Got Milk?

Grandpop and Truck, 1937

This great photograph shows my grandfather, James Pointkouski, with his milk truck. According to the back of the photo, the date is July 18, 1937 and it was taken at “Silver Lake Inn.”

My grandfather was a truck driver, but the word he used to describe his occupation in several documents was “chauffeur”. He first calls himself that in the 1930 Census. Only 20 years old, he’s already making a living as a chauffeur, which is further identified by “ice cream factory”. Yes, Grandpop drove an ice cream truck! But not the kind that visits neighborhoods prowling for hungry children and driving everyone insane with repeated nursery rhymes blaring from the loudspeaker. No, he delivered ice cream to the places that sold it in those days – drugstores and “soda fountains”! His future brother-in-law, Joseph Bergmeister, also worked as an ice cream “chauffeur”, while Joe’s brother Max worked at an ice business. Max would later open up a candy shop / soda fountain where my Grandpop would deliver the ice cream.

Driver’s LicenseAs an ice cream truck driver, cars and trucks were important to my grandfather since they helped him earn a living. When my grandmother passed away, I found a stack of my grandfather’s driver’s licenses ranging from 1935 to 1957 (or Operator’s License as it was called then, no photos required) as well as a few Vehicle Registration cards.

In the above photo, he is driving for Aristocrat Dairy in Philadelphia. But is that a famous Divco milk truck? As I researched the clues in this photo, I learned that the Divco was built by Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company from 1926 all the way up to 1986. I have vague memories of what it was like to have milk delivered directly to the house…chances are that the milkman drove a Divco. Since these trucks were specially designed and refrigerated, I believe that is what my grandfather drove. While the truck above looks similar to today’s trucks, some Divco models were actually designed so that the driver drove it while standing up! I can’t just imagine my grandfather saying that he decided to drive a truck so he could sit down!

Divco trucks also became famous for their sloping hoods. The truck above does not have it, but my research seems to indicate that Divco did not change the truck’s design until the year this photo was taken. It looks a lot like the Divco milk trucks from Scott-Powell Aristocrat Dairies pictured at this site. But based on this Divco site, it could also be a Dodge milk truck.

Regardless of what kind of milk truck it is, I’m proud that my grandfather worked in this field. It connects my personal history with a bit of Americana, and those “good ol’ days” of fresh dairy products delivered right to your door and ice cream floats at the local soda fountain. Both of those slices of the past are just a bit before my time, but I’m able to feel connected to that earlier era because of Grandpop’s role as the guy who made it possible for folks to have those milkshakes at the corner store!

[This post was written for the 45th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Cars as stars! What car played a starring roll in your family history and what roll did it play?. An additional post on this topic is here.]


Donna’s Picks, Week of March 23, 2008

Here are some posts that I really enjoyed this week from genealogy blogs. I was ill most of the week and had little interest in blogging or reading blogs, but I did manage to find several good ones that brought my foggy head out of the clouds. If you missed any of these, be sure to check them out!

  • Dick Eastman had an interesting post on “Back to the Future: 2008” in which he has excerpts from a 40-year-old magazine article about what life would be like in 2008. There were some hits and some misses in their predictions, but it’s a fascinating read. [3/27/08]
  • Randy at Genea-Musings proudly says “Now we know what happened to Virgil” in an interesting follow-up to previous posts. Hasn’t everyone uncovered a fascinating article and wondered what happened to the people involved? Probably, but how many take the time like Randy to wonder aloud on his blog and find the answer! Some great detective work, and thanks to someone finding it on the internet we all can now know exactly what happened to Virgil. [3/28/08]
  • Denise at Family Matters follows on to Terry’s post with a discussion on “Screen Capture”. I personally tend to use “Alt-print screen” and then customize the image in a photo program, but I look forward to trying out some of Denise’s suggestions. [3/29/08]

I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did. Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks! The highlight of this coming week is sure to be the latest Carnival of Genealogy – I’ve seen some interesting posts so far, so I can’t wait to see the entire collection.

