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Archive for the ‘Carnivals (non-photo)’ Category

The theme for Week 9 of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Close to Home” and my ancestor is my grandmother, Mae Zawodna Pater. But to me she was just called Nan! The reason I chose her for this theme is because we lived together in the same house for sixteen years. Other than my parents, I’d be hard pressed to find an ancestor closer to home than that.

Mae’s Story

Mae was born on 02 August 1907 in Philadelphia, PA, the third child of Polish immigrants Joseph (Józef) Zawodny and Laura (Wacława) Ślesińska. Mae’s baptismal name was “Marianna” but she always used Mae (at least in adulthood). She also always celebrated her birthday on August 3rd, but both her baptismal record and social security application confirmed the date of the 2nd.

Nan as a teenager with her mother and two sisters. Left to right: Dorothy, mother Laura, Mae, and another sister (Helen or Jane). I love this photo because it is the one I have of my grandmother at the youngest age and her expression shows her humor.

Nan as a teenager with her mother and two sisters. Left to right: Dorothy, mother Laura, Mae, and another sister (Helen or Jane). I love this photo because it is the one I have of my grandmother at the youngest age and her expression shows her humor.

The Zawodny family (in Polish, the name ends in -na for females and, despite being born in the U.S., this practice was generally followed by the next generation) lived in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, which was, and still is today, a community of Polish immigrants. Her father was a boilermaker and her mother stayed home to care for their large family. There were eight children in all, but two boys died as infants.

Nan_siswedding

Mae in 1925 as Maid of Honor for her sister Jane’s wedding

On 01 February 1930, 23-year-old Mae married 17-year-old Henry Pater – the two lived three doors apart on Indiana Avenue. However, they didn’t tell their families at first – perhaps because Henry, as a minor, didn’t get parental permission and lied about his age on the marriage license. For the 1930 census enumeration, they are listed as living with their respective families. Eventually, they told their parents. Mae’s father was not happy, mostly because they didn’t get married in the church. So in June the couple got married for a second time at St. Adalbert’s and moved in together.

Mae had a personality that could be difficult at times as evidenced by the nickname her husband gave her – “Killer”. But she also had a fun sense of humor and a great laugh. The couple welcomed their first child, Joan, in 1932. Daughter Anita was born in 1935.

Mae, Anita, Henry, and Joan, 1938

Mae, Anita, Henry, and Joan, 1938

On December 6, 1938, Mae’s mother Laura was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was admitted to Philadelphia State Hospital (later called Byberry). Mae and family moved in with her father, Joseph, in his house on Mercer Street. They all lived together until Joseph’s death in 1944. Laura would remain in Byberry until her death in 1956.

In the early 1950’s, Mae and Henry separated and lived in different residences for the rest of their lives although they never divorced. Mae moved in with her daughter Anita (my mother) from the time my parents got married. It wasn’t always a peaceful cohabitation, but it lasted for many years. It was only the last three years of Mae’s life that she did not live with us and moved to live with my Aunt Joan instead.

Mae

Mae standing close to home – the house in which I grew up and we both lived. This photo was taken before I was born, circa 1961-4.

I’ve written short biographies of many of my ancestors not just for the “52 Ancestors” challenge but also for other posts here on this blog. But I was surprised by how difficult it was to write Nan’s story, the ancestor with whom I spent my entire childhood. My favorite memories are of her cooking – she was a wonderful cook! Fortunately my mother inherited that gene and I think it’s partially rubbed off on me, too. But some things can never be replicated like her chicken soup with homemade noodles. Or her dumplings that she called “bullets”. I also remember sitting in her bedroom for hours watching television – she was a heavy smoker at the time and I cringe now to think that I was surrounded by all of that smoke!  Most of all I remember her humor and her big laugh. Plus, her personality made me laugh because she practically had an entire language of her own from Polish words like dupa, zupa, and dudek to other words like plut and gazeutch that mean something only to my family and some close friends.

All of my life, my grandmother wouldn't let me take her photo - she'd stick out her tongue or make a face. As a result, despite living together for my first 16 years, I have not one photo of us together - except for this one. Not the best, but the only. As for missing part of her head in the photo, that's a family tradition (see https://pastprologue.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/off-with-their-heads/)

All of my life, my grandmother wouldn’t let me take her photo – she’d stick out her tongue or make a face. As a result, despite living together for my first 16 years, I have not one photo of us together – except for this one. Not the best, but the only. As for missing part of her head in the photo, that’s a family tradition (see https://pastprologue.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/off-with-their-heads/)

She had a difficult relationship with my parents, but she loved my brother and me and that is what I remember. Looking back on her story with adult eyes, I sense that she spent a lot of her life in fear – not of a person or of any one thing, just in general. She was afraid of everything from the weather to strangers to driving in a car to all of the unknowns in life. Looking back, she made herself “old” before she really was because it was easier to be taken care of by her daughter than to try to take care of herself. Her love for me even came with fear – she was afraid that I would get hurt. I was a very late walker because Nan would pick me up and carry me so I wouldn’t try to walk and get hurt while falling down trying. In the photo above she appears ready to leap to my rescue if I took a tumble.

But despite that sense of fear she had, and which she attempted to compensate for by being abrasive, irreverent, and downright rude to everyone except my brother and me, the greatest story from her life involves overcoming fear. It is important that I tell it because this fact about her won’t be found recorded in any official document or vital record. It happened in early 1980 – I was 13 years old and Nan was 72. She developed an infection in her big toe that became gangrenous. The doctors told her that the infection was serious and wouldn’t heal, so they had to amputate her leg below the knee. I was too young to understand what she might have been going through with that diagnosis. But I do remember that after it happened, and after a long rehabilitation stay, she came home with a cane and a prosthetic leg. Even though I didn’t fully comprehend the complexity of what she’d experienced, I remember being impressed that she was able to get through it and walk again. It finally dawned on me as an adult when I experienced my own fear while awaiting a lesser operation – I realized that my diagnosis wasn’t anything like hers and if she could get through that operation as an old woman then surely I had the strength to get through mine. And I did.

Mae died on 30 April 1986 – I was 19 years old, she was 78. Her death was the first significant loss in my life. But that’s to be expected, because it hit close to home. I’m glad I got to spend so many years living under the same roof eating her cooking, listening to her tall tales, laughing as she cursed the cat for walking between her legs (one good, one artificial) as she walked down the steps, and hearing her big, loud laugh.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Mae (Marianna) Zawodna Pater
  • Ahnentafel: #7 (my grandmother)
  • Parents: Joseph (Józef) Zawodny (1880-1944) and Laura (Wacława) Ślesińska (1880-1956)
  • Born: 02 August 1907 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Siblings: Jane Zawodna Galecki (1904-1976), Helen Zawodna Tiernan (1905-1977), Stanley Zowney (1909-1980), Cazimer (Charley) Zawodny (1911-1969),Bolesław (William) (1912-1913),Władisław (Walter) (1914-1915), Zofia (Dorothy) Zawodna Rozet Mohan (1916-2010)
  • Married: Henry Pater (1912-1972)
  • Children: Joan Delores Pater Silvers (1932-2004) and Anita Pater Pointkouski
  • Died: 30 Apr 1986 in Philadelphia, PA

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 9: Close to Home

#52Ancestors

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The theme for Week 8 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Good Deeds” and my ancestor is my 5th great-grandfather, Jan Poláček (Czech spelling – alternate in Polish is Polaćek or Polaczek). Jan’s name was on the document for the purchase of property in 1802. That deed turned out to be a very good deed, indeed, for generations of Czech exiles in Poland.

Jan’s Story

Jan was born in 1759 in Groß Friedrichstabor, Prussia (Tabor Wielki, Kępno, Poland today). He was the son of Prokop Poláček and Kateřina Tomešová. Prokop was born in Labská Stráň in Děčín district in the Ústí nad Labem region of the Czech Republic. It was right on the border of what was then Prussia, and Prokop was part of the wave of Protestant (Czech Brethren) immigrants from Bohemia that left because they were under persecution for their faith. By 1754 Prokop was married and starting a family in Groß Friedrichstabor (his wife is also a Czech immigrant, but her birthplace is not yet known).

The community of Czech immigrants to Prussia was not similar to the American immigrant “melting pot”. In America, immigrants tended to form communities with other immigrants from the same country. The American-born children of my Polish and German immigrant ancestors grew up surrounded by immigrant families and understood their parents’ native languages and cultures, but they or their children married outside of their ethnic group and thus became truly “American” within a generation or two. In the late 18th Century in Prussian Poland, the Czechs stayed together as a close-knit community – the immigrants’ children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren all maintained the Czech language and their religion.

Jan grew up in Groß Friedrichstabor and worked as both a farmer and a weaver. He married Kateřina Kupcová on June 5, 1782. They had four children together: Josef born in 1783, Marie (my 4th great-grandmother) in 1785, Jan in 1790, and Anna in 1793.

The Czech exiles settled in several towns throughout the area. The larger towns were Husinec (Gęsinec), Groß Friedrichstabor (Tabor Wielki), and Friedrichsgrätz (Grodziec) and the smaller villages included Czermin, Sacken, Sophienthal, and Erdmannsdorf. (Read more about one of my other Czech exile ancestors, Václav Jirsak, from Week 2 of my “52 Ancestors” – his son and grandson were part of the new town with Jan Poláček.)

Some residents of these towns hoped for a larger area where they could all live together and have one pastor for their church. In November, 1802, some of the town leaders in Groß Friedrichstabor, including my ancestor Jan, learned that there was some land available for purchase that was close by – only a 5- day walk. They sent some men to look at the proposed land and it was found to be agreeable. On 20 November, an agreement was written up and signed by the leaders, and it was forwarded from town to town to get more people who were willing to move to the new settlement. In total, 54 men agreed to contribute to the purchase and become landowners, and an additional 65 agreed to make the move.

In November 1802 a contract was signed by the "Founding Fathers" to buy the town of Zelów for the community of Czech exiles.

In November 1802 a contract was signed by the “Founding Fathers” to buy the town of Zelów for the community of Czech exiles.

The seller was the Polish landlord Józef Świdziński who owned a vast amount of land – his “subjects” living on that land were moved to another area. He sold the land to the Czech colonists for the sum of 25,666 Prussian thalers or 154,000 Polish złoty. The sale was final by 21 December 1802. The first settlers arrived in February 1803 and the first child was born in the new town, Zelów, on 23 March. Most colonists arrived in May and June of that year, and in June the final payment was made to Świdziński and elders of the town were chosen as leaders.

The property was divided among the 54 settlers, with some families sharing the financial burden with additional families. There were acres set aside – both forest and meadows – for community use, and more set aside for a church and cemetery.

Jan Poláček was one of the men who signed the contract for the town, and his entire family made the move. At the time, he and his wife were about 44 years old. Their children were 10, 13, 18, and 20. Son Josef got married in Zelów on 30 Sep 1804 and daughter Marie on 21 July 1805.

The early work of clearing the land and building houses was difficult, and even some of the young men died. But, the community prospered and more colonists moved to the town. By 1813 there were 106 landowners in the town.

