Death Record of Jacob Zinsmeister, 1796

Death of Jacob Zinsmeister

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

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

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


Favorite Genea-Technology Tools

Not so long ago in a galaxy not too far away, the word “genealogist” may not have been associated with the most technology-savvy person.  The image that came to mind may have been more of a bookworm-librarian searching through piles of books and papers  in dusty old archives.  Today, many genealogists are very well versed about the latest computer technology because it helps to advance our research so much!  So set your GEDCOM-phasers on stun as we uncover the topic for the 43rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Technology!

When I first heard the topic, I thought we’d be writing about technological advances in the lives of our ancestors or during our own lifetimes.  But, that’s not quite the slant towards technology that the Carnival-goers are writing about.  For this edition, three questions about Technology were posed:

What piece of hardware (besides your computer) do you most rely on for your genealogy and family history research?

This may be an unconventional answer, but for me it’s my digital camera.  While I have a fancy digital SLR for vacations and family portraits, it’s my tiny fit-in-your-pocket digital Casio Exilim that gets a genealogical workout.  How can you utilize a camera for family history research?

First, the obvious answer is to take photos of living relatives and current places.  Did you finally meet your third cousin twice removed?  Take a photo!  Visit your ancestor’s old street, church, or town?  Take more photos!  Tombstones of your relatives?  Take a photo and you don’t have to stand around the cemetary taking notes!

Another great way to use your camera for research is to take photos of…photos! Relatives may not want to loan out their treasured original photos of your shared ancestors, and we all can’t travel around with a laptop and a scanner.  But, with some attention to light and camera settings, it’s easy to snap a digital photo of another photograph.  Watch out for glare on the surface of the photo, and use a macro or close-up setting on your camera.

You can also use your camera to take photos of documents, as long as there are no copyright infringement issues.  My camera has a “Macro Mode” specifically for text.  Hold the camera steady!  This also works if you want to take a photo of a record on a microfilm reader.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ll be visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in April.  Since they allow the use of cameras, I’ll keep you posted how this turns out.

What piece of software (besides your internet browser) do you most rely on for your genealogy and family history research?

This one is harder to answer.  Based on my camera answer above, I’ll have to say my imaging software.  I use PhotoImpact by Ulead, mostly because it came with my old scanner and it was easy to use.  It may not have all of the bells and whistles of the newer programs, but it does a fine job of helping me edit my photos.  It’s also useful for editing images of documents, such as snipping a piece to show on this blog or capturing an ancestor’s “autograph” from documents.

What web site/blog (besides your own) is indispensable to you?

Steve Morse’s One-Step site
.  Without it, I would not have been able to find several folks in the Ellis Island passenger lists and many others in Census Records.  Steve Morse’s search tools get around indexing issues or errors by allowing you to search in many other ways and on many different “fields” of the records.  There will always be some ancestor that eludes searches, but Steve’s site makes it easier to find the rest.

What are your favorite genea-tech tools?

[Submitted for the 43rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Technology Tips for Genealogists]

Donna’s Picks, Week of February 17, 2008

Here are some posts that I really enjoyed this week from both genealogy blogs and “other” blogs that had something interested and related to genealogy or at least genea-blogging.  If you missed any, be sure to visit these sites!

Brave New Traveler, which is a blog about travel, had an interesting post called “Can Your Grandparents Teach You About Love?” The writer questions the cynical nature of love in today’s age and looks back to her grandparents and their stories to learn a thing or two about what love really means.  [2/19/08]

Lisa at 100 Years in America also has a wistful post entitled “If only a church could tell stories”.  She ponders what the Legrad, Croatia’s Holy Trinity Church would say “if only its walls could speak” since it has seen so many events such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals since 1780. What genealogist among us hasn’t wondered the same about our ancestors houses and churches?  See her post for more on the church and its story.  [2/20/08]

A writing blog I visit called The Renegade Writer has an interesting post on “Using Word’s Auto-Correct Function for Interviews”.  Since many genealogists use Word to write family history stories (or blog posts), these shortcuts can be used for frequently-used genealogy words like surnames or place names. [2/20/08]

On a related note, you may want to also check out Randy’s musings at Genea-Musings on “Writing narratives in genealogy software”.  Do you use Word or another word processing program, or do you just use your genealogy software?  [2/22/08]

Finally, for a good genea-laugh, Terry Thornton has posted the hysterical results of his poetry challenge by publishing the Anthology of Blogger Poems: 2008 Challenge.  Do stop over and see the many responses to his challenge! [2/21/08]

Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks.  And many thanks to Jessica and Terry for the “link love” they gave “What’s Past is Prologue” this week!  Also, in an example of my Gene Kelly blog converging with the topic of Genealogy, the last of the Kelly siblings has died this week in Alabama.  For a link to the obituary to learn more about Louise Kelly Bailey, see my Gene Scene blog post.

