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Archive for the ‘Genealogical Records’ Category

In 1944’s movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland’s character is in love with the boy next door.  She sings about him in the appropriately titled “The Boy Next Door”, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane:

The moment I saw him smile,
I knew he was just my style,
My only regret is we’ve never met,
Though I dream of him all the while.

But he doesn’t know I exist,
No matter how I may persist,
So it’s clear to see there’s no hope for me,
Though I live at 5135 Kensington Avenue
And he lives at 5133.

How can I ignore
The boy next door?
I love him more than I can say.
Doesn’t try to please me, doesn’t even tease me,
And he never sees me glance his way.

And though I’m heart-sore
The boy next door affection for me won’t display,
I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

Fred and Dottie Kelly with their daughter Colleen.

The song is one of several Martin-Blane hits from the movie.  But did you know that it was based on a true story of a girl who fell in love with the boy next door?  Fortunately in her case, the boy did glance her way and married her or else they would have never inspired Martin and Blane to write the song!  The boy next door was Fred Kelly from Pittsburgh, PA.  Fred had an older brother that you may have heard of by the name of Eugene – otherwise known to the world as Gene Kelly who sang and danced to through the most beloved movie musicals of the 1940s and 50s.  Fred’s girl next door was Dorothy (Dottie) Greenwalt.

Fred and Dottie really did grow up on Kensington Street in Pittsburgh, but their actual addresses didn’t fit the music as well as 5133 and 5135.  Based on the 1930 census, 13-year-old Frederick Kelly lived at 7514 Kensington Street, and 8-year-old Dorothy Greenwalt lived at 7530.  It wasn’t exactly “next door”, but it was close enough for the youngsters to meet and fall in love.

Kelly household at 7514 Kensington St. in the 1930 Federal Census for Pittsburgh, PA.

Greenwalt household at 7530 Kensington St on the same page.

Fred and Dottie married during Broadway rehearsals for the Irving Berlin show “This is the Army” in which Fred was performing.  Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane were also involved with the production, and they asked the newlyweds how they met.  Dottie replied, “I just adored the boy next door.”  Then the couple showed the writers their driver’s licenses to prove it!  Martin and Blane wrote “The Boy Next Door” with Fred and Dottie in mind.  The song went on to be a huge hit and was recorded by many other artists besides Judy Garland.

In my own family, I also discovered an instance of a girl marrying the boy next door – my grandparents.  In the 1930 census, we see 18-year-old Henry Pater living at 2506 Indiana Avenue in Philadelphia, and 22-year old May (Mae) Zawodny living at 2512.  While it is true that the couple lived at those addresses, the “facts” as shown on the census are a bit confusing.  First, both Henry and Mae were already married but are shown as living with their parents.  That they were living in separate addresses despite their marriage is likely true, because at the time of the marriage on 01 Feb 1930, Henry was only 17 years old.  The couple didn’t quite tell their parents right away, and it wasn’t until they were married in a church ceremony in June that they were able to live together.

The Zawodny and Pater households in the 1930 Federal Census for Philadelphia, PA.

Mae and Henry Pater with daughter Anita (1937).

In the Pater household, Henry is listed as single.  But the enumeration record for the Zawodny household is not correct at all.  The father, Joseph, is listed as a widow.  However, his actual living wife, Laura, is listed as a sister.  Mae is shown as married for two months, which is true, but she is listed as a “daughter-in-law” to Joseph, not as his daughter.  Also, her presumed husband is listed as Charles, who was in fact her brother and still single at 19 years old.  If only I could see film or video of the visit of the census-taker to their household…I am sure my grandmother was behind the mis-information!

While Henry and Mae didn’t have a song written about them like Fred and Dottie, they are yet another tale of a girl falling in love with “the boy next door” – or on the same street, anyway.  Have you looked closely at the census records in your family?  Did anyone fall in love with the boy (or girl) next door?

Source Information:

  • Kelly-Greenwalt Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll  1977; Page: 27B; Enumeration District: 229.
  • Pater-Zawodny Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2110; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 914.
  • Photo of Fred, Dottie and Colleen Kelly used with permission from Colleen Kelly Beaman.   Please see her web site, Dance Kelly Style, for more information on Fred Kelly and the Kelly family’s legacy of dance.
  • For more even more information on Fred Kelly, see his biography on my Gene Kelly site.  To see a photo of his childhood home on Kensington Street, see the biography on Marc Baron’s site.
  • For more information on the Pater and Zawodny families, continue to read this blog or click on the surnames in the side bar!
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How is Josef Bergmeister related to “my” Josef Bergmeister?

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

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

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

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

Lieutenant Sigmund Bergmeister, 1885-1916

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A photo of Bavarian soldiers in the trenches at Fleury used with permission from The Soldier's Burden, http://www.kaiserscross.com/40047/124001.html.

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

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

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

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

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

Run Comrades, run for your lives!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it was over and we could move forward.

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

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

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

New York Times headline, December 31, 1918.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record

Who was Josef Bergmeister? How did he die?

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

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

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

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

First, the transcription of Josef’s record:

1.  Iaufende Nummer: 462

2.  Dienstgrad: Inf[antrist]

3.  Vor- und Familienname: Josef Bergmeister

4.  Religion: kath[olisch]

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

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

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

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

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

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

a)  ./.

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

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

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

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

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

Three Bavarian infantry soldiers in 1914.

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29007475@N08/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – Iaufende Nummer – Seriel Number

2 – Dienstgrad – Rank

3 – Vor- und Familienname – First and Last Name

4 – Religion – Religion

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

[bottom] Datum der Geburt – Date of Birth

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

[bottom] Wohnort – Place of Residence

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

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

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

10 – Dienstverhältnisse – Service Relationship

a) frühere – earlier

b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung – after mobilization

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

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

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

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

15 – Bemerkungen – Remarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Josef Bergmeister?

Who is this Josef Bergmeister?

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

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

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

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

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

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October is Polish-American Heritage Month!  The Polish American Center describes this event as “a national celebration of Polish history, culture and pride.”  Even if you don’t have any Polish ancestry, it’s a great time to learn more about Polish history and culture.  Last year What’s Past is Prologue hosted a month-long Polish History and Culture Challenge – all contributions can be found in this post.  I’m not quite as organized this year, but I want to offer some tips on celebrating your Polish heritage with the Top Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month:

If you have Polish Ancestry…

  • Locate an immigrant ancestor’s place of origin ~ Ancestry magazine has a great guide to help here.
  • Find a church record for one of your ancestors ~ here are some translation aids to help once you find it.
  • Find and translate the Słownik Geograficzny entry for your ancestor’s hometown ~ here’s a guide to assist.
  • Learn the origin and meaning of one of your Polish surnames ~ read my interview with author Fred Hoffman, and then run out to buy his books on Polish surnames!
  • Join a Polish genealogical society ~ such as the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

And even if you’re not Polish…

  • Read a book by a Polish author ~  Many are available in English translations.  Are you a science fiction fan? Try Stanisław Lem.  Enjoy non-fiction?  Try Ryszard Kapuściński.  In the mood for sweeping romantic historical epics?  Definitely try Henryk Sienkiewicz.
  • Learn about an event in Polish history ~ Several important anniversaries occurred or will occur in 2009, such as the 230th anniversary of the death of General Casimir Pulaski (father of the American Cavalry) and the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
  • Watch a Polish movie ~ Try Three Colours (Polish: Trzy kolory), the collective title of the trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland’s Europa, Europa, or Katyń, directed by Andrzej Wajda.
  • Make a recipe for some Polish food ~ who wouldn’t want some pierogi?  Did you hear about the Polish nun who has become a best-selling cookbook author?
  • Learn how to polka! ~ Sheri gave us a good intro to the polka for my Polish History and Culture Challenge!

Polish-PrideKiss Us, We’re Polish (and Proud…)!

As always, I encourage my readers to also check out some great blogs of my fellow Polish-American genea-bloggers:
Steve’s Genealogy Blog ~ read about Steve’s visit to Poland, or see samples of expert translation of vital records!
Creative Gene ~ Jasia writes about “genealogy and more” including her Polish heritage, Detroit Polonia, and Polish crafts!
Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research ~ Al’s blog gives you exactly what’s in the title of his blog – solid genealogy research that serves as an example to us all!

