The Bergmeister Family Tree (Bavarian Military Rosters Part 5 of 5)

How is Josef Bergmeister related to “my” Josef Bergmeister?

Our story began when I discovered a reference to a Josef Bergmeister who died fighting for Germany in World War I.  This Josef was from Puch, the hometown of my great-grandfather of the same name.  The town is very small, so I assumed they were related.  Thanks to Ancestry’s release of the Bavarian World War I Personnel Rosters, I learned more about Josef, including when he was born, his parents’ names, and how he died in 1916.  In fact, I learned about many other Bergmeister men, too.  Although the indexing is not yet complete (see the main search page for more details), there are thirteen Bergmeister men listed.  Of these, eight are directly related to my great-grandfather – including Josef whose name was inscribed on the memorial in Puch.  With the help of my cousin Armin Bergmeister, I’ve assembled the following tree showing the names of the Bergmeister men up until the World War I timeframe. Click on the image to enlarge.

The soldier Josef and my great-grandfather Josef are first cousins once removed.  Josef’s own first cousin, Anton, also died in the war just weeks before him.  With their deaths, the Bergmeister family in the town of Puch ended.  Other Bergmeister relatives had moved to other towns in Bavaria as well as the United States, but nearly three hundred years of the Bergmeister family in Puch came to an abrupt end.  Both Josef and Anton were second cousins to my grandmother and her three brothers that were born in the United States (and their German-born sister).

My great-grandfather also lost two of his second cousins in the war, Sigmund and Hermann.  Two of his third cousins (Andreas and Magnus) fought as well as his third cousin’s son, Anton, and his 5th cousin Ignatz.

I chose to focus on the soldier Josef for this story, but each of the soldier’s stories – as gleaned from the rosters – is worth remembering.  Unfortunately, we have no photograph of Josef, but thanks to my cousin Armin I can share a photograph of one of these Bergmeister soldiers, Sigmund – Armin’s grandfather.  Sigmund died on 15 August 1916 at the age of 31, leaving behind one child.   His brother Hermann died less  than two years later at the age of 24, leaving behind two children.

Lieutenant Sigmund Bergmeister, 1885-1916

There are many men named Josef on the Bergmeister family tree.  I am currently familiar with cousins from three distinct lines of descent: 1) my own family’s descent through Josef (son of Josef, son of Jakob, son of Josef), 2) the line descended from Johann (son of Castulus, son of Jakob, son of Josef), and 3) the line descended from the soldier Sigmund (son of Sebastian, son of Simon, son of Josef).  In my own American line, the name Joseph Bergmeister was passed on and is currently owned by a handsome young man, my second cousin once removed.  He is the sixth straight Joseph/Josef Bergmeister – and would have been the 8th straight if it weren’t for his 4th great-grandfather, Jakob.  There is also a current Josef Bergmeister in Germany, my 3rd cousin once removed and a very charitable host along with his brother Hans and their wives.  They are both descended from the Castulus line. (See a photo of Castulus as well as my Josef on The Bergmeister Family page!)

So, one mystery was solved.  Thanks to the Bavarian military rosters, I now know more about Josef Bergmeister, the previously unknown soldier, as well as many other Bergmeister cousins my great-grandfather left behind when he came to America.

But wait!  Now there’s a new mystery…how are we all related to the other five men named Bergmeister listed in the personnel rosters?  We already have a hint that the “other” Philadelphia Bergmeister family is originally from the town of Hoerdt and is related to at least one of these men.  As to how far back we have to go to connect the two, and who the other four men are, those are mysteries still waiting to be solved!

Need help figuring out relationships and what “removed” cousins are?  See The Family Relationship Chart


The Great War and the Homefront (Bavarian Military Rosters Part 4 of 5)

What happened at the battle that cost Josef his life?  How were his American cousins affected by the same war?

In Part 3 we read Josef Bergmeister’s service record and discovered that he died as a result of injuries sustained during the battle of Fleury-Thiaumont in July, 1916.  Today’s post will discuss this battle in more detail.

The town names of Fleury and Thiaumont may not be familiar, but surely everyone has heard of the Battle of Verdun, the bloodiest and perhaps the longest battle in history.  The Battle of Verdun was a series of battles from 21 February – 19 December 1916 between the German and French armies on the Western Front.  The numbers alone paint a picture of what happened there.  In the end, an estimated 250,000 men were killed, and another 500,000 were wounded.  Approximately 40 million artillery shells were used by both sides during the fight.  The battlefield itself was not very large – just a long and narrow piece of land.

During the Battle of Verdun, the town of Fleury changed hands between the German and the French sixteen times.  The town was completely destroyed and is uninhabited today.  To the German army, the small town was the gateway to Verdun, which in turn would lead directly to Paris.  During the month of June, 1916, the Germans fought hard to move into the town.  By the end of June, it was reported that it was unbearably hot.

On 23 June, the Germans launched a chemical attack with 110,000 grenades of poisonous gas.  Although many French soldiers died from the chemical attack, their gas masks withstood the gas better than the Germans had expected.  But the chemical gas, constant bombardment from artillery, and the oppressive heat were all affecting the troops; both sides described the terrible stench from corpses rotting in the heat.  Josef Bergmeister’s first cousin, Anton Bergmeister, from the 10th Infantry Regiment, was killed here on 24 June at the age of 19.

By mid-July, the Germans were in control of Fleury, but there were many small attacks in the area in an effort to gain high ground and some fortifications.  On 12 July, the French received orders to regain Fleury.  A fierce battle was fought from 15-19 July in which each side attempted to gain more ground.

