More on Philadelphia Marriage Records

I’ve long admired DearMYRTLE and Ask Olive Tree Genealogy for answering so many questions from their readers.  But I’ve been a little jealous too, because I wished that *I* had some questions to answer.  Today I received a question via a comment to an earlier post, so I’ve decided to play the “Dear Abby” role perfected by Myrt (aka Pat) and Lorine and answer the question as a new blog post (especially since I’ve been quite slack in new blog posts lately)!

In two previous posts, I discussed finding Philadelphia Marriage Records: Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online looked at the Family Search Labs site with the indexes from Philadelphia marriages from 1885 to 1951.  Then, When You Can’t Find Grandpa’s Marriage Record explored alternative marriage locations around the Philadelphia area if your ancestors lived here but the record is nowhere to be found in the above mentioned index.  But today a reader asked a very good question that I hadn’t fully addressed in either post: what about pre-1885 marriage records?

Brad asks:

What was the case with Philadelphia marriages prior to 1885? Were marriage certificate required at any point? I’m trying to find out more on my 2nd great grandparents and was wondering if I should be trying to hunt down their marriage certificate (they married in 1884).

Good question, Brad!  Cities and states had different requirements as to when civil registration began.  In Philadelphia, civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages was required beginning on July 1, 1860.  Records from that date through December 31, 1885 are available at the Philadelphia City Archives.  According to the Philadelphia City Archives site:

The marriage records give the date of marriage, names, ages, races, generic places of residence and birth for both the bride and groom, minister’s name and address, and denomination of marriage performed.

Most of the indexes are arranged alphabetically by first letters of last and first names, and then by year. If one of the parties to the marriage was Thomas Green and the marriage occurred on 31 August 1873, then one would look at the “G” volume, open to the section which included all people whose first names began with the letter “T” and then look at 1873. There are no separate indexes for men and women – all names are filed in the same index. Most of the indexes of this type stop between 1877 and 1880 so one would then have to look at the yearly indexes for the years 1877 – 1885.

All marriage indexes, registers and original returns have been microfilmed.

The Philadelphia City Archives is located at 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.  They can be reached by phone at 215-685-9400 (messages only) or 215-685-9401 (receptionist).  If you do not live in Philadelphia or are unable to visit the archives in person, they will search the records for you.  Send a written request with as much information as possible.  If you know the exact date of the marriage, the fee is $10.  If the exact date is unknown, a search will be made for $10 per each 3-month period searched (includes the certificate cost). Note that these fees are current as of today per the Archives’ FAQ page at

Brad, as you can see, the time period for your 2nd great-grandparents is covered with existing records.  If you can’t come to Philadelphia to perform a search yourself, the fee to search the entire year is a bit steep at $40 – so you may want to seek alternative means for look-up such as a local researcher.  Another option is to subscribe to a genealogy mailing list specific to Philadelphia such as Philly-Roots hosted by Rootsweb/Ancestry.  Often someone will ask other listers for help and you can make arrangements offline at less than the archives’ cost.

That might help Brad, but the question remains for others with roots that are deeper into Philadelphia’s history than either Brad’s family or my own: What about earlier records before July 1, 1860?

Since there was no formal registration required by the city (or state) before that date, there are few options when searching for marriage information.  One could try the following resources:

  1. Church Records – Try using city directories and old maps to determine possible churches.  If your ancestors were Catholic and you are lookingfor a record prior to 1920, one useful resource is the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center, which is located on the grounds of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary at 100 E. Wynnewood Ave in Wynnewood, PA.  Contact them at 610-667-2125 for more information and fees for research.
  2. Newspaper Announcements  – Very few old newspapers have been indexed.  Genealogy Bank has some Philadelphia papers from 1719 through 1922.
  3. Marriage Registers exist for some years, but they can be difficult to find for the pre-1860 era.  Try the Historical Society of Pennsylvania or search through the FHL catalog.

I hope this has been helpful to other Philadelphia researchers.  If anyone else has any research questions, I’ll try my best to help so please don’t be shy about asking!


I’ve Got My Shades On

In 1937, my dad also knew how to spend a weekend with "Shades"!

In 1937, my dad also knew how to spend a weekend with "Shades"!