Jan’s wife Kateřina died on 13 November 1809 at the age of 50. Jan would live long enough to see his other two children get married: Anna (in Buczek, Poland) on 21 October 1810 and Jan in Zelów on 07 May 1811.

Jan died on 12 October 1812 at the age of 53 – almost ten years after signing the deed that created the community.

Jan's name on the deed is on the lower left.

Jan’s name on the deed is on the lower left.

The best part about this week’s ancestor is that I didn’t know he existed until a few weeks ago. After my post for Week 2 of the challenge, a cousin-I-didn’t-know-yet left a comment. We compared notes, and as it turns out we’re simultaneously 4th, 6th, and 7th cousins from various lines of the Czech exiles to Poland. I had documentation on two of those lines, but our closest connection was my mysterious Miller line. Thanks to participating in 52 Ancestors, and thanks to my new cousin, I now go back several generations on that line after being “stuck” for so long. Jan Poláček is one of our ancestors from that line through his daughter Marie.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jan Poláček
  • Ahnentafel: #210 (my 5th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Prokop Poláček (1727-1786) and Kateřina Tomešová (1732-1803)
  • Born: 1759 in Groß Friedrichstabor, Prussia (called Velký Fridrichův Tábor in Czech) – today, Tabor Wielki, Poland
  • Siblings: Marianna Poláčková (1754-1766), Anna Poláčková Matisová (1757-1791), Johana Poláčková Neverčeřalová (1762-1829). Half-siblings: Kateřina Poláčková (1765-1766), Štĕpán Poláček (1767-), Josef Poláček (1769-1769), Marie Poláčková Šrajberová (1771-1806), Kateřina Poláčková Tucková (1780-1831)
  • Married: Kateřina Kupcová (1759-1809) on June 5, 1782 in Tabor Wielki
  • Children: Josef Poláček (1783-), Marie Poláčková Šulitka Millerová (1785-), Jan Poláček (1790-1842), Anna Poláčková (1793-)
  • Died: 12 October 1812 in Zelów, Poland
  • My Line of Descent: Jan Poláček->Marie Poláčková Šulitka Miller->, Matej Miller-> Jan Miller-> Elżbieta Miller Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 8: Good Deeds

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Hilaury - left approx. age 9 in Regensburg, middle approx. age 20-23 in Amberg, right approx. age 25-30 in Philadelphia

Hilaury – left approx. age 9 in Regensburg, middle approx. age 20-23 in Amberg, right approx. age 25-30 in Philadelphia

The theme for Week 7 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Love” and my choice is a relative, but not an ancestor – my great-aunt, Hilaury Bergmeister Thumann. Baptized Hilaria, she was called Hilaury, or Lari for short, and Laura once she moved to America. I had to depart from the direct line of ancestors for this one, because the theme asked “Which ancestor do you love to research? Which ancestor do you feel especially close to? Which ancestor seemed to have a lot of love?” The answer to all three of those questions is great-aunt Laura because she continues to surprise me, I’ve found ancestors and relatives directly as a result of researching her (as opposed to her brother, my direct ancestor), and I feel like we share some things in common.

Laura’s Story

Much of Laura’s story might be familiar if you’re following along with these weekly posts – her brother, my great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister, was profiled in Week 5. I’ve also written about Laura on the blog before, but since then I’ve discovered a few more things about my favorite great-aunt.

Laura Bergmeister was born on 10 January 1870 in Asbach, Bavaria, Germany to Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmaier. She was born illegitimate, but her father was named in the baptismal document and the couple married the following year on 11 April 1871 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Joseph was a flour merchant, the son of a long line of millers in the town of Puch. Since Joseph was not the oldest son who would inherit the mill, he was a merchant of the mill’s goods. His children are born in various towns throughout Bavaria, so I assume he traveled from town to town selling flour. Ursula was the daughter of an innkeeper in the town of Asbach, and that is where Laura was born. In 1871 the family was living in Vohburg a.d. Donau when a daughter named Marie was born on 17 November, but the baby did not survive. In 1873, Joseph was born in Vohburg. In 1873, Ignatz was born in Abensberg.

By 1879, the family appears to be living in Regensburg based on a photograph of Laura, her brothers, and their mother. Laura made her First Communion at the Dom St. Peter, the cathedral of Regensburg, in May, 1880.

At some point during Laura’s childhood, her father died. I have yet to find out when, but it was sometime after the youngest son’s birth 1876 and 1884, because in May of 1885 his widow is remarried and having another child. By 1884, mother Ursula is married to Herman Goetz (Götz). The Bergmeister siblings gained half-brothers Herman in 1885 and Julius in 1886 as well as a half-sister Elsa (birth date not yet known).

Often in discovering information about our ancestors and relatives through genealogical documents, we only uncover bare facts such as names or dates or places. However, I was given a couple of unique family heirlooms/ephemera that belonged to Laura that actually gave me some insight into her personality.

One is an “autograph” book, also called a stammbuch or poesiealbum (poetry album). The concept began in Germany among university students – almost like a yearbook by today’s standards, minus photographs – in which students would have friends and professors write a page, usually a poem, to the owner. By the late 19th Century – when Laura was a girl – the books were popular among teenage girls.

The very first entry in her book is signed by “father” on 24 October 1883 – I just can’t be certain (yet) that it is her father Joseph or instead her step-father Herman. The next page is signed by her mother, but not until 01 April 1884 and there are some entries later in the book that are dated in between those two. The book itself will result in a series of posts here once I get all of the entries translated, but in the ones I have so far it seems, based on the poems, that Laura had a cheerful spirit and spread that good cheer among others.

She started this book when she was 13 years old and entries include her parents, brother(s), cousins, and girlfriends. She collects a few entries each year all the way until she’s almost 26 years old for a total of 35 pages of poems or notes. Incredibly, she even has a few entries from people she met on the ship to America!

In July, 1893, 23-year-old Laura made her way to Antwerp, Belgium and boarded the SS Friesland. It arrived in New York on July 25th. It always intrigued me that she came, presumably alone, to America at a relatively young age for a woman to be traveling alone. She had no family in this country except for some rather distant cousins in Philadelphia – so distant that it’s unlikely they knew they were related. After seeing the autograph book, however, I realized Laura didn’t make the journey all alone – she had at least one girlfriend with her. One of the entries is in perfect English and reads:

In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. In eighteen hundred and ninety three, together we sailed you and me. From your loving friend, Wally Kuchenreuter

Wally Kuchenreuter's entry in Hilaury's autograph book circa July 1893

Wally Kuchenreuter’s entry in Hilaury’s autograph book circa July 1893

Sure enough, Wally, presumably short for Walburga, is listed on the passenger list immediately above Laura. She is 18 and listed as a servant. I found her in the 1900 census working as a maid in the household of a prominent Philadelphia lawyer. When I looked over the passenger list more closely, I noticed that there are several single woman aged 18 to 24 that are listed as “servant” – in Laura’s case, she is listed as “housekeeper”. Did they all come together for work? A couple of these young girls signed Laura’s autograph book on the way over, and there was even an entry from Louis Lester Rosenbaum who apparently was an engineer for Edison Electric Light. This tells me that young Laura wasn’t a shy girl if she has men signing her autograph book on board the ship!

Laura (and Wally, for that matter) settled in Philadelphia. I don’t know anything about Laura’s life until three years later. On 15 June 1896, she married Max Thumann, a cabinetmaker originally from Regensburg, who was 13 years her senior. They come from the same city, but Max had been in the United States since 1883. If they knew each other in Germany, Laura would have only been 13 years old when he left!

Max and Laura at their home, September 1910

Max and Laura at their home, September 1910

At the time of Laura and Max’s marriage, she lived at 2827 Reese Street in Philadelphia. By 1900, the couple was living at 1033 Jefferson Street and Hilaire’s occupation is listed as “retail grocery”. Interestingly, one of the witnesses to Max and Hilaire’s marriage, Michael Hoffbauer, is a grocer at Hilaire’s old Reese Street address, so it is presumed that she continued to work there. Max and Hilaire bought a house at 6078 Kingsessing Avenue in 1907, and they lived there until their deaths.

Beginning in 1900, Max and Laura welcomed the arrival of the first of Laura’s brothers from Bavaria. When she left Germany, her Bergmeister brothers were 20 and 17, and her Goetz brothers were still children aged 8 and 7. I only recently found out about sister Elsa, presumable a half-sister, but I don’t know where she falls into the family. Despite their ages and the distance between them, communication must have continued through letters across the ocean. Because when each brother arrived in the US, their passenger list shows they were going to Hilaire and Max’s house and that the passage was paid for by their brother-in-law Max Thuman.

Joseph was the first brother to join Laura in America, arriving in New York City in May, 1900. Max paid for his passage, and his sister is listed on the passenger list as the relative who would meet him. Joseph stayed with the Thumann’s until he could find work and rent a house, and he is enumerated with them on the 1900 Census.

Next to arrive was 16-year-old half-brother, Julius Goetz, in September 1902. He is recorded as a locksmith from Regensburg going to his brother-in-law Max Thumann. Julius also lived with the Thumann’s until he found work in a factory and a place to live. He later returns to live with them after his 1919 marriage for a brief time.

In 1904, Ignatz Bergmeister arrives in New York City in June. His passage was also paid for by Max, and the list annotates that he was “met by sister at the landing”. It is not certain if Ignatz lived in Philadelphia for a time or if he stayed in New York City. He marries in New York in 1907 and is living there in 1910, but since Hilaire met him in New York it is possible that he also came to stay with the Thumann’s in Philadelphia for a short time.

The last brother, Herman Goetz, came to America in 1911 (after the death of their mother) at the age of 26. His passenger arrival record lists his brother Julius as his next of kin in America, but he lived with the Thumann’s for several years, including at the time of his marriage in 1913.

The Thumann’s were definitely involved with Joseph Bergmeister’s family. Joseph’s first son and first American-born child was also named Joseph, born in 1902. For his baptism, Uncle Max and Aunt Laura were his godparents. In 1905, Max was born, and the couple was once again godparents. In 1907, Julius had Aunt Laura as his godmother and his namesake Uncle Julius as his godfather. Two babies died shortly after birth in 1909 and 1911, including a daughter named Laura after her aunt. Joseph’s youngest child was Margaret, my grandmother, born in 1913. Aunt Laura again takes her place as godmother, and her godfather was Uncle Herman which explains Margaret’s unusual middle name, Hermina.

Laura was also involved as an aunt with her brother Ignatz’s children even though they lived farther away in Elizabeth, NJ. Ten-year-old niece Teresa wrote to her aunt in 1919 thanking her for the “beautiful things” she sent.

