision to leave her five young children with her parents. Louise, like most 9-year-olds, thought her grandmother “was old, but actually she was not.” [Note: her grandmother was 55 years old at the time.]

Louise explains that her grandparents still “had a family of four [home]: three sons, and a daughter. And then five of us. My parents were sending money, but, you know, it was just barely for food, because they’re trying to save for six people – five of us children and my mother’s younger brother who was our chaperone.”

The Miller Family in 1913 with the Schultz grandchildren. Left: Ludwik Miller, Zofia Miller, (boy in front) Wladyslaw (Walter) Schultz, Elzbieta Miller, Louise (Ludwika) Schultz, Alfred Miller, (girl in front) Julia Schultz, Jan Miller, Pawel Miller, Henry Schultz, Edward Schultz.

In addition to the added responsibility of caring for five young grandchildren, Elżbieta was the sole supporter of the family. Louise explains, “My grandfather was sick; he was in bed. She was very fast, my grandmother. She worked the looms, one on one side and one on the other so she could make enough money.”

Despite being sick in bed, their grandfather, Jan, taught the children a lesson. He told them, “You’re not going to waste all that time just hanging around the house” so he sent them to a German school to learn German. At nine years old, Louise already spoke Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. When she moved in with her grandparents, they “spoke only Czech” (Czech may have been the language they spoke at home; both were born and raised in Russian-occupied Poland, so it is unlikely that they would not speak those languages as well). Louise learned Czech to speak to them, then German. The reason he wanted them to learn German is that, in Żyrardów, the factory managers were German. Her grandfather’s rationale was that, if you knew German, “you could become a big official someplace; that was important to him.”

Louise was grateful to him “because the German language helped me a lot on the ship traveling, and once I came to this country [America], it made it much easier. Somehow there’s a lot of similarity between German and English.” All of her linguistic experience helped Louise to learn English within “almost three months” after immigrating to America. But, that’s getting ahead of her story.

In Part 2, we will hear about the Schultz children traveling to America with their Uncle Alfred.

9 Years!


Photo by Stephanie Kroos on Flickr 

Happy 9th Blogiversary  to What’s Past is Prologue! That sounds like a long time in blogging years (is that like dog-years?). But as I thought about writing a post to mark the occasion, it occurred to me that nine is rarely celebrated. Does anyone care when you have a birthday or anniversary at 9, or 29, or 49? And have you ever seen a “Top Nine” list? No, me neither.

But, then again, there are nine muses in Greek mythology (I suppose Clio, muse of history, can be considered the muse of genealogy). Then there are the “Nine Worthies” from the Middle Ages. Being on “cloud nine” is a good thing, as is being “dressed to the nines”.  Like a cat, this blog seems to have “nine lives” and I hope to go “the whole nine yards” with my research!

In nine years, I’ve had just over 349,000 visitors here. My most popular post continues to be Finding Polish Records Online (written in January 2011) with over 32,000 views. Overall, the most popular topics are about Polish or Philadelphia records and resources. These hits far outweigh the stats on posts strictly about my own ancestors, but even some of those, particularly the several “Surname Saturday” posts, are popular. There are a few personal favorites that I wish got more attention, so I might have to highlight those in the days ahead.

Even though the last few years have been sporadic with posts here, I’m still happy to have this outlet as a place to offer information, celebrate my ancestors, and connect with not only cousins, but fellow researchers and bloggers. I cherish the many friendships I’ve made with other bloggers over the years! Although I haven’t come anywhere near the production of my first two years (almost 250 posts out of 468 total), there’s still more to say.

As as I begin my tenth year of blogging about my adventures in genealogy, I’m going to propose the 9 topics I want to write about this year:

  1. genetic genealogy – I’ve made some great cousin connections using DNA
  2. odd connections – although we’re not related to each other, I’ve made some strange “connections” to my friends through my research of our families
  3. the language of the records – I learned in a rather humorous way that it sure helps to know some basics of the language of the records you are researching
  4. the best Polish records that you never hear about – I have had a lot of success recently using a little-known group of records
  5. the immigrant story – for a few years now, I’ve had a great first-hand account of what immigration was like in 1913
  6. Napoleon’s friend – someone with a similar name to my own had a connection to Napoleon – and accounts of it can’t seem to spell his name correctly either!
  7. using Google Books – I’ve found some unique genealogical information this way
  8. more ancestor sketches – even though I said above that the personal genealogical biographies aren’t as popular, it’s been a wonderful way for me to organize my own research
  9. following in their footsteps – finally, if a planned trip to Poland this year comes off as scheduled, I will have plenty to say about it

Thanks for joining me on the journey! Happy New Year!

2016: A Look Back


A sign of hope! (Taken in my backyard, 4/16/16)

Each year, no matter how much or how little I’ve written on this blog, I always post a “look back” at the year – mostly just for me. Every year has its good times and bad, but this year the bad stuff was so pervasive that it was hard to remember all the things that made me smile. So let’s get the “bad” out of the way up front to focus on the brighter spots (note: these bad events all happened in the second half of the year). First, I lost my father. That alone is enough pain for one year. But shortly thereafter, although not through death, I lost the person I considered to be my best friend, the person I could always rely on for a positivity, comfort, and support. Then, I lost my best chance at a promotion for a position I’ve worked towards for a long time. Add to those losses four trips to the hospital with my mother (resulting in two stays), the dissolution of a what I thought was a good friendship in work, and a persistent three-month cold; I’m about ready to raise the white flag on 2016!

But, stuff happens. Unfortunately, sometimes it happens all in one year, but at least I learned that if you try hard enough you can find something to be grateful for. And I did.

Since this is a genealogy blog, I always like to look first at my genealogical finds for the year. I obviously did not write much here, and I also didn’t have much time for research. But, there’s always a mystery that gets solved. Early in the year I heard from a cousin that lives in Warsaw and made good strides on that family line (Kizeweter). I met my mother’s first cousin while attending the NGS conference in May, and my mother and I had dinner with two of her second cousins – that she had never met – for her 81st birthday. A kind genealogy friend looked up a record for me, and now I know the names of another set of 4th great-grandparents on my Maryański line. Finally, I delved a lot deeper into the gene pool with DNA tests on my father, whose sample I gathered eight days before his death, as well as my mother, my paternal aunt, and one of my mother’s first cousins. I’m having fun researching those new connections. I also discovered some coincidental connections among my cousins and relatives of my friends!

Other personal positives for me this year include drastically reducing my sugar intake, continuing to meditate and write daily, and overcoming some health issues that plagued me early in the year.


2016 felt like this rock, but it didn’t crush me! (Taken at Garden of the Gods, 9/16/16.)

I did not have an opportunity to travel much, or at least not too far or for too long. But, I enjoyed a couple of days in Washington DC seeing beautiful art, in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale FL with old and new friends, and letting the ocean restore some of my serenity in Rehoboth Beach, DE. I traveled for work to Colorado Springs and found some free time to explore – finally remembering how much I love to hike.