Well, I’m back from my trip to San Diego!  But it seems I’m on my way again, at least virtually…  Join me at Shades of the Departed for my  Weekend with Shades monthly column, The Humor of It.  This month’s post is entitled There’s Always One:

When it comes to taking a group photo, there always seems to be one – one person who completely, unequivocally messes up the shot.

Read the rest over at footnoteMaven’s place – I’ll see you there…I’m the one with my shades on.

Do you have a photo of my great-grandmother?

Yesterday I celebrated the 100th anniversary of my great-grandmother’s arrival to the U.S.  Unfortunately, I did not include a photo of her, Elizabeth Miller Pater, with the post.  Even though she is the only great-grandparent who was alive during my lifetime, I have only one photo of her.  As you can see below, it is not in the best condition.   She is the little lady in the center of the photograph, seated third from the left.  We have no idea who the other individulas are, though the woman to the right of her resembles Elizabeth’s husband’s sister.

Elizabeth Miller Pater and unidentified friends/family at a picnic in 1947.

Elizabeth Miller Pater (center) and unidentified friends or family at a picnic in 1947.

My mother remembers seeing a beautiful photo of Elizabeth as a young woman, but we do not know what happened to it after Elizabeth’s death in 1972.  That side of my family has been a bit of a mystery, so I’d like to post some names in an attempt to perhaps find some cousins (and cousins with photos would be a bonus!).

Elizabeth Miller married Louis Pater in 1910.  They had five sons: Henry, Walter, Louis, Victor, and Eugene.  All of the sons were born in either Langhorne, PA, or Philadelphia.  Most were involved in the same trade as their parents – working in textile factories in Philadelphia.

Henry, the oldest, was my grandfather.  Two of the sons died young from tuberculosis – Louis in 1940 at the age of 24, and Victor in 1951 at the age of 32.  Neither Louis nor Victor had any children.

Walter was born on 08 July 1913 and died in April 1975.  At some point during his life, he changed his surname (most likely not legally as one would today) from Pater to Miller, his mother’s maiden name.  This is the name under which his death is registered; however, it is not clear if he used Miller for marriage or as the surname for his children.  Walter was married at least three times, possibly to a Jean and two women named Helen.  He has two known children: Barbara Patsy (estimated birth year 1938-1940) and Louis (estimated birth year 1941-1943).

Eugene was born on 19 July 1920 and died in January 1979.  It is not known when he was married or to whom, but he had at least three children: Gloria Jean (estimated birth year 1945), Larry (Lawrence? Laurence?), and Pauline (who was called Polly).  Larry and Polly were younger than Gloria Jean.

Because of the surname change to the more common name of Miller, and because of the female children, I have not had success in tracing these cousins. If there are any Pater or Miller descendents from these individuals, I would love to hear from you!  For more information on the Pater family’s ancestry, as well as a photograph of Louis Pater (the husband of Elizabeth) and their oldest son, Henry, see the Pater Family Page.

April 16, 1909 – Welcome to America!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of my great-grandmother, Elżbieta Müller, to the United States.  She soon Americanized her name to Elizabeth Miller, and the following year became Elizabeth Pater after marriage.

The SS President Grant

The SS President Grant

Elizabeth sailed on the SS President Grant, a ship of the Hamburg-American line.  The ship left Hamburg, Germany, on April 3, 1909, and arrived at Ellis Island in New York City on April 16th.  The passenger arrival records for 1909 include a number of details that are not found on earlier records.  From Elizabeth’s arrival record, I learned the following information: She was an 18-year-old Polish dressmaker from “Zieraldow, Russia” who was able to read and write.  Her nearest relative in Poland was her father, Jan Müller, in Zieraldow.  Her destination was Philadelphia, PA to go to her brother, Emil Müller, at 2512 Palethorp Street.  The manifest indicates she was in posession of $4, but then “None” was written over it.  The record provides a physical description of her having light brown hair, gray eyes, and a height of 4’11”.  Her place of birth is indicated as Zieraldow, Russia.