If you have a blog about Polish genealogy, history, heritage, or culture, tell us about it in the comments!

(Polish Pride image from the Polish Heritage Gift Shop – buy your favorite Pole an expression of pride today!)

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This week Randy’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun asked us to do a scavenger hunt to find a family member in the census.  All of my great-grandparents were immigrants, and I’ve found them on the census records long ago to initially start my research (so many years ago that, at the time, the last available census was the 1910).  All eight were here for the 1910 and thereafter, and only one, Joseph Bergmeister, was in the US in time for the 1900 Census. Many of their census records were extremely hard to find because the surnames were misspelled or mis-indexed.  But I eventually managed to find them as well as their siblings.  Five of my great-grandparents had siblings immigrate as well – I’ve found all 15 siblings so far!  But there is one strange census-related mystery that continues to bother me…my grandmother is simply not there!

Margaret Bergmeister was born in 1913, so she would be seven years old in 1920 and living with her three older brothers, older sister, and her widowed father – the mother died in 1919.  Although the family name is misspelled as “Burgmaster”, the family is relatively easy to find since both names are in the same soundex code.  The entire family is living at 1016 Orkney Street in Philadelphia – minus Margaret.1

There is no way to know for sure why she is missing, but my theory is that she was visiting her aunt and uncle on the day of the enumeration.  Max and Hilarie Thumann are living at 6078 Kingsessing Street in Philadelphia (indexed on Ancestry as Mat and Halmie)2.  With them are Hilarie’s half-brother Julius Goetz and his wife Anna.  But no Margaret!

It is possible that Margaret was visiting her aunts and uncles on the day of the enumeration and her father did not tell the enumerator about her because she was literally not home on 07 January 1920.  On 08 January, another enumerator arrived at the Thumann’s door, but it is possible they did not mention Margaret because she did not live there.  Other possibilities such as adoption are out of the question since Margaret’s birth was verified – not to mention the fact that she looks just like her brothers and sister!

I figured Margaret would be much easier to find in 1930 as a 17-year-old.  Wrong again.  By 1930 her father is now also deceased.  Margaret’s oldest brother, also named Joseph, is 27 years old and married with a son and daughter of his own.  They are living at 311 Wildey Street in Philadelphia3 (and on this census page, the enumerator thoughtfully printed each surname in very neat block letters).  Living with Joseph are his two single brothers, aged 22 and 21.

It was assumed that Margaret, still a minor, was living with her oldest sister, Marie.  Marie was living in the rear apartment at 1302 Germantown Avenue4.  She was unmarried with two young daughters, aged 9 and 5.  But no sister Margaret to be found.

Was Margaret with her aunt in 1930?  The Thumann’s, now 72 and 60 years old, were living at the same house5.  Although they have a boarder living with them, their niece is not there. Nor is she listed with her Uncle Julius Goetz, who was living on 1112 Sauger Street.

So where was my 17-year-old grandmother?  It wasn’t imperative to find her in the census – I know her birth date and her parents’ names.  But, where is she?  It’s still a mystery!   For all the genealogical help the census has given me, the simple question of where my grandmother was at ages 7 and 17 is still a mystery!

Source Citations:

1Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 16, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  T625_1618; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 346; Image: 511.

2Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 40, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  T625_1641; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 1495; Image: 917.

3Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2099; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 543; Image: 619.0.

4Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2099; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 552; Image: 911.0.

5Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2130; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 223; Image: 111.0.

6Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2106; Page: 25B; Enumeration District: 874; Image: 753.0.


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At the entrance to Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia

At the entrance to Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia

Earlier this month I visited Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia.  I was hoping to find a tombstone for a couple that is connected, though likely not related, to my family – Carl and Sophia Mach.  I have been researching this couple for an upcoming post, so I thought a visit to their grave would be appropriate to “end” the story, so to speak.  While there, I wanted to re-visit the grave shared by my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, and his father, Joseph Pater, even though their grave is not marked with a stone.

Greenmount Cemetery is located at 4301 N. Front Street in Philadelphia (phone 215-329-4747).  I hoped to find out more about the history of the cemetery, but so far I have not been able to discover much information.  I was surprised by the sheer size of the cemetery – approximately 75 acres.  There are thousands of graves, and it is still being used today as a “active” burial ground.

The cemetery was opened around 1875.  Much like the neighborhood it resides in, the ethnicity of the cemetery “residents” has changed over the years.  Some of the oldest graves from the early 1900’s have German names as well as Irish and Polish.  The newer graves have many other nationalities including those with ancestry from various Asian and Latin American countries.

I was pleasantly surprised that the office was not only open and staffed, but eager to assist me.  A gentleman looked up my family names in a card catalog and checked to see if there were others with the surname besides those I mentioned.  This was fortunate, because I had forgotten that in addition to my great and 2nd great-grandfather, my great-grandmother was also buried here with her son.  If the staff member had not asked me if she was a relative, I would have missed the opportunity to visit her grave, which held an even bigger surprise – a tombstone!  This was surprising for two reasons – first, not many of my relatives have tombstones, which is why I don’t show any photographs of them on this site.  But I was more surprised because I thought I remembered visiting this cemetery before in the early 1990s, shortly after beginning my genealogical research.  And if I am correct in that memory, I distinctly remember that there was no tombstone – which means I either just thought I visited this particular cemetery or I somehow didn’t find the right grave when I did!

One of the few tombstones in my family: my great-grandmother, Elizabeth PATER, and her son Louis

One of the few tombstones in my family: my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, and her son Louis

Another reason that the card information was helpful is that, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Mach, their grave contained two other individuals that did not have tombstones.  I was able to surmise the relationship of these individuals to the Mach’s because of my earlier research.

Besides looking up the family information, I was provided with detailed maps of the sections that held the requested graves and directions on how to find the sites.  Not all cemetery offices are this friendly to researchers, so this was a delight – especially since I was short on time for the visit.  The cemetery is so large that graves would be next to impossible to find without a map.

Although there is little historical information about this cemetery on the internet (or an official site for the cemetery itself), some of the internment records are available on microfilm from both the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Family Search.  The FHC film rolls are:

  • Cemetery records, A-G 1880-1929 –  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503333 ]
  • Cemetery records, G-K 1880-1929 –  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503334 ]
  • Cemetery records, L-M 1880-1929 –  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503335 ]
  • Cemetery records, M-W 1880-1929 –  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503336 ]
  • Cemetery records, W-Z 1880-1929 –  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503337 ]
  • Cemetery records, A-K 1930-1966 –  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503338 ]
  • Cemetery records, K-Z 1930-1966 –  FHL US/CAN Film [ 503339 ]

The cemetery is also listed on Find a Grave with more photos and information about some graves of famous professional baseball players who are buried there.

Greenmount Cemetery is so large, you forget you are in the middle of a busy section of Philadelphia.

Greenmount Cemetery is so large, you forget you are in the middle of a busy section of Philadelphia.

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While researching the 1910 Census on Ancestry.com, I came across an unusual error.  Since others may find similar issues with their research, I thought I’d share my way to “get around” the error.  My search was for some families in Philadelphia, PA with the surnames Miller and Mach.  When I click on the census image for the correct individual, they are nowhere to be found on the page itself.  That is when I noticed the Enumeration District numbers.  At the top of the page, it says “You are here” with the location of the record.  In this case, the end reads “Philadelphia > Philadelphia Ward 19 > District 328.”  However, the image located on that page shows an ED of 294.  By clicking on the hyperlink for Ward 19 in the “you are here” address, you can see the list of all EDs in the ward, or ED 291 through 332.  Guessing that perhaps the sequencing of the images got messed up, I went to District 294 instead.  Sure enough, what is supposed to be ED 294 is ED 328 instead.  I also found some of ED 328 in 295.  I alerted Ancestry about the problem months ago, but it still is not fixed.

Moral of the story for users of Ancestry.com:  For Philadelphia researchers – take note if you have relatives living in Ward 19 in 1910!  For all researchers –  if the ED on the image does not match the ED on the index, try the batch of images from the incorrect ED.  If you are lucky they will be from the ED you are looking for!  I would be curious to know if anyone else has encountered this indexing problem where the index itself is correct, but the images are loaded incorrectly.

