Weekend with Shades: If You Don’t Have a Photo, Choose One!

pope john paul ii shadesIt’s time for my monthly “Weekend with Shades” column at Shades of the Departed, The Humor of It.  This month read all about my obsessive search for photos of my ancestors and my hopefully humorous musings on what to do if you don’t have any in “Will the Real Pointkowski Great-Grandparents Please Stand Up?”

I’d choose the nice Polish fellow sporting shades pictured here to be my ancestor, but if he was my ancestor he wouldn’t have been pope!

Previous “Weekend with Shades” columns:


Passenger Lists: The Way It Was!

microfilmThis week I am highlighting some random facts about passenger lists.  Today’s post won’t offer any helpful searching hints or useful sites.  Instead, let’s journey down memory lane to the good old days before we did our research on the internet.  Wait, why exactly do we call them the good old days?

If you are a “new” genealogist, you may be surprised to learn that in those dark old days before passenger arrival records were available online, copies could be obtained from NARA. They still can be ordered from NARA, but most people choose to save a digital copy from the various search sites, or simply print their own copy instead.  But back then, getting a copy through NARA was the only way to “own” the image.  The best thing about it? The photocopy measured 17” x 22” – big enough to read every detail!  I have wondered if this was close to the size of the original documents (I’ve asked NARA but did not receive an answer).  Being able to print a manifest sheet on your own computer is wonderful, but shrinking it to 8 ½ x 11” just isn’t the same.

Also back before the lists were available online, the index/soundex to the lists consisted of microfilmed index cards that would reference a group and a line number.  The group number was the page, and the line was the line on that page. That does not sound very difficult, but the problem was that the pages were not clearly numbered.  In fact, there were usually multiple numbers, either handwritten or stamped, at the top of every page. Case in point – here are two images…one is the left-hand side of the top of the page, the other is the right-hand side.  Note the multiple numbers!

pl 1Will the real page number please reveal yourself?

pl 2

Once you figured out which one of these was the actual group number, then it was easy.  But, jumping directly to the page in question is a big time saver in research!  I consider this one to be like the difference between using a tv remote and getting up to change the channel on the television (if you’re old enough to remember what that was like).  Sure, you can change it by hand, but it’s so much easier to change it from the couch!

Passenger Lists: Manifest Markings

This week I am highlighting some random facts about passenger lists.  Today’s random question: did you ever wonder what all those scribbles are on the manifest?

The best information I have ever found on the various markings is at Manifest Markings hosted on Jewish Gen.  If you have immigrant ancestors and have not seen this site, you are in for a delightful learning experience.  You’ll learn all about the miscellaneous letters, numbers, and checkmarks that fill up every square inch of the arrival record.

If you’ve been searching for immigrant ancestors in the passenger lists, you may have noticed that some names have dates and numbers that appear to be added around the name in a different handwriting.  Often these are records of naturalization proceedings for the immigrant.

A passenger's record of nauralization years after his arrival in the U.S.

A passenger's record of nauralization years after his arrival in the U.S.

Another useful bit of information is the casual X that marks the spot next to some passengers names, but not all.  If you see an X next to your immigrant’s name, that is a sign that they were detained at the port for some reason.  Often, if you scroll to the very end of the ship’s lists, you may find more info on why they were detained or for how long.

This is a detainee list at the end of a ship's arrival records.  The last entry shows my great-grandfather with his brothers, sister, and brother-in-law.

This is a detainee list at the end of a ship's arrival records. The last entry shows my great-grandfather with his brothers, sister, and brother-in-law.

In the above instance, my great-granfather and his family were detained because his older brother had a physical deformity.  Fearing he would be a “LPC” or Likely Public Charge (unable to work and required to live off of government assistance), he needed to be examined by a doctor.  Also, two of the boys were under 16 years old and traveling with their older sister and her husband.

This case was a “special inquiry” and they were detained for several days. But most of the detainees were simply held to telegraph for money so that they could travel to their final destination.

Overall, this is a very useful site to help you get a better understanding of the passenger arrival records as well as the process that the immigrant had to go through in order to enter the country.

