High on Societies…Genealogical Societies!


This edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks us to write about our favorite genealogical societies.  It is provident that the theme falls in the middle of Polish-American Heritage Month, because the only genealogical society that I am currently a member of is the Polish Genealogical Society of America, or PGSA.  I’ve been a member for nearly 20 years!  When I first got involved in genealogy, I realized that membership in a genealogical society could be useful to help me learn skills and information pertinent to my new hobby.  I wanted to join a local society that had meetings, lectures, a library, and experienced genealogists willing to help newcomers, but even though there were some local societies near me, none of them seemed to fit my genealogical path.

All of my great-grandparents immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, but my local genealogical societies had a greater focus on past history rather than the relatively “recent” history of the 2oth century.  For example, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has a wonderful collection of records and they also offer regular lectures and tours.  But I didn’t find much of a need for Civil War records or my city’s colonial history because my ancestors were still in Poland during those times.  So I sought ought a different sort of genealogical society – one that could help me with my unique genealogical needs – and found the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

PGSA is based in Chicago, IL and focuses on Polish and Polish-American research.  I have never been to a meeting.  I have never been to their library.  I have never been to one of their offered lectures.  But I continue to renew my membership dues.  I would love to be able to attend such things in person, but the society offers some benefits even for members that never make it to their headquarters.  I became a member to learn, and I’ve been able to do that through their publications and their library offerings.

[Note: Full disclosure since you may see my name on some PGSA publications…from February through September of 2009 I held the position of Publications Chair for PGSA.  In that position, I was responsible for the publication of the monthly Notebook newsletter among other things.  I resigned from the Board and this position because I felt that I could not devote the amount of time to the job that it requires and deserves.  While I am no longer associated with the PGSA’s  Board of Directors or publications in any way, I am still a member and I am writing more about my member experiences in this article.]

When I first joined PGSA, they offered two written publications – a newsletter and a longer-format journal.  Today, the only written publication is the quarterly Rodziny, edited by author William “Fred” Hoffman.  I am usually guaranteed at least one useful tidbit of information from this journal – if not more!   Fred’s wit and expertise with record translation and names makes the journal alone worth the society dues.  PGSA also issues a monthly email newsletter called the PGSA Notebook.  These publications have helped point me towards records or information of which I was previously unaware.

PGSA’s unique collection of records has also assisted me in my research.  As I said, I have never been to their library (which is the library of the Polish Museum of America), but through their website and mail services I was able to find information from Haller’s Army records, Polish Roman Catholic Union of America records, and their collection of parish jubilee books.  These records and research requests are available to both members and non-members alike, but members receive discounts on the fees.

Over the years I have wondered if it is beneficial to belong to a society that I cannot fully participate in by attending meetings and special events in person.  I’ve especially wondered this in the last two years after becoming a member of sorts in a very different genealogical society – Geneabloggers.  There are no dues, no meetings, and no “official” publications, but I have to consider it to be a genealogical society because of how much I have learned from my fellow bloggers.  In fact, the sense of community among these strangers, whose only bond is a love of genealogy and an inter-dependence on the internet, is stronger than my far-away participation in the PGSA.  But I’m not giving up on PGSA.  I continue to pay membership dues because I believe in the overall mission of PGSA, which is “to collect, disseminate and preserve information on Polish and Polish-American family history and to help its members use that information in their own research.”

If you have Polish ancestry, consider joining either PGSA or one of the other localized Polish genealogical societies (the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast has a list of Polish genealogical societies here).  In fact, I encourage you to find a genealogical society specific to your ethnic background.  The wealth of knowledge among the members of these societies will impress you, and don’t be surprised if you learn something new from them!

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about genealogical societies for the preview issue of Discovering Family History.  If you would like to read it, my article and the entire issue is available as a free download at http://www.discoveringfamilyhistory.com/DFH_OnlineFree.pdf.

Written for the 82nd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Favorite Genealogical Societies]


Blazing Diapers

We were either too poor to take a pony ride or there were no ponies in the city, because there are no “pony pictures” in my family.  But who needs a pony?  Even living in a big city like Philadelphia, we still had some tough cowboys to defend us!  Here’s my favorite photo of my brother:

Gunslinger Drew, 1961

Drew in 1961 - If he could talk, I'm sure he'd quote John Wayne: "Out here a man settles his own problems."

With a gun in one hand, and a bottle in the other, he’s off to save the world.  Or at least prevent his pacifier from being stolen.

[Submitted for the 78th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Pony Pictures]

The Battle of Pfaffenhofen

No matter where your ancestors were from, chances are that they endured tumultuous events such as famines, epidemics, and wars.  In researching my Bavarian ancestors, I’ve tried to immerse myself in the history of their towns and villages to try to understand the customs, beliefs, and society in which they lived.  If you dig deep enough, you’ll uncover many interesting events that took place during the lives of your ancestors. There aren’t any records that allow me to fully understand how these events impacted my ancestors in particular, but learning about these historical events helps to imagine what their lives were like.

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

The town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm has a long history dating back to the 12th century.  Like most areas of Europe, Pfaffenhofen has witnessed many disasters over the years.   In the middle of the 18th Century, a war raged throughout Europe called the War of Austrian Succession.  Although it is largely forgotten in history books, it could almost be called the first world war since it involved almost all of the powers of Europe. While war is often considered to be a man’s game, this one all started because of a woman – Maria Theresa of Austria.  Her father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, died without a male heir.  Charles hoped to enable Maria Theresa to take his place by persuading the various German states to agree to her succession in 1713 with the Pragmatic Sanction.

After the death of Charles in 1740, King Frederick II of Prussia protested her reign by invading  Silesia.  Thus began a long war that was a competition among various courts for a male heir with the genealogical claim to the throne to take precedence over Maria Theresa’s rule.  Frederick joined forces with France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony, while Austria garnered support from several other European forces.

The Bavarian army fought with French forces in both Silesia and Bohemia over the next few years.  This war had several campaigns fought in several countries.  Throughout, both Austria and Prussia gained allies and lost allies with some countries even switching sides.  But the war continued, and the succession issue remained unresolved although several claimed the throne.

By 1742, the war came much closer to home for my ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  By this time, the Bavarian army was still aligned with the French, and Austria had turned to Hungary for support.  The capital of Bavaria, Munich – only 33 miles south of Pfaffenhofen – fell to the Austro-Hungarian army on February 13, 1742.  Four days later, Pfaffenhofen and all of the surrounding towns located in the area between the Inn and Lech rivers were under Austrian control.

An Austrian Pandur

An Austrian Pandur

Some of the Austro-Hungarian forces were Croat mercenary soldiers called the Pandurs.  Pandur forces swept through the Bavarian countryside.  The Pandurs’ tactics would be known as guerrilla warfare today.  They were also known for their lack of discipline in which plunder was more important than their military orders.  Histories of Pfaffenhofen do not record all of the details of this invasion, but one notes the “wild hordes of terror” as the Pandurs occupied the area and resorted to robbery, murder, and fire.

All throughout this war, the simple townsfolk of Pfaffenhofen and the local farmers were expected to pay increased taxes to support the armies.  If anyone refused to pay, they were arrested.

By the end of 1742, the forces shifted and Pfaffenhofen was no longer occupied by enemy forces.  The following year, Bavaria was again invaded in May and occupied through October.  But the year of the war that is most remembered in Pfaffenhofen is 1745.  By April 12, 1745, the two armies again amassed just outside of the city.

The Franco-Bavarian army was led by General François de Ségur with about 7,000 forces.  However, Ségur was unaware that his Bavarian and Hessian reinforcements under General Törring had retreated several miles away, and he was caught off guard when the Austro-Hungarian forces arrived.  The Austro-Hungarian army was led by General Karl Josef Batthyány and consisted of 10,000 Austrian and Hungarian forces.  Batthyány  was aware of Ségur’s isolation, and attacked Pfaffenhofen on the morning of April 15, 1745.

Like most medieval cities, Pfaffenhofen was a walled town with four gates to get in or out of town.  The Austrian army, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, broke through the town wall and fighting ensued on the streets of the town with the Croat Pandurs engaging in house-to-house combat.  The French army defending the townspeople took on heavy casualties, and 300 French soldiers were captured by the enemy.

Outnumbered, Ségur was forced to withdrawn or else his army would have been completed encircled.   Some of Ségur’s Palatinate forces panicked, and in their retreat the fierce Pandurs and Hussar cavalry attacked the retreating troops.  The French forces hastily retreated with their heavy equipment getting stuck in the muddy fields outside of Pfaffenhofen; when the horses were cut free, they fled as well.  Ségur’s retreating army was literally chased by the Batthyány’s forces until that evening when the Austrians gave up pursuit.

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Austria, with about 800 casualties, was the clear “winner” of the battle, while the Franco-Bavarian forces lost 2,400.  As a result of the defeat, Bavaria’s leader Maximilian III Joseph gave up the war that his father had begun.  He made peace with Maria Theresa through the Treaty of Füssen on April 22, 1745.  Oh, and Törring, the guy who left Ségur outnumbered?  He was fired.  The peace treaty took Bavaria officially out of the War of Austrian Succession, leaving Austria with only three other fronts to fight in Silesia, Italy, and the Netherlands.  In the end, after years of bloodshed, Maria Theresa’s claim to the throne did prevail when her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, became Emperor on September 13, 1745.

The battle definitely had an impact on the townspeople of Pfaffenhofen.  One can only assume that they were all inside the walls of the town when the attack occurred.  The only place of refuge nearby would have been the monastery at Scheyern, where it was reported that the monks only escaped the looting of the Pandurs because a wounded Austrian officer being tended by the monks would not allow it.  Two brave priests left the walls of the monastery to administer last rites to soldiers dying in the fields.