Laura (center) having some fun with family. The woman on the right is sister-in-law Teresa. The boy is Charles, son of Teresa and Ignatz and Laura's nephew. The girl may be his sister Teresa but appears too young. The woman on the left is unidentified but looks strikingly like my grandmother, which leads me to believe it is my great-grandmother Marie, Laura's sister-in-law. Approximate date:  1915-1917. Approximate place: Elizabeth, NJ

Laura (center) having some fun with family. The woman on the right is sister-in-law Teresa. The boy is Charles, son of Teresa and Ignatz (Laura’s nephew). The girl may be his sister Teresa but appears too young. The woman on the left is unidentified but looks strikingly like my grandmother, which leads me to believe it is my great-grandmother Marie, Laura’s sister-in-law. Approximate date: 1915-1917. Approximate place: Elizabeth, NJ

When my grandmother died, I found a “calling card” of Laura’s which tells me she was a sociable woman with a lot of friends. In addition to the wonderful autograph book, my cousin gave me Laura’s scrapbook containing a lot of postcards from family and friends (an entire series of cards from her husband’s friend Ferdinand is featured in an ongoing series of posts here). Some of the postcards were from her brother Herman before he immigrated, at least one is from the previously unknown sister Elsa, and some appear to be from a niece that is either the daughter of Elsa or a niece of husband Max. All of these things point out to me that Laura cared about friends and family and made the effort to keep in touch. Many of the cards thank her for either a letter, card, or package that she sent them.

In my post about Joseph Bergmeister, I highlighted the tragic events that befell Laura’s family members so I will merely summarize here:

  • 1914 Herman’s wife dies during childbirth
  • 11 October 1918, Herman Goetz died of pneumonia at the age of 32
  • 05 February 1919, Joseph’s wife Maria died from heart disease just weeks weeks away from her 44th birthday
  • 19 November 1919, Ignatz died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 43
  • 30 May 1927, Joseph died of nephritis at the age of 54
  • 16 November 1939, Ignatz’s wife Teresa died at the age of 59

Fortunately for Laura, her youngest brother Julius lived a long life so she was able to keep the family connection to him as well as her nieces and nephews for the rest of her life.

Max Thuman died on 26 November 1941 at the age of 84 from pneumonia. Laura only lived for another fourteen months, dying on 6 February 1943 from cancer. She was 73 years old. They are buried together at Mount Moriah Cemetery, which is located just across the street from their home on Kingsessing Avenue.

On the surface, what would I possibly find in common with this woman? I didn’t leave home at a young age to move to a new country. Nor did I marry. I’m probably not as outgoing as Laura seems to be (at least until you get to know me or vice versa). But there is something about her that makes me feel a kinship. Even though she didn’t travel (that I know of) once she moved here, Laura’s trip to this country reminds me of my own love of travel.  I didn’t get married (yet) like she did, but I’ve dated older men with an age difference like she had with Max. I try to keep relationships with friends and family over distance. I have a collection of postcards from friends and family. And the most significant commonality – I love my nieces and nephews as she did hers.

The theme this week asks “Which ancestor do you love to research? Which ancestor do you feel especially close to? Which ancestor seemed to have a lot of love?” I love researching Laura because she continues to surprise me with facts about her and her family that I didn’t know. I feel especially close to her – she had no direct descendants and neither do I, so if I don’t remember her amazing life, who will? Finally, she seemed to have a lot of love for her family and friends. I hope that I can be as fun-loving, caring, and thoughtful as she was!

Just the Facts

  • Name: Hilaury (Laura) Bergmeister Thumann
  • Ahnentafel: N/A – great-aunt, sister of #10 my great-grandfather
  • Parents: Joseph Bergmeister (1843-?) and Ursula Dallmaier (1846-1911)
  • Born: 10 January 1870 in Asbach, Bavaria, Germany
  • Siblings: Maria (1871-1871), Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927), Ignatz Bergmeister (1876-1919), Herman Goetz (1885-1918), Julius Goetz (1886-1971), Elsa ?
  • Married: Max Thumann (1867-1941) on 15 June 1896 in Philadelphia, PA, USA
  • Immigrated: departed Antwerp aboard the SS Friesland; arrived in New York City on 25 July 1893
  • Children: None. At least 4 nephews and 5 nieces
  • Died: 06 February 1943 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 7: Love

#52Ancestors

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The theme for Week 6 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “So Far Away”. This theme asked “Which ancestor is farthest away from you either in distance or time/generations?” My answer would have to be my 14th great-grandfather, Six Welshofer. I found it quite appropriate that a man with the first name of Six would be fit the theme for Week 6! At sixteen generations back, he is definitely the ancestor who is farthest away from me. I find the concept of sixteen generations mind-blowing since my goal when I started researching my family history was to discover where my eight great-grandparents were born in Europe.

Six’s Story

This is the part of the weekly post where I regale my readers with the story of my ancestor’s life and explain why I chose them for this week’s theme. However, I have one problem in telling Six’s story – there aren’t enough facts to fashion a life story. I am not even certain of his birth or death dates. What is known, however, based on the house histories for the town of Armetshofen in Bavaria, is that a man named Six Welshofer, a farmer, existed and lived in the town. He is assumed to have been born approximately in 1487 based on when he appears in the town’s history. I don’t have evidence of his death date, but the name of his son and the next several generations were recorded in the house-owner history of the town.

While I don’t know anything about the man who was Six Welshofer and the dates are mostly unknown until the 1600’s, I know that names that make up his line of descent lead down to me. Five generations of Welshofer men after Six lead to a female descendent. From there, another five generations of females lead to my 3rd great-grandfather. The final six generations from him to me are three pairs of fathers and daughters. So, in the absence of a story about the man named Six, I’d like to present his line of descent ~

Line of Descent

  1. Six Welshofer, b. circa 1487, born & died in Armetshofen
  2. Georg Welshofer, b. circa 1515, born & died in Armetshofen
  3. Johann Welshofer, b. circa 1555, born & died in Armetshofen
  4. Georg Welshofer, b. circa 1600 in Armetshofen, d. Dachau
  5. Johann Welshofer, b. circa 1620 in Armetshofen, d. 16.04.1662 in Viehhausen
  6. Ursula Welshofer, b. circa 1640s in Viehhausen, d. 22.10.1688 Webling, m. Wolf Hintermayr in 1661
  7. Maria Hintermayer, b. circa 1660s in Webling, d. 11.07.1735 in Breitenau, m. Martin Jaiß in 1694
  8. Katharina Jaiß, b. 06.07.1696 in Breitenau, d. 29.11.1739 in Breitenau, m. Johann Märkl in 1724
  9. Rosina Märkl, b. 28.02.1734 in Breitenau, d. 05.04.1808 in Röhrmoos, m. Andreas Baumgartner in 1751
  10. Anna Baumgartner, b. circa 1755 in Röhrmoos, d. 07.12.1793 in Schönbrunn, m. Jakob Sedlmair in 1780
  11. Katharina Sedlmair, b. 22.04.1781 in Schönbrunn, d. ? in Prittlbach, m. Josef Dallmayr in 1818
  12. Josef Dallmayr, b. 02.03.1819 in Prittlbach, d. ? in Asbach
  13. Ursula Dallmayr, b. 21.09.1846 in Asbach, d. 21.01.1911 in Regensburg, m. Josef Bergmeister in 1871
  14. Josef Bergmeister, b. 12.02.1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau, d. 30.05.1927 in Philadelphia, PA, United States
  15. Margaret Bergmeister, b. 11.04.1913 in Philadelphia, PA, d. 14.01.1998 in Philadelphia, PA, m. James Pointkouski in 1934
  16. James Pointkouski (my father)
  17. Donna Pointkouski 
Area of Bavaria of the line of descent from Six Welshofer - gray line is distance from Armetshofen to Viehhausen, the move of Six's great-great grandson Johann.

Area of Bavaria of the line of descent from Six Welshofer – gray line is distance from Armetshofen to Viehhausen, the move of Six’s great-great grandson Johann.

Looking at the names and town names for Six Welshofer’s descendants offers a great history lesson on what life was like in Bavaria from the 16th through the 19th centuries. In fact, these lessons match my research on another family line in the Bavarian town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in which I used church records to get back to the 1600’s (research on Six’s line has been primarily through town histories). Comparing the information I found in both places leads me to make a few generalizations about what life was like during that time and in that place:

  • Men usually lived and died in the town of their birth – but they did move, and when they did it was usually for their profession or if they were not the eldest son inheriting the land from their father.
  • Occasionally a man “married up” and moved to a different town to marry a wife of a higher social status
  • Women generally moved from the town of their birth to a nearby town in order to marry someone. After marriage, they would have a lot of children (by today’s standards)!
  • Infant mortality was very high.
  • When either spouse died young, they remarried – quickly!

In my ancestral line back to Six, it was his great-great grandson Johann Welshofer that apparently moved from the ancestral town of Armetshofen. He moved to Viehhausen, about 85 miles northwest of his birthplace, and got married there. My line after Johann switches to six generations of females, and all but one move to a different town to get married (and live the rest of their lives there). Only Johann’s great-granddaughter marries and dies in the town of her birth (Breitenau). Her story illustrates several of my generalizations listed above. She gave birth to 9 children in 10 years, but only five survived past infancy. She died at the age of 44 (leaving children aged 4, 5, 12, 14, and one who’s age is unknown). Her widower remarries seven weeks later! But her daughter from that marriage (the 5-year-old), lives to the age of 74 and outlives her own daughter.

After that first move up north to Viehhausen, the family moved back down towards Dachau (Armetshofen) in the next generation. All of the town names in the following generations are all in this general area – until generation #13 when my great-great grandmother moved to Regensburg – near Viehhausen. The biggest move of all comes from her son, my immigrant to Philadelphia.

It’s certainly hard to fathom sixteen generations. And humbling to realize that someone who lived and died so long ago made it somehow possibly for my own life in my time and place five hundred years later.

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 6: So Far Away

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The theme for Week 5 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Plowing Through” and my ancestor is my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. One might assume he was a farmer since the theme is “plowing through” but he was a baker. He did, however, have to plow through one particularly tragic year in his life.

Joseph’s Story

Josef (Joseph) Bergmeister was born on 12 February 1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau, Bavaria, Germany to Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmaier. His father was a flour merchant, and based on the fact that the children were born in different towns throughout Bavaria (Asbach, Vohburg, Abensberg) I assume that he was a traveling merchant. Joseph had a big sister, Hilarie (called Hilaury, Lari, or Laura for short) who was three years older. Another sister was born in between but she did not survive. Joseph became the middle child when his brother Ignatz was born in 1876.

At some point during Joseph’s childhood, his father died. I have yet to find out when, but it was sometime after the youngest son’s birth 1876 and 1884, because in May of 1885 his widow is remarried and having another child. I know that the family – with or without their father Joseph – was settled in the city of Regensburg by 1879. By 1884, Joseph’s mother Ursula is married to Herman Goetz (Götz). The Bergmeister siblings gained half-brothers Herman in 1885 and Julius in 1886 as well as a half-sister Elsa (birth date not yet known).

Joseph Bergmeister, circa 1893-95

Joseph Bergmeister, circa 1893-95

From 1893-95, Joseph served in the Bavarian Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. They were headquartered in Munich at that time.