Building a Better Blog

I know what you’re thinking…this gal’s had this blog for six weeks, so what can she tell me about blogging? Well, let me offer my defense in advance. I may have only this particular blog for six weeks, but I’ve also had another one for six months. Between the two I’m using both of the more popular free blogging tools, Blogger and WordPress. Both now and prior blogging myself, I spent a lot of time reading dozens of blogs on a variety of topics, including blogging. You can learn a lot by lurking and comparing sites! I’ve also had a “presence” on the web (at least Web 1.0) with a non-blog site since 1996, and in that time I’ve learned a little bit about what readers like and don’t like. So, I’d like to offer my observations on building a better blog, whether it’s about genealogy or any other topic.

RSS Feeds – Why Full Feeds Matter

RSS feeds are a great way to get more readers of your blog. That’s what we all want, right…someone to actually read what we write? But, I’ll let you in on a little secret – if your blog isn’t allowing the RSS feed reader to view the entire post, you may lose a subscriber. For instance, sometimes I try to catch up on some blog reading during my lunch hour in work. But, my employer’s internet security blocks most blog sites, especially any hosted by Blogger or WordPress. However, I am able to use a blog reader even though I can’t actually “visit” the blog’s site. But, when a blogger doesn’t allow a full post to be seen by the reader, why subscribe? The post starts off with a tantalizing sentence or an intriguing idea, and just as the post gets interested it stops in mid-sentence or has the elusive “…” and ends. I will have to visit the site to view the whole post. Ay, there’s the rub! I can’t always visit the site! Since it doesn’t “cost” anything, why not make your blog post readable in full to all readers? Blogger Full Feed

If you use Blogger, in your Dashboard go to Settings. Under “Site Feed”, the first option is “Allow Blog Feeds”. If you choose “Full”, your subscribers that use a reader will be able to see and read your entire post without having to visit your site. If you choose “Short” or “None”, your subscribers will quickly unsubscribe because the main purpose of site feeds is the ability to “read” many sites without actually visiting the main site page each time.

Wordpress Full Feed

If you use WordPress, from your Dashboard click on “Options” then “Reading”. About halfway down the page you’ll see “Syndication Feeds”. Where it says “For each article, show:” you want to choose “Full text” in lieu of “Summary” to allow subscribers to read your whole post.

Allow All Readers to Comment

One of the highlights of blogging is when a reader posts a comment to your post. It’s nice to know that people are actually reading what you write, and the fact that they found it interesting enough to comment on it is rewarding. Some bloggers choose to review comments before allowing the comment to appear on the site. This is done mostly to prevent “spam” comments or ones that are otherwise unfriendly or rude. This is a personal choice for the blogger. But, one thing that all bloggers can do is open up the possibility for more folks to write a comment by allowing “Open ID”. You can still review the comments first if that’s your choice, but “Open ID” allows readers to comment even if they don’t use the same blogging platform as you do.

Blogger Comments

For example, if “Open ID” is not enabled and your blog is hosted on Blogger, a reader can not post a comment to your blog unless they also have a Blogger/Google account or you allow anonymous comments. Again, enabling “Open ID” doesn’t cost anything and it just makes it easier for readers to comment.

In Blogger’s Dashboard under “Comments”, there are several options. Allowing “Anyone” does just that. “Registered Users” is the Open ID option, which allows people to comment even if they don’t have a Blogger blog but have one on WordPress, Livejournal, or other sites. If you have “Users with Google Accounts” selected, you may “turn off” a potential poster if they don’t already have a Google account because it’s a hassle to register merely to post a comment.

On WordPress, under “Options” and the “Discussion” tab, you can choose the setting for comments. Most WordPress blogs don’t require a “Wordpress” account, only the commenter’s name and email (which isn’t shown on the blog publicly, but the blog’s owner receives the email address via email if they choose the option of email notification of new comments).

If you are a blogger and you want to gain more readers and allow more readers to comment on your posts, these two simple things can help with those goals. Now back to our regularly scheduled genealogical discussions…

Baptism of Jozef Piontkowski

For several months I’ve been corresponding with the Polish State Archives [Archiwum Państwowego] to obtain a copy of a birth/baptismal record for my grandfather’s brother. Why go through the trouble for a collateral ancestor? Because my grandfather was born in Philadelphia and his older brother and sister were born in Warsaw. My finding one of their baptismal records, I hoped to pinpoint exactly where the parents came from more than just the city name.