Most of the accounts of the battle were in German, and I relied on poor translations from online translators.  I was able to get the general idea that the invading Army left the town a mess.  Some of the town’s court records seem to indicate that residents petitioned the town for assistance after their homes were looted and severely damaged.  One resident, Georg Gerhauser, reported that he, his wife, and their eight children could not even attend church services on Good Friday because they lacked the appropriate clothing after Austrian soldiers looted their home.  Food was also scarce in the days following the battle.

This battle must have been quite terrifying to the farmers and merchants of the area.  The battle took place on the day of the calendar that happened to be Holy Thursday in the Roman Catholic Church calendar that year.  This is the feast prior to the day Christ died when Catholics remember His Last Supper and the gift of the Eucharist.  As a special feast, this likely would have been a religious holiday in the town in which everyone would have attended Mass – but I doubt their plans went as scheduled that fateful day.

At this time I have several ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  Bernhard Eggerer, my 5th great-grandfather, was born in 1721 and would have been about to turn 24 at the time of the battle.  Did he fight in the army?  Did he defend his town as a simple shoemaker?  I don’t know, but he did survive this event.  He would marry 17 years later and have 8 children before dying in 1778 at the age of 57.

Other ancestors residing in Pfaffenhofen in 1745 include Matthias Kaillinger, a glassmaker, Michael Paur, a carpenter, and possibly Phillip Nigg, a mason.  I have not found Philip’s birth record yet, but he marries in town eight years after the battle.  One thing is certain – after all of the street fighting and looting, the skills of all three gentlemen would have been put to good use after the battle ended!  I also had my Bergmeister ancestor, Johann Paul Bergmeister, living in the nearby town of Puch and running the grain mill.  With all of the havoc in the fields, one can only wonder the impact on the family’s business as a result.

In reviewing my ancestral records, I do not appear to have any deaths on that day, so my families were safe after the fighting ended.  Now that I have learned about this event, I want to review the death records to see if any soldier or civilian deaths are recorded in the church books. It is apparent in these few accounts I uncovered that although the battle itself was relatively short in duration, the town took a long time to recover from it.

[Written for the 77th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Disasters Our Ancestors Lived Through]

The Innocents Abroad

Everyone remembers their first time with a certain fondness, even if later times surpass the first experience in any way.  I am referring, of course, to vacations.  Do you remember your first time?

My family could not afford to take vacations.  I remember a trip or two to the Jersey shore, and one trip to the Pocono Mountains.  As a teenager, I had some weekend trips to a mountain home that belonged to our parish priest.  But that was the extent of vacations during my youth.  Unfortunately, I never had the quintessential family vacation experience.  Despite this deprivation, or maybe because of it, I somehow developed the wanderlust.  My first real vacation experience did not involve my family, but a newly-formed family of friends. It was July, 1985; I was eighteen years old.  Our destination?  Rome, Italy.

Too many years have passed to remember all of the details about how it came to be, or why Rome was our destination of choice.  My partner-in-crime throughout high school was my friend Lou, who was like a brother to me.  He had plans to enter the seminary after high school, and he talked about one day visiting Rome.  I’m sure his enthusiasm rubbed off on me, but I must have also had an interest in Italy of my own since I chose Italian for my language requirement in junior and senior year.

The idea must have begun between Lou and me, but I took the lead to make it happen.  My history teacher was Mrs. Campbell, a fun-loving, wise-cracking lady who loved to travel and loved to teach her students about those places and their history.  Towards the end of junior year, I remember asking her, “So, Mrs. C., how about taking a bunch of us to Rome after we graduate next year?” She looked at me for a few seconds, then smiled a sly grin and said “Why not?” If it wasn’t for her, our trip would not have happened!

Our entire group in St. Peter's Square - July 9, 1985 - Rome, Italy

Our entire group in St. Peter's Square - July 9, 1985 - Rome, Italy

Our merry band of travelers began to form.  The group consisted of eight teens and four adults.  First, I asked two girlfriends from school, Sandy and Mary Frances.  Lou asked one of his classmates, Dennis, who I also knew from grade school.  Mrs. Campbell obviously asked her husband.  Also included were their daughter, Mimi, who was two years younger than the rest of us, and their niece, Alexis, who was the youngest of the group at 13.  Mimi asked her friend Lisa, whose mother Liz also came along.  Finally, Lou and I asked an adult that we knew from our church, Tom, who readily jumped at the chance to visit Rome (apparently because Lou mentioned something about a private audience with Pope John Paul II…fifteen years later the now-Father Lou gave me that opportunity, but unfortunately Tom wasn’t on our second trip!).

And so it happened that my very first plane ride was transatlantic.  We had turbulence nearly the entire time.  Since I had never flown before, I thought it was all quite normal – similar to riding a bus on a bumpy road.  We were all giddy with excitement – especially those of us sans-parents because of the feeling of adventure and freedom.  We didn’t necessarily know what to do with that freedom, but the mere thought of having it seemed monumental at the time.

“Can’t you try it for just one night?” ~ Marinella

If events were only judged by their beginnings, our trip was doomed from the second we arrived.  Whatever could go wrong, did.  Our group booked the trip through a company that specialized in student tours, and they joined us with two other similarly sized groups – one from Connecticut, and one from New Jersey not too far away from our home in Philadelphia.  When the large group arrived at the hotel, I guess you could say they weren’t quite ready for us.  Our first few hours were spent waiting in the hot Roman July sun outside of the hotel’s lobby.  Eventually we were assigned rooms, but the rooms were inoperable and in some cases still under construction!  We spent hours waiting for the adults to sort out all of the issues.

“We pulled up to this dilapidated graffiti-covered dive called the Hotel G—–.  We all just looked at each other and laughed.” ~ Donna’s trip journal

It was advantageous that Mr. & Mrs. Campbell were our leaders – a building inspector for the city of Philadelphia and a high school history teacher were used to dealing with surly, uncooperative people on a daily basis, and their experience helped us resolve many of the problems. But that first day, after a very long journey and no sleep on the plane, it did not feel like we were in Rome at all.  In fact, we were quite miserable.  This is what we looked forward to for so long?

“So far, Rome is truly dismal.” ~ Mimi’s trip journal

The next day, our group began the official tour.  Our first stop was the Colosseum .  You can read about how big the Colosseum is, and you can see photographs or videos.  But until you are standing next to it (or driving by it), it is difficult to comprehend its sheer size.  When I saw it for the first time, it hit me – we really were in Rome!

Lou, Mimi, Donna, and Lisa inside the Colosseum

Lou, Mimi, Donna, and Lisa inside the Colosseum

We spent nine days at a rapid touring pace including one day in Florence.  The highlights were many: St. Peter’s basilica, the Wednesday audience with a young Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s square, the Sistine Chapel, Piazza Navona, St. John Lateran, the catacombs, the Duomo in Florence.  The Eternal City embraced my soul – and it has not let go since.  I fell in love with Rome, with Italy, with travel.  Not to mention Italian food, the hotness of Italian men, the buzzing passionate pace, and a nice little thing called asti spumante.

“By Tuesday, Lexi’s Marinella impersonation was perfect, and she had become our mascot.  By Thursday, she had thrown away her shell, probably somewhere near the ‘Wedding Cake'” ~ Mimi

In addition to the wonderful and historic sights, we had a beautiful sense of camaraderie.  Mostly, we laughed.  I think I laughed more in nine days than I have laughed in the last nine months.  Most of the laughter involved the problems and issues we encountered, whether it was our incompetent “guide”, Marinella, who seemed to know less about her city’s history than we did and only took us to guides or restaurants in which she’d get a commission, or the strange bellhop at the hotel, nicknamed Quasimodo, whose job seemed to involve silently lurking in the hallway and leaving large bundles of laundry on the stairs.  Whenever Marinella led the bus tour, we were sure to drive past the Victor Emmanuel monument, also known as the “Wedding Cake”, at least six times…regardless of what direction we were supposed to be traveling.

“Let me get this straight – she’s Italian and doesn’t know the Pope has a Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square with thousands of people?” ~ Lou

Because we were so young and the trip was so monumental, it became larger than life in our memories.  We reminisced afterward – and still do as if the trip only happened last year. Remember the time Louie was late for the bus?  Remember when Tom serenaded the old Italian lady?  Remember how happy we were to survive that taxi ride?  Remember when Marinella asked Mrs. C. if the Pope could change the audience so we could go to Florence on Wednesday?  Remember the songs we made up?

“Hey, they’re talking Italian on my Walkman!” ~ Dennis

Ever since, this 1985 trip became not just my first vacation, but the vacation to end all vacations.  I’d have fun on other trips to other places, but the memories of this one held a prominent place in my mind.  Did it take on this significance because it was my first real vacation?  Or was it the location that made it so special?  Perhaps it was the group of people I traveled with?  Or merely the fact that I was eighteen and it showed me a whole world existed outside of my tiny life?

In front of Bernini's Foutain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona: Dennis, Sandy, Donna, Lexi, Lisa, Mimi, Mary Fran, and Lou

In front of Bernini's Foutain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona: Dennis, Sandy, Donna, Lexi, Lisa, Mimi, Mary Fran, and Lou

Despite the wanderlust it awakened in me, I didn’t take another real vacation again for seven years, and I didn’t go to Europe again for thirteen years.  Not for a lack of desire, but either a lack of means or traveling companions.  But since that second trip to Europe, travel is a regular, recurring, and essential part of my life.  I’ve been fortunate to have visited many of the world’s cities: London, Munich, Prague, Warsaw, Paris, Brussels, Seoul. I’ve enjoyed them all, but my favorite city always shall be my first true love, Rome.  I’ve been back to Rome three times in the last nine years – sometimes I visit sights I have not seen, and other times I return to my favorite places.  Every trip to Rome has been special and memorable for different reasons.  But the most memorable trip of all was the very first.