Passenger Lists: Accidental Discoveries

This week I am highlighting some random things about passenger arrival records.  Today’s focus: accidental discoveries in Ancestry.com records!

Friends in the Days Before Facebook

For some ports, Ancestry.com indexes don’t just have the names of the passengers, but also the names of their friends that were already in the U.S. waiting for them.

For Philadelphia passenger lists, I found this out quite by accident.  What this means is that if you enter a name into the search field, you’ll get hits not only for manifests with immigrants of that name, but also if that person was listed as the point-of-contact for an immigrant.  This is an excellent way to find possible relatives!

For example, a search for “Emil Muller” yielded the following results:

Ancestry screen Emil

But who are those last two people?  Their names are not Emil Muller!  Both listed someone by that name as their friend in this country.  See the detail on Anna Trepke’s record under “Friend’s Name”:

Ancestry screen Emil 2

In this particular instance, Anna wound up being a sister-in-law of the Emil Muller that I was researching (based on his home address and relationship on the record).  The name was previously unknown to me before beginning the search.

I have only found this for Philadelphia passenger arrival records so far.The results were the same when I used Steve Morse’s One-Step Search for the Philadelphia arrivals.  The major difference is that Ancestry brought up the “friend” records in addition to the records for passengers with that name.  For Steve’s site, you have to enter the name as either the passenger or the friend.

Steve’s search also has the “friend” field listed for New York arrival records, but I tried various names that I know were listed as the friend on arrivals and the search (forwarded to Ancestry) did not find any of them.  I don’t believe this field is indexed as it is for Philadelphia passenger arrival records.  I have not tried any other ports, but if you find “friends” indexed in other records, please leave a comment!

Just Passing Through

Immigrants who sailed from English ports like Liverpool and Southampton may still be found in the Hamburg, Germany passenger list indexes!  Why?  Because many European immigrants first sailed from Hamburg to Great Britain to get to their ship that would take them to America.

This was another accidental find while searching for one of my surnames.  I knew my great-grandfather’s brother, Stefan Zawodny, sailed from Liverpool on 16 May 1903 and arrived in Philadelphia on 30 May.  So I was surprised to find a record in the Hamburg indexes, because I assumed they were passengers sailing from Hamburg to various ports.  I had forgotten about the indirect sailings from Hamburg to Great Britain.  In the Hamburg passenger lists I found him departing for Liverpool on 08 May!

Find more information about the Hamburg passenger lists here.  This highlights the fact that our ancestors had a very long journey to get to the United States.

The Millers’ Tale: Part Three

The previous posts have discussed two other Miller families.  Part One focused on the Miller family related to Carl Mach and his wife, Sophia Miller Mach.  Part Two was about my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller and her brother, Emil Miller, and his family.  But there is yet another Miller family with a “connection” of sorts to my family.

To add to my Miller confusion, in 1910 Elizabeth Miller (she would not marry Louis Pater for a few more months) is also living on Palethorp Street at #2543.  She is listed as a border with another family named Miller – Otto, age 32, wife Stella, 28, and their children Victor, 4, and Jennie, 7.  All are Polish and born in Russia.  Also living there as a border is Olga Olchak, who will serve as a witness with Emil Miller to Elizabeth’s marriage to Louis Pater. So who is Otto?

In trying to research Otto, I have concluded that the name is incorrect in the 1910 enumeration.  I believe he is actually Adolph Miller (the German “Adi” could sound like “Otto”) and daughter Jennie is actually “Hennie,” short for Henrietta.  These names and ages match up with the Adolph Miller family in the 1920 and 1930 census.  Although the family lives in the same neighborhood and their names and ages match the family that Elizabeth lived with in 1910, I have no proof that this is the same family.  I have not been able to locate their arrival records to see who their relative in the US was.  But, I did uncover one other interesting fact that might link them to the other Millers – according to Adolph’s draft registration, he was born on 24 October 1877 in Żyrardów.

What is the result of this research besides additional questions? My “conclusion” sounds like the ending to an old-time radio serial – Is Sophia Mach a cousin of the Pater’s?  Is Emil Miller the brother of Elizabeth?  Are they siblings of Sophia Mach?  Is Elizabeth a cousin to her own husband or his parents?  Are any of the three Miller families related to each other? Stay tuned next week for more of The Millers’ Tale!