A photo of Bavarian soldiers in the trenches at Fleury used with permission from The Soldier's Burden,

Josef Bergmeister’s brigade (8th Company, 11th Bav. Infantry Regiment, 12th Bav. Brigade, 6th Bavarian Division) has missed the fighting in this area and had been fighting in St. Mihiel.  His regiment went into the front lines on 17-18 July and suffered such losses that a telegraph was sent to immediately send 500 replacement troops.  Did Josef know that his cousin Anton was killed at Thiaumont just weeks earlier?

Josef was injured by an artillery shell on 18 July in his arm and leg.  After being transferred to a hospital, he died on 01 August.  His comrades and his enemies continued the fight, and with each battle the area around Fleury and Thiaumont is captured and re-captured over and over with little meaning to the overall war effort.  Thousands lay dead on the battlefield.

Josef’s entire division left Verdun on 5 August, and by early September they were fighting another well-known and long series of battles: the Somme.  The division again endured considerable losses.  The Battle of Verdun continued through December 1916.  The final statistics show French casualties at Verdun as 371,000, including 60,000 killed, 101,000 missing and 210,000 wounded. Total German casualties are recorded as 337,000 men. The statistics also confirm that at least 70% of the Verdun casualties on both sides were the result of artillery fire.  Men like Josef Bergmeister that were taken from the battlefield to hospitals were given burials in cemeteries, but it is estimated that 100,000 men remain on the battlefield today – buried where they fell.

The site The Soldier’s Burden offers a detailed glimpse into the lives of the soldiers on all “sides” of the war and gives testament to their struggles and losses.  On a page recounting the battle in which Josef Bergmeister died, another Bavarian soldier, Hans Heiß of the Bavarian Leib Regiment, describes the battle.  I have reprinted most of the description with permission here:

A red streak in the starry night, then another, then another. They burst into red stars. Are they fireworks? A game? No, they are serious, deadly serious. Whizzing over Fleury and Douaumont. The Frenchies had noticed that we were being relieved and had called up an artillery barrage. A barrage meant hell!

Run Comrades, run for your lives!

There is the railway embankment… a ghostly area, keep running. The first salvo comes screaming in… flames, smoke… keep running… move forward. Into the hollow ground beyond… here hell opened up! Whizzing, Howling, gurgling the shells come in. Black earth, smoke and flames shoot up into the air. A wall of death.

Panting, the breath is stilted. Jumping from shell hole to shell hole… through! then FORWARD! Keep running!

Up the embankment, stumbling, falling. The heart beating in the throat…falling, getting up, continuing. Foam on the lips… up there, the large shell crater… get into it! Once there you can get your breath back. Almost there, there where they are all headed for.

Whizz, bang! Flame and smoke… right in the heavy shell hole! Don’t go in, pass it by!

Here they crawl forward, blood stained and blackened by smoke “Kamerad! Kamerad! For God’s sake… help me!” “And me!” “And me!”

Cannot, have to get forward into position… don’t listen, don’t look! Go past! Move… faster!

…. There! There! It is terrible, someone is burning. He tosses his burning backpack away but his uniform is burning. Ha, ha, ha! Laughing, laughing at the sky…he has gone mad.

Burying the head in the sand. See nothing, Hear nothing, think nothing!  Think nothing!

Then it was over and we could move forward.

It will be four days in the front line now. Four endless, terrible, desperate days. And four terrible nights. And if we survive… the same road through hell back again.

Two men pass carrying in a wounded man wrapped in a shelter half.  A whizz and a bang. Flame and smoke, all three men are swept away, the medics and wounded man ripped apart, gone forever. No! No! No further! Throw it all away, the backpack, rifle, gasmask… and now run! Run! Run far away.. far away from this hell…

Fleury today. The depressions remain from the artillery fire. Photo courtesy of Chris Boonzaier.

New York Times headline, December 31, 1918.

Meanwhile, in the United States German immigrants were far from the battlefield, but life was difficult in other ways.  The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  Germans living in the U.S. were warned to obey the law and surrender any weapons, explosives, or radios.  Any who did not comply were arrested.  Any non-naturalized German that was believed to be aiding the enemy were arrested and interred.  By December, 1917, all male Germans in cities with populations over 5,000 had to report to either the post office or police station to register; the same rules applied to female Germans the following May.

Most of these records no longer exist, but I did once see the list of Philadelphia “enemy alien registrations” (now missing).  In it were the names and addresses of my great-grandparents, Josef (now known as Joseph) and Marie Bergmeister, and their 20-year-old German-born daughter, Marie.  My great-grandfather had not yet declared his intent to become a citizen of the United States, but he had lived in the country since 1900.  Their four American-born children were safe from the registration requirements.

The Joseph Bergmeister living in America, despite being considered an “enemy alien” required to register with the authorities, was also required to register for the selective service act.  On 12 September 1918, he registered for military service with the U.S. draft board in Philadelphia, PA, but he was never called into service by the U.S. military.  Joseph’s brother Ignatz also registered with the draft board in Elizabeth, NJ on the same day.

Joseph Bergmeister's WWI draft card. Note that the German-born "Joseph" still signs his name Josef!

My relatives left no diaries or letters to reveal what they thought about these regulations, or about the war with their homeland, or if they knew the fate of their cousins in Germany or even kept in touch after immigration.  One can only wonder what it felt like to suddenly be considered “the enemy” in the country you called home for so many years.

In Part 5, the final post in this series on the Bavarian Military Rosters, we will discover how closely the two Josef Bergmeister’s are related and see how many Bergmeister men were involved in the war fighting for Germany.


The Service Record for Josef Bergmeister (Bavarian Military Rosters Part 3 of 5)

Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record

Who was Josef Bergmeister? How did he die?