We left Rome and headed back home on July 14, 1985.  We were exhausted but refreshed, complaining yet laughing, sad to leave but happy we went.  We left Rome twenty four years ago today, but the experience of that trip has never left me.

[Written for the 76th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: How I Spent My Summer Vacation]

No Beach? No Problem!

Welcome to the second annual post for the Carnival of Genealogy Swimsuit Edition.  I do confess that if I had known last year that this was an annual event, I would have saved some of the great beach photos of my Dad’s family from my post Genealogy Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition.  So this year I will turn the spotlight on my mother instead.  Here is my Mom as a young teenager with a friend – both dressed in their best swimwear!

My mother and her girlfriend, circa 1950, enjoying the sun.

My mother and her girlfriend, circa 1950, enjoying the sun.

The best thing about the photo is that they are not at the beach (or, as we say in my hometown Philly-speak, down the shore), but taking advantage of a beautiful day to catch some sun anyway.

[Submitted for the 74th Carnival of Genealogy: Swimsuit Edition]

Devoted to the Land: My Farming Ancestors

Poster designed by www.footnotemaven.com

Poster designed by http://www.footnotemaven.com

The topic for this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is The Good Earth, and we are invited to tell about our ancestors’ ties to the land.  When I first saw the topic, I doubted I’d have much to say.  My immediate ancestors – and myself – are from a very large city, so there are no farmers among us.  Even some of my immigrant ancestors came from large cities like Warsaw or Munich, or from industrialized towns like Żyrardów.  Even those from smaller towns seemed to have occupations that dealt more with crafts, building, or mercantile goods rather than “the earth”.  But, I soon realized that unless you are descended from royalty, you don’t have to go back many generations to find an ancestor who was truly tied to the land in some way.  As I looked through my records, I found farmers on all sides of my family.  Here is their brief story.

In Poland, the cycles and seasons of family life were deeply rooted in the seasons of the earth and the harvest.  Because Poland was a Catholic nation, the harvest and all of the work required for it to happen were also deeply connected to the Church.  Harvesting almost always began on July 25, the feast of St. Jacob and would begin with the celebration of the Mass and special prayers.  Following tradition, the first stalks of grain that were cut were placed in the sign of the cross, and those first stalks were often cut by the farmer’s daughter.

The days of a farmer were long – from first light to sundown.  The day would end with another prayer.  After the harvest was over, the final stalks harvested were also of great importance with one area always left unharvested no matter how small the plot of land.  Great celebrations were held after the harvest was over in thanksgiving, often involving the entire community. Most of the harvesters were not land-owners, but peasants who worked for them.  It is difficult to tell from vital records if the term “farmer” implies that the man owned land or merely worked on another’s. but many farmers worked as day laborers on other’s lands.

Among my Polish ancestors, I have found several farmers or day laborers including my 3rd great-grandfather Józef Ślesiński (c.1821 – 30 Nov 1866), my 2nd great-grandfather Wawrzyniec Zawodny (c.1853 – 13 Dec 1917), and my 4th great-grandfather Karol Zakrzewski (c.1800 – c.1858).

The Bavarian countryside near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.  Photo taken by the author, 1998.

The Bavarian countryside near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany. Photo taken by the author, 1998.

The agricultural life in Bavaria, Germany, was very similar to Poland in both the religious connection as well as the fact that there were different classes of farmers.  Even after the Protestant Reformation swept through Germany, Bavaria remained devoutly Catholic.  The religious customs related to the harvest are remarkably similar to Poland’s customs and included prayers and festivals.  The harvest was a community event even in large towns where the majority of residents were not involved in agricultural labor.  After all, the farmer’s successful harvest meant that the shoemaker could buy food at the market to feed his family.  Even today Germans take special pride in their farmers.  The photo below is not from Bavaria, but the Tirol section of Austria.  Both regions have similar traditions and celebrate the harvest with parades and traditional costumes.

Even the cows in Tirol (and Bavaria) take farming seriously! This is a farmer's parade in Innsbruck, Austria.  Photo taken by the author, 1998.

Even the cows in Tirol (and Bavaria) take farming seriously! This is a farmer's parade in Innsbruck, Austria. Photo taken by the author, 1998.

Bavaria had more class distinctions for farmers than in Poland where you were either a land-owner or you worked for someone else.  In Bavaria, the different designations were mainly for tax purposes.  A bauer owned a whole farm, a halbbauer owned half, and a viertelbauer owned a quarter.  Then there was the söldner, who owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  That may sound small, but there is even a lower designation – a poor häusler owned a house, but not the land on which it sat.

I first came across these farmer names when I discovered my 4th great-grandfather, Wolfgang Fischer (1775 – 1820) from the small town of Agelsberg.  In the birth record for his son Franz Xaver, who was born in 1813, Wolfgang’s occupation was listed as söldner.  It was an unfamiliar term, and according to my German dictionary it meant mercenary.  Mercenary?  As in a soldier of fortune, perhaps hired out to neighboring countries?  I quickly discovered the Bavarian meaning of the word in addition to its other definition.  A sölde is a small house with a garden, and as I indicated above a söldner owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  My mercenary was a poor farmer!

Wolfgang is the only farmer I have found in my Bavarian ancestry so far, but there is another family that made a living off of the “good earth” – the Bergmeister family of millers.  As owners of a mill in the town of Puch, the family would have had a higher economic and social standing than the poor famer; however, his entire operation was dependent upon the success of the farmers’ harvest.  The earliest record of the family’s ownership of the mill is around 1700.  Ownership was passed to the oldest son for many generations.  I lost track of who owned the mill in the mid-1800’s because I am  descended from that generation’s second son, but the second and third sons continued in related businesses – one was a flour merchant, the other a baker.

Farming is back-breaking work – work that is often taken for granted today.  In my ancestors’ times it was likely even harder work without the assistance of machinery and motorized tools.  The closest I come to such labor of the earth is mowing my lawn – and though I do use machinery to assist me, I still complain about the manual labor.  Next time, I’ll try to remember all of my farmer and miller ancestors who worked long days tilling the earth and growing food for their lords, families, and neighbors.



Sources used in this article:


Dieter Joos, “A Brief Description of a Typical Southern German Village in Past Centuries”, (Ueberlingen, Germany, 1999).  Available online at http://geisheimer.org/info/germ/village.htm


Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Polish Customs, Traditions, & Folklore, (New York, Hippocrene Books, 1993), 145-157.

John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, (London, 1809), 30-33.  Google Book Search.  Retrieved on May 27, 2009.

[Written for the 73rd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Good Earth]

Chicken Soup for My Soul

Mom and Me, 1968

Mom and Me, 1968

I’ve been wanting to write a tribute to my mother now for quite some time, so when it was announced that the topic of this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy was mothers, I was thrilled.  But then “something” came up, as usual. Blogging, and life in general, has been non-existent for the last two weeks because I’ve been sick.  As in feeling-awful, missing-work, doctors-don’t-have-a-clue, everyone-please-stay-away-from-me sick.  But I also had what you might call writer’s block caused by the subject matter, not my clogged brain – what do I write about that sums up my mother and how much she means to me?

Mom and Me, 1975

Mom and Me, 1975

It’s not that there’s a lack of material – there’s so much to say!  Do I write about how I almost lost her (that is, she almost died) three times in my life – including the day I was born?  Or how she taught me everything I know about my faith in God?  Or how her beliefs and illnesses shaped my views on health?  Or how she’s without a doubt the World’s Greatest Cook?  Or about her extreme generosity? Or her talents as a dancer?  Or her unfulfilled dreams that could have used her other talents?  Do I talk about how she met my dad?  Or how hard it was for her to simply become a mother and the sicknesses she endured after giving birth?

I simply have too much to say about my mother, but I felt too sick these past two weeks to say any of it.  I even missed Mother’s Day itself last week.  But the  COG deadline is today, and I am finally feeling better.  I realized I can fully introduce my readers to my wonderful mother with one simple story.  While I was home sick, she brought me chicken soup.  Twice.  I’m not talking about that stuff they call “soup” that comes in a can – no, this is the real deal as only my mother (and deceased grandmother) could make it.  Oh. So. Good.  I’ve tried to duplicate this magic; I’ve failed.  To put this act of charity in perspective, I’m not a child sick in my room upstairs.  She’s 73 years old, but she drove twenty minutes to come to my house (dragging along my dad, also recovering from a bad cold).  She came because she knew it was the only thing that would help me get better.  And it did.

But I have a theory on that…I don’t think my cure came 100% from that delicious chicken soup.  No, not entirely.  I have no doubt it came from my mom’s love.  You see, she’s my chicken soup for my soul.  Who could ask for anything more?

Mom and Me, 1997

Mom and Me, 1997

[Written for the 72nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Mothers]

Carnival of Genealogy, 71st Edition

71st Carnival of Genealogy

Welcome to the 71st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy!  The topic for today was Local History! As genealogists, we are used to tracing our ancestors and the history of the places they lived. But not all of us live where our ancestors did – do we take the time to see the history all around us? Well, based on the response – yes, we do take the time!  Come and read some fascinating entries on what proved to be an interesting topic.  In the twenty-five submissions presented here, you will read about some amazing historical places, events, and people located in sixteen U.S. states and two Canadian provinces!