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I’ve long admired DearMYRTLE and Ask Olive Tree Genealogy for answering so many questions from their readers.  But I’ve been a little jealous too, because I wished that *I* had some questions to answer.  Today I received a question via a comment to an earlier post, so I’ve decided to play the “Dear Abby” role perfected by Myrt (aka Pat) and Lorine and answer the question as a new blog post (especially since I’ve been quite slack in new blog posts lately)!

In two previous posts, I discussed finding Philadelphia Marriage Records: Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online looked at the Family Search Labs site with the indexes from Philadelphia marriages from 1885 to 1951.  Then, When You Can’t Find Grandpa’s Marriage Record explored alternative marriage locations around the Philadelphia area if your ancestors lived here but the record is nowhere to be found in the above mentioned index.  But today a reader asked a very good question that I hadn’t fully addressed in either post: what about pre-1885 marriage records?

Brad asks:

What was the case with Philadelphia marriages prior to 1885? Were marriage certificate required at any point? I’m trying to find out more on my 2nd great grandparents and was wondering if I should be trying to hunt down their marriage certificate (they married in 1884).

Good question, Brad!  Cities and states had different requirements as to when civil registration began.  In Philadelphia, civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages was required beginning on July 1, 1860.  Records from that date through December 31, 1885 are available at the Philadelphia City Archives.  According to the Philadelphia City Archives site:

The marriage records give the date of marriage, names, ages, races, generic places of residence and birth for both the bride and groom, minister’s name and address, and denomination of marriage performed.

Most of the indexes are arranged alphabetically by first letters of last and first names, and then by year. If one of the parties to the marriage was Thomas Green and the marriage occurred on 31 August 1873, then one would look at the “G” volume, open to the section which included all people whose first names began with the letter “T” and then look at 1873. There are no separate indexes for men and women – all names are filed in the same index. Most of the indexes of this type stop between 1877 and 1880 so one would then have to look at the yearly indexes for the years 1877 – 1885.

All marriage indexes, registers and original returns have been microfilmed.

The Philadelphia City Archives is located at 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.  They can be reached by phone at 215-685-9400 (messages only) or 215-685-9401 (receptionist).  If you do not live in Philadelphia or are unable to visit the archives in person, they will search the records for you.  Send a written request with as much information as possible.  If you know the exact date of the marriage, the fee is $10.  If the exact date is unknown, a search will be made for $10 per each 3-month period searched (includes the certificate cost). Note that these fees are current as of today per the Archives’ FAQ page at http://www.phila.gov/Records/Archives/FAQ.html.

Brad, as you can see, the time period for your 2nd great-grandparents is covered with existing records.  If you can’t come to Philadelphia to perform a search yourself, the fee to search the entire year is a bit steep at $40 – so you may want to seek alternative means for look-up such as a local researcher.  Another option is to subscribe to a genealogy mailing list specific to Philadelphia such as Philly-Roots hosted by Rootsweb/Ancestry.  Often someone will ask other listers for help and you can make arrangements offline at less than the archives’ cost.

That might help Brad, but the question remains for others with roots that are deeper into Philadelphia’s history than either Brad’s family or my own: What about earlier records before July 1, 1860?

Since there was no formal registration required by the city (or state) before that date, there are few options when searching for marriage information.  One could try the following resources:

  1. Church Records – Try using city directories and old maps to determine possible churches.  If your ancestors were Catholic and you are lookingfor a record prior to 1920, one useful resource is the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center, which is located on the grounds of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary at 100 E. Wynnewood Ave in Wynnewood, PA.  Contact them at 610-667-2125 for more information and fees for research.
  2. Newspaper Announcements  – Very few old newspapers have been indexed.  Genealogy Bank has some Philadelphia papers from 1719 through 1922.
  3. Marriage Registers exist for some years, but they can be difficult to find for the pre-1860 era.  Try the Historical Society of Pennsylvania or search through the FHL catalog.

I hope this has been helpful to other Philadelphia researchers.  If anyone else has any research questions, I’ll try my best to help so please don’t be shy about asking!

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I enjoy highlighting unusual genealogical resources – records other than vital records, passenger lists, naturalizations, and the federal census.  Recently I entered some of my “usual suspect” names into Ancestry and discovered a resource previously uknown to me: immigrant bank records.  The historical background about these records is described on Ancestry.com as follows:

In the port cities on the east coast of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century, many charitable organizations aided immigrants arriving from Europe. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was one of those organizations. There were “ethnic” or “immigrant” banks in many port cities, usually conveniently located in the Jewish neighborhoods where newly-arrived immigrants tended to settle. These banks were commercial enterprises, started mainly by established German Jews, as a place where recent immigrants could save money and arrange to purchase steamship tickets to bring their families to the United States. HIAS preserved the original records of some immigrant banks formerly operating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Blitzstein, Rosenbaum and Lipshutz/Peoples Banks.

Today, the record books of the Blitzstein Bank, Rosenbaum Bank, and Lipshutz Bank are housed at the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center (PJAC). They offer unique kinds of information, including the name and U.S. address of the person who paid for the tickets, port of entry – usually, but not always the port of Philadelphia – and intended final destination (again, not necessarily Philadelphia).

The person I found in the index was Zofia Mach, but not much info is provided from the index alone.  It simply provides her name as the Passenger, as well as the Account Open Date (24 March 1929), Purchaser’s Name (Carl Mach), the Bank (Lipshutz/Peoples Bank) and the Order Number.  To obtain an actual copy of the record, instructions are provided on the JewishGen site with a separate page for each of the 3 banks that are indexed.  For the Lipshutz/Peoples Bank, a copy of the record can be obtained from the Philadelphia Jewish Archives (see below for more info).  I knew from my research that Carl and Sophie Mach lived in Philadelphia, so it was likely the correct family.  I was curious enough about what other information could be obtained from these bank records to send $9 to find out.  Here is a copy of the record I received:

SOURCE: Lipshutz/Peoples Bank Passage Order Book Records, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center

SOURCE: Lipshutz/Peoples Bank Passage Order Book Records, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center

I already knew Carl’s address and relationship to Sophia/Zofia.  Normally, one would expect that Zofia’s passenger arrival record would be easy to find without this record as a resource.  However, in this case, Zofia’s record is indexed incorrectly in Ancestry.com’s database: she is listed as Sofia Wach although her name in the passenger list itself is Sofie Mach.  Because of the mis-indexing, I used the ship name and date on this bank record to find her arrival record and may not have found it without the extra info. (Although the typewritten info shows departure from Hamburg to Philadelphia, the ship and date noted in handwriting at the bottom traveled from Copenhagen to New York.)

Two other interesting tidbits came from this record.  First, it lists Sophia’s address in Żyrardów, Poland.  Although I could not find it on a modern map of the town, the information could still come in handy for research in Poland.  Second, it’s the first time I’ve seen the cost of a ticket to America on any of the records I’ve found.  A second class ticket cost $143.  In the 1920’s, that was a significant sum of money – note that her husband had this bank account for five years before she made the journey.

The records of the three Philadelphia banks are also available on microfilm through the LDS Family History Library., and you can search the records via the JewishGen site if you do not have access to Ancestry.com.  See the detailed pages at JewishGen on their US databases page under Pennsylvania.  Be aware that the family I researched was not Jewish!  One did not have to be Jewish to have an account at these banks.

In total there are approximately 138,000 records among the three banks ranging from 1890 through 1949.  If you had relatives living in or near Philadelphia, it may be worth a quick search – especially if you have had difficulty locating their passenger arrival record.

Although the sites indicate that the records are held by the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center, they wrote in their response that they are moving to the Temple University-Urban Archives Center “in late Spring”.  So if you are planning to request a record, you may want to call either archive first prior to writing.

In the case of Sophia Mach, this was actually her second journey to America!  Since Mach is not one of my family surnames in the sidebar, I’ll write more later this week on why they are a subject of my research.  Are they related to my family?  More to come…

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One of my more popular posts has been Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online.  As that post indicates, the FamilySearch site’s collection of Philadelphia Marriage Records is great online tool for searching for marriage information.  The collection is a listing of marriage licenses issued in Philadelphia from 1885-1951.  While these records are technically an “index” they are not searchable – to find a particular person, you must browse through the records.  This is easy for the years 1885 to 1938 because the list is alphabetical.  For the remaining years, the last names were entered in the order of application, so it takes some manual searching to find a particular person.