I knew “Uncle Joe’s” birthdate from two sources: his death record (not always a reliable source) and his father’s naturalization papers. Since I’m from Philadelphia, I’m aware of how difficult “big city” research can be when you don’t know a specific address or the name of a church. But, I placed my faith in the archives and paid my fees — and his record was found! Here is a copy of the record:

Jozef Piontkowski Baptismal Record

Translated from Russian, it reads:

434. Warsaw. This happened in Wola parish on the 8th (21st) of February, 1903, at three p.m. Jan Piontkowski appeared, a tanner, age 32, and – in the presence of Jozef Kizoweter and Ludwik Czajkowski, [both] of age, day laborers from Warsaw — he showed us a child of the male gender, stating that it was born at number 2 Karolska Street on the 21st of October (3rd of November) of last year, at 5 p.m. to his wife, Rozalia nee Kizoweter, age 35. At Holy Baptism performed on this day, the child was given the name Jozef, and the godparents were Jozef Kizoweter and Zofia Kizoweter. This document was read aloud to those present, who are illiterate, and signed by Us. [Signature illegible]

Note: Two dates are given because Russia used the Julian calendar at that time. The second date is the Gregorian calendar in use in Poland (and much of the rest of the world) then and now.

Aside from the obvious facts, I’ve also learned a few key points from this record that will aid in my future research on this family. First, the record came from św. Stanisława i Wawrzyńca w Warszawie (Wola), or Sts. Stanisław and Lawrence of Warsaw, Wola. I can now check to see if Jan and Rozalia were married in this parish. As there are quite a few churches in Warsaw, it will be much easier to check one first rather than randomly search many.

I also have the family’s address which may also prove useful. Hopefully they did not move as often as they did once they came to the US! I’d like to find their marriage record and it would be quite easy if they were married in the same parish. Unfortunately, they seem to have a different address for each census and/or other event in the US, so anything goes. I am interested in finding out more about Wola, which is the section of the city of Warsaw in which they lived. Here is a brief history from Wikipedia and Wola’s website in Polish.

I finally have a confirmation of my great-grandmother’s surname, Kizoweter. My grandfather said that it was her name, but since it is not of Polish origin I wanted to see confirmation in a Polish record source. According to German Names by Hans Bahlow as well as an email from the Polish surname expert William “Fred” Hoffman, it is a variation of the German name Kiesewetter, which means “Check the weather” or “weather watcher”. Are the godparents her brother and his wife? Or her brother and sister?

As always, one record found leads to more questions. But, for me this was a step in the right direction. While I have gone back many generations for other “sides” in my family, I am still searching for the origins of my Piontkowski great-grandparents. Once you dedicate some time to the search, success is possible. Stay tuned for more information once I (hopefully) find their marriage record.

Carnival of Genealogy, 42nd Edition

Jasia at Creative Gene has posted the 42nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. This edition’s topic was: the best of the best…presenting the iGene Awards 2007! Submitters announced their best blog posts in the following 5 categories:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Screen Play
  • Best Documentary
  • Best Biography
  • Best Comedy

Read about all of the submissions in Jasia’s post here.  Unfortunately, I didn’t submit anything this time…I didn’t think I had a broad enough base of posts to choose from since I’ve only been blogging for about six weeks.  There’s no sense choosing one as “the best” if I only have one post the meets the category’s description!  But, I think it was a fantastic idea.  What I’m most impressed by out of all of the  awards is everyone’s “Best Biography”.  I’ve gotten some fine ideas on how to piece together an ancestor’s bio when you really don’t know too much about the person!  Enjoy these posts — they truly are the best of the BEST!

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival is: Technology. What technology do you most rely on for your genealogy and family history research? Select one piece of hardware (besides your computer), one piece of software (besides your internet browser), and one web site/blog (besides your own) that are indispensable to you. Resist the urge to dilute the impact of your 3 choices by mentioning several others you use and appreciate as well. This is an exercise in appraising the technology you use/recommend the most. The deadline for submissions is March 1st.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using the carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

Tag, I’m It – A Book Review Meme

This isn’t quite genealogy-related, but I love books so it’s fun anyway.  I’ve been tagged by The Virtual Dime Museum for a book meme.  Here are my answers…

What issues/topic interests you most–non-fiction, i.e,cooking, knitting, stitching, there are infinite topics that has nothing to do with novels?

The non-fiction topics that interest me the most and find their way to my bookshelves the most often are religion, history, and travel.  If a book contains all three of those topics rolled into one, it’s a must for me!  I also read a bit on health topics (alternative medicine), classic film, genealogy, and writing.