My Big, Old, Fast Favorite Car

Tracing our family’s “car genealogy” has been more difficult than tracing our family’s history, mostly because there are few photographs of our cars and few documents that were saved. The one stunning truth of this latest Carnival of Genealogy endeavor is that despite my love for photography since I was a youth, and despite my love for my parents’ car (later “my” car), I don’t have a single photograph of My Beloved. Perhaps that is why The Car has taken on mythical proportions in my memory. My parents and I can’t even get our memories in alignment on what it was! Well, it was definitely a Ford Torino. Or was it the Gran Torino? Was it a 1976? Hmm, maybe it was a ’74… Based on our collective memories and searching the internet for photos, let’s call it a 1974-76 Ford Gran Torino. (Yes, the Starsky and Hutch car, only not red with a white stripe.)

My parents bought the behemoth used, probably around 1978. At the time, I was only eleven years old, so I wouldn’t drive it for some time. My brother was 19, so he did drive it – and probably added a dent or two along the way. But, it was my mother’s car, and as such it was my primary means of transportation for a large part of my youth, teen years, and young adulthood. I finally got my license when I was 18 (when I could afford the insurance), and my mother insists that I “stole” it at that point. I thought we shared it, but Mom knows best.

Torino 1

The Torino is a legend, a chrome-bumpered baby-blue 4-wheeled Millennium Falcon — in other words, not too pretty on the outside, but oh could that baby move! Of course, it had been pretty on the outside up until my brother and I drove it. Unfortunately, the passenger side ran into one too many poles. Trim occasionally dropped off as you rode down the road. And in Philadelphia, rust was inevitable. But, that was just a disguise. All of the damage was on the right side of the car, so if I stopped at a red light in the left lane, I’d see someone to my right either give me a pitiful look or simply laugh outright. Sadly, I never got to see the look on their faces after the light turned green and I put several blocks between us in seconds. Ah, the days of the V-8 and affordable gas!

Besides the Torino’s speed, it was known for being big. Really big. Seriously big. My friend Rob christened it “The Anitaboat” long before I was licensed to drive it. “Anita” as the name of our chauffeur (that would be my mother), and “boat” because of its gargantuan size. The best thing about it was that you could fit at least 8 people quite comfortably – even more with a bunch of skinny teenagers. And, it was comfy, the equivalent of driving a sofa down the highway. Because of the lack of good shock absorbers, it was as bouncey as a sofa, too! In college, we had to relocate the staff and belongings of the yearbook office to another building that was not nearby. After trying to work out logistics, we simply drove over in my Torino, loaded up at least six people and tons of boxes, and drove to our new hideout to unload.

Torino 2

As we aged together and I drove farther distances to grad school and friends’ houses, my parents worried that The Car wouldn’t last. I disagreed, but one night in 1991 they did the unthinkable…they bought another car. To – deep breathreplace My Torino. I was working at the supermarket that night, and I remember the call with the so-called “good” news. This new interloper, this cheap young thing vying for my attention, was a sporty-looking 1987 Dodge Charger. “We’ll drive it up,” they said, “so you can drive your new car home!” “NO!” (I think the store manager came running over to see what happened down in my corner of the store.) “Please just let me drive The Torino home. One. Last. Time.” They did.

By then, it really wasn’t much to look at. The passenger side was dented and otherwise abused, and missing all of its trim. Rust was prevalent. The entire dashboard, including dashboard lights, the speedometer, and the fuel gauge, hadn’t worked for a few years after the car was hit from behind (no damage to the exterior…the car was a tank in disguise). But, despite its looks and brokenness, I loved that car. I’m not sure why – was it the memories? Was it because it had grown up with me and been a part of my life for so long? Even today, so many years later, I talk about The Torino like it was some spiffy, shiny classic vehicle that we should have kept. In reality, it went to the junkyard a couple of years after my parents’ friends’ son bought it from us.

