Some family lines resemble a skinny tree while others have a tangled web of branches that sprout off in all directions. The theme for Week 5 of 52 Ancestors is “Branching Out” and my family line of the week is the Drogowski Family. My mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was a Drogowski, and I have far more DNA matches from her parents than any other set of 3rd great grandparents.
The patriarch of this family is my 5th great-grandfather, Grzegorz Drogowski, who was born about 1741 in Wilczyn to Bartołomej Drogowski and Justyna Smyk. Around 1770, Grzegorz married Rozalia Szternalska. The couple had three children: a son, Wojciech, who was born in 1773, and two daughters, Maryanna and Francizka, whose birth dates are unknown.
In March, 1824, Rozalia died at the age of 80. Shortly afterwards, 83-year-old Grzegorz marries again. His bride was the 30-year-old Maryanna Stawska. A son was born in 1825, Kajetan, and another in 1827, Michal. Also in 1827, Grzegorz died at the age of 86.
Because the children of Grzegorz were born 50+ years apart, young Kajetan and Michal were younger than most of the nieces and nephews from their half-brother Wojciech. Wojciech (my 4th great grandfather) had two daughters (Maryanna and Franziska) and four sons – the daughters and at least two of the sons (Jan and Ignacy) survived infancy. Michal died at the age of 18, but Kajetan married and had at least one son (Stanisław) and one daughter (Eleonora).
From these lines come dozens of families! The branches are too numerous to map out, for it would not fit on this page. Instead I’ll try to summarize some of the interesting things I’ve learned while researching this family.
I’ve written before about Jan Drogowski, my 3rd great-grandfather, who was a linen merchant and occasional smuggler with his “uncle” Kajetan. The two men married sisters, the daughters of Józef Kubinski and Apolonia Lewandowska. Jan’s wife was Konstancja, born in 1818, and Kajetan’s was Nepomucena, born in 1825.
In addition to the double cousins produced from these two marriages, there are three instances of cousin-marriages:
First cousins Franciszek (son of Jan) and Aleksander (son of Ignacy) also married sisters, Teofilia and Wacława Wapinarska.
A grandson of Jan, Kazimierz (son of Józef), married the granddaughter of Ignacy, Kazimiera aka Elsie (daughter of Aleksander) – they are second cousins.
Another grandson of Jan, Stanisław (son of Józef), married the granddaughter of Kajetan, Kazimiera (daughter of Stanisław) – they are second cousins once removed.
As you can tell from the names in the above example, there are many repetitions among the names of these families. There are multiple examples of Józef/Joseph, Stanisław, Franciszek/Frank, and Edward.
The family has two priests (who are second cousins to each other) and three doctors. One of the priests, Fr. Anthony Drogowski, was the officiating minister at the marriage of my best friend’s grandparents!
Several of Jan’s children immigrated, but there is evidence that they journeyed back and forth to Poland. In the case of his son Jozef, several of Jozef’s sons immigrated, but one went back to Poland permanently and one never came. So although Jozef (senior) is buried in Pennsylvania, we have cousins from his other sons still living in Poland.
The family has various settlement points in the United States including Detroit, Pittsburgh, Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, and “upstate” Pennsylvania.
In my research I accidentally discovered a NPE – non-paternal-event. I had a DNA match who shared all of the Drogowski matches, but the individual did not have any Drogowski family. After researching the person’s family, I realized they were from a different part of Poland. I was given access to the person’s DNA matches and immediately saw a first cousin match to one of the Drogowski lines. Unfortunately the person’s biological father was one of the men in this particular branch.
Perhaps the biggest question of all is – was Gregorz really a father in his 80s? It’s possible. Or perhaps he married a pregnant girl to give her child a name. Can we definitively conclude he was the father of Kajetan? Not via autosomal DNA because Kajetan and his “nephew” Jan married sisters. But, perhaps through Y-DNA testing this can be proven. There are male descendants from both Kajetan and Jan. The only thing that would negate the testing is if Gregorz married her because his married son Wojciech had gotten her pregnant.
This post is dedicated to the memory of my 4th cousin, Paweł Drogowski, who died unexpectedly last August at the age of 40. Paweł and I attempted to create a complete genealogy of all of the Drogowski branches and the various other surnames that connect to the family from its female descendants. May he rest in peace.
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. ~ Zora Neale Hurston
The genesis of a family historian is curiosity. I’ve discovered that people are either interested in knowing about their family’s past, or they really don’t care at all; there is no in-between. The Week 4 prompt for 52 Ancestors is “Curious.” I have no idea which of my ancestors had a curious personality, so rather than focus on a particular ancestor I’m looking in the mirror – what am I still curious about after over 30 years of researching my family’s history? Plenty! As I discover new information, my questions seem to multiply. So what’s a curious genealogist to do? Formalize that curiosity by developing research plans to poke and pry and, hopefully, quench that curiosity! Here’s a few things that I’m still curious about…
Why does my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny have two different social security numbers? I discovered this just last week! In one of the social security databases, his name is listed with the same birth date and parents’ names, but different numbers. I already have his SS-5 card – or I should now say one of his SS-5 cards – and that number matches the one on his death certificate. Now I’m really curious about the other one…did he forget he already applied? Or is there something to that lingering story that he used someone else’s name?
Research Plan:Order the SS-5 card. Do I need the information? Given that I already have his birth, death, and marriage records as well as those of his parents and great-grandparents – no, not really. But I’ll spend the $21 because I am curious! [See this post from The Legal Genealogist if you don’t know what a SS-5 card is or what it will reveal.]
The Missing Sister…
What happened to my grandaunt, Jean Piontkowska Hynes? So far I’ve tracked her and her husband, William R. Hynes, from New York City to Florida where they resided in 1940. In October, 1944, according to The Tampa Tribune, William filed for divorce. However I found no record of the divorce and no notice of it in the paper. William married again in the late 1940s (his third marriage). On Jean’s brother’s obituary in 1953, she is listed as living in Detroit, but obituaries are not that reliable and I haven’t found any other evidence of that. According to William’s child from the post-Jean marriage, Jean might have been living in New York City around 1958 and when she became ill and her ex-husband helped her out. Where and when did she die?
Research Plan: I’m waiting for the release of the 1950 census to determine where Jean went after leaving Florida (if she left); then continue to search for her death record. I still don’t actually have her marriage record to William from around 1926; one story says they never actually were married, but William would know that so why would he file for divorce if they weren’t actually married? I’d like to find that divorce record, too, so I’ll check with the county clerk for Pinellas County.
Across the Pond
What happened to the rest of the Pater family that remained in Poland? I already know that my great-grandfather’s first cousin, Józef Pater, a decorated war veteran, was active in the Polish resistance during WW2. This resulted in his fourteen month-long imprisonment in Pawiak Prison, shipment to Auschwitz, and his death there eight weeks later. His wife, Helena Palige Pater, was also imprisoned at Pawiak for the same amount of time and died at Ravensbruck. Either his son or his brother, both named Bronislaw Pater, died at Majdanek. Jozef was the son of Marcin Pater, my great-great grandfather’s brother. Another brother was named Stanislaw, and both had children. When I visited the Pawiak Museum in Warsaw in 2017, I saw a photo on the wall of a Stanislaw Pater that seemed to resemble Jozef. I’m curious if it was his brother or uncle, and I wonder what happened to the rest of the Pater family.
Research Plan: Write to the Pawiak museum requesting information on Stanislaw Pater, check Arolsen Archives that document Nazi persecution, continue to look at several research sites that contain Polish vital records, and search family history sites for relatives.
What happened to the Miller brothers who were exiled to Siberia? Last week I wrote about my 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller. Her daughter Zofie told her nieces that her brother Emil Pater was exiled to Siberia. This occurred either during World War I or the Polish-Soviet War that immediately followed it.
Research Plan: Find some books that detail this event, especially the Polish-Soviet War which isn’t as well known in the U.S. I could also attempt to find descendants of Emil’s daughter, Wanda, who remained in Poland after her mother returned to the U.S. in 1930 (assuming her family survived WW2).
Who’s the Daddy?
When you have DNA matches that are close enough to figure out and both people have done extensive family research but the trees do not match, you know there’s a paternity that doesn’t match the paper trail. Such is the case on my Zawodny line (actually my Ratajczyk line as my 2nd great grandfather adopted the use of the name Zawodny from his stepfather). Because I have three matches all descending from the same ancestor, I suspect he is actually my 3rd grandfather. He and my 3rd grandmother were in the same general vicinity, but not in the same town. However, no other explanation makes sense as to how I keep matching to his descendants.
Research Plan: How to determine this? Y-DNA would be useful, but my matches aren’t from the direct male line of this ancestor. I need to dig more into their family line to find a direct male line to prove my theory.
When I use prompts or themes to write with challenges such as “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” or the much loved but long-gone “Carnival of Genealogy,” usually I either read the theme and know immediately who or what I will write about, or it takes a great deal of thought to come up with something. This week, for Week 3 of the 2022 “52 Ancestors” theme of “Favorite Photo,” I discovered a third option: I knew exactly which photo I wanted to write about, but then it was as if another ancestor was like a child raising her hand and yelling, “Me! Me! Pick me!” When your great-great-grandmother metaphorically speaks to you, listen – as it turns out, I had already written about my “other” favorite photo in 2015, and my 2nd great grandmother’s life was quite extraordinary in simple ways. Her name was Elizabeth Smetana Miller. Her ancestors were “pioneers” of sorts, fleeing religious persecution and settling – even founding towns – in a foreign land. In her youth, her family and several others moved 90 miles away from their birthplace in search of better things. Later, as a mother, her children began to migrate even further away to the United States. I have a documented oral history from a cousin that tells even more of her story: she cared for her younger children plus five grandchildren for over a year. Then, after seeing her grandchildren and one son off to America, she faced widowhood and a world war on their doorstep. Surviving the war years, she would make one more journey – this time to America herself – where she lived another quarter century as the family matriarch in Metuchen, New Jersey. The few facts and stories tell me she was one tough cookie!
Here is my favorite photograph of Elizabeth Smetana Miller. It was taken on Long Island, NY in 1925 and she is holding her great-granddaughter Lucille. Besides wanting to tell Elizabeth’s story, I chose this as my current “favorite” photo for several reasons. I was able to see and photograph it in the summer of 2014, but I had only learned the previous year that Elizabeth immigrated to the United States. I had assumed she died in Poland and was quite excited to discover otherwise. Finding the cousin that had the photos and stories – as well as finding out about Elizabeth’s long life – was a mix of genuine research and serendipitous good luck!
