Stay Tuned…We’ll Be Back

Dear Visitors, Regular Readers, and Subscribers: I will be away from internet access for a longer-than-usual period of time, so you will not see any new posts for a little while. I had hoped to post a lot more in May since I knew June would be slow, but too many more important things got in the way. Things like the arrival of spring weather – this year it lasted a whole two weeks, a new Philadelphia record! [For the record, it’s back today after several “dead-of-summer” sweltering, humid days.] Second, I was busy preparing for my getaway, and it’s hard to write about genealogy when you are not doing any research.

What’s planned for What’s Past is Prologue after this short break? Stay tuned for…

  • Photos from my trip. Although they won’t be genealogy-related, I am visiting two of the most photogenic places on earth and I hope to share some great shots with you.
  • Interviews with some well-known authors or researchers in the wonderful world of genealogy.
  • Details about my first visit back to the local FHC in years – I plan to focus on some new leads as well as go back to some familiar records again for more.
  • To borrow a line from The X-Files…the truth photos is are out there! Photos of my ancestors, that is. I plan a no-holds-barred search for existing photos of my great-grandparents by contacting many second cousins that don’t even know they’re my second cousins yet.
  • A closer look at The Black Death as it hit my ancestors’ hometown in 1632.
  • More Carnival of Genealogy reflections…including my first stint as host!
  • More on Polish names! By far, my most popular (as in most viewed) post has been one of my first posts – Polish Names and Feast Days with 735 views.  This topic is obviously of interest to many, so I will try to cover it in more detail.

So long, and see you soon!


Cats Ruled This Family

“All of the animals except for man know that the principle business of life is to enjoy it.” ~Samuel Butler

“Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.” ~Anonymous

Donna and LouCI love animals – sometimes even more than people! Pets have the ability to become part of the family as if they were not only human, but actually related to us.

As a child, I always wanted a dog. But my family opted for a more low-maintenance pet that didn’t require daily walks, and this is how we became “cat people”. When I was six years old, we got our first cat – a black and white kitten I named Lucy. Shortly thereafter, following a proper anatomical exam, the kitty was re-christened Lou C.

Lou C was a good cat; not a friendly one, but kind. Looking back on his life now, I realize that the poor thing had a six-year-old (me) who always wanted to pick him up, carry him around, or dress him up, and a teenager (my brother) whose friends probably tormented him when my mother and I weren’t looking. No wonder he always wore a look of resignation like a wise old man who just wanted to be left alone!

LouC and kitten Tigger

When Lou C was about 3 or 4, we brought home an orange tiger-striped kitten I named Tigger. I honestly don’t remember how or why we got a second pet, but poor Tigger was like that oddball relative that you take care of with some embarrassment because you’re afraid that others might realize he’s related to you. I think Tigger was “mentally challenged” and/or brain-damaged, perhaps from running full-speed straight into our glass patio door as a kitten. He looked a little stunned afterwards, and he was a little “slow” forevermore. One oddity about Tigger…as any cat-owner knows, cats are meticulously clean. Except for Tigger, the dirtiest (or perhaps just the laziest) cat I ever met.

TiggerI can only imagine what Lou C, a cat whose cleanliness rivaled Felix Unger of The Odd Couple fame, thought of this young, dumb, sloppy addition to the family. They co-habited mostly peacefully. But they really were close to the Odd Couple characters with Tigger’s sloppiness and Lou C’s fastidiousness. Lou C even had high class tastes; he loved shrimp, but turned his nose up at good old cat food.

Lou CLou C was a cat true to all of the cat-stereotypes – he merely tolerated our presence in his home. All of us, that is, except for the one person in the house who disliked him immensely – my grandmother. Or at least she claimed to loathe him – I could never really tell. But I have a vivid memory that sums up her relationship with Lou C. After my grandmother lost her leg around the age of 72, she learned to walk with a prosthesis and a cane. As she would make her way down the stairway to the living room, Lou C would magically appear from his eternal hiding place, start to purr (!), and wrap himself around her legs – both real and prosthetic – meowing his undying love. At the same time, she would be cursing in Polish and trying to push him down the steps with her cane. If only we had video cameras back then, the pair would be a YouTube legend today.

When Lou C was about 10 he became ill, and one day while I was at high school both cats “went away”. It was hard for my parents, but harder on me. We didn’t speak for a while.

About six years later, perhaps still feeling the guilt trip I laid on her, my mother and I adopted another kitten from a vet’s office where my friend worked. Abandoned, flea-ridden, with ears too big for his body, he looked a little pathetic. Because of the ears, I wanted to call him Yoda, but my mother named him Stanley.

Young Stanley

Stanley grew out of his big ears and became a lovable cat. The only person to whom he showed any overt affection was my (our) mother. He’d sit in her lap in the mornings – something no Pointkouski cat ever willingly did before. Stan had a few memorable quirks… First, if my mother went out for an extended number of hours, he’d basically have a fit. He’d race at lightening speed up and down the three floors of our home over and over until he was panting and exhausted. Upon her return, he’d do the same, and then she’d be ignored for hours so she got the “message” that he was displeased.