I didn’t attend many concerts, but the two I did go to were for groups that I’ve listened to for many years: Sister Hazel and the Gin Blossoms. I enjoyed new albums from Sister Hazel and Matt Nathanson, discovered a rather old release from Sara Bareilles, and was charmed by Paul Loren’s crooning. My reading stalled over the difficult summer, so I only averaged around a book a week this year. My absolute favorites were: Andy Weir’s The Martian, Chris Pavone’s The Travelers, Christopher Buckley’s The Relic Master, Iain Pears’ Arcadia, Jean Hegland’s Still Time, and Catherine Banner’s The House at the Edge of Night.

I’m grateful for my father; I was blessed with a good and just man for a father. He had a big heart and a wonderful sense of humor. I’m also grateful for a few good friends that stuck with me through fortune’s slings and arrows; I will cherish you always and never forget your kindness.


My new friend, Dante Alighieri

After much thought, I decided that the best thing that happened to me this year was reading a 700-year-old 14,000-line poem.

No, I’m not kidding.

After falling in love with Dante’s Divine Comedy in college, I finally got around to reading the whole work (it only took a mere 29 years). I firmly believe that spending time journeying through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso in the first half of the year made the hardships of the second half easier to bear. This year I feel as though I’ve slogged through the filthy darkness, suffered through the painful realization of my own weaknesses, and seen a glimpse of the glory that awaits – both with the poet on the page and in my own reality.

The poet Dante knew what it was like to feel lost and alone in a dark wood, facing down ugly beasts, and lacking the strength to make it up the mountain. He had Virgil to guide him and teach him about his errors, and I had Dante to do the same for me. Dante (both the poet and the pilgrim) knew about pain, loss, and exile; he also learned how to rise above it. I’m forever grateful to have his words as I continue my journey as a party of my own. As a genealogist, naturally one of my favorite parts of the Comedy was when Dante meets his own great-great-grandfather in Paradise. As Dante tells him “You are my father…You so uplift me, I am more than I” – I couldn’t help but think of my own father and how he made me who I am.

Tonight I truly celebrate the arrival of a new hope, a new opportunity, a new year. I plan to write more for this blog next year, because there’s a lot more to say about my ancestors. Thanks for sharing the journey with me, and may you have a wonderful year of creativity, celebration, and love.

Here my powers rest from their high fantasy,

but already I could feel myself being turned –

instinct and intellect balanced equally

as a wheel whose motion nothing jars –

by the Love that moves the Sun and other stars

~ Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, lines 142-146


In Memoriam

Six months ago today, my father died. I didn’t expect it to happen — eventually, of course, but not eight days after I wished him a happy Father’s Day. In addition to the magnitude of the loss, in the days that followed I experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude for not only his life and his role as my father, but also for his ancestry. My father never knew his grandparents; two were dead years before his birth, one died when he was 3 years old, and he had only a vague memory of his Polish grandfather who died when my father was six years old.

But my father loved his parents and his aunts and uncles and the stories they all told about his Polish and German roots. From their names, I pieced together a much larger story — a history of their ancestral origins and the places from which they came. Dad loved hearing about my discoveries and was continually surprised by what I discovered about his family.

After Dad’s death, I thought about all of those ancestors and felt profound gratitude for being the custodian of their memory. My father’s ancestors made him the person he was, and, in turn, made me. I am grateful to all of them as I am grateful to him.

On my last visit to my father (who, due to Parkinson’s Disease, lived in a nursing home for the last three years), I actually swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. I had the kit for about six weeks before I finally took it over to him. As this was the last time I saw him, it was rather providential, a last (and lasting) gift.

Over the last nine years I’ve written here about my genealogical adventures, I’ve posted many tributes to my ancestors. I’ve written about Dad’s parents, his grandparents, and several ancestors much farther back. But it has taken me six months to finally write this particular ancestral tribute. I wish that all of my friends and readers could have known my father, and there is no doubt he would have made every one of you laugh out loud. But since that wasn’t possible, I’d like to introduce you to him via this too-short biography so that you will know a little bit about him. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to adequately convey in words just how much of  an honor and a blessing it was to have called him “Dad”.

James A. Pointkouski

03 August 1934 – 27 June 2016


Jimmy and his parents, c. 1940

James Albert (“Jim”) Pointkouski was born on August 3, 1934, the first child of James and Margaret (Bergmeister) Pointkouski. His parents were both first generation Americans born in Philadelphia, PA. His father, James, was the son of Polish immigrants, while his mother,  Margaret, was the daughter of German immigrants.


James, or “Jimmy” as he was then called, was baptized on September 2, 1934 at St. Peter’s Church at 5th & Girard in Philadelphia. The parish would remain important to his family for years to come. Jimmy attended St. Peter’s grade school, served as an altar boy, and also received the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation.

Jimmy’s only sibling was a sister, Jean, born in 1942. Their father worked as a truck driver to support the family while their mother maintained the household.

scan0163Jim attended Roman Catholic High School and graduated in 1952. As a teenager and young man, he loved attending neighborhood dances. One night, March 13, 1955, Jim attended a Sunday night dance at St. Boniface’s church — he had never been to that particular dance. Just over one year later he would marry the girl he met that night, Anita Pater. They were married at Resurrection of Our Lord parish on April 7, 1956.


Storekeeper Pointkouski reporting for duty

Jim served in the U.S. Navy Reserves after high school, and in 1958 he was called upon for two years of active duty. He served aboard the U.S.S. Cadmus as the ship’s storekeeper. Although he didn’t enjoy it much at the time, his Navy experience and memories stayed with him for the rest of his life. He had fond memories of a Mediterranean cruise during which he visited Rome and Barcelona. Jim was very proud to have served in the Navy.

In 1958, Jim and Anita had their first child, a daughter who was stillborn. Their son, James Drew, was born in 1959. The family was completed with the birth of their daughter, Donna, in 1967. Jim and Anita’s first home was in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, but in 1960 they moved to the “Far Northeast” section of the city.

After various jobs such as time-clock repairman (one of his personal favorites), blueprint machine operator, and a “customer engineer” for IBM, Jim became an accountant. In 1968 he started working at Wenczel Tile Company in Trenton, NJ. While working full-time at Wenczel and part-time at a gas station, Jim began attending Rider College at night. After fifteen consecutive semesters, he proudly obtained his B.S. in Commerce and Business Administration in 1975. Jim worked at Wenczel for twenty-five years until the company went out of business in 1993. Afterwards, he worked as an accountant at other companies and was also the business manager of a Catholic parish in South Philadelphia for a few years before retiring.