Sure, I remember so many other cars from my life:

  • My Dad’s dark blue 1968 Oldsmobile (I think that’s what it was). A big armrest came down in the front seat that was just the right size for my child-size self to sit on. (Yes, no seat belts until I was a teen. No bike helmets either – it’s a wonder we all lived to adulthood.) On May 19, 1974, the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup, and the city went mad. We loaded into this car with my girlfriend and drove around, clogging up the streets, everyone honking like it was New Year’s or some war was over.
  • My Mom’s light blue Ford LTD (early 70’s? I was just a kid, so it’s hard to pinpoint a year). This car was even bigger than The Torino…if possible…and you could fit about twelve kids in the back seat. At least that’s how I remember it.
  • My Aunt Joan’s maroon late-1960-something Ford Falcon. I thought this car was the coolest-looking car ever. Of course, at the time it was probably just an old piece of junk that was all she could afford, but to my young eyes it was the most exotic-looking vehicle I had ever seen, and I wanted one “when I grew up.”
  • Rob’s borrowed station wagon, whose roof began to leak as we drove through a car wash, desperately trying to catch the incoming water in Coke cans and laughing until we cried.
  • Fr. George’s stick-shift Honda Accord – how many teenagers can fit in the back?
  • Mary Frances’ tiny Ford Escort that helped me get my driver’s license (what, you thought I’d attempt that in My Beloved Tank?) and took us down to South Street.
  • Kathy’s Toyota Celica, with Louie sticking up through the sun-roof pretending to be the Pope.
  • My brother’s blue late-80-something Camaro, and feeling grown-up when he trusted me enough to let me drive it (under pain of death if anything happened to it).
  • The Italian cab in 1985 with Sandy when we began to laugh too hard to remember how to say “Please, slow down, dear God!” in Italian.
  • Scott’s tiny, white, foreign 2-seater convertible – the first second time I ever got to ride with the wind in my hair. (How could I have forgotten Lynn taking me for a ride in not only a ’68 Mustang convertible, but also a cool ’57 Chevy. Yes, now that was actually bigger than The Torino!)
  • Frank’s beat-up Ford F-250 pick-up that’s older than my sister-in-law but still works just fine today.

But none of these compares to My Torino. It wasn’t the first car I owned, nor the first car I bought all by myself. But in my memory, it’s larger than life. I’ve been looking to replace my sporty 2001 car with something new for about a year now. I’ve test-driven two of the “top” cars and neither made me “want” them. My problem would be solved if I could only find a 1976 blue Gran Torino…

I don’t have any video of all the good times I had in The Car, whether with my parents or my friends or both, but the intro to That 70’s Show always reminded me of those times…

[This post was written for the 45th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Cars as stars! What car played a starring roll in your family history and what roll did it play?.]

Yo, What’s My Accent?

Thomas, at Destination: Austin Family, has asked: “What American accent do you have?” Well, I can tell you that the quiz is accurate…however, I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by my result.


No big surprise there given that I was born and raised in Philadelphia. Okay, we do talk (sorry, that’s tawk in Philly-speak) funny, but so what? We are definitely a product of our environment, and if my ancestors hadn’t settled here I might have a real American accent like most folks.

I have to tell you…it is hard to change your accent or lose it. Based on the quiz questions, I’ve been nailed as a Philly-ite for two word pronunciations: on and horrible. I honestly believe that changing the way you pronounce words is harding than learning a foreign language, at least in my case. Of course, I actually speak other languages with a Philly accent which amuses foreigners to no end.

When I was in my 20s, I realized that there really is no “r” in the middle of the word water, so I made a conscious decision to change the way I said the word. I still get odd looks around here when I ask for water as opposed to worter. For at least ten years now I have been desperately trying to correctly pronounce the word on, which is the one word that will cause funny looks when I travel and people wonder where the heck I’m from. It might sound strange to the rest of you, but to say it as “ahn” instead of “awn” is harder than it sounds (no pun intended).

But, I try. At least I don’t have some of the particularly Philly words in my vocabulary. I personally don’t say “picture” as “pitcher” OR “picsture” though both are quite common here. I try not to say “winda” for “window”, but I can’t seem to stop saying “fur” for “for”.

For those of you that have never been here, here is a sample of our vocabulary:

Philly 1: Yo! ‘Sup?

Philly 2: Aite!

Philly 1: ‘Jeet?

Philly2: Nah, ‘jew?

1: Hey, what’s up? (further translation: What is going on, how are you?)

2: All right. (further translation: Okay, good.)

1: Did you eat? (further translation: Have you eaten yet?)