In Part 1 of this series on Bavarian Military Rosters, I discovered an “unknown soldier” in the German Army that was likely related to my great-grandfather of the same name.  In Part 2, I presented what the Bavarian Military Personnel Record Books, or Kriegsstammrolle, looked like during World War 1.  Today we will explore the personnel record of the mysterious Josef Bergmeister – and finally learn the details of his short life and death.

Here is Josef’s personnel record (click on the image  – when it appears on the page, click again for a close-up):

Record for Josef Bergmeister. SOURCE: Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 > Band 00278-04011. Infanterie > Band 000344-02336. Infanterie-Regimenter > Band 01198-01258. 11. bayer. Infanterie-Regiment > 1227. Kriegstammrolle: Bd. 1

Before transcribing and translating the record, there are some sites will offer other researchers some assistance.  First, one must be familiar with German handwriting.  The best site I have seen on this topic is How to Read German Handwriting.  In addition, it may be useful to become familiar with some German military terms.  A good resource is the German-English Military Dictionary, which was compiled by the U.S. military in 1944.

First, the transcription of Josef’s record:

1.  Iaufende Nummer: 462

2.  Dienstgrad: Inf[antrist]

3.  Vor- und Familienname: Josef Bergmeister

4.  Religion: kath[olisch]

5.  Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt): Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern/ Datum der Geburt:19.04.1894

6.  Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe): Ökonom / Wohnort: Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

7.  Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist: ledig

8.  Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern: Johann und Therese Bergmeister, Ökonom, Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

9.  Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron: 11. I[nfantrie)-R[egiment], 8. Kp [=Kompanie]

10.  Dienstverhältnisse: a) frühere, b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung:

a)  ./.

b) 1915   1.7. b. II./E. 13. Inf. Rgt. 1. Rekr Depot als Rekrut
1915   12. 7 z. Rekr. Depot III b. A. K Komo F versetzt
1915   30.9 z. 10. I. R. 11. Kp. in Feld
1915   5.11. z. 8./11. I. R. versetzt

11.  Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen:  ./.

12.  Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen: 20.09.15 – 15.7.16 Kämpfe auf den Maashöhen; 15.7. – 8.7.16 Kämpfe um Fleury und Zwischenwerk Thiaumont

[Written in the section underneath: ]  Pocken- Typhus- und Cholera-Schutzimpfung vorgenommen
Am 18.07.1916 dh. A. G. [= durch Artilleriegranate] am r[echten] Fuß u[nd] l[inken] Arm schwer verwundet u[nd] ins Feldlaz[arett] No. 5 der I. d. eingeliefert. Am 20.7.1916 ins Etappenlazarett Pierrepont (:Schule:) überführt und dortselbst am 1.8.1916 nachm[ittags] 6:15 verstorben. Todesursache: Bruch r[echter] Oberschenkel (: Amputation) u[nd]Gasphlegmon.  Am 2.08.16 auf dem Militärfriedhof zu Pierrepont beerdigt. Grab No 493.  Anerkannt 18.9.1916 Leutnant d[er] R[eserve] u[nd] Komp[anie]-Führer

Rather than translate the record word for word into English, I will sum up the pertinent details.  Josef Bergmeister was born on 19 April 1894 in Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria to Johann and Therese Bergmeister.  He was an “economist” in Puch and single.  Josef entered the army as a recruit on 01 July 1915.  He was originally assigned to the 10th Infantry Regiment as an infantryman, but in November 1915 the regiment was combined with another and became the 11th Infantry Regiment.  On 15-18 July 1916 his unit took part in the battles at Fleury and Thiaumont in France.  On 18 July, Josef was severely wounded by an artillery shell.  He was taken to a field hospital and transferred to another hospital at Pierrepont on 20 July.  At 6:15 on 01 August, Josef died.  His cause of death is listed as amputation of crushed thigh and gangrene.  The following day he was buried in Grave No. 493 at the military cemetery in Pierrepont.  He was 22 years old.

Three Bavarian infantry soldiers in 1914.

Photo source: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With this record, I finally knew who Josef was.  Before I could connect him to my own Bergmeister family, I wanted to find out more about the battle in which he died.  My knowledge of World War I was poor, and now I was curious to learn more.  Part 4 will provide more details about this horrific battle which was part of a series of battles between the German and French armies from February through December of 1916 – the Battle of Verdun.  It will also give a glimpse into what life in America was like for German immigrants.  Finally, Part 5 will sort out who’s who in the Bergmeister family – how are the “Josefs” related?

Many thanks to my cousin (and Josef’s cousin) Armin Bergmeister for the record transcription and help with the translation into English!

The Kriegsstammrolle (Bavarian Military Rosters Part 2 of 5)

The Bavarian Military Rosters – What were they? What does it say?

In Part 1 – Cousins, Countries, and War – I spoke of the discovery of a German soldier with my great-grandfather’s name – Josef Bergmeister.  This particular Josef came from the same town my great-grandfather was born in – were they related?  Thanks to a new group of records available on, I was about to find out.  But first, what are these records?  What information do they have?  And more importantly – what do the German words mean?

[Note: A subscription to is required to view these records.  If you do not have a subscription, check on availability at your local library.]

The main search page (image shown above) for the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 is found here.  Whether you search for a surname or for a particular individual, you will notice what appears to be more than one entry per person in the search results.  For example, a search for “Josef Bergmeister” resulted in the following hits:

Based on the birth dates and town names, there appear to be records for two different men named Josef Bergmeister.  Why are there several records for each?  Because these personnel record books, or Kriegstammrolle, were kept for each military unit.  If a soldier was transferred to another unit, he was recorded in the personnel records for the new unit as well as the old.  In addition, there is a separate roster for the soldiers who died.  To get a soldier’s full story, you should look at each of the search results.