Would you like to review books concerning those?

I don’t actively seek out “book review” jobs, but I wouldn’t mind it, especially if I really enjoyed the book.  I like to talk about books I loved.  Reviews are a bit harder when you didn’t enjoy the book – unless you really hated it, then those are easy!

Would you like to be paid or do it as interest or hobby? Tell reasons for what ever you choose.

As someone who writes for fun and for money, I can tell you that it’s infinitely more fun to be paid for what you write.  A book review is actually harder than one would think, and since a lot of thought would have to go into it, I’d rather be paid.

Would you recommend those to your friends and how?

I do recommend books to my friends all the time, either in conversation or in email.  Most say, “Who has time to read?”  I actually wanted to begin a third blog that would deal mostly with books I’ve read and the topics they cover.  As I was reading about 2-5 books a month for a while, this seemed like it would be easy to do.  But, this blog has taken up a bit too much time – I’ve found I haven’t been reading as much, so starting another blog just doesn’t make sense right now.

If you have already done something like this, link it to your post.

I haven’t.

Now I’m supposed to “tag” ten other bloggers.  Lidian, just how many bloggers do you think I know? 😉  I think all of my blogging friends have already been tagged, so let’s just read all of their responses!

New Genealogy Magazine

Well, the news is finally public! Halvor Moorshead is starting a brand new genealogy magazine in addition to Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy. The new magazine is entitled Discovering Family History and will hit the newsstands in April. But, you can view a free “preview” at the website and download a 56-page preview issue in PDF format. I have an article in the first issue (which is also in the free download) on genealogical societies. Although this new magazine is aimed at beginners, as most genealogists eventually discover – we’re always learning new things. Check out the preview issue and see if you’ll want to add another subscription to your mailbox.

Donna’s Picks: Week of February 10, 2008

Here are some posts from genealogy blogs that I really enjoyed this week. If you missed any, be sure to visit these sites!

On the UPGS 2008 site, the article “Preparing to visit the FHL” offers some great tips on how to prepare for a visit to the ultimate genealogy library in Salt Lake City. The article was originally written by Paul and Janice Lipinski for the UPGS (United Polish Genealogical Societies) conference two years ago and was updated by Stephen J. Danko for UPGS 2008. If you’re planning on visiting the FHL in Salt Lake City any time soon, this article will help you make the most of your visit. [2/10/08]

Dear Myrtle posted an article about the Last Living US WWI Vet. Following the story about the 107-year-old Frank Buckles, Myrt provides a list of ideas for tracing an ancestor’s WWI military service. [2/11/08]

Craig at GeneaBlogie asks “Who was the first African-American Priest?” The answer isn’t as simple as one might think! Read Craig’s biographical portraits of the two candidates: Father James Healy (1830-1900) and Father Augustine Tolton (1854-1897). [2/12/08]

Before My Time offers a fascinating look at The Great Depression with a first-hand account of what life was like during that hard time. [2/12/08]

Barbara at Our Carroll Family History tells us What’s New with the PA-HR-Access. The group is fighting PA lawmakers to obtain greater access to vital records. [2/12/08]

Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks!

If These Walls Could Speak: A German Häuserchronik

An oft-repeated phrase when one enters an old house is “if these walls could speak, the stories they’d tell.” In Germany, it is possible for the walls to speak about the families that lived there for centuries in the form of a book called a häuserchronik.

What would you say if I told you there might be a book that is like a City Directory, only it is listed by street addresses and also records deed transactions of the houses? And, the book also contains some personal information about the residents, including occupations, marriage information, and more? Well, if your ancestors came from Germany, there really may be such a book!

When I first visited the town my Bavarian ancestors came from, I was given a “häuserchronik” as a gift. The full title of the book, published in 1982, is Häuserchronik der Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidel. It provided tons of genealogical information that was later verified by researching decades of church records. I couldn’t believe that such things existed…and that you don’t hear more about them!

Here is an example of one entry found in the book. The house is currently known in the town as Löwenstraße 14, formerly Judengasse 11. Before that, the house had a number assigned to it. Beginning in 1676, it was 67 II District. From 1810-1861, it was house #55. And from 1862-1927, it was house #79. In old towns such as Pfaffenhofen, houses were numbered as they were built. So, house #10 was not necessarily in between houses #9 and #11 – it could be on the other side of town! Occasionally, the houses were renumbered, probably because by then it became too difficult to find an address! At this particular house, the record begins back in 1614! My ancestors appear in the house’s record in 1746 as follows [translated to English, with my comments in brackets]:

1746, 4 Jan
Eger, Bernhard, shoemaker – purchased (Kaufsumme or “sum”) for “280 fl”
[According to the book’s preface, in 1982 the “fl” or gulden was equal to about 1.71 Marks. Today, that’s roughly 236 Euros! He was about 25 years old at the time.]