Elizabeth Smetana was born on 06 April 1858 in Zelów, a town that is in Poland today. Then Poland did not exist as a country, and this area was under Russian rule. Her family, and most of the town of Zelów, had lived in the area that is now Poland for over a century, but they were ethnically Czechs from Bohemia. Her name in Czech is Alžběta Smetanová; in Polish it is Elżbieta Smietana.
She was the fifth child born to Pavel Samuel Smetana and Anna Karolina Jelinek (Jelínková). Pavel’s ancestry will be discussed later this year for another theme of “52 Ancestors” – for now let’s just say there are some questions about his parentage. But Anna’s ancestors are among the “founding fathers” of Zelów and some of the other Protestant Czech settlements that proceeded it as they were fleeing religious persecution in their homeland (read about one of her ancestors here). Both sets of Anna’s grandparents, Jan Jelinek-Maria Pospischil (Pospíšilová) and Jan Jirsak-Anna Nemecova, moved to the town within the first few years of its founding in 1802.
Zelów was founded as a farming community, but as the town grew, residents who were not landowners became weavers. Their skills led them to migrate to two larger cities that had a need for skilled textile workers: Łódź and Żyrardów. During Elizabeth’s childhood, approximately in the 1870s, at least eight Zelów families moved to Żyrardów for these opportunities.
In addition to the Smetana family, the family of Matej and Marie (Szara) Miller were among those who moved. The Miller family had a son, Jan, who was born in Zelów on 24 November 1849. He was almost a decade older than Elizabeth, but the pair were married by 1880.
Elizabeth and Jan Miller had eight children:
Emil born on 22 December 1881
Marya (Mary) born on 24 March 1884
Karolina born on 12 March 1886
Elizabeth born on 19 November 1890 (my great-grandmother)
Paweł born on 11 December 1893
Alfred born on 18 April 1896
Zofie born on 03 April 1903
Their oldest son, Emil, was the first to emigrate to America in 1904, followed by his wife and daughter. Jan and Elizabeth’s daughter Elizabeth followed in 1909. In 1912, Mary, now the wife of Ludwik Szulc (Shultz), followed her husband. At the time, the Shultz’s had five children, but Mary left the children – temporarily – with her parents, Jan and Elizabeth. It is through Mary’s oldest daughter, Louise, that I know about their living arrangement. Louise was born in 1903 and was only a girl of nine when her parents left for the U.S. For a year Louise lived with her siblings, grandparents, uncles and one aunt who was the same age as her. Decades later, Louise told her story to the Ellis Island Oral History Project. [The entire story of Louise Schultz and her family is told in a 3-part series of posts beginning with Life in Poland and the Decision to Leave (Part 1); I repeat a few snippets here.]
Elizabeth was now responsible for her own four children still at home – ages 19, 16, 12, and 9, as well as her daughter Mary’s five children – ages 9, 8, 6, 4, and 3. In addition to the added responsibility of caring for five young grandchildren, Elizabeth was the sole supporter of the family because her husband Jan was sick.
Louise, like most 9-year-olds, thought her grandmother “was old, but actually she was not.” [Note: her grandmother was 55 years old at the time.] Louise explains, “My grandfather was sick; he was in bed. She was very fast, my grandmother. She worked the looms, one on one side and one on the other so she could make enough money.”
Finally, on 06 August 1913, Mary and Ludwig Schultz sent enough money for their children to immigrate, accompanied by their uncle Alfred Miller. Just three weeks later, Jan Miller passed away on 25 August, leaving Elizabeth a widow with three children still at home: Paweł, Ludwik, and Zofie. Perhaps she had hopes of joining her adult children in America, but those hopes were dashed by the “Great War.”
When the war began, Żyrardów was on the front line. Hundreds of workers were drafted into the army. Because of the decrease in workers and the lack of raw materials, the factory began to reduce production. Food prices increased. As German troops made their way through Russian Poland, martial law was declared.
In early 1915, goods, raw materials, and machines were removed from the textile factory. The town was deserted due to forced digging of trenches, general displacement, and epidemics of infectious diseases. The worst came after the collapse of the front line of Płock-Bzura-Rawka. On the night of July 16, 1915, the retreating Russian army blew up the main factory buildings. By the end of 1915, the town was under German occupation. During that time, charity committees were abolished and strict food regulation was imposed.
In an article in The New York Times on October 26, 1915 (originally printed in The Chicago Tribune on September 24), reporter James O’Donnell Bennett writes about crossing “Russian Poland” which at that time in the war was in German or Austrian control. He writes:
Often in the last five days I have made the experiment of looking out over the wide landscape to see if I could find an unscathed tract of country. Always the experiment is a failure. Always a shattered church tower notches itself against the sky or a battered village lies crumpled at the edge of fields.
The reporter mentions several towns his party traveled through, including Żyrardów. He describes the whole country as
…flyblown and sodden and a ‘nobody cares’ atmosphere envelops it…It is all waste and wreckage, wreckage and waste, a land of grime and ruin and sour smells, of silent fields and slatternly women, of weary sentries…
Louise said her aunt eventually told her what it was like during the war and “how awful it was when the German army went through the town.” Louise realized that she and her siblings “just missed the horror of a war. They used to hide in cellars and had no food. My grandmother went from one farm to another to beg for a piece of bread.”
It is believed that Elizabeth’s son Paweł was part of the Soviet roundups in Żyrardów that sent residents to Siberia. He did not return from the exile and presumably died there. Elizabeth’s daughter, Karolina Miller Razer, may have suffered the same fate; her sister Zofie later told her niece Louise that Karolina died “in prison”.
Ludwik Miller, a young teenager, either joined or was conscripted into the Russian Army sometime during the Great War. He survived the experience and lived a long life. [Although he visited the United States, he never immigrated and remained in Żyrardów.]
The oldest son, Emil Miller, who was the first of the family to immigrate to America, actually returned to Poland in 1913 after the death of his father. He brought his wife and their children, two of whom were born in America, but after the war began there was no way to leave. Emil and one of his daughters died in Poland during the war. Emil’s wife, Zofja, and American-born son Edward could finally return to America in 1927 (Edward) and 1929 (Zofja). Another daughter (Wanda) stayed behind in Żyrardów.
Widowed Elizabeth and her youngest child, Zofie, would eventually immigrate to America themselves. They sailed aboard the Megantic from Liverpool and arrived in Portland, Maine on 10 December 1920. Elizabeth a lived for a time with Alfred in New York, then with Mary in New Jersey.
I’d like to know more about Elizabeth’s life in America, but I only know where she lived and that she died on 08 November 1944 at the age of 86 (even though her obituary says 81 – I have her birth record!) Thanks to other snippets of her life gleaned through her granddaughter Louise’s memories, I think she was a brave woman. Like her forefathers before her, she also made trips in her life in search of better things. She worked hard for her family, cared for her husband, and suffered both the separation from her children and grandchildren as well as the deaths of some of her children. She also had to be of strong character to endure the suffering caused by World War 1 from 1914-1918 and continued with the Polish-Soviet War from 1918-1921. She was fortunately to be able to leave the country while it was at war.
Elizabeth was 62 when she arrived in America and she lived for another 24 years. In fact, she had a longer lifespan than her husband, probably all of her children (Ludwik’s death date is unknown, but he was alive in 1977 at age 83), and even longer than the majority of her grandchildren who grew up in relative comfort in America as compared to her life in Poland.
Štěříková, Edita: Zelów (Česká exulantská obec v Polsku), published by KALICH, Prague 2002, ISBN 80-7017-793-4
Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1826-1888. Authors: Kościół ewangelicko-reformowany. Parafja Zelów (Łask) (Main Author). Format:Manuscript/Manuscript on Film. Publication: Salt Lake City, Utah: The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1970, 1980, 1990.
Ellis Island Oral History Project. Series AKRF, no. 0033: Interview of Louise Nagy by Dana Gumb, September 16,1985
“Zigzagging Over Poland” by James O’Donnell Bennett, The New York Times, October 26, 1915, page 3.
The theme for Week 2 of the 2022 edition of “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” is “Favorite Find.” I’ve had several favorite finds in the many years of researching my ancestors, and my favorite tends to be the the latest record, fact, photo, or person I found. But I have to admit that this find was rather unique and still makes me smile.
When I research my family tree, most of the ancestors are merely names and dates without any stories or context about who they really were as people. But, depending upon the circumstances, or the peripheral information about their occupation or town or family, some ancestors seem to call to me as if they have a story to tell. Jan Drogowski, one of my 3rd great grandfathers, is one of those ancestors. Maybe because he was the son of a farmer who became a linen merchant. Or because he lived during most of the 19th century (from 1818 to 1894). Or because he had ten children and I have dozens DNA matches among his many descendants. But his story got even more interesting with my favorite find.
I wrote about Jan’s life for the 2015 “52 Ancestors” challenge for Week 17 (“Prosper”). I assumed he had prospered since he was the son of a farmer who, at age 20, was already a linen merchant when he married the daughter of a farmer. He also was literate, which was not common at the time. He and his wife Konstancja had ten children together.
Years after I wrote that post, I used a rather unscientific form of research: a quick Google search. I put in just the surname and town name (Wilczyn) and found a reference to Jan on a list in a German newspaper. At first glance, I could tell it provided his physical description, so I was excited about that. I thought it might be a military draft listing. But then it dawned on me — he was from the Russian partition, so why would he be on a draft list for Prussia?
Upon closer inspection and translation, it is a list of people for whom the police have issued warrants! Both he and his uncle Kajetan (who is six years younger than Jan) were seen smuggling merchandise across the border. They were extradited for being “burdensome, troublesome.” My ancestor was a smuggler! Since he was sticking it to both Prussia and Russia who had divided up Poland, I felt proud of that fact.
In 1856, my ancestor Jan Drogowski, age 36, and his uncle Kajetan, age 30, both linen weavers from Wilczyn, are listed in a Prussian newspaper for outstanding warrants from 1855. Jan is described as 5’6” with blond hair, blue eyes, a blond beard, an oval face, a healthy complexion, and medium build. Kajetan is 3 inches shorter with dark hair and no beard.