By 1897, Joseph is in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. It’s just an assumption, but given that his uncle lived there I presume he went there to work for his uncle. Uncle Castulus Bergmeister owned the bakery in Pfafenhofen (still in operation and run by my Bergmeister cousins) and Joseph was also a baker. In Pfaffenhofen, he met and married Maria Echerer, the daughter of a bricklayer whose family had been shoemakers in Pfaffenhofen for centuries. The couple married on November 2, 1897…just in time, for the following February – in fact on Maria’s 23rd birthday – they had their first child, a girl named Maria after her mother.

In May 1900, Joseph left Pfaffenhofen for Antwerp, Belgium where he boarded a steamship for the United States. His big sister Lari had immigrated in 1893. By 1900, she had married another German immigrant named Max Thumann. When Joseph arrived at the port of Philadelphia, Lari was there to meet him. Joseph lived with the Thumann’s for a while, but by the following year he had moved to a home of his own. In June 1901, his wife and 3-year-old daughter arrived in the U.S.

Joseph’s family started to grow considerably after that. Just nine months and two weeks after the happy couple reunited, they welcomed a son, Joseph. Two more sons followed: Max in 1905 and Julius in 1907. During these years Joseph’s family enlarged in another way as well – his brother Julius arrived in the U.S. in 1902 and Ignatz in 1904.

Unfortunately, Joseph and Maria lost two children who were born premature: a son, Charles, in 1909, and a daughter, Laura, in 1911. Earlier in 1911, Joseph’s mother died in Regensburg, and afterwards his brother Herman immigrated to Philadelphia.

One final child was born to Joseph and Marie – a daughter, Margaret, in 1913 – my grandmother! Despite the 15-year age gap between the oldest and youngest (and the 5-year age gap between the second youngest and my grandmother), the five siblings were close.

So far I’ve mentioned a few sad events in Joseph’s life such as losing his father when he was a boy and the deaths of two infant children. In addition, the year after Margaret was born, Joseph’s sister-in-law – the wife of brother Herman – died during childbirth due to a ruptured uterus. However, these tragedies are not why I chose Joseph’s story for the theme of “plowing through”. I realized that during one particular time period – from October, 1918 through November, 1919 – he had to plow through and struggle through some very sad events.

First, on 11 October 1918, Herman Goetz died of pneumonia at the age of 32. At the time, brother Julius was serving in the U.S. Army and his siblings were likely concerned about his welfare since the world was at war (he survived unscathed and died many, many years later at the age of 84).

Then, not quite four months later, on 05 February 1919, Joseph’s wife Maria died from heart disease. She was just weeks weeks away from her 44th birthday. Joseph and Maria’s oldest daughter was weeks away from turning 21 years old. Their sons were 16, 14, and 11, and my grandmother was not quite 6 years old.

The final event in the tragic year was the death of Joseph’s brother Ignatz. He died on 19 November 1919 at the age of 43 leaving behind a wife, an 11-year-old daughter, and a 10-year-old son.

Joseph had a very difficult time after his wife died, and according to his children he did not take good care of himself. He passed away from nephritis  on 30 May 1927 at the age of 54. At the time of his death, he had three granddaughters, Marie (age 7) and Mabel (age 3) from his oldest daughter and Helen (age 1) from his oldest son. He would eventually have a total of 14 grandchildren (as well as 30 great-grandchildren, 48 great-great grandchildren, and…I lost count of how many in the youngest generation at the moment!).

I wish I knew more about Joseph, and my grandmother wished she knew him a little longer. But I’m glad he had the strength and grace to plow through his struggles. He leaves a legacy of “plowing through” whatever life throws at you to inspire his numerous descendants.

Part of Joseph's entry in his sister's autograph book signed in the town of Plattling on 12 October 1890: Zur Erinnerung an Deinen Bruder Josef (in memory of your brother Josef)

Part of Joseph’s entry in his sister’s autograph book signed in the town of Plattling on 12 October 1890: Zur Erinnerung an Deinen Bruder Josef (in memory of your brother Josef)

Just the Facts

  • Name: Josef (Joseph) Bergmeister
  • Ahnentafel: #10 (my great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Joseph Bergmeister (1843-?) and Ursula Dallmaier (1846-1911)
  • Born: 12 February 1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau, Bavaria, Germany
  • Siblings: Hilarie Bergmeister Thumann (1870-1943), Maria (1871-1871), Ignatz Bergmeister (1876-1919), Herman Goetz (1885-1918), Julius Goetz (1886-1971), Elsa ?
  • Married: Maria Echerer (1875-1919) on 02 Nov 1897 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany
  • Immigrated: departed Antwerp on 03 May 1900 aboard the SS Aragonia; arrived in Philadelphia on 18 May 1900
  • Children: Maria Bergmeister Eckert (1898-1990), Joseph Bergmeister (1902-1986), Max Bergmeister (1905-1974), Julius Bergmeister (1907-1963), Charles Bergmeister (1909-1909), Laura Bergmeister (1911-1911), Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski (1913-1998)
  • Died: 30 May 1927 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 02 Jun 1927 in Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 5: Plowing Through

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Niederscheyern in the Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm district of Bavaria, Germany

Niederscheyern in the Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm district of Bavaria, Germany

The theme for Week 4 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Closest to Your Birthday” and my ancestor that holds that dubious distinction is my 4th great-grandfather, Dionys Daniel. Truth be told, I never noticed that Dionys’ birthday was close to mine until I looked in my database for this week’s challenge. But I have always admired Dionys because he has one of the coolest names of all my ancestors! Dionys is the German form of the name Dionysius, the Greed god of wine, revelry, and debauchery. I wonder if young Dionys was a rabble-rouser that lived up to the name or the complete opposite? Of course, the name shouldn’t only be associated with the infamous Greek god – it is also the name of several saints, and there are monasteries and churches dedicated to St. Dionys throughout Bavaria where my Dionys, status of saint or sinner unknown to his descendants, was born.

Dionys’ Story

Dionys Daniel was born on 07 March 1784 in the small town of Niederscheyern in Bavaria. He was the son of Anton Daniel and Anna Maria Olfinger.

The statue of Mary and Jesus in the Church of the Annunciation dates back to 1500! The church itself is unchanged since 1752, so it is the church in which Dionys was baptized, married, and died.

The statue of Mary and Jesus in the Church of the Annunciation dates back to 1500! The church itself is unchanged since 1752, so it is the church in which Dionys was baptized, married, and died.

I don’t know much about Dionys’ life, so I investigated the town in which he lived. Niederscheyern, or “Lower” Scheyern, lies in the shadow of the larger town of Scheyern. For centuries, Niederscheyern was a popular pilgrimage site itself. In the early 16th Century, miraculous powers were attributed to a statue of Mary in the Church of the Annunciation (Kirche Maria Verkündigung). The miracles and answered prayers attributed to Mary’s intercession were recorded in “miracle books” – from 1635 to 1804 there are over 16,000 entries of thanksgiving. The books still exist today in the library of the Benedictine abbey of Scheyern. The abbey also had a relic of the Holy Cross from Jerusalem – since 1180 – and many pilgrims came from all over Bavaria to pray there. The abbey was also the Wittelsbach family monastery (the Wittelsbach dynasty ruled over Bavaria for over 700 years into the Twentieth Century).

My Dionys wasn’t part of the royal family, however. He was merely a farmer living in Niederscheyern. I have no evidence of what his crops were or how much land he owned, but when I visited the area the primary crop is hops. In fact, hops growing is so prevalent that it is known as “green gold”.

The Catholic faith seemed to govern all aspects of Bavarian life at the time, and I wonder how closely his farming life revolved around the seasons of of the liturgical year as closely as the calendar year. One thing is certain – he lived during an interesting time. On 21 March 1803, a big change came to the Scheyern Abbey – the abbey was dissolved under the “secularization” of Bavaria. Dionys was 19 years old and grew up with the Abbey as the center of life in the area – how did its closure affect him? Or his livelihood as a farmer?  Or the surrounding towns? All I know is that the monastery came to life again during his lifetime – in 1838, Ludwig I of Bavaria re-established the monastery, and the monks returned.

On 11 September 1809 he married Walburga Schober – he was 25 years old and his wife was 31. In 1812 they had a daughter, Anna Maria, who is my 3rd great-grandmother. They also had a daughter named Rosalie, but I’m not certain of her birth year.

I don’t know much more about Dionys’ life other than his death date, which was 25 May 1873. He was actually alive when my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, who is Dionys’ great-grandson, is born. I hope he got to meet him.

Dionys lived to be 89 years old, and what is amazing about this fact is that he outlives all of my direct ancestors in his line. One of his descendants, his great-great-granddaugther who is my grandmother’s sister, finally beats his age when she died at the age of 92 in 1990, more than two hundred years and four generations after his death. While 89 is an admirable age at death, life as a farmer in the 19th century had to be difficult and physically demanding, so making it to that age is rather impressive. Maybe Dionys didn’t live up to his Greek god namesake with a life of revelry (or maybe he did and that was his secret to good health)!

Just the Facts

  • Name: Dionys Daniel
  • Ahnentafel: #82 (my 4th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Anton Daniel and Anna Maria Olfinger
  • Born: 07 March 1784 in Niederscheyern, Bavaria (Germany)
  • Siblings: unknown
  • Married: Walburga Schober (1778-1856)
  • Children: Anna Maria Daniel Bergmeister (24 Jun 1812-02 Feb 1871); Rosalie Daniel Fottner
  • Died: 25 May 1873 in Niederscheyern
  • My Line of Descent: Dionys Daniel-> Anna Maria Daniel Bergmeister-> Joseph Bergmeister-> Joseph Bergmeister-> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 4: Closest to Your Birthday

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Road side for Mała Wieś, photographed by Zenon Znamirowski on January 18, 2010.

Road sign for Mała Wieś, photographed by Zenon Znamirowski on January 18, 2010.

The theme for Week 3 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Tough Woman” and my ancestor is my great-grandmother, Rozalia Kizeweter Piątkowska. Rozalia, or Rose as she was called in the United States, is my only great-grandmother of whom I do not have a photograph. In fact, I know very little about my paternal grandfather’s mother except what I have learned through my research. Based on what I’ve found, though, I have no doubt that Rose was a tough woman!

Rose’s story

Rose was born Rozalia Kizeweter on 08 August 1866 in a small village called Mała Wieś, which literally translates to “small village”. The town is in the parish of Przybyszew, gmina Promna, powiat Białobrzeski, województwo Mazowieckie, Poland.

Rozalia's name in her 1866 birth record from the parish records of św.Apostołów Piotra i Pawła church in Przybyszew

Rozalia’s name in her 1866 birth record from the parish records of św.Apostołów Piotra i Pawła church in Przybyszew

She was the sixth of at least ten children of Jan and Marianna Kizeweter. As a blacksmith, Rose’s father moved throughout the countryside among various small towns just southwest of Warsaw. Her parents were married in a town named Piaseczno in 1855 when her father was a 21-year-old journeyman blacksmith and her mother was 22 years old. The couple’s first child was born in Warsaw the following year, but then other children were born in four different towns over the years. By 1879, however, the family appears to be back in Warsaw and, beginning in that year, Rose’s siblings all get married in Warsaw.