We have the Miller’s associated with Mr. Mach – his wife, Sophia (b. 1871) as well as her brothers John (b. 1881) and Carl/Charles (b. 1875) and possibly their mother, Kathalina/Karolina (b. 1845).  There are also two Miller wives – Maria (b. 1876) and Magdalena (b. 1877).  Magdalena was married to Carl and is buried with the Mach’s.

Here are two men named Karl Mueller coming to the US courtesy of Carl Mach - friend, cousin, or brother-in-law?
Here are two men named Karl Mueller coming to the US courtesy of Carl Mach – friend, cousin, or brother-in-law?

Next are my Miller siblings, Elizabeth and Emil. Elizabeth (b. 1891) married Louis Pater in 1910 and had five sons in Philadelphia: Henry (1912), Walter (1913), Louis (1916), Victor (1919), and Eugene (1920).  Emil (b. 1881) married Sophia (b. 1885) and had at least three children: Sophia (1905), Edward (1907), and Helen (1909).  Apparently only Edward and his mother died in the United States while the others returned to Poland. Sophia may have had a sister, Anna Trepke (b. 1890), who only stayed in the US for a few months.

Adolph, or Otto, Miller is the third Miller family whose only connection to the above two families are the same home town, living on the same street, and renting a room to Elizabeth Miller.  Adolph (b. 1877) married Stella (b. 1882) and had at least two children: Henrietta (1903) and Victor (1906).

Three Miller families, two towns (Żyrardów – Philadelphia), and one street – the 2500 block of Palethorp Street.  Miller may be a common name, but it would be a significant coincidence if there is no family connection among these families.  Only more research will prove it!  Searching for a common surname has proven to be challenging, but with a little persistence you can slowly peel back the layers of history and the mystery that surrounds family history.  Or in this case – the family history of three families.

The Millers’ Tale: Part Two

The last post, Part One, detailed the Miller family associated with Carl Mach and his wife, Sophia.  In this post, I will detail my own Miller family – and their connections to Mach and his family.

My great-grandmother, Elżbieta or Elizabeth Miller, was born on 19 November 1890 – presumably in Żyrardów although the actual record has not yet been found.  She immigrated to the U.S. on 16 April 1909 aboard the SS President Grant sailing from Hamburg to New York.  The passenger arrival record indicates that she is meeting her brother, Emil Miller, who lives on 2512 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.

eliz_nameBefore doing any actual research, I had been told some basic facts about Elizabeth and her family.  I knew that she had a brother, name unknown, with a wife, Sophie, and 3-4 children, some born in Philadelphia.  Before WWI, the brother’s family returned to Poland and was not able to come when World War I began.  Her brother died there, as well as one of his daughters.  After the war was over, Sophie eventually returned to the US (she was called Aunt Miller by her nephew, my grandfather).  Their son also returned – Edward, who was born here.  Another daughter – or possibly two daughters – remained in Poland, married, and had children – Andre and Wanda.  Edward was married to Bella, and possibly moved to Chicago.  Elizabeth had a “large family” with brothers in New York.  Sure, let’s search for some Miller boys in New York City – that ought to be easy!  But I was later amazed to verify at least some of this information.

I knew that Emil was here before his sister Elizabeth, and I found a passenger arrival record showing Emil arriving on 13 July 1905 in New York, sailing on the SS Pennsylvania from Hamburg.  Much to my surprise, the relative he is going to is none other than Mr. Carl Mach, who is listed as his brother-in-law and lives at 2518 or 2519 N. Palethorp Street.  While this seems to imply that Emil is the brother of Sophia Miller Mach (and therefore Elizabeth is her sister), my research only had more questions – the biggest of which involves the name of their mother.

Emil lists himself as Carl’s brother-in-law; however, if Kathalina is really Sophia’s mother, then, at least according to the 1910 census, she has four children still living.  If Sophia, Charles, and John are her children, that leaves room for only one other…and if Emil and Elizabeth are brother and sister, then the math doesn’t quite work out.  Plus, according to Elizabeth in various records including her social security application, her mother’s name is Elizabeth, not Kathalina or Karolina, and her father is John, not Carl.  I would argue that they may be half siblings with different mothers, but Elizabeth is younger than the others and Kathalina/Karolina, presumably the first wife, is still alive.  Instead, I think Elizabeth and Emil are related to the other Miller’s, but as cousins or aunts/uncles.

