Searching a common surname like Miller is challenging, but even more so because this particular surname is common not in one or two countries, but in many from Ireland and Great Britain and crossing throughout Europe to Russia, German, Poland, Hungary, and more. In the U.S., there are even a mix of races that bear the name. So where does one begin? I started with the few facts I knew and tried to piece together “the rest of the story” through genealogical records. This is the story of the Miller family from Poland – three Miller families, to be exact. Are they related, or are they simply neighbors who shared a common surname?
The mystery began while researching my 2nd great-grandfather’s immigration record – but he is not a Miller! Józef Pater, from Żyrardów, Poland, came to the US on 18 February 1905 on the SS Graf Waldersee sailing from Hamburg to New York. On his passenger arrival record, the person there to meet him was listed as “cousin, Carl Mach, Phila. Pa. Palethorp 2518.”
The word “cousin” did not always mean a direct blood relationship – it could also be synonymous with friend or neighbor, especially if the new immigrant thought he needed family to be “let in” the new country. But, it could also mean an actual cousin relationship – either between those two men, their wives, or some combination of each. Thus began some extensive research on someone that I was not even sure I was related to in order to determine if a familial relationship did exist. I was curious about who this man was and how he knew my ancestor. If he was related, it’s best to leave no clue un-researched – you’ll never know what you might find out unless you try.
Further research about the mysterious Mr. Mach has shown no proof of any familial relationship to Józef (Joseph) Pater, his parents, or his wife, Antonina Pluta Pater. In fact, according to census and other records, Carl is ethnically German while the Pater family is Polish. However, Carl’s wife, Sofia, was Polish. Because her mother and brothers were living with the Mach’s for the 1910 census, I was able to learn her maiden name – Miller. This definitely caught my attention – while Miller is not a family surname for either Józef Pater or his wife, it would become a family name of sorts for their grandchildren when their son, Ludwig (Louis) Pater, married Elżbieta (Elizabeth) Miller several months after the 1910 census enumeration. Is it possible that the two families, or my two great-grandparents, were distantly related as cousins?
Now there were two Miller families – the Miller’s related to Carl Mach as well as Elizabeth Miller and her family, a brother. To add to the confusion, for the 1910 census Elizabeth is living with yet another Miller family although she is not listed as a relative. Further research into each of these families shows that they are all from Żyrardów. They are also all living on the same street in Philadelphia. But are they all related? After all, Miller is a very common surname. But is it common enough for there to be so many families in such close proximity that are not related?
As a spelling note, the various records I have used in researching these families show two spellings for the surname, Miller and Müller. These two spellings are used interchangeably for many of the individuals in these posts from all of the families. For the sake of simplicity, I will only use the spelling “Miller”. Mach is occasionally spelled as Mack. The following first names are also interchangeable depending upon the record – the first one shown, the anglicized version, will be used throughout these posts: Carl-Karl, Carolina-Karolina, Sophia-Sophie-Zofia, John-Jan, Elizabeth-Elżbieta, Louis-Ludwig, Joseph-Józef.
The Miller’s and Mach’s
The first family to investigate was Carl Mach and his Miller in-laws. I was able to find quite a bit of information about Carl in records that are readily available. Carl Mach was born on 24 September 1871 in Friedrichsgratz, Germany, the son of John and Caroline Mach. This town is now Grodziec, Poland, located near the current border of Austria and the Czech Republic. Although this is only the birthplace of Carl and not, as far as I can determine, the birthplace of any of my direct Miller ancestors, this town’s history adds credence to some of the unconfirmed stories about my great-grandmother. The town was founded by Protestant Czech immigrants, called the Bohemian Brethren, who were fleeing religious persecution in the mid 18th century. The town, then in Prussia, was called Bedrichuv Hradec. In German it was called Friedrichsgratz in honor of Prussia’s Frederick II, who was trying to re-settle the area after the devastation of the Silesian wars between Austria and Prussia. The Czech Hradec became Grodziec in Polish. The mix of Czech, German, and Polish settlers were weavers, and many later moved to the larger towns of Łódż and Żyrardów, both of which were places of residence for my Miller families.