Although Jim was an accountant, he learned a lot about tile while working at the tile factory. As a “hobby” he began to remodel bathrooms and kitchens with new tile. He often helped friends in exchange for their remodeling talents.

show-photoIn the 1970’s, Jim and Anita became active in “show business” at Archbishop Ryan High School (for Boys). The school’s “Mother’s Association” used to put on a show every year, and many of the dads joined in as well. Both performed in dance numbers, but then Jim branched out with his best friend, Frank, into comedy routines. The pair eventually became the comedy directors of the show. One year they performed as Elton John (Jim) and Kiki Dee (Frank) performing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. They were also the Tin Man and Scarecrow in a “Wizard of Oz” skit, and the “Tinettes” — backup dancers for an Ike and Tina Turner rendition of “Proud Mary”. Jim and Frank’s final performance in the shows occurred in 1977, and it was their piece de resistance.  The two performed technically correct dance steps in women’s ballerina costumes to “The Nutcracker Suite” without so much as cracking a smile. It was a huge success!

scan0129Jim was very active in his parish, Our Lady of Calvary. Over the years he served as an usher, a lector, and a Eucharistic Minister. He was among the first class (along with his friend Frank) to complete a ministry training program at St. Charles Seminary. Both men wanted to become permanent deacons, but at the time the parish didn’t have a need for any. Jim and Anita also sang in the choir for many years.

cimg1691Jim became a grandfather for the first time in 1995 with the birth of his granddaughter, Natalie. More grandchildren followed: Ava in 2005, Nicholas in 2007, and Luke in 2009.

In September, 2013, Jim moved into Wesley Enhanced Living retirement home. He kept his nurses and caretakers entertained right up until his death. He passed away on June 27, 2016.

At Jim’s funeral, many friends gathered to honor his life. Jim would have been delighted to see four priest friends concelebrate his funeral Mass!  Jim was known in many different roles. He was a faithful Catholic, a proud veteran. He was a loving husband for sixty years and a dedicated father and grandfather. He was an entertainer who loved bringing joy to others by making them laugh.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. 

Those who live in the Lord never see each other for the last time. (German proverb)


The Case of Chicken Charley

Sometimes while researching a particular family I will become distracted by another find that is so interesting or humorous that I can’t help but follow that trail just to find out how the story ends. Such was the case with “Chicken Charley”.

I was researching a friend’s family. Much to his surprise, I discovered that his Rodda ancestors had been to California for the gold rush, and his 3rd great-grandfather died there. This was a surprise because he wasn’t aware of that fact, nor that his 2nd great-grandparents had immigrated to California for several years, but then returned to Cornwall, England to have a family and spend the rest of their lives there. It was that couple’s son who is my friend’s great-grandfather; he was born in Cornwall and immigrated to Pennsylvania as a young man.

While researching the Rodda family in California during the gold rush days, I discovered a wonderful resource for people with California ancestors – the California Digital Newspaper Collection. There I struck gold with a wildly humorous story about another Rodda – Charles “Chicken Charley” Rodda. How could a researcher not be distracted by this story?

08 November 1889 – Rodda’s Raid

A Chicken Thief on Whom the Habit Had a Firm Hold

The other day Charles Rodda was arrested by officer Carroll on suspicion of being a chicken thief. Sufficient evidence, however, was not obtainable to insure conviction, but a charge of vagrancy was placed against him. In the Police Court he succeeded in satisfying Judge Buckley that he was not guilty. Late Wednesday night, as officer Crump was patrolling his beat, he spied Rodda acting in a suspicious manner, and followed him into a yard on Thirteenth and J streets, where Rodda concealed twenty-one chickens. He was at once arrested, and, with the chickens, was taken to City Prison. On his way down he resisted the officer, and threw the chickens into a yard. The stolen property is at the police station awaiting an owner.[i]

Two days later, on 10 November 1889, this appears in the “Brief Notes” section of the newspaper:

The chickens captured by officer Crump from a thief the other night are still at the police station awaiting the owner.[ii]

Well, if the chickens were stolen, why didn’t anyone claim them? I’m starting to feel sorry for Charley. Then, the story gets more colorful with a delightfully descriptive (and potentially slanderous) article. I wish that the newspaper reporter was given a byline, because this reads as if it was written by Mark Twain:

Talked Himself to Jail

12 November 1889 – Talked Himself to Jail

An Aged Chicken-Thief’s Idea of Defense. “Call the case of Charles Roder, charged with petit larceny,” was Police Judge Buckley’s first utterance upon taking his seat yesterday.

“Here I be,” said a wild-eyed, shockheaded old man jumping up from the prisoner’s dock.

Clerk Larkin informed Roder that he was accused of stealing chickens, and asked him if he was guily or not guilty.

“Not guilty, by dang,” shouted Roder, smiting himself upon the breast. “I never stole no chickens, ner anything else. I never was —.”

“That’ll do now; sit down,” admonished Baliff Rowland, motioning to the witness.

“Sit yerself down, yer wall-eyed scalpeen,” roared the petty larcenist, stamping with his feet and swinging his arms wildly. “Yer a set of blackmailers, and I’ll —“

“Shut up and sit down!” This was from Judge Buckley, and Roder only needed to glance at his Honor before concluding that it would be a good idea to sit down. But his tongue never ceased. He denounced the police force and everybody in general, and kept up a constant jabber all through his trial.  Police officer Crump testified to having caught Roder in the vicinity of Fifteenth and K streets, early in the morning, with two sacks full of chickens, which he could not explain how he came into the posession of. Officers Carroll and Farrell both stated that Roder had admitted in their presence of having stolen the chickens. Roder denied all of this, of course, and never ceased in his denunciations.

“Where did you get those chickens, Roder?” asked City Attorney Church.

“I got ‘em honestly,” replied Roder, doggedly.

“But where?”

“Well, that’s my business, and not yours,” was the reply.

Judge Buckley tried to get some information on the subject from Roder, but fared no better than the City Attorney. As a result Roder was found guilty and will be sentenced to-day.[iii]

This “news” reporting conjures up quite an image of what the town and townspeople were like in 1889. But it must have been a slow news day for the story of the infamous chicken thief to get such press! As a side note, the spelling of Charles’ name is “Roder” while it was “Rodda” just days before – and it will show up in other editions of the paper in other forms.

Charley didn’t fare too well at sentencing after talking back to the judge (did they find people in contempt back then?).  On 13 November 1889 it was reported in the “Brief Notes” section of the newspaper that “Charles Rodda, convicted of stealing chickens, was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the County Jail yesterday by Police Judge Buckley.”[iv]

The newspapers are quiet about Charley until nine months later. On 20 August 1890, the following appears:

Who Lost the Chicks?

At an early hour yesterday morning E. R. Dole, Captain of the chain-gang, encountered that incorrigible poultry fiend, “Chicken Charley,” at Fifteenth and I streets, coming from the northeastern part of the city. Dole examined his load and found it to comprise nineteen fowls. Surmising that Charley had been on one of his periodical raids, he arrested him. The fowls are at the police station, and as policemen do not like chicken-meat, they are in the way. The owner is requested to call and identify them.[v]

I had to laugh picturing the chickens at the police station getting in the way. While this chicken thief named Charley isn’t identified by a surname, it became clear that it was the same man by looking at entries for the next few days (although they still keep varying the spelling of the surname).