In 1900, Rose married Jan Piątkowski on 14 May in the parish of św. Stanisława i Wawrzyńca, or Sts. Stanisław and Lawrence. According to the marriage record, her husband Jan was 28 years old and lived on Wolska Street while Rozalia was 34 and lived on Młynarska Street. Rose’s brother Władysław was one of the witnesses. At the time of the wedding, Rose’s father was deceased but her mother was still living.

Jan worked as a tanner, and the couple lived in the Wola section of Warsaw. A son, Józef, was born on 03 November 1903 and a daughter, Janina, was born on 29 December 1905. However, from the U.S. Federal Census I know that Rose also bore four other children before 1910 that did not survive.

On February 17, 1906, Jan left Poland for America with his brother-in-law, Ludwik Czarkowski. After arriving in New York City, they soon settled in Philadelphia. Each of their families would immigrate in the following year.  Rose sailed on the SS Armenia from Hamburg, Germany on 23 October 1906 with her son and daughter. They arrived in New York on 10 November. The physical description for Rose on the passenger list tells me that she had brown hair, blue eyes, and was 5’3″. She was 41 years old, her son turned 3 on the passage across the Atlantic, and her daughter was only ten months old.

The passenger list had X’s next to their names, which usually means they were detained at Ellis Island for some reason. At the end of the passenger list, I found their names and the reason for detention – they had to wire her husband, Jan, for money since she did not have enough to cover their transportation to Philadelphia. It is difficult to read, but she only had either $1 – or none – with her. Rose had to stay at Ellis Island with her children for two days and they were finally discharged on 12 November.

After settling in Philadelphia, Jan – now known as John – worked as a leather worker in a factory. The family had a surprise a few years later – Rose was pregnant with my grandfather, the only Piątkowski sibling to be born in the U.S. He arrived on 06 July 1910 and was named James. At the time of his birth, his mother was just weeks away from turning 44 years old. Today that would not seem unusual, but in 1910, women rarely gave birth at that age.

Little else is known about Rose’s life other than the simple facts found in records.  Her son Joseph (who eventually began to use the surname “Perk” in lieu of Piontkowski) got married in 1927 and had daughters Josephine in 1928 and Jean in 1930. I assume that John and Rose got to know their granddaughters as babies, but in 1931 their mother, Kathryn, died suddenly. The girls were put into a home because their father worked as a truck driver and was not at home to care for them. He remarried and had another daughter, Geraldine, in 1936, so Rose may have gotten to see her third granddaughter as well.

Daughter Jean was married by 1930 to William Rose Hynes and living in New York City, then Florida. She may not have ever seen her parents again after her marriage.  Research continues on the fate of Jean.

Son James got married in 1934 and had his first child, my father, later that year. My father has no memory of his grandmother but she likely got to know him briefly when he was a baby.

Rose died on 10 February 1937 from “chronic myocarditis.”  She was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery on 13 February. John lived alone, rather unhappily, until August 1942 when he took his own life.

Although I know very little about her, Rose is my choice for a “tough woman” based on some simple facts:

  • At least four of her children as infants or toddlers.
  • After husband departed for America, she had to care for two children, a toddler and an infant, presumably by herself, for nine months.
  • She immigrated to America alone with a 3-year-old and a baby, spending two weeks on a journey that was likely uncomfortable, lonely, and, quite frankly, frightening. She didn’t speak the language in this new home, and she would never see her siblings (or her mother, if she was still alive at the time) again. Then after arrival she had to spend two days waiting for money to travel to Philadelphia.
  • She had a child at the age of 44. When this occurred, in 1910, she was at the age that other women would be a grandmother. I don’t care who you are or what century you live in, but I’m just slightly older right now and I can’t imagine having enough energy for an infant!

For these reasons, I salute my great-grandmother as a strong, tough woman. My grandfather once said that his mother was a tiny woman (as evidenced by her height listed as 5’3″ on the passenger list). But, despite her size and being dwarfed by her husband, she ruled the house and often told his father “how it was”. I wish I had a photograph of this amazing, strong woman!

A note on name spellings: Rose’s surname is spelled many ways in records of her siblings and parents. Kizeweter is the most common, but variations include Kizieweter, Kizewetter, Kieswetter, and similar variations beginning with a G, as in Gizeweter. The name Piątkowski (female version Piątkowska), translates into Piontkowski in English due to the absence of the letter “ą” which has an “on” sound. However, my grandfather changed some letters around…and now that’s my name.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter
  • Ahnentafel: #9 – my great-grandmother
  • Parents: Jan Marcin Leopold Kizeweter (1837-?) and Marianna Ostał (1833-?)
  • Born: 08 August 1866, Mała Wieś, Przybyszew, Poland
  • Siblings:  Feliks Mateusz (1856-?), Katarzyna Marianna Slanina (1859-?), Józef (1860-?), Kazmierz (1861-?), Jan (1863-1863), Jan Józef (1868-?), Aleksander Józef (1871-?), Władysław (1873-?), Marianna Antonina Owczarek (?-?)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS Armenia with Józef and Janina, arriving in New York City on November 9, 1906
  • Married: Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) on 14 May 1900 in Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland
  • Children: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), Janina (Jean) Hynes (1905-?), James Pointkouski (1910-1980)
  • Died: 10 February 1937 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 13 February 1937 in Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 3: Tough Woman

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'The Slav Epic' cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

‘The Slav Epic’ cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

The theme for Week 2 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “King” and my ancestor is my 7th great-grandfather, Václav Jirsak (also spelled Jirsák). He was not a king, but his story is connected with kingship in various ways. First, the town of his birth is Králova Lhota in southern Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) – the very name of his birthplace, Králova, means “king”, and is so named because the land apparently was once owned by the Bohemian kings. But his personal story also involves leaving his Bohemian homeland due to the policies of its kings (and queen) against religious tolerance. Finally, his exile to a new country takes place because of another king’s invitation for persecuted Bohemians to settle a new land.

My ancestor’s story begins in Bohemia. The traditional land called “Bohemia” makes up about two-thirds of what is the Czech Republic today. But it was once a kingdom in the Holy Roman Empire. From 1526, the kingdom was ruled by the Habsburg monarchy. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was meant to solve religious disputes – princes were allowed to determine the religion of their subjects. The Hapsburg kings did not initially force their Catholic religion on Bohemia, which was mostly Protestant. But struggles over which religion would rule the land, so to speak, continued. The Thirty Years war was not only political, but also religious, and it was the battle between the Catholics and Protestants that influenced my ancestor’s personal story.

Queen Maria Theresa desired that her subjects share her Catholic faith as did Charles VII Albert, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia.  It became a crime against the state to be Protestant. Many Bohemians, my ancestors included, subscribed to the Protestant reforms of Jan Hus who believed that the Scriptures should be available in the language of the people, communion should be available under both forms, and the clergy should not have political power. But under Hapsburg rule, these teachings were forbidden. Although it was a crime, the faith continued to be passed down in private.

Václav’s Story

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Václav Jirsak was born in 1715 to Jan Jirsak and Alžbĕta Chmelařová in Králova Lhota. The family was Protestant, and two years before Václav’s birth Jan was found to possess banned books of a religious nature and he was forced to confess to the Catholic faith.  In order to gain freedom of religion, widower Jan and his adult sons, Václav and Jan, decided to leave their homeland at the earliest opportunity. That opportunity came thanks to another king, Frederick II, King of Prussia.

In 1742 Frederick offered Czech refugees the chance to move to Silesia, now under Prussian rule. The Czechs were offered land and monetary support. That year the three Jirsak men emigrated to several colonies near what is Bralin, Poland today. Due to father Jan’s age, life in the new land was too difficult, and eventually he returned to Bohemia to live with his daughter, Dorota, and her husband, Jiří Zounar. Jan died there in 1751, but his sons remained in the new land.

Václav took on a leadership role in these new colonies. In 1749, at the age of 34, he helped to found the colony of Groß Friedrichstabor (today this town is Tabor Wielki in Poland), and by 1759, he was an “elder” at Klein Friedrichstabor in Groß Wartenberg (today this town is Tabor Mały in Poland). Václav was a farmer in this new community, and with his wife Kateřina had four daughters (Anna Marie, Marie, Alžbĕta and Anna) and three sons (Jan, Václav and Jiří).

The families that settled in these colonies are collectively known as the Česká exulantská – the Czech exulanti or exiles. They were able to maintain their religious beliefs (the evangelical church of the Czech Brethren) free of persecution. They also maintained their Czech language despite living under the rule of Prussia and later Russia.

Václav died in 1793 at the age of 77. His son and grandson, both named Jan Jirsak like Václav’s father, would continue the family’s migration through Prussia to Russian-ruled Poland in search of better opportunities for their families. In 1802, both men were among the founders of a new Czech settlement in Zelów, Poland. After another two generations, my ancestors would continue the migration farther east to the town of Żyrardów, and the next generation came to the United States. Other descendents of Václav Jirsak eventually made it back to Bohemia in the Czech Republic after World War II – nearly two hundred years after one brave man and his sons decided to move in search of religious freedom.

Note on name spellings: Václav is Czech but the name can also be listed as Wenceslaus, Wacław (Polish), or Wentzel (German). The surname Jirsak is also spelled Jirsák, Jersak, or Girsak. The feminine ending for Jirsak is Jirsaková.

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Just the Facts

  • Name: Václav Jirsak
  • Ahnentafel: #888 (my 7th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan Jirsak (1681-1751) and Alžbĕta Chmelařová (1694-1725)
  • Born: 04 Sep 1715 in Králova Lhota, Bohemia (Czech Republic)
  • Siblings: Anna (1711-?),Dorota (1712-?), Václav (1714-1714), Jiřík (1718-1719), Alžběta (1720-?), Jan (1722-1796), Lukáš (1724-1725)
  • Married: Kateřina (1723-1785)
  • Children: Jan (1746-1821), Anna Marie (1747-1780), Václav (1751-1788), Jiří (1753-?), Marie (1754-?), Alžběta (1758-1787), Anna (1760-1792)
  • Died: 03 May 1793 in Czermin (Poland)
  • My Line of Descent: Václav Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak->Anna Jirsaková Jelineková->Anna Karolina Jelinková Smetana-> Alžbĕta/Elżbieta Smetana Miller-> Elżbieta/Elizabeth Miller Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me

Sources

52ancestors-2015

 

  Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 2: King

 

 

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52ancestors-2015

This year I am participating in the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge. The theme for Week 1 is “Fresh Start” and my ancestor is my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater. She was so confusing to research over the years that I needed a fresh start!

I first began researching my family history in 1989. While research methods, family group sheets, and pedigree charts have been the staples of genealogy for a very long time, looking back at when I began my search only twenty-five years ago seems like the dark ages. The first available federal census to research was 1910. No census records were online. No passenger records were online. No vital records were available online. There’s a theme here: nothing was available online, the paper records were difficult to come by, and even the microfilmed records did not cover the vast amount of years or locations that they do today.