Żyrardów is listed as Carl Mach’s last residence in Poland on both his passenger arrival records and on his naturalization record. He likely married Sophia Miller around 1895, possibly in Żyrardów. Sophia was born on 27 February 1872 to Carl Miller and Carolina Bornof. On 18 April 1903, the couple immigrated to the United States aboard the SS Pretoria sailing from Copenhagen to New York. The relative they are meeting is Carl’s cousin, “J. Helmansh” at 2326 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia. I have been unable to find more information about this individual.
By 1910 the couple is living on 2518 N. Palethorp Street in Philadelphia. Several Miller relatives begin to immigrate, all declaring Carl Mach as their brother-in-law on their passenger arrival records.
First was John Miller who arrived on 22 November 1906. He was 22 years old and from Warsaw, but the list indicated that he had lived in London for the last 3 years. He was going to his brother-in-law, Carl Mach, on 2518 Palethorp Street.
On 27 October 1907, two married women arrive in Philadelphia – 31-year-old Maria Miller and 30-year-old Magdalena Miller. The passenger arrival record is a bit confusing as to the relationship – they are listed as both the cousin and sister of each other. The relative they are going to is Maria’s husband c/o K. Mach at 2518 Palethorp. The list indicates that they were met “by cousins, same name, here 4 months.”
In the 1910 Census, Carl Mach is listed as the head of the household at 2518 N. Palethorp. In addition to wife Sophia, Kathalina (or Karolina) Miller, age 65, is listed as Carl’s mother-in-law. Two brothers-in-law are also residing with them: Carl Miller, age 35, and John Miller, age 29. Both brothers are listed as single; their presumed mother is listed as a widow. I attempted to find passenger arrival records for Carl and Kathalina, but I was unsuccessful so far.
I did find a WWI draft card for John with the right age and address. It lists his birth date as 24 December 1883. He is living at 2519 Palethorp with his nearest relative as Charles Miller on 3200 Lee Street. Is Charles really Carl? There is a WWI draft registration card for Charles Miller, 3235 N. Lee Street, who was born on 09 September 1875 in Russia. He is also a weaver and lists his nearest relative as his wife, Mary Miller. Was Mary the “Maria” on the 1907 passenger list?
Sometime between 1911 and 1917, Carl and Sophia leave the United States and return to Żyrardów. The exact year is not clear because the information is crossed out and written over on Carl’s return arrival record. Carl returns to the United States aboard the SS Mongolia, which arrived in New York on 11 September 1923. He lists his sister, Karolina Swoboda, as his relative in the U.S. In 1924, Carl is living at 2519 Palethorp Street. On 23 April 1924, Carl declared his intention to become a citizen and was living down the street at 2540 N. Palethorp.
Sophia joins her husband on April 6, 1929, arriving aboard the SS Hellig Olav that sailed to New York from Copenhagen. I wrote more about Sophia’s return ticket in Bank Records: Another Resource for Tracing Immigrants, which was about an unusual record group in Ancestry’s catalog, the Philadelphia Immigrant Bank records.
By 1929, the Mach’s were living at 2958 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, about a mile away from their previous home on Palethorp Street. His naturalization petition was filed in January, 1929 and finalized on April 25, 1929. They would remain at this address until their deaths. Sophia died on 07 January 1941, and Carl died the following year on 27 October 1942. Both are buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia. They did not have any children. The only relative of Carl himself that I was able to find is his sister, Karolina, who was married to Joseph Swoboda. When I went to Greenmount Cemetery to visit the grave of Carl and Sophia, I also discovered the fate of one of the Miller “sister-in-laws”. Although there is no headstone for her, Magdalena Miller is also buried there. According to her death certificate, she died on April 1, 1910 and was the wife of Carl Miller of 2536 Palethorp Street.
It is unfortunate that no one ever put the final date on Carl's headstone, making his life seem unfinished.
In Part Two of The Millers’ Tale, I’ll provide the details on my Miller family and try to figure out how or if they are connected to Mr. and Mrs. Mach.
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