22 August 1890: “Chicken Charley’s” Plunder

Yesterday Daniel Healy visited the police station and identified several of the fowls found in the posession of Charles Reddy as his. It looks as though the officers now have a case against the slippery fellow that will stick. He generally manages to escape conviction when up for robbing hen-roosts, in which business he is said to be an expert.[vi]

23 August 1890: Chickens Need Not Roost So High

Charles Rodda, known to fame as “Chicken Charley,” was held to answer before the Superior Court yesterday on a charge of petit larceny and a prior conviction. Rodda, as usual, denied having stolen any chickens, but his explanation of how he got them was so lame that Judge Buckley concluded it was a good case for a jury to look after.[vii]


The next mention (that I found, anyway) was not until 15 January 1891:

Rhodda Acquitted. The Veteran Chicken-Parloiner is at Liberty Again.

Charles Rhodda, a tottering old man of seventy years, who has a mania for stealing chickens, and who has in consequence become familiar with the interior of various prisons, was tried before Superior Judge Van Fleet and a jury, yesterday, on another charge of chicken larceny.

He was arrested something like six months ago, and not being in affluent circumstances, has had to remain in jail until his trial was called.

When the jurors became aware of this fact, they evidently felt that Rhodda had been punished sufficiently already, for they acquitted him readily.[viii]

At this point I’m almost rooting for poor Chicken Charley…

But, he’s back to his old ways soon thereafter. On 12 March 1891 it was reported that Charles Rodda, alias “Chicken Charley,” was charged with vagrancy. He pled not guilty and “demanded” a jury trial. The article said his case was set for Friday[ix], but I was unable to find any reference to it in the newspapers that week.

Interestingly, he may appear once more – but not in Sacramento. The Marin Journal reports on 21 July 1892:

“Chicken Charley” is the euphonious and approriate title of a man arrested in Grass Valley the other day. He confessed to stealing over 300 fowl in that town and vicinity within a comparatively short space of time.[x]

Grass Valley is about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento. Is this the same Chicken Charley? Maybe, because he’s talented enough a thief to steal much in a short amount of time. But maybe not, because Sacramento’s Chicken Charley always pled not guilty! Oddly enough, Grass Valley is where my friend’s Rodda relatives lived. But I haven’t yet found any connection to his family.

Charley was portrayed as such a colorful character in these newspaper articles that I would love to learn more about his life and ultimate fate. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig up any information on a Charles Rodda in California that definitively connects to Chicken Charley. But, I’m glad to have discovered this character who distracted me from my more serious research pursuits. The writing in these newspapers was so entertaining that I began to search for other articles with the “characters” of officer Crump and Judge Buckley. I wish I had ancestors in Sacramento!  Thanks, Chicken Charley, I hope you either mended your ways or continued to evade conviction for the rest of your life.


[i] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 62, Number 68, 08 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[ii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 1, Number 26, 10 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[iii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 62, Number 71, 12 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[iv] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 62, Number 72, 13 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[v] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 79, Number 151, 20 August 1890. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[vi] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 79, Number 153, 22 August 1890. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[vii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 79, Number 154, 23 August 1890. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[viii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 80, Number 125, 15 January 1891. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[ix] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 81, Number 16, 12 March 1891. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[x] Marin Journal, Volume 32, Number 19, 21 July 1892. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >


Climbing Up the Wrong Tree

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater, August 1910

My friend Elizabeth O’Neal is throwing a Genealogy Blog Party so I’ve dusted off my keyboard to join in the fun. I’ve been to a few in-person parties with genealogy bloggers and I know what fun they are! The theme for this party is “What was your Genealogy ‘Duh Moment’ and how did you solve it?” Elizabeth writes:

Nobody likes to admit to making a mistake. It makes us feel silly, and we worry that others will think we’re not very smart or don’t know what we’re doing. But admitting a mistake can often help others avoid making the same errors in the future.

I agree. I’ve been researching my family’s history for almost (gulp) 30 years, and in that amount of time I’ve made more than a few mistakes. In fact, I had trouble choosing just one to highlight! But I’m going to return to my major “rookie mistake” – I’ve mentioned it at least two other times in this space over the years, but it’s a mistake I’ve seen others make so it bears repeating. Because once you learn the lesson, you won’t have that particular “Duh!” genealogy moment ever again!

Very early in my research I discovered that my great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater, arrived in the U.S. at the age of 14 with some siblings – his parents had arrived separately with other siblings in the two preceding years. I began my research with basic facts provided by my parents, and I had wrongly assumed that each set of great-grandparents were married in the country of their birth and came here already married. I didn’t expect that one great-grandparent was just a teenager, and I was surprised to learn that his parents had immigrated. I then began my search for his future wife, Elizabeth (Elżbieta) Miller.

There was just one problem… pick a country and you will find dozens of women named Elizabeth Miller! Whether it was Ireland, England, Germany, Poland, Russia, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, or anywhere else, there were women named Elizabeth Miller. I limited my search to Poland (or Russia, given that Poland was under Russian rule), but my mother said that Elizabeth always said she was Bohemian. Since my grandfather (her son) was born in 1912, I knew she immigrated before then, and “Bohemia” would have been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Eventually I found a teenaged girl with my great-grandmother’s name on a passenger list and I made the worst mistake any genealogist, especially a beginner, can make – I assumed it was her! She was the right age (approximately) and went to the right place (with an uncle I never heard of) and was the right ethnicity (but from the wrong country). It made more sense at the time, but you can see how ridiculous it was to assume.

I don’t remember why I jumped to that conclusion – even though I was a beginner genealogist, I was a college graduate who majored in English and wouldn’t have dared to jump to any conclusions with so little proof in any of my research papers!

I started climbing up the wrong family tree, so to speak, by doing more research on this particular Elizabeth Miller. But it wasn’t leading me to any of the other facts I knew about her.

Fortunately, I eventually started over at the beginning and re-searched the passenger lists. As I looked at the details of other appropriately aged young women named Elizabeth Miller, I found a curious thing – one that emigrated from the exact same town that my great-grandfather did. Huh, look at that…hmm, do you think?


This time, I knew more about the Genealogical Proof Standard. This time, it was the correct person. This time, all of the details matched perfectly to facts found in other sources. This time, it was actually my great-grandmother.

So there you have it, kids, let this be a lesson – you can prevent having this same “Duh” moment by not jumping to conclusions! Do an exhaustive search. Then re-search. Resolve any conflicts. Make sure the facts match other sources. Do all of this before you declare victory and you won’t be left scratching your head for days like I did. When I found the actual record, approximately 8 years after my initial “find”, I kept repeating to myself – “They were from the same town!” Which helped explain why my great-grandparents got married only 16 months after she arrived from Poland!

[You can read more about my great-grandmother Elizabeth Pater – and how she really was technically Bohemian even though she was born in Poland – by reading this post.]

Little Bytes of Life

Happy Eight Years!

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr

Eight years ago today I began this blog. Although there were some speed bumps along the way, I found everything I sought when I started this adventure — and much more.