After duly interviewing my parents about everything they knew about their immigrant grandparents (which was not much), I began my search. Considering the lack of easily accessible records, I actually did really well – of course, if I began today, I would find exactly the same information, plus a lot more, in a fraction of the time. But in the case of Elizabeth Miller Pater, I did not do very well. In fact, I made the biggest rookie mistake a genealogist can make – I made an assumption, lacked evidence of the genealogical “proof”, and continued researching. If the assumption had been correct, no harm done except for making professional genealogists cringe in horror. But – I was wrong! So for a certain period of time – a few years – I was actually researching the wrong Elizabeth Miller.

I based my research on a few facts from my mother. We assumed my great-grandparents married in Poland, but when I found my great-grandfather coming to the U.S. at the age of 14 – quite single – I realized that she did not come over under her married name. Therein lay the problem – pick a country and I can find you several dozen women named Elizabeth Miller. Whether it was Ireland, England, Germany, Poland, Russia, Autria, Hungary, Slovakia, or anywhere else, there were women named Elizabeth Miller. I limited my search to Polish (or Russian, given that Poland was under Russian rule, but my mother claimed that Elizabeth herself claimed she was Bohemian. Since my grandfather was born in 1912, I knew she immigrated before then, so “Bohemia” would have been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I don’t remember my rationale at the time, but for some reason I found a teenaged girl with my great-grandmother’s name and thought I found her. The uncle she traveled with was not a name familiar to my family. But I persisted down the wrong research path. If I only knew more about the genealogical proof standard back then! Fortunately, I started fresh and began the research again. This time, things made more sense, names matched, and documents verified my mother’s stories (yes, she was technically Bohemian – she was descended from Bohemian immigrants to Poland). It wasn’t easy, but I finally “found” the only great-grandmother I actually met.

Lesson Learned: Don’t assume! Verify information with sources until you’re reasonbly sure you have the correct person – especially when dealing with a common surname. And if you’re stuck, sometimes it pays to put all of your research aside and get a fresh start!

Elizabeth’s Story

Elizabeth Miller Pater

Elizabeth Miller Pater: Left, approximately 23-27 years old. Right, approximately 64 years old.

Elizabeth was born Elżbieta Miller in 1890 in or near the town of Żyrardów in the Mazovia province of Poland (województwo mazowieckie). Although her parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents were born in Poland, they were all of Czech descent. Her parents, Jan Miller and Elizabeth Smetana, were born in Zelów in the Łódź province but moved to Żyrardów as children with their parents. Żyrardów had a large Czech community, and most residents worked in the linen and textile factory that the town was built around in 1833.

Elizabeth was one of at least seven children (research on the family continues). Her family spoke Czech at home, but also knew Polish and Russian. They, and the other Czech families, were all of the Protestant faith – the Czech Brethren or Evangelical Reformed church. Despite the fact that Poland was predominantly Catholic, Żyrardów was a large town with groups of Germans and Czechs and had an Evangelical Reformed Church, a Lutheran church, and a Jewish synagogue in addition to the Roman Catholic church.

Elizabeth’s brother Emil immigrated to the U.S. in 1905; his wife and daughter followed later that year. They settled in Philadelphia, PA, where there was a community of other immigrants from Żyrardów. Emil had two more children in Philadelphia by the time his sister Elizabeth immigrated alone in 1909 at the age of 18. The passenger arrival record provides a physical description: light brown hair, gray eyes, and a height of 4’11”. In 1910, she is living on the same street as her brother and is listed as a border in the household of another family named Miller. Although they are also from Żyrardów, I have not yet found a family connection.

Living just blocks away was another family from Żyrardów, the Pater’s. I can only wonder if Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater had known each other as children in Żyrardów. Louis had been in the country since 1907. But just sixteen months after Elizabeth arrived, the couple got married. They married in Camden, NJ, rather than Philadelphia – perhaps because Louis had just turned 17 and may have required parental permission in Pennsylvania. Elizabeth was older by almost three years. Her brother Emil and her fellow border, Olga Olczak, served as witnesses. Olga was also from Żyrardów and would eventually become a relative of sorts to the Miller family through marriage.

Despite being from the same town, the couple were of two different religions. Louis Pater came from a Polish Catholic family. Elizabeth remained Protestant. It is just an assumption, but since Louis’ parents were also living in Philadelphia, I think it may have been a source of contention. My only proof of this is finding a baptismal record for my grandfather, Louis and Elizabeth’s oldest child, in the Catholic church near the Pater family’s home in Langhorne, PA. But years later when my grandfather went to marry in the Catholic church, he received a dispensation because he himself was not aware that he was baptized Catholic.

Louis and Elizabeth had five boys: Henry (my grandfather), Walter, Louis, Victor, and Eugene. Unfortunately, two of her sons died rather young, both from tuberculosis. Louis was only 24 when he died in 1940. His brother Victor was 31 and died just a few years after the same disease took his 22-year-old wife.

Both Louis and Elizabeth worked in the textile factories in Philadelphia. Elizabeth worked as a hosiery topper from the 1930’s through the 1950’s at Gotham Hosiery, which was located on Erie Avenue. The family lived on Hope Street, then N. Hancock Street, then N. Waterloo Street – all in the same Philadelphia neighborhood.

Elizabeth and siblings

From left to right: Alfred “Fred” Miller, his wife Mary, possibly Fred’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, unknown woman, Eddie Schultz, Mary Miller Schultz, Henry Schultz, and unknown man (possibly Walter Schultz)

Elizabeth seemed to be close to her siblings. Her brother Emil went back to Żyrardów sometime around 1910. He was apparently one of the exiles to Siberia around 1915 and died in Russia. His wife and son would later return to the U.S. and were close with Elizabeth. Their sister Mary immigrated in 1912 with her husband, Ludwig Schultz, and they lived in New York City. In 1913, brother Alfred immigrated with his five nieces and nephews, the children of Mary and Ludwig. Alfred lived in New York City and both of his brothers-in-law, Louis Pater and Ludwig Schultz, were witnesses for his marriage in 1921. The Schultz family eventually settled in Metuchen, NJ. In 1920, Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Sophie, immigrated to the U.S. accompanied by their mother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller. Sophie moved to Philadelphia but their mother lived with both Alfred and Mary. Mother Elizabeth died in Metuchen, NJ, in 1944. Elizabeth’s brother Ludwik remained in Żyrardów his entire life and owned a shoestore. The remaining known siblings, Paweł and Karolina, apparently died in exile to Siberia or in Russian prison. More research is being conducted to fill in these blanks on the family tree.

Elizabeth’s husband, Louis, passed away in 1957 at the age of 64. Elizabeth lived on Waterloo Street a few doors away from her sister-in-law, Victoria Pater Koruba. Elizabeth died from congestive heart failure on 28 July 1972 and was buried in Greenmount Cemetery. At the time of her death, she left behind three sons, seven grandchildren, and at least two great-grandchildren (including me). As much information as I’ve been able to gather on Elizabeth’s relatives, I’ve had a problem finding out information about the children of her sons Eugene and Walter (Walter decided that the surname Pater was unlucky and used his mother’s maiden name of Miller instead). Maybe it’s time for a fresh start with that research as well.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Elżbieta (Elizabeth) Miller
  • Ahnentafel: #13 – my great-grandmother
  • Parents: Jan Miller (c.1851-c.1913) and Elżbieta Smetana (1858-1944)
  • Born: 21 November 1890, Żyrardów, Poland
  • Siblings: Paweł (unk-bef.1919), Emil (c.1881-bef.1919), Mary (1884-1969), Karolina (1885-19??), Ludwik (1894-aft.1977), Ferdinand Alfred “Fred”(1896-aft.1969), Zofia “Sophie” (1903-bef.1969)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS President Grant, arriving in New York City on April 16, 1909
  • Married: Ludwik (Louis) Pater on 27 August 1910 in Camden, NJ, USA
  • Children: Henry (1912-1972), Walter (1913-1975), Louis (1916-1940), Victor (1919-1951), Eugene (1920-1979)
  • Naturalized: 13 December 1954
  • Died: 28 July 1972 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 31 July 1972, Greenmount Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Written for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 1: Fresh Start 

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Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton congratulates the author on her iGENE Awards.

Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton congratulates the author on her iGENE Awards.

Each year the (nonexistent) Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH) offers genealogy bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for the previous year. In fact, I usually try to avoid listing my “favorites” at the end of the year in anticipation of the annual iGENE post. But this year, the Carnival of Genealogy is on hiatus and I missed the annual opportunity to continue the tradition. So in honor of the 85th Oscar Academy Awards tomorrow – and giving me a good reason to show the photo above – I decided to go ahead and present my own 2012 iGENE Awards anyway. So without further ado, the “Academy” has reviewed all of the entries, read the critics’ reviews, and counted all the votes…it’s time to roll out the red carpet and present the honors.  Welcome to the 2012 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Anita_1950Best Picture

 “Gorgeous!”  ~ Wendy Littrell of All My Branches

The Best Picture award goes to Sepia Saturday: Mom on a Bike from August. My mom strikes a pose in the schoolyard when she was fourteen. The photo is from 1950, but her sense of fashion is timeless!

Best Screenplay

Your post is of great of encouragement to me that those who were once ‘lost’ may indeed be (and deserve to be) ‘found’.” ~ Cynthia Shenette of Heritage Zen

31225-001The story of my great-grandfather’s cousin in His Name was Józef Pater wins the award for Best Screenplay. And what a screenplay it would make! It’s the story of a decorated war hero who became a leader in the Polish Underground to fight the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Captured by the Nazis, he is given the opportunity to escape but passes to prevent repercussions for his imprisoned wife. Transferred to Auschwitz, Józef died as a political prisoner and his story was forgotten by his extended family – until now.

Best Documentary

“What a neat find, Donna. Guess it goes to show some of the best discoveries are accidental ones.” ~ Shelley Bishop from A Sense of Family

The winner of the Best Documentary goes to What Happened to Uncle Herman? which documented my investigation of why my grandmother’s uncle seemed to disappear from records. By tracking his life events and doing some additional research, I finally discovered what happened to poor Uncle Herman.

Best Biography

“Wonderful narrative!” ~ C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon, Stanczyk – Internet Muse™

For the first time in the history of the iGENE Awards here, the winner of the Best Biography category is also the winner of the Best Screenplay. Cousin Józef was by far the most interesting life story I’ve discovered out of all of my relatives so far.

Best Comedy

SCAN0099

“I can go to bed tonight with a smile on my face.” ~ Michelle Goodrum of The Turning of Generations

The winner of the Best Comedy award goes to September’s post, I Was a Teenage Car Thief. It wasn’t so funny at the time, but incidents like this become funnier as they become history. Read about how my friend and I stole our teacher’s car in high school…or at least that’s how the story is told.

Previous iGENE Award Posts:

 

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Yesterday I posted my round-up of all of my posts from the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge. “Challenge” was the key word – what sounds like a simple concept proved to be rather challenging. I participated because I knew the challenge would “force” me to post at least once a week. It wasn’t mandatory to post every week, but that was part of the personal challenge for me. I discovered that it was an incredibly creative exercise – much more creative than I originally thought. All of the submitters each week almost always had a different idea about what represented a particular letter, and I found that some of my original ideas fell by the wayside as a new letter approached and I came up with a new idea instead.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile exercise. If you are looking to make a commitment to yourself to post to your own blog, I highly encourage you to try something similar. For something even more daring, you could post a different letter each day and go through the entire challenge in less than a month. Or for a more relaxed pace, try one per week (as I did) or even one per month. Eventually you will make your way through the alphabet!