Jan and his uncle were only six years apart due to a 50-year age difference between Jan’s father, Wojciech, and Wojciech’s half-brother. The pair not only smuggled together, but they must have been close friends since they married sisters.
I guess they never got caught, and now I know how Jan was able to support ten children! His granddaughter (my great-grandmother) lost the blond hair and blue eye connection and had brown hair and eyes.
It’s incredibly rare to obtain a physical description of an ancestor from the early or mid 19th century. It’s also rather rare to get a sense of story or personality from that far back. Usually all we have are names and dates. So I’m very happy with this accidental find. Wilczyn was really right on the very edge of the border between the two countries. I’m sure it was profitable to sell goods on the “other side.” At the time, he had about seven kids. My great grandmother wasn’t born until 1860, so I’m happy he wasn’t caught.
NewspaperSource: Amtsblatt der Königlichen Preußischen Regierung zu Bromberg. Published 1856. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized November 3, 2009. Pages 48-49. Accessed via Google Books.
Map Source: Józef Michał Bazewicz, Atlas geograficzny ilustrowany Królestwa Polskiego (Litografia B. A. Bukaty, Warsaw, 1907); digital images, Mapster, http://igrek.amzp.pl/mapindex.php?cat=BAZAKP1907, Powiat słupecki guberni kaliskiej (Note: original has been cropped and edited to highlight Wilczyn.)
This past December as I pondered blogging again, I heard my mother’s voice in my head joking that it took me six months to write a tribute to my father after his death but it’s been over a year since hers – so “what was I waiting for?” (Maybe she’ll be pleased that her tribute is much longer than my father’s!) At the same time, I saw a notice of another “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. I participated in 2015’s version and was doing well until May, but I only completed 21 of the 52 weeks. That challenge not only forced me to organize my facts about many of my ancestors and relatives, but it also provided a creative writing challenge to find the right story to fit the prompt.
With these two thoughts in mind, I was happy to see that the Week 1 theme for 2022 is “Foundations” – my mother was the foundation of my life, so how appropriate to start of this new year of blogging with a tribute to her.
My mother died the day I was born; she told me all about it years later. ~ Donna
Anita Jane Pater was born on December 28, 1935, the second child of Henry and Mae (Zawodny) Pater. Both of her parents were first generation Americans born in Philadelphia to Polish immigrants. Henry and Mae lived a few houses apart on Indiana Avenue in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia when they married in 1930. Their first child, Joan Delores, was born on August 30, 1932.
By Anita’s own account, her childhood was not happy. Although the sisters were close, they had different personalities and interests and always fought with each other. While Henry earned a good wage at a hosiery factory, he had a habit of losing his paycheck at the racetrack, so the family struggled financially. Many things that Anita wanted, like piano or dance lessons, her parents could not afford. But the things that she loved most about childhood were going to school, going to the movies, and designing dresses.
One of Anita’s first jobs was as an “elevator girl” at Strawbridge & Clothier’s, a large department store at 8th & Market in Philadelphia. The girls operated the large elevators for customers and the minimum age was 18. Anita, 17, lied about her age and got the job. She loved wearing the uniform, and she became friends with three other gals: Ruth, Rita, and Jane. Later she worked in administrative and bookkeeping positions, and years later became a bank teller.
WE’RE FOOLS WHETHER WE DANCE OR NOT, SO WE MIGHT AS WELL DANCE. ~JAPANESE PROVERB
Anita loved to dance! She attended neighborhood dances, mostly held in church and school gyms. Each dance focused on a particular age group from pre-teen to older teens, to almost-adult and beyond. My mother and her girlfriends practiced dancing on the sidewalk in front of their houses.
Dancing played a role in my parents’ marriage – and my existence – because it all started at a dance! On Sunday, March 13, 1955, my mother was 19 years old. She had “outgrown” the fun dances at St. Matt’s, so she and some girlfriends decided to try the Sunday night dance at St. Boniface. It was her first and only visit there.
My father, James Albert Pointkouski, also liked neighborhood dances, and St. Boniface was close to where he lived at the time. The boys danced as a way to meet girls, and they learned by watching others dance. He was 20 years old, lived with his parents, and made $1 per hour hanging garage doors for a company two doors away from his home.
Neither remembers what music was played that night, but a live band performed. When Jim asked Anita to dance, he remembers being glad he had his “little black book” and a pen with him. He asked for her phone number; she gave it to him.
Their first official date was to see a movie (neither remembered which one). Afterward, they went to the Mayfair Diner. During their meal, Jim proclaimed that he really wanted to get married. Surprised that a young guy would want marriage, my mother asked why. “Well,” he said, “it sure would be nice to have someone cook dinner and iron my shirts.” My mother replied, “You don’t need a wife, you need a maid.”
“It’s Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White when you’re in love” ~ Pérez Prado
When Jim asked Anita out again, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go. She didn’t know what to say, so she pretended she was too sick to go out. That night, he sent her two dozen roses as a get well wish, which made her feel even more guilty about lying. They did go out again, and again, and they were married a little more than one year later on April 7, 1956.
Before their marriage, my father got a job with IBM, and in October, 1956 he had to attend a training class for a few weeks in Endicott, NY. The young newlyweds exchanged letters while they were apart. I’m grateful those letters were saved, because they show how much they loved each other.
March 13, 1955 was the most wonderful day of my life, just as you are the most wonderful person in my life. Jimmy love, I like to think that our love for each other is something special that no one else in this whole entire world could ever possibly share the same feelings. I have given so much of my love to you, that there is only the right amount left over for our children. Leaving very little for anyone or anything else, with the exception of God. I know it’s only because of Him that we have each other.
From Anita to Jim on 10-12-1956
I don’t ever remember anything that ever happened before March 13, 1955. Since then life has had its ups & downs but because of your warmth, companionship & devotion, I’ve never experienced a really sad day – you’ve always been my one lil’ ray of sunshine on which I’ve based all my hopes & plans for the future. …They taught me a long time ago, that the husband is the head of the house but the wife is the heart – and like the body, they must function together to sustain. Baby, that’s how I feel – like half of me is missing. I have your picture, your letters, your phone calls, but I don’t have you.
From Jim to Anita on 10-17-1956 (the day she would die many years later)
Jimmy every night when I go to bed or in work I day dream. I make plans for our future. I think about our children. I can really picture them. They’re adorable. ~ Anita, 10/10/1956
Jim had been in the Navy Reserves since high school, and in February, 1957, he was called to active duty for two years. He spent part of that time at the naval base in Norfolk, VA, and he occasionally could travel home for leave. The couple had their first child, a stillborn daughter, in May, 1958. Anita experienced toxemia with the pregnancy, but they desperately wanted children so she was soon pregnant again. Their son, James Drew, was born in 1959.
At the time of Drew’s birth, the family was renting a house on Knorr Street in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia. In 1960, they purchase a home, or rather a “pile of dirt” as my mother called it, that was still being built. It was on Kirby Drive in the “Far Northeast” part of the city that was still largely undeveloped. They would remain in that house until each had to move into a care facility decades later.
My parents tried to have another child for years, and my mother prayed that she would have a daughter. It took many years before her prayers were answered, and I arrived in 1967. Mom was once again very sick with toxemia, as she was with her other pregnancies. This time, she coded on the table after giving birth to me. Long before anyone wrote about “near death experiences,” she had one. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t her day to die.
In the early 1970s, my mother’s love for dancing and my father’s love of making people laugh collided when they became involved with the annual parents’ show at my brother’s high school, Archbishop Ryan. Many of the parents involved in the shows were quite talented, and they performed to a packed house for a weekend every November. Not only did the shows bring great joy to my parents, but they made some life-long friends from this experience.
In the late 70s, two things happened that had a big impact on Anita, and each event is the impetus of the two main areas in which my mother influenced my life: faith and health.
“Christmas was a few short days away. I wasn’t prepared to celebrate this holy day. I wasn’t going to celebrate anything. I was going to die.” ~ Anita, 10/20/1989 about 1983
Anita always believed in God – despite her upbringing. When she was about four years old, her father told her that there was no Santa Claus. Then he told her there was once a God who created the world and everything in it, then He disappeared forever. My mother once wrote about this moment:
I felt such a sense of despair and helplessness. If there was no one to pray to, who could I turn to? Who would listen to my lonely cries? I thought God was supposed to help us – what would happen to me now? I walked out the back door and looked up at the darkening sky and saw one beautiful, shining star just starting to peek through. ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, I wish there is a God afar. I don’t care what my father says or thinks, I know you’ll take care of me because without God life stinks.’ I felt better after that. I made my decision that I would believe there is a God even if there wasn’t a Santa Claus.
undated writing by anita
As a child, my mom’s family did not go to church very often, but she was baptized Catholic at the age of three or four (with her older sister), likely at the prompting of her maternal grandfather with whom they lived at the time. My father, on the other hand, had been more of a regular church-goer in his youth. But once they had a family of their own, we only went sporadically despite the fact that my brother and I went to Catholic school.
Around 1977, a friend of my mother’s invited her to a Catholic Charismatic renewal prayer meeting – and it changed her life. She had a reawakening of her faith and rather quickly became more interested in prayer, the Bible, and Mass. I believe that it was her prayers that led my father, my brother, and myself to find our own personal relationships with God. My father and I found our way back to the faith within the next few years, and my parents and I both became active members of Our Lady of Calvary parish. This happened while my brother was in the Marine Corps, and when he returned home, we were a different family. Soon, mostly from our mother’s influence, he also rediscovered the faith.
My mother led many others to Christ with her testimony and was a woman of powerful prayer. Many people have told me that she helped or influenced them. My parents and several of their friends began a weekly rosary group that flourished for years, and she was always willing to pray with others.
Mom’s powerful faith is intertwined in the second way influenced me – how to take care of your body to be healthy. She was definitely a survivor! I already mentioned how she died when I was born, but she came very close to death again in 1978 with an intestinal perforation and peritonitis. She had multiple surgeries and it took her many months to recover, but her faith helped her get through it.