Carol Wilkerson presents MacArthur Left But Volckmann Remained posted at iPentimento | Genealogy and History. Even though Russell Volckmann was a WWII hero, Carol’s husband was never taught about him in any of his schooling.

Kiril Kundurazieff presents Hunting Down the Honeymoon Hotel: A Genealogical Adventure posted at Musings of a Mad Macedonian. This picture filled Detective Tale is about a, um, Honeymoon Hotel, on the Boardwalk in Newport Beach, Ca., a hotel with a history going back to 1904. With just a receipt with no address, or city, for the hotel, Kiril used his investigative skills to find the place, which was where his parents spent their honeymoon in 1958. $43 for a 6 day stay.  You can’t buy a Love Nest for that much money today, hee, hee!

Elyse Doerflinger presents A California Port Town – COG posted at Elyse’s Genealogy Blog. Elyse wrote about San Pedro, California – the port town right next to the Los Angeles Harbor.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino presents My Hometown: Methuen, Massachusetts posted at Acadian Ancestral Home. My Hometown: Methuen, Massachusetts provides an insight to local history as well as the history of America. As an Acadian researcher it also tells about the Acadian families exiled to Methuen in the winter of 1755-56 when exiled from Nova Scotia by British Governor Charles Lawrence.

Elizabeth Powell Crowe presents Wordless Wednesday/Carnival of Genealogy 71st Edition posted at Crowe’s Nest by Elizabeth Powell Crowe.  Huntsville, Alabama (where Elizabeth was born) recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding at the Big Spring.

Earline Bradt presents COG Local History – “The Tomato Capital of Canada”, Leamington, Ontario posted at Ancestral Notes. Though close to one of the first areas to be revealed after the last ice age, and 40 miles away from one of the earliest explored areas of the New World, Leamington, in Essex County, Ontario was one of the last to be settled.

Leah Kleylein presents Random Notes: COG – Historic King of Prussia Inn posted at Random Notes. Leah offers a short history of the King of Prussia Inn, located in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault presents Kahnawa:ke – Home of the Haudenosaunee « A Canadian Family posted at A Canadian Family. Evelyn lives on land that rightly belongs to the Mohawk of Kahnawake.

Linda Hughes Hiser presents Carnival of Genealogy–George Ornan Willet posted at Flipside. Linda writes: “What a great topic! I found out that the street where I live was named for my town’s first mayor.”

Denise Olson presents Living History posted at Moultrie Creek. Denise’s family research turns up centuries-old ties to her home town.

John Newmark presents July 2, 1917 – East St. Louis posted at TransylvanianDutch. 92 years ago one of the bloodiest race riots in our nation’s history occurred three miles from the office building in which John works today.

Ruby Coleman presents Rails Then and Now in Nebraska posted at Nebraska Roots and Ramblings. The railroad coming through Nebraska was instrumental in the history of the nation as well as locally. North Platte, Nebraska as a terminal had a colorful history that is to this day of historical interest.

Cheri L. Hopkins presents “GERONIMO”, High Flying War Dog of the 507th ! posted at THOSE OLD MEMORIES. Geronimo, the WWII CANINE paratrooper of the 507th, was a favorite figure in the history of Alliance Nebraska. This a short story tribute to this awesome soldier.

Midge Frazel presents Williams LATHAM posted at Granite in My Blood. Gravestones and their resting places in greater Bridgewater MA owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Williams Latham, local author and historian.

Kris P presents Carnival time! Peabody, MA « From the seed to the branches posted at From the seed to the branches. Read about a “proud Southern girl” who winds up on the North shore of Massachusetts.

Amanda presents The Erie Canal posted at A Tale of Two Ancestors.  Amanda connects her current location, Syracuse, NY, with the home of her ancestors in Buffalo, NY.

Sheri Fenley presents San Joaquin County Local History – A Sack of Flour posted at The Educated Genealogist.  Read about San Joaquin County and the famous sack of flour!

Randy Seaver presents A Victorian House in San Diego – turned into a box posted at Genea-Musings. Randy’s favorite house in San Diego has a history, but it’s hidden beneath the exterior paint and stucco.

Bill West presents West in New England: LOCAL HISTORY – THE NORTH ABINGTON RIOT posted at West in New England. One August day in 1893 all heck broke loose in North Abington Center and became the North Abington Riot!

Cherie presents 71st Carnival of Genealogy: Local History posted at Still Digging for Roots.  Cherie recently discovered a local hero of the Spanish-American War.

Julie Cahill Tarr presents David Davis (1815-1886) posted at The Graveyard Rabbit of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Bloomington, Illinois is rich with history. There are many places and people of interest, but this post focuses on one gentleman, David Davis.

Greta Koehl presents Tinner Hill: Desegregation, Graveyards, and My Fireplace posted at Greta’s Genealogy Bog. What could desegregation, graveyards, and my fireplace possibly have in common? They all have a connection to Tinner Hill. Greta feels very privileged to live within walking distance of this community and thinks you will find its history as fascinating as she does.

Jasia presents Brief History of Saint Joseph, Michigan posted at Creative Gene. Jasia’s new home town is Saint Joseph, Michigan. It’s a wonderful resort town on the shores of Lake Michigan. Come read about it’s history and see some fabulous vintage postcards of days gone by!

footnoteMaven presents From the Flames My Home posted at footnoteMaven.  fM’s home was built as the result of the careless act of John E. Back, June 6, 1889.  But she writes, “Perhaps he did us all a favor.”

And finally, Donna Pointkouski presents Shadows of History in My Backyard posted here at What’s Past is Prologue.  Donna wonders if the history of her new town in New Jersey could compete with her hometown of Philadelphia, PA.  It can! Read about the shadows of history she discovered right in her backyard.

This concludes this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.  I hope you enjoyed learning about each other’s hometowns and their fascinating histories, people, and places as much as I did.

Now it is time for the next Call for Submissions! The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: Mothers! Mother’s Day is right around the corner and this is the perfect time to honor your mother, grandmother, godmother, step mother, den mother, aunt, neighbor, or friend who happens to be a mother. If you’ve written about your own mother for the COG before, consider writing about another mom on your family tree. Let’s make all our moms famous! The deadline for submissions is May 15th and next edition will be hosted at Creative Gene.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using the carnival submission form. Please use a descriptive phrase in the title of any articles you plan to submit and/or write a brief description/introduction to your articles in the “comment” box of the blogcarnival submission form. This will give readers an idea of what you’ve written about and hopefully interest them in clicking on your link. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Thanks for the COG poster, fM!

Shadows of History in My Backyard

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, one of the most historic cities in the U.S.  Even so, my neighborhood was far removed from the main historic sites like the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house, or Independence Hall.  So far removed that the neighborhood is usually called the Far Northeast.  As the name implies, it is to the far northeast of the city bordering Bucks County, Pennsylvania and it was not fully incorporated into the city limits until 1854.

Since this area of the city was mostly “settled” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we never knew that it even had a history.  But local streams had exotic Indian names like Neshaminy and Poquessing so we could only imagine what that history may have been.  I eventually learned that the area was once the land of the Lenape. The Lenape land became farm land for English and Swedish settlers, then summer homes for Philadelphia’s wealthy elite, then the sprawling middle class pseudo-suburb that it remains today.  Within all of those various uses for the land lies a rich history.  A saint played in my backyard.  A Founding Father was born just a few miles away. William Penn’s surveyor, who planned the city of Philadelphia, chose this area to live.  And perhaps most exciting of all, George Washington’s army camped a mile away on their way to Yorktown and marched down what is now called Frankford Avenue.

When the time came to purchase a home, I decided to leave my old neighborhood and I set my sights on “East Philadelphia” – otherwise known as New Jersey.  I used to drive through the area of Palmyra and Riverton, and I liked the old houses and charming vibe.  But could these sleepy towns compete with Philadelphia’s history?  I soon learned that history is all around us – sometimes even in our own backyard.

Palmyra, my new hometown, was only officially formed in 1894.  But the history of the land itself was as fascinating as my old neighborhood’s history!  Originally this area was also the land of the Lenape and served as a vast hunting area for the community.  In 1689, the first settlers showed up – the Swedes – and it became the northern portion of New Sweden.

About three generations later, descendants of one of those first Swedish settlers, Elias Toy, built a stone farmhouse in 1761.  That house, slightly modified in the ensuing years, still serves as a residence — about 100 yards from my backyard!  It is the oldest house in Palmyra and the surrounding area.  The view of it from my backyard  is blocked by trees, but here’s a view from the road on its other side.

The Toy-Morgan House, Palmyra, NJ, originally built in 1761.
The Toy-Morgan House, Palmyra, NJ, originally built in 1761.

The Toy family had about 300 acres of farmland and orchards, and most of this area forms the town of Palmyra today, most notably my own property and street!  According to Life on the Delaware: A History of Palmyra, “legend has it that Benjamin Franklin paused here more than once while on his voyages to visit his son.”  The house remained in the possession of the Toy family until 1848, when it was sold to the Morgan’s – another family that had lived in the area for many generations. He  expanded the size of the house in 1853 to its present form. You can read more about the house in a recent article or see a rather historic drawing of the house that looks remarkably like today’s photo.

This is the view from the Toy-Morgan House looking north at the Delaware River
This is the view from the Toy-Morgan House looking north at the Delaware River. That’s an abandoned Philadelphia factory to the left on the other side.

The area surrounding this house changed over the years.  In the 1830s the railroad tracks were laid and the Camden & Amboy Railroad made the area more town-like than farmland.  Then it was referred to as “Texas” – and perhaps there was a bit of a wild west feel with horses and farms.  But in 1849, the name Palmyra first appears on a map of Burlington County, reportedly christened by another Toy family descendant.