1746, 21 Jun
The above marries Arnold, Maria Anna, from Jägern/Edlmünster
[She’s not my ancestor…she dies in April, 1761 at age 35 during childbirth.]

1761, 30 Oct
Eggerer (Eger), Bernhard, widower, shoemaker, marries Stainer, Maria Margarete, from Freising
[Note the changing spelling of the surname, which will change one more time in a later entry before “stabilizing” – it was common for names to change over time as spelling became more formal and/or more people became literate. Unfortunately, he dies 17 years later in June, 1778 after they’ve had many children, including my ancestor Ignaz.]

1778, 18 Jul   Eggerer, Maria Margarete, shoemaker’s widow
[This entry shows that changes were made to the records for events such as the husband’s death.]

1797, 10 Jan
Echerer (Eggerer), Ignaz, son, and Maria Anna, born Kaillinger, glassmaker’s daughter
[He was 32 years old; they married on 22 Jan 1797]

1844, 13 Feb
Echerer, Ignaz, son, marries Nigg, Magdalena
[He was 41 years old; they married on 19 Feb 1844]

1847, 12 Jun
He sells to a new family for 1400 fl, or 1200 Euros in 1982 money. Interestingly enough, the new owner sells it three years later for 2400 fl, proving that “house flipping” isn’t such a modern concept.

So, where did the family go? The house had been in the family for 100 years. The answer was also in the book. They moved to a different house, the current address of which is Schulstrasse 5. This house is even older than the previous one, as the records begin back in 1511! What is interesting is the immediate history prior to the purchase by Ignaz. Before I had done research with the church records, I would have only looked for his surname and ignored the rest. But, after complete research, I know the full story of the family relationships, so I will back up a bit in the house’s history.

1784, bought for 420 fl by Höck, Johann, master carpenter

1794, 12 Apr, daughter Therese marries

1794, 26 Apr, Nick, Karl, Town Master Carpenter

1844, 02 May, Nick, Rosalie, daughter, marries Aicher, Christian, master carpenter

It is from this couple that Ignaz and Magdalena buy the house for 3,980 fl. We saw from the previous entry that Nigg is Magdalena’s maiden name. Rosalie is her sister, Karl is her father (so she was born in this house), and the owner back in 1784 was her grandfather! After the couple purchases the house, it remains in the family until 1899. My great-grandmother, Maria Echerer, was born there in 1875 to Karl Echerer, son of Ignaz and Magdalena, and Margarethe Fischer. It appears that the house was owned by my great-grandmother’s brother, Karl, from 1896 to 1899 when he sold it for 10,800 Marks.

As you can see from the above example, there is an extraordinary amount of genealogical data to be found in such books. Other entries were less detailed, but nearly every house’s history had some information on marriages, including where the spouse may have come from if the town was not the same, and occupations. It appears based on the above that a new entry was made after the death of a spouse, a marriage, or the passing of the house to a son or daughter, which is why this sort of history has more in common with deed records than what Americans would call “city directories”.

But, where do you find such a treasure if it exists for your town? Well, it’s not easy. What makes the search even more complicated are the different names that Germans use. For my town of Pfaffenhofen, the book is called a häuserchronik. But similar information might be found in a heimatbuch, or town history. Some towns even have something called a ortssippenbuch or ortsfamilienbücher, which are books containing the genealogical data of an entire town or village. None of these useful resources are maintained in one place, so they are difficult to find.

First, I would try a search at for your family’s town – there are some of the above resources that would be listed if they are microfilmed.

Next, simply search on for your town name, plus one of the above words.

You can also find success at German bookstores. One useful site that seems to have many “historical” books – and also has an English search page – is Put the town name in the subject search and see what you find!

Did you know that there are foreign versions of E-bay? You’re more likely to find a German book on Germany’s E-bay at Search for the town name, or even a surname. I found many heimatbucher waiting to be found by genealogists. It does help if you speak the language, though. While ordering via E-bay isn’t that difficult in any language, once you get the book it helps to be able to decipher the contents! I have several German books, but I don’t read German. If I did, or if I tried a little harder with a dictionary, I might know a lot more about my ancestors’ towns by now.

Finally, there is a database available at that has listings of some “town heritage books”. I have not found an online resource that lists “häuserchronik” books specifically, but a local heritage book may also have genealogical information. You may have better luck contacting town or local archives to determine if any exist for your town.