In 1983, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began chemotherapy. She felt even more sick from the treatment. But she believed that she would be well. When she refused to have another round of treatments, the doctor told her that she only had six months to live. Through prayer, a positive attitude, and a complete change of her diet and nutrition, the cancer eventually went into remission – and never returned for the rest of her life. It became a pivotal moment in my own life – not just because of how different my life would have been without her, but because I saw the positive – or negative – impact that food, supplements, and even your thoughts could have on your body. I encouraged her to write about her healing about four years later. After describing the stress and fear caused by the diagnosis as well as her physical pain and fatigue, she wrote:
I accepted the bad experience I was going through and believed that good would come from it. One can’t help but marvel at God’s ability to work through us when we encounter a negative experience and make us stronger for it. There is nothing in our lives that God does not allow but it is never His will that we suffer. He allows it so good can come from it. I have found that giving praise and thanks for all things helps you understand how futile stress and worry are and I began to willingly accept trials and tribulations without struggle and more importantly without fear. Negativity is a destructive force that hampers spiritual growth and denies the pleasure of life Being open to God’s will brings us new life and joy. Time on earth is too short to waste.
Anita’s account of her healing from cancer written in 1989
I may be lucky enough to have you for about seventy-five years – all of which would be inestimably happy. ~ Jim to anita, 10/8/1956
Anita was a wonderful cook and loved entertaining friends. She also loved taking day trips to play the penny slot machines at the casinos in Atlantic City. Her other favorite hobbies were watching old movies, especially musicals, and seeing shows downtown.
While she wasn’t as interested in her family’s history as I was, she was fascinated by some of the things I discovered along the way. She told me everything she remembered hearing from her parents, aunts, and uncles, and slowly I took those fragments of memories and found the facts. We even went out for a few meals with cousins she hadn’t seen in decades as well as cousins she’d never even met.
One of her most favorite things was being a grandmother. She became a grandmother for the first time in 1995 with the birth of her first granddaughter, Natalie. Eventually she would have four grandchildren with the addition of Ava in 2005, Nicholas in 2007, and Luke in 2009.
Jim developed Parkinson’s that was manageable for over a decade, but in September, 2013, he moved into Wesley Enhanced Living retirement home in Philadelphia. Anita visited almost every day until his death on June 27, 2016. They had been married for sixty years.
I received a beautiful note on the day of her funeral from her parish priest. He wrote that he really got to know my parents due to illness; he used to visit my father in the nursing home and see my mother making her daily visits. He wrote:
I was seeing two people suffering individually and at the same time saw the ways they reached out to each other. They made marriage vows real – ‘I take you for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, I will love and honor you all the days of my life.’ We are blessed being a part of their lives.
Fr. James Kirk, 10/22/2020
In the years after Jim’s death, Anita suffered several transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). She always bounced back and continued to live at home until January of 2020 when she moved into assisted living at Riverview Estates in Riverton, NJ. After March, a difficult period of isolation began due to pandemic restrictions. But she continued to touch people with her faith – several of the caregivers admitted how much they loved conversations with her about faith or praying with her. Anita passed away from a stroke on October 17, 2020.
Anita was a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. She was a dreamer and a survivor. She was a woman of strong faith. Thank you, Mom, for being the foundation of my life and of my faith – and for teaching me how to love.
When we remember Who we came from we will know why we are here. When we remember Who the light of the world is, we can let it shine from within. You can be the one who brings someone out of the darkness. You can be the one who shows the way. We need to show the people of this time that God is with us. We need to make them aware of His presence. Do you believe? If so, show others His light. Make a difference! Show them the true light of the world.The light of Jesus. How well do you know Him? How well do you know His word? How willing are you to let His light shine through you?
anita pointkouski 2/7/2014
ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO HER, O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON HER. MAY SHE REST IN PEACE. AMEN.
The theme for Week 43 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Oops” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandmother, Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr. I chose her since I made a big “Oops” involving her early on in my family research. (It’s also a bit of an “oops” that I haven’t written since Week 20…)
Ursula Eichinger was born on 06 September 1820 in Oberweilbach, Dachau, Bavaria. She was the daughter of Georg Eichinger (1793-1855) and Helena Böck (1790-1834). Ursula was their fifth of twelve children, and her mother died when Ursula was 14 years old. Her father Georg remarried three months later and had one more child.
Ursula married Josef Dallmayr, an innkeeper, in 1843 in the town of Prittlbach. They had ten children together including my great-great grandmother, Ursula, who was their second child. By 1856 the family moved to the town of Asbach where Josef purchased an inn. I have not yet researched a death date for Ursula or her husband, but it is presumed that they died in Asbach.
Ursula is my “Oops” ancestor because early on in my research when I was not yet comfortable researching German records, I hired a researcher to help me get started. He quickly found my great-grandparents’ marriage record that identified my great-grandfather’s parents. His mother was Ursula Dallmayr, daughter of Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr. When the researcher found the Ursula’s marriage record, however, he made a small mistake with both her residence and her mother’s maiden name. This error had me looking for Ursula Eulinger from Aichach instead of Ursula Eichinger from Asbach! The two towns are not that far apart, but worlds away when you’re looking for a particular individual who doesn’t exist. Years later, I reviewed the records myself. By then I had become accustomed to the old style of German script, and when I saw the name I thought, “Wait a minute! That’s not Eulinger!”
Amazingly, another German genealogist has a connection to this family, and his vast online family tree provided information on the Eichinger family all the way back to the 1600s. How do I know that Ursula’s name is really Eichinger after making a spelling mistake once already? For one, I found a marriage of Josef Dallmayr and Ursula Eichinger as their daughter’s marriage record states. But another really good reason why I know it’s the right couple is because I had a DNA match with a descendant of Michael Dallmayr, son of Josef Dallmayr and Ursula Eichinger!
Lesson learned: even professionals sometimes make mistakes when it comes to translating handwritten names. Get a second – or even third – opinion if you can’t find the name you are looking for!
Just the Facts
Name: Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr
Ahnentafel: #43 (my 3rd great-grandmother)
Parents: Georg Eichinger (1793-1855) and Helena Böck (1790-1834)
Born: 06 September 1820 in Oberweilbach, Dachau, Bavaria.
Siblings: Bernhard Eichinger (1815-1815), Anna Maria Eichinger Buchner (1816-?), Helena Eichinger Reidmayr (1817-?), Thomas Eichinger (1818-1819), Nikolaus Eichinger (1822-?), Therese Eichinger (1824-1882), Georg Eichinger (1825-1825), Magdalena Eichinger Scheck Notensteiner (1828-1894), baby Eichinger (1829-1829), Rosina Eichinger Widmann (1831-1896), Georg Eichinger (1833-?). Half-sibling: Katharina Eichinger Welsch (1836-?)
Married: Josef Dallmayr (1819-?) on 24 October 1843 in Prittlbach
Children: Therese Dallmayr Effner (b. 1845), Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz (1846-1911), Michael Dallmayr (1848-1906), Katharina (b. 1849), Sebastian (b. 1853), Maria (b. 1855), Kreszenz (b. 1856), Josef (1858-1859), Magdalena (b. 1860)
My Line of Descent: Ursula Eichinger Dallmayr -> Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz -> Josef Bergmeister -> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski -> father -> me
The theme for Week 20 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Black Sheep” and my ancestor is my grandaunt, Jean Piontkowska Hynes.
The idiom “black sheep” with regard to genealogy usually refers to an ancestor who did some particularly notorious deed. I guess I should be happy to say that I don’t really have any ancestors that qualify as black sheep by that definition – thankfully there are no murderers or America’s Most Wanted in my family tree. One of my great-grandfathers was convicted of a crime and did a short amount of time in prison, but I don’t know enough about the particulars to tell that story. Another great-grandfather’s brother was wanted for fraud in Germany, but not only have I told that story previously, I’ve also highlighted his brother, sister, and mother so far in this series so by now it would read like a repeat.
So my choice is a different definition…an ancestor, or in this case an ancestor’s sister, who chose a different path. Black sheep are a rare occurrence caused by a recessive gene taking dominance, and not only would a black sheep stand out in the crowd of white sheep but also the black wool could not be dyed and was therefore not valuable. So the term “black sheep” took on a negative connotation. Also interesting is that the idiom appears in several languages besides English, including my ancestral languages of German, Polish, and Czech. But on the surface, an actual black sheep isn’t a bad sheep; they are just different. Rather than highlight the bad seeds from the tree, I’m going to highlight the one who chose a different path and, in so doing, turned her back on her family and never returned.
Jean was born as Janina Piątkowska¹ on December 29, 1905 in Warsaw, Poland to Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia Kizeweter. The family lived in the Wola section of the city, and she was baptized at St. Stanisława Church. Janina had an older brother, Józef, who was born two years earlier, and their younger brother (my grandfather) wouldn’t arrive until 1910.
I’ve written about Jean before in November 2010 in a post called “The Sister Who Disappeared” – please take a look to read about the family’s immigration to Philadelphia when Jean was nearly 1 year old. In that post, I detail how Jean disappeared from her family’s lives sometime in the 1920’s. The story my grandfather told was that she, the poor working class daughter of Polish immigrants, met and married a “rich doctor”. The happy couple moved to Florida, never to be heard from again.
Except months after I wrote that post, I found out that Jean was heard from again…just not by my grandfather. I found the 1953 obituary of their brother, Joseph Perk, and it mentioned her name as “Mrs. Jean Hynes”. Finally I had a married name to research! I haven’t uncovered all of the facts of her life, but I know a lot more about her than just knowing her as the sister who disappeared. It turns out my grandfather’s story was almost right. She married the son of a rich doctor, and after living in New York they really did move to Florida.
Sometime around 1926, Jean met and married William Rose Hynes. Or perhaps they met and pretended to be married because I haven’t yet found a marriage license in either Philadelphia or New York. William was born in 1902 in New York City. His father, also named William Rose Hynes, was a doctor who died in 1926. There is a long soap-opera-worthy story in New York newspapers from the 1890s that tell the story of the Hynes’ family wealth and various lawsuits over inheritances. Although young William is listed as a radio engineer in the 1930 census, he did come from a family that had more money than Jean’s immigrant parents. In 1930 the couple lived in an apartment on Broadway, and Jean worked as a hair dresser in a beauty salon.
In 1937, William and Jean lived on 163rd Street, Flushing, Long Island. In November they traveled by ship to Bermuda. While this may not seem exotic by today’s standards, to Jean’s family back in Philadelphia this would have been as exotic as traveling to the moon!
By 1940 the couple is living in Pinellas County, Florida, where William’s uncle also resided. They had no children. That’s when my paper trail ends. But, I was able to find out more about William than about my grandaunt Jean because I discovered that he had a second marriage, a daughter from that marriage, and that he later lived and died just miles from where I live in New Jersey.