In my previous post, I lauded the availability of these records – not only can we search online, but they are free!  But I’ve also come across some comments on mailing lists and message boards from some disappointed individuals who were unable to find their ancestors’ marriage records in this index.  When you know a couple lived in the city, and you have an approximation of when they married, why can’t they be found in the index of Philadelphia marriage license records?  Simply put, many Philadelphia residents went elsewhere to get married.  This occurred mostly due to marriage laws that differed from state to state.  These laws that govern how marriages may be entered into and officiated are at the state level, not federal, so the rules vary.

For this reason, some couples married out of state, or at least outside of the borders of the city of Philadelphia.  The Pennsylvania rules that they may have been circumventing usually involved age or the waiting period.  In the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a law was passed on October 1, 1885 that required marriage licenses to be obtained prior to a couple marrying.  The county clerk of the orphans’ court was required to keep the records.  At this time, the information required by the couple was rather simple and included the names of the couple, birth dates and places of birth, occupations and current residences, any previous marriage(s), and if the parties are related or not.

On September 11, 1885, the New York Times printed a short article about the new law that was excerpted from The Philadelphia Times:

Some of the interrogatories will be embarrassing in special cases, but the law is inexorable and they must be answered.  The clerk of the court will be liable to fine if he fails to enforce the law to the letter, and parties answering falsely will be subject to the penalty of perjury.

One of the requirements of this new law made the marriageable age 21.  For anyone under 21, the consent of the parents was required.  Suddenly, an out-of-state marriage market was born!

Camden, NJ

One of the earliest locations for Philadelphians to marry was one of the closest and easily reached: Camden, New Jersey, located directed across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.  By 1888 the newspapers were complaining that Pennsylvania’s marriage license law was creating a “knot-tying business” for “love-sick couples” in Camden, “where impertinent questions are not asked, and where the performance of the marriage ceremony is not hedged about with restrictions.”

By 1891, Camden was called “the Gretna Green of the Union”.  Gretna Green was a small town in Scotland known for runaway weddings.  A New York Times’ article explains that those “unable or unwilling to procure a license” in Philadelphia simply traveled to Camden for a quick and quiet marriage.  The statistics cited in the article show that only 634 marriages were performed in Camden in 1885, the year that Pennsylvania changed their law.  By 1890, the entire state of New Jersey had 15,564 marriages with one-third performed in Camden – “although the population of that city is less than one-fifteenth of the population of the State.

My great-grandparents were Philadelphia residents who contributed to the booming marriage trade in Camden.  In 1910, Louis Pater celebrated his 17th birthday on August 24th.  Three days later, he married Elizabeth Miller.  On the marriage certificate, Louis’ age is listed as 22.  Elizabeth is listed as 20 although she would only turn 19 in another three months.  Elizabeth’s parents were in Poland – she had only immigrated the previous year – but her brother Emil served as a witness.  It is assumed that Louis did not think his parents would approve of the marriage at his young age.

Although Ancestry.com has marriage records from “Camden County, NJ, 1837-1910” it is likely that these are moreso county records than those from the city of Camden.  Not only did I not find my great-grandparents’ marriage in this database, but it consists of only 6,000 records.  Given the marriage boom in Camden after 1885, it is assumed that the city of Camden’s records are not included here.

The city of Camden’s web page indicates that “Birth, Death, and Marriage Certificates can be aquired (sic) for anyone that was born, died, or married in the City of Camden. These certificates can be picked up in room 103 of City Hall or mailed directly to you.”

Elkton, MD

Another town famous for out-of-state marriages was Elkton, MD.  Located in northern Maryland, the town is situated close to Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Until 1938, there was no waiting period required between the marriage application and the ceremony, so the town became known for “quick” weddings similar to Las Vegas decades later.  The following sign recognizes Elkton’s role in the history of marriage in the Northeastern US:

Historical Marker in Elkton indicating that the town was the "Marriage Capital of the East"

Historical Marker in Elkton indicating that the town was the "Marriage Capital of the East"

I do not have any direct ancestors who got married in Elkton, but I’m sure there are some collateral relatives who did.  If you can’t find a marriage record, try Elkton.  Records can be searched through the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cecil County, Maryland.  See their site for more information.

Other Pennsylvania Counties

It makes sense to travel across state lines to marry if Pennsylvania had “restrictive” laws regarding the marriageable age and a waiting period.  However, there was another option – the couple simply didn’t tell the truth on their applicatoin.  But, sometimes they did not want to lie about their ages in the city of Philadelphia.  In my own family history, both sets of grandparents got married in Delaware County – despite the fact that it is in Pennsylvania and therefore governed by the same laws as the city of Philadelphia.  Perhaps they were afraid that the city could “look it up” and discover their fib?  All I know is that both towns are a bit out of the way for me today and I have a car and highways; my grandparents did not.

In the Pater family, history repeated itself with another 17-year-old groom.  My grandfather, Henry Pater, was two months shy of his 18th birthday when he traveled to Broomall, PA with his intended, Mae Zawodna.  On the license application, Henry lists his birth year as 1907 instead of 1912, therefore making himself almost 23 years old.  Mae, who actually was born in 1907 and was five years older than Henry, listed her birth year as 1908 – making herself appear to be 21 rather than 22 and a half.  Neither family looked kindly upon the wedding, and in fact in the 1930 census a few months later they are each enumerated with their own parents – living a few doors away from each other.  Eventually they told their families they were married, and in June of the same year their marriage was blessed in a Catholic church.

My other grandparents traveled to Media, PA for their wedding in 1934.  James Pointkouski accurately reported his age as 23, but Margaret Bergmeister makes herself one year older – reporting her age as 21.  In reality, she would turn 21 a few months later.  She also provides an address for her parents; however, both had been deceased for some time.  They may have feared someone in Philadelphia confirming her birth record, which would have made her ineligible for marriage without the consent of her guardian.  But they also did not want to wait an extra few months – their son would be born seven months later.

Couples had many reasons to marry in seemingly unlikely places.  If the law required parental consent, a waiting period, or even proof of either a divorce or death of a prior marriage, some couples traveled to avoid the hassle.  Or they traveled to the next county to avoid the neighbors seeing the marriage notice published in the newspaper.  This was by no means unique to the Philadelphia area – Elkton, MD received couples from up and down the East Coast, and other states have similar “Gretna Green” locations such as the Kentucky and Ohio River Valley border. If you have trouble finding Grampa’s marriage record – look around the neighboring counties or states!

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The topic for the premier edition of the Graveyard Rabbits Carnival is “exceptional finds” – share those rare and unique cemeteries, gravestones, monuments, memorials, and inscriptions.

I am one of those genealogists that likes to explore old cemeteries even while I am on vacation.  When I visited Paris, France in 2007,  Père Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise) was on the list of sights to see along with the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame.  I would consider it an exceptional find for several reasons.  First, you will see many graves that are 200 years old – for Europe, where grave recycling is the norm, so it was refreshing to see “old” graves.  Many think it is exceptional because of its size – 118 acres – or because so many famous celebrities are buried there.  What was more fascinating  to me were the larger number of non-celebrities, everyday folks like you and me, that are laid to rest beside the rich and famous – truly a reminder that we are all equal in death.  As I walked around the cemetery, I was also struck by its universality.  Although it is a Parisian cemetery, its occupants’ names spanned the globe.  In addition to French surnames, I saw American, Polish, German, and many other nationalities.

Here’s a look at some of the unique gravestones and monuments I photographed (click on thumbnail to see a larger view):

For more information about Père Lachaise, visit the following sites:

  • Père Lachaise Wikipedia entry – more photos and a list of the more famous “residents”
  • A Brief History of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
  • The cemetery’s own site – take a virtual tour

[Written for the 1st Edition of The Graveyard Rabbits Carnival: Exceptional Finds.]

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In Part 1 of “The Slesinski Sisters” I presented some photographs passed on to me by my grandmother that showed her mother and aunts: Laura, Josephine, Mary, Jane, and Sophie Slesinski, from “somewhere” in Poland.  The remaining photograph that I inherited from my grandmother is shown below.  All I had to begin my research were their (maiden) names – would I be able to find anything with such little information?