Good luck, and I hope you all find similar genealogical treasures from your ancestors’ towns.

Blogger Poem – An Ode to My Lack of Information and Time

Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi, has put out a blogging challenge this week to write a poem. Terry has taken challenges to a new level with this one! So, I’ve done my “homework” as Thomas calls it, and gave a meager attempt. But first, a confession…

I admit that I’m an English major with two degrees in “English”. I admit that I’m a writer, and I’ve even been paid on occasion to write. I admit that I’m a voracious reader because I love words (though both my writing and reading have taken a hit since starting this blog). I admit that I stole my blog’s name from the World’s Greatest Poet. But, Terry, here’s my ultimate confession: “I AIN’T NO POET!” So, please ignore that I have degrees and get paid to write sometimes, because no one will pay for this one!

My ancestors came from lands far away
Once in the US, they decided to stay
Leaving no trace of their origins, to my dismay
Now I’m trudging through history
Because their lives were a mystery
And genea-blogging now takes up my whole day!

Donna’s Picks: Week of February 3, 2008

Here are some posts from genealogy blogs that I really enjoyed this week. If you missed any, be sure to visit these sites!

Lee Drew at FamHist writes about several online tools that come in handy for genealogist. “Zoom, Write, and Learn” discusses Google Earth, Live Search Maps, PAF, Google Docs, ZOHO, and Google Books in a short yet informative post. [2/3/08]

Brave New Traveler isn’t a genealogy blog, but one article this week might prove useful to genealogists. “8 Free Online Resources for Learning A New Language” offers a comprehensive look at some language tools. Many genealogists will eventually have to deal with a foreign language. Whether you’re planning a trip back to the homeland or just want to pick out some foreign words, check out these resources. They’re free! [2/4/08]

This isn’t strictly for genealogists either, but since many of the genealogists who visit this site are also bloggers, it may be useful to some. Lorelle on WordPress has a challenge for bloggers on “Testing Your Blog’s Accessibility”. It’s not just about different browsers or operating systems, but also about making your site readable for everyone – “from cell phone access to color blind.” Click on the link to “Views of a Web Page” and learn about how your blog may not look the same to everyone who views it, and find out how to make changes for the better. [2/7/08]

We all seem to have old family photos full of folks we can’t identify, righ? Jasia at Creative Gene takes a rather, er, creative approach and tries “Using Facial Recognition Software in Photo Identification”. Results were mixed, but it’s an interesting approach that I never would have thought of. Maybe it can help point you in the right direction in determining who’s who in your old photos! [2/7/08]

The Polish Genealogy Project posts about a new “Surname Map” site for Poland. I’ve tried this as well as other sites, and it’s a lot of fun. It can even help in your research if your name isn’t very common.  The blurb for the site doesn’t give the directions, so click on the link – next to “Mapa nazwisk” enter a surname and click the “Szukaj” button.  If your name is in Poland (based on what data source and what years, I’m not sure), a map will appear.  I wrote an article on Surname Maps for various countries Family Chronicle last summer, so I’ll try to put a PDF up soon for my visitors who aren’t Polish.  But some of you non-Polish folks might be surprised…at least one non-Polish genea-blogger listed in my Blog Roll comes up on the map!  [2/5/08]

Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks.  And many thanks to Jessica, Randy, Apple, and Terry for the “link love” they gave “What’s Past is Prologue” this week!

Photo Mystery: Is this the same Bergmeister?

Bergmeister Wedding

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


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

Are they the same person?

Carnival of Genealogy, 41st Edition

Jasia at Creative Gene has posted the 41st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. This edition’s topic was: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why? There was quite a respond this time – so many great stories to read!  Read all about the latest edition in Jasia’s post.

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival is: The Best of The Best! It’s Academy awards time… time for the Academy of Genealogy and Family History aka AGFH (an esteemed organization that all genea-historian bloggers who participate in this next edition of the COG will become founding members of) to honor their best blog posts of 2007 in 5 categories.  Fortunately for me and some other new bloggers, 2007 has been expanded somewhat!  If you’d like to participate, submit your blog article with the carnival submission form. The deadline is February 15th. Visit the carnival index page to see all of the past editions.

Census Records: What’s in a Name?