In my initial post, I wrote that I hoped this venue would help me to find cousins. I’ve found more cousins than I ever knew I had. We’ve emailed and we’ve met. We’ve shared meals and laughter and information about our shared ancestors. I’m so proud to call these former strangers not only family, but friends.

I also hoped to find friends among the genea-blogging community. It is rare for a group to so readily accept newcomers with the grace and good nature that Geneabloggers do. We learn together and celebrate each other’s successes. We laugh together, and sometimes cry together, especially when we lose one of our own. But I’m honored to have met so many people, both online and in person, that I now call friends.

Naturally, I wanted to find ancestors, too. I found a post from August, 2009, that details what I knew at the time about my sixteen great-great grandparents. How much more I now know – it’s time for a post update! Since then I’ve learned the names of the three who were “unknown” as well as their parents’ names. I filled in many of the missing birth and death dates and corrected an erroneous parent name or two. I discovered surprises, too – in 2009 I declared that two of them were the “only” of that generation to immigrate to the United States – I can now correct that number to three. But the best gift of all was discovering, through the assistance of newly found cousins, photographs of four of the great-greats!

The greatest thing I discovered through blogging would be my readers. To the 307,608 folks that have visited in the last eight years – thank you so much for stopping by and especially for commenting! Over 24,000 of you wanted to learn about Finding Polish Records Online, and almost 14,000 wanted to learn about Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online or just what the title of the blog means. I’m glad that those two posts that offer research tips were found to be useful by so many folks, but I’m actually delighted that nearly 4,000 (hopefully) laughed at my humorous look at Fotomat.

What’s the future hold? Well…what’s past is prologue. I’ve been working on non-blogging projects, but I’m far from finished with my adventures in genealogy. I will continue to post about my ancestors’ stories, research tips, and interviews with experts. If all goes well, you may even see an e-book available by the end of the year.

Thanks for coming along for the ride for the last eight years.  Let’s keep going  together!

2015: A Look Back

Here we go again – it’s time for my annual look in the rear view mirror before I step on the gas pedal to go full speed ahead towards new adventures! Before writing this, I reviewed my previous “Look Back” posts. In 2008, my first, I wrote: “I don’t keep a diary or a calendar, so looking back is usually a challenge and a memory exercise.” Fast forward seven years…I keep both a calendar and a daily journal, so suddenly looking back gave me a much more detailed view of the year. But it made it hard to see the forest through all of the trees and somehow made it much more difficult to write this year’s review.

2015 was a year of crazy weather - the photo on the left is the first day of spring and the one on the right is November!

2015 was a year of crazy weather – the photo on the left is the first day of spring and the one on the right is November!

As I reflected on the year, the image that came to mind was a roller coaster because it was a year of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual highs and lows, thrills and agonies. This was manifested in multiple ways throughout the year. I experienced fear as my parents each suffered with illnesses and I endured my own physical pains, then relief when health returned. I enjoyed spending fun times with “distant” friends and family (those living far away, last seen long ago, or never met in person), but I felt derailed in my attempts to connect with close friends and family living nearby. Successful work projects rejuvenated me, but then came long periods of ennui. I felt frustration in the first half of the year when I was not able to speak to my far-away friend, followed by joy and inspiration from our long, frequent chats in the year’s second half. I was proud that I achieved some of my goals for the year, but deflated that I made no progress at all on others. Even the weather was more contrary than usual and joined in on the symbolic roller coaster ride with snowfall on the first day of spring and a 74-degree Christmas Eve.

Something to smile about

But after the roller coaster ride, the lows showed me how to improve and the highs kept me smiling. And there were many things to smile about.

The year started off with a bang as I jumped back into blogging regularly. I decided to accept the challenge of writing about “52 Ancestors” – one per week – and opted to ignite creativity by following the optional prompts. In addition, I started a series highlighting postcards from an immigrant’s trip back to Germany in 1912, and I was able to do a few other posts about ideas I had been toying with for a while. This all worked out beautifully – until May. I managed to write 38 posts in the first five months, and then one (other than this one) for the rest of the year. But, despite the “temporary” blogging pause (hopefully soon to end), I was able to tell a lot of good stories in the first half of the year.

As a result of one of those stories, I found a new cousin! Nearly every year I write about new cousins that I discover or who find my blog, and I’m always amazed that there are more to find. This year it was Carol from Canada and she’s my first “trifecta” cousin: from our Czech immigrants to Poland, we are simultaneously 4th cousins (Miller surname), 6th cousins (Jirsak surname), and 7th cousins (Jelinek surname)!

I also had luck in solving a big genealogical mystery – I received a document that provided the death date for my great-great grandfather Jan Miller as well as one that confirmed the birth dates of all of his children. Another great find was the 1831 marriage record of my 3rd great-grandparents, Gabriel Ostal and Rozalia Borzejewska, which revealed their parents’ names.

IMG_1175My travels took me to visit “cousins” Scott and Teresa in South Carolina for a wonderful week of fun sights, relaxing moments, and great conversation. After twenty years of correspondence musing over our possible cousin connection, we finally met. And, despite the fact that we still can’t figure out if we’re related, we decided that we’re family. I also took a short but enjoyable trip with friends to Connecticut where we had a lot of fun sailing and visiting the Mystic Seaport and Aquarium. Locally, I enjoyed beautiful weather and a lot of laughter on two day trips to Island Beach State Park and spent a few nice days enjoying Philadelphia’s museums and sights.

IMG_1302I rediscovered the importance of creativity in my life; I made art and I was inspired by art. I organized and hosted a conference for 400 people – that’s a new experience for me. For the first time in twenty-six years I saw a Broadway show (An American in Paris) – and ‘s wonderful! My other entertainment high was seeing two Shakespeare plays (The Winter’s Tale in Staunton, VA and The Taming of the Shrew in Philadelphia) as well as one about him (Equivocation).

Live performances this year were by the Indigo Girls, Dan Wilson, Plain White T’s, and Rob Thomas. Favorite albums this year were new releases from Rob Thomas (The Great Unknown) and Kelly Clarkson (Piece by Piece), and previous releases from Sara Bareilles (The Blessed Unrest) and Matt Nathanson (Some Mad Hope and Last of the Great Pretenders). I enjoyed listening to some new singles, too, such as Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” and Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s”,

I saw more movies in the theater this year than I have in many years (only four, five if you count a special big screen showing of Charade!) but the one that I will remember the most is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. What made it memorable was the fact that I saw it with the same best friend I saw Return of the Jedi with in 1983! I was surprised at how excited I was to see it, but the music, the myth, and the returning actors all made me feel like I was a kid again, and I loved every minute of it.

Everyone who knows me knows I love to read, but even I was surprised that my tally for the year was over 80 books. One of my new favorite authors I discovered this year was David Nicholls – I read three of his four novels (Us, One Day, The Understudy) in the first six weeks of the year, and despite the large number of books I read in the months that followed, his stories stayed with me at year’s end. Other favorite novels were by Arthur Phillips, Jojo Moyes, Kate Morton, and Liane Moriarity.