The Slesinski Sisters

The Slesinski Sisters

I had already researched my great-grandmother; her Polish name was Wacława, but in America she used Laura.  She came to the U.S. in 1903 following her husband, Józef Zawodny, who arrived a year earlier.  While the couple was easy to find in passenger list records, the key to Wacława’s birthplace would later come through researching her sisters.

I could not locate any of the Slesinski sisters in the census records, so I had to assume that they were married either at the time of arrival into the U.S. or at least at the time of their first census.  If they were married before they arrived here, I had no idea how to find their married names.  So I began with the assumption that they were single when they arrived – or at least some of them!

With luck, I found 3 of the 4 sisters on the same passenger arrival record: the SS Adriatic sailing from Southampton to New York, arriving on 15 October 1920. On the record, their surname was spelled Sleszynska and the first names fit with the information I had from the photographs.  Sailing together were Janina, age 19, Zofia, age 17, and Marianna, age 23.  They were all listed as dressmakers from Dobrosołowo.  Their destination was to their “brother-in-law Mr. Sioracki” at 600 Hazel Street in McKeesport, PA.

Research Tip: Be flexible with first names.  This can apply to either foreign translations like Zofia=Sophie, “adopted” names that are not translations like Wacława=Laura, or “like” variations of a name like Maria=Marianna=Mary.

Also, don’t discount similar spellings of the last name.  “Sleszynska” was similar enough to “Slesinska” to warrant a look at the record.  If the first names and ages offer a good match (and in this case, the destination), it may be the correct record.

This information meant that their sister Josephine was already married and living in McKeesport by 1920 – now I had a name to search on the 1920 census.  I wouldn’t find anything under “Sioracki” though, nor under the Soundex search, so the name was not spelled correctly.  However, I did find her using the address instead: Vincent and Josephine “Shieraski” at 600 Hazel Street.  Vincent is 33 and immigrated in 1904, while Josephine is 29 and immigrated in 1911.  One sister’s married name down, three to go!

Research Tip: Can’t find a name in an index or soundex?  It may be spelled or indexed wrong.  An alternate is to look up by address, which can be found in a variety of sources including city directories, marriage licenses, passenger lists, or personal records like photographs or family papers.

Because the three younger sisters arrived too late for the 1920 census enumeration and were not listed on the 1930, it was easy to assume that all three were married sometime during the 1920’s. The next step in the research was a search of Allegheny county marriage records through the mail.  Amazingly, all three marriage licenses were found!

  • On 14 October 1922, Maria Slesinska married Adolph Majewski
  • On 17 January 1924, Sophia Slesinska married Joseph Goreski
  • On 22 June 1925, Janina Slesinski married John Smilovicz

Research Tip: Some Polish surnames have masculine and feminine endings.  A daughter or a wife of a man with a name ending in -ski would use a -ska ending to the name.  However, this is not set in stone – especially once the couple or the woman immigrated to the U.S.  For purposes of searching records, search for both variations of the name.

Armed with the sisters’ married names, I searched the 1930 census in McKeesport.  The Majewski family lived at 804 Park Way: Adolph, age 38, Mary, age 28, and son Bolesław, age 6 (born in PA). Adolph works in a steel mill and is a WWI veteran.  This solved the mystery of who “Mr. Adolph Majewski” was on the photograph (see Part 1).  Because of his marriage to Maria/Mary, it also confirmed that the labeling on the photograph of the sisters was likely correct since Mary matches the woman standing with Adolph as “one of the family”.

Two of the sisters lived at 1202 5th Avenue.  The first family was Joseph Goreski (age 30), wife Sophia (age 21), and daughter Irene (age 5, born in PA).  Joseph also works at a steel mill.  Although listed on a different sheet, the “Sieradzki” family lived at the same address: Wincenty (age 41) and Josephine (age 38).  Wincenty (Vincent) worked as a die caster.

Finally, at 2817 Garbett Street were John Smilovicz (age 39), wife Jane (age 27), and son Henry (age 3 and 11/12, born in PA).  John works in a tin mill and was also a WWI veteran.

By researching just a few record sources I managed to find all four sisters’ marriages and a few children born by 1930.  After one sister’s social security application pointed back to Dobrosołowo, Poland – matching the passenger arrival record – I decided to find the births records of my great-grandmother and her sisters.  The three sisters’ marriage records in the U.S. provided some clues as to their parents names.  One did not list the parents at all, but the other two agreed on their father’s name – Vincent Slesinksi.  Their mother’s name was listed on one as Stella and the other as Stanislawa, but the surname matched: Drogowski (Stella was often used as an English variant for Stanislawa).  This was more information than anything I was able to uncover about my great-grandmother through her own records in the U.S.

Research in Poland proved to be difficult despite these many facts.  Fortunately, the youngest child, who happened to be Sophia (Zofia), was born in Dobrosołowo – the other children were found in nearby towns.   And there were more than five children in the family!  Birth records were found for the following children of Wincenty (Vincent) Slesinski and Stanislawa Drogowska:

  • Wacława Marianna, 29 Aug 1880
  • Józefa, 01 Jan 1883
  • Feliks, 24 Dec 1885
  • Konstancja, 18 Jul 1888 – 13 Aug 1889
  • Wincenty, 03 Apr 1893 – 02 Apr 1896
  • Marianna, 06 Apr 1896
  • Janina, 12 Dec 1898
  • Zofia, 10 Aug 1901

The birth records proved what the photographs showed: there was a large gap in the ages between the oldest and youngest sister – 21 years!  In fact, Zofia (Sophie) was only two years old when Wacława (Laura) left for America!   The sisters also seemed to shave a few years off of their ages for the census-takers, but that was common and is the main reason why census records are not completely reliable for ages. It is uncertain what became of their brother Feliks – no death record was found in Poland, but no definitive immigration record was found in the U.S. either.

I was even able to find the “end of the story” with regard to my great-grandmother’s sisters – they are all buried in St. Mary’s Polish Cemetery in McKeesport, PA, and a survey of the tombstones is available online.  While the birth years on tombstones can never be regarded as accurate, at least the death years can. The deaths are recorded as follows:

  • SIERADZKI, Wincenty 1888 – 1969
  • SIERADZKI, Jozefa S. 1891 – 1964
  • MAJEWSKI, Adolph 1892 – 1973
  • MAJEWSKI, Marya 1900 – 1955
  • SMILOWICZ, John 1888 – 1974 (Pvt US Army WWI)
  • SMILOWICZ, Jennie 1904 – (no death date listed)
  • GORESKI, Joseph 1900 – 1976
  • GORESKI, Sophia 1908 – 1990

Research Tip: EVIDENCE…which record do you believe?  For a birth year, birth or christening records obviously hold more weight than a person’s marriage record (they may have been underage, considered “too old” to be getting married for the first time, or older than their spouse), census record (they may be trying to stay young, or embarrassed if they are older than a spouse), or a death record (the person giving the information may not know the truth).

I assumed this was “the end” of my research into the Slesinski sisters.  While I had not done any research on the three children identified on the 1930 census – my grandmother’s first cousins – I had gone back to Poland and learned the names of not only their parents, but also their grandparents!  I was well on the way to continuing my research backwards into the Slesinski ancestry.  But a funny thing happened on the way…my research was “confirmed” in an unusual way.

Coming up in Part 3 – My research is confirmed!  By more photographs!

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Miriam recently challenged genea-bloggers to write about their brickwall ancestors.  In my case, I don’t have brickwalls so much as avenues of research I have not yet pursued.  One of my goals for 2009 was to find some missing details in my Bavarian ancestors.  In the case of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, I can document his ancestry back to the 1600’s, and I’m still going backward once I find time to get back to the family history library.  I was fortunate that the church records exist for the towns of Puch, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, and surrounding towns.  But, my research is far from complete – even though I can provide death dates for Joseph’s paternal grandparents, great-grandparents, and even his 2nd great-grandparents, I have no idea when his parents died.   But, I do have some clues from my research.  Here I present my research plan and ask readers to examine my evidence, logic, and path forward, and offer a critique or advice to set me on the right path.