First, is this Emil on the arrival record Elizabeth’s brother?  Based on age, location, and destination, it is likely.  Elizabeth’s brother Emil is listed on both her arrival record in 1909 and on her marriage record in 1910 as a witness.  While I have no record that lists Emil’s parents’ names, Elizabeth’s SS application lists her father as John Miller and her mother as Elizabeth Smetana.  This is confirmed on her marriage record as well.  Her 1909 arrival record verifies that her father, Jan (or John), is still alive and living in Żyrardów.

Sophie Miller Mach’s records show a father’s name of Carl Miller and a mother named Katharina (per 1910 census – though difficult to read) or Karolina (per her death certificate, filled out by her husband).  So, how is Emil the brother of Sophie Mach?

In 1905, Emil’s wife and daughter, both named Sophia, arrive in the US.  The elder Sophia is 20 years old, last residence Warsaw (the closest large city to Żyrardów), and is joining her husband Emil Miller at 2518 Palethorp Street.  The daughter Sophia is 11 months old.  Note that this is the address where the Mach family is living at this time.

On the 1910 census, Emil and Sophia are living at 2512 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.  In addition to Sophia, who is now 5 years old, they have two children born in Pennsylvania: Edward, age 3, and Helena, age 1 and 3 months.  Living with the family are two boarders, Joseph Swoboda and A. Witkowski.  Joseph Swoboda is Carl Mach’s brother-in-law, which shows yet another connection to the Mach family, who is living only three doors away on Palethorp Street at #2518.

I also found a passenger arrival record listing Emil Miller on Palethorp Street as a “brother-in-law” – but I had never heard of this individual!  Anna Trepke, age 20, arrived in Philadelphia aboard the SS Merion on 11 May 1910.  Her last residence was Żyrardów.  She is listed as single – if this is accurate, she may be Sophia Miller’s sister.  If she was the wife of Emil’s brother, her last name would be Miller.  Interestingly, Anna does not stay in the United States very long.  I found her on a list of incoming passengers to the U.K. later that year.

But Anna was not the only person to return to the home country. While the US did not retain outgoing passenger lists to track immigrants returning to the home country, I was actually able to confirm the family story that Emil and his family returned to Poland using records from the Russian Consular Office in Philadelphia.  These records, available through the National Archives and Records Administration, show an application for passport or visa in Russian for Emil Muller and his family.  While the date is not specific, they are filed in 1910 – presumably after Elizabeth’s marriage on 25 August.  Why did Emil return to Żyrardów?  My theory is that perhaps his father or other family member either died or was dying, but I have not been able to confirm this.  It is noted that Carl and Sophie Mach also return to Żyrardów – was it for the same reason?

I searched for the return records.  There is an arrival for Edward A. Miller returning to New York on 30 May 1927.  Is this the son of Emil and Sophia?  The list specifically names him as “Edward Arthur Miller” with a birth date of 09 February 1907 in Philadelphia; Edward was born in February 1907, but I do not have a record of Arthur as a middle name (I have not looked up his birth or baptismal record).  Even so, this Edward Miller lists 2958 Lawrence Avenue in Philadelphia as his destination – the same address as the Mach family!

On the left is Sophia Miller, known as "Aunt Miller", around 1947.  With her are Elizabeth Miller's husband, Louis Pater, and Mae Zawodna, the wife of their son Henry.

On the left is Sophia Miller, known as "Aunt Miller", around 1947. With her are Elizabeth Miller's husband, Louis Pater, and Mae Zawodna, the wife of their son Henry.

Sophia Miller, age 44 and widowed, returns from Żyrardów on 14 August 1929.  Her destination was to her son Edward on the 2500 block of Hope Street.  Remember Joseph Pater and how this story all began?  This is his house.  The only relationship between them, at least that I can figure out, is that Sophia and Edward are the sister-in-law and nephew of his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Miller Pater.  This seems to corroborate the family story as told by my grandfather that Sophia’s husband and two children, including one that was born in the U.S., did not return here.