What I find interesting about the Palmyra, Riverton, and Cinnaminson area in New Jersey is that you can still see remnants of several eras of the area’s history – the shadows of history left behind.  These shadows create some remarkable juxtapositions.  For example, the Toy-Morgan house reminds us of the early settlers, but its view of the river is now partially blocked by condominiums. The local produce market, Hunter’s Farm in Cinnaminson, has a sign announcing “Settled 1760”, but there is a Wal-mart and a highway about a mile down the road.  In Riverton and in some sections of Palmyra, there are brightly colored Victorian houses that have been gracing the streets for 150 years with newer homes mixed in between.  The new “light rail” uses the old railroad tracks from the 1830’s.  Along the river, some of the magnificent summer mansions of wealthy Philadelphians mingle with newer, more modest, modern homes.  And, though the median income for the town was $51,000  according to the 2000 census, it’s the home of a car dearlership where you can buy a Bentley or an Aston-Martin.  If you look beyond the new and the modern, you’ll see a fragment or a shadow of  history from one time period or another.

I have taken great pride in researching the places my ancestors lived and worked.  Some of the town histories from Poland and Bavaria go back to the middle ages!  Back when their hometowns were established, mine was wilderness whose history remains hidden. Who would have thought there could be so much history in my own backyard?

Spring beckons as the sun sets over the Delaware River in Palmyra, NJ.
Spring beckons as the sun sets over the Delaware River in Palmyra.

[Written for the 71st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Local History.]

Uncle, Uncle!

My dad's Bergmeister uncles: Joe, Max, Julius, 1938

My dad's Bergmeister uncles: Joe, Max, Julius, 1938

Both of my parents had several uncles.  My father had four – his father had one brother and his mother had three.  Uncle Joe Perk, his father’s brother, was the only uncle who was not born in the U.S.  Born Jozef Piontkowski in Warsaw, Poland, he opted for the shorter surname “Perk.”  The three Bergmeister uncles were Joe, Max, and Julius.  He saw these three uncles more frequently growing up, especially Uncle Max who owned a candy store.  As you can imagine, having an uncle with a candy store made my father the envy of most of the neighborhood children.

My mom's Uncle Stanley

My mom's Uncle Stanley

My mother had six “natural” uncles – four from her father’s side and two from her mother’s (and three more through marriage!).  Her father’s brothers were Louis, Eugene, Water, and Victor.  Uncle Victor was my mother’s favorite, and she was devastated when he died at a young age.  My mother was only 15 years when he died in 1951; he was only 32. Her uncles on her mother’s side were Uncle Charley and Uncle Stanley.  Though they were brothers, they also used different surnames much like my father’s father and uncle.  Uncle Charley used his actual name, Kazimierz or Casimir Zawodny.  His brother Stanley changed his last name to Zowney.

With Uncle Ken, 2002

With Uncle Ken, 2002

Hearing my parents talk about their uncles always made me want to have one, but both of my parents only had one sister each.  I don’t have any “natural” uncles!  But that doesn’t mean I grew up uncle-less – fortunately, both of my aunts provided me with uncles through marriage.  Uncle Ken entered my life when I was 11 years old –  I’ve already told a few stories about him in a tribute to my aunt.  Uncle Ken was everything I could ask for in an uncle since he had a great sense of humor and was always ready to have an interesting conversation with me.  We shared many fun times with my aunt, especially on my visits to their boat when we’d cruise along the Delaware River and enjoy sunny days and each other’s company.

Uncle Stan and Aunt Jean, 2006

Uncle Stan and Aunt Jean, 2006

My Uncle Stan married my Aunt Jean before I was born, but much to my regret they were not much a part of my life until I was in my 30’s!  We try to make up for lost time though, and he is always ready to help me in any way he can.  He’s also ready to share advice, good stories, and a bottle of wine – in short, another uncle with all the qualities anyone would want in an uncle!

With Dad and "Uncle" Frank, 1978

With Dad and "Uncle" Frank, 1978

Besides uncles related by blood and those related through marriage, there is also another category – uncles by circumstance.  Such was the case with a man who was a big part of my childhood and teenage years, Frank.  Regular readers have already seen a photo of my dad and his best buddy Frank, so you know that this was a guy with an extraordinary sense of humor.  I never referred to him as “Uncle Frank” – in fact, I called him “Mr.  S*****” until I was an adult.  But he and his wife were such good friends with my parents and I saw them so often that I think of them as my uncle and aunt.  Besides keeping me me laughing for so many years, my “uncle” Frank also taught me much about our Catholic faith and how to live a faith-filled life.

Even though neither of my parents had a brother, I’m grateful to my aunts for giving me uncles and to my parents for giving me an adopted uncle.  I’m proud to have had these three great men in my life!  Everyone needs an uncle, so if you don’t have one through birth or marriage, find a great guy to adopt as your uncle – you’ll be glad you did.

[Written for the 70th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Uncle, Uncle!]

Memories of Aunt Joan

Joan Pater, 1932

Joan Pater, 1932

Joan Delores Pater was born on August 30, 1932 in Philadelphia, PA.  She was the first born child of Henry and Mae Pater.  Their family was made complete three years later with the birth of a second daughter, Anita Jane, who was born in 1935. Despite their closeness in age, the two sisters did not get along from the time they were children.  Each had different interests and hobbies from their youth through to adulthood.  Both, however, had a great sense of humor!  For several years, the Pater girls and their parents lived on Mercer Street with their maternal grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, until his death in 1944.

Joan's wedding portrait, 1949

Joan's wedding portrait, 1949

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan & Richard

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan & Richard

In 1949, Joan married at age 17 – the third generation of Pater’s to do so.  Both her father, Henry, and her grandfather, Louis, were 17 when they got married – both to slightly older women.  She married a boy from the neighborhood, Richard.  Although they were happy while dating, marriage was not what she expected.  Her husband’s personality seemed to change overnight, and he became verbally and physically abusive.  Despite these difficulties, the couple had a son, Richard, on August 22, 1951.


My cousin Ricky

Baby Ricky became the joy of their lives, but he also brought great sadness.  Ricky was born with a heart defect, and he never properly matured or learn to talk or walk.  He was a happy baby, and he loved to flirt with ladies!  His short life ended on December 9, 1952.  He was only fifteen months old.  His entire family was devastated by the death — his mother Joan most of all.  After that experience, she knew that she did not want to have any more children because the pain of losing one was too great. Joan and Richard remained married, but their son’s death added to their marital problems.  The couple split up about five years later.

Joan began to work as a secretary at Anheuser-Busch in Philadelphia – much to her family’s amusement for she lacked the two skills essential for secretarial work, stenography and typing.  Joan simply made up her own style of shorthand, and she must have learned how to type because she remained with the company for several years!

Aunt Joan holding Donna Joan (that's me), April 1967

Aunt Joan holding Donna Joan (that's me), April 1967

Joan’s sister, Anita, married in 1956 and had two children, Drew in 1959 and myself in 1967.  We gave Joan a new job: Aunt Joan.  She relished the role of aunt; we became “her kids”.  When Drew was very young, Joan lived with the family for about two years.  Even after moving, she visited on weekends to “play”. When I was in kindergarten, Aunt Joan accompanied my mother as chaperones on a field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo.  One day several weeks after the trip, she came with my mother to pick me up from school.  One of my classmates who had been in our group on the field trip recognized her.  The girl shouted loudly, “I know you – you’re from the zoo!”

Another memorable recognition, or more appropriate, a mis-recognition, occurred years later.  In 1978, my mother had surgery.  Aunt Joan went with my brother and I to pick her up from the hospital.  As we all stood with my mother waiting for her discharge, a nurse brought over a wheelchair.  Wheeling past my mother directly to Aunt Joan, the nurse asked her to get in.  “It’s not for me! How bad do I look?” she yelled as we all laughed.

Joan and Ken Silvers, 1993

Joan and Ken Silvers, 1993

In 1978, Aunt Joan became re-acquainted with someone she knew from the neighborhood where she lived as a teenager – Ken Silvers.  Ken had also been married and divorced, and he had two preteen daughters.  Joan and Ken fell in love, and this time the marriage was forever. Ken was a former Navy submariner who had served on the USS Tusk. That experience, as well as time spent as a commercial tugboat captain, gave him a love for boating that he passed on to Joan.  For many years, they belonged to the Wissinoming Yacht Club in Philadelphia.  Despite the name, there was nary a yacht among the members’ boats, which were mainly powerboats, sailboats, or cruisers – which is what my new Uncle Ken owned.  On their small boat, Uncle Ken’s seat was labeled as “the Captain’s Chair” – but Aunt Joan’s was labeled as “the Admiral’s Chair”!

Ken served as “Commodore” of their yacht club for some years, and he occasionally wore a “Captain’s” hat.  Once, around 1978-79, the pair took the boat down to Atlantic City for the weekend.  While at a bar at one of the brand new casinos, they couldn’t believe how nice the bartender was and how they kept getting free drinks.  Later that night, they realized why – Captain & Tennille” were playing at the casino!  While my aunt & uncle did not necessarily resemble the singing duo, a huge hit at the time, my uncle’s mustache and captain’s hat were enough to confuse the bartender!