Fortunately, the personnel rosters seem to follow the same format.  Each book has two pages with fifteen columns of information.  The following images show the column headings and the English translations.

1 – Iaufende Nummer – Seriel Number

2 – Dienstgrad – Rank

3 – Vor- und Familienname – First and Last Name

4 – Religion – Religion

5 – [top] Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt) – Location (County, State of Birth)

[bottom] Datum der Geburt – Date of Birth

6 – [top] Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe) – Occupation (literally „position in life“) (Profession, Company)

[bottom] Wohnort – Place of Residence

7 – Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist – First and Last Name of Wife; Number of Children; Note that the person is Single

8 – Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern – First and Last Names, Occupation, and Place of Residence of Parents

9 – Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron) – Military Unit (Company, Squadron)

10 – Dienstverhältnisse – Service Relationship

a) frühere – earlier

b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung – after mobilization

11 – Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen – Orders, Decorations, and Other Awards

12 – Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen – Battles; Remarkable Acheivements

13 – Kommandos und besondere Dienstverhältnisse. Kriegsgefangenschaft.  – Commands and Special Service Conditions.  Prisoner of War.

14 – Führung. Gerichtliche Bestrafungen Rehabilitierung. – Leadership.  Judicial Punishments Rehabilitation.

15 – Bemerkungen – Remarks

Now that we know what the columns mean, how do we actually read a handwritten record?

Coming up in Part 3 we’ll transcribe and translate the service record for Josef Bergmeister.  As you can see from the information above, the record will tell us quite about about his life as well as his death.

Cousins, Countries, and War (Bavarian Military Rosters Part 1 of 5)

Who was a German soldier who bore my great-grandfather’s name?

In 1998, I visited my Bavarian great-grandparents’ town for the first time.  I was not well-prepared to do any genealogical research because the trip came about as a convenient accident, not through careful planning.  While I was in the general area for work-related travel, I knew I had to make a detour to their town, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Back then, I hadn’t traced either family too far back, but through my great-grandparents’ marriage record I knew that he, Josef Bergmeister, was from the nearby town of Puch, and she, Maria Echerer, was from Pfaffenhofen.

Some friends from a different region of Germany met me there – they thought it would be an amusing weekend trip to visit a “foreign” area of their own country and see their American friend.  One joked about this tiny town they drove through called Puch.  “Wait,” I said, “that’s my great-grandfather’s town!  Can you show it to me?”  They said yes, but assured me that it was so tiny, there wasn’t much to see.

The next day, we drove a 2-car convoy to Puch from Pfaffenhofen (approximately 8 miles).  They drove the lead car and came to a stop in what was presumably the center of town.  My friend got out of the car and  came up to my window asking, “Is there anything to actually see here?”

I was busy squinting over his shoulder.  “Yes,” I replied, pointing beyond where he stood, “there’s that!”

Memorial in Puch, Bavaria, Germany to the dead and missing soldiers from both world wars.

Who is Josef Bergmeister?

Who is this Josef Bergmeister?

We had stopped directly in front of a war memorial – every European town, no matter how small or large, has one.  On this particular monument to the sons of Puch who perished in the world wars, I noticed a familiar name – Josef Bergmeister, who died in 1916.  Another Josef Bergmeister from Puch?  Surely it was a cousin, or perhaps a nephew!  I took a photo of the monument and knew I’d find the answer one day.

My research continued on the Bergmeister line, but I focused on going backward so I never fully investigated the Josef who had died fighting in the war.  I eventually even met Bergmeister cousins who still live in Pfaffenhofen, but when I asked about the Puch relatives, they merely replied, “There are no more Bergmeisters in Puch.”

It remained a mystery.  I could have looked further into birth and death records to find the answer, but the records available from the Family History Center ended in 1900 and I did not write to the church or town directly for more information.

Josef remained my own personal “unknown soldier” – until now.  Recently added a new set of records to their growing international collection – the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918.  While my direct ancestors immigrated to the United States more than a decade before the first world war, I was able to find out significant information about the lives and deaths of the cousins they left behind.

Join me this week as I explore these records and tell Josef’s story.  Today’s introduction is Part 1 of a 5-part series which will include the following:

Surname Saturday: FISCHER

Surname – FISCHER

Meaning/Origin – The surname FISCHER really does mean “fisher” as in “fisherman.”  According to the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, the frequency of the name in Germany “is evidence of the former importance of this ancient occupation.”   I find it ironic that my particular Fischer’s were actually farmers!

Countries of Origin – The surname FISCHER is German; however the English spelling FISHER is considered to be of English origin.  If you are descended from a FISHER, you could have English ancestry or German ancestry in which the “C” was dropped to anglicize the name.  In fact, nearly every country has an “equivalent” name derived from the occupation of fisherman.  According to the Internet Surname Database,

Recorded in several spelling forms including the popular Fisher (English), Fischer (German), Fiszer (Czech and Polish), Visser (Dutch), de Vischer (Flemish), Fiser (Danish), Fisker (Norwegian), and many others, this interesting surname does seem to have a pre 7th century Old English origin. If so it is from the word ‘fiscere‘ meaning to catch fish, and it may be an occupational name for a fisherman, or it may be a topographical name for someone who lived near a fish weir on a river. Here the derivation is from the word “fisc” plus the Middle English “gere” a development of the Old Norse “gervi” meaning weir or apparatus. It may in some case be an Ashkenazic name for a fisherman from the Yiddish word “fisher“.