Goal: Find death records for Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz

Facts:  Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmeier were married on 10 May 1871 in Vohburg a.d. Donau.  He was a flour merchant, born on 9 Feb 1843 in Puch as the son of Jakob Bergmeister, a miller born in Puch, and Anna née Daniel, born in Niederscheyern.  Ursula Dallmeier was born in Aichach on 17 Mar 1847, the daughter of innkeeper Joseph Dallmeier from Aichach and Ursula née Eulinger.  The date of the secular marriage was 11 Apr 1871, and it occurred in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  [Source: marriage record from Kath. Stadtpfarramt, Vohburg a.d. Donau, obtained 11 Dec 1995]

Joseph and Ursula went on to have at least 4 children:

1)      Hillaury Bergmeister, b. 12 January 1870 [Source: her marriage and death record, birth record not yet found]

2)      Maria Bergmeister, b 17 November 1871.  It is unknown if Maria survived infancy.  [Source: Vohburg parish register, FHL film 1271862]

3)      Joseph Bergmeister, b. 12 February 1873 (my great-grandfather) [Source: Vohburg parish register, FHL film 1271862]

4)      Ignaz Bergmeister, b. 23 April 1876 [Source: New York City marriage record in 1907 and WWI draft card in 1918; birth records not yet searched]

Clues:  In November 1897, their son Joseph gets married in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm (for more details, see The Bergmeister Family page).  There is an important clue in the marriage record.  It records the bachelor Joseph as the son of the “deceased flour merchant Joseph Bergmeister of Munich and Ursula Dallmeier (who later married a Goetz), residing in Regensburg.”  [Source:  Marriage record for Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer, Standesamt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, obtained 04 Nov 1993.]

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

The re-marriage of Ursula to Mr. Goetz (whose first name was later identified as Herman in their son’s marriage record) did not come as a complete surprise, because my grandmother had an “uncle” Julius Goetz.  More research revealed at least two more children of Ursula Bergmeister Goetz, half-siblings to the Bergmeister children.  They are:

1)     Herman Goetz, born 14 May 1885 [Source: Marriage license 1913, WW I Draft card 1918]

2)     Julius Andreas Elias Goetz, born 09 Nov 1886 in Regensburg [Source: Declaration of Intention 1908, Naturalization 1911, WW I Draft card 1917]

On the marriage record for Julius in 1919, the license lists the “residence of father” as “Germany” and “residence of mother” as “dead”. [Source: Clerk of Orphans’ Court, Philadelphia, Marriage License #1919-415062.]  The marriage license for Herman in 1913 is a different format and does not ask about parents.

Based on the above facts, I can make reasonable assumptions about the approximate time and place of the deaths of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz.

Assumptions – Death of Joseph Bergmeister

Estimated years: 1876 – 1884 – based on the birth of his youngest identified son, Ignaz, and his wife’s first child in her re-marriage.

Estimated place: Munich – based on his son Joseph’s marriage record.

Alternate place: Regensburg – based on the location of his wife’s re-marriage

Negative search: Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm

Assumptions – Death of Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz

Estimated years: 1897 – 1919 – based on the fact that she was still alive at the time of son Joseph’s marriage and she was not by the time of Julius’.  It is noted, however, that Julius immigrated in 1902 at the age of 16 – perhaps she died in that year.

Estimated place: Regensburg – based on her residence at the time of Joseph’s marriage and her Goetz sons’ birthplace.

Next step – where do I search for these death records?

Unfortunately, the FHL does not have church records on microfilm for such large cities as München (Munich) or Regensburg.  In each instance, I would have to write to either the civil or the episcopal archive. I am not sure if the lack of a date will be problematic – the ranges are too broad.  Although I have written to the archives in the past to get some of this information, it has been so long that I am not even sure which office to write to, or if they can perform such a search without a more specific date.  I could either make an attempt with a letter, or I can find a researcher in Bavaria to investigate further.

More clues – I may be able to narrow down the years by searching additional records (none of which are available either online or through the Family History Center) including:

  • Census records – After Germany was united in 1871, a census was conducted every five years between 1880 and 1910.  I am not sure where to obtain this information.
  • City directories – Both Munich and Regensburg are large cities.  If city directories exist, they may help pinpoint not only the year of death (especially for Joseph), but also a potential parish to find a church record.
  • Marriage record of Ursula Bergmeister and Herman Goetz – it is possible that the record of Ursula’s second marriage may reveal more about her husband Joseph’s death.

Any comments on my research to date, the assumptions, or where to go next will be greatly appreciated.  The following is a map that outlines the German locations noted above.

Detailed map of Bavaria showing all locations from Regensburg in the northeast to Munich in the south which are mentioned in the records for the lives of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz.  Where are their final resting places?

Detailed map of Bavaria showing all locations from Regensburg in the northeast to Munich in the south which are mentioned in the records for the lives of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz. Where are their final resting places?

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Poster designed by footnoteMaven!

Poster designed by footnoteMaven!

During the month of October, which was Polish-American Heritage Month, I presented a challenge to all genea-bloggers, regardless of their ancestry, to learn more about the history and culture of Poland and write about it on their blogs.  I’m happy to say that a few folks did just that!  The following bloggers participated in this challenge:

Alwierz at the Polish-American Genealogy Research Blog writes about Polish genealogy every day!  But specifically for this challenge, Al turned his focus on the histories of his ancestors’ hometowns in Poland.  Al says, “I’ve researched and attempted to translate the histories of the area and parishes within the Kujawy area of Poland, specifically within Powiat Aleksandrow. Polish history is very rich and proud, so I had tried to translate these histories with the utmost respect. I had used two online translation tools, Google Translator and Poltran, along with my Polish – English English – Polish (Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionary). Any errors with any of the translations are my fault and will be corrected as they are pointed out.”  His articles for this challenge are:

This was a fascinating look at the Kujawy area in Poland.  Thanks, Al!

Jasia at Creative Gene also wrote a series of posts.  Her series focused on the crafts of Poland.  The slide shows and photographs in Jasia’s posts are beautiful, and really show the best of Polish art.  Her series about her Polish art collections are:

Aren’t they beautiful?  Thanks, Jasia!

Next, Sheri Fenley, The Educated Genealogist, learned how to polka.  Well, she tried to learn how to Polka!  Who knew it would be so hard?  Disappointed, but still wanting to participate in the challenge, Sheri instead offers a wonderful look at the polka in The Problem with Polka!  A-one, and a-two, and a dziękuję to Sheri!

Lisa, at 100 Years in America, writes about the connections and friendship between Poland and Hungary in Two Good Friends: The Pole and the Hungarian.  What a beautiful proverb!  Thanks for participating, Lisa, and for your friendship!

The footnoteMaven has presented us with the fascinating life story of a little-known Pole who was quite famous in her day.  Read all about Madame Helena Modjeska in Today I am an Honorary Pole! We’re grateful for this glimpse into her life, and you’re welcome to be an honorary Pole any day.  In fact, in appreciation you shall be called footnoteMavenska for today!  Thanks so much.

Finally, I offered a hodge-podge of various posts here at What’s Past is Prologue as follows:

I hope my readers enjoyed this challenge and the wonderful posts from those that participated.  Thanks to all!  Or rather, to say it in Polish, dziękuję!

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October has been a celebration of Polish-American Heritage Month here at What’s Past is Prologue.  Today I’d like to introduce my readers to Ceil Wendt Jensen, CG and her website, Michigan Polonia.  In our interview you will read about how she developed an interest in genealogy, her experiences with finding her Polish roots, and get some of her expert advice!  Ceil had over thirty years of experience as a teacher of art and social studies.  In 1998, she became a professional genealogist.  Since then, not only has she traced her Polish ancestry back to the 1600s, but she has used her teaching skills to become an international speaker on Polish genealogy.

Ceil has authored numerous articles in genealogy magazines and journals, as well as several books, including Detroit’s Polonia, Detroit’s Mount Elliott Cemetery and Detroit’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.  Her upcoming book, Sto Lat: A Quick Guide to Polish Genealogy, will offer both traditional and digital research techniques to finding your Polish ancestors in North America and Poland.