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

Zawodny Census Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Our Ancestors were in 1808

Several weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “1808: Where was Your Family 200 Years Ago?” I wrote about my ancestors lives two hundred years ago, at least the ones that I know for sure who lived in Bavaria. This topic was inspired by the previous challenge from Lisa of 100 Years in America who asked us where our ancestors were in 1908 (read the summary here). I challenged other genea-bloggers to take up the challenge, and many did. Here are their wonderful responses:

In “1808: Residences of My Families” Lori at Smoky Mountain Family Historian tells us about her family all over the US, mostly in the South with scattered folks in New England, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. All of her ancestors were in the US 200 years ago! What impressed me the most is her distinctly American genealogy!

John at Transylvania Dutch uses a “Time Machine” to visit his ancestors in several countries including Lithuania, Poland, Transylvania, Canada, and England. Then, just in case the question is asked by other bloggers, he takes us back to visit his ancestors in New York in 1708, and back to Holland and England in 1608. Does he know where they were in 1508? Hmm, read his story to find out!

Jessica at Jessica’s Genejournal asks “1808: Where were my ancestors?” She admits to being “not completely sure”, but she’s getting close with research back to the 1820s.

Thomas at Destination: Austin Family asks “1808: Where was my family 200 years ago?” Well, Thomas definitely knows the answer to that question: New York!

Randy at Genea-Musings knows where so many of his ancestors were in 1808 that he had to write two posts to tell the whole story. His Carringer side resided in many places, including the US, Canada, and England while the Seaver side calls Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and England home.

Becky at kinexxions asks “Where were they in 1808?” Rather than list all 59 ancestors on her mother’s side and 23 on her father’s, she gives us some interesting highlights. All but three of her ancestral families were already in the United States, and most were farmers. Becky shares some interesting stories about some of these ancestors in 1808.

“Where were they in 1808” is what Bill at West in New England explains in his post, which has quite a mix of both known whereabouts and elusive folks.

Craig at Geneablogie also asks “Where were they in 1808?” He writes about the importance of that particular year for many of his families: “1808 was a signal year…That was the year that Congress banned the Atlantic slave trade from the United States.”

Tonia at Tonia’s Roots Blog has many ancestors around in 1808, so she’s writing a series of posts. So far, she recounts her “Butler Ancestors in 1808” “almost all of whom were in the western part of North Carolina, with a few in South Carolina and one in Virginia.”

“Sharon” responded in the comments of my post about her Bavarian, Polish, American, and Dutch ancestors that all eventually wound up in Chicago.

Steve from Steve’s Genealogy Blog writes “The Year was 1808” about his Polish ancestors who were scattered throughout the land including the “Przemyśl Powiat of Galicia, the Warsaw Departament of the Duchy of Warsaw, and the Vilna Guberniya of the Russian Empire.” Steve adds a nice visual with “Map My DNA” to show us where these places are on the map.

Steve’s fancy map was inspired by John at Anglo-Celtic Connections, who asks “Where has your DNA been?” John shows us his ancestors’ whereabouts in both 1808 and 1908.

Blaine at The Genetic Genealogist also asks “Where Was My Y-DNA and mtDNA in 1808?” and proceeds to show us on the map! He presents this graphical challenge “Where was YOUR mtDNA and Y-DNA in 1808?”

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this challenge – it was fascinating to see how far folks can trace their ancestry and from what areas their ancestors originated. As someone with 20th Century immigrants to America on all sides of my ancestry, I was quite impressed with the number of fellow bloggers who have what I call “American” roots! It was equally fascinating to see the mix of countries that we are all researching. If anyone responded to my 1808 challenge and I didn’t present your response here, please let me know or comment here – I tried to include all that I could find!

Donna’s Picks: Week of January 27, 2008

Here are some posts from genealogy blogs that I really enjoyed this week.  If you missed any, be sure to visit these sites!

John at Transylvania Dutch has a good article on City Directories including how useful they can be in your research and how to find them. [1/27/08]

In a similar way, Steve highlights Finding Obituaries Online.   Steve lists several online resources as well as the fees to access them.  Now if only of my ancestors actually had obits this would be great! [1/28/08]

Thomas has a wonderfully creative post on genealogical societies vs. stay-at-home genealogists called The Pajama Game: Can a Romance Blossom Between Genealogy Societies and Stay-at-Home Genealogists?  The topic has been discussed recently on several blogs, and Thomas uses the premise of the movie Pajama Game to explore it further.  It’s creative, humorous, and makes some worthwhile points that yes, it is possible for the two groups to co-exist and have a healthy marriage together.  [1/30/08]

Tim reminds us about the value of newspaper articles with Ellis Island Immigration News in 1903.   By using the New York Times archives, he discovered a valuable resource to add perspective to our ancestors journeys. [2/1/08]

After we’ve all been writing about our families in 1908 and 1808, Randy reminds us how to find out what happened on this day, or in that year.  The comments add even more sites to do more of the same and remind us of events that our ancestors experienced in their lives. [1/28/08]

Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks!