2015 was a year in which I learned it’s best not to put things off, especially if it involves your health, your creativity, or your relationships. Next year I plan to put that lesson into practice. Next year my goal, to borrow a phrase from Emily Saliers’ lyrics, is to “starve the emptiness and feed the hunger.”


I only metaphorically rode a roller coaster this year, but the one image of an actual event that sums up my year happened during an August day trip to the beach with my friend Terry. The wind suddenly uprooted our beach umbrella and the pole shot between us at what seemed like twenty knots. Somehow, as it flew past, I raised my non-dominant left arm and caught it (without, I might add, spilling the drink in my right hand). We both started laughing hysterically. Without assistance, the umbrella would soon make its way to northern New Jersey, but for the moment I held on with all my might and we just laughed. It sums up my year because, despite the figurative occasional gale force wind that threatened to knock me down and sweep me away, I held on…and even laughed.

Thanks for joining me for the ride…I look forward to seeing what we discover along the way next year.

Week 43: Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr (1820-?)

The theme for Week 43 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Oops” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandmother, Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr. I chose her since I made a big “Oops” involving her early on in my family research. (It’s also a bit of an “oops” that I haven’t written since Week 20…)

Ursula’s Story

Ursula Eichinger was born on 06 September 1820 in Oberweilbach, Dachau, Bavaria. She was the daughter of Georg Eichinger (1793-1855) and Helena Böck (1790-1834). Ursula was their fifth of twelve children, and her mother died when Ursula was 14 years old. Her father Georg remarried three months later and had one more child.

Ursula married Josef Dallmayr, an innkeeper, in 1843 in the town of Prittlbach. They had ten children together including my great-great grandmother, Ursula, who was their second child. By 1856 the family moved to the town of Asbach where Josef purchased an inn. I have not yet researched a death date for Ursula or her husband, but it is presumed that they died in Asbach.

Ursula is my “Oops” ancestor because early on in my research when I was not yet comfortable researching German records, I hired a researcher to help me get started. He quickly found my great-grandparents’ marriage record that identified my great-grandfather’s parents. His mother was Ursula Dallmayr, daughter of Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr. When the researcher found the Ursula’s marriage record, however, he made a small mistake with both her residence and her mother’s maiden name. This error had me looking for Ursula Eulinger from Aichach instead of Ursula Eichinger from Asbach! The two towns are not that far apart, but worlds away when you’re looking for a particular individual who doesn’t exist. Years later, I reviewed the records myself. By then I had become accustomed to the old style of German script, and when I saw the name I thought, “Wait a minute! That’s not Eulinger!”

Amazingly, another German genealogist has a connection to this family, and his vast online family tree provided information on the Eichinger family all the way back to the 1600s. How do I know that Ursula’s name is really Eichinger after making a spelling mistake once already? For one, I found a marriage of Josef Dallmayr and Ursula Eichinger as their daughter’s marriage record states. But another really good reason why I know it’s the right couple is because I had a DNA match with a descendant of Michael Dallmayr, son of Josef Dallmayr and Ursula Eichinger!

Lesson learned: even professionals sometimes make mistakes when it comes to translating handwritten names. Get a second – or even third – opinion if you can’t find the name you are looking for!

Just the Facts

  • Name: Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr
  • Ahnentafel: #43 (my 3rd great-grandmother)
  • Parents: Georg Eichinger (1793-1855) and Helena Böck (1790-1834)
  • Born: 06 September 1820 in Oberweilbach, Dachau, Bavaria.
  • Siblings: Bernhard Eichinger (1815-1815), Anna Maria Eichinger Buchner (1816-?), Helena Eichinger Reidmayr (1817-?), Thomas Eichinger (1818-1819), Nikolaus Eichinger (1822-?), Therese Eichinger (1824-1882), Georg Eichinger (1825-1825), Magdalena Eichinger Scheck Notensteiner (1828-1894), baby Eichinger (1829-1829), Rosina Eichinger Widmann (1831-1896), Georg Eichinger (1833-?). Half-sibling: Katharina Eichinger Welsch (1836-?)
  • Married: Josef Dallmayr (1819-?) on 24 October 1843 in Prittlbach
  • Children: Therese Dallmayr Effner (b. 1845), Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz (1846-1911), Michael Dallmayr (1848-1906), Katharina (b. 1849), Sebastian (b. 1853), Maria (b. 1855), Kreszenz (b. 1856), Josef (1858-1859), Magdalena (b. 1860)
  • Died: Unknown
  • My Line of Descent: Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr -> Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz -> Josef Bergmeister -> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski -> father -> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 43: Oops


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

Week 20: Jean Piontkowska Hynes (1905-?)

The theme for Week 20 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Black Sheep” and my ancestor is my grandaunt, Jean Piontkowska Hynes.

Black Sheep?

The idiom “black sheep” with regard to genealogy usually refers to an ancestor who did some particularly notorious deed. I guess I should be happy to say that I don’t really have any ancestors that qualify as black sheep by that definition – thankfully there are no murderers or America’s Most Wanted in my family tree. One of my great-grandfathers was convicted of a crime and did a short amount of time in prison, but I don’t know enough about the particulars to tell that story. Another great-grandfather’s brother was wanted for fraud in Germany, but not only have I told that story previously, I’ve also highlighted his brother, sister, and mother so far in this series so by now it would read like a repeat.

So my choice is a different definition…an ancestor, or in this case an ancestor’s sister, who chose a different path. Black sheep are a rare occurrence caused by a recessive gene taking dominance, and not only would a black sheep stand out in the crowd of white sheep but also the black wool could not be dyed and was therefore not valuable. So the term “black sheep” took on a negative connotation. Also interesting is that the idiom appears in several languages besides English, including my ancestral languages of German, Polish, and Czech. But on the surface, an actual black sheep isn’t a bad sheep; they are just different. Rather than highlight the bad seeds from the tree, I’m going to highlight the one who chose a different path and, in so doing, turned her back on her family and never returned.

Jean’s Story

Jean was born as Janina Piątkowska¹ on December 29, 1905 in Warsaw, Poland to Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia Kizeweter.  The family lived in the Wola section of the city, and she was baptized at St. Stanisława Church.  Janina had an older brother, Józef, who was born two years earlier, and their younger brother (my grandfather) wouldn’t arrive until 1910.

I’ve written about Jean before in November 2010 in a post called “The Sister Who Disappeared” – please take a look to read about the family’s immigration to Philadelphia when Jean was nearly 1 year old. In that post, I detail how Jean disappeared from her family’s lives sometime in the 1920’s. The story my grandfather told was that she, the poor working class daughter of Polish immigrants, met and married a “rich doctor”. The happy couple moved to Florida, never to be heard from again.

Except months after I wrote that post, I found out that Jean was heard from again…just not by my grandfather. I found the 1953 obituary of their brother, Joseph Perk, and it mentioned her name as “Mrs. Jean Hynes”. Finally I had a married name to research! I haven’t uncovered all of the facts of her life, but I know a lot more about her than just knowing her as the sister who disappeared. It turns out my grandfather’s story was almost right. She married the son of a rich doctor, and after living in New York they really did move to Florida.