According to William’s daughter, he married his next wife in the mid-1940s. She wrote:
There is a family story that they had to elope to MD because he had lived for many years with another woman, and called her his wife, but they had never been formally married. The clerk of courts in Queens refused to give him a license to marry my mother, because he could not produce a divorce decree.
As my grandaunt Jean was that other woman, perhaps she really is a black sheep after all!
William’s daughter was a teenager when he died, so she didn’t know much about his previous relationship. Her mother said that William’s first wife became ill (possibly dying) and he went to visit her and help, perhaps around 1958.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to Jean after her split from William. The obit that led me to research her relationship to Hynes said that she was living in Detroit, and William’s daughter thought she may have lived in New York City, but I’ve been unable to locate a death record in any state so far. I hope to one day find out the rest of Jean’s story.
¹For info on the spelling change to Piontkowska and the present form of my surname, see my grandfather’s profile from Week 15 under the “How Do You Spell That?” theme
Just the Facts
Name: Jean (Janina) Piontkowska (Piątkowska) Hynes
Ahnentafel: N/A – grandaunt, sister of #4, my grandfather
Parents:Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) (1871-1942) and Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter (1866-1937)
Born: 29 December 1905 in Warsaw, Poland
Siblings: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), James Pointkouski (1910-1980)
Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS Armenia with her mother and Józef, arriving in New York City on November 9, 1906
Married: William Rose Hynes III (1902-1966) around 1926; divorced by mid-1940s.
Children: unknown, at least 5 nieces and 2 nephews
The theme for Week 19 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “There’s a Way” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandmother, Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta. I chose her because I’ve been making my weekly posts on Sunday, and today is Mother’s Day. Franciszka seems to have suffered a lot of hardships as a mother. But even in old age, she definitely found a way to be with her daughter – even if it meant traveling to America by herself.
Franciszka Wojciechowska was born on 01 October 1840 in the town of Mszczonów, Żyrardów County, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland (then under Russian rule). She was the first born child of Jan Wojciechowski and Karolina Dąbska who were married in January of that same year. Jan was a 24-year-old shoemaker and his wife was 21 at the time of their daughter’s birth.
Franciszka must have been a hearty child; unfortunately, most of her siblings did not live to adulthood. The next three children were all boys who died at 2 years old or less. Fortunately, the next four children – three other girls and a boy – all lived to adulthood.
When Franciszka was 22, she married Ludwik Pater, a shoemaker like her father (and his). Ludwik was also born in Mszczonów and they probably grew up together. Like her mother before her, she suffered much heartache when it came to having children: at least three children died as toddlers and another died at the age of 11. Only two lived to adulthood: daughter Antonina Rozalia (my great-great grandmother) and son Jan.
Sometime between 1880 and 1885, Ludwik died. I have been unable to find his death record despite the availability of online (and indexed) records for that time period. A son was born to the couple in 1880, but by the time of their daughter Antonina’s marriage in 1885 to Józef Pater, Ludwik is deceased.
After Antonina’s marriage, Franciszka may have moved with her to the town of Żyrardów eight miles away. Antonina suffered similar losses as her mother and grandmother – of ten children, four died as infants or toddlers. By 1905, Antonina’s husband made the decision to immigrate to the U.S. in search of better job opportunities (ironically, the family would continue to work in textile factories in Philadelphia just as they had in Żyrardów but without the strikes that were occurring at that time). In 1906, Antonina joined him with their teenaged daughter and their youngest. The following year, their three teen boys came with their older sister and her husband. Franciszka was now alone except for her son, Jan (and presumably his family). She was a widow, her parents had died in the few years after her husband, and even her mother-in-law died in January, 1906 at the age of 83.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way… In June, 1909, Franciszka made the journey to the United States to join her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. She sailed aboard the SS Vaderland from Antwerp, Belgium to New York City and arrived through Ellis Island on June 21. She was 69 years old, and she made the journey alone. It is documented on the passenger arrival record that the authorities detained her at Ellis Island and required an examination with a special board of inquiry for “senility” before they allowed her to enter the country, because they feared she would be a “Likely Public Charge”. Her physical description: 4’10”, limping, with dark hair and blue eyes.
Franciszka lived with her daughter’s family in Eden, PA (now Langhorne, PA) in Bucks County. For the 1910 census, she is listed as the “head of the household”. She would have gotten to know four of her young great-grandchildren, including my grandfather, before she passed away on 29 April 1914 at the age of 73. She is my only great-great-great-grandparent to come to the United States.
Just the Facts
Name: Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta
Ahnentafel: #51 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
Parents: Jan Wojciechowski (1816-1889) and Karolina Dąbska (1819-1885)
Born: 01 October 1840 in Mszczonów
Siblings: Mateusz (1842-1843), Piotr Jacek (1844-1846), Jan (1847-1847), Marianna Emilia Wojciechowska Naziębło (b. 1848), Agata Józefa Wojciechowska Skoneczny(b.1851), Barbara Łucja Wojciechowska Kielak (1853-1895), Jan Ludwik Wojciechowski (b. 1859)
Married: Ludwik Pluta (1843-?) in Mszczonów in 1862
Children: Władysław (?-1878), Antonia Rozalia Pluta Pater (1863-1938), Jan (b. 1865), Wincenty (1870-1873), Regina (1871-1871), Elżbieta (1873-1884), Józef Ignacy (1880-1881)
Died: 29 April 1914 in Langhorne, Bucks, Pennsylvania, United States
My Line of Descent: Franciszka -> Antonia Rozalia Pluta Pater -> Ludwik Pater -> Henry Pater -> mother -> me
The theme for Week 18 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Where There’s a Will” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Józef Ślesiński. None of my ancestors left wills behind, or if they have I didn’t find them yet. I don’t have a single ancestor named William or even Wilhelm. Many were strong-willed, but I’ve written about several of these folks in recent weeks. Therefore, I’ve taken a rather broad approach to the theme…for Józef Ślesiński, it’s more like “Where there’s a Wilczyn…there’s a wife.”
Józef ‘s Story
Józef Ślesiński was born on 21 November 1821 in the town of Ślesin, Konin county, woj. Wielkopolskie (Greater Poland Voivodeship) which was under Russian rule during the partitions of Poland. His parents were the farmers Maciej Ślesiński and Agnieszka Bogacka. It is easy to tell that the surname Ślesiński is toponymic – it is derived from the place name of the town in which they lived, Ślesin.
The records from Ślesin are available, but I haven’t yet researched the other children of Maciej and Agnieszka. The only sibling I have a record of is Tomasz who was born 19 years after Józef – I am sure there were other children in between!
When Józef was 22 years old, he left his hometown to move 12 miles south to a town called Wilczyn to marry his bride, 19-year-old Elżbieta Michałowska. The couple had at least eight children together. My great-great grandfather was their son Wincenty, born in 1850. Two children died as youngsters: son Ignacy in 1860 and daughter Marianna in 1864.
Jozef’s death record from the 1866 Wilczyn parish books. The priest had beautiful handwriting. There was also a duplicate church book in Latin.
Józef died on 30 November 1866 at the age of 45. He left behind his wife and six children, 3 sons (ages 19, 16, and 11) and 3 daughters (ages 15, 6, and 5). His widow marries widower Marcin Rosinski in 1867, which would have been helpful due to the young ages of her children and the need for support.
While it is Józef’s granddaughter who is my immigrant ancestor, I recently discovered through a DNA match that his daughter Apolonia immigrated to America with her husband, Wacław Polski, in the 1890’s. I now wonder if my great-grandmother, who immigrated to Philadelphia, knew that she had an aunt living in Milwaukee.
For Józef Ślesiński, where there was a town called Wilczyn, there was a wife! The town name is derived from the wilk, or “wolf”, but I’ll take it as my family’s will.
Just the Facts
Name: Józef Ślesiński
Ahnentafel: #60 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
Parents: Maciej Ślesiński (1786-1848) and Agnieszka Bogacka
Born: 21 November 1821 in Ślesin
Siblings: Tomasz (b. 1840)
Married: Elżbieta Michałowska (1824-?) in Wilczyn
Children: Ignacy (?-1860), Marianna (?-1864), Józef Ślesiński (b. 1847), Wincenty Ślesiński (1850-1919), Antonina Ślesińska Zaborska (b. 1851), Antoni Ślesiński (b. 1855 marries in 1880), Apolonia Ślesińska Polska (1860-1936), Weronica Ślesińska Warszawska (b. 1861)
Died: 30 Nov 1866 in Wilczyn
My Line of Descent: Józef -> Wincenty ->Wacława Ślesińska Zawodna -> Marianna Zawodna Pater -> mother -> me
The theme for Week 17 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Prosper” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Jan Drogowski. The theme asks for an ancestor that had a “rags to riches” story. I don’t know what Jan’s net worth was, but I think he was prosperous because his occupation in life was quite different from his father’s.
Jan Drogowski was born on 14 Jun 1818 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland (Poznań) to Wojciech Drogowski and Marianna Przygoda. Wojciech was a farmer in Wilczyn as was his father, Grzegorz Drogowski. But the reason I chose Jan for the theme of “prosper” is because he did not become a farmer like his father and grandfather. In 1838, the nearly 20-year-old Jan marries 16-year-old Konstancja Kubińska, and in the marriage record Jan is referred to as the “young linen merchant”. I found it interesting that the son of a farmer could become a merchant at a young age. I wondered if he was “marrying up” and gaining the profession of his father-in-law. But Konstancja’s father, Józef Kubiński, was also a farmer. Jan must have worked hard to learn the linen industry at such a young age. And, I can assume he was good at it because over the years he’d have a lot of mouths to feed.
Jan’s signature from the 1847 birth record of his daughter, Michalina. The “w” is missing from his signature as surname spelling was a bit flexible (the priest spells his name as Drogowski, however).
Another sign that Jan prospered in his merchant profession is his ability to write. Polish vital records after 1808 include the signatures of the witnesses and essential parties (bride and groom for weddings, parents for the birth of a child). For most records in my ancestral towns, the vast majority of individuals were illiterate – this fact was recorded when no one could sign the church book. In 1838, Jan was illiterate and did not sign his wedding document. However, by 1845 his is able to sign his name to the birth record of his son, Franciszek. I find this significant and indicates a profession that would require literacy to run the business. Of all my Polish ancestors, I have only found two men that were able to sign the records and Jan’s recorded literacy is the oldest I’ve found.