Passenger arrival record of Elżbieta Müller, April 16, 1909, page 1 (click for larger image)

Passenger arrival record of Elżbieta Müller, April 16, 1909, page 1. She is on line #22. (click for larger image)

Page #2 of Elżbieta Müller's passenger manifest. (click for larger image)

Page #2 of Elżbieta Müller's passenger manifest. (click for larger image)

I take a special delight in her arrival above all other immigrant ancestors, because it is an example of one of my biggest mistakes in my genealogical research.  A name like “Elizabeth Miller” is very common, so her record was rather difficult to find.  There were immigrants that bore that name from Ireland, England, Russia, Poland, Germany, and Hungary.  Many years ago, very early in my genealogical quest, I thought I found her record.  Only to find out years later that I was wrong – and in fact, I had been tracing the incorrect family and birthplace all the while.  I forget exactly what prompted me to take a second look, but I’ll never forget my reaction to finding her actual record that I discuss above…”She’s from Żyrardów?!” I knew that the “Zieraldow” on the record was merely Żyrardów misspelled.  I kept repeating it to myself, smiling at my error.  You see, my first surprise was that my great-grandparents were not a married couple when they “came over”.  I wondered how they managed to marry the year after her arrival when my great-grandfather had been here for a few years as a young teenager.  The answer?  They were from the SAME TOWN – which is how I knew that “Zieraldow” was a misspelling (which I naturally proved through research as any genealogist would).

When I found this record, her real arrival record, there were several facts that confirmed or provided adequate proof that it was the correct person, including her age, father’s name, and brother’s name and address.

eliz_name1I noticed that the manifest had a big “X” next to her line number.  That is a signal that the passenger was detained for some reason, and there may be more information available.  For more information, see A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations. The key to finding  the additional information is to find the manifest (on either microfilm on online records), then scroll to the very end of the records for that ship and date of arrival.  At the end of the “normal” manifest listings, there is a record of detained passengers.  It appears that they detained Elizabeth because she had no money to get to Philadelphia, so she had to telephone her brother for money.  They discharged her from Ellis Island the following day, April 17th.  I wonder what was more stressful – traveling alone to a new country, or being held overnight once she got there?

Record of Detained Aliens on the USS President Grant.  Elizabeth's entry is line #248. (Click for larger image.)

Record of Detained Aliens on the USS President Grant. Elizabeth's entry is line #248. (Click for larger image.)

Besides my delight with this find after such a long search for the correct record, finding Elizabeth’s arrival was fun for me because she has the distinction among all of my great-grandparents and immigrant ancestors of being the only one that I met.  I don’t remember the event or how many times I actually met her, but my mother tells me that Elizabeth held me on her lap on at least one occasion.  To me, this knowledge gave me a more tangible “link” or connection to my immigrant ancestors.  She became more than a name or a face in a fuzzy photograph – I met her, even if I was too young to remember it.  My great-grandmother died in 1972 when I was five years old.

Today I commemorate her arrival to the U.S. and honor her for making that long journey alone to begin a new life in a new country.  Welcome to America, Elizabeth!  I am certainly glad you came.

Happy Dyngus Day!

The readers who are smiling at my subject line are of Polish descent – or they live in a city that has a big Polish population.  To my confused readers, let me explain – Dyngus Day (called Śmigus-dyngus in Polish) is a unique Polish tradition celebrated on Easter Monday.  On this day, boys get up early, sneak into girls’ houses, and douse them with a bucket of water.  Seriously!  The holiday is complicated, and like most holidays that combine pagan and Christian traditions, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  But it is a great excuse to party!

Dyngus Day is a blend of both pagan and Catholic customs that has evolved through the ages to become a fun day of celebration after the hardships of Lent.  The pagan practice of the pouring of water was once a fertility rite and a symbol of purification.  But the pouring of water also has the Catholic connotation of purification through baptism.  It was on Easter Monday in 966 AD that Prince Mieszko I was baptized into the Catholic faith – and Poland became a devout Catholic nation thereafter.  The sprinkling of water on this day became a way for Poles to celebrate this event and also celebrate the Easter resurrection of Christ.

However, Dyngus Day relies more heavily on the pagan elements of Polish culture, specifically the fertility element.  The idea behind boys splashing the girls indicated that the girls who were doused would get married that year.  In fact, after being splashed, the girls would give the boys an Easter egg in return – although some sources say that eggs were given to avoid a soaking.  On Easter Tuesday, the girls would get their revenge, or get their chance to flirt depending on how you look at it, by hitting the boys with pussy willows that traditionally bloom during this time of year.