Sometime around 1926, Jean met and married William Rose Hynes. Or perhaps they met and pretended to be married because I haven’t yet found a marriage license in either Philadelphia or New York. William was born in 1902 in New York City. His father, also named William Rose Hynes, was a doctor who died in 1926. There is a long soap-opera-worthy story in New York newspapers from the 1890s that tell the story of the Hynes’ family wealth and various lawsuits over inheritances. Although young William is listed as a radio engineer in the 1930 census, he did come from a family that had more money than Jean’s immigrant parents. In 1930 the couple lived in an apartment on Broadway, and Jean worked as a hair dresser in a beauty salon.

In 1937, William and Jean lived on 163rd Street, Flushing, Long Island. In November they traveled by ship to Bermuda. While this may not seem exotic by today’s standards, to Jean’s family back in Philadelphia this would have been as exotic as traveling to the moon!

By 1940 the couple is living in Pinellas County, Florida, where William’s uncle also resided. They had no children. That’s when my paper trail ends. But, I was able to find out more about William than about my grandaunt Jean because I discovered that he had a second marriage, a daughter from that marriage, and that he later lived and died just miles from where I live in New Jersey.

According to William’s daughter, he married his next wife in the mid-1940s. She wrote:

There is a family story that they had to elope to MD because he had lived for many years with another woman, and called her his wife, but they had never been formally married. The clerk of courts in Queens refused to give him a license to marry  my mother, because he could not produce a divorce decree.

As my grandaunt Jean was that other woman, perhaps she really is a black sheep after all!

William’s daughter was a teenager when he died, so she didn’t know much about his previous relationship. Her mother said that William’s first wife became ill (possibly dying) and he went to visit her and help, perhaps around 1958.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to Jean after her split from William. The obit that led me to research her relationship to Hynes said that she was living in Detroit, and William’s daughter thought she may have lived in New York City, but I’ve been unable to locate a death record in any state so far. I hope to one day find out the rest of Jean’s story.

¹For info on the spelling change to Piontkowska and the present form of my surname, see my grandfather’s profile from Week 15 under the “How Do You Spell That?” theme

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jean (Janina) Piontkowska (Piątkowska) Hynes
  • Ahnentafel: N/A – grandaunt, sister of #4, my grandfather
  • Parents:Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) (1871-1942) and Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter (1866-1937)
  • Born: 29 December 1905 in Warsaw, Poland
  • Siblings: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), James Pointkouski (1910-1980)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS Armenia with her mother and Józef, arriving in New York City on November 9, 1906
  • Married: William Rose Hynes III (1902-1966) around 1926; divorced by mid-1940s.
  • Children: unknown, at least 5 nieces and 2 nephews
  • Died: unknown


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 20: Black Sheep


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

Week 19: Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta (1840-1914)

The theme for Week 19 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “There’s a Way” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandmother, Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta. I chose her because I’ve been making my weekly posts on Sunday, and today is Mother’s Day. Franciszka seems to have suffered a lot of hardships as a mother. But even in old age, she definitely found a way to be with her daughter – even if it meant traveling to America by herself.

Franciszka’s Story

Franciszka Wojciechowska was born on 01 October 1840 in the town of Mszczonów, Żyrardów County, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland (then under Russian rule). She was the first born child of Jan Wojciechowski and Karolina Dąbska who were married in January of that same year. Jan was a 24-year-old shoemaker and his wife was 21 at the time of their daughter’s birth.

Franciszka must have been a hearty child; unfortunately, most of her siblings did not live to adulthood. The next three children were all boys who died at 2 years old or less. Fortunately, the next four children – three other girls and a boy – all lived to adulthood.

When Franciszka was 22, she married Ludwik Pater, a shoemaker like her father (and his). Ludwik was also born in Mszczonów and they probably grew up together. Like her mother before her, she suffered much heartache when it came to having children: at least three children died as toddlers and another died at the age of 11. Only two lived to adulthood: daughter Antonina Rozalia (my great-great grandmother) and son Jan.

Sometime between 1880 and 1885, Ludwik died. I have been unable to find his death record despite the availability of online (and indexed) records for that time period. A son was born to the couple in 1880, but by the time of their daughter Antonina’s marriage in 1885 to  Józef Pater, Ludwik is deceased.

After Antonina’s marriage, Franciszka may have moved with her to the town of Żyrardów eight miles away. Antonina suffered similar losses as her mother and grandmother – of ten children, four died as infants or toddlers. By 1905, Antonina’s husband made the decision to immigrate to the U.S. in search of better job opportunities (ironically, the family would continue to work in textile factories in Philadelphia just as they had in Żyrardów but without the strikes that were occurring at that time). In 1906, Antonina joined him with their teenaged daughter and their youngest. The following year, their three teen boys came with their older sister and her husband. Franciszka was now alone except for her son, Jan (and presumably his family). She was a widow, her parents had died in the few years after her husband, and even her mother-in-law died in January, 1906 at the age of 83.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way… In June, 1909, Franciszka made the journey to the United States to join her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. She sailed aboard the SS Vaderland from Antwerp, Belgium to New York City and arrived through Ellis Island on June 21. She was 69 years old, and she made the journey alone. It is documented on the passenger arrival record that the authorities detained her at Ellis Island and required an examination with a special board of inquiry for “senility” before they allowed her to enter the country, because they feared she would be a “Likely Public Charge”. Her physical description: 4’10”, limping, with dark hair and blue eyes.

Franciszka lived with her daughter’s family in Eden, PA (now Langhorne, PA) in Bucks County. For the 1910 census, she is listed as the “head of the household”. She would have gotten to know four of her young great-grandchildren, including my grandfather, before she passed away on 29 April 1914 at the age of 73. She is my only great-great-great-grandparent to come to the United States.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta
  • Ahnentafel: #51 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan Wojciechowski (1816-1889) and Karolina Dąbska (1819-1885)
  • Born: 01 October 1840 in Mszczonów
  • Siblings: Mateusz (1842-1843), Piotr Jacek (1844-1846), Jan (1847-1847), Marianna Emilia Wojciechowska Naziębło (b. 1848), Agata Józefa Wojciechowska Skoneczny(b.1851), Barbara Łucja Wojciechowska Kielak (1853-1895), Jan Ludwik Wojciechowski (b. 1859)
  • Married: Ludwik Pluta (1843-?) in Mszczonów in 1862
  • Children: Władysław (?-1878), Antonia Rozalia Pluta Pater (1863-1938), Jan (b. 1865), Wincenty (1870-1873), Regina (1871-1871), Elżbieta (1873-1884), Józef Ignacy (1880-1881)
  • Died: 29 April 1914 in Langhorne, Bucks, Pennsylvania, United States
  • My Line of Descent: Franciszka -> Antonia Rozalia Pluta Pater -> Ludwik Pater -> Henry Pater -> mother -> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 19: There’s a Way


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

Week 18: Józef Ślesiński (1821-1866)

The theme for Week 18 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Where There’s a Will” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Józef Ślesiński. None of my ancestors left wills behind, or if they have I didn’t find them yet. I don’t have a single ancestor named William or even Wilhelm. Many were strong-willed, but I’ve written about several of these folks in recent weeks. Therefore, I’ve taken a rather broad approach to the theme…for Józef Ślesiński, it’s more like “Where there’s a Wilczyn…there’s a wife.”