Jan and Konstancja had ten children together over a 26-year period: six girls and four boys. Their eighth child, Stanisława, was born in 1860 and is my 2nd great-grandmother. One son, Ignacy, died as an infant. I have not yet indexed all of the Wilczyn records to find death dates for all of the children, but I do know that at least three daughters and the other three sons all lived to adulthood, got married, and started having children of their own in the same parish in Wilczyn.
Jan died on 29 Oct 1894 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland at the age of 76. His wife Konstancja would live another two years until she passed away on 18 Dec 1896.
Just the Facts
Name: Jan Drogowski
Ahnentafel: #62 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
Parents: Wojciech Drogowski (1773-1833) and Marianna Przydoga (1790-1855)
Born: 14 Jun 1818 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland
The theme for Week 16 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Live Long” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfater, Maciej Miller (Matěj Miller in Czech).
The prompt says it’s “time to feature a long-lived ancestor” but longevity, at least of the centenarian sort, does not seem to run in my family (at least not for my direct ancestors…the longest-lived relatives are each of my grandmother’s sisters – one lived to 92 and the other was 94).
I’m missing some death dates in my research thus far, but my longest-lived ancestor was already featured in Week 4, for Dionys Daniel also had the birthday closest to mine which was the theme that week. He was just over 89 years old when he died; however, I do not have an actual copy of his death record so let’s find my documented longest-lived ancestor…a tie between my paternal grandmother and Maciej Miller who both died at 84 years old. Maciej was technically older, though, for his age at death was about two months older than my grandmother’s.
Maciej Miller’s name in the 1849 birth record for his son, Jan Miller
Maciej Miller was born on 28 June 1824 in Zelów, Poland. The community in Zelów was founded by Czech exiles (see my ancestor featured in Week 8 for information about the founding of the town in 1802). Maciej’s father Pavel was not one of the founding fathers, but he came to Zelów within the first decade.
Maciej grew up in Zelów and married Marie Szara, a descendant of another town founder, on 08 October 1843. They remained in town to begin their family. But like his forefathers, Maciej was willing to move for better opportunities. In the 1860’s, several families from Zelów migrated east to the larger city of Żyrardów. The town of Żyrardów was only founded in 1831, but it was quickly growing. The town was built around the large textile factory. Since the Czech community in Zelów was known for weaving textiles, some families decided to move for the opportunity to find work that would earn a better wage.
Maciej would remain in Żyrardów for the rest of his life. He lived a rather long life for the time, dying at nearly 85 years old on 09 June 1909. His son, Jan, my 2nd great-grandfather, only outlived his father by a mere four years and died at the age of 63 in 1913.
Just the Facts
Name: Maciej Miller (also known as Matěj Miller)
Ahnentafel: #52 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
Parents: Pavel Miller (1788-?) and Marie Poláčková (1785-1849)
Born: 28 June 1824 in Zelów, Poland
Siblings: Anna Millerová (1810-1817); Josef Miller (1817-1877); Jan Miller (1812-?); Anna Millerová (1819-1821); Karl Miller (1822-1856); Wilhelm Friedrich Miller (1827-?); Friedrich Miller (1829-1857); Marie Millerová Hartová (1834-?)
Married: Marie Szara (Šárová in Czech) (1824-?) on 08 October 1843 in Zelów
Children: Marie Millerová (1845-1845); Anna Millerová Kolánek (1846-?); Jan Miller (1849-1913); Marie Millerová Poláčková (1852-?); Elżbieta Millerová Jelinek (1855-?); Friedrich Miller (1858-?); Karolina Millerová Švejdar (1860-?); Karl Miller (1864-?)
Died: 09 June 1909 in Żyrardów, Poland
My Line of Descent: Maciej Miller -> Jan Miller -> Elżbieta Miller Pater -> Henry Pater -> mother -> me
The theme for Week 15 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “How Do You Spell That?” and my ancestor is my grandfather, James Pointkouski. There really could be no other choice for that theme – my grandfather is the inventor of our family name…and we have to spell it often.
How Do You Spell That?
I almost felt sorry for the telemarketers calling my parents when I was young. I’d answer the phone and hear, “Hi, can I speak to Mr….uh, Mr. Po-, er, ah, Mr. P-p-pint, er, Mr. Portkonski?” I’d pause for dramatic effect, then respond, “No, I’m sorry, there is no one here by that name.”
But worse than the telemarketers was the need to spell my name, all the time. Even my parents talked about changing the surname for a while, and I think they may have done it if it hadn’t cost money to do so. We considered my mother’s maiden name, Pater, because it seemed a lot easier (even though it is also 100% Polish in origin). For a while, the surname “Perry” was in contention just because we liked it. But then my father called in a pizza order and the clerk asked, “What’s the name?” My Dad grinned and responded, “Perry!” But then the clerk asked, “How do you spell that?” Undefeated, and still smirking, my Dad replied, “Any way you want…”
By now you might wonder why we feel no allegiance to our name or no pride in our birthright. Well, it’s simple…it’s not our name. My grandfather made it up. If he had made up a name that was easier to spell and pronounce, I’d thank him for it. As I delved into the family history and gained pride in my Polish heritage, I was disappointed I couldn’t have the “real” name that he changed slightly (to little improvement). Unfortunately, the non-legal change was made just prior to all of the rules, records, and federal regulations of today and now I am, quite simply, one of only eight people on earth born a Pointkouski. We’re proud to be “Points” even if we do have to spell it a lot.
From left to right: James at age 13, age approximately 24, and age 47 with wife Margaret
James’ parents were Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia Kizeweter (featured in Week #3). Jan was a leather worker and the family lived in Warsaw, Poland. Jan was born in Warsaw, and Rozalia’s family moved there from just outside the city when she was a girl. They had a son, Józef, born in November, 1903, and a daughter, Janina, born in December, 1905. Shortly after Janina’s birth the family decided to leave one big city for another. Jan immigrated to Philadelphia in March, 1906 with his sister’s husband, Ludwik Czarkowski. Rozalia and the children followed in November of the same year. In America, their first names were anglicized to John, Rose, Joseph, and Jean. But the last name changed slightly, too. In English, the Polish letter “ą” does not exist. The letter has the phonetic sound like “on” so Piątkowski became Piontkowski in English.
That should be the end of the story of the surname, so to speak, and my grandfather, father, my brother and me should all bear THAT name. But the name change game wasn’t over yet…my grandfather wasn’t born yet!
My grandfather, James, was the surprise baby born in Philadelphia on July 6, 1910. His father was 39 years old and his mother was 44 – typical ages today but highly unusual in 1910. On his official Pennsylvania birth certificate, the name is listed as GANUS KINCOSKI. I assume “Ganus” is what became of “James” when spoken with a heavy Polish accent. Kincoski was apparently an alias that my great-grandfather used, temporarily, attempting to hide from either law enforcement or those to whom he owed money. Other than around 1910, John always used Piontkowski, his correct surname, on legal records.
By the time James, or Jimmy as he was called, reached adulthood, he tweaked his own surname further. As early as 1933, James changed a few letters in the name Piontkowski and – voila! – the surname Pointkouski was unofficially and unceremoniously born.
James’ older brother, Joe, also changed his name (also not legally). I always thought Joe had more sense, though, for the name he chose was a lot easier to spell: Perk. Ironically, not that long ago I got to speak to one of Joe’s daughters who grew up with the name Perk. She complained of being teased in school and being called “Percolator” – and she yelled back at her bully, saying, “Well my real name is Pointkouski!”
My grandfather may have tried the “Perk” name on for size for a while – he refers to himself as “Perk” in a letter to my grandmother in 1933, and a photograph of my father in 1936 is labeled on the back as “Jimmy Perk”. But, on all legal documents my grandfather used “Pointkouski”.
James grew up wanting to be an architect, but he left school at a young age to go to work to help support his parents. He became a truck driver – and remained one for his entire life. As a truck driver he delivered ice cream to soda fountains and other shops, which is where he met his wife, Margaret Bergmeister, whose brother Max owned the store. (See a photo of James and his delivery truck here.)
James and Margaret got married in January, 1934. Later that year they had a son, James, and eight years later welcomed a daughter, Jean.
James’ sister left Philadelphia in the late 1920’s to get married, and apparently he did not see her again after that. His mother, Rose, died in 1937, and his father, John, died in 1942. James had a good relationship with his brother, Joe, who was also a truck driver. Unfortunately Joe Perk died in 1953 at the young age of 49.
Marge & Jimmy, September 1962
I remember my grandfather from my childhood but I didn’t get to see him very often. As the only granddaughter among five grandchildren, I do remember once when I was around six years old he insisted that I must have a ring or other jewelry because I was a girl and “Girls need pretty things to wear!”
I wish I knew him better, and longer, because before I could ever think to ask him why our name is spelled the way it is spelled, he passed away. James died on February 13, 1980, at the age of 69.
In what I refer to as “The Final Misspelling” – or “The Final Insult” – his name was spelled incorrectly on his tombstone:
The final name misspelling for James: they accidentally carved a “W” into his tombstone and “corrected” it to a “U”. A larger, correctly spelled stone is also in place.
Gradually, despite wishing I got to use my real Polish name Piątkowski (as a female, my name in Poland would be Piątkowska), this English major has embraced the permanent misspelling and is proud to be a Pointkouski. Even if you can’t spell it.
Just the Facts
Name: James Pointkouski
Ahnentafel: #4 (my paternal grandfather)
Parents: Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) (1871-1942) and Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter (1866-1937)
Born: July 6, 1910 in Philadelphia, PA, United States
Siblings: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), Janina (Jean) Hynes (1905-?)
The theme for Week 14 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Favorite Photo” and my ancestor is my 2nd great-grandmother, Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz. I chose Ursula because she is in one of my favorite photos. I received it as a gift back in November 2013 and while I’ve showed individual faces from it in other posts, I have not presented it as a whole until now. May I present Ursula and her three (surviving) children from her first husband, Josef Bergmeister:
Ursula with her children Hilaury, Joseph (standing), and Ignatz. Taken in Regensburg, Germany, in approximately 1879-80.