According to the World Names Profiler, for the spelling FISCHER the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Germany with 3,369 individuals per million, Switzerland wtih 3,104, and Austria with 2,139.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Hungary (605), Denmark (559), Luxembourg (553), the United States (359), and Canada (267).  The English spelling FISHER seems to be slightly less popular, and the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Australia with 1,211 individuals per million, the United Kingdom with 1,087, the United States with 914, Canada with 864, and New Zealand with 821.

Spelling Variations – As noted above, the most common variation is FISHER.  German variations include Fäscher, Ficher, Fischera, Fascher, and Vischer.

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the FISCHER surname in Germany and Austria. According to, there are nearly 102,000 people with the surname in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in California.  In Germany, there are 270,000 people with the surname, which makes it the 4th most popular surname in the country.  Even without the numbers, the surname’s popularity is evident on the map:

Distribution of the surname FISCHER in Germany.

SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database,, accessed January 16, 2010.

In Austria, the name was the 15th most common surname, and most Fischer’s live in the Wien area.

Distribution of the surname FISCHER in Austria.

SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database,, accessed January 16, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – There are many, many famous people with this surname including American chess champion Bobby Fischer, American actress Jenna Fischer, and German historian Fritz Fischer.  Wikipedia has a list of all the famous people with the Fischer surname.

My Family -My FISCHER family comes from Bavaria, and it is the surname of my great-great-grandmother, Margarethe Fischer.  My line of descent is as follows: Wolfgang Fischer (1775-1820) > Franz Xaver (b. 06 Oct 1813 in Agelsberg – d. unknown) > Margarethe (b. 21 Jan 1845 in Langenbruck – d. 04 Oct 1895 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm).

Margarethe married Karl Echerer on 18 May 1874 after her first husband, Bartholomew Kufer, died.  Their first child was Maria, born on 27 February 1875 – my great-grandmother.  Maria married Joseph Bergmeister in 1897 and they immigrated to the United States.  More information on their children can be found on the Bergmeister Family Page.  Maria’s youngest child, my grandmother, was named Margaret – presumably after her mother’s mother.  Margarethe and Karl had at least three other daughters, Magdalena, Teresia, and Christina, but I have not yet discovered if they lived to adulthood.  They also had at least one son, Karl, who was born on 28 June 1878.

My Research Challenges -My Fischer line is short so far.  The towns of Agelsberg and Langenbruck are very small, and the church is located in a town called Fahlenbach.  The LDS has microfilmed church records for this town going back to 1732, so I should be able to learn the names of the parents of Wolfgang Fischer.

Other Fischer Families -With a name as common as Fischer, there are a lot of other people researching Fischer’s!  There is a Fischer Family Genealogy Forum as well as an Ancestry Fischer Message Board. has a list of those researching both the Fischer and Fisher surnames.

Links to all posts about my Fischer family can be found here.

This post is #6 of an ongoing series about surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

Donna’s Picks: January 10, 2010

It’s Back!  The Return of “Donna’s Picks”! [Insert dramatic music here]  “Donna’s Picks” is my occasional feature to highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.   Sit back and enjoy the following links:

Online Language Tool – I read about this on a mailing list, but before I could post about it the blogs were already talking!  Several blogs related to Polish genealogy wrote about it, but I’ll credit Jasia at Creative Gene as the first one I read.  Read I won’t Be Going Bald Anytime Soon! in which she highlights a new complete Polish-English (and English-Polish) online dictionary at the University of Pittsburgh.

Genealogical Records – Multi-blogger Lisa, this time from A Light That Shines Again, re-posted an “oldie but goodie” about her great-great-grandfather’s naturalization papers.  Rather than just a dry transcription, Lisa set up the historical context in which he lived.  Read her fascinating look at Tierney family treasure: Patrick’s naturalization papers, 1876.

Genealogical Philosophical Question of the Week
– Tim Agazio of Genealogy Reviews Online asks To Subscribe or Not To Subscribe to Ancestry – That is the Question.  Let him know what your answer is – it’s one we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another.

Blah – Do you have a hard time being happy in January?  For inspiration, read JoLyn’s How to be Happy in January from a year of happy.

Happy 101 – Speaking of happy, Becky at kinexxions has awarded me “The Happy 101 Award”.  I am about to make an “Awards” page here at What’s Past is Prologue since most times these round-robin kudos don’t have anything to do with genealogy.  However, they are very nice to receive and this one is no exception, so thank  you, Becky!  I’ll comply with the first requirement: list ten things that make me happy.  That’s easy!  In no particular order of importance, they are:

  1. sunshine
  2. palm trees
  3. my nieces and nephews
  4. red wine
  5. dark chocolate
  6. time spent with good friends
  7. Gene Kelly
  8. being in Rome, Italy
  9. the beach
  10. making someone laugh

SNGF – Each week, Randy Seaver at Geneamusings comes up with “Saturday Night Genealogical Fun”.  This week the emphasis is on the fun when he asks, “What’s your superpower?” Genealogical superpower, that is!  I thought I’d add my answer to this post.  My unique ability is helping folks find their elusive immigrant ancestor on passenger lists – specifically early 20th century through Ellis Island.  If you have someone you’re sure was a “stowaway” because you can’t find them, put me to the test!  Send me an email (see About Me) or leave a comment with details.  I’ll find out if it’s my super-power after all…

Donna, Super-Finder of Passenger Arrival Records - finding your family tree one twig at a time!

Hat tip to The Extraordinary Flying Condor, aka The Educated Genealogist, for the fun “Hero Factory”!