Aunt Joan and Aunt Donna on "the boat" with Natalie, 2001

Aunt Joan and Aunt Donna on "the boat" with Natalie, 2001

As I grew up, I tried to visit Aunt Joan when I could.  At a minimum, visits would take place for birthdays and other holidays.  My favorite visits were during the summertime when I would not visit their house, but the boat instead.  Occasionally, my uncle would take us for a ride on the Delaware River.  Other times, we’d simply sit on the boat at the dock.  We’d always have food – with my aunt trying to get me to eat as much of it as possible.  This became a much-loved ritual.  Often, Uncle Ken would grill lobster tails on a little propane grill.  Alternately, we’d have steamed crabs or even steak.  As we enjoyed the food, Uncle Ken would smile, wink, and remark, “What are the poor people eating tonight?”  It became our signature comment every time we feasted on the boat.

In 2004, I visited on August 29th to celebrate Aunt Joan’s 72nd birthday, which was the next day.  It was a great visit!  The weather was beautiful – sunny, but not hot, with a cool breeze.  We took the boat out for a short ride on the river, then returned to the dock for a meal of crabs and beer.  And birthday cake!  It was relaxing and fun, and I remember talking with my aunt about how good she looked for her age.  She commented on how good she felt.  Looking back, I wish I had stayed just a little longer to visit.  My last memory of my aunt is her waving good-bye from the dock as I drove away.  She died suddenly six days later from a heart attack.

I realize now that there are a lot of things I never got to know about my aunt’s life.  But, after her death, I realized one thing for sure – I was loved – truly, deeply, unconditionally.  I didn’t always give her the respect or love I should have, but I loved her – just probably not as much as she loved me.  Since I am also an aunt without any children of my own, I now understand her in a completely different way.  I hope that my nieces and nephews will know how much I love them like the way I know Aunt Joan loved us all.  I miss you, Aunt Joan!

frame2In Loving Memory

Joan Delores Pater Silvers

30 Aug 1932 – 04 Sep 2004

[Written for the 68th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to Women]

The 2008 iGENE Awards!

igene-theaterIt’s that time of year again…time for the Academy Awards.  But not that Academy!  More appropriate to this blog is the Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH)!  Each year, our illustrious Academy offers genea-bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for 2008.

nan_wedding_fullBest Picture

“I love the hat and flowers – and the shoes are to die for! Delicious!” ~ Denise Olson from Moultrie Creek ~

The “Best Picture” category honors the “Best Old Family Photo” that appeared on What’s Past is Prologue in 2008.  And the winner is…Hats Off from April 9, 2008.  This rather fashionably-dressed young woman is my grandmother, Mae Zawodna Pater.  The occasion is her sister Jane’s wedding to Sigmund Galecki in 1925, and she is the maid of honor.

Best Screenplay

“That was just wonderful – a pleasure to read! She looks like she would be such fun to talk with.” ~ Lidian from The Virtual Dime Museum ~

Which family story that you shared in 2008 would make the best movie? None other than Tribute to an Aunt from March 14, 2008.  This is the tale of my great-great aunt, Hilaire Bergmeister, who leaves her family behind in Bavaria and immigrates alone to America.  There she works as a shopkeeper and falls in love with an older man.  After they marry, she helps her brothers journey to America.  But once the family is together, tragedy strikes.  After several untimely deaths, this aunt welcomes her nieces and nephews and guides them into adulthood.

Best Documentary

“This is such an interesting post, Donna. What a find to discover these types of records for your family members..” ~ Lisa from 100 Years in America ~

The “Best Documentary” category offered a wide variety of eligible posts, which included any informational article about a place, thing, or event involving my family’s history.  In a surprise win, the award goes to If These Walls Could Speak: A German Häuserchronik from February 12, 2008.  This documentary tells the story of a unique resource for German genealogy, the häuserchronik, how it helped in my own genealogy, and where you can search for books from your own ancestor’s town.

Best Biography

“I really liked the two part history and the myth busting you were able to do.”  ~ Apple from Apple’s Tree ~

The best biographical article in 2008 is Joseph Zawodny posted on August 22, 2008.  Joseph Zawodny, my great-grandfather, led an ordinary life compared to the myths and stories that live on.  However, his life is also exciting in and of itself because of his youth growing up in the “borderland” region of Russian Poland, his marriage and subsequent immigration, his large family, and his lifelong love for his wife, Laura.

Best Comedy

“…we get idea that your family had quite the sense of humor… you must have laughed through your whole childhood!” ~ Jasia from Creative Gene ~

jim_frank_balletWhat was the best funny story, poem, joke, photo, or video that I shared on my blog in 2008?  Since I often use humor in my writing, there were many contenders in this category. But, the award went to a post that was not funny because of my writing talent, but because of my genes.  And the iGene goes to…My Father, the Comedienne, which was submitted for the 6th edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival on October 6, 2008.  Read the story that explains this rather funny photo of my father, Jim, and his best buddy Frank!  They were and are true comedic geniuses and are my humorous inspiration to this day!

I’d like to thank the Academy, and our Carnival of Genealogy hostess with the “mostess”, Jasia, for a wonderful chance to look back on our blogs.  I’d also like to thank the illustrious footnoteMaven for graciously allowing me to use “the Maven method” for my post.  Imitation (with permission) is the sincerest form of flattery.  Unfortunately, my gown wasn’t nearly as fabulous as Maven’s, so I chose not to show the photo of me on the red carpet! Until next year!

[Written for the 66th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: iGENE Awards.]

The Joy of Genealogy

Here's one "gene" find that would make me do the Happy Dance (oh, like you didn't know that was coming with the subject of this COG!)

Here’s one “gene” find that would make me do the Happy Dance (oh, like you didn’t know that was coming with the subject of this Carnival of Gene-eaology!)

When I first started “doing” genealogy, any find was exciting and the cause of great joy –  whether it confirmed something I already knew or took me back one more generation.  After a while, I was surprised that the research became “routine” – not that it wasn’t exciting anymore, it was just to be expected.  If you have the luck to have records readily available that go back hundreds of years, going back a few generations will be a task on your “to do” list along with buying milk and stopping at the post office.  But, no matter how many years you’ve been searching, some finds are worthy of the genealogy “happy dance” – when you find something that makes you so happy you want to dance!

Poster by footnoteMaven.com

Poster by footnoteMaven.com

In my own research, there are quite a few remembrances of doing the happy dance that only the joys of genealogy can cause:

  • The first census find – Today, the availability of U.S. census records online has made it relatively easy to find your ancestors in those records.  But twenty years ago, it was a bit more dramatic.  When I first started my research, the latest available census record was from 1910 – and I had to look at it on microfilm at the Philadelphia branch of the National Archives. My first find was rather exciting for one simple fact – three of my four families to find were so badly misspelled that the Soundex was useless.  I wouldn’t find the others for years!
  • The immigrant hometown find – One of the most spectacular happy dances was finding IT – my immigrant ancestor’s hometown.  Each time it happened, the dancing began – for I finally had a place beyond “Poland” or “Germany” in which to search further.  The ways and hows of this particular find varied.  For one, it was through an American-born child’s baptismal record.  For another, a social security card application.  For others, it was as easy as the passenger arrival record!  No matter the source, finding the place makes you feel like a detective who has just solved the case no one else could solve!
  • The next generation find – While finding evidence of my great-grandparents’ birthplaces in Europe was exciting, even more so was finding a record of who their parents were.  It finally disproved the challenge posed when I started my research: “They didn’t keep records back then!”

[Written for the 65th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Happy Dance – the Joy of Genealogy]

Explanation to the “Really Young” or “Really Don’t Know Movie History” readers – the dancer above is Gene Kelly, one of my other “gene” hobbies.

The Discontent of My Winter

Once upon a time, growing up in Philadelphia, I enjoyed playing in the snow.

Building a snowman, circa winter of 1970-71

Building a snowman, circa winter of 1970-71

Brother Drew, Lou C the cat, Shona, & Donna

Winter of 1976-77. Left: Donna and friend Shona Ferguson. Right: Brother Drew, Lou C the cat, Shona, & Donna in my backyard

Sledding, circa 1978

Sledding, circa 1977. The hill became the parking garage for Frankford Hospital.

Then, I grew up.  As a grown-up, snow became rather unpleasant for two reasons.  First, I had to shovel it.  Since being cold and physical exertion don’t fall anywhere on my top 100 list of desirable things to do, you can only imagine how much I enjoy that activity.  Second, I had to drive to work in it. To educate all of the snow-lovers out there that think I’m a wimp because of that statement, the street I lived on in Philadelphia never saw a snow plow until I was in my 30’s.  Places north of us that routinely get twelve feet of snow have efficient procedures in place for its removal.  My city did not.  The main roads are plowed and salted, of course, but the “secondary” roads were not.  My parents’ street must have been a “tertiary” street, because it was left behind even when the city got around to the secondary streets (I am happy to say this has since been corrected since the late 1990’s).  As a result, once a significant snowfall occurred, our street would become a sheet of ice.  My past experience navigating a vehicle in these conditions would qualify me to drive a zamboni®.  To drive to snowless roads, one had a choice between going around a curve and up a hill, going down a steep, icy hill, or maneuvering a bit out of the way on icy but flat streets.  The latter route became my favorite – and at times I considered parking my car on the clean street and walking the 3-4 blocks to my house.

After extreme-shoveling and driving on ice, snow lost any appeal it may have once had in my youth.  Even though Philadelphia does not usually get much snow during winter, we have had our incidents.  The most famous of all was the Blizzard of 1996 which took place from January 6-8.  Although the blizzard hit most of the East Coast, Philadelphia had the distinction of receiving more snow than anywhere else.  The offical snowfall total was 30.7 inches, and of that, 27.6 inches fell in a 24-hour period – a new record.

My parents' backyard after the Blizzard of '96.  Compare to the Winter 1976-77 photos above - it is the same fence.