Józef ‘s Story

Józef Ślesiński was born on 21 November 1821 in the town of Ślesin, Konin county, woj. Wielkopolskie (Greater Poland Voivodeship) which was under Russian rule during the partitions of Poland. His parents were the farmers Maciej Ślesiński and Agnieszka Bogacka. It is easy to tell that the surname Ślesiński is toponymic – it is  derived from the place name of the town in which they lived, Ślesin.

The records from Ślesin are available, but I haven’t yet researched the other children of Maciej and Agnieszka. The only sibling I have a record of is Tomasz who was born 19 years after Józef – I am sure there were other children in between!

When Józef was 22 years old, he left his hometown to move 12 miles south to a town called Wilczyn to marry his bride, 19-year-old Elżbieta Michałowska. The couple had at least eight children together. My great-great grandfather was their son Wincenty, born in 1850. Two children died as youngsters: son Ignacy in 1860 and daughter Marianna in 1864.

Jozef's death record from the 1866 Wilczyn parish books. The priest had beautiful handwriting. There was also a duplicate church book in Latin.

Jozef’s death record from the 1866 Wilczyn parish books. The priest had beautiful handwriting. There was also a duplicate church book in Latin.

Józef died on 30 November 1866 at the age of 45. He left behind his wife and six children, 3 sons (ages 19, 16, and 11) and 3 daughters (ages 15, 6, and 5). His widow marries widower Marcin Rosinski in 1867, which would have been helpful due to the young ages of her children and the need for support.

While it is Józef’s granddaughter who is my immigrant ancestor, I recently discovered through a DNA match that his daughter Apolonia immigrated to America with her husband, Wacław Polski, in the 1890’s. I now wonder if my great-grandmother, who immigrated to Philadelphia, knew that she had an aunt living in Milwaukee.

For Józef Ślesiński, where there was a town called Wilczyn, there was a wife! The town name is derived from the wilk, or “wolf”, but I’ll take it as my family’s will.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Józef Ślesiński
  • Ahnentafel: #60 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Maciej Ślesiński (1786-1848) and Agnieszka Bogacka
  • Born: 21 November 1821 in Ślesin
  • Siblings: Tomasz (b. 1840)
  • Married: Elżbieta Michałowska (1824-?) in Wilczyn
  • Children: Ignacy (?-1860), Marianna (?-1864), Józef Ślesiński (b. 1847), Wincenty Ślesiński (1850-1919), Antonina Ślesińska Zaborska (b. 1851), Antoni Ślesiński (b. 1855 marries in 1880), Apolonia Ślesińska Polska (1860-1936), Weronica Ślesińska Warszawska (b. 1861)
  • Died: 30 Nov 1866 in Wilczyn
  • My Line of Descent: Józef -> Wincenty ->Wacława Ślesińska Zawodna -> Marianna Zawodna Pater -> mother -> me



Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 18: Where There’s a Will


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

Week 17: Jan Drogowski (1818-1894)

The theme for Week 17 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Prosper” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Jan Drogowski. The theme asks for an ancestor that had a “rags to riches” story. I don’t know what Jan’s net worth was, but I think he was prosperous because his occupation in life was quite different from his father’s.

Jan’s Story

Jan Drogowski was born on 14 Jun 1818 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland (Poznań) to Wojciech Drogowski and Marianna Przygoda. Wojciech was a farmer in Wilczyn as was his father, Grzegorz Drogowski. But the reason I chose Jan for the theme of “prosper” is because he did not become a farmer like his father and grandfather. In 1838, the nearly 20-year-old Jan marries 16-year-old Konstancja Kubińska, and in the marriage record Jan is referred to as the “young linen merchant”. I found it interesting that the son of a farmer could become a merchant at a young age. I wondered if he was “marrying up” and gaining the profession of his father-in-law. But Konstancja’s father, Józef Kubiński, was also a farmer.  Jan must have worked hard to learn the linen industry at such a young age. And, I can assume he was good at it because over the years he’d have a lot of mouths to feed.

Jan's signature from the 1847 birth record of his daughter, Michalina. The "w" is missing from his signature as surname spelling was a bit flexible (the priest spells his name as Drogowski, however).

Jan’s signature from the 1847 birth record of his daughter, Michalina. The “w” is missing from his signature as surname spelling was a bit flexible (the priest spells his name as Drogowski, however).

Another sign that Jan prospered in his merchant profession is his ability to write. Polish vital records after 1808 include the signatures of the witnesses and essential parties (bride and groom for weddings, parents for the birth of a child). For most records in my ancestral towns, the vast majority of individuals were illiterate – this fact was recorded when no one could sign the church book. In 1838, Jan was illiterate and did not sign his wedding document. However, by 1845 his is able to sign his name to the birth record of his son, Franciszek. I find this significant and indicates a profession that would require literacy to run the business. Of all my Polish ancestors, I have only found two men that were able to sign the records and Jan’s recorded literacy is the oldest I’ve found.

Jan and Konstancja had ten children together over a 26-year period: six girls and four boys. Their eighth child, Stanisława, was born in 1860 and is my 2nd great-grandmother. One son, Ignacy, died as an infant. I have not yet indexed all of the Wilczyn records to find death dates for all of the children, but I do know that at least three daughters and the other three sons all lived to adulthood, got married, and started having children of their own in the same parish in Wilczyn.

Jan died on 29 Oct 1894 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland at the age of 76. His wife Konstancja would live another two years until she passed away on 18 Dec 1896.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jan Drogowski
  • Ahnentafel: #62 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Wojciech Drogowski (1773-1833) and Marianna Przydoga (1790-1855)
  • Born: 14 Jun 1818 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland
  • Siblings: Marianna Rozalia Drogowska (b. 1811), Franziska Drogowska (b. 1814), Ignacy Drogowski (b. 1828)
  • Married: Konstancja Kubińska (1818-1896) on 08 May 1838 in Wilczogóra
  • Children: Ludwika Drogowska Skowronska (b.1839), Józef Drogowski (b.1842), Franciszek Drogowski (b. 1845), Michalina Drogowska Przybylska Wajnert (b. 1847), Antoni Drogowski (b. 1852), Antonina Drogowska (b. 1855), Maryanna Drogowska (b. 1857), Stanisława Drogowska Ślesińska (1860-1918), Ignacy Drogowski (1863-1863), Józefa Drogowska (b. 1865)
  • Died: 29 Oct 1894 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland (age 76)
  • My Line of Descent: Jan -> Stanisława Drogowska Ślesińska -> Wacława Ślesińska Zawodna -> Marianna Zawodna Pater -> mother -> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 17: Prosper


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!