2: No, did you? (further translation: No, have you eaten?)

Yes, we are an interesting bunch here. You may have seen us in the news recently for a ruling on the infamous sign at one of our famous steak places (no, not that kind of steak). The sign asks people to order in English since this is America. However, there really should be a sign for outsiders, travelers, or other non-Philly folks to translate what the counter-person is really asking you, because you might be asked “Wid or widout?” Friends, they’re asking if you want your steak sandwich with or without cheese. And no matter how gross it is, you’d better get the seriously non-food-product “Cheese Whiz” unless you want a dirty look.

Jessica makes a good point in her response to Thomas’ question – remember that your immigrant ancestors had accents, too! This is why you’ll find your “ethnic” and foreign names spelled differently in documents. Once you learn what your ancestors may have sounded like, the odd spellings you find make a lot more sense!

Donna’s Picks: Week of March 16, 2008

Here are some posts that I really enjoyed this week from both genealogy blogs and “other” blogs that had something either related to genealogy or blogging, or was interesting to me for other reasons. Be sure to visit these sites!

  • Also on St. Patrick’s Day, World Hum points us to “Ireland, Mermaids, and a 500-Year-Old Grudge”. While the post links to a NYTimes magazine article, I’d like to give World Hum the credit since that’s where I found it. The story is about a man who fulfills his dying mother’s wish – go to Ireland and look up the family’s history. As the post says, “It didn’t take him long to find out his ‘family was hated all over southwest Ireland.’”
  • The Cafeteria is Closed has an interesting article on “Charles Carroll”. Mr. Carroll was the sole Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and this article provides some good biographical information as well as his Irish ancestry. [3/19/08]
  • Arthur C. Clarke, one of my favorite authors, died this week at age 90. SF Signal presents Arthur C. Clarke Links and Video with links to some of his fiction that is available online, so if you’ve never read “The Nine Billion Names of God” here’s your chance! [3/19/08]

I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did. Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks. Also, I wanted to give a big thank you to DearMYRTLE for naming What’s Past is Prologue the Best Blog for the week of March 16th for my post on “Gutsy Women Travelers”. What an honor!

And finally, Happy Easter! From the Easter Vigil’s Exsultet:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Carnival of Genealogy, 44th Edition

For Women’s History Month, this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is A Tribute to Women. There were 31 submissions (with some multiple submissions), all honoring those special women who have touched our lives in some ways. Mothers, aunts, teachers, and courageous and inspiring women of all sorts are represented! Hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene, read her roundup of the carnival entries here. My own entry is here about my great-great aunt (who was great!).

Next up for the COG (Carnival of Genealogy):

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: Cars as stars! Next to purchasing a house, a “new set of wheels” was the next most significant purchase for many families. What car played a starring roll in your family history and what roll did it play? Did your family build cars or tinker with them? Did they take “Sunday drives”? What was your first car? Was there a hangout that you frequented in your car? How far back can you document your family’s automotive genealogy? Tell us your car stories… front seat or back! 😉 Vroom, Vroom!

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using our carnival submission form. The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2008. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Donna’s Picks: Week of March 9, 2008

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

  • Craig at Geneablogie has a nice how-to article called “Publishing with Help from” in which he shows how to beautifully present your family history by showing samples of his own book. I’ve been thinking of doing this, so thanks for the review, Craig! [3/9/08]
  • ProBlogger has advice for bloggers with “7 Ways to Make Your Blog Stickier”. What’s a “sticky” blog? One in which your readers return to again and again. The advice is simple, but sometimes the easiest things are hard to remember. If you have a blog or want one, check it out. [3/12/08]
  • Lee Drew at FamHist asks “What If I Have Black Sheep in My Ancestry?” Lee, don’t we all? I have to admit, my black sheep aren’t nearly as interesting as Lee’s! I love his closing line: “Whatever you find in your family history research, be grateful that you found a little more about lineage and that your perspective of how you fit into the weave of your ancestral quilt is enhanced with each discovery.” [3/13/08]

I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did. Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks. My blogging is likely to be light this week due to Holy Week and the Easter Triduum.