Convergence of Genealogical Topics

I haven’t posted too much this past week, but I seem to have a convergence of topics from previous posts. First, the 40th Carnival of Genealogy‘s topic was finding living relatives. This week, I received a response from my mother’s second cousin. He invited us to dinner, which is similar to the topic for the 41st COG — although, if any deceased relatives were present, they fortunately failed to materialize before us! I was hoping to find out a birthdate for this cousin’s grandmother, who is one of the Pater girls I mentioned in my Polish Name Days post, to confirm my theory that her birthday is most likely on or near a feast day for the saint she is named after. But in all the excitement of meeting and looking at family photos, I forgot to ask. So, more on that topic later.

Later in the week I received a response from the Polish National Archives with information on my great-grandfather Jan Piontkowski, confirming some of what I learned from his naturalization papers. I was hoping to write more about that – until I realized that the record is in Russian, and my experience to date is with Polish birth records. So, I’ll need a little more time to decipher it or I’ll have to ask someone with more experience for help. The information I refer to that was confirmed is the date of birth of my grandfather’s brother. And because names in these Russian documents are fortunately written in Polish in parentheses after the Russian name, I have a confirmation of my great-grandmother’s last name. Actually, I guess you could say that this deals with the Russian Partition of Poland and where my ancestors were in 1808 and 1908 … At this rate, I won’t have any new topics to add and I’ve only been blogging for a month!

Family By Choice, Not Genes

They say that you choose your friends but not your family. But in some cases, friends choose each other to become family. Such is the case with “Father George.” Usually you only see priests in genealogy pages if they were a beloved uncle or brother. In this case, I refer to Fr. George as my adopted grandfather. Whether I adopted him or he adopted me is questionable! This week marked the 19th anniversary of his death. Because the parish he founded, Our Lady of Calvary in Philadelphia, is celebrating its 50th Jubilee this year, his life was celebrated in full that evening. Here is my tribute to my adopted “grandfather,” a great man who served God, country, and all men and women.

Father George Wierzalis
The Reverend Monsignor George S. Wierzalis preferred to be called “Father George” – he was a self-effacing man who eschewed fancy titles. He was born on April 16, 1910 in Shenandoah, PA. Feeling called to the priesthood early in life, he studied at a Polish seminary, Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, and was ordained on May 30, 1936. He served as a young priest in several churches in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. During World War II he served as a chaplain with the Army and Army Air Corps. He served for over two years in the Pacific Theater, and he was one of twelve Catholic chaplains (58 chaplains in total) who assisted on Iwo Jima. Because of his service there, he earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The devastating loss of lives on Iwo Jima greatly affected Fr. George, and he never liked to talk about his time as a chaplain.

After other assignments as a hospital chaplain and a pastor, Fr. George was asked to become pastor of a brand new parish in Philadelphia in 1958 – Our Lady of Calvary. The “far northeast” area of the city of Philadelphia was still undeveloped in 1958 and looked much more like farmland than a cityscape. As more Philadelphians began to move north out of the congested city streets, entire neighborhoods were developed. Our Lady of Calvary parish, or OLC, filled the needs of many Catholics who moved into this “new” area. As a pastor in the 1960s and 1970s, Fr. George was a forward-thinker and instituted ideas that are modern by today’s standards. He believed that every child deserved a good education, and OLC was the only Catholic school for many years that did not charge tuition, depending rather on the generosity of the parents based on their own financial conditions.

Fr. George was a very imposing figure to the school children – probably because he still walked with a military bearing, straight and tall. Younger children assumed he was God Himself! But he was far from stern, as I learned when I began to work at the rectory as a teenager. Fr. George treated “his girls” in the rectory and “his boys” working as sacristans very well, and he was always concerned with how we were doing in school and in life. How many other priests would get visited by teenagers on their way to proms, just so they could show off their pretty dresses and fancy tuxedos? He would smile, laugh, and send us on our way. He’d often pass us envelopes with “book money” for school, asking that we kept it confidential so other kids wouldn’t feel left out. I don’t think there were any kids to be left out though, because years later I found out that he bestowed these gifts to many of us.

Fr. George died on January 31, 1989, but his presence is still strong both in the church he founded and in the people whose lives he touched. I wish that I had known him as an adult rather than as a teenager, because there are many things that I would like to ask him now. But the one lesson he taught me was – don’t take yourself too seriously. Know that you are where God wants you to be – Love God, live your life, and have fun doing it. Thanks, Father George!