My parents' backyard after the Blizzard of '96. Compare to the Winter 1976-77 photos above - it is the same fence.

With that much snow, the city had difficulty plowing even the main roads – there was no hope for neighborhood streets.  There was simply nowhere to put all of the snow, so they dumped it into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, which later caused flooding problems.  The main concern for my family was how to eventually drive off of the street.  In fact, my mother and I were scheduled to go to Florida the following week – the only time we’ve ever traveled anywhere together.  We were convinced we’d still be snowed in by then.  But, fortunately, a miraculous pick-up truck with a plow attached came down our street.  We still had to shovel about five feet of the street to get to that lane, but it was better than all of it!

Besides the occasional 2-3 feet of snow, even more spectacular was the Ice Storms that occurred frequently during the winter of 1993-94.  At this time (as well as the Blizzard of ’96), I had a 22-mile commute to work down I-95, a road that can be deadly even on sunny and dry days thanks to Philadelphia drivers (and this was before everyone had a cell phone stuck to their face).  Pretty?  Yes!  Fun?  You’ve got to be kidding.

As for winter sports, I skied.  Once.  The best part about it was coming in from the cold to a warm place and having something hot to drink.  It’s just not for me, probably because my body is colder than average and it is just uncomfortable to be below sixty degrees.

This is the story of my discontent of winter.  Why do I live in Philadelphia?  I ask myself that question often.  It’s home.  It may not be forever, but for now it’s home.  The “fun” part of winter got left behind with my childhood, never to return.  Well, maybe it will return some day…if I get to spend winter somewhere warm.  The photo below was taken in December, and I was  finally content during winter!

Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, December 2002

Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, December 2002

[Written for the 64th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Winter Photo Essay.]

Essay title is a play on Shakespeare’s famous line from Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York” (also used as a novel title by John Steinbeck.)

New Year’s Genealogy Resolutions

by footnoteMaven.com

by footnoteMaven.com

I’ve always hated the term “resolutions” as it applies to New Year’s, mostly because the word evokes difficult things like exercise and hard work.  Instead, I try to make a list of some fun things I want to accomplish during the year, like things to do or places to go.  It may not be as useful for self-improvement, but the list itself is more satisfying to write and accomplish!  But, even with “fun” things, one has to be careful of what one wishes for…one of the things I wanted to do last year was start a genealogy blog, and now look what’s happened!

I’ve come up with a few genealogy-related goals for 2009.  I did the same for 2008, but since I didn’t have a public blog in which to broadcast those goals, they can remain undisclosed to protect my pride.  For 2009, I hope to:

  • Go back one more generation on each of my great-grandparents’ lines – for a few, that means research in the 1600’s; for others, it means finding out who their parents were in the late 1800’s.  This may sound either daunting to beginners or too unfocused to experienced researchers, but I want to get back into the basics of research, and I have a hard time focusing on just one family for too long.
  • Get back to the library – the Family History Library, that is.  I haven’t been there in quite some time, despite the fact that I’ve lived much closer to it for the last several years.  I will need to do this to accomplish my previous goal!
  • In a combination of the above two goals, I want to find some missing details on my Bavarian ancestry.  I can go back several generations, but I am missing some vital information from a much closer time period, about 1875-1895.  This information hasn’t caused a problem with any proof of ancestry, but I want to find some death information to complete the facts for these families.
  • Keep writing – both with this blog as well as magazine articles.  I won’t commit to it as a “resolution”, but it’s time to do more than “just think” about some book ideas, too.  I have some new ideas for What’s Past is Prologue for the upcoming year, but my readers will hear more about that later in the week when I celebrate a Very Special Holiday.

What are your goals to jump-start your research next year?

[Written for the 63rd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: New Year’s Resolutions]

Yes, Donna, There is a Genea-Santa

Dear Genea-Santa,

I haven’t written to you for quite a while.  In fact, it was back when your name was just Santa.  But now that you’ve branched out into genealogical gifts, there are three wishes I’d like granted.  Could you please leave these things under my tree this year?

  1. Photos of Jan and Rozalia Piontkowski.  You know where to find them (I sure don’t!).  I’d love to see what my great-grandparents looked like.
  2. Photos of the Pater family.  One that definitely existed is the photo of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater.  But I’m sure there are others.  The family had seven children – surely there is at least one of my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, as a younger man.  Just in case you can’t find these, I’d be satisfied with the genealogy that my granduncle Victor Pater supposedly researched back “500 years” from the U.S. to Poland to England. Uncle Victor died at the age of 32, and no one knows what happened to his research.  I’d be happy with either the Pater photos or his research!
  3. My great-grandmother Wacława Slesinska Zawodna’s sewing machine.

That’s it, Genea-Santa.  I’ve been good this year, so I really hope you can deliver! I’ll leave the light on for you…


[Written for the 62nd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Three Wishes]

Being Traditional in an Untraditional Family

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes — our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.  ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton


My family has a tradition for the holidays that seems to be unique among all of the wonderful and varied customs that society has come to label as “Tradition”.  You see, our tradition is — we’re rather untraditional.  For me, one who greatly values customs, ritual, patterns – TRADITION – this fact was rather hard to accept.  After all, traditions are passed down through the generations.  So, where did I get my love for all things traditional when my own family really doesn’t have any traditions?  Or, is our very “untraditionalness” [sic] a tradition in and of itself?

I can’t say we’ve never done the same thing twice, because we have.  But, nothing we’ve ever done is so set in stone in the traditional sense that it meets the definition of “tradition”.  I think those of us who value traditions find comfort in them.  With traditions, we know what to expect.  There is no fear of the unknown, no fear of change.  Traditions or rituals are comforting to me for these reasons.  I was always a tradition-oriented person.  But I don’t know why, because one would think that a person develops a love of traditions from experiencing them.  In my case, that’s not true.  It’s not that my family didn’t care for traditions, they just didn’t care about them enough to adopt or preserve them.  Which left me longing for traditions!  I was jealous of families in old movies that celebrated the holidays with special foods, events, or items passed down from generation to generation.  In my family’s case, we may have adopted some customs for a few years, but it was never so dependent, so essential to the holiday that gave it the required “tradition” label.  So my memories of the holiday traditions of my family seem a little schizophrenic!

For Thanksgiving, we had a tradition of the big meal with all of the great Thanksgiving foods like roasted turkey, Mom’s stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuts, etc.  I suppose that this feels like the most “traditional” of any holiday meal to me.  But, we were not so strict about where we celebrate, or when.  For two years, we celebrated by going downtown to see a show instead of our usual meal, which we probably had, with all of the trimmings, on another day of the week instead.  Some years my brother didn’t join us, other years one of his friends or one of mine did.  One year, my parents, their friends, and my priest-friend’s mother celebrated Thanksgiving in his rectory, because it was his first holiday as a priest and he was “on call”.  Some years we ate at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, and one year at her parents’ house.  For the last few years, I have had the meal at my house.  And every other year, my oldest niece celebrates with her mother’s family, so we usually have two Thanksgiving meals so we are all together at some point.  While the food may be familiar, the locale is most decidedly not.

Christmas is the holiday most associated with traditions, but once again my family never really decided on any one thing to “adopt” forever and ever.  Meal menus changed every few years.  Sometimes gifts were exchanged on Christmas Eve, and sometimes on Christmas Day.  For several years, we’d have a Christmas movie marathon. (But not the “usual” Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life – we watched Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street, and Christmas in Connecticut.)  Sometimes the tree was up and the house was decorated, and sometimes it wasn’t.  For several years, my parents’ street adhered to strict decoration requirements, and the street looks fabulous as everyone had the same lights and design.  But, none of these things stayed for more than a few years.

What always stays the same?  The reason for all of the celebrating – the religious meaning of Christmas.  We’d always attend Mass, but there was no tradition as to whether it would be the Vigil, the Midnight Mass, or on Christmas Day.  Going to church was the important part, not when.

I’ve developed a few traditions on my own over the years – certain songs must be listened to, ornaments are collected as I travel, and the holiday season must be celebrated with family and friends who are like family to me.

So, we don’t do the Seven Fishes, or Wigilia, or gather around the piano to sing carols while chesnuts pop in the fire place, or bake tons of cookies every year.  All of those traditions sound like a lot of fun, but I have fun anyway in spite of not celebrating in traditional ways.  The holidays used to make me sad – perhaps I put too much stock in fancy traditions and what I did not have.  But by remembering what I have every year, and remembering the Love that makes it all possible, the Christmas holidays are truly joyous.  That is my tradition!

[Written for the 61st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Traditions!]

Politics Then and Now

As I pondered over this topic for the Carnival of Genealogy and mused about the election in the next few days, I couldn’t help but wonder how my immigrant ancestors felt about the American electoral process.  Did they vote?  What was the voting process like in their homelands?  The records don’t exist to tell me the answers to the first question, but I was able to uncover some interesting facts about the electoral process in the countries from which they came.

My German great-grandparents never voted in a U.S. election because my great-grandfather was not naturalized.  But, he may have had the chance to vote in Germany.  Joseph Bergmeister was born in 1873, only two years after the unification of Germany as a nation.  Prior to that, German states were independent of one another, and my ancestors came from the Kingdom of Bavaria.  In the new, unified Germany, called the German Empire, the country was ruled by a Kaiser or Emperor.  The Kaiser was not an elected position!  But, men were able to vote for the Reichstag or the Imperial Assembly, which was a weak representative body.  (Note: women did not get the right to vote in Germany until 1918.)