Surname Saturday: ZAWODNY

Surname – ZAWODNY

Meaning/Origin – The name ZAWODNY (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the Polish word zawodny, meaning “unreliable” or “deceptive”.  The root zawod- comes from the word zawieść, which means to disappoint or deceive. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman and the University of Pittsburgh Online Polish-English Dictionary.)

Countries of Origin – The surname ZAWODNY is Polish.

Spelling Variations –  Other names derived from the same root include ZAWODNIAK, ZAWODNIK, or ZAWODZIŃSKI. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)  in the U.S., the name can be mis-spelled as ZAVODNY because of the way it is pronounced in Polish. The feminine version of the surname is ZAWODNA.

Surname Maps – The following map illustrates the frequency of the ZAWODNY surname in Poland. There are only about 500 people with the surname ZAWODNY spread out over 67 different counties and cities.  My immigrant ancestor with this name came from the area just to the right of the upper red concentration.

Distribution of the ZAWODNY surname in Poland.

SOURCE: “Mapa nazwisk” database,, accessed January 8, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Janusz Zawodny (b. 1921) is an author and historian.  He found in the Polish Army during World War 2 and is well known for his books Death in the Forest: The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre and Nothing But Honor: The Story of the Warsaw Uprising, 1944.

My Family – My Zawodny family comes from the town of Dobrosołowo, Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Szymon Zawodny, likely born around 1820 and deceased by his son’s marriage in 1875.  He married Katarzyna Ratajewska.  My line of descent is as follows: Wawrzyniec (b. 1853 – d. 13 Dec 1917, Dobrosołowo) > Józef (b. 29 Jan 1880, Komorowo – d. 09 Jun 1944, Philadelphia, PA, USA) > daughter Marianna (b. 02 Aug 1907 – d. 30 Apr 1986 Philadelphia, PA).  Marianna, my grandmother “Mae”, had several sisters and two brothers to carry on the family name.  One brother changed the surname though – see my biography of Joseph Zawodny for more information.  From the brother who did not change his name, there are male descendants today.  My great-grandfather Joseph also had a brother, Stefan or Steve, who was born in 1882 and immigrated in 1903.

My Research Challenges -I need to continue my research. Although I have death records for Wawrzyniec Zawodny and his wife Katarzyna (Marianska) and their marriage record, I do not have birth records for either.  I only have their parents names from the marriage certificate.  Also, I need to find more information on my great-grandfather’s brother Stefan since he “disappears” after his arrival to the U.S.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a very inactive message board.  There are some other Zawodny families in the U.S. in Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Links to other posts about my Zawodny family can be found here.

This post is #5 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

Interview with PolishOrigins™ – Part 2

In Part 1 of my interview with Zenon Znamirowski, the founder of PolishOrigins™, we learned about the company’s mission, the online forum, and the Forefathers Traces Tours.  In Part 2, I asked Zenon about the site’s databases as well as what resources he uses to find living relatives.

What are some of the techniques you use to find living relatives of clients whose ancestors emigrated from Poland to America a hundred years ago?

First and foremost I encourage everyone to add the surnames of relatives they are looking for and places where their ancestors come from to our PolishOrigins Surnames & Places Databases (click here for surnames and here for places). Only a few days ago I myself experienced that it works! A gentleman from New Jersey, USA, contacted me the with information that in his family there were people with the same surname as one of my grandmother’s, and they came from from the same tiny village! We are working now on proving our relationship.

We have plans to enable Polish speaking people to take advantage of the Surnames & Places Databases. I think the Database will gain additional, significant value with their  participation.

When a client wants us to try to find living relatives we follow a three-step procedure.

After we receive information about known relatives in Poland and their last known place of residence, we first check all possible sources available on line and in our databases. If we find any matches, we make phone calls and try to find relationships.

The second step is a personal visit to the area of last known residence of the relatives. From our experience it is a very effective way of finding people, especially in the country. People are very helpful and willing to talk to us. Usually everyone knows each other and if only there is in the town or neighboring villages someone who may be related to a client, the chances of finding him are really high.

If the personal visit doesn’t bring results, maybe because the family moved away from the town, we try other ways. We contact local historical societies in search of any mention in local records (not necessarily vital records but sources such as newspapers), try other sources like factory documentation, school records etc., or we contact people through popular social networking websites.

Tell us more about the Surnames and Places databases.

The goal of our Surnames and Places (S&P) Databases is to make it possible for everyone to search for people who are interested in the same surnames or places and to enable the exchange of information and findings. I mentioned about the S&P Databases in the context of sharing research information and relatives search. Now I would like to add  the most important features and benefits for users:

  • Privacy. We never reveal email addresses of our members to any other third party, including other members. All communication between people is done through the Private Messages system on the Forum. All you need as a registered member to contact other member is his or her ‘username’.

  • Indexed content. Our Datbases have such a structure, which allows search engines to index the content. Most of known to us genealogy databases are “invisible” to search engines, they don’t exist for websites like or This means that if you add your surnames and places to our Databases, the chances are high that someone who is looking for the same combination of surname and place through, for example will find you. In the case of a rare surnames an entry in our Database can be found by someone who enters only the surname into a search engine (try, for example, a search for ‘Anazewski’).

  • Simplicity. The way of adding information into Database is very simple and user-friendly. Click here to see the registration form.

  • Personal pages. Aside from adding your surnames and places you can share with others more details about your achievements and search goals in the ‘More info’ box. For example, click here for my personal page in S&P Databases.

Currently, after a year of existence, more than 1,850 surnames and 1,100 places have been added by researchers.

The newest feature to PolishOrigins™ is “Polish Genealogy Databases”, which is advertised as “In one place. In one click. In English!”  Tell us more about this exciting search feature.

This is our youngest “child” in its infancy. We hope to raise it to become a strong and useful “member” of the tools family.