As I said, I found this challenge to be a good creative outlet. I’ve come up with some other ways to use the A through Z method to highlight other areas of family history:

  • Surnames or first names in your family tree through the alphabet
  • Family Photographs through the alphabet
  • Place Names from your family tree through the alphabet
  • Highlight record sources from A to Z
  • Highlight research techniques from A to Z
  • Favorite websites used for genealogy from A to Z
  • Family Memories through the alphabet
  • Your genealogical “bucket list” through the alphabet

The possibilities are as endless as your own creativity. I’m still pondering which A to Z series I will challenge myself with next!

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A collage of the images I’ve used each week during the Family History through the Alphabet challenge!

For the last twenty-six weeks, I have participated in the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge promoted by Gould Genealogy. It was more challenging than I thought it would be, and I feel a sense of accomplishment that I completed all 26 letters! Here is a round-up of all of my posts. Tomorrow I will share some of the things I learned from participating in this challenge. Thanks for reading and commenting on these posts for the last six months!

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Żyrardów coat of arms

Completing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge… Z is for Żyrardów! There was never any doubt what I would use for the letter “Z” – Żyrardów is a town in the Mazovia region of Poland from which my Pater great-grandparents came. It was also the very first town in Poland that I “discovered” in my family history research, so it holds a special place in my heart. In addition, it is the very first ancestral town in Poland that I visited!

I’ve written about Żyrardów before, most notably in my post entitled Żyrardów: Birth of a Modern Town. Although the town is rather modern by European standards with a “birth date” of around 1831, I’m fascinated with the town’s history.  The history is interwoven (pun actually intended) with the textile industry – an industry with which I now work indirectly. My ancestors helped Żyrardów become the largest producer of linens in the entire Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century.

Spinning cotton in the Żyrardów linen factory (date unknown)

This weekly challenge has been wonderful and I’d like to thank Alona Tester of Gould Genealogy for creating this challenge. Later this week I will post more about what I learned from participating and some ideas I have as a result of participating.

[Written for the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Winding down the Family History Through the Alphabet series, Y is for… Y-DNA! Only men are born with the Y chromosome, so Y-DNA traces the patrilineal line. I personally have not had any of my male relatives tested for Y-DNA, but I wondered if iI could trace the Y-DNA from each of my great-grandparents’ lines. Is that even possible? Here’s  look at my great-grandparents (numbered with their ahnentafel numbers) to see if it could be done:

8. Piątkowski – yes – My father, brother, and nephews could all have a Y-DNA test to determine the origin of our patrilinal line.

9. Kizoweter – maybe – My great-grandmother had a brother, Jozef Kizoweter. He was living in Warsaw at the time of her immigration, and I’ve found records for his mariage and the birth of some children. Did the male line survive in Poland?

10. Bergmeister – yes – My father has two male first cousins, I have at least two male second cousins, and there is another male generation that all bear the Bergmeister surname and are descendants of my great-grandfather.

11. Echerer – maybe – My great-grandmother had a brother, Karl Echerer, who was married in Munich in 1908. It is unknown if he had any sons or if the male line has survived to today.

12. Patermaybe – Of the three Pater sons that immigrated to this country, only my great-grandfather had sons. Of the five sons, only two had sons. I have not yet been able to find those two male cousins of my mother, Larry Pater and Louis Miller (although Pater is the “correct” surname). There were also numerous Pater relatives left in Poland, but it is not known if any male descendants are left after the wars.

13. Millermaybe – My great-grandmother had a brother who had one childless son. However, I think she had other brothers and I’ve recently found information about one, Alfred Miller. I am trying to determine if his male line still exists today.

14. Zawodnyyes – I’m in touch with at least one male cousin of my mother’s and he has a son. This Y-DNA line could be traced.

15. Ślesińskidoubtful – My great-grandmother apparently had one brother, Feliks, but I have been unable to determine if he had any sons. More research is needed.

If I was able to convince my male relatives to submit to Y-DNA testing, I would get a good idea of my own genetic makeup. Have you had any Y-DNA testing done on yourself or male relatives?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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St. Francis Xavier, missionary, saint, and eponym!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… X is for Xavier. While Xavier as a first name has gained popularity in the last decade or two, for centuries it was used as a middle name combined with Francis. Why? The first-middle name combination of “Francis Xavier” comes from the man first known to use it, St. Francis Xavier.

Francis Xavier was a Catholic missionary priest and co-founder of the Jesuits who lived from 1506 to 1552. Although he was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in Navarre (present-day Spain), he came to be called Francisco Xavier because of his family castle named Xavier (or Javier, or Xabier). The name is derived from the Basque word etxaberri, which means “new house.” While studying in Paris, Francis met Ignatius Loyola – they and five others founded the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as “Jesuits,” in 1534. He was ordained a priest three years later. He is remembered for his years as a missionary in India, Indonesia, and Japan where he brought Christianity to thousands.

It is not uncommon for a surname to become a given name, but what I find amazing is the widespread use of “Francis Xavier” together. The name “Francis” was always popular, and many men (or women) named Francis (or Frances) might be named after another popular Catholic saint, St. Francis Assisi. As popular as St. Francis of Assisi is, however, I’ve never seen “Assisi” – another place-name “surname” – used as a middle name. Likewise, I have many men named “Ignatius” in my family tree in either the German form of Ignaz or the Polish form of Ignacy – but none of these use “Loyola” as a middle name which would imply they were named after St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Francis Xavier, however, seems to have something rather unique about him in that both of his names are often used together. This would make more sense if perhaps the names were popular in either his home country, present day Spain, or in the countries where he ministered like India. Many names gain popularity in certain areas due to a local saint with the name.  But the names “Francis Xavier” seem to be popular worldwide. The name combination appears as Francisco Javier in Spanish-speaking countries, Francesco Saverio in Italy, Francisco Xavier in Portugal, François Xavier in France, Franciszek Ksawery in Poland, and Franz Xaver in Germany.

A little over two hundred years after St. Francis Xavier lived, his names were used in my family in Bavaria. Franz Xaver Gürtner, my 4th great-grandfather, was born on 04 September 1781 in Reichertshofen, Bavaria. His daughter, Barbara, would grow up to marry Franz Xaver Fischer (born 06 October 1813 in Agelsberg, Bavaria) in 1841. Both men are found in records listed by both “Franz Xaver” or “Fr. Xaver” as well as by just “Xaver.” In German, the name is pronounced as Ksaber.

Another Bavarian 4th great-grandfather, Ignaz Echerer (born 26 July 1765 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria), had a brother named Franz Xaver Echerer. Although St. Francis Xavier traveled around the world, as far as I can tell he never visited Germany – yet his name is very popular throughout the country centuries later.

St. Francis Xavier had a big impact on the world, especially in the countries he worked like India. However, his name had an even bigger impact in my opinion. I even have a distant cousin living today with the name Francis Xavier. Xavier is one of the only English names beginning with “X” so it stands out as unique despite the centuries of other men named F.X. How many Francis Xaviers (or just plain Xavier) are in your family tree?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) in Old Town Warsaw. Yes, my great-grandfather lived on Beer Street!

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… W is for Warsaw! When I officially began my family history research and my father told me his grandfather, Jan Piątkowski (John Piontkowski) was from Warsaw, Poland, I thought: Yeah, right! Being a native-born Philadelphian, I am familiar with people “borrowing” my city as their place of birth because no one ever heard of the tiny suburban town they were born in. The fakers exclaim: “Well, it’s near Philadelphia!” So when I heard my great-grandfather was from Warsaw, I wondered exactly where he was born. My other great-grandfather said he was from Warsaw sometimes too, but he was from a town 27 miles away. Close doesn’t count when you’re searching for birth records.

But then a funny thing happened…I discovered he really was from Warsaw! Thanks to numerous Warsaw church records that are available online, I found my great-grandfather’s baptismal record that confirmed his birth as he reported on his Declaration of Intention. My Piątkowski family was from Warsaw!

Prior to this discovery, I visited the city in 2001. I unknowingly visited some of the family’s sights such as the Archcathedral of St. John (Archikatedra św. Jana). At the time, I had no idea my great-grandfather was baptized there. Technically, of course, it is not the same church – most of Warsaw was completely demolished in 1944-5. It is estimated that 80% of the old buildings were destroyed, including most of the Old Town area and the churches. Eventually the buildings were rebuilt – some are exact replicas of what once stood, others are not.

There is still a lot of research to do (or more accurately, there is a lot of deciphering Russian to do), but so far I have discovered that my great-grandfather’s father, Stanisław Piątkowski, was in Warsaw by 1863. It was then he married Apolonia Konopka in Holy Cross Church (Kościół św. Krzyża). Neither was originally from the city: Stanisław was from Mogilev (Belarus) and Apolonia was born in Konopki in the Augustów province.

Stanisław was listed in records as a “private official” and a valet. I have yet to determine for whom he worked, but there is one characteristic of Stanisław that sets him apart from EVERY SINGLE OTHER POLISH ANCESTOR – he could write his name. My factory workers and craftsmen – even some merchants – could not. I continue to wonder what a private official did in late nineteenth century Warsaw. At that time, Warsaw was undergoing a population boom – the city’s population more than doubled in twenty years.

Not all church records are available yet, but so far I’ve discovered two other sons of Stanisław and Apolonia, Jan’s marriage record and two children’s baptisms, and several records for the family of the brother of Jan’s wife, Rozalia Kizoweter (aka Kizeweter or Gizeweter). Since the addresses are provided in the church record, on my next visit to Warsaw I can re-visit some of the streets where they lived!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Proud descendant of the two gentlemen below coming it at nearly 3′ tall!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… V is for Vital Statistics! Line up your ancestors and check out their vitals!

Definition of VITAL STATISTICS

1: statistics relating to births, deaths, marriages, health, and disease
2: facts (as physical dimensions or quantities) considered to be interesting or important; especially : a woman’s bust, waist, and hip measurements
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When genealogists speak of “Vitals” we are usually referring to the information obtained from Vital Records: Births, Marriages, and Deaths. The term “Vital Statistics” refers to stats relating to these records. Although the second definition is primarily used for a woman’s physical “stats,” I’m using it in a slightly different non-sexist way. For me, Vital Statistics are the information I’ve obtained from genealogical records about my ancestors’ physical descriptions such as their height, hair color, eye color, and more. This information is especially relevant to me for the ancestors for whom I have no photograph – these “stats” are the only way for me to see what my ancestor looked like.

Where does one find such information? If your ancestor immigrated to the United States in 1906 or 1907, the passenger arrival records include the immigrant’s physical description: height, complexion, color of hair and eyes, and identifying marks. Draft registration cards are a great source of physical descriptions for male ancestors. Naturalization records also ask for physical descriptions. Other resources might include military records or employment records.