Flag of the German Empire, 1871-1918. Source: Wikipedia

The problem with the Reichstag was that it could not initiate laws, but only pass, amend, or reject bills initiated by the Kaiser-appointed Chancellor.  In the beginning days of the German Empire, the Reichstag more or less was agreeable with the Kaiser’s wishes.  But, as it seems with any democratic body, they became less compliant over time.  Disagreeing with the Kaiser prompted rumors of threats that the Reichstag would be replaced with members who were in agreement with the Kaiser or, worse still, the democratic body would be eliminated completely as well as universal male suffrage.

The environment from which my great-grandfather came was a semi-constitutional monarchy, but at least the men had some say in the government.  From 1888 through to its abolishment with World War I in 1918, the argument over the best form of government continued.

I was unable to determine the voting age during this time.  If it was 18 or 20 years old, then my great-grandfather would have been eligible to vote in the 9th election of 1893.  Elections followed every five years, so his last vote – and perhaps his first if the voting age was 21, was in the election of 1898 since he left for the U.S. in 1900.  I can only imagine what he thought about the more democratic process in his new country in which men had the right to vote for the leader of the country!  As I said, he never got the chance to vote in America because he did not become a citizen.

For my Polish ancestors, their homeland’s political process was even more muddled because the country of Poland did not officially exist during my great-grandparents’ lives.  My remaining three great-grandfathers, Ludwig Pater, Jan Piontkowski, and Jozef Zawodny, all came from the area of Poland that was “confiscated” or partitioned by the Russian Empire.  It was the largest country in the world in the early 19th Century.


Flag of the Russian Empire, 1721-1917. Source: Wikipedia

Similar to the German Empire, the Russian Empire was led by the Tsar, or Emperor.  Prior to 1906, the tsar’s power was unlimited.  After 1906, the tsar’s power was more limited although the country was far from having a constitutional government.  Under the Tsar, the legislative power was called the Imperial Assembly of 196 members.  Half were appointed by the Tsar, and half were elected by the men of the Empire.  (Note: women received the right to vote in Russia and Poland in 1918.)  It appears that six members were elected by Poland of the 96 elected members.

Russia’s lower body of government was called the Duma of the Empire or the Imperial Duma, consisting of 442 members.  Reading about the Duma was more confusing than when I first learned about the U.S. electoral college in grade school!  The Duma appeared to have more members allowed for the wealthier classes, and less allowed for the working class or peasants.  But it does appear that even the peasants had a vote in this system, much to my surprise.  The effect of that vote was likely minimal, but the large population of the Polish cities of Warsaw and Lodz meant that Poland was represented to some extent.

Again, it would be interesting to know what my Polish great-grandfathers thought of the electoral process in the United States.  They were each naturalized in 1923, 1925, and 1926.  One, Jan Piontkowski, could have voted in the 35th Presidential election, while the other two were eligible to vote in the next election in 1928.  I don’t know if any of them did vote, but my mother remembers her one grandfather talking about Franklin D. Roosevelt and he likely voted for him.  Each of their wives would have been eligible to vote as well since women in the U.S. could vote as of 1920, and they became citizens through marriage to their naturalized husbands.

My father was first eligible to vote in the 1956 election; although my mother is not much younger, because of when her birthday fell she would not be able to vote until the 1960 election (for President, that is).  Both were big supporters of John F. Kennedy.  Growing up, Kennedy reigned large in our house even though he had been dead for years before I was born.  My mother would never feel the same level of support for any other candidate!  The democratic nature of  my family would change as the party’s values began to change in the 1970s.  I dislike having only two main parties from which to choose, and I prefer the “Independent” label since neither party meets my personal values completely.

I received something my parents did not: the right to vote at the age of 18.  I was just shy of 18 in time for the 1984 election, so my first chance was in 1988.  Since I did not feel strongly about either candidate or politics in general, I neither registered nor voted.  While it is embarrassing to admit, I finally registered this year.  I suddenly felt guilty for squandering an opportunity that so many of my ancestors never had.  Next week, I will proudly vote for a U.S. President for the first time in my life.  I hope my ancestors are proud that I finally will take part in the process!

[Written for the 59th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Politics and Our Ancestors.]

I read it in the news?

The COG Herald, September 30, 2008, buried somewhere on a ripped and damaged page

SOURCE: COG Herald, September 30, 2008, buried on a ripped page in the back of the newspaper...

This week’s 57th Carnival of Genealogy proves to be an interesting one.  That is, if you actually have any ancestors that made the news!  The “Call for Submissions” says: Newspapers can be a wonderful source of family history information. I can find nary an obit much less a fascinating news story.  Not yet, anyway…I’m still looking.  The above is my suspicion, but since that’s a bit outrageous I may have to go with my first theory…someone was in the Witness Protection Program at some point.  But, you know what they say, “If you can’t join ’em, at least make yourself laugh.”  Well, somebody said it – I read it in the news!

Special thanks to The Newspaper Clipping Generator.

[Submitted for the 57th Carnival of Genealogy: I read it in the news!]

10 Essential Books in My Genealogical Library

The 56th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks us to tell about the ten books we can’t do without.  I thought this would be hard at first for two reasons.  First, when I first decided to learn how to research my roots in 1989, my friend Marie and I had no idea how to go about it.  So, we headed straight for the library and came out with an armful of books.  Those basic “how to” books taught us how to get started, and neither of us have stopped since.  But, because I got many of these books from the library, I wasn’t sure I had many genealogy-related books in my personal library.  Second, much of the specific information I need to look up today related to genealogy I find online – something that you couldn’t do in 1989.  Despite these two reasons, I went to my library shelves and was happy to find that I had at least ten books that are worthy of praise.  Hopefully you’ll find at least one interesting enough to add it to your own library.  My ten essential books are:

1.  The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny (Ancestry Publishing, Salt Lake City, UT, 1984).  If you’re looking for the most up-to-date genealogical resource book, this won’t be it.  But for a beginner in 1989, this 700+ page book taught me almost everything I needed to know on all aspects of genealogy from “major record sources” to resources unique to different ethnic groups.  Appendices provided the kind of information we all google daily, like addresses on societies, archives, and libraries in every state.  Apparently there is now a Third Edition with different editors (but the same title) that was published in 1996.  If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend it.  You will consult it many times over and it’s well worth the hefty cost.

2.  Polish Roots by Rosemary A. Chorzempa (Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., Baltimore, MD, 1993).  Again, this was one of the first books I acquired when I began my genealogical research.  It contains all of the basics from where to start in the United States to what’s available in Poland.  There are also chapters on Polish Genealogical Societies, geographic areas of Poland, surnames, and the Polish language.  According to Amazon.com, this book was updated in 2000.

3.  If I Can, You Can Decipher Germanic Records by Edna M. Bentz (Self-published, San Diego, CA, 1982).  Simply put, I doubt that I could have ever found a name in handwritten German church records without first devouring this book.  What makes it unique is that it has actual samples of what the handwriting styles look like instead of merely a list of German to English translations of common words found in the records.  When a German “B” resembles a “L” and an “e” looks like our “r”, do you really think I could have traced my Bergmeister ancestors without this book?

4.  Germanic Genealogy, Second Edition by Edward R. Brandt, Ph.D., Mary Bellingham, Kent Cutkomp, Kermit Frye, Patricia A. Lowe (Germanic Genealogical Society, St. Paul, MN, 1997).  This is another compendium of where to find basic info, only specific to Germanic peoples.  It has everything from how to find the immigrant’s place of origin to place names and more.  There are now newer books out there, but this one is still in print.

5. Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman (Avotaynu, Inc. Teaneck, NJ, 1994).  This bookoffers help with German, Swedish, French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Czech, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian genealogical records.  Talk about being worth it – you won’t get that much help for the money anywhere else!

6. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian DocumentsVolume I: Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman (Language & Lineage Press, New Britain, CT, 2000).  Jonathan and Fred do it again, only bigger and better. If you are researching documents in these languages, this guide is indispensable with nearly 400 pages of  record samples, translations, and explanations about the Polish language and handwriting.  Only native Poles can decipher Polish records without the help that’s found in this book!

7.  Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman (Polish Genealogical Society of America, Chicago, IL, 1997).  I’ve extolled “Fred” Hoffman recently in my 4-part interview.  If you have Polish ancestry and you want to know anything about your surnames, you need this book for the clues about what the names mean and where they may have originated.

8. First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings by William F. Hoffman and George W. Helon (Polish Genealogical Society of America, Chicago, IL, 1998).  “Polish” first names come from many different languages; this book sorts it all out and carefully explains their origins and meanings.

9.  Häuserchronik der Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidl (W. Ludwig Verlag, Pfaffenhofen, 1982).  One of my earlier posts describes a häuserchronik as a city directory listed by street address that happens to include personal information such as occupations, spouses, and deed transactions.  This book was given to me on my first visit to my great-grandparents’ hometown, and I quickly went back a few generations with the information it contained.  If you have German ancestry, read my post noted above to see where to find out if your town has one of these books available.

10.  Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidl (W. Ludwig Verlag, Pfaffenhofen, 1979).  This is a 400+ page history book about my great-grandparents’ town.  It’s in German, which I can’t read at all.  But, it doesn’t stop me from trying!

Those are my top ten “essential” genealogy books in addition to a very detailed atlas of Poland and several dictionaries (English, Latin, German, and Polish).  As I said, I find a lot of information these days online.  But, I’ll always need books.  On my “to buy” list are Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills and In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents, Volume III: Latin by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman which may be published later this year (read Fred Hoffman’s answer on what we can expect to see here).  I’m also looking for more local history books on Northeast Philadelphia where I spent most of my life.

[Written for the 56th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: 10 Essential Books in My Genealogy Library.]