This is one of my favorite photos for several reasons. First, it is the only photograph I have of any great-grandparent as a child. I just love the expressions on the children’s faces – not to mention their rather exasperated-looking mother. I can only imagine how long the photo session was and how difficult it was to get the children to be still. The back of the card identified the children – other than that smirk on Laury’s face, I don’t think I’d have recognized the others including my own great-grandfather. It also was inscribed in German that translates as: “I think the memory will please you” – I can’t be sure if it was written by Ursula or someone else. Finally, because the parties were so nicely identified, I was able to “recognize” Ursula in two other unlabeled photographs that I had – a very happy discovery.
Much of Ursula’s story might sound familiar if you’re following along with these weekly posts – her son, my great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister, also known as the boy with the mischievous grin and the thumb in his vest, was profiled in Week 5 (“Plowing Through”). Her daughter, Hilaury Bergmeister, or Lari, the one who probably instigated something with Joseph to cause that expression on his face, was profiled in Week 7 (“Love”).
Ursula Dallmeier (also spelled Dallmayer or Dallmaier) was born on 21 September 1846 in Prittlbach. Her father, Joseph Dallmeier, was a farmer-turned-innkeeper. Although a farmer at the time of Ursula’s birth, around 1850 the family would move to the town of Asbach where Joseph bought the local inn.
Ursula was living with her parents in Asbach when she met her first husband, Joseph Bergmeister, who was a flour merchant. Their first child, Hilaury, was born in January 1870. Although illegitimate, the father was named in the baptismal document and the couple married the following year on 11 April 1871 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.
Ursula’s husband Joseph was likely a traveling merchant, because they move frequently in the next several years. In 1871 the family was living in Vohburg a.d. Donau when a daughter named Marie was born, but the baby did not survive. In 1873, Joseph was born in Vohburg. In 1876, Ignatz was born in Abensberg.
By 1879, the family appears to be living in Regensburg based on the photograph above.
Sometime after Ignatz’s birth and 1884, Joseph Bergmeister died. Ursula got married again to Herman Götz, a steam engine driver, and had more children: Herman in 1885, Julius in 1886, and Elsa (birth date not yet known).
Eventually almost all of Ursula’s children would leave her to emigrate to the United States: Laury in 1893, Joseph in 1900, Julius in 1902, Ignatz in 1904. Herman would also emigrate, but not until just after Ursula’s death. Thanks to some postcards that survived over the years, I know that Ursula was able to keep in touch with her “American” children. One card from Elsa to Hilaury in 1910 says:
Received your card with great joy. Thank you. Did you receive mine? Mother is very sad because you have not responded in so long. She is ill. Hopefully you are all healthy. The weather here is bad. Please respond as soon as you can. Sending you warmest wishes and kisses, your sister Elsa. Many greetings from your mother.
Ursula passed away on 21 January 1911 in Regensburg. She was 64 years old. The photo she left behind of the first half of her family certainly pleases me.
Just the Facts
Name: Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz
Ahnentafel: #21 (my 2nd great-grandmother)
Parents: Joseph Dallmeier (or Dallmayr) (1819-?) and Ursula Eichinger (1820-?)
Born: 21 September 1846 in Prittlbach, Dachau, Bavaria, Germany
Siblings: Therese Dallmayr Effner (b. 1845), Michael Dallmayr (1848-1906), Katharina (b. 1849), Sebastian (b. 1853), Maria (b. 1855), Kreszenz (b. 1856), Josef (1858-1859), Magdalena (b. 1860)
Married: Josef Bergmeister on 11 April 1871 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Hermann Götz, date between 1876-1885, likely in Regensburg
Children: Hilaury Bergmeister Thumann (1870-1943), Maria (1871-1871), Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927), Ignatz Bergmeister (1876-1919), Herman Goetz (1885-1918), Julius Goetz (1886-1971), Elsa ?
The theme for Week 13 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Different” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandmoter, Teofila Zakrzewska Pater . The theme of “Different” could have allowed me to choose any of my ancestors, for I am different from all of them in one respect: I will never be anyone’s ancestor. I chose to highlight one of my female ancestors in Poland who led a life very different from mine.
Teofila Zakrzewska was born on 27 December 1840 in a small town called Mariampol near Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland. Her father, Karol Zakrzewski, was a farmer. Teofila was his first child with his wife Rozalia Kowalska. Karol was married before and had at least three children already. Rozalia was also a widow.
Teofila had two brothers: Wincenty and Józef. Sadly, their father died at the age of 55 in 1854. At the time of his death, Teofila was only 13 years old. Their mother did not remarry and lived until the age of 67.
Teofila meets the definition of different as she is the only ancestor in my family tree with the beautiful name Teofila! The name is the feminine version of Teofil, which means “friend of God”. Her parents practiced the Polish custom of naming their children based on the saint’s feast day on the day of their birth or closest to it: the feast of St. Teofila is 28 December and she was born on the 27th. The family name of Zakrzewski may look different to American eyes, but it was a very common surname, especially in the area where she was born.
Teofila’s life was a lot different than mine. The biggest difference is that she got married at the age of 18. She and her husband, Jan Pater, went on to have ten children in the next twenty-four years! My 2nd great-grandfather, Józef Pater, was their third child.
Teofila would live long enough to know many of her grandchildren. In 1905, she said good-bye to her son Józef when he left for America. His wife and six children would follow in the next two years. I have not followed up on all of Teofila’s children since the records switch to the Russian language in 1868 (which is more difficult to translate), but I do know that at least three other children lived to adulthood: Marcin, Paulina, and Stanisław.
Teofila died on 15 November 1907 in Żyrardów just a month before her 67th birthday. Her husband Jan lived for another ten months before he also passed away.
Like many of my Polish ancestors, Teofila lived her entire life in a very small area in central Poland, but the country of Poland did not exist during her lifetime. It was under Russian occupation. Her grandchildren who did not emigrate to America would live to see Poland re-emerge on the map of Europe in 1918. Teofila’s grandson, Józef Pater, was one of the men who fought for Poland’s freedom.
Teofila’s life was quite different from mine and I don’t know much about her other than what I’ve discovered in birth, marriage, and death records. But I am very grateful for her life and the love she had for her family.
Just the Facts
Name: Teofila Zakrzewska Pater
Ahnentafel: #49 (my 3rd great-grandmother)
Parents: Karol Zakrzewski (1799-1854) and Rozalia Kowalska (1808-1875)
Born: 27 December 1840 in Mariampol, Jaktorów, Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland
Siblings: Wincenty (b. 1846), Józef (b. 1853); Half-siblings: Jana Elżbieta (b. 1825), Wojciech (b. 1827), Magdalena (b. 1829)
Married: Jan Pater (1834-1908) on 10 October 1859 in Wiskitki, Poland
Children: Marcin (b. 1860), Ewa (b. 1862), Józef (1864-1945), Antonina (b. 1867), Paulina (b. 1874), Paweł (b. 1876), Bronisława (b. 1877), Bronisław (b. 1879), Władysław (b. 1882), Stanisław (b. 1884)
Died: 15 November 1907 in Żyrardów, Poland
My Line of Descent: Teofila Zakrzewska Pater-> Józef Pater-> Ludwik Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me
The theme for Week 12 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Same” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Ignaz Echerer. In modern times, Ignaz might be called “Junior” – for he had a lot of the same details of his life in common with his father.
Ignaz Echerer was born on 21 Dec 1803 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria. A lot of the facts of Ignaz’s life are remarkably the same as his father, and the similarities begin at birth. First, they have the same name – both are named Ignaz Echerer. Next, they were both born in the same house in Pfaffenhofen. Today that address is called Löwenstraße 14. From 1810 to 1861, house numbers were used in lieu of numbered street addresses, so it was house #55. Prior to the official mapping of the town in 1810, the same house was known as house #67 in the 2nd quarter. But, no matter what you call it, the house was the same structure. The street (formerly called Judengasse), is located a block away from the main hauptplatz – or the town square. Ignaz (the younger) would later move in 1847 to a different house.
Portion of an 1810 map of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm – the house of Ignaz Echerer is marked with the red arrow. The town’s church is in the lower left marked with the cross.
As most sons in 17th through early 19th century Bavaria, young Ignaz followed in the footsteps of his father – no pun intended by that phrase, for his occupation was shoemaker! It was common to run the business for the craft in the bottom floor of the house in which the family lived, so Ignaz would have grown up learning the trade – just as his father learned from his father and grandfather.
Ignaz (the younger) got married to Magdalena Nigg on 19 Feb 1844; he was 40 years old and the bride was 36. This was a common age for men to marry in that time and place, although the bride is slightly older than usual and explains why the couple did not have as many children as most couples, including Ignaz’s parents. This is one fact that is not the same as his father, for Ignaz the elder was about 31 when he got married. However, there is another marriage fact that is the same between the two men: both married a woman who was not only also from Pfaffenhofen, but both were the daughters of a different kind of craftsman. In my Bavarian research I’ve found that brides were often daughters of the same craft but from a different town. In other words, both men might have married a shoemaker’s daughter from a neighboring town. Instead, Ignaz the elder married the daughter of a glassmaker in town, and their son Ignaz married the daughter of a carpenter in town (profiled in Week #10).
The entry in the marriage index for Ignaz Echerer and Magdalena Nigg. Note the look of the name “Echerer” in German Sütterlin script.
Ignaz and Magdalena had at least three children. Unlike his father, he didn’t give his son the same name, but instead named him Karl, quite possibly after his father-in-law.
Ignaz died on 01 Feb 1874 at the age of 70. His wife lived another four years. I can’t say if Ignaz had the same life span has his father, because I haven’t found his parents’ death records. One great thing about this 52 Ancestors challenge is that I’m finding out where my research could use some additional re-search! The Echerer line in Pfaffenhofen was the very first ancestral line I “found” – but as a beginner I didn’t document my facts as well as I should have. Not to mention that those were the days before you could make a digital copy of the records you found.
Ignaz Echerer and his father has a lot of things about their lives that were the same: same name, born in the same house, born and likely died in the same town where they lived their entire lives. They were both shoemakers, and likely worked side by side in the same shop. And they both married women in the same town who were daughters of non-shoemakers. They also had many things that were different though – the elder Ignaz lost his own father when he was only 13. He also got married younger and had more children, and quite likely died in that same house in which he was born.
I wonder if their personalities were the same or if they were polar opposites?