Next, if anyone visited our house who was either allergic to cats, afraid of cats, or disliked cats, he’d become their new best friend. He’d jump on their laps (he never did this on any other occasion to anyone) or plant himself right by their side. If you were a cat-lover, you were ignored. I wonder how he knew.

Mature StanleyAn interesting feat is that Stanley would play fetch like a dog. Not with a stick, but with a small piece of bakery-tissue paper tied up into a ball-like shape. This was a “mousie”, and if he was in the mood he’d retrieve it when I threw it and bring it back to me for more.

I’ve been told that EVERY DAY, fifteen minutes before I was due to return home from work or grad school, Stanley would sit in the window, look down the street, and wait. As my car turned the corner on to the street, he’d return, satisfied, to his sleeping spot and ignore me after I walked in the front door. But he would occasionally show how much he cared by sharing part of the sofa with me while I watched tv.

Unfortunately, Stanley also developed an illness when he was 10. His death was hard on all of us; it still brings tears to my eyes nine years later.

Pets are, despite their quirks, part of the family. We had a few others over the years, like P.D. the rabbit and Georgia the cockatiel (in between cats). But the 3 cats lived with us the longest and felt more like “family” – becoming personalities as real as the fickle old uncle who feigns dislike of everyone, the “few watts short” cousin always needing help, or the grandfather with the gruff exterior but the heart of gold. These “personalities” living with us may not be human, but they are family. Hopefully my ancestors had furry or feathery family members, too – they certainly add to the family dynamic!

[This post was written for the Golden Jubilee Edition – the 50th! – Carnival of Genealogy: Family Pets. I’d like to thank Jasia for these creative topics. They may not have much to do with the how-to’s of genealogy, but writing about my cats or my cars is something I never would have done otherwise…but SHOULD have done because it brought me great joy.]

Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online

FamilySearchLabs has made Philadelphia Marriage Indexes available for 1885-1951.  This is great news for those of us searching our roots in Philadelphia!  It should be noted that these are the indexes only, not the actual marriage licenses.  Also, you are not yet able to search the records with the name search since they have not completed the indexing, but you can browse the collection.

The collection is divided into several groupings:

  • 1885-1916
  • 1917-1938
  • 1939-1942
  • 1943-1946
  • 1947-1951

If you are researching the years 1885-1938, you’re in luck – the record groupings that span those years are alphabetical (and typed, so they are easy to read).  Simply to to the first letter of the surname you want to search and click on the number of images available and the records will appear on screen.  Then, jump forward in the alphabet until you find the name you are looking for.

What information will you see?  Simply the last name and first name of either the bride or groom, the last name of the spouse in parentheses, the year, and the license number.  You can then cross-reference the spouse’s name to get a first name for that person.  While this may not seem like a lot of information, it did help me track down some maiden names and the year of marriage for quite a few couples.  Of course, you can find out much more information by getting a copy of the actual marriage license, and now that you have the names, year, and license number it should not be too difficult.  See the Philadelphia Marriage License Bureau for more information.  For older marriages (pre-1915), you can obtain copies at the Philadelphia City Archives where the records are available on microfilm.  Some of the older records are available at LDS Family History Centers as well.

For the indexes from 1939-1951, the records are not strictly alphabetical, and they are printed instead of typed (printed very neatly, I might add).  They are grouped by year, then by the first letter of the last name, then by the first letter of the first name.  So, you’ll find all of the Pinto’s, Pater’s, Parker’s, Petruzzelli’s, and Portnoy’s jumbled together, but if you know the person’s first name, you can jump right to the section for that letter (so all of the Joseph’s, John’s, and Jacob’s with a last name beginning with “P” are together).  Because of this, the indexes for these years will take more time to look through.  But, the fact that they go all the way up to 1951 means that I should be able to find the marriage records for many cousins to help fill in some bare branches on the tree.

My only “pet peeve” is that I can not seem to access one record group.  For the years 1917-1938, the surnames beginning with X-Y-Z simply will not come up.  I can’t access the records for Zawodny!  I’ve sent a message via the “Feedback” form, so I’m sure the smart folks at Family Search Labs will fix the link soon. Update: As of 25 July 2008, this problem has been fixed on the site and the X-Y-Z records can now be accessed!

One word of caution: if you can’t find a couple listed in the index, try elsewhere.  All four of my grandparents were born and raised in Philadelphia, yet both couples got married – and therefore got their marriage licenses – in Media, PA (the county seat for Delaware County).  My only great-grandparents to be married in the U.S. chose Camden, NJ – despite the fact they both lived in Philadelphia.  Also, one of the most popular “marriage destinations” back then was Elkton, MD – apparently the legal age for marriage was younger here, so you didn’t need your parents’ permission as you would in PA!