The goal of the Polish Genealogy Databases or PGD tool is to allow all visitors to access the increasingly rich Polish genealogy resources that are available online and to understand the content.

By entering keywords (like surnames, places, dates) in the search box you can gain access to the content of English and Polish language genealogy sources and instantly get the results automatically translated into English all with one click!

I would emphasize the three most important features of the PGD tool:

  • Automatic translation of Polish language sources into understandable English.
  • Selection of the best searchable Polish genealogy websites. Very often, because of the language barrier, people are even not aware of the existence of great databases and websites.
  • Continual updating of the resources that are accessed. We will be gradually developing the tool by adding addresses for the most relevant and useful new websites that appear online every month.

Just try it for yourself: .

Thanks for sharing your insights with What’s Past is Prologue readers, Zenon!

Donna, if you would allow me, I want to express my deep gratitude to my wife Magda, Michał our web developer and “geek”, and to Shellie, James and of course, Nancy. Without their support, ideas and active participation throughout of this adventure nothing would have been possible.  I would like to also thank you, Donna, for the opportunity to discuss and to share with “What’s Past is Prologue” readers our projects, services and plans.

Interview with PolishOrigins™ – Part 1

What’s Past is Prologue is pleased to welcome Zenon Znamirowski, the founder of PolishOrigins™.  The PolishOrigins™ web site,, offers a variety of information useful to those researching Polish genealogy.  In this 2-part interview, I asked Zenon to describe the background of the site as well as some of its key features.  Here is what he had to say…

On the site, PolishOrigins™ is described as “a virtual space of collective wisdom”. This refers to the site’s forum as a place to learn from other researchers.  Can you tell us more about the forum and how members have learned from each other?

Before creating, I was replying to many email requests related to the wide subject of Polish genealogy research and I was doing my best to respond with timely, knowledgeable replies, sometimes after consultation with other experienced Polish genealogists. I noticed three main things over the years. First, although the individual inquires were unique, my initial replies with suggested first steps, useful websites and online tools, and tips for understanding Polish language were often similar. Second, I was often amazed by the detailed knowledge that many of these people had acquired before contacting me. Third, their desire to help others and share the knowledge gained from countless hours of work, was remarkable.

If shared, this collective wisdom could save hours of pointless and frustrating work for others. This is especially true when two (or more) persons are researching the same surname or geographic area. This is why the PolishOrigins™ Forum may be so valuable.

Even with the vast amount of information and tools available on the internet, many people feel lost or isolated while struggling to begin their family history research. The PolishOrigins Forum gives people the chance to share with a wide audience. When sharing knowledge and experience, I believe that the equation 1 + 1 may equal more than 2.

I think Shellie from our Forum expressed the idea best in one of her very recent Forum posts when she commented to another researcher, “You have come to the right place. I was in your shoes just a short time ago and thanks to Zenon and the members of PolishOrigins I’ve learned how to uncover my roots. It has been a very rewarding experience for me. There is a spirit of sharing and discovery here among the members of PolishOrigins and I think that you will enjoy being part of the crowd.”

The mission of Polish Origins™ sounds rather philosophical when you say that a genealogical search is really a search to discover more than just where we came from, but WHO WE ARE.  Can you tell us a little bit more about this philosophy and how you got started in genealogical research?

I don’t think that I have the typical background of a genealogy researcher. I wasn’t  bitten by this “bug” because of a family member or a school genealogy project. A few years ago, while offering some Polish folk items on an online auction website, I met Nancy. While we were corresponding, she asked me if I knew any genealogists in Poland because she was planning to visit Poland in a few months. I asked her about the area she was interested in. Nancy replied, naming a few villages that were located … in the county I come from! And one of the towns of her ancestors was the exact town where I was born!

Nancy and her husband arrived a few months later and we had a very successful tour. Together with my cousin, who is a very experienced genealogist, we had the good-luck to not only visit all the villages and find much information in parish books, but we also discovered and met living relatives that Nancy had not known existed!

This is how my adventure with genealogy started. Nancy encouraged me to try to help other people looking for their relatives and became ‘godmother’. She has actively supporting our efforts for years. Thank you Nancy!

Returning to your question about our “philosophy” and mission. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to observe people’s reactions when they make new discoveries about their families, see them walk through villages of their ancestors, or stand by the graves of older family members and talk what this all meant to them.

I am not a philosopher, and I am not sure if it is possible for me explain it clearly enough (not to mention that English is a foreign language for me) but I believe many of us doing genealogy for some time may have similar experiences. Usually we start with an interest in the lives of our closest family members – grandparents, great-grandparents. Then we become curious about the times and places they lived and this curiosity expands to other ancestors, also in collateral lines. We want to know more about local history and people living at that time. From local history we move further to the history of the country or nation where ancestors came from. We read or watch more and more about history, culture and heritage of the nation. And we want to go still deeper and deeper into our family investigation. I think each of us could it describe it his or her on words even better. We hope that by providing our services and building useful tools we will assist our visitors with this adventure and help find answers to the questions: “Where are my roots?” and “Who am I, really?”.

Your Forefathers Traces Tours to Poland give people the opportunity to see their ancestral hometowns and even meet relatives.  What can people expect from the tour? If they can’t travel, do you give “virtual” tours?

As I described on our Forefathers Traces Tours page, each trip is unique…and very personal. What is invariable, and what I have observed each time (no exceptions!) is an incredibly strong emotional experience accompanying visits to ancestral hometowns or homesteads and meeting relatives for the first time.

Of course, before any tour we discuss its main purposes and interests of our guests. We set the itinerary together, we assist in finding and booking lodging, and organizing transportation. On the tour we drive on Polish roads, very often in rural areas, interpret, and negotiate with local institutions.