Just the Facts
Name: Ignaz Echerer
Ahnentafel: #44 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
Parents: Ignaz Echerer (1765-?) and Maria Anna Kaillinger (1768-?)
Born: 21 Dec 1803 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
Siblings: Rosalia Echerer (1796-1880); Xaver Echerer (*1799); Johann Evangelist Echerer (*1802); Johann Nepomuk Echerer (*1806-aft 1842); Anton Echerer (*1808); Elizabeth Echerer (*1810); Xaver Echerer (*1812)
Married: Magdalena Nigg (1807-1878)
Children: Therese Echerer (*1845); Karl Echerer (*1846-aft 1882); Barbara Echerer Dichtl (*1849-aft 1894)
Died: 01 Feb 1874 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
My Line of Descent: Ignaz Echerer-> Karl Echerer-> Maria Echerer Bergmeister-> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me
The theme for Week 11 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Luck of the Irish” and my ancestor is my 5th great-grandfather, Jakob Zinsmeister. As you can probably guess by Jakob’s name, he wasn’t Irish. My challenge for this week was the fact that I have zero Irish ancestry. I realize that these weekly themes are “optional” but for me, they aren’t – that is what makes it a personal creative challenge. I’ve been writing about more than 52 ancestors here for the last seven years; finding a story that fits makes it fun.
The English major in me wondered what the phrase “Luck of the Irish” means and where it came from. According to that super-reliable source, the internet, half of the sites say the phrase came about due to the luck of Irish immigrants in surviving tough mining work. But just as many sites insist the phrase is meant in a more sarcastic or even derogatory tone meaning that the Irish are the unluckiest people in the world.
My Bavarian ancestor, Jakob Zinsmeister, had what I would call a rather unlucky demise. So, depending upon your personal view of the phrase, he either had the luck of the Irish or could have used some!
Jakob Zinsmeister was born around the year 1741, probably in the small town in which he spent his life, Puch, near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in Bavaria, Germany. Although some church records date back to 1612 for the town, the birth records from 1690 to 1764 are not available. Therefore, I do not know Jakob’s birth date or his parents names.
Jakob married Josepha Mair and they had at least four children that lived to adulthood: sons Konrad and Andreas, and daughters Kreszens (my 4th great-grandmother) and Franziska. Jakob was a farmer in Puch – the town is so small that it was either a very small farm or he was one of the only farmers in the town.
Death of Jakob Zinsmeister from the Catholic Church records of Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Bayern, Germany.
I don’t know if Jakob was either lucky or unlucky in his life, but he was surely unlucky in death. On 09 May 1796, Jakob was killed suddenly at the age of 56. The Latin death record shown above is translated as: “On May 9, by a tree suddenly dropped from a cart in the forest of the Puch community, was killed and here buried the honest Jacob Zinsmeister, farmer, aged 56.”
Just the Facts
Name: Jakob Zinsmeister
Ahnentafel: #162 (my 5th great-grandfather)
Born: about 1741, presumably in Puch, Bavaria
Married: Josepha Mair (1750-1832)
Children: Konrad Zinsmeister, Andreas Zinsmeister (1775-?), Kreszens Zinsmeister Bergmeister (1776-1852), Franziska Zinsmeister Kölbl (1784-1845)
Died: 09 May 1797in Puch, Bavaria
My Line of Descent: Jacob Zinsmeister-> Kreszens Zinsmeister Bergmeister-> Jakob Bergmeister-> Josef Bergmeister->Josef Bergmeister->Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me
The theme for Week 10 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Stormy Weather” and my ancestor is my 4th great-grandfather, Karl Nigg. He survived some very stormy weather back in 1813 and I managed to find a newspaper account of the storm, its effects, and Karl’s role in the event. I previously told this story in a post from 2011 entitled It was a Dark and Stormy Night, but it fits perfectly with the “Stormy Weather” theme.
Karl Leonard Nigg was born on 04 Nov 1767 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria to Phillip Nigg and Anna Maria Cramer. Phillip was Pfaffenhofen’s Stadtmaurermeister – the city’s “master mason”. During this time period it was inevitable that sons followed in their father’s footsteps regarding their occupation, so it was rather unusual that Karl did not become a mason. Instead, he chose another construction trade – carpentry. But in looking more closely at the genealogical records, the reason may very well be that Karl’s father died in 1774 when Karl was only six years old. Although his mother re-married (twice) and his step-fathers were also masons, he did not choose this path.
On 10 May 1794, Karl married Maria Theresia Höck, the daughter of the city’s “master carpenter” – perhaps Karl was influenced by his future father-in-law at a young age and chose his profession that way. At the time of their marriage, Karl was 26 years old and Maria Theresia was 25. They had at least ten children – not all survived infancy as was typical for that time and place, but at least three daughters (Theres, Magdalena, and Rosalia) and possibly one son (Josef) lived to adulthood since references were found to their marriages.
By 1794, Karl was already the Stadtzimmermeister or the city of Pfaffenhofen’s master carpenter. Bavarian trade guilds usually required a man to go through various stages to learn his craft. As a teenager, he would become an apprentice to learn the craft for several years. The next stage was journeyman, when he was expected to journey to other towns to learn from other masters. Once he passed an exam for the master level, he would be allowed to hire other journeyman or apprentices to work in his shop. It appears that the Stadtzimmermeister would be a master carpenter who is the city’s “official” carpenter in charge of city structures.
I have found a few references to Karl in some newspapers that were digitized. One indicates that, as Stadtzimmermeister, he went to Scheyern Abbey in 1803 to measure out the entire abbey in order to determine its worth under the “secularization” of Bavaria. There are a few references to his service in the military or militia in the early 1800’s, including promotions. But the most interesting reference I found tells a story about stormy weather. It also gives some interesting insight into the type of man that Karl was.
Münchener politische Zeitung Issue 162, July 1813. It was a dark and stormy night…
In 1813, a violent thunderstorm took place in the city of Pfaffenhofen. The storm had so many lightening strikes that a barn caught on fire. It was filled with hay, so the fire quickly spread to other buildings. Here is the rather dramatic newspaper account¹ of the storm and resultant fire:
Bavaria. Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, 3 July 1813. The big storm that occurred in our town on 30 June caused a great havoc, since the lightning that accompanied him seems to have uniquely discharged only here. The clouds stood so low that one flash of lightning followed another, and almost every flash fell down on earth but mainly fell on the high-pointed tower of the town’s church. A lightning flash hit a barn filled with straw in a side alley, which immediately ignited nine other hay and straw-filled barns that were mostly very old already and not well built.
Despite very nearly all the possible obstacles of nature united so that even the most determined men gave up all hope of rescuing even one single house throughout the city, every attempt was made with the greatest consternation to stop the fire line that was spreading with enormous speed during the continuing storm, which turned in all directions in rapid alternations, and with the rain pouring down where you could barely see what was in front of you.
Miraculously, after the toughest six-hour battle against the violent storm wind, the flames were pushed down on the floor and prevented from spreading further; the fire itself could only be put off today. The courage in the apparent dangers, the skill and presence of mind of Master Carpenter Nigg and Master Mason Pickl, which both have distinguished themselves so often in similar cases, could not be praised enough.
The fire would not have burned down so many buildings if these old buildings were not built so badly and if they had been equipped with proper fire walls. As lucky as the town was with this great misfortune, the damage that was suffered on the buildings and the carriages can be estimated at approximately 80,000 fl., not considering the fire insurance sum of 14,000 fl. for a total of 5 houses, 4 stables and 9 barns. Several smaller building nearby were enflamed which included the buildings of three farmers, that of Franzbräuer, Kreitmaierbräuers and Zuhammers. However, no one was seriously injured during their work.
According to news received from the state court, this terrible thunderstorm was spread over many miles and caused great devastation in the forests and woods. The lightning hit very often, but nothing else was set on fire. Highly remarkable is the strange fact that two years ago on 01 July, a similar thunderstorm along with a tornado-like storm caused great devastation when a lightning strike hit the church tower of Pfaffenhofen, set a farm in the area on fire, and caused a damage of at least 50,000 fl. due to a severe rainstorm and hail.
Based on this article, it seems that Karl Nigg was well regarded in the town for his courage, skill, and “presence of mind” and it seems that it’s not the first time he distinguished himself in that manner. The storm must have been frightening for his family. His daughter Magdalena, my 3rd great-grandmother, was only six years old, and her sisters Theres and Rosalia were 8 and 2.
I haven’t uncovered much more about Karl Nigg – definitely nothing as interesting as the story of the storm! He died on 01 August 1844 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm at the age of 76.
Just the Facts
Name: Karl Leonard Nigg
Ahnentafel: #90 (my 4th great-grandfather)
Parents: Phillip Nigg (unknown-14 Mar 1774) and Anna Maria Cramer (b&d unknown)
Born: 04 Nov 1767 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
Siblings: Franz (22 Jan 1760- 31 Jan 1760), Sebastian (Jan 1761-?), Maria Ursula Euphemia (26 Sep 1762-?), Maria Antonia (28 May 1764-17 Jul 1774), Josef Anton (01 Apr 1766-?), Maria Anna (17 Aug 1769-?), Georg Michael (29 Sep 1770-1770), Maria Franziska (18 Jan 1773-05 Apr 1774)
Married: Maria Theresia Höck (27 Apr 1769-unknown) on 10 May 1794 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
Children: Josef Nigg (28 Feb 1795-?), Maria Anna Nigg (24 May 1796-?), Theres Nigg (20 Aug 1797-?), Johann Nigg (28 Feb 1800-?), Maria Anna Nigg (08 Apr 1802-?), Theres Nigg Kainz (26 May 1805-?), Magdalena Nigg Echerer (1807-1878), Barbara Nigg (23 Apr 1809-?), Rosalia Nigg Aicher (1811-?), Elizabeth Nigg (27 Aug 1814-?)
Died: 01 August 1844 (age 76) in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
My Line of Descent: Karl Nigg-> Magdalena Nigg Echerer-> Karl Echerer-> Maria Echerer Bergmeister-> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me
¹ Münchener politische Zeitung: mit allerhöchstem Privilegium. Page 757, Issue 162, July 1813. Publisher: Wolf, 1813. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized Sep 17, 2010. Accessed via Google Books:http://books.google.com/books?id=DidEAAAAcAAJ. The full text does not appear to be available as of March 6, 2015.
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 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.
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.
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
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 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/)
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 (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