As far as the rest of the story about this family moving to Chicago, I did find a death record for Sophie Miller in December, 1962.  I have not yet found more information on her son Edward or the family that stayed behind in Poland.

The final post in The Millers’ Tale, Part Three, will discuss yet another Miller family and come to some conclusions.

The Millers’ Tale: Part One

Miller graphicSearching 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.”

1910 Mach excerptIn 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, giving his life an unfinished appearnace.

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.

SSDI: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

The Social Security Death Index, called the SSDI, is a wonderful took for genealogists.  The SSDI is available for free on various sites, including Ancestry.com and Genealogy Bank.  Steve Morse even has a one-step search tool for it.  The SSDI is useful because it provides the birth and death date for individuals that applied for a social security card.  More importantly, if you request a copy of the person’s actual application, called the SS-5, you may find out the parents’ names as well as where the person worked at that time.   If the person was an immigrant, they often state their full birthplace including the town (but many times just put the country of birth).

This great-aunt was so "great" about identifying her place of birth that it led me right to my great-grandmother's birthplace.

This great-aunt was so "great" about identifying her place of birth that it led me right to my great-grandmother's birthplace.

The Bad

Some beginning researchers give up too soon – if they don’t find the name in the index, they assume that that individual never applied for social security.  That is not always the case – the index was compiled around 1962, and many earlier deaths were not included.

I have several ancestors who actually applied for social security but were not listed in the SSDI.  Both died prior to the 1962 cutoff for indexing:

  • Joseph Zawodny, 1880 – 1944, applied 04/01/1938
  • Louis Pater, 1893 – 1957, unknown date of application

You won't find him in the SSDI.

You won't find him in the SSDI.

The Ugly

Did you know that the name in the SSDI can be spelling incorrectly?  Both of my grandparents are listed as POINTKOWSKI in the SSDI.  I have a copy of my grandfather’s SS-5 from November, 1936 – one year after President Roosevelt began the Social Security program.  On the application, he quite clearly spells his name as POINTKOUSKI.  I guess he never bothered to correct them once they started sending him checks!  It’s a good thing they didn’t ask for much in 1936 in the form of documentation.  If he had to produce his birth certificate, he would have had a difficult time explaining why it lists his last name as KINCOSKI.  His parents’ actual surname was PIONTKOWSKI, but neither seems to have applied for social security prior to their deaths in 1937 and 1942.

Some researchers get frustrated when they can’t find their ancestors in the SSDI.  However, when it first came about it did not include several categories of workers including state or city employees or those that were self-employed.  This explains why two of my grandmother’s brothers are nowhere to be found – one was a fireman, and one ran his own business.  Also, if for some reason a person’s death was not reported to the Social Security Administration, it will not be listed in the SSDI.

Read more about the SSDI at Joe Beine’s Death Indexes site – The Social Security Death Index

Back to School

SchoolDaysI recently had the pleasure of posting all of my old grade school class pictures on Facebook for my classmates to see. Many said, “You still have those?”  The others decided it was because I was a genealogist, which is better than being called a pack rat.  I never dreamed I’d find any school photos from my grandparents’ days, but my aunt presented me with this gem – my grandfather’s 8th grade class photo in 1923.  It is the Horatio B. Hackett public school in Philadelphia, which is still educating youngsters today.

Graduating Class of Horatio B. Hackett School, Philadelphia, PA, 1923

Graduating Class of Horatio B. Hackett School, Philadelphia, PA, 1923

My grandfather, James Pointkouski, is in the second row from the top, the second boy to the right.  Here is a close-up:

Pop_age13In this photo he is about a month shy of 13 years old – the  youngest age of any of his photographs.  From what his children said, he loved going to school and did very well.  He would have loved to continue through high school and college, but like many kids in those days he was not able to finish high school because he had to work to help support his parents.

In June I posted the class photo from his son’s 8th grade graduation in 1948.  If I could find a class photo for my brother’s class in 1973 it would make a nice collection of the patrilineal line at the same age.

[Submitted for the 16th edition of Smile for the Camera: School Days.]