A Forefathers Traces Tour itself is a great opportunity to perform research on the spot, especially if there are no other records available outside of our client’s ancestors’ home parish. It is very exciting to witness the moment when one of our guests sees their grandfather’s actual birth record, or when they enter the church where their great-grandparents were married.

As a rule, we are very flexible. As I always emphasize to our guests, “This is YOUR tour”. If there is a need or desire, we can together change our plans within minutes or hours. Unscheduled stops and side trips along the way are always welcome and often add to the excitement of the tour, especially when it leads to an ancestral home site, or the discovery of relatives. You will not be able to ask for this on trips organized by a tourist company for  large groups, where itineraries are strictly followed.

In my opinion Forefathers Traces Tour can be the crowning jewel in years of genealogical treasure hunting. Just read and view photos from our Forefathers Traces Tours Blog.

I haven’t mentioned it anywhere yet, but we are working on expanding our Tours offer to include Belarus. Soon, official information will appear on the Tours page.

If someone is not able to travel to Poland we can perform “virtual” tour for him. We can visit the place he is interested in seeing and take pictures there. We can also try to find relatives. We will prepare a report of what we find and send photographs.

Learn more about Zenon’s efforts to find relatives as well as some of the unique databases found on the PolishOrigins™ site in Part 2 of the interview.

I’m a Big Blog Now…Thoughts on “Turning Two”

As of tomorrow, January 6, 2010, What’s Past is Prologue will be two years old!  I had to laugh when I realized how similar my blog’s growth has been to that of a baby, and this baby is about to enter the “terrible two’s”!   In the beginning, the new blog gets all the care and attention it needs…later, not so much.  The 2-year-old child behaves badly simply because his or her desire to communicate is greater than his or her ability to do so.  If that’s the case, this blog entered the terrible two’s early, for last year the desire to post was greater than the time and the ideas to do so.  Maybe I should follow the advice to parents of toddlers – provide predictable routines for the toddler.  If I give myself more structure, more routine, What’s Past is Prologue will continue to grow.

And did it ever grow in its second year – thank you so much! While the number of posts decreased – from 146 in 2008 to only 93 in 2009 – the number of visitors dramatically increased from almost 23,000 in the first year to over 35,000 in the second.  The busiest month of the year was November with 3,600 visitors in the month (but the busiest day remains in 2008 on the day after the vice-presidential debate thanks to Joe Biden’s “shout out” – he did mean this blog, right?).

I’m always surprised by which posts visitors are viewing.  The all-time favorite has been Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online, written in June, 2008, with over 3,600 views.  Many of my older posts have high counts, but surprisingly, the post with the third highest count – 2,071 – was written in this second year (the honor goes to I Remember Betsy in March, 2009).  Two other big posts from this year were More on Philadelphia Marriage Records with 890 hits, and an earlier piece on a similar topic, When You Can’t Find Grampa’s Marriage Record, with 631 hits.  Of course, I have a whole list of “least read” posts, too…  Fortunately, they weren’t any that required a lot of work or research on my part, so that’s okay.  Sometimes the best of hitters strike out!

Any blogger will tell you that the numbers don’t really matter that much, because we all have our own personal favorites.  Even if it is only read by a handful of people, the posts that are most meaningful to me remain meaningful.  What I lacked in quantity this year, I made up for in quality, and I have quite a few favorites throughout the year.  I hope you enjoyed them, too.

My favorite research-oriented posts were January’s The Slesinski Sisters 3-part series, in which I discovered who my great-grandmother’s sisters were after seeing their photographs (the series begins here), and September’s The Millers’ Tale, another 3-part series, in which I attempted to determine if three families named Miller with unique connections were related or not (the series begins here).  But my best research-related post was short and sweet – or I should say, sweeter.  In October’s A Sweeter Sweet 16 I learned the names of four more of my great-great grandparents!

Although this blog is primarily about genealogical research and records, the posts that mean the most to me are those that are personal reflections and memories.  No other blogging vehicle allows us to write about those memories better than the Carnival of Genealogy, or the COG.  As always, some of my COG posts are my personal favorites – even though I would have never thought to write on these topics without the suggestion.  Whether it was about my aunt or uncles, my ancestors’ hometown history or the history in my own backyard, or my miserable memories of winter or ecstatic memories of Rome, the COGs in 2009 were a delight to write – and to read others’ entries!

The COG isn’t the only genealogy-related carnival in town anymore.  I enjoyed finding examples in my collection for the new Festival of Postcards – my favorite was June’s A Bavarian Main Street that blended my great-grandfather’s past with my own.  I have a tie for my favorite Smile for the Camera post – either March’s Brother and Sister or August’s A Different Kind of Bling.  Poignant or humorous?  You might find either when you stop by around here…

Speaking of humor…my favorite “fun” posts this year were March’s Ancestors on Facebook and August’s What Are They Looking For? The latter post, about the unique search terms people use to “find” my blog, will be repeated with new and exciting – and strange and unusual – search terms!  You really can’t make some things up…  What I did have to “make up” this year were humorous articles related to photography for Shades of the Departed.  I took great delight in being a guest columnist for the lovely footnoteMaven’s blog, which became a full-fledged online magazine in November.

In last year’s post celebrating my very first blogiversary, I wrote, “One of the other “best” things about this venture is the rest of the ‘genea-blogging’ community.”  It’s a sentiment worth repeating.  I thank all of the friends who have left comments on my posts, encouraged me through emails, inspired me through their blogs, and amazed me by subscribing and visiting time and time again.  Thank you – here’s to another year of blogging!