In other words, Dyngus Day is an elaborate courting ritual.

My grandmother, who was born in America to Polish parents, remembered the holiday somewhat differently.  All of the essential elements were there, but instead of the courting aspect the day was more like an opportunity to play water pranks on unsuspecting individuals!

So, whether you are trying to woo someone, chase them away, or simply laugh as you completely soak someone, Dyngus Day is a day to celebrate.  Maybe you’re celebrating the joy of Easter Week, or that Lent is finally over, or that Spring is here (if you’re lucky enough to have Spring yet where you live), or that you’ve found someone you want to marry.  Whatever the reason to celebrate today, it’s everyone’s chance to be Polish!  Happy Dyngus Day!

[Written for the 18th Edition of the Carnival of Central & Eastern European Genealogy: Easter and Passover Traditions]

Uncle, Uncle!

My dad's Bergmeister uncles: Joe, Max, Julius, 1938

My dad's Bergmeister uncles: Joe, Max, Julius, 1938

Both of my parents had several uncles.  My father had four – his father had one brother and his mother had three.  Uncle Joe Perk, his father’s brother, was the only uncle who was not born in the U.S.  Born Jozef Piontkowski in Warsaw, Poland, he opted for the shorter surname “Perk.”  The three Bergmeister uncles were Joe, Max, and Julius.  He saw these three uncles more frequently growing up, especially Uncle Max who owned a candy store.  As you can imagine, having an uncle with a candy store made my father the envy of most of the neighborhood children.

My mom's Uncle Stanley

My mom's Uncle Stanley

My mother had six “natural” uncles – four from her father’s side and two from her mother’s (and three more through marriage!).  Her father’s brothers were Louis, Eugene, Water, and Victor.  Uncle Victor was my mother’s favorite, and she was devastated when he died at a young age.  My mother was only 15 years when he died in 1951; he was only 32. Her uncles on her mother’s side were Uncle Charley and Uncle Stanley.  Though they were brothers, they also used different surnames much like my father’s father and uncle.  Uncle Charley used his actual name, Kazimierz or Casimir Zawodny.  His brother Stanley changed his last name to Zowney.

With Uncle Ken, 2002

With Uncle Ken, 2002

Hearing my parents talk about their uncles always made me want to have one, but both of my parents only had one sister each.  I don’t have any “natural” uncles!  But that doesn’t mean I grew up uncle-less – fortunately, both of my aunts provided me with uncles through marriage.  Uncle Ken entered my life when I was 11 years old –  I’ve already told a few stories about him in a tribute to my aunt.  Uncle Ken was everything I could ask for in an uncle since he had a great sense of humor and was always ready to have an interesting conversation with me.  We shared many fun times with my aunt, especially on my visits to their boat when we’d cruise along the Delaware River and enjoy sunny days and each other’s company.

Uncle Stan and Aunt Jean, 2006

Uncle Stan and Aunt Jean, 2006

My Uncle Stan married my Aunt Jean before I was born, but much to my regret they were not much a part of my life until I was in my 30’s!  We try to make up for lost time though, and he is always ready to help me in any way he can.  He’s also ready to share advice, good stories, and a bottle of wine – in short, another uncle with all the qualities anyone would want in an uncle!

With Dad and "Uncle" Frank, 1978

With Dad and "Uncle" Frank, 1978

Besides uncles related by blood and those related through marriage, there is also another category – uncles by circumstance.  Such was the case with a man who was a big part of my childhood and teenage years, Frank.  Regular readers have already seen a photo of my dad and his best buddy Frank, so you know that this was a guy with an extraordinary sense of humor.  I never referred to him as “Uncle Frank” – in fact, I called him “Mr.  S*****” until I was an adult.  But he and his wife were such good friends with my parents and I saw them so often that I think of them as my uncle and aunt.  Besides keeping me me laughing for so many years, my “uncle” Frank also taught me much about our Catholic faith and how to live a faith-filled life.

Even though neither of my parents had a brother, I’m grateful to my aunts for giving me uncles and to my parents for giving me an adopted uncle.  I’m proud to have had these three great men in my life!  Everyone needs an uncle, so if you don’t have one through birth or marriage, find a great guy to adopt as your uncle – you’ll be glad you did.

[Written for the 70th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Uncle, Uncle!]