The header from the Michigan Polonia site - mipolonia.net

The header from the Michigan Polonia site - mipolonia.net

Visit the Michigan Polonia site for more information on Ceil’s books, speaking engagements, and articles. Ceil is currently upgrading the site to include adding audio and video files.  She also maintains the following blogs:

I can’t imagine how she had any free time with all of the above activities, but Ceil somehow found the time amid blogging, writing, teaching, and researching to graciously respond to my questions.

I read that you became interested in genealogy with a grade school project (as I did).  Can you tell us a little about that and how that led you on the path to become a certified genealogist?

My father was my first genealogical interview. He showed me a canvas wallet that held the documents my grandfather and great grandfather carried to the US from Mühlbanz (Milobadz), Dirschau (Tczew), and West Prussia (Poland). His death a few months later made me start asking questions of living relatives.

Przytula Family, Detroit c. 1908

Przytula Family, Detroit c. 1908

I visited with my maternal grandparents and great aunts who willingly borrowed documents from their cousins to get our research started.  One of my best collaborators was my Great Aunt Lilly- we went cemetery hopping together.  She provided me with a copy of the birth certificate of our uncle Mikołaj Przytula, born in Cibórz, Kreis Strasburg (now Brodnica – the certificate was issued in Lautenburg [Lidzbark]), and a great family photo of Mikołaj, his sister Stanisława and parents Adam and Johanna (Pszuk) Przytula. I featured it in my book Detroit’s Polonia. Unfortunately, when I took the documents to the local Family History Center in the 1970s the volunteer tried helping me find the villages with a current map of Europe. I needed a pre-World War I map to find the locations.  I set the research aside during the years I taught high school. But even as I traveled overseas with my high school students, I wondered how and when I would visit Poland.

When my great Aunt Lilly died at the age of 102, I pledged at her funeral that I would finish the research we had started in the early 1970s. It was a great time to resume my research. The Internet was developing sites for genealogical research, and I had earned a teaching degree in Social Studies and knew how to use primary and secondary sources.  In 2000 I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and found many of the teaching techniques I used in the classroom would segue into genealogy.  I also realized that most researchers were text based, and my background as an art teacher allowed me to bring maps, graphics, photos, and other media into the genealogical field.

I submitted my certification portfolio to the Board of Certification in Washington DC, and the judges awarded my credentials on December, 13, 2003. I am currently updating my materials for recertification.

What do you think are some common mistakes made by beginning researchers?

I volunteer at our local Family History Center and see several common mistakes new researchers make when they begin their Polish research. The first problem is putting the name into proper Polish.  Searching for William, Betty, or Chester will not yield any results. I help the patrons find the correct given name and surname by using Fred Hoffman’s books.  I also have them use Steve Morse’s Gold Form for searching ship manifests since it has the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex created to work with Slavic languages.

The second technique I offer researchers is the trick of putting a syllable of a name in a search engine instead of all the information known about their ancestor.  In fact, I found my great grandmother’s passage to America by entering just the first three letters of her infant son’s name into the ancestry.com search engine along with his year of birth and possible passage.  Jac*, born in 1888 and traveling between 1888 and 1889 brought up the manifest for Jacob Watkowiak (sp) , age  9 months. The last name was misspelled as WATKOWIAK instead of WOJTKOWIAK.  They sailed on the same ship that her husband Piotr took a year earlier.

What are your top three practical suggestions for Polish researchers?

1.  Use the Polish spelling of the given and surname when looking for them in their first US Census. They may not have immediately anglicized their names.

2. Research collateral lines- aunts, uncles, and cousins. They may have recorded needed information that is not noted in your direct ancestor’s documents. And, don’t forget to request records of family members who joined religious orders, their archives hold personal histories and necrologies.

3.  Use Google Images to find maps, photos, and stories about your ancestral villages in Poland. Try using Polish words instead of English such as “Rogalinek Parafia”. Google Web and Images will return interesting hits from Poland.  I found Marek Wojciechowski’s website featuring current photos of the region using this technique.

Your specialty is Michigan, specifically Detroit.  Can you tell us how your books came about?

While some Polish families first settled in an Eastern state before coming to the Midwest, my ancestors all came directly to Michigan.  The Adamskis and Wojtkowiaks first settled in Calumet, Houghton Co., Michigan but soon came to Detroit, where my Przytulski, Wendt, and Zdziebko ancestors resided.  So, it was natural that when I began to think of developing genealogy projects my hometown of Detroit would be featured.

Like so many other genealogists, I enjoy vintage photos and the local histories published by Arcadia Publishing.  I taught both black and white and digital photography in my classroom, so I felt prepared to develop Detroit’s Polonia – a book of vintage photos that could serve as a community photo album. I contacted Arcadia to find out the process of becoming a published author. They offered a complete package and outlined how to bring a book from an idea to a product. All along the way the staff offered constructive criticism, encouragement, and an editor.  I started with my own collection of family photos, and my colleagues in the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan shared images. I visited local private such as the Felician Sisters in Livonia, Michigan and public archives like Detroit Public Library’s Burton Collection to find poignant images. We held a Detroit’s Polonia “Launch Lunch” for the book around Pączki Day, 2005 at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy, Michigan.

The book was arranged on the cycle of life, and the last chapter featured Bill Gorski’s collection of tombstone portraits photographed in the 1970s. The chapter on burial practices let to the next two books Detroit’s Mount Elliott Cemetery and Detroit’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. I wrote the books with the intent to use the royalties to place headstones on the unmarked grave of my ancestors buried at the cemeteries. On Memorial Day, 2008 we placed a ledger on the gravesite of our great grandfather Piotr Wojtkowiak.

Why did you decide to write about cemeteries?

In my case it’s a matter of honoring my ancestors. I have grandparents and great grandparents buried at Mount Elliott and Mount Olivet Cemeteries. They died before I was born – but I feel I know them after researching our family history in Michigan and Poland.

Piotr Wojtkowiak – my maternal great grandfather- was like so many other immigrants in the late 1880s. He took a chance on America. There are no photos of him but historical records tell his story. He was born in Tulce, Sroda, Posen to Mateusz Rychlewicz Wojtkowiak and Franciszka Szymnkowiak – the ninth of ten children. He worked as a locksmith on the manor farm of Count Edward Raczyński and ledgers for the manor reveal he was paid in grain and marks.

Piotr sailed from Bremen and arrived at the port of Baltimore Nov. 11, 1886. Her was headed to Calumet in the UP to join Finns, Italians and Cornish in the mines. Employed by the Calumet and Hecla mining company he was employed until he broke his leg in an accident.

After the injury Piotr settled in Detroit with his young family. Babies arrived every two years. They were to be „half orphaned” when Piotr contracted typhoid leading a crew of Detroit city workers digging sewers.  He died and was buried in an unmarked grave at Mt. Elliott Cemetery. Three weeks after his death, his wife Marianna gave birth to their seventh child. The curly haired infant  was named Peter in honor of his father.

In 1975 I started searching for my great grandfather’s grave at the oldest extant Catholic cemetery in Detroit. I was told by the office that he wasn’t in the ledger. I drove down there and sure enough, he was in the book- his name was entered as Peter Wojskowiak instead of Peter Wojtkowiak. He was buried in a single grave without a marker. In fact, in that area of the cemetery there were very few grave stones.

His unmarked grave was my incentive in writing the book Detroit’s Mount Elliott Cemetery published by Arcadia.  I dedicated the book to Piotr Wojtkowiak (1863-1897) who died in Detroit at the age of 37. He left six children behind, wife Marianne giving birth to their seventh child three weeks later. A local newspaper writer picked up the story: Remembering Piotr.