Hilaire Bergmeister: A Tribute to An Aunt

[Note: This post was written on March 14, 2008. Text in green are updates added February 14, 2015 to correct information.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calling CardAt the time of Hilaire and Max’s marriage, she lived at 2827 Reese Street in Philadelphia. By 1900, the couple was living at 1033 Jefferson Street and Hilaire’s occupation is listed as “retail grocery”. Interestingly, one of the witnesses to Max and Hilaire’s marriage, Michael Hoffbauer, is a grocer at Hilaire’s old Reese Street address, so it is presumed that she continued to work there. Max and Hilaire bought a house at 6078 Kingsessing Avenue between 1900 and 1910, and they lived there until their deaths. [They purchased 6076 and 6078 Kingsessing on 13 July 1907 and then must have sold half to live only in 6078 starting on 23 August 1908.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The year 1919 would prove to be a tragic year for the Bergmeister families. Sometime during the year [19 November], Ignatz Bergmeister died at the age of 43. He left behind his widow Therese, 9 year-old son Charles, and 11 year-old daughter Theresa living in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Since Ignatz and his family have only recently been “discovered” and the research into his short life is ongoing, it is not know if Hilaire kept in touch with her sister-in-law and young nephew and niece. [She did!]

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

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

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

Max and Hilaire Thuman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting Immigration Side Effect

Yesterday I posted A Salute to Gutsy Women Travelers in my family which focused on the women who immigrated to this country alone to meet their husbands or other family members.  I noted how difficult it must have been for the married couples to be separated while the man traveled to the U.S. first to find work and a place for the family to live.  Today I realized a humorous “side effect” of that separation which proves that these gutsy women were very anxious to see their husbands after months or years apart.  Of the three married women I wrote about that were still of child-bearing age (and traveling alone), two had babies approximately 9 to 11 months after reuniting with their husbands!  The third woman may have, because I know she had some children that died and I haven’t yet accounted for their births or deaths. I wonder how many other families had a “baby boom” after the women arrived to join their men?

Genealogical Regrets

Randy Seaver, passing on a post on the APG mailing list, asked us what our genealogical regrets are so that others can avoid our mistakes. What would I do differently? My responses are similar to Randy’s and others who have posted replies, which should prove to any newcomers to genealogy just how essential certain things are! These are my top 3 genealogical regrets:

  • I regret that I didn’t start my research sooner. I didn’t officially begin researching until after college, but I wish I had started in high school. For one, I had a lot more free time while attending college than I did after starting a full-time job. Even though I’ve had two census releases since I started my research, and even though some things are more automated now and indexed on the internet (and therefore EASIER now), the main reason I wished I had started sooner is because many older family members have since died. By the time I figured out who some cousins were, the older folks were gone and I missed a possible opportunity to learn more from them.
  • I regret that I didn’t organize my notes better. You’ll read it time and again from many genealogists…get organized! I am what I call “slightly organized” in that I know generally where things are, but it take me forever to sort through things to find what I want. I even have notes written on scraps (a paper plate, believe it or not) that I haven’t seen fit to otherwise document. Yet.
  • I regret that I didn’t focus my area of research to one family at a time. When I first began, I used a shotgun approach…I’d fire a question or query, and if my shot in the dark hit scattered targets I’d run off and start researching in each of those directions. Well, it I guess it works, but it’s probably not the easiest or best approach. It’s certainly not the scientific method. When I found an “easy” line, I’d focus on that family and get better results in my research. But the other lines with their questions and mysteries would still draw me back, and I’d lose the focus on the line on which I had experienced some progress.

To re-phrase my regrets in the positive, I present Donna’s 3 Rules of Successful Genealogy:

1) Don’t wait or think about it…get started now. Find and talk to your older relatives while you can.

2) Find the method of organization that suits you and stick with it always.

3) Focus your research; using a systematic approach will save you time later.

What would you do differently – do you have any genealogical regrets?