You never know who you might find in these records – and you may not even realize it’s someone famous!  I already have this particular marriage record, but I looked the groom up in the index anyway.  It’s also a good example of what the 1939-1951 indexes look like:

Future Famous Couple

Future Famous Couple

Did you know that actor Gene Kelly was married in Philadelphia?  He and Betsy Blair (that’s her “stage name”) chose a spot “in the middle” for her New Jersey family and his Pittsburgh family.  They were literally on their way to Hollywood where Gene would begin his career (bonus points if any readers know which film was his first…without snooping on the net).  At least I finally found a way to combine my two GENE hobbies!

Related articles: When You Can’t Find Grampa’s Marriage Record (alternate locations) and More on Philadelphia Marriage Records (pre-1885 records)

Belles & Beaus: Galecki Wedding, 1926

The second edition of the Smile for the Camera carnival focuses on Belles & Beaus: Choose a photograph of an ancestor, relative, yourself, or an orphan photograph that shows a memorable wedding, courting/dating, or a photograph depicting young/old love.

I’ve shown a few photos of belles and beaus here, including my parents’ wedding photo and a “mystery” photo that may or may not show my great-grandfather as the Best Man at his cousin’s wedding in Germany. But I’ve selected this special photo to best represent the topic:

A Philadelphia Marriage, 1926

This photo depicts the wedding of Jane Zawodna and Sigmund Galecki in 1926 (make that 1925 thanks to the new Philadelphia Marriage License records that are now online). The wedding ceremony was likely at St. Adalbert’s Church in Philadelphia, and the photographer was probably in the Port Richmond neighborhood where they (and the church) resided. The “Maid of Honor” is my grandmother, Mae (or Marianna) Zawodna, Jane’s sister (if you recognize her, another photo of her from the same event was featured here). I do not know the identity of the “Best Man”, but I hope to learn more later this summer as I attempt to contact my cousins, the descendants of Jane and Sigmund (called “Ziggy”).

I Smile for the Camera

[This post was written for the 2nd edition of Smile for the Camera, a Carnival of Images.]

Connecting Through Literature

One of the best ways to connect with others is to have something in common, and frequently it’s a common “favorite” like a book or a movie. It’s fun to talk about a favorite thing with someone who is equally enthusiastic!

A few weeks ago I visited my 12-year-old niece. She’s never too revealing about anything that happens in school – the conversation usually begins with “What are you learning about this week?” with the answer of “Oh, nothing…” But occasionally she’ll talk, as was the case on this visit. As I read over her shoulder, I asked about the story she was writing. It was a school project related to a book they were reading as a class. She handed it to me – “It’s about this millionaire who dies, and one of the people in his will will inherit everything…but he was murdered and it’s a mystery to find out who did it.” Uh, how did he know who killed him when he wrote his will? “I don’t know! We’re not finished the book yet!”

I was happy that she was happy reading. She’s a fantastic student at the top of her class, but she’s not as enthusiastic about reading as I was at that age. Fortunately, she has way more friends and more physical hobbies like dance and soccer. But something was nagging me about this book…it sounded familiar. Nah, it can’t be…

As a kid, I used to buy books stacks at a time when we could afford it. Of those hundreds, I eventually saved ones that I really liked and gave away the others. By adulthood, I had about 14 of my old books – not counting a shelf full of Robert Heinlein novels that straddle the “young adult” and “adult” fiction categories. I looked at my bookshelf, and found what sounded a lot like my niece’s book. After a quick call to confirm the title, it was the same book!

The Westing GameThe Westing Game by Ellen Raskin won the Newberry Medal in 1979, and I probably read it shortly thereafter — the same age my niece is now. As I paged through it, I couldn’t remember anything about it at all, but the fact that I still had it meant that I must have really liked it. The book isn’t just a mystery, but a “puzzle mystery” where the reader tries to solve it by finding various clues scattered throughout the novel. Consider it my early prep work for my future as a genealogist!

Finding that minor connection with my niece was nice, and it led me to wonder – how many of our present likes (or dislikes) are similar to those of our ancestors? My niece is now reading what is called a “modern classic” on the cover of the latest printing, which puts it into the realm of the old days when her old aunt was a kid. As a former English major, I have read and loved many classics that go back a lot further than 1979! My ancestors didn’t leave any records or diaries of the books they enjoyed, but maybe, just maybe, I re-discovered one of their favorites many years later.

Will your descendants know what your favorites were as a child or an adult? I didn’t even remember my own old favorite until I was reminded by a 12-year-old!

Down the Shore and At the Beach

Whether your family went “down the shore” or to the beach, thirty-two genea-bloggers had great stories to tell and fantastic swimsuit photos to share in the latest edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.  Join in the fun at the 49th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, posted at Creative Gene.  I had to include the wonderful COG poster created by footnoteMaven!

Be sure to read the Call for Submissions for the 50th COG: Family Pets.  Details can be found in the COG post.  The next deadline is June 15.