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Thanks, Ceil!  I enjoyed this opportunity to chat, and I certainly hope my readers were as inspired by your own search for your family’s history as I was.  We look forward to your upcoming book! I hope to make it to the next United Polish Genealogical Societies conference for which Ceil is one of the main organizers.  Mark your calendars for April 23-26, 2010 at the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

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In our continuing celebration of Polish-American Heritage Month, What’s Past is Prologue is delighted to highlight one of the best sites on the internet devoted to Polish genealogy – PolandGenWeb.  I’ve invited PolandGenWeb’s coordinator, Marie Dallas, to tell us more about the site and what researchers can find there.  Marie and I have known each other for quite some time now, and unlike some other “virtual” friends I’ve made on the internet, we are actually “real live” friends that went to college together.  In fact, we started on our Polish genealogy quest together about twenty years ago!  We still haven’t discovered if we’re related or not, but we’re working on it!  I am also a PolandGenWeb province host for two provinces, though I admit I don’t spend as much time as I should to update those sites (both will be updated by the end of the year).  My name is also listed on the site as “creative consultant” but I really can’t take any credit for all that you’ll see there – it’s all Marie’s talents that have put it together.  Marie, on the other hand, spends most of her time keeping the main PolandGenWeb site up-to-date by providing relevant and useful information to family researchers, especially beginners.  I don’t know how she finds the time, because she does all of this for free while running a household with a husband, three beautiful children, and several pets!

Can you describe PolandGenWeb – what’s its purpose?

PolandGenWeb is part of the WorldGenWeb Project, a non-profit organization devoted to providing free genealogical information and resources. The site is intended to help genealogical researchers uncover their Polish ancestry by providing research guidance, maps (historic and present day), town locators and town lists, translation aids, archives addresses, and much more. In addition, each Polish province has its own website devoted to researching one’s ancestors specifically within those boundaries and can be accessed from the PolandGenWeb home page. The site is free to access and run by volunteer effort. Over the past 10 years, it’s grown tremendously in content.

What are some of the good resources we can find there? Do you have anything no other site has?

One of the better resources of PolandGenWeb, I think, is the Basics of Research page. It covers “newbie” information, such as how to effectively begin one’s research and what resources can be used to find the information one is looking for. Another good resource is the Poland Catholic Records Microfilms set of pages. Peter Gwozdz maintains the content and has provided very detailed information on how to work with the parish and civil records microfilmed by the LDS. I’m very grateful for his contribution to PolandGenWeb.

And of course, there’s Rafał’s Polish Surname List. This unique resource is an alphabetical list of surnames submitted by those researching ancestors of Polish ethnicity or those who lived in Poland (occupied territories or present-day boundaries). Each entry includes an email address to contact the submitter and most include the town or region where the submitter’s ancestors were from. At present, there are over 37,000 entries.

Tell me about the “Records Transcription Project” – it looks like you have quite a collection! What’s on your site? Is it hard for others to contribute?

The Records Transcription Project is the highlight of PolandGenWeb.  All of the content housed on the site is contributed by volunteers, and the majority of transcribed records are births/baptisms, marriages, and deaths from parish or civil records microfilmed by the LDS. There are a couple of sets of records whose content was taken directly from the parish registers in Poland and has not yet been microfilmed by the LDS. While the project does include resources outside of Poland, such as ethnic Polish cemeteries in other countries, the focus is on providing data from Poland (both historical and present-day areas).

In addition to the vital records, PolandGenWeb has a growing collection of transcribed cemetery inscriptions and War Memorials.  Debbie Greenlee is spearheading the effort to encourage folks who either live in or visit Poland to transcribe the names found on memorials erected to commemorate those town residents who were killed during war time – particularly those who were killed during WW2. Most are not soldiers’ memorials but memorials to murdered civilians.

It’s relatively easy for anyone willing contribute to the project.  If one rents a microfilm containing parish or civil records in Poland, instead of extracting the information from only the records for one’s ancestors, one can can extract additional information for the Transcription project. If one is visiting Poland, one can photograph and/or transcribe the names found on tombstones and war memorials in the places they visit. More details on how to contribute to the transcription project can be found here.

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Thanks, Marie!  I hope others find PolandGenWeb as useful as I do.  Take a look at all the site has to offer, especially if you are just beginning your research.  Once you’re an experienced researcher, give back by contributing to one of the transcription projects.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

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This week we’re interviewing author William F. Hoffman.  In Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview, we discussed surnames.  But that’s only part of “Fred” Hoffman’s area of expertise – he’s also authored several books on how to translate genealogical records (see Part 1 for more info on his books).  Today, we’ll begin discussing translating genealogical records once you find them!

WPiP: Do you need to be “fluent” in a language to translate records?

Fred:  When it comes to the kinds of records genealogists rely on most, you don’t really need to be fluent. It helps, of course; but I’ve dealt with plenty of people who were not fluent in a given language, yet succeeded in extracting the information they really needed. Their translations usually weren’t perfect, but they were close enough. I’ve found that patience and persistence can be more important than innate linguistic ability — though you do need at least a little of that. Some folks simply have no talent whatsoever for languages, and they’re not likely to have much luck.

Most of the records genealogists use rely on a certain basic format, so that you can reliably expect to find the same specific information given in a specific order, time and time again. You also see the same words and phrases showing up again and again. It’s not hard to learn to recognize them and understand what they mean. Once you get familiar with the standard layout of specific documents, you can spot, say, the name of the person who was born. You recognize where his parents should be named, followed by how old they were, followed by where they lived, and so on. Remember also, these documents don’t usually come at you from out of the blue. You have some idea where they came from, and when they were drawn up; that info provides a context that makes interpreting them easier.

Now, once you get past your basic records —  birth, marriage, and death records, that sort of thing — translation gets tougher. You could say that, by definition, once you depart from the norm, and you don’t know what to expect, that’s when fluency is required. You may have to rely on the assistance of a professional translator. But it never hurts to try yourself first. Much of the time, you have a real shot at figuring out what you want.

WPiP: Do you recommend use of computer translations, either online or with software?

Fred:  On the whole, no, I really can’t — at least, not unless you understand up front that the results are unreliable, and may even be downright hideous.

I know a lot of people rely heavily on the online translators you can find on various websites, or on various translations software packages. I admit, in some cases, computer translations may be adequate. The simpler a given passage, the better those non-human translators do with it. If you’re taking a text in Polish and trying to turn it into English, computer translations may get just enough of it right to give you a basic idea of what’s being said. So if you’re trying to figure out what a Polish text says, it does no harm to run it past a computer and see what you get.

But I definitely cannot recommend using them to turn English into Polish, as, for instance, when writing letters. Too often, what comes out is absolute gibberish. One sentence may be comprehensible, while the next produces only howls of laughter. And you have no way of knowing which is which! I haven’t seen a non-human translator yet that can handle Polish grammar adequately; and the choice of words is typically iffy. Think about it: in English a _nut_ can be a specific kind of food, a piece of shaped metal, a slang word for a crazy or eccentric person, or a vulgar term for a testicle. Do you really want to leave it up to a computer to figure out which meaning you intend?

A further huge problem with using them on records of genealogical value is that the vocabulary and style in those documents tends to be older. Most translation software is designed for use in business or everyday life in the modern world. It simply will not recognize some of the terms and expressions that recur consistently in vital records. Languages have changed quite a bit over the last century, and turns of phrase that used to be standard are often archaic — whether you’re talking about Polish or English.

WPiP: How do you deal with bad handwriting (any tips to overcome?)?

Fred: I often find I can’t make heads or tails of a handwritten document the first time I look at it. I don’t panic; I look it over, make out any letters or words I can, and set it aside. A few days later, I come back to it, and usually I can make out a little more. I keep chipping away at it and eventually figure it out. Patience and determination — those are the keys, whether you’re talking about translation or research.

One mistake a lot of researchers make is that they limit themselves to copying too small a sampling of the handwriting. Don’t just copy a couple of entries — go on and copy several pages while you’re at it. Then before you go to work trying to translate an excerpt, take a little time first to just look over all the pages, paying close attention. Don’t force anything, not yet. Just familiarize yourself with them before you try to translate them. After a while, you start to recognize things, especially if you have a large enough sampling to allow for good comparison. If you think that mystery letter is a D, look for a variety of places where the same person wrote a D in words you recognize, and compare it. A larger sampling lets you do that. What is at first incomprehensible gradually reveals its secrets.

So whenever possible, copy more pages, not less. It’s amazing how often those extra pages turn out to have something that makes all the difference. And don’t just plunge into translating; take a little time to get acquainted with the text first.

Stay tuned for our final part of the interview tomorrow.  Is one language any easier to learn than another?  What about Fred’s next book?  Find out tomorrow!

Update, September 1, 2008 – The 4-part series is complete, so here are the links to each segment of our Interview with William F. Hoffman:

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