A Salute to Gutsy Women Travelers

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

836571. New York Public Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Bergmeister

Marie Bergmeister, Munich, Germany, circa 1890-1900

1901 – Marie Bergmeister (nee Echerer)

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

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

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

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

Frances Pater and Paul Nieginski

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

1907 – Franciszka Nieginski (nee Pater)

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

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

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

Slesinski Sisters

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

1920 – The Slesinski Sisters

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

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

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

Donna’s Picks, Week of March 2, 2008

Here are some posts that I really enjoyed this week that are related to either genealogy or genealogy-blogging or writing. If you missed these posts, be sure to visit the sites!

  • Lorelle on WordPress presented “Blogging Resources and Sources to Help You Blog”. The article presents a wide variety of resources for researching and writing including using Google Alerts and Reader, Wikipedia, how to separate fact from fiction, library resources, dates, and many, many more. Many of these sites are quite useful to genealogists, so do check it out. [3/4/08]
  • Diane at Genealogy Insider asks “What Is Census Soundex Microfilm?” Not surprisingly, many have never used it thanks to the internet. Learn more about it and view the image if you’re not sure what it is. Sometimes I actually miss those microfilm days! [3/5/08]
  • Thomas at Destination: Austin Family writes about “Funeral Cards” which are a Roman Catholic tradition. Thomas has scanned samples of cards from his family members, so if you’re not familiar with these you can see what they are. I wish I had more of the ones with the photos, but as Jasia remarks in the comments…sometimes that’s all we have left of our ancestors. [3/7/08]

Thanks to Lori for the “link love” to “What’s Past is Prologue” this week!

Check back next week for more of Donna’s Picks. I’m sorry I had light blogging this past week, but I have a few things planned this week to honor some of the women in my family tree so stay tuned!

Carnival of Genealogy, 43rd Edition

Jasia at Creative Gene has posted the 43rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. This edition’s topic was: Technology. What technology do you most rely on for your genealogy and family history research? My submission is here, but visit Creative Gene for the full listing.

Participants selected one each of hardware, software, and web site/blog that are indispensable. I couldn’t resist tallying up the results since there were 32 writers this time. And the winners are…

  • Hardware: The top 3 choices were a scanner (9 carnival entries, including scanner/printer variations), digital camera (5), and the often-overlooked and forgotten microfilm reader machine (4).
  • Software: The top choices were genealogy software with 17 entries – various programs were lumped together in this tally (Family Tree Maker, Rootsmagic, etc), and various photo/scanning softwares with 7 entries.
  • Websites: Ancestry was worthy of 8 entries, while “local” sites (archives, genealogical societies, etc either for a state or a country) received 7 write-ups and Google received 6.

As you can tell, there were a wide variety of choices submitted if the highest vote-getter only had entries by half of the participants. Do take the time to read all of the entries, and I’m sure you’ll learn a thing or two about technological “tools” that are available to aid us in our research.

Next up for the COG (Carnival of Genealogy):

In keeping with the month of March being National Women’s History Month, and March 8th being International Women’s Day, the topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will once again be: A Tribute to Women. Write a tribute to a woman on your family tree, a friend, a neighbor, or a historical female figure who has done something to impact your life. Or instead of writing, consider sharing a photo biography of one woman’s life. Or create a scrapbook page dedicated to a woman you’d like to honor. For extra credit, sum up her life in a six-word biography.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using our carnival submission form. The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2008. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Donna’s Picks, Week of February 24, 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!

FootnoteMaven has a good post entitled “Sign Here Please!”.  She not only collects her ancestors’ autographs, but also explains how to display them quite attractively.  As I am a fellow ancestor-autograph-hunter, this certainly caught my eye. [2/24/08]

Small-Leaved Shamrock writes about “November 1892: PA train explosion makes NYC headlines”.  Not only is the story of Lisa’s 2nd great-grandfather’s untimely death  interesting, but her post reminds us of alternate sources of information we can use to learn more about the lives (and deaths) of our ancestors. [2/26/08]

Web Worker Daily describes Google’s latest offering in “Google Sites Finally Launches”.  This looks like it will be valuable for genealogists, especially genealogical societies. [2/27/08]

Randy highlights how “Genealogy Research shines today” with a story direct from major news headlines about a genealogist who proved that a memoir-author was a fraud.  Dear Myrtle also posted about this story with “Holocaust fraud solved by source documents” and interviews the genealogist in a podcast. [2/29/08]

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