Joseph Zawodny, age 22

 When my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny filled out his WWI draft registration card in 1918, he was  38 years old. The cards were not very specific, and he listed his height and build as “medium” with brown eyes and dark hair. But what was considered medium height and build back then? The more specific information requested for his Declaration of Intention four years later in 1922 might answer that. He lists his height as 5’7-1/2″ and his weight as 164 pounds. He had a fair complexion, brown hair, and brown eyes – which fits with the black and white photograph I have of him.

Louis Pater, age 54

Then again, the records may not always be correct or consistent. Take, for example, my other great-grandfather, Louis Pater. When he arrived in the U.S. in August, 1907, he was only 14 years old. He was only 5′ tall with blond hair and blue eyes. On his WWI draft card at age 23, he said he was “tall” and “slender” with brown hair and green eyes. Four years later on his Declaration of Intention, he lists his height as 5’10” and weight as 150 pounds. He has a “dark” complexion, “dark brown” hair, and “grey” eyes. Finally, on his WWII draft card at age 48, he seems to have shrunk to 5’9″ and put on a few pounds at 190. He has a “ruddy” complexion, “brown” hair, and “brown” eyes! So, were his eyes blue, green, gray, or brown? Likely gray – that was the color of the eyes for the entire Pater family and he passed them on to his son!

I don’t have any photograph of my great-grandmother Rose Piontkowski. But because she arrived here in 1906, I know from the passenger list that at the age of 41 she was 5’3″ with brown hair and blue eyes. It’s not much, but at least it gives me some idea of what she may have looked like. I don’t have a photograph of her husband John either. He was too old for either draft, but he filed his Declaration of Intention in 1920 at the age of 49. He was 5’8″, weighed 150 pounds, had a dark complexion, brown hair, and gray eyes.

Sometimes the descriptions on the passenger lists aren’t very flattering! Take my great-great grandmother Antonina Pluta Pater. Thanks to her passenger arrival record, she will forever be known as having a “sallow” complexion and a “wrinkled forehead” in addition to her 5’2-3/8″ frame, brown hair, and blue eyes!

Vital stats such as height or eye color are obviously not as useful as actual vital statistics like birth and death dates. But, it does give us a nice “look” at our ancestors. It is also fascinating to create family trees that show things like eye color – biology class in high school suddenly becomes more interesting. So as your family tree grows, take some “measurements” along the way and see which ancestors you most resemble!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… U is for Unusual Resources! I already devoted a whole post to my Uncles, so in looking for a “U” term I decided to take a look at some of the more unusual resources that are available for genealogical research. The “usual suspects” include birth, marriage, and death records, quickly followed by records related to the census, immigration and naturalization, or the military. But sometimes fantastic genealogical information hides in the most unusual places…here are some of my favorite unusual resources:

Bank records - Ancestry.com has an interesting collection of immigrant bank records. Sometimes immigrants would open an account at a bank specifically for the amount of money needed for relatives to immigrate to this country. These can serve as an alternate resource for finding immigration records. They also may provide clues to the name or address of other relatives.

Fraternal organizations – Many immigrants belonged to fraternal organizations, and some of these provided things like insurance policies – which, if available, are an alternate source for death records. I found my great-grandfather’s life insurance policy through the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) on the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s (PGSA) website. Recently I noticed that Ancestry has a similar collection of enrollment and death benefit records for Pennsylvania chapters of the Order of the Sons of Italy.

Employment records – I haven’t yet found any of my ancestors’ employment records, but I know that they exist for many companies. Sometimes these records can be found in special collections at libraries. If you’re not sure exactly where your ancestor worked, try getting a copy of their SS-5 application for Social Security, and for male ancestors try their draft registration cards.

Funeral home records – Sometimes funeral home records can provide additional information about family members that aren’t found on a death certificate. Obviously the type of information that was requested – and kept on file – varies with the funeral home. Some are available online (Ancestry has been posting more of these collections lately), but most probably reside with the funeral home itself if it’s still in existence.

Other unusual records I’ve used include consular records, coroner’s reports, police records, ethnic press newspapers, and church jubilee books. Each of these has the potential to provide some small nugget of useful information about your relatives. The key, of course, is actually finding where these unusual resources are hidden.

“Unusual” doesn’t have to just apply to the type of record or resource, but it can also describe the “out of the box” thinking that helps a researcher find information and solve research problems. Genealogist Steve Danko applies the scientific method to his research. I’ve found inspiration from a television show and use the Castle “murder board” approach. My “Pointer Sister” Caroline Pointer often takes a techno-approach to problem solving. If your usual method of problem-solving doesn’t work, try a method that is unusual to you!

Here’s to all the unusual means, methods, and records that help us find all the usual information we seek for our ancestors! What records have you used that would be described as “unusual”?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet challenge]

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History:  gossip well told.  ~ Elbert Hubbard

Partners in crime: Nancy and I, probably up to no good, at National Honor Society induction during junior year (fall, 1983).

I was a teenage car thief.

Or so the story goes. That isn’t quite exactly true, but it seems to be how the story is told years later!

In my girls-only Catholic high school,my friend Nancy and I were probably known more for what we didn’t do than what we did. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink. We didn’t cut class, hike our uniform skirts halfway up our thighs, and we didn’t even wear makeup.

Nancy and I were good, polite, studious young ladies who got mostly straight A’s. Boring? Well, maybe to some, but we both also happened to have a great sense of humor and a mischievous streak, so we certainly weren’t bored. And, after all, the great thing about a devious mind in a goody-two-shoes body is that you rarely ever got blamed for your own mischievousness!

In junior year, we both had the good fortune to have Mrs. Campbell for history class (we called it “World Cultures”). Not only was Mrs. Campbell very smart (little did we know then that she was a future Jeopardy contestant) and an excellent teacher, but she was fun, too! Mrs. C had a sense of humor and a mischievous streak that rivaled ours in addition to a penchant for really bad puns. Let’s just say that Nancy and I learned a lot from her.

One day Mrs. Campbell broke off into an off-topic tangent about a student who attempted a  practical joke on her and failed. With a daring twinkle in her eye, she declared, “NO ONE has ever fooled me!”

Seated on the left side of the room, I immediately turned to Nancy a few rows to my right and raised my eyebrow. Nancy discreetly caught my gaze and nodded. The game was afoot! With a silent shared glance and only the faintest hint of a smirk, Nancy and I were thinking the same exact thing: “We’ll see about that, Mrs. C!”

After class, we wondered what joke we could play on her. We quickly realized it had to involve her car in some way, for the car had become a frequent detractor from our daily lesson plan. The Campbell’s bought a brand new car, and it was a complete lemon. Never in the history of American car production had a brand new car had so many mechanical failures. They were at their wits’ end in trying to get help from the dealership.

“We should steal it,” I said.

Nancy looked slightly shocked, yet amused, and gave me a questioning look.

“Well, not really steal it…just, you know – move it. If her car wasn’t where she parked it, she’d think it was stolen!”

Nancy smiled, “That’s perfect!”

Yes, perfect, until it dawned on us, both National Honor Society scholars, that neither of us could drive yet. Our friends who could drive thought we were absolutely insane and wanted nothing to do with our devious plans.

Time for Plan B! In the end, Plan B doesn’t sound like much at all – but, history is more about how things are remembered than what actually happened. Our classmate, Deena, worked in the main office during our class period. She would enter our room with a (forged) note for Mrs. Campbell that would tell her to call the dealership about her car – urgently! That’s right, kids, there were no cell phones in the mid-80’s!

This simple message was merely meant to invoke her ire – at the car, not us – and send her into a brief tizzy of humorous car-related stories which would have the side effect of getting us off the day’s lesson plan for the rest of the period until we revealed the joke.

See, we were not quite comedic geniuses yet, just lazy history students.

On the appointed day (my fuzzy memory thinks it was possibly April Fool’s Day) and the designated time, the note arrives. Mrs. C read it and looked quite distressed. She then did something we didn’t expect – she said she’d be right back and bolted out of the room!

When our note-delivery girl returned with the second note that said something to the effect of “just kidding”, Mrs. C still wasn’t back yet. Deena saw her in the hallway talking on the pay phone. Those who knew of our plan asked us what was going on: “Who’s she calling?” Others laughed and said, “You’re both dead!”

She couldn’t possibly be calling the dealership, could she? Maybe moving her car was a better idea after all.

She returned to the room, breathless – not from the short walk to the classroom, but from all the talking she had just quickly done on her call. She was about to explain what happened when she noticed that Deena standing in the front of the room. Deena handed her the second note while backing towards the classroom door and simultaneously trying to give a death-stare to Nancy and me on our different sides of the room.

That second or two while Mrs. Campbell read the note seemed longer than waiting for the bell to end Sr. Cherubim’s class.

Then… she laughed! And then said, “Oh my God, I have to call my husband!” and ran out of the room. She quickly returned and was dismayed that his line was busy. She explained that she called him about calling the car dealership because something else was wrong with the car. By the time she finally did get in touch with him – before our class was over – he had called not only the car dealership but also the Vice President of General Motors to discuss the lack of quality of their new vehicles and their poor customer service.

Fortunately, Mr. Campbell was as easy-going as his wife and they both actually laughed at our little prank. They thought the car dealership needed to be told off anyway, and we just prompted them to do it a little faster.

My memory has faded on the detail of how Nancy and I were identified as the perpetrators, but either we openly bragged about it or she immediately guessed from our sheepish grins. I think she actually admired us after that for our brave initiative. Mrs. C was so cool that by the end of junior year, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell agreed to chaperone four friends and me on a trip to Rome after we graduated – and she kept her word!

No cars were harmed or even touched in the prank, yet forevermore Mrs. Campbell called Nancy and I her car thieves. And that is how I got my class out of a history lesson one day and went down in Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls history as a teenage car thief.

How Mrs. Campbell signed my yearbook in senior year: Dear Donna, You have a great future as a car thief.

Our prank made it into our senior yearbook as a caption on a photo of Mrs. Campbell teaching class!

Left: Nancy and Mrs. C at our friend Mary’s graduation party, June 1985. Right: Mrs. C and me expressing our dissatisfaction with the hotel in Rome, July 1985.

[Written for the 122nd Carnival of Genealogy: School Humor]

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My ancestral towns

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Series… T is for Towns! When I first started researching my family history, I did not know the names of the towns from which my great-grandparents came. Now I have a plethora of exotic-sounding foreign town names from Aichach to Żyrardów and Aschau to Zelów!

I always want to learn more about each place: What’s the history of the town? What was the town like when my ancestors lived there? What does it look like today?

Gazetteers are great for a historical perspective of your ancestral town. For Germany, I’ve used the Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire (Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs) and for Poland, the Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavonic Countries (Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich).But an easy way to learn more about a town is to “Google it”! I’ve found that most towns – even some tiny ones – have websites. With the help of some online translators, you can even learn more about the town’s history from their website. Many towns even have pages that provide information in English.

Once you know the names of your ancestral towns – consider visiting in person. There’s nothing like walking in your ancestors’ footsteps to get a sense of what family history is all about.

Read past posts about some of my ancestral towns: Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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